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Marcin Held seeks return to UFC after PFL run

Marcin Held and Natan Schulte at PFL 1 on April 23, 2021, in Atlantic City, N.J.

Marcin Held has fought for numerous organizations in his 13-year career and, unsurprisingly, there’s one he’d like to get a chance to prove himself with again.

After making a name for himself as one of Bellator’s best lightweights, Held made the jump to the UFC in 2016 and was immediately matched up against some of the promotion’s most well-known veterans. He lost to Diego Sanchez at an event in Mexico City and then dropped a highly contested decision to Joe Lauzon.

Held went 1-3 with the UFC before parting ways with the promotion and competing for Russia’s ACB (now known as the ACA) promotion. Though there was the possibility of Held re-signing with the UFC after winning the last fight on his contract, he discovered that getting him a fight booked wasn’t high on its list of priorities so he headed to ACA, which also held events in his native Poland.

Looking back, Held has no regrets moving on from the UFC at that time, though he hopes his current run with the PFL proves that he deserves another shot at the octagon.

“I went [to the ACA] to be active, to fight,” Held told MMA Fighting ahead of his fight against Olivier Aubin-Mercier at PFL 4 on Thursday. “I did three fights over there and after that, of course I asked the UFC if they are interested. They said the same, ‘We are interested, but you have to wait because we don’t have an open spot now.’ So I said, ‘OK, if you don’t have an open spot now, I’ll go somewhere to a different organization and maybe someday they will have an open spot for me.’

“I believe when I will fight good, when I will win, when I will get a belt from the PFL, that they will have an open spot for me. It is how I want to get to the UFC. I don’t want to get to the UFC by waiting. I don’t want to do an easy fight and wait for an opportunity. I want to fight in a good organization with a good opponent and then the UFC will come.”

After losing his first three UFC fights, Held defeated Nasrat Haqparast by decision to close out his run and then went 3-0 in the ACA. Despite rebounding from those disappointing UFC performances, they still sting because he believes he could have done better.

He was unprepared for the altitude of Mexico City when he fought Sanchez, and still isn’t exactly sure what happened with the Lauzon verdict. His loss to Damir Hadzovic is easier to explain as he admits that he deviated from a winning game plan and it cost him as he was knocked out by a knee in the third round.

“I was there and I feel that I didn’t do what I was supposed to do,” Held said. “I was a little bit unlucky because the first fight I had in Mexico City had very big altitude and I think I lose because of that. I had no cardio, I had no power after the first round. It was a really bad decision to take a fight in Mexico City. The second fight was with Joe Lauzon and a lot of experts said that I won. After the fight, I was pretty sure that I won that fight.

“The third fight, I was winning the two rounds and in the third round I wanted to do something crazy, something good, to do a special thing and I get kicked. After I was winning the two rounds I was supposed to do the same in the third round and I would win this fight. I didn’t want to win this fight, I wanted to win this fight by super submission and I was punished for it. The last fight I finally won with a very good guy who is doing really good in the UFC now and it is why I would like to show next time that I deserve to be there.”

Having already fought for numerous major organizations across three continents, Held has always been a world warrior. In the last three years alone, he’s fought in the U.S., Poland, Russia, Australia, Sweden, and Mexico.

He’d like to add Asia to that list at some point.

“It would be really nice to fight for ONE FC also,” Held said. “I was fighting in the UFC, Bellator, PFL, ACA, and ONE would be the next big organization I would like to fight for. It’s a completely different world in Asia, something new. So I hope one day I will fight there too. I don’t know if it will be before or after UFC, but I would like to fight for ONE.”

Right now, Held is situated firmly in the thick of the PFL standings after a thrilling decision victory over two-time league champion Natan Schulte at the season opener in April.

Known more for his submission skills, Held took the fight to Schulte from the opening bell and came out on top after a three-round, back-and-forth striking battle. If Schulte was caught off-guard by Held’s aggression on the feet, he wasn’t the only one.

“I was surprised too,” Held said with a laugh. “My plan was to take him down. It was the plan, but in the first round I felt that I hit him really hard and I felt really safe standing, so I said, ‘OK, I feel comfortable standing so I don’t have to take him down. I can beat him by striking.’ And I did it. So I changed the plan a little bit during the fight.

“You need self-confidence, you need to feel good in it,” Held continued. “Even in a gym I feel very good standing, so I can punch with really good boxers and I do it for a long time, I feel good. But then I go to the fight and it’s a little bit different because I had not so much confidence. This time I will feel more comfortable in standing and I think in the next fight it will look better.”

Still just 29 years old, Held estimates he’ll compete for another six years and he’s determined to dedicate a portion of that time to competing in the UFC. If that never happens, he can look back on a career that included a Bellator tournament victory and a shot at the Bellator lightweight title, almost 30 pro wins and counting, and ideally, a title belt and a seven-figure check in the PFL.

“I really like the way I did my career because a lot of fighters think too much who they want to fight with, who would be a good opponent,” Held said. “‘Maybe fight with him, he’s too strong.’ I didn’t do this. Since I started I was always fighting with the good guys. If you check my record there is nobody who’s, like, 2-4, nobody who has more losses than wins, so I’m proud of this. I’m proud all of my opponents were tough guys.

“Of course I’m a little bit unhappy that I had a bad career in the UFC, but still after that I come back. I’m happy that I went to a big organization like the ACA. Some fighters after the UFC they stop their careers and they go to the small organizations. I didn’t. I went to big organizations to rebuild and now I am where I am, fighting for one million dollars.”

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