At long last, Eddie Wineland finally has his opportunity to come full circle.
Wineland, of Westville, gets his first crack at a UFC title today – a fight that was delayed from an original booking in mid-June. And he'll be going after a belt that he considers himself the original owner of.
Wineland (20-8-1, 2-2 UFC) meets interim bantamweight titleholder Renan Barao (30-1, 5-0 UFC) in the co-main event of UFC 165, which takes place at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. The main card airs on pay-per-view.
Wineland, who has won two straight in impressive fashion to get his shot at Barao, was the first 135-pound champion for World Extreme Cagefighting, a promotion that in 2011 merged with the UFC. So as far as the genealogy is concerned, Wineland believes Barao and regular champ Dominick Cruz, who hasn't fought in nearly two years due to back-to-back knee surgeries, are holding his gold.
"To me it's almost a homecoming," Wineland said. "If you trace the lineage of the UFC bantamweight belt, it (originally was) the WEC belt. I was the first holder of the WEC belt. So to me, that's a homecoming. I've been training my butt off and I'm going to come and put it all on the line. And my plan is to take belt back to Indiana with me."
Wineland is a heavy underdog in the fight, with Barao coming in as much as a 7-to-1 favorite. To put that in perspective, the Brazilian has never been this big of a favorite in the WEC or UFC. He has not lost since the first fight of his career in April 2005. Since then, he's gone 30-0 with one no-contest. On Friday, both fighters weighed in at 135 pounds for the fight, making the bout official
Wineland knows about his opponent's streak, and he doesn't care.
"His winning streak is amazing," he said. "That said, he hasn't fought me yet, so he's going to see where his win streak stands. 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."
Wineland and Barao were supposed to meet in the main event of UFC 161 in June in Winnipeg. Instead, they'll stay in Canada as a co-feature in Toronto. A foot injury in May forced Barao out of their original booking.
Wineland said the delay was just a temporary setback, and as long as he remained the next in line to challenge Barao was all that mattered.
"I was bummed – 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," he said. "But, it's the nature of sports. Injuries happen and they told me to keep training as if I were fighting. 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."
But the call came, and now Wineland has his shot. After two straight fights to open his UFC career against former featherweight champ Urijah Faber and current flyweight challenge Joseph Benavidez, Wineland rebounded with a knockout of Scott Jorgensen, then picked apart Brad Pickett with his boxing.
Those wins gave him the confidence he needed to go into a fight against a champion the likes of Barao, considered by many to be one of the top 10 pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
"My last couple of fights, I've just reset myself mentally," Wineland said. "Physically, I've always been there. Mentally, I've made myself tougher. Not that I wasn't before, but I hit the reset button and I'm back to my old self and doing what I like to do."
He hopes that spells trouble for Barao, and then 12 pounds of gold around his waist tonight in Toronto.