With the NYC Marathon coming up this Sunday, an interesting point is that for the 50,000-plus runners, the real race is about to be won, and that’s just getting to the start line in decent enough health to make it through 26.2 miles.
Mario Bautista and his peers in the fight game know that struggle. Just like a runner has to run in order to prepare for a marathon, a fighter has to fight to get ready for that walk to the Octagon, and that’s a fine line to walk between training hard and training smart.
“It's definitely a struggle,” said Bautista, who looks to extend his current winning streak to three against Benito Lopez this Saturday in Las Vegas. “Once you pick up that intensity, you're always gonna have little nagging things. You're gonna kick an elbow, you're gonna do something. But I learned throughout the years to be smart throughout camp. Pick the right partners, not someone trying to make a point with you while you're in camp. Maybe if you're in jiu-jitsu class, don't go with the new white belt. It’s having some common sense like that during the camp, just little things. Take my vitamins so I don't get sick, maybe I shouldn't be around kids that are sniffling; you've gotta mind your Ps and Qs with everything.”
Well, with Bautista’s four-year-old daughter in the germ lab known as preschool, he’s on his own there, but as he approaches fight night, all systems are go for the last bout of what has been the best year of his career.
“Especially in the UFC, being this active, having three fights this year, yeah, it's definitely one of the better years I've had,” he agrees. “I feel like I got the momentum back, I've been healthy this year, been active, so I'm just excited to keep this momentum going and start it again next year and see if we can do the same thing.”
After being sidelined for a little over a year due to injury from 2020 to 2021, Bautista returned in March of last year, and while he lost that return bout to Trevin Jones, in 2022, he’s perfect, with victories over Jay Perrin and Brian Kelleher. And with him figuring out the best way to get ready for fights, he will get his reward when the Octagon gate shuts at the APEX.
“I don't think anyone really likes to do all the hard stuff during camp like the conditioning; I don't think anyone really likes that,” he said. “So when you get through that and you get the reward of the fight, that makes it all worth it. The worst-case scenario, and this recently happened to a buddy of mine, he goes through the whole camp, trains super hard, and literally the day of the fight, the guy has a medical issue and can't fight. And that's just the worst.”
Bautista foresees no such issues hampering his meeting with Lopez, who makes his first UFC start since 2019. It’s a tough return gig for the Californian, and a bit of a surprise for Arizona’s Bautista.
“I didn't know if he had retired,” said Bautista. “I hadn't heard of him in such a long time. And I was thinking maybe they'd give me someone higher up on the ladder, but I was still happy with it. He has a little bit of a following, a different body type than what I've been fighting usually, so it's still a good challenge for me and a good test while I move forward in the division.”
And that’s the goal. Win and move forward. Bantamweight is perhaps the toughest division in the UFC, and hitting both those marks isn’t easy, but Bautista is physically and mentally prepared for the challenge, and he expects that maybe Lopez won’t be completely ready for a return to the wars in the Octagon.
“I think he's gonna be in his own head to begin with anyway,” he said. “I've had a little bit of a break before, not that long, so I think once he gets back in that cage, he's gonna feel like he's making his debut again, and I think he's gonna be uncomfortable, and I've already got some momentum, I'm feeling comfortable in there and coming off a good performance, so I don't think he's gonna be feeling too good November 5th.”
Next stop, 2023.
“I want to be challenged,” said Bautista. “I'm looking to make some big steps next year and really cement myself amongst the elite of the division.”