With three finishes in his first three promotional appearances, Miguel Baeza looks like an emerging star in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s welterweight division.
“Caramel Thunder” was impressive in his latest outing at UFC on ESPN 18, where he submitted Takashi Sato with an arm-triangle choke 4:28 into the second round of the evening’s co-main event at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on Saturday night. Before the finish, Baeza had success landing with a varied arsenal on the feet, but he says patience was the key in his latest victory.
“I did [think I was going to get the finish in Round 1], but I didn’t want to rush it,” Baeza said at the UFC on ESPN 18 post-fight press conference. “It’s something my coaches were telling me, ‘Be patient, don’t force it.’ They’re the coaches for a reason. They called it. I caught him but I didn’t want to push too hard. It came in the second.”
After earning technical knockout victories against Hector Aldana and Takashi Sato in his first two Octagon appearances, Baeza couldn’t help but notice that his ground game wasn’t getting the respect it deserved in the MMA community.
“I shouldn’t be reading some of the stuff on the Internet, but it’s kind of hard not to,” he said. “They were like, ‘What belt is this guy Baeza? Take him down, it’ll be a wrap.’ I’ve been doing jiu-jitsu for over a decade now. I was able to show off that I’m more than just a standup guy.”
Although his latest performance seemed to have few flaws, Baeza expects to have a serious critique session with his team at MMA Masters in the coming days.
“Trust me, I’m gonna find faults. We’re gonna celebrate for a couple days but then afterwards it’s gonna be right back to business,” Baeza said. “I was happy and then I just remembered, ‘Oh God, here comes the criticism.’ It’s gonna be a welcome thing.”
One of Baeza’s training partners at the Florida-based gym has been controversial welterweight contender Colby Covington. Baeza says “Chaos” was an integral part of his camp, and his gym persona is far different from the one that emerges in the public eye.
“Colby Covington, he’s a good guy,” Baeza said. “I know that everybody’s gonna get on him with all the stuff he’s saying. He’s a different person in the gym. He’s only pushed us to get better.”
Despite his success, Baeza didn’t have the 2020 campaign he wanted. First, his matchup with Brown was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, a booking on Sept. 19 fell through when Baeza wasn’t cleared to compete at UFC Fight Night 178. If all had gone as planned, Baeza might have had twice as many fights as he actually did this year.
“This was supposed to be our fourth fight this year … We had these full training camps. It just didn’t happen,” he said. “My rookie year in the UFC – typical. It’s never the easy road. We’ve always got to climb to get to where we want to get. It’s the best way to do it.”
Moving forward, Baeza is taking the perspective common to an up-and-coming talent in the UFC.
“A part of me wants to get short-term goals, get that next W. But the long-term goal is to get that title,” Baeza said. “Whoever is in front of me is in front of me – it doesn’t matter if it’s Top 15, Top 10, bottom 20. Whoever it is, I’m coming after you.”