"I’m going to go out there and dominate every aspect. The fight’s not going to go out of the first round." - Justin Scoggins
Sitting on the dais inside a conference room deep in the bowels of the Brisbane Entertainment Centre last December, Justin Scoggins stood out.
Seated next to battle-hardened veterans Soa Palelei and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, the 21-year-old looked more like a local high school student being given a backstage pass to the event than a formidable new addition to the flyweight division. Earlier in the evening, however, the South Carolina native proved himself to be just that, finishing Richie Vaculik with a torrent of punches late in the opening round.
Less than two years after making his professional debut, Scoggins had arrived in the Octagon and scored an impressive victory that made those watching the preliminary card fights sit up and take notice.
But the American Top Team-based flyweight wasn’t finished turning heads.
Answering questions with a massive smile on his face, Scoggins declared himself “the best in the world at this” on a couple different occasions. The comments drew a few curious looks and a follow-up question from veteran journalist Mike Chiappetta, who asked if the UFC neophyte was worried about backlash from fans or media as a result of such a strong, bold statement.
Scoggins didn’t retreat an inch, emphasizing his willingness to prove his belief to be true over time and he stands by those feelings today as he readies for his sophomore showing inside the Octagon.
“I stand by my comment,” says Scoggins without hesitation. “I was raised where if you were going to do something, you were going to do it to be the best at it; you weren’t going to do it half-assed. Every time I’ve had a fight or done anything, I’ve known that I was the best.
“I remember when I was 16-years-old, I trained at Tristar Gym for a couple weeks, and that was one of the things GSP (Georges St-Pierre) said to me that stuck out. He said, `The only thing that holds you back is yourself’ and I’m the best in the world at what I do.”
Scoggins, who relocated to Coconut Creek, Florida to train at American Top Team permanently a little over a year ago, understands that some people will bristle at his bravado, given his age and relative lack of experience.
But that doesn’t mean he’s going to change his approach. This isn’t a persona or fabricated swagger—this is who the unbeaten emerging talent has been from Day One and he sees no reason for that to change in the future.
Part of that unwavering belief comes from the success he’s already had in the cage—eight straight victories with seven finishes, including a first-round stoppage win in his UFC debut—but it’s rooted in knowing he’s been preparing for this opportunity just as long, if not longer, than many of his fellow competitors.
“A lot of people look at me and say, `This kid is 21-years-old; he’s full of piss and vinegar,’ but a lot of these guys don’t realize that I’ve been doing this longer than they have,” says Scoggins. “I’ve been actively training mixed martial arts, karate and wrestling since I could walk. Since I was three-years-old that has been the goal—the goal has always been to translate it into being a mixed martial arts fighter.
“We always knew the UFC was going to be huge, and it’s what I’ve always been training for—that’s why I know I’ve got more experience than these guys. People don’t see it, but I’ve had over 20 kickboxing matches, wrestled my entire life, and have always done karate. They’re not claims that I’ve made just because I’m hyped up—they’re claims that I’ve made because of a lifetime of reasserting that to myself through my thoughts, my training, and keeping a positive attitude at all times.
“I’m the best because I know it in my head, and if I know it, nobody else can know that they’re the best.”
Fortunately for the confident flyweight, the current state of the 125-pound weight class could afford him an opportunity to move up the divisional ladder at a greater rate than prospects in a comparable position in some of the UFC’s deeper divisions.
Case and point: his sophomore appearance this weekend in Dallas.
While his debut came against a fellow first-timer in Vaculik, his second sojourn into the eight-sided cage at UFC 171 comes against Will Campuzano, an 18-fight veteran who has competed in both the Octagon and the blue cage of the WEC in his career.
After an unsuccessful initial run in the UFC, Campuzano returned to the regional circuit and dropped down to flyweight, rattling off four consecutive victories, including a third-round knockout win over current UFC contender Josh Sampo. Following a split decision win over Japanese veteran Hideo Tokoro, the 27-year-old made his return to the big leagues, taking on Sergio Pettis on short notice in the heralded newcomer’s first bout in the UFC.
Though he came out on the wrong side of the decision, Campuzano acquitted himself well, and with a return to his natural weight class and a full training camp under his belt, the more seasoned competitor represents a step up in competition for the confident young up-and-comer.
“I’m so excited for this opportunity to fight Will Campuzano,” says Scoggins, who jumped at the opportunity to fight when Campuzano’s original opponent, Darrell Montague, was forced out with an injury.
“The guy has been around - he’s fought tough fights, he’s such a good test, such a tough guy, and I’m going to get to go in there and do the exact same thing to the step up in competition that I did to the first guy I fought in the UFC. People are going to keep hopping on the bandwagon. There are going to be haters - there always are - but there are going to be more and more people that believe it.”
For all his moxie, Scoggins is in no rush to start facing the elite of the flyweight division. He understands there is a process to things and that he’s going to have to prove himself in increments, making gains with each victory.
“The way I see every fight is that you have to prepare for that fight, but I also realize that I’m preparing for a stepping stone. This next guy that I’m fighting is a stepping stone. The next guy after that is a stepping stone, all leading up to my world title.
“My short-term goal? Go win this next fight. I know I’m going to win the fight. I know it’s going to be a stepping stone. I know it’s going to push me forward to being the world champion. I know where I’m headed down the road - I know I’m headed for that world title. The world title is going to be mine.”
Before he can get there, Scoggins needs to deal with Campuzano. As you’d expect, the confident kid with the unbeaten record doesn’t foresee having any issues dispatching his latest opponent.
In fact, the undefeated flyweight that introduced himself to a larger audience with a bold statement following his first UFC win has designs doing the same when he steps into the Octagon for a second time this weekend.
“I’m going to go out there and dominate every aspect. The fight’s not going to go out of the first round.”