Blame his cell phone’s roaming charges as the reason Darren Elkins didn’t immediately pounce on a late-notice opportunity to fight fellow featherweight contender Chad Mendes at next month’s UFC on FOX 7 event.
Earlier this month, the fast-rising 145-pounder scored a first-round TKO win over Antonio Carvalho at UFC 158 in Montreal. Mere hours later, UFC officials called Elkins (16-2 MMA, 6-1 UFC) to see if he’d replace injured Clay Guida and fight Mendes (13-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC) on April 20.
Elkins, though, was totally oblivious to the opportunity.
“Up there (in Canada) I had my phone turned off,” Elkins today told MMAjunkie.com Radio (www.mmajunkie.com/radio). “You’ve got those ridiculous roaming charges and stuff.”
Manager Audie Attar, though, soon caught up with the Indiana wrestler and broke the news of the potential bout. Elkins and his coaches decided to sleep on it, but though the adrenaline was still pumping from his UFC 158 fight, his mind was made up before his head even hit the pillow.
“[My coaches] thought it’d be good for me to step in, and I had been wanting a top 10 guy anyway,” he said. “I’m healthy, and I’m in shape anyway, so I was excited about it.”
Of course, going from Carvalho, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu and shotokan black belt, to Mendes, a two-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler with proven knockout power, is going to take a completely different training camp.
More than anything, Elkins knows he needs to prepare for the Californian’s athleticism. And he has limited time to do it.
“He’s a guy who’s totally different than the last guy I fought, so it’s going to have to be a different style of training,” he said. “But I have time, so I’m not too worried about it.
“A guy like Mendes, he’s an explosive guy. You’ve got to be ready for his explosiveness. So you’ve got to bring [into camp] those quick guys, guys who can shoot any time, guys who have quick hands, and come in and out. For me, it’s got to be a footwork type of thing and getting ready for his speed. That’s going to be a tricky part of it.”
But it’s obviously a gamble worth taking. Elkins is currently ranked No. 7 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie.com featherweight rankings, and Mendes is No. 3. Additionally, No. 2 Ricardo Lamas meets No. 6 “The Korean Zombie,” Chan Sung Jung, at UFC 162 in July, and No. 5 Cub Swanson awaits an opponent.
The division is hitting the homestretch, and Elkins is keenly aware what a big win could do for his title hopes.
“I figure you have ‘Zombie,’ and you’ve got Lamas obviously,” he said. “And then Mendes in most rankings is No. 2. He’s only lost to (current champ) Jose Aldo. So it’d put me right there. That’s one of the reasons I took it. If I win this fight, rightfully so, I should be right there in the title contention.”
Of course, part of his job is getting fans to care and making them want to see him in big fights. During his recent 5-0 run in the UFC, Elkins has put together an impressive resume, though not everyone took notice. So now, the usually low-key fighter is getting out of his comfort zone and taking his pitch to fans.
“That’s one thing I’ve really been working on,” he said. “Before, I really shied away from some interviews. But I’m getting on Twitter and stuff like that. I’m really trying to get my name out there so people get to me.”
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