SAN ANTONIO | Eddie Wineland's road never seems to be an easy one.
The Chesterton fighter was the first bantamweight champion in World Extreme Cagefighting history, winning the title three and a half years ago. But he lost it in his first defense and has been working his way back ever since.
On Saturday, at WEC 43 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Wineland finally got to taste a bit of the big-stage glory eluding him since he first won the 135-pound title.
Wineland duked it out with Manny Tapia for three rounds in a fight in which both men seemed determine to stand and trade punches. And after 15 hard-fought minutes, he came out ahead 30-27 on all three judges' scorecards.
Before the decision was read, the Houston-born Wineland, fighting in his native state, circled the cage pumping his fist to the crowd, knowing he had done enough to win.
"I needed that, man," Wineland said in his locker room immediately after finishing his medical checkup and getting his tape removed. "Nothing comes easy in this sport. It was awesome. That was a huge win. Me a former champion, him a former top contender -- I think he's ranked in the top 10 in the bantamweights. So I think that puts me right back up there in the running."
Wineland successfully defended a handful of shot attempts by Tapia but was always able to keep the fight standing -- where he knew he could use his defense and counter-punch abilities.
"Generally, I've always been a counter puncher," Wineland said. "I had good head movement side to side and I tried to capitalize on that. When he throws his punches, I make him pay for missing."
After losing the bantamweight belt to Eastern Illinois University product Chase Beebe in 2007, it took Wineland two years to get back to the WEC cage. He picked up a pair of wins on local cards in Hammond 6. And in his first bout back, at WEC 40 in Chicago, he was submitted by Rani Yahya in just over a minute.
A scheduled fight at WEC 41 in June had to be put off when he had an elbow injury. And just when he was hitting full steam in his training camp for Manny Tapia, the Sept. 2 fight was postponed to Saturday night.
And to top it off, after losing the roof of his townhouse in August's tornado, Wineland had to cut 12 pounds in 18 hours to make weight on Friday.
But the perseverance seems to have paid off.
In other action on Saturday's card, Mackens Semerzier, who splits his training time between Virginia and camps with East Chicago native Miguel Torres, pulled off one of the biggest upsets in WEC history.
Semerzier, a 6-to-1 underdog, submitted submission specialist Wagnney Fabiano, one of the WEC's top featherweight contenders, in just over two minutes with a triangle choke.
"I've always been the underdog," Semerzier said after the fight. "But I always felt I could win. All I can remember is my jiu-jitsu coach saying, 'Don't be afraid to go for the triangle if it's there.' My coaches and I worked on doing damage to the opponent if I caught him in a triangle, but I felt the choke was tight so I just went for it."
Semerzier very well may have signaled his arrival in the WEC and certainly put the featherweight division on notice for a new fighter to watch out for.
"I'm looking forward to training now as a WEC fighter," Semerzier said. "I got this fight on two weeks notice and now I'm so happy to be here."
Also victorious were Anthony Njokuani with a TKO stoppage over Muhsin Corbbrey; Scott Jorgensen with a TKO of Noah Thomas; Charlie Valencia with a unanimous decision over Coty wheeler; and Deividas Taurosevicius with a split decision over Javier Vazquez.