"Hello, UFC. Pleased to meet you. I'm Chris Wilson."
The 30-year-old mixed martial artist is leaving for Ohio in a few
hours and laughing while imagining his upcoming UFC debut. Wilson
has been in many fights, but nothing like the one awaiting him
"You know why I am excited? I'll finally be getting a little bit of
recognition," the Team Quest product said. "This is a big
opportunity for me. It's made me reflect on my life. The world is
turning, things are happening and now is the time to show what I am
Still a virtual unknown, Wilson will fight rising star Jon Fitch (Pictures) at UFC 82 in Columbus on
Saturday. Fitch is on a 14-fight win streak and may be one fight
from a welterweight title shot.
"No one wanted to fight Jon
Fitch (Pictures)," Team Quest founder Matt Lindland (Pictures) said. "Most guys turned it down.
This is a big opportunity, but Chris is not getting a warm-up
fight. There is a good and bad to it. If Chris wins, he will be one
of the top guys, but then what? He will face another tough guy and
then another tough guy. It won't get any easier."
Fitch, a wrestler from Purdue, has made opponents look really bad,
which may be why some top contenders allegedly ducked fighting him.
His style is 15 minutes of top control while pounding his opponent
into submission. Despite the win streak, he was unheralded before
beating Diego Sanchez
(Pictures) in September. Still, Fitch
is an MMA rock star compared to Wilson and a heavy favorite with
"Right now the only people who know me are people who really follow
the sport or other fighters in my weight class," Wilson said. "Even
fighters outside my weight class don't know who I am."
Wilson fought in smaller promotions before joining the
International Fight League in 2006 as a member of the Portland
Wolfpack. "The Professor" went 2-1 in the IFL, then made the first
major turn of his career. He chose free agency rather than re-sign
a two-year contract with the IFL. Out of action for more than eight
months, Wilson won two fights for Bodog before facing career
"It was a gamble for him," MMA legend Bas Rutten (Pictures) said. "I would tell young
fighters to get as many fights as you can before you move on to the
big stage, but it may pay off. The risk is that if you lose on the
big show, then what?"
The UFC called just hours into a Hawaiian vacation with his wife,
Luciana, and 4-year-old son, Lucas. Luciana is seven months
pregnant. The family was on the bus from the airport to the
"It totally scrapped my vacation," Wilson said. "I was planning to
get a few workouts in while I was there, but I went straight to
training twice a day. I was training already, but I wasn't in top
shape, much less for the biggest fight of my life."
Back on the continent, Wilson went to train with Team Quest buddy
Dan Henderson (Pictures) in Big Bear, Calif. But training
at 7,500 feet took its toll.
"It makes you feel like you haven't trained a day in your life,"
Wilson said. "It's something most people never experience. A
two-mile jog will kill you.
It was fitting that Wilson and Henderson trained together. Both
have opposite game plans for Saturday. Henderson is looking to
avoid the striker (Anderson
Silva) and take the fight to the ground. Wilson is the
"It's the striker versus the wrestler in both scenarios," said
Lindland, who will corner Henderson and Wilson. "If Chris lets
Fitch control position, he will be in for a long night. At the same
time, I don't think Fitch has faced a striker anywhere near Chris'
Wilson is the second fighter to make the transition from the IFL to
the UFC. Is this the trickle before the dam bursts or will it
herald a deeper respect for the IFL, often denigrated by UFC
officials? In February, Tim
Boetsch (Pictures) (0-1 in the IFL) stepped into the
UFC on short notice and demolished David Heath (Pictures). If Wilson does well against
Fitch, it could help public perception of the league.
"I think the IFL fighters, especially the champions, can compete
with anybody in the world," Rutten said.
It should be noted that Rutten is an IFL spokesperson but also
"Any time people talk about the IFL and UFC at the same time, it is
a good thing," he said. "The UFC likes to say that the other
organizations aren't as good. People said that Pride fighters
aren't doing so good, but Anderson Silva and ‘Rampage'
aren't doing too badly."
One advantage of the UFC is that fighters have autonomy over their
image. While fans tend to focus on purse money, most elite fighters
know the real money is in sponsorship deals. It's his first fight
in the Octagon, but Wilson will make more from his three sponsors
-- Premier Fighter, Metabolic Adaption and Strengthcoachonline.com
-- than he's made on any fight in the past.
"This fight will get my name out there," he said.
The raised profile may be the only guarantee coming out of the
event. Other fighters, like Houston Alexander
(Pictures), have beaten top contenders
in their debuts but never became true contenders. And a loss to
Fitch probably does nothing to hurt Wilson's present status.
Wilson's life has taken more turns than most. Sixteen of his 30
years were spent in Brazil during back-and-forth intercontinental
jaunts with his parents, Baptist missionaries. His current six-year
residence in Portland is his longest in either country. But he
spent the first four years of his life in Brazil and speaks
Portuguese fluently -- although he sheepishly admits it's somewhat
of a hick dialect.
He became interested in martial arts on his second stint in Brazil,
taking up tae kwon do as an 11-year-old. Largely based on the
circumstances of where he was living, he took kickboxing, muay
Thai, judo, aikido and jiu-jitsu at various times. Back in the
United States two years later, he attended junior high and high
school in Vancouver, Wash., before heading back to Brazil again at
the age of 19.
"I wanted a better view of the country from a socio-economic and
socio-political standpoint," he said. "As an adult, I saw things
differently. It was very educational."
It was on that five-year trip that Wilson began to compete in
full-contact kickboxing events. He eventually represented Brazil in
a South American championship tournament, losing to an Argentine in
"When you are representing Brazil, that is the worst thing that
could have happened," he said.
During his last stay in Brazil, Wilson met his wife Luciana in a
made-for-the-screen love story. They met at a party and began
dating, but she dumped him.
Two years later, by a twist of fate, they met again on a crowded
street in Sao Paulo. They learned they had been living a few miles
apart and rode the same subway everyday, only to just miss seeing
each other. They dated again for nine months, but Luciana was
hoping for an international business scholarship in England. Wilson
left for the United States while she awaited final word.
She missed the cut on the scholarship but made the grade to Chris,
who immediately asked her to marry him.
"I feel lucky," Wilson said. "Things worked out."
Ending up at Team Quest was also a twist of fate for Wilson. After
returning to the United States in 2002, he was simply searching for
a gym to pursue his striking. He did some research and found one of
the best MMA gyms in the world was a few miles from his house.
"I was already a fan of mixed martial arts, but it hadn't occurred
to me that it was a possibility to make money," Wilson said. "I
learned quickly that I wanted to do this. At the beginning, I
trained and held down a full-time job. That is an exploratory phase
everyone goes through to see if it works."
Team Quest is used to yahoos walking in and declaring themselves
the next great champions. Wilson was more subdued while explaining
his fighting background to Team Quest co-owner Robert Follis.
"I hear that a lot," Follis said. "Show me."
Thrown in with the amateurs, Wilson quickly proved himself and was
advanced to the elite team. He turned pro after a handful of
amateur fights. Now an instructor at Team Quest, he admits to
saying the same thing hundreds of times since then.
"Anyone can say anything," Wilson said. "They have to walk the