Paul Bradley has finished five of his last six opponents. | Photo: Dave Mandel
Paul Bradley’s last fight did not leave a lot of room for preparation. It took place on next to no notice -- Bradley had defeated Eddie Larrea via arm-triangle choke at a regional event just two weeks prior and received the call with only a week and a half to get ready. His being forced to move up a weight class was just as much of a challenge as the lack of a full fight camp.
“I just fought at 170 [pounds] two weeks before that, so going up a weight class and not getting my weight up to where it needed to be for that fight wasn’t ideal,” Bradley says, though the Iowa native managed to take a very game Rafael Natal to a close decision at UFC 133 on Aug. 6 in Philadelphia.
Despite the defeat, the man they call “The Gentleman” has no regrets about his decision to fight at middleweight on such short notice.
“As far as taking the fight, it was a way to get my foot in the door, and you take what you can get when the UFC offers, you know, so I took it and, thankfully, they’re giving me a second fight at 170 -- my normal weight class,” Bradley says.
Lack of preparation certainly will not be a factor when he faces Mike Pierce at UFC on Fox 1 “Velasquez vs. Dos Santos” on Saturday at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Bradley, who normally trains at The Academy in Minnesota, has been working out of the Alliance MMA camp in Chula Vista, Calif., in preparation for the upcoming bout.
“I decided to come out here, change it up, have all the focus be on me 100 percent. I’m living above the gym and training, day in and day out; that’s pretty much all I have out here. I have no set of wheels, so I basically live in the gym, which is good; just a way for me to get away and literally put all my focus on this fight,” Bradley says.
The former Ring of Combat middleweight champion describes his fight prep training under Eric Del Fierro at Alliance MMA as specifically focused on and designed for him.
“Del Fierro has really put in the time for me for this camp, really specifying things for this fight for me and coming up with a solid game plan and helping with padwork and all that good stuff. Everyone at Alliance has been very welcoming to me and, obviously, Andy Grahn back at The Academy has helped me get ready for this fight, and all my friends and family and teammates back at The Academy helped me get ready before I came out here. Everything’s been nothing but great,” Bradley says.
Bradley, who has won five of his last six fights, believes he has benefitted most from the specificity in his training at Alliance MMA.
“I’ll get a fresh guy in every round,” he says. “I have everything -- from grappling sessions totally focused on me with different guys rotated in on me, padwork at night, strength and conditioning -- built towards what I need to do in this fight.”
According to Bradley, the setup is a little more focused than the one back home.
“At The Academy, I’m a little bit more on my own and running my own little scheme of things, but here, the focus is all on guys with fights coming up. The guys who don’t have fights are there to push you. They’re putting me in the cage and making me go six rounds with a fresh guy every round. That’s what I like about guys out here is that they basically put me through torture to get me ready for this fight,” he says.
Del Fierro, who also trains reigning UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, has enjoyed working with Bradley.
“He actually came out here six weeks prior to his fight, so we’ve been getting him ready. He’s been doing good. He’s healthy, he’s in shape, so hopefully we’ll see a new reenergized Paul Bradley,” Del Fierro says.
Although the two met around three years ago, this is the first time Bradley has trained with Alliance MMA.
“We’re more trying to get a feel off of him and making sure he’s in shape and ready to go out there and put on a performance,” Del Fierro says. “We’re just trying to fix a couple holes in his game and get him up to par.”
Bradley owns an extensive wrestling background and was a three-time NCAA tournament qualifier.
“I wrestled at the University of Iowa for four years, was an All-American there twice and wrestled under the legendary [Dan] Gable, [Jim] Zalesky and [Tom] Brands combo,” he says.
Bradley was a starter at 184 pounds at Iowa, transitioned to MMA after wrestling was over and has been doing it ever since. He first locked horns with Pierce back in April 2009, when he lost a unanimous decision under the Respect Is Earned banner. Bradley believes both men have improved.
“His striking’s gotten better; my striking’s gotten better. Obviously, after he beat me, he got in the UFC, so I’ve been waiting two, two and a half years to get into this spot. He’s been there since he beat me. I think we’ve both gotten better. I don’t think a whole lot’s changed; I just think we’ve refined things a little more,” Bradley says.
Del Fierro echoes the sentiment.
“I think Mike Pierce has improved through the years, and I think Paul Bradley has also, so I think you’re going to see a totally different fight from both guys. They both have a solid wrestling background and they’re both competent strikers, so I think they’re matched up pretty evenly. I think both guys have improved quite a bit -- 2009 is quite a while ago. I think both guys have changed quite a bit since then. They both have quite a bit of experience in the sport, so I think it’ll be an interesting fight,” he says.
Bradley has racked up seven wins, two losses and a no contest since he last faced Pierce, while the former Sportfight champion has had four wins and two losses, all in the UFC. Bradley signed with Strikeforce in 2009 after a skin infection forced him to withdraw from Season 7 of “The Ultimate Fighter.” Like the first time they met, Bradley expects his rematch with Pierce to go to a decision.
“He’s never been finished in his career,” he explains. “From the first time I fought him, the guy can take a punch. He can throw hard punches. I’m just expecting a three-round war. If I could finish him, that’d be great, but the guy’s tough as nails and he’s never been finished. He’s a good wrestler. He’s got heavy hands. He’s a tough dude.
“It’s going to be a good fight, just like the last fight,” Bradley adds. “I’m looking for a grind. It’ll probably be a decision, but, this fight, I have to put on a good performance and show that I won the fight instead of keeping it close. It’s going to be a grind. It’ll be a tough fight.”