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After Year Off, Steve Lopez Gets Second Chance at UFC 119

Thousands of fighters grind their way through regional promotions with the hope of one day getting a call from the UFC. For most, that call never comes.

For Steve Lopez, of South Bend, Ind., the call came a year ago to take a short-notice fight against Jim Miller at UFC 103. And it can be reasonably assumed that the daydream of winning his debut and starting the UFC ladder-climb went through his head.

He certainly couldn't have expected the outcome of his fight against Miller. Throwing an ordinary, everyday jab, Lopez dislocated his left shoulder. His verbal submission came instantly, as did the groans from the fans in Dallas when they saw the obvious separation on the replays.

After surgery and a lengthy rehab, Lopez gets a second chance with the UFC when he meets Waylon Lowe on Saturday on the preliminary card of UFC 119 in Indianapolis, two hours south of Lopez's old South Bend stomping grounds. Lopez said he took his time with the recovery process.

"I had surgery back in October and I couldn't start the rehab until December," Lopez said. "I did five months of rehab – an extended rehab period, longer than normal, just to make sure everything was good. I gave it extra time to heal, so everything should be good."

Lopez (12-2-1, 0-1 UFC) is also counting on "good" becoming "even better" after moving his training base from Midwest Martial Arts near South Bend to Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas. Lopez said the move gives him a steady diet of upper echelon lightweight fighters to train with – and that he believes his improvements in the two months since the move are already beyond what he'd done the first three years of his career.

"Every day it's somebody different," Lopez said. "Tyson Griffin, Gray Maynard, Evan Dunham, Mike Chandler, Kamal Shalorus. There are a lot of tough lightweights out there."

Lopez said he believes he has the edge against Lowe (8-2, 0-1 UFC) in every facet except wrestling. Lowe was a state champion wrestler in Tennessee and a three-time NCAA Division II national champion at the University of Findlay in Ohio. Lopez wrestled in high school, as well, and at Bethel College near South Bend.

"Everybody's tough at this level," Lopez said. "But I feel like I'm better than him in everything he does with the exception of wrestling. But I feel like I can neutralize his wrestling pretty easily."

It's ironic that after moving from his Indiana home to Las Vegas, he has to return home to go after what could be a crucial fight. Though not every UFC fighter who starts 0-2 in the promotion gets a pink slip, it's been known to happen – and for less. After all, Efrain Escudero won Season 8 of "The Ultimate Fighter," went 3-2 in the UFC and was cut Monday after his loss last week to Charles Oliveira.

But Lopez said coming back home makes no difference when it comes to pressure – he'll enjoy it.

"I don't feel like there's any extra pressure," Lopez said. "I just like the fact that I get to fight in front of a lot of my family and friends again. A few times early in my career, even if I fought in Chicago or Wisconsin, I'd still have a lot of my family and friends drive out and support me. So it's going to be good to have them all down there again."

Lopez and Lowe fight on the preliminary card of UFC 119: Mir vs. Cro Cop at the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The main card airs live on pay-per-view at 10 p.m. Eastern and will be preceded by two preliminary card fights on Spike TV at 9 p.m. It is the UFC's debut in Indiana.