It's perhaps the most common refrain in sports: "I'm not looking past (insert opponent here)."
But KJ Noons
has a slightly different take on the adage that nearly all title contenders wind up saying at one point or another. And it just might make sense.
"Of course I'm looking past (Jorge Masvidal
)," Noons told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition
of "The MMA Hour
," "because I want a title shot."
Noons fights Masvidal on Saturday in what Strikeforce has deemed a No. 1 contenders fight for the lightweight belt held by Gilbert Melendez. It will be Noons' first fight since a welterweight title fight loss to Nick Diaz last October.
Noons (10-3, 2-1 Strikeforce) and Masvidal (21-6, 3-0 Strikeforce) were slated for the preliminary card of Strikeforce's show at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, which features the next two quarterfinal fights in the promotion's heavyweight tournament on the main card. But when Gina Carano had to pull out of her return last week, Noons-Masvidal was bumped up for the Showtime audience instead of a prelim card that will air live on HDNet.
And Noons told Helwani he's put in more work for this fight than he did for his title shot with Diaz, which saw him go up a weight class on relatively short notice.
"He's definitely top notch, and I think he makes for an exciting fight," Noons said. "This has been probably the hardest camp I've ever had to train for, this fight. This is actually harder than the Diaz fight. I don't know if it's because I'm getting older, or we're trying to get things more fine tuned."
With a wedding to his longtime girlfriend looming in the fall, Noons said he would love to make quick work of Masvidal to get his shot at Melendez, then get right back in there with the champion.
"I heard there's rumors Gilbert wants to fight in August," Noons said. "I've never trained so hard. Once I get my hand raised, I would love to get one more fight before I tie the knot."
With a layoff of more than eight months, Noons told MMA Fighting earlier this month in Las Vegas that he was itching to get back in the cage. Noons fought four times in 2010 going 3-1, but the Masvidal fight will be his first in 2011 – making this his longest layoff in four years.
And even though he said he's willing to go back to 170 pounds if the right fight is there, saying he just wants to put on exciting fights, Noons believes 155 is where he's supposed to be.
"This is definitely my weight class," Noons told MMA Fighting in Las Vegas. "I was supposed to fight for a title at 155 before the Nick Diaz fight, but they asked me if I wanted to fight Nick Diaz in six weeks at 170. I said, 'Yeah, I don't care.' I fought him in his hometown, on his turf, in his weight class. And you know the outcome. You can't leave it to the judges, right?
"I'm just ready. It kind of sucks being on the sidelines – but it's kind of fun, being on vacation. But I've still got to pay the bills and fight."
Noons said the sting of his loss to Diaz will hopefully make him a better fight. Especially since it was to a heated rival whom he had beaten to win the EliteXC lightweight title in November 2007, when Diaz's cuts were too bad to continue into the second round.
"It always hurts when you lose," Noons said. "You put in all that time, all that effort with your team. It's always tough to take a loss. But that's what makes really good fighters – everybody wants to see somebody rise from the bottom back up top. If you can do that, that's pretty good. I've gotta dust myself off and try to get better, win some more fights and try to get up there again."
Noons' loss to Diaz snapped a six-fight winning streak. Masvidal beat Billy Evangelista at Strikeforce's March show in Columbus, Ohio, but has not won two straight since 2009.
Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum takes place Saturday in Dallas. The main card, featuring heavyweight tournament bouts between champion Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum, and Josh Barnett vs. Brett Rogers, airs live on Showtime at 10 p.m. Eastern. The prelims air live on HDNet at 8 p.m. Eastern.