If things play out the way Andre Fili expects, the next 12 months could be a major turning point for his career.
After battling maddening inconsistency and alternating wins and losses for his first eight UFC fights, the 28-year-old featherweight veteran suddenly finds himself in the midst of the best stretch of his Octagon tenure, having picked up back-to-back decisions over Artem Lobov and Dennis Bermudez to inch his way towards top-15 contention. In the midst of his recent run, Fili also made his acting debut in the upcoming feature film Green Fever and shot the debut music video for his hip-hop group Outcasts & Underdogs. He’s now set to meet Michael Johnson in a pivotal co-headlining feature at UFC Lincoln on Saturday.
In true ‘manifest your own destiny’ fashion, Fili already has a road map drawn out for the next calendar year. The way he sees it, an impressive win over Johnson will set forth a timeline that leads him to “be a world champion in 2019” — and then it’s on to world domination.
“I’m going to be a world champion within the year, and then I’m going to use that,” Fili told MMA Fighting. “The thing is, once you have a belt, then people start paying attention to you. So the problem is, I think, for a lot of people, they’re just fighters. They win a world title and then that’s all they are, they’re one-dimensional. I have a clothing brand. I have music. I just did my first part in a real feature film. So I have a bunch of things that I’m going to do.
“I knock Michael Johnson out in a couple days here, Aug. 25th, then I try to get on that Nov. 30 card, fight a top five guy, knock him out. Then I think I’m right there in the rankings for my title shot, and whoever has the belt, I fight them, I take the belt, then I use that to springboard — to get people to notice the music we’re making. There’s only a couple things I want to do, whether it’s acting or making music or fighting, and I want to be the best in the world. Some athletes make music and most of that s**t is corny. I make actual good hip-hop. The movie I just did, I think it’ll be on Netflix in 2019, and it’s a real, legitimate movie.
“I want to do all of these things that I want to do, but I want to do them right. I’m not going to do them in some corny, half-ass way. I’m a fighter, so I’m going to be a world champion. If I’m going to be an actor, I’m going to be in a real movie. When people go look up music, it’s not going to be some corny, gimmicky s**t. ... Everything I do, I want to be great at.”
Fili’s road map to contention begins with Johnson, a longtime lightweight standout who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in his 145-pound debut earlier this year.
Conveniently enough, the man who pulled off the comeback win over Johnson was Fili’s teammate at Team Alpha Male, Darren Elkins. Not only that, but another of Team Alpha Male’s veterans, coach Danny Castillo, squared off against Johnson back in 2012 at UFC on FX 5, so it’s safe to say the Sacramento-based squad is quite familiar with the strengths and weaknesses Johnson brings to the table.
“It’s obviously very cool to have those guys because they’re f*cking great fighters, they’re UFC vets, they’ve been in the cage for a long time, but more specifically, they have the insight into how to beat this dude,” Fili said. “They both had success with him. Danny dropped him with a right hand, and obviously Elkins was able to finish the fight with a rear-naked choke, so having their insight is valuable, man. It’s good to have them, it’s good to have that input, have them there for my preparation.
“I think [Johnson] is dangerous, he’s a good fighter, he’s athletic. But I saw him — he broke against Elkins. Elkins broke him in the second, and I think that says a lot. But I’m not counting him out. I’m ready to fight a very dangerous, dangerous opponent.”
Johnson is a peculiar case when it comes to his current standing in the UFC. The 32-year-old ex-lightweight owns a slew of wins over elite fighters — Tony Ferguson, Dustin Poirier, and Edson Barboza, to name a few — but has struggled of late to the tune of a 1-5 slump.
Fili isn’t the first opponent to say they’ve seen Johnson “break” in a fight either. More than a few of Johnson’s past foes have made similar remarks, and Fili plans to take advantage of an area of the game he believes could be one of Johnson’s biggest weaknesses.
“I think that some people are better hammers than they are nails,” Fili said. “I think some people, they really like to fight as long as they can be the cool, smooth hero. But when you get put in that grinder, you put in that chaos of a gnarly back-and-forth fight, it takes a different kind of person. And I’m a sick motherf*cker and I love that. I love that fight. I love that kill or be killed. I love that sort of fight to the death, that really chaotic fight. I love that, I thrive in that. So that’s definitely something I’m counting on.
“I see pressure, I see aggression. No feeling out process, no f*cking patty-cake. I see us coming out and getting right into a f*cking pissing contest and me just being the more intelligent, aggressive, pressuring fighter, and I’m getting my hand raised, man. It doesn’t matter where it’s at, this is the best I’ve ever felt as a striker, the best I’ve ever felt as a grappler, the best I’ve ever felt as a complete fighter. Wherever the fight goes, I’m going to finish him. I will finish Michael Johnson this Saturday, August 25th.”