Just getting to the UFC is an accomplishment in and of itself, but staying there takes an entirely different sense of drive and determination. This is a reality Jonathan Wilson has understood since the first time he stepped into amateur competition, and every ounce of work he’s done leading up to his official Octagon debut this Saturday night in Nashville has been invested with longevity in mind.
In Wilson’s mind, he’s been patiently waiting for his chance to show he belongs competing with the best fighters in the world under the UFC banner, and it’s a moment he’s been envisioning every step of his career in mixed martial arts.
“Everything I’ve done up to this point has been all about getting to the UFC,” Wilson said. “Since my first amateur fight I’ve been talking about getting to the UFC, and everyone above me and around me has always told me it’s not about getting there, it’s about staying. They told me to keep working and I would get there, but they also said everything I’ve put in to get there is what would keep me there. I’m a student of the game and I’m working hard in every area because I really want to stay. Just getting to the UFC isn’t enough for me.
“This is everything I’ve worked for and it is a long time coming. I know a lot of people get nervous for their first fight in the UFC but it’s something I’ve been working toward for such a long time. I’m not nervous at all. I’m excited and ready to do this.”
The undefeated light heavyweight is set to mix it up with Chris Dempsey at UFC Fight Night: Teixeira vs. Saint Preux in “Music City,” and the Icon MMA representative is determined to make his first go under the UFC banner count. “Jonny Bravo” knows you only get one chance to make a first impression, and he wants his to send a message that his arrival to the big show spells trouble for the rest of his peers in the 205-pound ranks.
“I like the matchup with Dempsey because he can pretty much do everything,” Wilson said. “He’s a good wrestler with a solid ground game and decent striking. He’s trying to finish anytime he can and I like that type of fight. I don’t want the fights where my opponent is going in there to lay and pray. He likes to fight wherever he’s at and that’s what I want. It will make it a great fight for everyone watching.”
In addition to making his first showing in the high-pressure environment the UFC provides, Wilson will also be competing in his first fight in nearly a year. A layoff of that length would serve to rattle any fighter, but Wilson is confident his time away from live competition won’t be an issue. He knows this because every step of his absence has been spent inside the gym helping to prepare his teammates for their fights.
This has kept Wilson in a continuous training camp for the past 11 months, and those efforts have primed him for his turn to put it all on the line.
“I was supposed to fight in December and it didn’t happen, but I’ve been training the entire time,” Wilson said. “I’ve been in camp non-stop and I’m coming in fresh. I have teammates that have been preparing for fights, and in our camp if one person is getting ready we all do our part to get them there. My teammates Lorenz Larkin and Sean Strickland had fights and I’ve been in the gym staying ready for mine.
“I ultimately feel my hard work is going to show in this fight. It’s going to make the difference. He’s worked hard at his wrestling, but he hasn’t worked as hard as I have in his all-around game. I think that is going to be the determining factor that gets me the victory.”
While Wilson’s upcoming debut in Nashville will be his first taste of competing at the highest level of the sport, the fight will come in a division full of established talent. The ranks of the light heavyweight fold are filled with certified veterans and upcoming prospects alike - all of which have proven the ability to maintain longevity inside the Octagon. Wilson’s prior acknowledgement of how difficult keeping your roster spot in the UFC truly is shows he understands the level of talent he could potentially face competing at 205, but that is what has him excited about it.
Wilson wants to test himself against the best in the world, and starting that chapter on Saturday has provided an additional element of excitement heading into his promotional debut in Tennessee.
“Competing in this division is like jumping into a pool filled with sharks,” Wilson said. “There are no easy fights in this division. I mean…everyone in the UFC is going to be tough, but everyone who has maintained their spot at 205 is super tough. There was no one on the roster I could look at and be like ‘that’s an easy fight and that is the one I want.’ It is all killers and I’m excited to be among them. I hope they all look at me like I’m one of them and not an easy fight, because once I’m out there it’s a totally different world.”