Eddie Wineland battled plenty of demons on his way to UFC 165's co-main event. The 29-year-old entered the UFC in 2011 as part of the WEC invasion. At the time, Wineland rode a massive wave of momentum helped in part by consecutive ‘Knockout of the Night' victorious to close out his career in the blue cage.
But things fell apart with a ruthless quickness, and within six months Wineland stared eye-to-eye with the first potential three-fight losing streak of his career.
"I wanted to get back to where I knew that I could be," Wineland reflected on Tuesday's UFC 165 conference call. "I was fighting a tough guy, Scott Jorgensen, and I just reset my mental mindset to the point of, ‘I'm not getting beat, no matter what. This guy can't do anything to me.'"
Luckily for Wineland, the switch in mentality worked. He brutally knocked out Jorgensen, pocketed an extra $40,000 ‘Fight of the Night' bonus in the process, then seized a hard-fought split decision over Dana White favorite Brad Pickett.
For his work, Wineland received the next title shot against interim UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao. Yet even that opportunity wouldn't come easy, as Barao pulled out a month before the bout citing a foot injury.
"I was bummed," Wineland admitted. "It's 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. But it's the nature of the sport. Injuries happen.
"They told me to keep training as if I were fighting. As it got delayed longer and longer, the worry [was] that Dominick (Cruz) was going to come back and they were going to fight. There was so many different factors in there that until I got that call, ‘Hey, you're fighting Renan again,' I was on edge and I wasn't really sure what was going to happen."
Hearing him speak now, the relief is evident in Wineland's voice. It's easy to understand why.
Seven years ago Wineland dropped Antonio Banuelos with a head kick to claim the inaugural WEC bantamweight championship. While he never defended his belt, it's an accomplishment Wineland still remembers with great pride. And now his career has a chance to come full circle.
"The opportunity is huge," Wineland said. "For me, it's almost a homecoming."
Barao won't make it easy. The Brazilian carries with him one of the most implausible winning streaks in MMA, having fought 31 straight contests without suffering a loss. But Wineland has come this far already. What's one more hurdle to overcome?
"His win streak is amazing," Wineland said. "That being said, he hasn't fought me yet. So he's going to see where his win streak stands.
"He's just another man. He puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like I do. There's no reason I can't beat him."