Bubba McDaniel faces Matt Jones at Bellator 121 tonight. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
As recently as three months ago, Bubba McDaniel called the Ultimate Fighting Championship home.
Following a first-round submission loss to short-notice newcomer Sean Strickland at UFC 171 – his second consecutive defeat within the Octagon – McDaniel was released by the Las Vegas-based promotion. In one sense, McDaniel receiving a pink slip was somewhat surprising. After all, he was one of the more memorable cast members on “The Ultimate Fighter 17,” although often for the wrong reasons.
As a recognizable face, perhaps “The Menace” could have been given at least one more opportunity, especially when taking into account the UFC’s ambitious fight itinerary in 2014. The affable Texan isn’t bitter, however, because he realizes his exit was purely performance based.
“It was one of those things where I should have performed better. The Strickland fight just never clicked. They need me to click at that level,” McDaniel told Sherdog.com. “The guy that they expect to see is the guy that came into [TUF] fired up to beat everybody. And I haven’t shown that. I’m not mad at them.”
Tonight, McDaniel finds himself in a far different position, as he squares off with the unheralded Matt Jones on the Bellator 121 undercard. If it seems like McDaniel snuck onto the card, it’s because he basically did, taking the fight on two-and-a-half week’s notice after receiving a call from his manager.
For now, there are no long-term plans with Bellator beyond what happens at the Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Okla tonight. And that’s just fine with McDaniel, who has made several key changes in his life following the loss to Strickland. After spending his three-fight UFC tenure at Jackson-Wink MMA in Albuquerque, N.M., McDaniel decided to move back to Texas to be closer to his kids. Being separated from his family for extended fight camps was taking its toll.
“The distance away was over eight hours to get to my kids. Going somewhere [close] just gave me the opportunity to be there every weekend with my kids and hang out with them and to see all the family I haven’t been in touch with the last five or six years,” he said.
While McDaniel has trained in several different spots since leaving Greg Jackson’s team, he has most notably spent time with Team Takedown, the home of UFC welterweight king Johny Hendricks.
“Team Takedown has taken me under their wing and helped out with a lot of things. They put scenarios in my head of how to continue progressing as a fighter and I appreciate it,” McDaniel said. “Every day they’re in your ear. They talk to you. It’s really hands on there and I like it.”
While there is seemingly little to gain by fighting Jones, who is 5-7 as a professional, McDaniel sees the bout as a chance to turn things around.
I’ve made moves and I’ve done things that make me a happier person right now,” he said. “This fight to me is about finding out if I’m gonna overcome those boundaries that I’ve put on myself and in my head these last couple fights. If I can do that, that’d be perfect. This is the first road back to trying to put a few Ws together and show people that I wasn’t just a fluke.”