For Kevin Syler, his UFC audition was essentially over before it begun.
Make weight. That’s the rite of passage every fighter has to go through before competing, and when it comes to the highest levels of MMA the pressure to do so is even higher. On July 15, Syler looked to be one step away from his dream of fighting for a UFC contract.
As it turned out, he was six-and-a-half pounds away.
152.5. That’s how much Syler weighed in at for his featherweight bout with Lance Lawrence on the week four of the current Contender Series season. At that point, there was almost no way that officials could consider giving him a contract and sure enough, despite convincingly beating Lawrence for three rounds, Syler was the only one of that show’s five victors to not be signed to the UFC.
Syler, 25, and his team detected warning signs well before fight night, but still thought he’d be able to cut the weight as usual. His body had other plans.
“My weight when I started camp was really high,” Syler told MMA Fighting. “But it’s usually high anyway, it’s nothing I’ve never been at and I was not worried at all, to be honest. I like my food and I walk around pretty heavy, but it’s not like it’s anything that worried me. By the start of camp, I started doing my diet, the normal stuff I always do and the weight just was not coming down as it always is.
“I don’t know if it’s just the age or my metabolism is getting slower and slower, which is the reason why I need to work with a nutritionist now, to make sure that people know what’s happening on the inside and I’m not just rolling the dice.”
With his weight dropping at an alarmingly slow rate, Syler began to really worry about three weeks out from his fight. He recalls “freaking out” over possibly ruining the biggest opportunity of his career to date and that he became so anxious he was rolling around in bed at night unable to sleep.
Still, his team worked to shed the pounds and they cut as much as possible before it became clear that 1) Syler was not going to make it and 2) any attempt to cut further would be deleterious to Syler’s health. And so the dramatic miss and the backlash that followed, most of which Syler understands, though he would like critics to appreciate the effort he put in to trying to beat the scale.
“By fight week, I got to Vegas and I got on the scale and I was heavier,” Syler said. “I was even heavier. I don’t know where that came from, I don’t know if I retained water or something and I said, ‘It’s gonna be a really tough one.’ I lost like, 14, 15 pounds, and just hit a wall. I just hit a wall and I felt really, really bad. My face was really sunk in, my lips were blue, and my two cornermen were kind of worried. I was feeling dizzy sometimes in the hallways of the hotel when walking to the room. So it was safety first. I didn’t have much left and I knew my safety was [a priority], so that’s why we missed the weight.
“That’s the thing that kind of annoyed me a little bit, that people were thinking that I didn’t even try and it’s just untrue. I definitely made a big effort and I think that the effort that I did was not matched by the results I wanted and now it’s lesson learned, it’s time to work with a professional if I’m going to be that big of a ‘45er or if I’m gonna go up a weight class, I can’t afford to not know, handle things by myself, and just expect the best. I have to know I’m gonna make the weight, not expect it.”
Syler emphasized that he is working with a nutritionist now with the plan to stay at 145 pounds, though should the UFC need his services for a short-notice lightweight opportunity, he would jump at that chance as well. Now residing in Boca Raton, Florida, near the American Top Team gym where he trains, “El Niño Bala” (The Bullet Kid) wants to carry the torch for his native Bolivia into the Octagon just as his brother Bentley did back in March 2015.
Bentley competed on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America and then made a single appearance in the UFC, losing by third-round KO to Fredy Serrano (Bentley, whose nickname is “Dr. Bolivia,” has not fought since and is currently working in medicine).
All Syler can do now is work on slimming down and staying in shape for his next opportunity. Aside from badly missing weight, Syler impressed UFC president Dana White with his performance and improved to 9-0 as a pro. He’s hoping that’s enough for him to stay on White’s radar and that he doesn’t have to return to the regional scene unless absolutely necessary.
“I have never seen Dana White so inconclusive with his answer after the fight,” Syler said. “I’ve never seen him say, ‘We’ll figure it out’ regarding a person. He normally says we’ll get him a contract or not and with me he said, ‘We’ll figure it out, we’ll figure it out.’ It gave me a lot of hope that if something falls off somewhere they’ll give me a call and I know they want me and I know it’s gonna happen eventually. But I would like it to happen before the end of the year for sure.”
“I’m really focused on getting [to the UFC] already,” he continued. “Another promotion, even those good ones would be kind of a step back, a small, small, small step back, but I’m gonna take whatever fight gets me where I need to be and that’s the bottom line. That’s how I am.”