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Walel Watson Looks for Textbook Victory at UFC 152

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Walel Watson
Walel Watson

SAN DIEGO -- The last time UFC bantamweight Walel Watson took a trip to Toronto, he had a couple nasty surprises.

The first was a split-decision loss in a UFC 140 fight against Yves Jabouin he was sure he won. The second came about a month later, when he got a much larger than expected phone bill.

The San Diego Combat Academy fighter is heading back to the city he refers to as "the scene of the crime" for UFC 152 at the Air Canada Centre on Sept. 22, where he'll meet Mitch Gagnon in a Facebook prelim bout.

While Watson has to wait a week for his opportunity to right Toronto wrongs, the phone bill matter was an easier fix. On a brutally hot Friday, he and several Team Hurricane Awesome campmates piled into his car to hit up an AT&T store at an outdoor mall in the shadow of Qualcomm Stadium and upgrade his plan to include calls and texts from Canada.

"My girlfriend and I like to text a lot," Watson said. "I don't even use the phone to talk that much, I just text all the time. Last time I was up in Toronto, I didn't know you had to change your plan. I got back from the fight and a month later I had a bill for like $300."

Just four years after the Escondido, Calif. native first started training in MMA, Watson (9-4), a lean and lanky 135-pounder, is already at an important juncture of his UFC career.

Watson has lost two straight fights on the heels of his quick finish of Joseph Sandoval in his UFC debut. Watson (9-4) doesn't deny he clearly lost Feb. 15 bout to T.J. Dillashaw, which the latter won via unanimous decision.

"You're never going to see that again," said Watson. "You're never going to see someone hold me down for three round like that again. I've been drilling my wrestling nonstop. I wasn't me that night. That Walel Watson is gone."

But the UFC 140 fight with Jabouin still serves as Watson's biggest motivator.

Watson-Jabouin was by all accounts a close fight. A glance at running play-by-play on various MMA web sites scored the bout across the board, with some for Watson, some for Jabouin, and some a draw. Late in the second round, Watson caught Jabouin in a guillotine; in the third, Jabouin barely escaped a D'Arce choke. But in the end, two of three Ontario judges scored the bout in favor of the Canadian Jabouin.

"It was a tough lesson to learn," Watson said. "I thought I had the fight won. I eased up in the last couple minutes. I thought I had the decision, so toward the end of the fight, I thought to myself ‘don't do anything too crazy here.' It never even occurred to me I wouldn't get the decision. You know what they say about not leaving it in the hands of the judges? It's true. I learned it that night. From now on I don't want to give the judges any work to do."

Watson, a star high school football wide receiver, took up MMA once he realized junior college ball at San Diego Mesa College marked the end of his gridiron road. After taking his first fight on a whim in Tijuana after just a month of training, Watson got serious about the sport and hooked up with Manolo Hernandez and Team Hurricane Awesome, then caught Zuffa's attention by winning seven straight fights via stoppage inside of two rounds in just 13 months.

"I got a Facebook message from Sean Shelby one day telling me they were interested in me and to give him a call," he said. "I didn't really think it was him, I called the number and I thought it was going to be some type of prank."

It wasn't. Watson found himself in the UFC just three years after first taking up the sport. Although he recently signed a new four-fight contract, he knows he needs to get back into the win column soon. Standing in his way is Gagnon, who also has something to prove, having started strong but then gassing and losing to Bryan Caraway in UFC 149's Fight of the Night.

As Watson sits through one of those interminable waits that anyone who's walked into a big cell phone store has gone through, he projects how the fight's going to break down.

"You saw what happened in his last fight, he got off to a good start and then he slowed down," said Watson. "That was seven weeks ago, he hasn't had the time to rest. I've had a full camp, I've had the best camp I ever had. I know every fighter says that, but this time it's true. I'm ready to show everyone what Walel Watson is capable of."

Now that would be something to text home about.