Nate Maness was penciled in to face Zhalgas Zhumagulov earlier this year at UFC 288 in Newark, New Jersey in what would have been his first pay-per-view card appearance.
A knee injury forced him out of the scheduled pairing and left him sidelined until this weekend, when he returns to the UFC APEX to face off with Mateus Mendonca in what should be an explosive flyweight contest on Saturday’s preliminary card.
“I just don’t feel like I’ve gotten the full UFC experience yet,” Maness said when asked about the disappointment of having to withdraw from his last fight. “This will be my sixth fight and they’ve all been at the APEX. It’s not necessarily hard to fight there, but you don’t have your friends and family around, the big crowd, the ceremonial weigh-ins and everything that goes into being in the UFC.
“Hopefully after this one we can get into a pay-per-view. I definitely look forward to getting the full UFC experience one day.”
While the full UFC experience is something Maness will have to continue waiting for through this weekend’s pairing with Mendonca, one thing that the Kentucky product is focused on experiencing again is having his hand raised inside the Octagon.
The 32-year-old began his time on the roster with three consecutive victories, out-hustling Johnny Munoz in his debut before collecting stoppage wins over Luke Sanders and Tony Gravely that established him as a person of interest in the bantamweight division.
Since then, however, Maness has dropped back-to-back outings against Umar Nurmagomedov and Tagir Ulanbekov, with a move to the flyweight ranks coming between the two setbacks.
He was able to put the loss to Nurmagomedov behind him with relative ease given that the 27-year-old bantamweight prospect remains undefeated and has finished everyone else he’s faced thus far in his four-fight UFC run, but the sting of his last outing against Ulanbekov lingers.
“I made a mistake, he locked up my neck, and it’s one of those things,” began Maness, a tinge of frustration evident in his voice. “I went three rounds with Umar and then you get in there for two minutes with Tagir. It’s just one of those things that happen, so I’m not really sure what to take away from it.
“I was prepared, I was ready, and I know I can beat that guy, but sometimes that’s just the way the ball rolls. I’m looking forward to this one, getting this next W, and getting back on track.
“It’s definitely one of the more difficult things I’ve ever had to do in this sport,” he said of dealing with losing his flyweight debut. “I dedicated a long time to that weigh-in, doing everything right for 12 weeks. We were very disciplined with everything, and to go in there and have that kind of showing in two minutes is not what you’re preparing for, not what you’re planning for.
“Things do happen, and I’ve done the best that I can for this camp to make sure they don’t happen again, but you never know,” Maness added, acknowledging the unpredictable reality of a career forged in the UFC cage. “You go in there and somebody has got to lose, somebody has got to win.
“I feel like I’ve done my part and I deserve a victory, so I’m gonna go in there and try to take it.”
There is a certain amount of pressure that exists for an athlete every single time they make the walk to the Octagon — wins and losses matter, and future opportunities and potential earnings can hinge on the successes and failures that transpire in the cage.
As such, there is an inherent belief that entering off a loss ratchets up the pressure a little more, and each subsequent unfavorable result just continues to up the ante. With Maness heading into this weekend’s contest off consecutive defeats, many would likely assume that “Mayhem” is feeling the heat and doing his best to block out thoughts about his current situation, but instead, the talented flyweight said he feels completely at ease heading into his showdown with Mendonca on Saturday.
“I’m actually feeling a lot of freedom for this fight,” offered Maness, who went 10-1 prior to arriving in the UFC and carries a 14-3 mark into the weekend. “I know the pressure is on and things like that, but it’s nothing I haven’t felt before.
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“I haven’t added any extra pressure to myself because I’ve been down two. I fought two really good guys, I worked hard, I prepared right — I know I’ve done everything I need to do. I’m still excited about this game, still feel like there is a lot more I can improve on. I’m really set on getting into the rankings, getting to that belt.
“There is no extra pressure,” he reiterated. “I feel good, and I love the matchup with Mateus. I think we’re gonna go in there and put on a good show. No extra pressure at all.”
Saturday will be Mendonca’s debut in the flyweight division, as the Dana White’s Contender Series graduate made his promotional debut at bantamweight in January, dropping a unanimous decision to fellow DWCS alum and ascending prospect Javid Basharat.
With Mendonca representing the Chute Boxe Diego Lima team that includes former lightweight champion Charles Oliveira, Maness has a good idea of what to expect from his dance partner this weekend, and welcomes the opportunity to face someone that will likely be willing trade with him and isn’t another wrestler from Dagestan.
“That’s the main thing, right?” he quipped when asked about facing Mendonca and not another suffocating grappler. “Mateus walks forward, he’s aggressive; he’ll take a couple shots to give one.
UFC Fight Night: Dawson vs Green took place live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada on October 7, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!