ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Isaac Vallie-Flagg is hardly the authority on verbal warfare. He won’t make headlines for his out-of-the-cage antics. He has never asked anyone to, “Let me bang, bro.”
In an individual sport that often rewards those who draw the most attention to themselves, Vallie-Flagg shuns the limelight with his unassuming nature -- perhaps at least part of the reason why it has taken the 34-year-old Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts product as long as it has to reach a more prominent position in the sport. On three separate occasions, Vallie-Flagg auditioned for an opportunity to compete on a season of “The Ultimate Fighter” – twice at 170 pounds and once at 155 – and all three times he failed to make the final cut.
“I’m not a loudmouth, I try not to talk (expletive) unless I really don’t like somebody,” he told Sherdog.com. “I know what sells on TV, and I know my attitude doesn’t sell on TV. Hopefully my fights will sell themselves.”
Until recently, Vallie-Flagg toiled on the regional level, competing everywhere from New Mexico to Hawaii to an ill-fated card in the Dominican Republic. In May 2011, he finally received a call-up to the bigger stage, earning a split verdict over Brian Melancon at Strikeforce “Overeem vs. Werdum” in May 2011.
He returned to the promotion’s hexagon some 11 months later as a heavy underdog against Gesias Cavalcante, who was once thought to be one of the world’s top lightweights thanks to his dominance on the Japanese MMA circuit. Fifteen minutes later, buoyed by a relentless and diverse striking attack, Vallie-Flagg emerged with a split-decision triumph over the former K-1 standout.
It was a career-defining moment, the kind of victory that should, in theory, lead to bigger and better things.
“I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for a week after that,” he said. “I was just really excited. I wanted to ride that momentum farther into my Strikeforce career.”
Vallie-Flagg was then booked for a matchup with Brazilian prospect Adriano Martins on a Sept. 29 card in Sacramento. However, the entire Strikeforce card was canceled when lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez withdrew from the event after injuring his shoulder in training. Showtime subsequently informed the promotion that it was no longer interested in broadcasting the card without a true headliner.
Vallie-Flagg and the rest of the fighters on the card were left to twist in the wind. Some have been added to Strikeforce’s Jan. 12 bill, which is expected to be the promotion’s swan song. Martins is scheduled to compete that night – but against Jorge Gurgel, not Vallie-Flagg.
“I really felt like it wasn’t even the best fight on the card – the Melendez-Healy fight,” Vallie-Flagg said. “It was gonna be a good fight, but I thought there were a lot of really exciting fights on the card. I think it could have carried its own. I think Showtime killing the card kind of sucked.
“Adriano’s a tough dude. That was a guy who I do think could have fought in the UFC,” he continued. “It would have been another notch in my belt to keep moving up the ladder.”
As disappointing as the cancellation was, Vallie-Flagg sees the big picture. He is hopeful that he can take his talents to the Octagon once Strikeforce closes up shop for good. There has been no formal announcement regarding the fates of the fighters under contract with Strikeforce and Showtime, but it is expected that many of them will move on to the UFC at some point in 2013.
If and when that transition happens, Vallie-Flagg wouldn’t mind taking out some of the cast of the recently-completed season of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
“If I had my way, I’d fight a guy like that (expletive) idiot who was on the show – that Julian Lane kid,” he said. “Even a Mike Ricci, I know he’s coming down to 155. Hopefully I get brought over to the UFC and hopefully I get to fight soon.”
A matchup with Lane might not materialize if Vallie-Flagg does indeed move on to the UFC, because the “TUF 16” cast member is scheduled to headline Cage Fighting Fury Championships 19 on Feb. 3 in New Jersey. At least in this case, substance appears to have triumphed over style.
“I’ve had three tryouts, and I’ve never made it on the show…that’s fine with me. I’d rather be known for my hard work than being a loudmouth drunk idiot on TV,” Vallie-Flagg said. “I don’t have time to mess around in this sport. Even if I do get into the UFC I don’t want to be stuck on undercards. I want to be out there in the public eye beating tough people.”