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Paddy Pimblett: Cage Warriors belt was bigger career highlight than debut UFC win

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For Paddy Pimblett, fighting in the octagon for the first time was more about fulfilling destiny than a career highlight.

Right now, Pimblett’s win of the Cage Warriors featherweight title is top of mind when he thinks about his best moments in the cage. He lamented that he couldn’t even jump on the cage when he stopped Luigi Vendramini at UFC Vegas 36 this past Saturday.

“Winning that belt in the Echo (now M&S Bank) [in Liverpool], that’ll take some beating,” he said Wednesday on The MMA Hour.

That said, Pimblett is undoubtedly on a high. Reached from Cornwall, England, where he was staying in a converted storage container and, from the sound of it, eating everything in sight, he couldn’t help put pat himself on the back a little bit. He not only won in style, but he got his Instagram account back – with a few more followers.

“I’ve got more followers than most of the UFC fighters,” said the 26-year-old Scouser, who currently has 523,000 online disciples.

UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby shook his hand after his win, to which he replied, “told ya.” UFC executive Hunter Campbell congratulated his manager (and former promoter), Cage Warriors head Graham Boylan. UFC President Dana White wasn’t there, but sent a couple big bottles of Howler Head whiskey to his hotel room that night. New sponsors have reached out.

Despite all this, Pimblett is determined not to let his early UFC success go to his head. The promotion that elevated him to stardom also taught him a lesson in how to manage a swell of attention.

“I’ve been there before when I won that Cage Warriors belt, people talking about me as the next big thing,” he said. “I’ve had setbacks before when my head got too big. So I know it’s never going to happen again. Even if I go on a 10-fight win streak, I’m not going to do that.”

Easier said than done, of course. Pimblett does take humility from the fact that his first performance wasn’t all smooth sailing, at least from an outsider’s appearance. When he appeared to get rocked by a left hook in the first round, he could hear UFC commentators saying he was losing the opening frame. That lit a fire under him to get one back on Vendramini and finish the fight.

“I’ve been hit with bigger shots than that before,” he said. “When I watched it back, the sound of it was boss. It sounded great. The noise sounded like he did hit me with a proper big shot. But as I said, I’ll take them any day of the week.

“I knew in my head it was a foregone conclusion, but then I’ll be honest, with there being no crowd, that one shot, everyone just thought he was winning the round for some reason. You see how many punches and kicks I hit him with? My ankles are proper fat, lad, because I kicked him in the head that many times.”

Pimblett is most disappointed that he let his opponent take him down. As a grappling specialist, he’d prefer never to give up positions in the cage. But he ultimately got the first-round TKO win and a $50,000 “Performance of the Night” bonus.

He’s also on the mind of just about every up-and-coming UFC lightweight on the roster. For now, he’ll enjoy that position and let opponents come to him for a return he hopes to arrive in November or December.

“I don’t care,” he said when asked about his next opponent. “People can talk about me all they want. Everyone wants to talk about me. I don’t need to mention anybody’s name.”

If there’s any opponent he wants to vanquish sooner than later, it’s the IRS.

“I nearly vomited the other day when I saw what I was getting taxed,” Pimblett said.