Going into his sixth professional mixed martial arts bout at WEC 36, Nissen Osterneck was an underdog. After all, his opponent was Xtreme Couture's Jake Rosholt, a three time NCAA wrestling champion with a developing striking game and a knack for controlling black belts on the ground. Osterneck was just a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu purple belt with some Muay Thai training. No contest, right?
The unheralded Osterneck came out with reckless abandon, lighting Rosholt up with flurries of strikes and making the ground game a pitched battle between his slick submissions and Rosholt's top control. In the end, though, his pace worked against him as he no longer had enough energy to defend Rosholt's ground assault. Osterneck fought until the end, but Rosholt kept up the pressure, eventually walking away with the TKO victory. A disappointed Osterneck left the cage.
"The worst performance I've ever had," the Reylson Gracie brown belt called it.
With a blemish on his formerly pristine record, the Hawaii native found himself in the situation that every top fighter not named Fedor experiences ? the first loss. Despite that, though, Osterneck's gutsy and impressive performance earned him both a greater fan following and an invite to the UFC's middleweight division, giving him the opportunity to bounce back from his loss on the world's largest MMA stage.
"I'm in half denial because I've worked for many years to get to this point," Osterneck told MMAFighting.com. "Since watching the first UFC when I was 13."
Scheduled to take on Jorge Rivera at UFC Fight Night 18 on Wednesday, Osterneck has analyzed the reasons behind his defeat and knows what he has to do to leave the Octagon with his hand raised.
"I'd been out for a year," he recalled. "I had a lot of built up nervous energy and definitely was way too excited. This time, I'm going to make an effort to be the coolest cucumber out there."
Regardless of composure, there is a definitive experience gap between the two opponents. Rivera has been competing professionally since 2001, utilizing his heavy hands to compile a 15-7 record with 10 victories coming by knockout or technical knockout. Osterneck has an impressive resume ? his five victories are all stoppages within the first two rounds ? but it is considerably shorter.
To prepare for the challenge, Osterneck has been working hard with Muay Thai world champion Maurice Travis, improving the powerful striking game he showed against Rosholt to compliment his considerable ground skills.
"I was strictly Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu until I started training with [Travis]," said Osterneck. "He's really honed my Muay Thai skills for MMA."
Even with confidence in his increasing stand-up, Osterneck knows that the fight will about more than just his own strengths.
"I'm comfortable in any situation; that's what MMA is about," stated Osterneck. "But I'd rather take the fight to where my opponent doesn't feel comfortable. Standing, I feel like I could hold my own, but I feel like I have an advantage on the ground."
That ground advantage may be the key to victory against a Jorge Rivera that has lost two of his last three and may need a win to keep his career in the UFC. Osterneck, meanwhile, needs to establish himself in a stacked division with a pound-for-pound great at the top of it. He knows that the road to being a contender will be neither quick nor easy.
"I know I need three or four fights," Osterneck estimated. "I've got a lot of work to do ahead of me."
Come Wednesday, Nissen Osterneck will stand in the Sommet Center in Nashville, Tennessee, undaunted by the magnitude of the event and the implications the fight could have on his career. Focused on the prize, his mindset is that of a man who will not be denied.
"This'll be my first fight in the UFC," said Osterneck, "but it definitely won't be my last."