The UFC’s first trip to Utica, N.Y., is sure to be a rowdy one, particularly for anyone facing a fighter from The Big Apple.
That’s the challenge standing in front of Vinc Pichel, who meets New York’s own Gregor Gillespie in the co-main event Friday at the Adirondack Bank Center. It will be the third time Pichel has been booked to march into enemy territory.
At UFC 173, he took on Las Vegas-based fighter Anthony Njokuani in Nevada and won that bout by unanimous decision. Three years later in Auckland, New Zealand, he ended a lengthy layoff with a first-round knockout of Damien Brown, who hails from neighboring Australia.
Up next for Pichel is arguably the biggest test yet of his career, a showdown with the unbeaten Gillespie in front of a crowd that will be on his case the second he steps out of the curtain. But that won’t be a problem for Pichel, a Californian who has had to deal with far worse in both his professional and personal life.
“I don’t care. New York is like L.A., except those guys are all talk to me,” Pichel told MMA Fighting. “In New York, you’ll drive around the street and if you do something, someone will yell at you; in L.A., if you do something like that, especially in the wrong parts, you’ll get shot at or stabbed. To me I’m like, whatever, it’s not like I’ve never been in rough territory before. I’ve been shot at and stuff, my whole life in general when I was younger, so hostile territory is nothing new to me.
“I’m actually looking forward to it because I don’t mind being the bad guy. I got my moniker ‘From Hell’ for a reason, so it’s all good to me. I’m still going to go out there with a smile on my face whether they like me or not. If they hate me, it’s going to make me more excited when I shut them up as soon as this guy eats the canvas.”
Just being in such a high-profile spot is surprising given the issues that Pichel has faced over the past few years. The 35-year-old has been limited to just three fights since May 2014. During that time, Pichel dealt with a work-related injury, an ensuing legal battle over compensation (further complicated by the fact that the injury interfered with his UFC career), and breaking up with his fiancée.
He returned in June 2017 to defeat Brown, then followed that up with a unanimous decision win over then-undefeated Joaquim Silva in January. Pichel’s pro record stands at 11-1 with his only loss coming in his UFC debut back in December 2012.
While he might be the “B-side” to Gillespie at UFC Utica, he’s enthused about not only his first UFC co-headliner spot, but his first appearance ever on a main card for the promotion.
“I was super excited. I was glad, it gave me a big sense of pride and accomplishment,” Pichel said. “Of course, my friends are family are like, ‘It’s about time.’ But in my eyes, I’m like, cool, to me that’s the UFC telling me they have some faith in my skills and my abilities and they know that I’m someone who’s going to be danger for anyone, especially in the lightweight division, which is the most stacked division with the most killers.
“Plus, Gregor Gillespie, he’s from New York, he’s an up-and-coming lightweight, he’s undefeated, he’s got this huge wrestling pedigree, so I don’t want to say I wasn’t surprised, but it’s just nice that they gave me this opportunity. It’s good to be given opportunities like this and I’m the kind of person who appreciates everything that I get and everything that I’m lucky enough to be able to have and do, so that’s what I’m thinking about.”
There was a time when it seemed like Pichel was destined to be a mainstay in the UFC’s 155-pound division, especially when you consider the Ultimate Fighter class he came from. The 15th season of TUF featured a final four of Pichel, Al Iaquinta, Michael Chiesa, and James Vick.
Iaquinta recently challenged for a vacant lightweight championship, Chiesa has established himself as a top-10 contender, and Vick holds a 9-1 UFC record. All three are major players in the division, while Pichel’s setbacks have left him on the outside looking in. He’s happy for his former housemates, but focused primarily on keeping himself on track.
“I don’t judge my successes on other people,” Pichel said. “For me, it’s all about timing and sometimes things don’t work out because I have different situations as well in my life, different from them, so had I been healthy and not had to go through the stuff that I’ve gone through, I’m sure that I’d be right up there with them.”
Pichel says he’s doing “great” health-wise and with minor tweaks to his training and sparring routines, he expects to stay that way for as long as he continues fighting. There was a brief moment during his seemingly never-ending tribulations that he considered leaving the sport and focusing on his budding career as an electrician, and he went as far as to prepare a retirement speech that he still has lying around.
But for now he’s here to stay, and he sees himself as a threat to two weight classes in the UFC.
“I feel like with a good training camp I can basically take on anyone and take out anyone in the lightweight division, or even maybe at 170, some of the guys. I’m a pretty big lightweight,” said Pichel. “The way I can describe myself is that I’m basically the anomaly. I don’t have the depth of training that most guys have in the UFC. I started training in 2007 when I was 25 and I had no experience in kickboxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, nothing at all.
“I was just a little asshole that liked to fight and I could throw a hell of a punch, so I think that me, as a fighter, I’m dangerous to anyone and everyone and the top-10 guys should be aware because I have the ability to really take anyone out, and it may not look pretty, but I’m the kind of guy that will get the job done because I can always figure a way. I’m a survivor, so I’ll always figure a way out to do what I need to do.”