Last year former The Ultimate Fighter runner up Andre Winner experienced the longest 15 minutes of his life in the UFC Octagon against wrestler Nick Lentz. Winner took the fight on Bloody Elbow's scorecard, but in the building that night it was a unanimous decision win for Lentz. The American did almost nothing offensively the entire fight. But his succesful takedowns were enough to carry the day.
"It was a pretty boring fight. It was a situation where he kind of used his wrestling to negate the fight. To stay away from a fight rather than go out there and win a fight," Winner said. "...He was clever in the way he did it. He moved around here and there to make it look like he was active. He was content to push up against the cage, and for the most part, stay there. He made it look like he wanted to do something rather than actually doing something."
You could hear the frustration in Winner's voice as he talked to SBNation's Luke Thomas on 106.7 The Fan's MMA Nation radio show. Like many of his fellow British fighters, wrestling has become Winner's Achilles heel. We've seen wrestler Rashad Evans derail Michael Bisping's winning streak with a wrestling based attack. Brit Dan Hardy is barely holding on to a position in the UFC due to an inability to stop the takedown. In Strikeforce, Paul Daley has similar problems. Winner believes the problem doesn't exist exclusively with each individual fighter. Instead, he contends, it's a failure of the British martial arts community.
"I'll be honest with you - it needs to be a lot better. Because we still don't have the training the guys in the U.S. have. Unless you compete in MMA or you're going to one of the very rare wrestling clubs, you're not going to find wrestling," Winner said. "Even know, there's not like a wrestling club I can go to that's strictly wrestling. All the wrestling I do is through MMA. We've got great jiu jitsu guys, we've got great strikers. We don't have the same kind of wrestlers."
Although wrestling and grappling are long term projects for the striker who finished his training camp last week in Montreal with Firas Zahabi and Georges St. Pierre, they aren't likely to be the difference between success and failure this weekend at UFC 132. Winner takes on Anthony Njokuani in a preliminary bout, one smart money says may net someone a knockout or fight of the night bonus.
"I think he's one of the best strikers in the lightweight division," Winner said. "I look forward to testing myself against him. And I look forward to testing him. I think it will be a pretty good fight. I'm looking forward to it. For the most part in my career I've fought guys who wanted to take me down...it's nice and refreshing to get a guy who wants to come out there and have a good striking match with me."