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Paddy Pimblett ‘cried my eyes out’ when UFC debut was nearly derailed by visa issues from old cannabis infraction

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Former Cage Warriors star Paddy Pimblett is finally set to make his UFC debut, but as of last week that was still in doubt.

Saturday’s UFC event was originally discussed for London in what would have been the octagon’s first trip to England since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. That explains why popular English fighters Darren Till, Molly McCann, and Pimblett were booked for an event that has since become UFC Vegas 36.

Had the event taken place in England, travel would have been one less issue for Pimblett to worry about, but fighting for the first time in the U.S. meant Pimblett needed to get his visa — and that almost didn’t happen thanks to a minor infraction in his youth.

Appearing on The MMA Hour on Monday, Pimblett told Ariel Helwani that figuring out how to make it to his fight was more of an issue than preparing for the fight itself.

“This has been more stressful than getting ready for the fight,” Pimblett said. “Last Monday when I went to the embassy — I got a caution when I was 19. A caution means like it’s not on your record no more and it was for possession of cannabis, which is legal in Las Vegas. The man in the embassy told me I was ineligible for a visa so the UFC had to send off for a special waiver and luckily enough it came back in time.

“But when I got home from London on the Monday night I sat in my house and cried for an hour thinking that I wasn’t fighting. I literally sat there for an hour and cried my eyes out and thought that it was over. I’ve had the best camp of my life and a man sitting behind a desk is stopping me from fighting.”

Pimblett’s stress was compounded by reports that began to circulate about the possibility of his UFC debut against Luigi Vendramini being cancelled. It appears that Vendramini’s side was informed about the possibility of Pimblett possibly not getting his visa, but as far as Pimblett knows he was never told the fight was in jeopardy, and he thinks others might have jumped the gun on the story.

“I think [Vendramini’s] manager got asked if Paddy doesn’t get a visa in time would you have a replacement opponent and they said yeah,” Pimblett said. “Then they went to this journalist and said we’ve been offered a new opponent. Did you have a contract in front of you to sign? Was it officially a new opponent because I don’t think it was.”

Other than having to deal with that, Pimblett is thrilled with how the lead-up to his first UFC fight has gone.

Coming off of back-to-back wins over Davide Martinez and Decky Dalton, Pimblett (16-3) is bursting with confidence and doesn’t expect to need the judges on Saturday.

“My training camp has been perfect,” Pimblett said. “My boxing, my kicking, my jiu-jitsu, my wrestling, my sparring, my [strength and conditioning], I’m a new specimen now. I’m a different animal even from what I was six months ago when I fought Davide Martinez. I’m a completely different animal now.

“Luigi’s not gonna be ready, man. I swear to God he’s not gonna last anymore than five minutes, so he’s not going to enjoy his five minutes of fame in the cage with me.”

Pimblett has been a marquee name in the U.K.’s Cage Warriors promotion for the better part of the last decade and he believes the timing is perfect for him to make the jump to the UFC. Though recent Cage Warriors standouts have failed to make an immediate impact in the UFC, Pimblett sees himself following in the footsteps of Conor McGregor and ingratiating himself to U.S. fans from day one.

“There have been guys like Jai Herbert and Mason Jones they’ve had it hard to be honest, their debut fights were tough, same as Rhys McKee,” Pimblett said. “All these guys had tough, tough debuts. I don’t consider mine as a tough, but obviously any fight in the UFC is tough even though I think I’ve had tougher fights in Cage Warriors.

“But I’m here to represent and I’m gonna show everyone how good Cage Warriors is, it’s that simple. As you know, Conor comes from Cage Warriors. Dan Hardy, Michael Bisping, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, a lot of people forget that and I’m gonna be the next name added to that list.”