Martin Day was an interested observer last month when Italy’s Alessio Di Chirico faced Joaquin Buckley on Fight Island.
Di Chirico, on a three-fight losing streak, was an underdog against the hard-hitting Buckley, owner of the viral knockout of 2020 and rapidly rising up the middleweight ranks.
At 2:12 of the first round, the underdog bit back, and Di Chirico’s losing streak was a thing of the past.
This Saturday, Hawaii’s Day looks to snap his own three-fight skid when he meets Timur Valiev at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas.
“I'm gonna be an underdog in this one and people are counting me out, but I don't care about any of that,” Day said. “When I step in the cage, I'm not going in there to survive or hope I can make it to the last bell or anything like that. I'm going in there to make a statement. I'm going in there to show that the underdog can come out on top and your back could be against the wall and you can still pull something off big.”
It’s a confident approach from the 32-year-old, whose UFC run hasn’t been what he expected it to be when he made his debut in November 2018 as a fighter with an 8-2 record and a three-fight winning streak. What’s followed can be best be described as a series of unfortunate events, from a controversial decision loss to Liu Pingyuan, a year and a half on the sidelines due to injury, a late knockout defeat to Davey Grant in a fight that many believed was up for grabs heading into the final round, and a first-round submission at the hands of Anderson dos Santos.
“I definitely didn't get blown out in the first two fights,” said Day. “I felt like even in that Davey Grant fight I was about two minutes away from getting a decision win, and I definitely dropped the ball in that last one (against dos Santos), but I feel like I put on exciting fights. Every time I go out there, I'm looking to strike and throw kicks and throw exciting strikes, and I feel like that's what people want to see.”
That style, coupled with the way his first two losses went down, might be the reason why he got a call when Julio Arce was forced to withdraw from his bout with Valiev. Day was already in the gym and fresh from a trip to Fight Island, where he cornered Tyson Nam, so getting another chance to right his ship was an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“I was hoping for one more shot,” Day said. “You get finished twice in a row, you're probably in danger of losing your job. Me, I got finished twice in a row and I lost that one before, so I was staying ready for any opportunity that came next.”
That opportunity knocked, and he’s not about to let it slip by. Day knows what’s at stake, but with his back up against the wall, he’s going to come out firing.
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“This fight is kind of like a second chance that they're giving me,” he said. “So I'm seeing it as a big opportunity. I'm sure there's not a lot of guys that are lining up to fight this particular guy on such short notice. He's got a great record, he's a great fighter, so I'm happy for the opportunity to go in there and get one more chance in there and I'm looking to make the most of it. There's no pressure for me going into this. It's like a second chance. If there's any pressure on someone, it's gonna be on him. And I'm just gonna go in there and fight that way, like there's nothing to lose.”
If he repeats what Di Chirico did against Buckley, it will be a fresh start in 2021 for Day. Just don’t expect any “New Year, New Me” proclamations from “The Spartan.”
“I don't really look at years or anything like that as a fresh start,” he said. “To me, every day is a fresh start. You get up, you get to make a choice whether you're going to get better at something or not that day. So Saturday is going to be no different. Saturday is a big day for me and it's another fresh start, and when I get that win, it's a new lease on life. It's gonna definitely regenerate my career a little bit, so that's what I'm looking to go out there and do. I'm gonna make a statement Saturday.”