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Speaking to Trevin Giles, one would never suspect that he was on a two-fight skid. In an era in which the Ultimate Fighting Championship is constantly churning its 600-fighter roster and almost nobody’s job seems truly safe—just ask Liz Carmouche, who went from a flyweight title shot directly to a pink slip a few months ago—fighters tend to react to consecutive losses in predictable ways: a change in weight class, perhaps, or a move to a different gym, anything to show that they are making radical changes in their approach. UFC fighters staring down a losing streak will often openly admit that their back is against the wall and that they are fighting for their roster spot.
Not so for “The Problem” (11-2, 2-2 UFC), who faces Antonio Arroyo at UFC 247 this Saturday in Houston. Speaking to Sherdog.com after his final sparring session at W4R Training Center in northwest Houston, the 27-year-old middleweight exudes calm and claims to feel no additional pressure in this fight. That is due in part to the nature of those two losses. Against both Zak Cummings and Gerald Meerschaert, he was tapped out in the third round of close fights. Giles actually regrets his eagerness to adjust after the Cummings fight. There, he suffered his first professional loss when Cummings dropped him with a big overhand left and then snared him in a guillotine choke with less than a minute left.
“After the first loss against Cummings, I was like, ‘Well, OK, I need to make some changes,’ which was a dumb idea because it was a good fight, and he made a couple of stupid decisions in that fight, as well—like even with the guillotine,” Giles said. “In my opinion, that was a dumb decision even though it paid off for him, because he went to his back after dropping me. That could have turned out badly for him, but he was able to pull it off. So it turned out the way it did, and I should have just kept on doing my thing after that, but instead, I changed too much about myself.
“For Meerschaert, I came in there wanting to grapple more, and it was just weird,” he continued. “I was so in my own head about it that my striking felt weird. I caught him with a good right hand at the beginning, but I didn’t really flow after that and kind of got sucked into the grappling exchanges. I had thought that I should have grappled a little more against Cummings, maybe worn him out some more, and I maybe could have caught him with some better shots later on and knocked him out, so I went in and started grappling against Meerschaert, but he’s a totally different guy. So not the smartest decisions on my part, but from today on, it’s just me doing my thing, and if you’re good enough to beat that, it is what it is.”
Even the one notable change Giles has made since the Meerschaert fight—switching gyms from Texas Elite MMA to W4R—began as a largely practical decision, bringing his training closer to his wife, his 9-month-old son and his full-time career as a Houston police officer, though he admits it has proven beneficial to his game, as well.
“I work for HPD on the northeast side of town, and Elite MMA is on the west side of town,” Giles said, describing an added three hours’ drive time in the sprawl and traffic of Greater Houston. “[Luke] Crawford, an officer I work with, first clued me in to the gym. At first it was just logistics, but when I came in and saw what they’re doing here and some of the bigger bodies they had for me to work with, it’s been real good.”
Another reason for Giles’ cool demeanor and his resolve to return to the approach that got him to the UFC in the first place may be the fact that the promotion signed him to a new contract after that loss to Meerschaert and in spite of those back-to-back defeats. That vote of confidence from his promoter in turn bolsters his own confidence.
“There was some relief,” Giles said. “In the UFC, there’s always going to be new fighters coming in. There’s always going to be new talent, new guys that are coming up, especially with [Dana White’s] Contender Series, so when you’ve got back-to-back losses and there’s new guys coming along that are interesting, too, you just have to hope that you get another fight. Those two fights [that I lost]—it wasn’t like I got blown out of the water, so I can see why they would [bring me back]; and it feels good. It lets me know that I’m doing something right [or] that someone likes my fighting style, and now I just need to get back on that winning track.”
Standing between Giles and the winning track is the 9-3 Arroyo, a DWCS alum who lost a unanimous decision in his own UFC debut in November. Giles offers a measured assessment of the threats posed by the 30-year-old Brazilian.
“He has strong kicks and he seems like a strong guy overall,” Giles said. “I don’t see a lot that comes from him other than those kicks, but I have to give those respect, because he makes it work for him. He fights guys who know that a lot of kicks are coming, and he still makes it work, so I’ll go out there, keep that in mind, give his kicks respect and just let my style beat his.”
Even knowing that this first fight on a new contract represents another chance to prove he belongs among the world’s best, Giles claims to feel no particular pressure to perform a certain way beyond the obvious preferability of a win. In his mind, his native fight style already lends itself towards entertaining fights. Should the worst come to pass, he remains a husband, father and law enforcement officer. He describes the kind of work-life balance that seems rare in any field, let alone cage fighting.
“There’s that thought in the back of my head [that I need to have an exciting fight], but mostly, I just need to go in there and perform,” Giles said. “You can’t control everything, so you can only go out there and do the best you can at the things you can control. So that’s what I’m going to do—go out there and fight my fight. I go out there to win, but this isn’t the end for me. Some guys [with] fighting … it’s all they’ve got, but however it goes in there, I’m winning in life. I have a beautiful wife, a beautiful son, a job. I don’t like to go out there and fight feeling that kind of pressure, like this is all I’ve got, because those are the guys that lose.”