Brennan Ward minces few words when it comes to his philosophy, or the occasional slips into brutishness which tend to leave mangled bodies in his wake, like some sort of fistic scorched earth policy.
"I just get after it," Ward says brusquely. "I get after it right away. As soon as the bell rings, I don't hesitate. I'm not trying to dilly-dally around, pitter-patter. Glorified sparring is not what I do."
Amid a bloated event schedule and a talent pool that isn't quite there yet, it's easy for even the most ardent fight fan to teeter between enjoyment and exasperation at the sight of obvious risk aversion -- grinding standstills or the lethargic 15-minute matters of the clinch that have effectively become the post-Halloween candy corn of MMA, stale and unwanted yet far too prevalent.
For Ward though, a brash throwback to the days of, for lack of a better phrase, just not giving a s--t, it's that particular mindset -- the approach of fighting not to fail -- which he just can't bring himself to understand.
"I think guys get afraid of losing. So when they get out there, they freeze," Ward mulls. "It's like that in wrestling, too. If you're afraid to lose, you're going to fight not to lose, you're going to wrestle not to lose, instead of going out there and pushing the pace. Fight to win. Don't f--king be hesitant, don't be cautious. Just go.
"It's either you got it in you or you don't," he continues. "It's either in your DNA or it's not in your DNA to be fearless, to be daring, to get after it. That's how I'm programmed. I'm going, man. I'm not cautious. I throw caution to the wind and I get after it. I'm not afraid to lose. I'm not. Because if I lose, f--k it, I lose. I'll fight again. I'm not dead."
Recklessness is an easy mantra to recite, and of course it sounds good in condensed sound bytes, but that's just how life is for Ward, a former Division III wrestler who threw himself into MMA on a whim right out of college. Ward admits that, truthfully, he's been winging it this whole time -- although two years in he's already built himself a nice little career, all things considered, so who's to say he's doing it wrong.
And whether he's choking Joe Pacheco unconscious or spamming his meatfists 21 times unanswered into the gut and face of poor Mikkel Parlo, at least let it be known that Ward practices what he preaches.
An appreciation for raw aggression is what led him to his surprising run through Bellator's season nine middleweight tournament. Initially considered an afterthought, another wrestle-boxing late replacement too green to matter, Ward instead marched through the international eight-man field with ease, manhandling all three of his opponents en route to a trio of second-round finishes.
"I was just trying to take advantage of the situation I was put in," the 25-year-old explains. "They asked me to step into the tournament. I didn't hesitate. It's just another fight, ya know what I mean? So what if it's in the tournament versus the undercard? I just want to be as exciting as I can in that cage. I want everyone, the fans, the guys at Bellator, I want them to always want me around. I don't want to be out of a job.
"Of course, I train to win. I want to win so f--king bad. But if I lose it isn't the end of the world, so f--k it, go out there and put on a good show, go as hard as you can, fight as hard as you can, and good things will happen, I think."
The six-figure prize money afforded Ward a chance to quit his day job, if only temporarily. And that's fortunate, because as Bellator 114 looms, the American finds himself in a peculiar position -- eyeing a dance partner who not only subscribes to the very same church of violence as himself, but one who he also grew up emulating. It may seem like ages ago, but it was really just a few years back when Ward was YouTubing clips of the crazy Russian who had a flair for the dramatic, and a taste for taking people's heads off.
Like Ward, Bellator middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko has never been called gun-shy. With 56 fights already to his name, and as many knockouts as he has years alive on the planet, the steely 29-year-old defines the term battle-hardened. And because of this, Ward acknowledges, a different kind of challenge awaits on Friday night -- a man who will finally stare into the jaws of defeat, clench down on his mouthpiece and say, f--k this, I'm firing back.
Though it may just be the test Ward has been waiting for.
"I think it's going to be fun," Ward finishes with a chuckle. "I think it's going to fun for everybody. I think we're going to bang. It's going to be a real physical, real bang-out, real hands-on fight. There's not going to be a lot of strategizing. Whoever wants it more is going to win. That's what everyone wants to see. No one wants to see you lay down on somebody.
"I'm going to choke him out. Second round, man. That's what I'm seeing in my head. I got another one coming for you."