Daniel Pineda had it all figured out.
Having competed for the top two promotions in North America already, there wasn’t much more reason for Pineda to continue competing – other than money and to wash a bitter taste out of his mouth.
Two years ago at Bellator 182, Pineda dropped a fight to Georgi Karakhanyan after getting caught with an upkick that opened a cut over his eye and prompted a ringside physician to signal for a stoppage.
It wasn’t how Pineda, today a veteran of 41 pro bouts, wanted his career to end. So he vowed that he would fight until he lost again. It’s a condition yet to be fulfilled. He’s won six straight fights, the two most recent putting him back on the MMA map in a major way.
This past Thursday at PFL 8 in Las Vegas, Pineda recorded two first-round finishes in one night against the previously unbeaten Movlid Khaybulaev and fellow big-show veteran Jeremy Kennedy to secure a spot in the the PFL’s 2019 featherweight finals on Dec. 31. There, he’ll face 2018 champion Lance Palmer for the division crown and a $1 million prize.
For the longest time, Pineda was looking for someone to beat him, to give him an excuse to leave fighting. Now, he’s on the cusp of the most important win of his career.
“My goal was to retire and start a family,” Pineda told MMA Fighting. “That was my goal before I even got into PFL or any of that. Since I lost to Georgi, I said I’m gonna give it one more run, and when I lose, I’m done.
“I’m a stay here until somebody takes me out.”
One could understand why Pineda, 34, has the end of his career in sight. The Houston-based fighter has been active since 2007. He broke through in Texas’s Legacy Fighting Championship promotion (now the Legacy Fighting Alliance) before moving on to eventually pick up wins in the UFC and Bellator.
Pineda wasn’t one of the favorites heading into the playoffs, and in fact hadn’t even competed during the regular season. His involvement with the PFL almost didn’t happen at all.
After the loss to Karakhanyan, Pineda returned to “The Lone Star State,” where he went 4-0 and picked up a couple of titles in the Fury FC promotion. Ahead of what would be his last fight with the promotion, the PFL called his management to discuss a fill-in on short notice to fight Andre Harrison at PFL 2 in May. The opportunity would fall through when Peter Petties was signed to fight Harrison instead.
Pineda was then asked to join the PFL mid-season to take the place of fellow Texan Damon Jackson, who was sidelined due to a 90-day medical suspension. Jackson’s suspension was handed down after he suffered a knockout at the hands of Khaybulaev, who would go on to fall by Pineda’s hands.
“He’s the one that helped me out, and I’m the one that took him out,” Pineda said of Khaybulaev.
Scheduled for a PFL debut in July, Pineda’s journey hit another bump when opponent Gadzhi Rabadanov failed to make weight for their fight. Though Pineda was grateful when the league gave him his show and win bonus and invited him back for next season, he says he “wanted to cry” when he heard the news.
A default win only give Pineda three points in the PFL standings, far from a guarantee that he’d be eligible for the postseason and a potential seven-figure payday. But the points held up, good enough for a 7-seed. And that meant Pineda’s fate was back in his own hands.
Whatever Pineda had missed out on in the regular season, he made up for it with his wins over Khaybulaev and Kennedy.
Pineda doesn’t blame anyone for counting him out. He knew there were doubters of his ability to compete, chief among them UFC matchmakers (including former Legacy Fighting matchmaker Mick Maynard), who said Pineda was still hoping to catch on for another run.
“My age, I just turned 34 this year, and everybody’s saying he’s too old, you know?” Pineda said. “Even the UFC, Mick Maynard – I love Mick Maynard and the other guy, Sean Shelby, but even he doubted me because I didn’t get booked back in the UFC. That was the goal, to get back in the UFC. That’s why I’ve been on this roll. I’ve been having little ups and downs.
“First of all, I fought Georgi in Bellator, and I was destroying him, and I just got caught by a freakin’ upkick and got cut and it got stopped. A lot of people doubted me, I think because of my age, but what they don’t understand is that I’m just literally peaking. I’m putting everything together. I’m peaking, right now is my time, and that’s why I wanted in this tournament so bad because I feel it. My training partners feel it, they know it. We all know that it’s my time.”
One problem Pineda now faces is that he’s painted himself into a corner. He vowed he’ retire after his next loss, but if he defeats Palmer on New Year’s Eve to cap off this unexpected stretch of success, does he really want to carry on and stick to his vow that he’ll keep fighting until he loses?
“I fight for the money, to take care of my family,” Pineda said. “If they will have me, yes, I will come back and go for another million.”