It wasn’t the Echo Arena in Liverpool or the O2 in London, but it didn’t matter, as Paddy Pimblett brought the excitement everyone expected from him in his UFC debut against Luigi Vendramini last September.
“I told you how it was gonna go, didn't I?” said Pimblett, who knocked Vendramini out in the first round of their bout at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas. And from an excitement level - before, during, and after - he’s spot on. But maybe he didn’t want to face the adversity he did early on…or did he?
“Obviously, he caught me with a nice shot and things weren't going my way, but that's just what I do,” he said. “I like getting into a firefight, I like a fistfight. It's entertaining for people and it's mad to say, but I enjoy getting punched. It's not something that I shy away from. I enjoy taking a shot and I enjoy giving a shot.”
“That fight was a good opener for me to show everyone what I'm about, and the funniest thing about it is, people think I'm a striker now. And I'm not. I'm far from it.”
Six wins by knockout say otherwise, but those are overruled by the seven submission victories notched by the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, who nonetheless has achieved a good bit of his popularity for ending 13 of his 17 pro wins before the final horn.
The rest of it? The 27-year-old has an idea where that comes from.
“To be honest, it's because I'm not putting on an act,” he said. “I'm just a normal lad. People like people being themselves. I'm not being like a Colby Covington - I'm not putting on a persona. I'm just being myself and I think that's what people like.”
The Liverpool lightweight is as genuine as it gets. A man of the people right down to his love for fast food, Pimblett has never strayed from who he is, and while no one knows the future, it looks like he may be one of the rare ones who never do, regardless of how big his MMA career gets.
“People always go, ‘Money changes people’ and it doesn't,” he said. “Money shows your true colors and shows you who the true person is inside. And I've always said that money will never change me and I mean it and I know it won't. I'll still have the same mates, I'm still gonna look after my family and, for me, it's all about my family and my friends and my fiancee. Everything else is just a bonus.”
That doesn’t mean Pimblett is a shrinking violet, blushing in the spotlight. He’s been chasing this attention for years and he’s not done yet.
“I've said for years that it was gonna get big,” he said. “I've always known that this was gonna happen. I just knew from when I was younger. I said for years that I was gonna be a big name in this sport, and I know after I'm done I'll be on television sets everywhere and I'll be a talking head or I'll be doing something because people just love me and I'm gonna continue to do that. I don't shy away from nothing, I just tell it how it is and people love me for that reason.”
The charisma is there, along with the bold statements about his future. But Pimblett, who makes his second UFC start this weekend against “Kazula” Vargas, wouldn’t be here if he couldn’t fight, and that’s the key to everything who will make his O2 Arena debut on Saturday.
“I can't wait because I always said I'm gonna fight in there and I'm gonna blow the roof off,” he said. “It's mad because I'm not the main event, but I'm the people's main event.”
Pimblett may be right, especially if the reaction he got in New York City’s Madison Square Garden while in town for UFC 268 last November is any indication.
“There's no feeling like it, to be honest,” he said when asked what it’s like to have an arena full of fans standing and cheering for him. “It gives you a brilliant feeling inside and you can't explain it. It's funny because when I went to Madison Square Garden and I walked into the weigh-ins, it happened there, and multiple different people said I got the loudest reception of anyone. I've had one UFC fight, lad. It just shows what I'm gonna do.”