ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After just two Octagon appearances, Lando Vannata is arguably one of the hottest commodities in the UFC’s lightweight division.
That tends to happen when you push a top title contender to the brink of defeat in your debut and then author a “Knockout of the Year” candidate against a respected veteran in your sophomore outing.
Vannata entered the Octagon on short notice against Tony Ferguson at UFC Fight Night 91 in July, and he had “El Cucuy” reeling thanks to a spinning backfist and right cross early in the first round and a head kick late in the frame. Ferguson would survive the assault and submitted the fatigued Jackson-Wink MMA product with a brabo choke in the second stanza. Vannata would prove his first-round work was no fluke at UFC 206, when he knocked out Tristar Gym export John Makdessi with a spectacular spinning wheel kick (latest odds).
Now, Vannata will occupy a spot on the UFC 209 pay-per-view draw with Ferguson when he faces David Teymur on March 4 in Las Vegas. Ferguson, of course, will face Khabib Nurmagomedov for the interim 155-pound title in the evening’s co-main event.
It should come as no surprise that Vannata would like to see his ex-opponent perform well.
“I’m excited to see him in person. He better win,” Vannata told Sherdog.com. “I think he beats Khabib. Of course I’m going to be cheering for him, he’s the only dude that’s beat me. The farther he goes the better it is for me.”
While Teymur might be a few steps down in terms of name value from both Ferguson and Makdessi, the 27-year-old Swede is a prospect in his own right, with five straight victories including a pair of KO/TKO triumphs under the UFC banner. For his part, Vannata didn’t feel like he deserved a bigger name after his first two bouts.
“I’m fine with it. I’ve got no problem with it. I’m still on my base contract. I’ll take this fight and get this work done,” he said. “Then we can go talk about what’s next. I like the matchup. I like to test myself against good people; he’s a great kickboxer. I’m excited. I think it’s gonna be fun.”
That said, Vannata is well aware of his rapidly rising profile, and he believes the UFC is well aware of what it has, too.
“I feel like I have great standing with them. I think they’re hyped about having me on their roster,” Vannata said. “They know they’ve got a prospect on their hands that’s got more followers in two fights than most of their fighters have in 10. My Instagram and Twitter blew up after this [last] one. I think we’re in good standings, and if I get another highlight-reel knockout in this next fight, which I’m planning on, we’re gonna be in even better standing.”
Like any other lightweight contender, Vannata is well aware of the current state of the division. The Ferguson-Nurmagomedov winner could be on hold for a while as reigning 155-pound king Conor McGregor awaits the birth of his first child, seeks an ownership stake in the UFC and pursues a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather. Vannata might still be several wins away from a title shot, but he’d still like to see current champions defend their hardware rather than seeking greener pastures elsewhere.
“Yeah [it annoys me] a little bit, especially when the whole division’s on hold. It’s whatever. Conor’s done a lot for the sport already. It’s not that big of a deal for me. I’m glad they made him vacate the featherweight title so it doesn’t keep that whole division on hold,” Vannata said. “I wish people would stop challenging for the title above. Defend your title a few times, build a name there, vacate it and move up a weight class permanently instead of trying to fight all over the place and just get big money fights.”
For now, “Groovy” Lando has a plan for 2017 that should make him a bonafide championship contender by year’s end.
“I’m gonna fight four times this year. I’m gonna get another highlight reel against David Teymur. I’m gonna call out a top 20 guy. And I’m gonna sleep that dude,” he said. “Then I’m gonna call out a top 10 and then towards the end of the year I’m gonna call out a top 5 and at the end of the year, I’ll be a top 5 fighter in the UFC.”
If Ferguson defeats Nurmagomedov in emphatic fashion, however, all bets are off.
“I ain’t far behind. I’m right there [if Ferguson wins[,” Vannata said. “A few more wins and I’ll be taking it from him.”