All of the rumors and speculation about Eddie Wineland and his standing in the UFC bantamweight division over the last few months could have driven the 29-year-old crazy.
Fortunately for his mental state, Wineland didn’t pay much attention.
After interim champion Renan Barao pulled out of a scheduled June title defense against Wineland, Internet reports varied wildly about who Wineland would fight instead and which other 135-pounder would get the crack at Barao when he got healthy.
“I try not to dig around with that stuff too much. You can read a million different things on there and the last one will contradict the first one,” Wineland said. “I just try and stay in touch with (Ultimate Fighting Championship matchmaker) Sean Shelby. I’d rather just go straight to the source and get my updates and find out what’s really going on.”
When the dust settled, Wineland was right back where he hoped to be. He will fight Barao for the interim belt at UFC 165 on Saturday night in Toronto.
“I was bummed (when the fight was canceled in May). It’s the culmination of what I’ve worked for for the last 10 years of my life and the rug gets pulled out from under me,” Wineland said.
“And then there was so many different factors in there that until I got that call that, ‘Hey, you’re fighting Renan again.’ I was on edge and I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen. This is obviously the fight I wanted and I’m just happy that he recovered fast and he’s 100 percent healthy and ready to go.”
It’s not as if Wineland was just sitting by the phone, though. The former World Extreme Cagefighting bantamweight champion still maintains his job as a full-time firefighter in Chesterton, Ind.
While trying to work around the kind of rigorous schedule demanded by that profession could be seen as a hindrance to becoming a high-level professional athlete, Wineland views it as a benefit.
He said he has no plans to quit even if he becomes champion Saturday.
“There’s no point in me giving up my job. I work 110 days a year (24-hour shifts) and I train the other 250. It’s not like it’s downtime in the firehouse, but I’m not training as hard. I’m still working out when I’m there. It’s kind of like an active rest day for me,” he said. “Everybody needs their rest days. When I go there, I can only do so much. I can get on the treadmill and run or I can lift weights. I can stay in shape, but I can’t push myself as hard as I would in the gym. It limits me as to how hard I can push myself and it almost forces me to take active rests.”
Unless, that is, there’s a fire to put out.
Wineland laughed as he recalled a story in which his two professions intersected.
He was on a call with his unit when a kid recognized Wineland and approached for an autograph.
“Obviously, I had to take care of the call first,” he said. “Then I tracked him down and signed his notebook for him. You get noticed every once in awhile, but I think I’m still flying under the radar. I’m not a (Georges St. Pierre) or Anderson Silva or Jon Jones. People know who I am, but not on that level.”
Winning a UFC belt could go a long way toward changing that.
Barao is on an unprecedented 30-fight unbeaten streak since losing his professional debut. He’s incredibly talented in all facets, though Wineland believes he has advantages he can exploit.
“I think my conditioning is better than his. I think my striking is better than his. I think my wrestling is better than his,” Wineland said. “He’s got a great ground game, but my ground game is good. I think the pace that I push and the mental toughness I possess is going to be the key.
“His winning streak is amazing. I mean he’s got what, a 30-fight win streak? That being said, he hasn’t fought me yet, so he’s going to see where his win streak stands and it hasn’t entered my head at all. He’s just another man, he puts his pants on one leg at a time just like I do, and there’s no reason I can’t beat him. So that doesn’t bother me at all.”
The fight is on a card headlined by Jones defending the light heavyweight belt against Alexander Gustafsson. The pay-per-view event airs live at 7 p.m.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at email@example.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.