"I need this win for sure. I would say I’m on the chopping block, so this is a really important fight for me." - Keith Wisniewski
At the top level of any sport, you have to assume that luck isn’t part of the end equation. You put in your time, you get your shot, and you either pass or fail when it’s time to perform. But in the case of Indiana welterweight Keith Wisniewski, it’s hard not to think that at times he’s been dealt a bad hand by Lady Luck.
Forget the fact that among his 28 pro MMA wins, none of them came in his three UFC outings, despite strong efforts in each bout that showed that he was getting close to the Promised Land. But after his exciting three round split decision loss to Chris Clements at UFC 145 in April of 2012, he disappeared off the MMA map through no fault of his own, unless you count a nagging shoulder injury that required surgery his own fault.
“It had been bothering me for quite some time,” said the 31-year-old from Hobart, who is also an iron worker. “I was hoping to fight roughly a year ago, last September / October, and as it was getting closer and closer I was trying to train and the shoulder was getting worse. I would start a practice but I couldn’t finish. And that was happening two, three days a week. So I got it checked out and sure enough I had a tear and had to get it repaired.”
The rehab process was a long one, and as he got healthy he continued to run the Duneland Vale Tudo gym and work his shifts as a member of Local 395. Finally, he was given the green light to resume training at full speed and he got a fight with Marcelo Guimaraes for Wednesday’s UFC Fight Night card in Brazil. But of course, a couple weeks ago, Guimaraes got injured, with newcomer Ivan Jorge getting the call to step in. For Wisniewski, such annoyances have been par for the course during his 15-plus year career. And while he wouldn’t call it bad luck, everyone else probably would.
“I’ve probably had - within two weeks of a fight - maybe ten in my career,” he said of late replacement opponents. “I had a fight fall through at the weigh ins once.”
That didn’t happen this time, as both Wisniewski (170 pounds) and Jorge (169) showed up and made weight for Wednesday’s bout in Belo Horizonte, and as far as switched opponents go, Wisniewski wasn’t too bothered by this one strategically.
“I hate having late changes because you prepare for opponents, you’ve got that all set in your mind, and it’s kind of a psychological thing when they throw a last second change at you,” he said. “But stylistically, they’re real comparable. They have a lot of the same strategies, so I think as far as last minute replacements go, I couldn’t have gotten a much more same streamlined fight style and strategy.”
At this point, Wisniewski doesn’t get rattled by too much – 15 years and 41 fights have a funny way of making you immune to such matters – and as he admits, at the UFC level, there are a lot fewer hiccups than there are on the regional circuit.
“Obviously doing something a second time once you’ve encountered it is definitely easier,” he said. “And there’s not really that many curveballs that the UFC throws at you. It’s the smaller shows when you’re coming up that you get all the crazy curveballs thrown at you.”
Which makes Wisniewski’s desire to stay in the big show all the more intense, and he’s under no illusions about where he stands after going 0-3 in his first three Octagon bouts.
“I need this win for sure,” he said. “I would say I’m on the chopping block, so this is a really important fight for me.”
So what’s been the issue for him thus far? Is it just one of those things, or is there a deeper answer to why the same guy who has defeated UFC vets Pete Spratt, Chris Wilson, Jorge Santiago, Steve Berger, Derrick Noble, and Carlo Prater hasn’t been able to get that W in the Octagon?
“I don’t think there’s any huge mental block or anything there, and I definitely think the last two (against Clements and Josh Neer) were winnable fights,” he said. “The Clements fight was really close. I thought I lost that fight, and I know it was a split decision, but I would have scored it his way. I think there was a big swing in that first round. The standup hurt me in that round and the spinning back kick with a minute to go stole that round, otherwise that might have been my decision. So I don’t think there’s any mental block; it’s just that the three fights I had in the UFC I happened to drop.”
Just knowing that he’s a fighter who has paid his dues, worked hard, and shows up every time to fight makes you hope that he does get that win. Hearing him actually admit that he lost a split decision legitimately only adds to your admiration of someone who is an honest fighter – literally and figuratively. And if Wisniewski does get his hand raised Wednesday night, even though he claims that he’s “not young as springtime anymore,” it may spark a resurgence for him that will allow him to put that bad luck in the past forever.
“It (a win) is going to lead to another fight, but I think it will give me a little more job security, and allow me to put in a nice long camp,” he said. “If I win this one, I’m probably not going to go back to iron work. I’ll probably just go immediately back into training for my next fight, which would be nice. If I could put in an extended period of time when I’m training full-time, I can get in better and better shape, and work on my strength and conditioning. So if I can put together a win streak, I think it kind of builds on itself where I’ll athletically improve just because I’ll be putting more time into training.”