Now, he’s just happy that he’s fighting in a UFC division that he knows he can be sure will still exist in the near future.
Day makes his Octagon debut Saturday when he fights Pingyuan Liu on the preliminary portion of UFC Beijing. He’s found new life at 135 pounds after competing primarily as a flyweight on Hawaii’s regional scene, and the timing couldn’t be better given the rumblings that the UFC is close to shutting down its 125-pound division.
It was a fortuitous decision for Day, who was having issues making the flyweight cut anyway. He was growing tired of spending so much of training camp worrying about beating the scale as opposed to beating his opponents, and he’s excited that the timing of his weight class change worked out so perfectly.
“Big time, definitely,” Day recently told MMA Fighting when asked if he felt it was a smart call to move up from flyweight. “One of the reasons I went to 125 in the first place was because the 125-division was more shallow, so I was just trying to increase my chances of getting in, because that’s my goal.
“I’m glad I decided not to stay at 125 obviously now, because they’re cutting that whole division and as far as I understand, most of the 125ers are being let go and they’re only keeping a select amount. So I kind of dodged a bullet on that one.”
Anyone who saw Day compete on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series probably wouldn’t be too surprised that Day can compete at bantamweight. A rangy fighter, Day won five of his first six pro contests before losing a unanimous decision in an Aug. 15 Contender Series meeting with Jaime Alvarez.
It was a close fight, one that Day appeared to be getting the better of in the final frame, but time ran out on him and the judges scored the match for Alvarez. Day thought he’d done enough to avoid adding a second loss to his resume.
“I remember Dana White, he came up to me after the fight and he was like, ‘You won that shit, kid.’ That was cool coming from the boss man,” Day said. “And a lot of people thought I won too. I thought it should have been at the very least a draw. The last round should have been a 10-8, but you’ve got to move on and it’s easier said than done, but you’ve just got to put that behind you and use that as a platform for learning.”
Learn and improve Day did, going 3-0 since that Contender Series disappointment, with his last two wins coming at 135 pounds. Speaking from a physical standpoint, he doesn’t expect to be overwhelmed by what the UFC bantamweight roster has to offer.
“At bantamweight I’m actually still pretty tall. I’m taller than most bantamweights that I know or that I can even think of,” Day said. “I’m 5’10”, so the height advantage usually goes to me, and as far as the speed, I feel like it’s not so much my speed advantage but it’s the timing and the placement of my shots that matters the most. I’m probably not the quickest guy, to be honest. I try my best, but like I said, it’s the timing and accuracy that matters.”
Not only was Day lucky to naturally be moving out of a possibly defunct UFC division, he almost ended up not being available to compete for the promotion at all. With Bellator heading to Hawaii for a major show on Dec. 15, local fighters were in demand to fill that card and Day was one of the names under consideration.
None of the proposed matchups made sense to Day and his team, so he ended up having to pass, a decision that he regretted at the time. However, once that UFC contract came through, he felt a lot better about his situation, especially since he’ll be making his debut alongside longtime training partner and former UFC flyweight Louis Smolka.
“They were trying to pull local talent, I was one of the guys that they contacted,” Day said. “It didn’t make sense and at the time I was kind of kicking myself for not getting on it, but I kind of took a step back and talked to people that are close to me, like my fiancee and my head coach Charles, and it kind of reminded me that this isn’t really the goal. What we’re doing now, even considering these Bellator fights, we’re just settling for opponents that we’d never even settle for at any other show. We’re just kind of considering it because Bellator’s a reputable show.
“But I came to the conclusion that — what I already knew — I want to be in the UFC, I don’t want to fight for Bellator. So we said no and I was kicking myself, but now I’m really happy that we didn’t take that fight.”
UFC Fight Night 141 takes place at Cadillac Arena in Beijing, China, with the prelims beginning at 3:15 a.m. ET and the main card at 6:30 a.m. ET. The entire card airs on UFC Fight Pass.