Deron Winn has all the makings of a top-flight MMA prospect. A decorated wrestling background. One of the most successful gyms in the sport behind him. Close friends and training partners who have UFC gold in their trophy cases.
So what’s taken him so long to get on a UFC card himself?
The world will soon see whether Winn (5-0), a three-time NCAA All-American wrestler who also happens to be a longtime associate of Daniel Cormier and the American Kickboxing Academy, is ready for the big show when he makes his first walk to the Octagon on June 22 at UFC Greenville for a middleweight bout with Bruno Silva. Expectations are high given Winn’s pedigree and he’s just excited to finally be getting the chance to compete at the highest level of MMA.
Originally, there were plans for Winn and Cormier to compete on the same card sometime in March. After that fell through, UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard kept trying to find a spot for Winn, who claims that multiple opponents declined before originally scheduled opponent Markus Perez signed on (Perez was replaced by Silva after being forced to withdraw due to injury).
“Even with this we actually had more than four or five guys decline the fight,” Winn told host Luke Thomas on a recent episode of The MMA Hour. “Even in the UFC I had guys turning down fights with me, which is really surprising. The good thing is that Mick did a good job in finding a new opponent. I thought we had one lined up, that Anthony Hernandez, and then for some reason he pulled out last minute and I thought that was going to be it, and then literally the next day Mick found Markus Perez for me and we just said yeah because I just want to fight. I just want to fight.
“At this point in the UFC, everybody’s going to be tough, so it doesn’t matter who I fight right now. The journey has to start somewhere, so I’m ready.”
Though Winn describes himself as “green” when it comes to MMA, his previous success in the wrestling world has left him with no shortage of confidence. The early returns of his cagefighting career have been promising as well, with first-round KOs in his first four fights and a unanimous decision win over veteran Tom Lawlor in his most recent outing at Golden Boy MMA: Liddell vs. Ortiz 3 last November.
When it comes to planning his career, he doesn’t plan to fight to the age of 40 like Cormier nor does he want to be in a rush to headliner status. However, he’s also not worried about his opponents becoming exponentially more difficult should he mow through the lower echelon of the middleweight division.
“If I start beating dudes up, only the top guys are going to take fights with me, but I’m okay with that,” Winn said. “Like I said, I’m very confident and I have a lot to learn and a lot of experience to get in the Octagon, but I truly believe sooner than later I’ll be ready for anybody and I already think I’m world class, so I’m personally not scared to get in there with anybody. But that’s just who I am and that’s who I’ve always been.”
All Winn had to do was watch a recent UFC title fight to get his competitive juices flowing, his mind already picturing how he would fare if he had been in Kelvin Gastelum’s shoes when Gastelum went five unbelievably intense rounds with Israel Adesanya in their interim championship bout at UFC 236.
Comparisons between Gastelum and Winn will be inevitable given that both are stout, undersized wrestlers in the 185-pound weight class. And that’s fine with Winn, though he believes he would have had more success pushing Adesanya around than Gastelum did.
“I think that I have something to offer that we’ve never seen,” Winn said. “I have a lot of really interesting takedowns and I finish very well and I always have. That’s that difference between me and a guy like Kelvin Gastelum—who I respect very highly, I think he’s a stud—but the difference between me and him is I’m getting Izzy down to his butt more than he did because I wrestled at a very high level and I’ve learned how to maneuver these guys to a finish that only one percent of the world has.”
Winn’s confidence in his wrestling comes from the fact that up until his pro debut in 2017, he was still competing against the best of the best. He recalled an event a couple of years ago where he and friend Clayton Foster, a standout wrestler at Oklahoma State, went up against NCAA championship-winning siblings Ben and Max Askren.
As Winn remembers it, he and Foster defeated the Askren brothers, so you can count him among the prognosticators who correctly assumed that Ben wouldn’t provide much opposition to Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs when the two recently faced off at a Beat the Streets wrestling event in May (Burroughs shut out Askren 11-0, earning a victory via technical fall).
“I wrestled Max and my buddy Clayton Foster wrestled Ben, we wrestled them right there in Milwaukee,” Winn said. “So they stopped this kids tournament and we had these pro matches, there was like five of them and Ben and Clayton were the main. And I won, but Clayton, he very handily beat Ben.
“That was three or four years ago and as you get older, your wrestling gets worse, there’s proof of that.”
UFC Greenville can’t come soon enough for Winn. He’s excited about getting to answer all the “naysayers,” especially those who question his capabilities because of his short stature. Winn said he’s 5-foot-6 on his best day, and should his doubters be right and he needs to drop down another weight class, he’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it.
As it stands, he’s used to facing larger competition and he’s betting that his opponents will have to adjust to him as much as he does to them. If they can’t, then Winn may live up to the hype after all.
“It’s always been a discussion, my height. But even in wrestling, people are naturally shorter in wrestling, but I’ve wrestled monsters my entire life,” Winn said. “Like, the biggest men you’ve ever seen. These guys from Russia, from Dagestan, these absolute monsters of men, I’ve wrestled. I’ve wrestled an Olympic gold medalist, I’ve wrestled the best guys in the world and I do know it’s different, but I think I can correlate a lot of my wrestling experience to fighting and we’re gonna find out.
“I can sit here and talk about it all I want, but we’re gonna find out. One day, June 22, we’ll find out.”
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