Just three short months ago, UFC newcomer Payton Talbott was making a name for himself on Dana White’s Contender Series.
The undefeated bantamweight delivered in front of the UFC CEO, landing 145 significant strikes (a Contender Series record), while stuffing 16 of his opponent’s 17 takedown attempts en route to a unanimous decision victory.
“This kid is an absolute predator,” UFC President Dana White said post-fight. “He keeps moving forward, he seems unfazed by everything that happens, he plays the mental game, he keeps talking to his opponent. He’s only 24 years old. If this kid can keep his head together, I can’t wait to see him at 27.”
The now 25-year-old returns to the APEX for the first time since his impressive performance on the show, but this time, as an official UFC athlete.
“It was super special to hear [White] say what he said,” Talbott said. “I think I kind of expected it going into that fight; I have a lot of high expectations for myself. At the end of the day, Dana’s words mean a lot to me, but nothing means more than what I say to myself.”
“I said that I was proud of myself, but I could’ve done better. No one’s harder on me than I am.”
The Reno, Nevada native began his combat sports career in middle school, where he wrestled all the way through high school. When he turned 18, Talbott entered a mixed martial arts gym and immediately fell in love. Talbott hadn’t watched or knew much about the sport before he started training.
Even though he wrestled for many years, Talbott prefers to keep the fight standing. Drawing inspiration from Max Holloway, one of the UFC’s most prolific strikers, and Hall of Fame boxer Mike Tyson, Talbott has developed into what he calls an “adaptable” striker.
“My striking is extremely adaptable,” Talbott said. “It’s not just good and it’s not just high volume. I adapt based on what my opponent does very well. I’m very comfortable throwing when I’m uncomfortable. That, along with my cardio, makes it a huge challenge for people.
“I hope I fill the canvas with what is the new era of MMA. I hope I continue to fill it with being a hungry, intelligent, young guy. Even if I’m old in this sport, I don’t ever want to be looked at as old. I just want to stay hungry, and every day look for something I can improve on or something I can learn. I think fighters, now more than ever, are intelligent.”
This Saturday, Talbott heads back to the UFC APEX - seven hours south from his hometown - for his promotional debut against Nick Aguirre at UFC Fight Night: Allen vs Craig. Aguirre has only fought once in the UFC, losing via unanimous decision to Dan Argueta in January.
Despite suffering a “boo-boo” to his thumb in his Contender Series fight, along with various nicks and bruises that come along with being a professional fighter, Talbott said he’s never felt healthier heading into a fight.
“[Aguirre] seems like a chill guy,” Talbott said. “I think we’re a lot alike in some ways. I think he’s just a little bit more of a boring version of me. He has a very accurate expectation of me in this fight, which is really refreshing to see. I’ve had a lot of opponents that are like, ‘Ah, he’s nothing special. When he feels the hands, it’s gonna change the fight.’ Nick, to me, seems like he knows what he’s getting himself into. He said that he’s prepared for 15 minutes of hell, and I always am, so I’m going to try and drag him into super deep water and swim faster than him.”
“I’m not as one dimensional as he is. I can wrestle, even though I don’t like to. My Swiss Army knife has more tools than his does. I’m going to be a lot more adaptable to where the fight goes. Although I don’t want to be in some places, I do feel confident in controlling the pace and putting it where I want it to be.”
Talbott enters a UFC bantamweight division that saw a new champion crowned the same month he signed his contract with the promotion. While the 135-pound division is highly regarded as one of the most stacked divisions in the UFC, Talbott believes he’ll make his presence known sooner than later.
“I hope the rest of the bantamweight division is saying that they’re scared,” Talbott said. “Or just that people are excited to fight me and test themselves, just like I do. If they don’t notice me after Saturday, it’s just a matter of time.”
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.