December 6, 2014 was too perfect a night for Josh Samman to return to the Octagon, so it didn’t matter if his body was anything but that when he faced Eddie Gordon in Las Vegas.
Out of action since April of 2013, Samman was scheduled to return a year later to meet Caio Magalhaes, but he tore his left hamstring. Remember that, because it comes into play several months later when he found out that the UFC had an event scheduled for December 6.
That day would have been the 24th birthday of Hailey Bevis, Samman’s longtime girlfriend who tragically passed away in a car accident in August of 2013.
“I saw the date on the UFC schedule and I said there’s no way that I can pass this up and not fight on that card,” Samman said. So he called the UFC, let them know he was available, and he hit the gym hard. There was just one problem – his surgically repaired hamstring wasn’t up to speed yet. It didn’t matter to Samman, but he did have to make adjustments. Surprisingly though, one of them wasn’t throwing kicks with the left leg.
“It was weird the way the injury worked because after my surgery, when I came back, it didn’t hurt to throw that leg,” he said. “I could swing the leg all the way around. What hurt was kicking with my right leg. And it hurt to wrestle and grapple, so during that camp I didn’t do a whole lot of wrestling or grappling, and I think it showed in my takedown defense. I couldn’t put up much of a fight once he got a hold of me.”
Gordon, fresh from winning season 19 of The Ultimate Fighter, was riding high and confident. Samman, a competitor on TUF 17, was coming off a long layoff with a lot on his mind on a significant day for him. The two clashed in the Octagon, and it wasn’t clear early on who would give first. Samman had a plan though, and he stuck to it, even when Gordon would appear to get the upper hand.
“My objective the whole time was to condition him with body kicks and to get him used to me throwing kicks to the body and make him think that’s what I was going to be doing the whole night,” he said. “I was content to trade a few takedowns as long as it conditioned him to reach down for the body kick.”
At 3:08 of the second round, the fight was over, Gordon knocked out with a single shot. It was a kick to the head. From Samman’s left leg.
“When the kick landed, he fell out of my vision faster than my eyes could follow him. I knew the fight was over. It was all kind of poetic in that sense. It added to the whole story of coming back and using the leg that ended me before and using it to end the fight and get the win.”
Seven months after the biggest win of his career, a victory that extended his UFC winning streak to two, the Floridian is back in action to face Magalhaes at the Ultimate Fighter 21 Finale in Vegas on Sunday. It may have seemed to be too long of a wait if Samman was hoping to strike while the iron was hot after his Performance of the Night victory, but he’s never been one to follow conventional thought.
“The outcome of the fight couldn’t have gone any better, but the fact still remained that my hamstring had not fully healed,” he said. “So I wanted to sit back, savor it a little bit, and make sure that the next time I got in there I didn’t have to walk a tightrope of injury again.”
This is the 27-year-old middleweight’s first fight of 2015, and he’s doing it on a show that concludes the high-profile International Fight Week, making this another ideal showcase for him. But if you expect him to jam as many fights in as he can before January, you’ll be disappointed.
“Two to three fights a year is good for me,” he said. “I wish I could do the ‘Donald Cerrone’ and fight six or seven times a year while juggling all the other things in my life, but we’re not all built that way.”
How Josh Samman is built is as a multitasker, someone not focusing solely on fighting to pay his bills, though being the owner of the amateur fight promotion Combat Night does keep him busy in the fight game. Bottom line though, if the fighting thing ended tomorrow, he would find a way to succeed.
“Fighting is what most people know me for, but that doesn’t mean that’s the only thing that defines me,” he said. “I try to maintain balance and not attach myself to one thing and one thing only, because it can all be taken away at any moment, and then I’d really be lost.”
Right now, it looks like fighting is on the upswing for the eight-year pro, and with the high-profile nature of his win over Gordon, his time on The Ultimate Fighter, and even his writing gig for the MMA website Bloody Elbow, Samman’s name has been circulating in fight circles more than it’s ever been. So what happens if he keeps winning and more and more fight demands are put on his time? Has he had that little talk with himself?
“I already had the conversation in my head, and there was a time in my life when I was gung ho on being a world champion, but things change, and I don’t want to discourage any of my fans and have them think that I lost any of my competitive drive,” Samman said. “But the fact is that in order to become a world champion, it depends on so many things other than what you have control over, and I’ve learned to accept that. And if that time comes, then absolutely, I’ll follow that path. But in the meantime, I’m more concerned with putting on exciting, entertaining fights, and I think I’m one of the few on the UFC roster that can say that.”
Bold words, but Samman’s more than willing to back them up, and he expects to prove it on Sunday.
“You’ll never, ever see me going out and being a point fighter,” he said. “Every fighter, when they get into the cage, every movement and action is the function of three things: it’s either to win, to defend themselves, or to put on a show. And what makes your personality as a fighter is where you place those three things in order of importance. And as of right now, entertainment is at the top of the list, defending myself is number two, and winning fights, although that’s important, is the third thing on the list. Of course I love winning, of course I’d love to be a world champion, but not at the cost of being a boring fighter.”