Motivation is a strange mistress.
It’s hot, it’s cold. Sometimes you’re sweating it out of your pores and sometimes you’re dry as a bone. If it’s in you, you’re ready to move mountains, and, when it’s not, it’s a chore to get off the couch. When UFC featherweight Steven Siler has that flame lit, he’s an overachieving onslaught of offense with a penchant for guillotine chokes. And when the pilot light isn’t catching, he is still a cardio machine without a quit switch.
“There was a definitely a spark in me before that [Joey] Gambino fight,” asserts Siler. “My last two fights went to decision and I was just fed up going to decisions. I was motivated to get a finish. I didn't have that same look going into [Darren] Elkins. I knew it was going to be a grind out fight and was going to be three rounds. Against Gambino, I knew I needed to finish. I have that same spirit right now. There's no doubt in my mind that I'm going to get another finish this fight.”
Born in California, trained in Utah, and fired up about making a triumphant return to the “Garden State,” Siler is entering his sophomore season inside the Octagon in a tilt against a debuting Strikeforce slugger in Kurt Holobaugh After an admitted underwhelming appearance on The Ultimate Fighter 14, Siler earned a three fight win streak, including the Gambino stoppage at UFC on FX in Atlantic City and a unanimous decision over Cole Miller. For some, seeing him as a featherweight force was a surprise, but Siler’s confidence in himself as a dangerous opponent has never wavered.
“I think I got underestimated because of getting knocked out pretty quickly by Diego [Brandao],” tells Siler. “It could happen to anyone. Someone gets flash knocked out real quick and people think they're not good just because they got knocked out. But in these fights I have been able to show off my skills. I've taken more of a beating and more punches in these fights, but have been able to battle back and show off my skills and show off how good I really am. It has been my dream to be in the UFC. The fact that I made it was great and I think that I surprised people with how good I have done - that's awesome. I’m hoping the second year will be even better than the first.”
The lone loss Siler’s suffered in the UFC was at the hands of fellow divisional dark horse Darren Elkins in November. At UFC 154, Siler couldn’t stop the bevy of takedowns from Elkins, who successfully scored six of seven. Obviously, it was far from his best offensive performance, but it did show Siler’s heart, grit, submission defense, cardio, and a determination to never quit. The decision defeat did teach “Super” a lesson in appreciating the talent level of all UFC fighters and the need to always bring one’s A game into the Octagon.
“I knew what his game plan was going to be and I thought I was going to be able to stop it,” reveals Siler. “He was a lot stronger than I thought he would be. I thought I would be able to keep it on the feet and pick him apart. He implemented his game plan really well and ground it out. I wouldn't say I was training lightly, but I realize how much more I need to work on my wrestling now than I did before. I was coming in on a three fight win streak and I thought I was going to just cruise through Elkins. I'm definitely more hungry now than I was before that fight.”
Up next for Siler is another rumble in New Jersey when he takes on Holobaugh at UFC 159. “My manager just told me I was fighting the guy who fought Pat Healy in the last Strikeforce, so I was like, ‘oh, I'll go look up who that is’,” jokes Siler, who, for the second time, was scheduled to square off against Jimy Hettes in “Dirty Jersey” with Hettes being forced out due to injury. In Hettes’ stead enters Holobaugh, the 8-1 product of Gracie Barra Northshore in his native Louisiana. Even though Holobaugh’s sole Strikeforce scrap was a decision loss, it was an action-packed, 15 minute melee against Strikeforce’s #1 contender Pat “Bam Bam” Healy.
“The change in opponent, no matter how different they are, it doesn't matter,” states Siler. “I'm training to do what I want to do and I'm going in there to implement my game plan. There was a little worry about Hettes' judo and Kurt doesn't have that. At the same time, I was planning on doing what I wanted to do to Hettes and he wasn't going to judo throw me no matter what he was going to try. I was going to go forward and hit him in the face and make him not want to clinch up with me. No matter who I fight, I'm going to hit them in the face and they're going to back up and not want to do anything.”
In theory, this featherweight fracas could be a show stealer. “I think it's going to be a more fun fight to watch, actually,” estimates Siler, whose unbridled aggressiveness is ready to butt heads with Holobaugh, who proved in January he doesn’t back down from a challenge. “Everyone was excited about Hettes and I wouldn't say that fight was going to be boring, but Kurt likes to brawl. I have a feeling we're both looking to just bang this out. I'm hoping this gives me more of a chance to get Fight of the Night instead of with Hettes I would have just gotten a victory.”
In preparation, Siler has been training with The Pit full-time, whether he’s been at home or on the road. Siler’s base is at head coach Jason Mertlich’s The Pit Elevated in Orem, Utah, alongside well-regarded TUF alums like Ramsey Nijem, Josh Burkman, and TUF 11 winner Court McGee. There was also a working vacation of sorts to The Pit in Arroyo Grande, California with famed striking coach John Hackleman.
“I feel like my standup is getting a lot better,” says Siler. “I keep hearing during my last few fights that I'm keeping my chin up and Coach Hack's trying to fix that. He's tightening up my punches, so that I don't let them hang out there anymore. He's just great to be around and likes to joke around and it makes it a lot easier to train with him. Before I started working with him, I was worried that he would be what he looks like - this hard ass that no one would want to mess with - and he is that, but at the same time he's probably one of the most fun coaches I have been around and I enjoy him teaching me.”
The standup is an admitted work-in-progress, but Siler shines when it comes to submissions. More than half of Siler’s wins are by some variety of choke (13 of 21) with almost all of them coming in the first round. It’s an interesting dynamic of teacher to student as Mertlich’s FOUR7 jiu-jitsu style is top-heavy, offensive, and control oriented whereas Siler has more of a frenetic, no-gi, high-pace style. As Mertlich evolves Siler’s grappling to a more systematic and positional approach, the prospect knows that when a fight breaks down and gets messy that he knows how to capitalize.
“A lot of that is my natural ability to scramble,” affirms Siler. “I like to scramble. When we're in a scramble, I look for them to make a mistake and I catch onto it very quickly. It's where I know they're going to leave their neck out there for a triangle or a guillotine or something where I'm able to get them. I make them scramble and I make them make a mistake. Hopefully, I can make them make a mistake before I make one.”
This Saturday at UFC 159 in Newark, New Jersey, “Super” Steven Siler starts his second year in the Octagon against Kurt Holobaugh. “I think it's going to be a fun, fast fight because he likes to brawl and I'm not scared to take some punches and trade with him,” says Siler, who is motivated to make lightning strike again in the “Garden State” with another scintillating stoppage. “I think we're going to be brawling a bit before I finish it. I think people are going to be entertained by it and I think it's going to be fun for the fans to watch.”
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"No matter who I fight, I'm going to hit them in the face and they're going to back up and not want to do anything." - Steven Siler