In the six months that have passed since his last appearance in the UFC, Roli Delgado has watched the well of opportunity run dry.
Chances to fight have not presented themselves for the Arkansas-based featherweight, who reached the quarter-finals on Season 8 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series. Delgado has not competed since he succumbed to strikes from Andre Winner at UFC 105 in November.
“Training has been phenomenal. I’m ready to go,” Delgado said. “I’ve been having a little trouble finding fights, but I’ve been busy training my fighters and keeping up with my gym. I’m only 28. I feel great. I just need to get a few fights and get some momentum.”
Delgado has placed his fighting career in the hands of Bryan Hamper, who also manages World Extreme Cagefighting standouts Donald Cerrone and Leonard Garcia.
“The ball’s rolling in the right direction,” Delgado said. “I’ve been training hard. It’s all I do.”
Hounded by his unfortunate encounter with former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir on “The Ultimate Fighter,” Delgado admits his appearance on the show was a mixed blessing. Mir openly questioned his credentials as a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt during one episode. Still, he believes the time he spent in the world’s most prominent mixed martial arts promotion ultimately furthered his cause.
“It for sure helped my career immensely,” Delgado said. “I think it hurt my reputation, with the whole black belt thing. I didn’t get to showcase my ground game. The opportunity was amazing, and I ended up getting three fights in the UFC. It made me a better fighter. I started going to a boxing gym, lifting weights, doing things I wasn’t doing before. I’d never in a million years take back the experience of being on ‘The Ultimate Fighter.’”
A natural featherweight who competed at 155 pounds in the UFC, Delgado hopes to someday return to the Zuffa LLC family, perhaps in the WEC.
“I have a lot of loyalty to that organization,” Delgado said. “They treated me well. I want to get a couple of fights at smaller venues and make sure I’ve got a little momentum. I want to get back to that platform. I know I can compete at that level. I’ve trained with a lot of different people. I’ve been fighting guys who were a little bigger than me. When I’m fighting guys who are more my size, those close decisions are going to go my way.”
Based in Little Rock, Ark., Delgado concedes his off-the-beaten-path location oftentimes works against him when it comes to drawing attention.
“We’re so far out of the scene,” he said. “There’s not a whole lot going on out here. We might as well be on an island. It’s a real struggle to establish yourself.”
However, Delgado has no plans to put down roots elsewhere.
“We have a lot of good lightweights here, a great boxing gym and a great boxing coach,” he said. “I think the training part is great. I’m still developing as a fighter. This is where my gym is. I need to be here to keep that income coming in.”
Delgado, who submitted John Polakowski in his UFC debut in December 2008, has worked to close the holes in his game. Wrestling has become a strong focus, and Delgado now works alongside catch wrestling savant Billy Robinson at Westside MMA. A member of the International Wrestling Hall of Fame, Robinson impacted the careers of former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett and Japanese legend Kazushi Sakuraba.
“I’ve gone so long not being a good wrestler,” Delgado said. “Knowing it an executing it are two different things. At the end of the day, I’m a grappler.”
Delgado draws on his UFC experience daily.
“It showed me I should keep fighting,” Delgado said. “I’ve been through the struggle, the two-and-a-half-month training camp, the 15-minute fights. I’ve been to the big show, and I love it. I only have such a small window to do this. I’m still finding myself as a fighter. I feel like I have what it takes.”