"This is an opportunity for me to go back out there and show people that I am not just another guy in the division." - Justin Scoggins
Justin Scoggins hasn’t lost an ounce of his swagger. Not by a longshot. Despite losing the first bout of his pro career to Dustin Ortiz in July, the fiery young flyweight is more convinced than ever that there is greatness in his future.
That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a rough patch following the split decision defeat, and for two weeks, the Spartanburg, South Carolina native went through all stages of grief in trying to come to grips with something he never saw coming.
“Not to take anything away from Dustin, he put on great pressure and had great wrestling, but I felt flat and I didn’t feel like myself,” Scoggins, who got home from the Sunday fight on Monday and was back in the gym on Tuesday, said. “I hate that feeling. I’ve never lost in combat sports and it killed me. It was one of the worst feelings I ever had, and after that fight, there were a bunch of mixed emotions, trying to figure out what went wrong, what I did wrong, why I felt the way I felt, and I said ‘man, I’m never gonna allow it to happen again.’ I’m gonna get right back at it, I’m not gonna take any days off, and I’m gonna make sure that the next person that steps in the cage with me gets nothing less than the best Justin Scoggins.”
That next person is former world title challenger John Moraga, who gets his crack at Scoggins tonight in a UFC Fight Night bout at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut. If you’re wondering if Scoggins is all talk or the real deal, accepting a fight with the number five ranked 125-pounder in the world when you’re coming off a loss and stepping into just your fourth UFC bout is proof that the “Tank” is for real.
“When I got the call about Moraga, it was something I jumped on,” the 22-year-old said. “This is an opportunity for me to go back out there and show people that I am not just another guy in the division. That last fight doesn’t define me as a fighter. I’m gonna go out there and take on a tough guy in my very next fight. I think some guys might want an easy fight. I don’t want that; I want a hard fight. Honestly, me and my dad talked about it, and I said ‘man, I wish my next fight could have been against Mighty Mouse (Demetrious Johnson) for the world title.’ Because I know coming off my loss I’m going to be better than I’ve ever been in my entire life. And it’s really exciting for me. I understand that Moraga’s dangerous and that he hits hard. He’s well-rounded, a good wrestler, and he trains with a good gym, but that’s exactly what I need. I’m ready for these pressure situations, and I’m just excited to get in there and put a beating on him.”
In a world that is usually navigated through the gray areas, Scoggins is all about the black or white. You’re either in or you’re out with him, and if being great means going against the grain, then he’s already there. Just talk to him about the mixed martial arts world and how nobody gets out of here undefeated, and he bristles at such a notion, even though he’s joined the ranks of the once-beaten.
“A lot of people were kind of trying to calm me down when I got home, saying ‘everybody loses,’” Scoggins explains. “That drives me even more crazy. In my mind, I’m not everybody. In my head, I was gonna go undefeated. I was never gonna lose a fight. And from this point on, I’m never gonna lose another fight, and I know that in my head. I’m not gonna allow it to happen.”
If it sounds brash, coming from Scoggins sincere is the better term to use, simply because he believes every word he’s said and in the process, he reveals how much leaving the Octagon without his hand raised affected him.
“I did beat myself up,” he said. “I cried about it, I had really strong emotions about it, and it hurt me. This has been my whole life since the time I could walk, it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, and it’s definitely a feeling of ‘what am I doing, what do I need to do’ because I know I’m better at this than everybody.”
So what happened after those first two weeks after the Ortiz fight?
“I said you know what, I’m glad that happened because now I know my recipe for winning and I know my recipe for defeat. That’s a very powerful tool to have.”
And then it was back to the gym, only this time he returned home to South Carolina to work with his original team at Revolution Martial Arts. Scoggins isn’t leaving the American Top Team squad, but this time around, he wanted to get back to some home cooking.
“I’ve been wanting to work with my older coaches that I grew up with, so I came back here to get back to my roots for a camp and just change it up a little bit,” Scoggins said. “I’m still an ATT fighter. My home is always going to be South Carolina, but ATT’s a great facility with great coaches, and it’s really good to have those guys on the team and to be on their team as well.”
Tonight, Scoggins gets a chance to show the form he did in his first two UFC fights against Richie Vaculik and Will Campuzano, and reclaim the Next Big Thing title that may have slipped away after the Ortiz bout. But that’s the outside world talking. To Scoggins, everything is the same as it ever was.
“The way my mindset is, the more you think about something, the closer you are to creating it into reality,” he said. “And the only time that dream stops becoming true is when you say it stops being true.