Written By: Barry Laminack
If you’ve followed Houston MMA for any length of time now, then you have no doubt heard the name Daniel Pineda (15-7-0). He’s pound for pound the best fighter in Houston and the fighter most felt would be the next to break out on the national stage. Pineda got the call from his management team on Wednesday (Dec. 28) that the UFC wanted to sign him. This writer was lucky enough to be there when the call came in. It was great to see the joy on so many faces at 4oz Fight Club.
UPDATE: MMA Junkie reported that Daniel will be facing Pat Schilling at UFC on FX 1.
Daniel’s longtime coach and friend (and TCD Columnist) Bob Perez was the one who got the call. Kru Perez has been there by Pineda’s side since the beginning, so I asked him what it felt like putting his first fighter in the UFC.
“It’s amazing. Pineda and I started from day one. He was a pure wrestler and took a couple of years to come into his own. As a coach, I had to try to make him a more complete fighter. When he first came he didn’t want to train at all. He didn’t even want to fight. He used to hate getting hit, he used to hate training, now he just loves to fight. He’s a self-starter, he’s a self motivator and he’s a great team captain here. That’s why he’s so succesful, he can push himself. He doesn’t always need me there yelling at him,” Perez told me.
“He has also progressed a lot. He is at such a high level know that we discuss what he wants to work on before we train. I’m very happy for him and very proud,” he added.
I also asked him what he thought this meant for the Houston MMA scene as a whole, to which he responded, “ I think it’s huge. If he goes in there and win or lose does well, they are going to ask him back. I think it will open doors for other up and comers. I know Andrew Craig signed with First Round Management [Pineda's new management company] so somebody like him might benefit from this. It’s kind of like, if Bob talked about Pineda and he’s doing well, maybe this guy Andrew will do well too. So for the scene, I think they really might start taking not fo the top-level guys and this could be what it takes to get everybody in the door,” he said.
He also added, “When I went to California not too long ago, I can tell you that we are years behind on the Muay Thai, at least 5-10 year. MMA? We are there. Obviously it’s been there longer but Houston is ready. Also, look what Johnny Bedford is doing for Texas. It’s beautiful.”
Jeremy Mahon is not only a coach and fighter from 4oz Fight Club, but he is also part owner. In fact, he started the gym back in 2007. Along with being Daniels coach, he was also Daniel’s first fight as a pro (Daniel defeated Mahon via rear naked choke in the first round). Having been through some highs and lows as the owner of 4oz, I wanted to get his take on what this meant to his gym, him and the city.
“I think this validates us as a fight team. We will now be seen as a team that can compete at the highest level. Daniel isn’t our only fighter who will ever be in the UFC, he is just the first. Daniel will kick the door open and blaze the way for future 4oz fighters in the UFC,” Mahon told me.
It was also personal for Mahon. He told me that it meant a lot to him for Daniel to make it to the UFC, especially after all the hard work he’s put in over the last 4 years.
“Daniel has worked his ass off for this. There have been ups and downs in his career but he stayed the course and continued to push and evolve as a fighter. We never lost faith that Daniel would make it this far and he never lost that faith either. I feel a lot of pride in our team right now and I am very happy for my brother ‘The Pit’.”
He added, “We were all arriving to the gym to train when the call came so was pretty cool to get to share in the news with each other like that. First thing through my head after ‘this is pretty badass’ was, ‘we need to get training’. It was a great night at 4oz., the energy level was high and we ended up having one of the hardest mass sparring sessions I have ever seen. Everyone is very excited about the opportunity.”
As for Mahon’s take on what this means for Houston MMA, he told me that this could be the beginning of some great things for Houston.
“This means everything for Houston MMA. This shows that the UFC has taken notice of what’s going on down here. Daniel is a Houston fighter, he is home grown right here and plans on staying here. This will bring more attention to Houston on the global MMA scene and hopefully will not only get more Houston fighters into the ufc but also bring more high level fighters down here to train and fight in Houston.”
So what does the fighter himself think about all of this?
I spoke with the current Legacy Fighting Championship Featherweight and Lightweight title holder Pineda only minutes after he found out the news. Here is our conversation.
TCD: First and foremost, congratulations.
Daniel Pineda: Thank you sir.
TCD: I’ve waited a long time to ask a Houston fighter this question, since when we launched this site back in October 2009 to be exact. What went through your mind when you found out the UFC wanted you to fight for them? What was the very first thing you thought of?
Daniel: Who am I going to fight?!?!
TCD: Just like that huh?
Daniel: Yeah, pretty much. I was thinking, who the hell are they going to put in front of me? You know they toss cans to current UFC fighters, so I’m pretty sure they think I’m a can.
TCD: So that’s your mentality going into it?
Daniel: Yeah. I’m happy. I want to be the underdog here.
TCD: Well, it’s been a while since you’ve been the underdog. You’ve been the top dog in Houston, of the tops in Texas.
Right now you don’t know who your opponent is, but when the time comes and you find out, are you going to change anything?
Daniel: No. I’m going in there with the same game plan; lets see if he can stop my shot. If he can stop my shot then we’ll stand up. I’ve always said that.
TCD: What do you think was the tipping point for you that finally got you the call from the UFC?
Daniel: I think it was because I’ve fought and beet the best in Houston at Legacy as well as outside with guys like Frank Gomez.
TCD: How long have you been waiting on this moment?
Daniel: Since I started with 4oz.
TCD: In talking with your coaches you guys have been after this goal since you had your first fight under the 4oz banner. That was 4 years ago. I know it’s been a struggle at times.
Daniel: Yeah, it’s been a lot of hard work. Plus I went through that 4 loss streak.
TCD: What do you say to the fighters out there who are going through something similar, but have dreams of making it to the UFC one day?
Daniel: Don’t give up! I was losing and I wanted to give up. I told Bob [Perez] that I was going to stop and get a job. He told me not to give up and all of my team mates told me not to give up; and here I am. Follow your dreams and never give up.
TCD: I know it’s early and you just got the call about an hour ago, but what do you know about the contract?
Daniel: Not much, but I know after this fight they are going to want to give me a contract. I’m going to go in there swinging and it’s going to be fight of the night. I always put on a show in every fight, and this one is going to be even better.
TCD: Are you nervous at all? It’s the biggest stage in the world for MMA.
Daniel: You know what, when I heard the news I was like, “OH WOW. Man, am I ready for this?”
No, I’m ready. Bob and I have waited for this for a long time. When ever they told me I said I’d take who ever they put in front of me. It’s time to move forward and see what god brings.
TCD: Obviously one of your goals was to make it to the UFC. Now that you have, what is your next goal?
Daniel: I’m going after the belt. I got the Legacy belts and now it’s time to go after the UFC belt. When I get that belt, then I can finally sleep with it. [laughs]
TCD: Wait, so you sleep with the Legacy belts?
Daniel: No. I do not sleep with the Legacy belts, but I would sleep with the UFC belt. I’m still not up their with everybody else yet, but I’m going to be there with them one day; and then I’ll sleep with that belt.
TCD: The road to the UFC has been difficult. Give me a sense of what you think the journey will be like now?
Daniel: Man, I have to just worry about my next opponent.
TCD: What does it mean to go to the UFC and represent Houston?
Daniel: It means a lot. I have always wanted to do that you know. We always talk about getting Houston on the map and I want to be one of the first guys to do that. All these guys that have been out there, even me when I fought on Bellator and lost, talk about representing Texas. Now I am going to have to change that and represent.
TCD: I know you have a lot of people who you want to thank for helping you get to this point, so I’m going to shut up and let you thank them.
Daniel: Man, this has been a long time coming. I want to thank Los Cucos, Kinzy Custom Flooring, The Lot, Texas Orthopedics and Aquatics Institutes and 713 Tattoo Parlor.
I want to thank Robert for my striking. I want to thank Renan for my jiu-jitsu because since I’ve been training with him I have not got submitted yet. All the fights that I got submitted I didn’t have a jiu-jitsu coach, it was just wrestling and ground and pound. Now that I have Renan, when you put him with Robert I’ve changed a lot.
Thank you to Jeremy for taking me in to the 4oz family. I also want to thank Adrian for stepping up and keeping 4oz open. There was a time when we thought the gym was going to close for good, but look at us now!
I want to thank all my training partners for helping me out: Jesus Rivera, Steve Garcia, Tim Snyder, Jose Santibanez, Ray Blodgett, Cody Phillips, Lee Higgins, Dominic Rodriguez, Rocky Long and everybody else that trains with me and helps me get ready.
I want to thank Mick and Legacy for having me on their shows. I also want to thank all the fans out there that support me and go out the the shows and scream my name.
TCD: Good point. You do sell a lot of tickets locally. How are you going to deal with not having fans cheering for you?
Daniel: They will. They will cheer because this fight will be televised. It has to be.
TCD: Oh yeah? Explain.
Daniel: I said we will win fight of the night, but to be honest, I don’t like going the distance; you know that. I don’t like going all three. I’ve only gone the distance one time and I didn’t like it. This fight is going to end in the first or the second for one of us. One of us is going to get knocked out our submitted, but we ain’t going all three. Win or lose it’s going to end early.
TCD: Well, we are all very happy for you Daniel. I know all of Houston has waited for this; for somebody to break out and get to the UFC. We hope you are the first of many and wish you nothing but the best. Congratulations.
Daniel: Thank You.