On paper, Saturday’s bantamweight bout between undefeated newcomer Payton Talbott and once-beaten southpaw Nick Aguirre looks like an evenly-matched showdown between two fighters with the exact same level of experience.
Oswego, Illinois’ Aguirre begs to differ.
“I started training when I was 11 years old, and I was training with professional fighters,” he said. “So I have a really high Fight IQ. I've been around this game my entire life, basically, and MMA is such a huge part of my life. I've experienced so much with this sport, and I feel like I know a lot more than other people with my record. I've also had a lot of really good people around me who have given me a ton of advice, so yeah, I think I have a lot more experience than most people with eight professional fights.”
That doesn’t just come from participating in the sport (and as a D-2 wrestler for McKendree University), but from watching his family compete. His father used to fight and his younger brother is an active competitor, but being around an older brother during his MMA career let him see that life on the regional circuit in the Midwest isn’t like watching a UFC pay-per-view event at Madison Square Garden.
“My brother was fighting professionally when I was 12 years old, so I would go in the back and I got to see everything,” Aguirre recalls. “And my dad does matchmaking stuff around here locally, so I've seen a lot of crazy stuff.”
Stuff like no weigh-ins, no commissions, and moments that current fighters and fans couldn’t imagine happening today.
“I remember one time I was at a show and there was a guy who sold a lot of tickets and then his opponent just didn’t show up,” said Aguirre. “There was a guy in the crowd, he might've already been drinking at that point, just having a good time, and they were like, ‘Hey, can you fight this guy? We need him to fight. He has a lot of people here.’ And I guess he was like, ‘If you give me beer money and somebody buys me a cup and mouthpiece from a Walmart, I'll fight.’”
Yes, this was MMA before the UFC got it sanctioned around the country and State athletic commissions made sure things like this didn’t take place. But here’s the kicker:
“He fought and he won,” laughs Aguirre.
But how much beer money did he get?
“Hopefully a lot,” he laughs.
Experience like that won’t make him faster or more powerful than Talbott, but when the Octagon door shuts, it will put him a place where he doesn’t fear his opponent or wonder what happens when things don’t go his way. He’ll take that information in, adjust accordingly, and do whatever it takes to turn his 7-1 record to 8-1.
“I sort of feel like I know his mindset just from listening to him,” said Aguirre. “I've heard him talk a little bit and I feel like he thinks he's going to run through me. I don't know how serious he thinks I am. I think that is partially because he is undefeated, and he has kind of run through a lot of these guys. He's had a few wars, but, for the most part, he was controlling those fights even though they were barnburners. So I feel like he's a bit arrogant, for sure.”
It wasn’t too long ago that Aguirre was the undefeated fighter in the equation, and maybe it was the confidence that comes with that “0” that led him to agree to a UFC fight against Dan Argueta up a weight class on short notice in January.
“It’s not ideal, but there is a thing about when you haven't lost before where you do feel a bit invincible, and that was definitely a thing in my head,” he said. “It was like, yeah, these aren’t the best circumstances, but somehow I'm going to find a way to get it done. And I felt comfortable with the matchup and I felt like if I had time, there's no way I would say no to this guy, so why would I say no now? And this is the UFC - this has been my dream my whole life. I have to say yes and I'm going to find a way to get this done. And unfortunately it just didn't go that way.”
Aguirre lost a unanimous decision to Argueta at the APEX, but now he’s back with a second chance to make a first impression. And while he won’t be putting a perfect record on the line like his opponent will, he has no regrets about stepping up to the plate when his number was called earlier this year.
“I'd do it all again in a second, for sure,” Aguirre said. “It's not like me to say no to something like that. There was never a question in my head, and I've learned a lot from it. Yeah, it didn't go my way, but I feel like I got so much better from that experience. I feel like I learned way more from that fight than every other fight combined. It's easy when you're dominating people on the local circuit, but you're truly not learning much. You're just learning what you already know, which is that local scene. You're way better than a lot of these guys. I got away with some things that I didn't get away with against Dan Argueta. I let him back me up, I let him dictate the pace, and locally, that wasn't happening against anybody. I was backing up everybody and I was doing what I wanted to do. And so I learned a lot from the Argueta fight.”
Now he plans on playing Professor Aguirre to Payton Talbott.
Don't miss a moment of UFC Fight Night: Allen vs Craig, live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. Prelims start at 2pm ET/11am PT, while the main card kicks off at 5pm ET/2pm PT.