Eddie Wineland wants his belt back, and he knows that isn't going to be an easy task.
The Chesterton-based fighter for World Extreme Cagefighting, sister promotion to the UFC, was the WEC's first bantamweight champ back in 2006. Wineland lost the title in his first defense to Chase Beebe, who lost it to Miguel Torres, of East Chicago.
But now might be the best time possible for Wineland to be back in the hunt for what was once his. Torres lost the title in his fourth defense last August to Brian Bowles, and Bowles lost it in March to Dominick Cruz. So there is plenty of flux in the WEC's competitive 135-pound division.
"I feel that I'm right where I need to be and right where I want to be," Wineland said. "Big picture, big goal is that belt. And as long as I keep winning, they can't deny me that."
Wineland will seek to keep winning today when he meets Will Campuzano to open the televised main card of WEC 49 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The broadcast airs live on the Versus cable network at 8 p.m. It will be Wineland's Versus TV debut as well as the WEC's first event in Canada.
Wineland has two straight wins in the WEC after losing in his return after a two-year absence. And they have both been impressive -- both 30-27 unanimous decision sweeps of the judges' scorecards as he outboxed Manny Tapia and George Roop.
Those two victories put Wineland (16-6-1, 3-2 WEC) in the Top 10 on some bantamweight ranking lists -- even ahead of Torres, once considered to be a Top 5 pound-for-pound fighter in the world before his two consecutive losses.
WEC co-founder and general manager Reed Harris said Wineland's resurgence shouldn't come as a surprise.
"Eddie has always been one of the most talented bantamweights in the world," Harris said. "I think you've seen him really find confidence in his boxing lately. His striking looks crisp and it's good to see the progression he's made as a fighter. People forget -- Eddie is only 25. He's building on his skills every day and we're happy that his home is in the WEC."
Against Campuzano (7-1, 1-1 WEC), Wineland faces a fighter with less experience, but who is hungry for recognition. Campuzano is coming off a decision win over Coty Wheeler that won the Fight of the Night bonus award at WEC 46 in January. Campuzano replaced Charlie Valencia as Wineland's opponent when Valencia had to drop out with an injury.
"Everybody's got the same goal in mind -- everybody's looking at that hardware," Wineland said. "I think my experience will play a factor, but it's not his first rodeo. He's been in the gym. He's got a good understanding of what's going on. I'm really not overlooking the fact that he doesn't have 20-plus fights. He's got the experience, he's got the skills and that stuff's dangerous."
And while Wineland said he would love a knockout -- and the thought of a Knockout of the Night bonus award, typically $10,000, really gets his blood moving -- he knows he might have to grind one out again, like he did with Tapia and Roop, who had a four-inch height advantage.
"I always look to finish," Wineland said. "I'm sure there were probably a couple times I might have been able to finish Roop. Tapia, that was a different story. With Roop, I dropped him and tried chasing him and that length thing became a factor. I tried reaching for him and I couldn't get to him, and by the time I got to him he had recovered. I think you just play it smart. I used to go out guns blazing and I was getting myself caught. Now I try to pick and choose my shots better, make them count. Whatever I have to do to win."
But Harris believes that while Wineland may not yet be a household name among casual MMA fans, the potential is there.
"Eddie is an exciting guy to watch," Harris said. "His last two fights have been standup wars. You can't ask much more from a fighter. He throws punches with the intentions of ending fights and, moreover, intentions of pleasing the fans. That's why we put him on the televised card. He's proved time and time again that he will lay it all on the line."
MIXED MARTIAL ARTS
WEC 49: Varner vs. Shalorus
When: 8 tonight.
Where: Rexall Place, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
TV: Versus (cable).
155: Jamie Varner (16-3-2, 2 NC) vs. Kamal Shalorus (6-0-1)
145: Mark Hominick (17-8) vs. Yves Jabouin (14-5)
145: Josh Grispi (13-1) vs. LC Davis (16-2)
155: Chris Horodecki (13-2) vs. Danny Downes (6-0)
135: Eddie Wineland (16-6-1) vs. Will Campuzano (7-1)