In the first fight, he was too hot.
Daniel Roberts says he’s watched the tape “probably a hundred thousand times,” but the outcome never changes. For the first two minutes of his Octagon debut, he is dominating opponent John Howard in every way. He’s out-grappling him, teeing off from the top position, and working off his back – all in spite of first-time jitters, underdog status, and taking the fight on short notice. He couldn’t have asked for a better performance.
But then comes the 2:01 mark. With a sudden left hand from Howard, the “Ninja” goes from being a shooting star to lying limp on the canvas.
Looking back on that fight (at March’s UFC LIVE: Vera vs. Jones), his initial response is to let out a laugh. “He hit me right in the right spot,” he says in a matter-of-fact tone. For his first loss, Roberts surprisingly shows no trace of soreness.
“You know,” he says, “I used to think that if you got knocked out, it meant that you weren’t a good fighter. Now I know that it’s just one of those things that happens. I almost prefer losing that way for the simple fact that it can happen to anybody. It’s not as if I was caught in a submission or getting beat for three rounds.”
That’s not to say that he blames the KO on a fluke, either.
“That had nothing to do with it,” says the 30-year-old welterweight. “I definitely made some mistakes. I was a little too aggressive, a little too wild. I could have taken my time, stayed in a dominant position, and looked to control him more. Instead I was coming out to fight and went for all strikes. I wasn’t happy with losing, but I learned from it.”
He took those lessons to Forrest Petz three months later at UFC 116. But in that second fight, he was too cold.
With an opponent named “The Meat Cleaver,” the match-up could have been a real barnburner. Instead, Roberts admits with some regret that he opted for a safer route to victory. So when his hand was raised in a split decision, he says there were no feelings of relief or redemption.
“That fight didn’t go as expected,” he says. “I may have won, but I wouldn’t call that a good performance at all.” Roberts, an All-American wrestler with a long list of grappling accolades (including an ADCC medal and multiple NAGA titles), says his fatal flaw was relying on a single aspect of his game.
“I had a one track mind that night: take him down and submit him. I know now that it wasn’t such a good idea, but coming off of that loss to Howard I wanted to be more conscious of my moves and not repeat the same mistakes. It ended up getting in the way of performing like I normally do – I was forgetting the fact that I’m good in all areas. One loss shouldn’t change the way I fight.”
With another lesson learned and his record bumped up to 1-1 in the UFC (10-1 overall), Roberts is anxious to go for two in a row on October 23 when he faces Mike Guymon at UFC 121.
Former King of the Cage champion Guymon, 13-3-1, brings over a decade of experience to the Octagon. Prior to his recent unanimous decision win over Yoshiyuki Yoshida at UFC 113, his fight record includes tests against some very respectable competition, including Diego Sanchez and Rory MacDonald.
Roberts may lack the same seasoning, but the match-up of newbie versus veteran is one that he feels good about.
“Guymon has got a lot of experience and looks like he works hard, so I’m not taking him lightly,” he says. “But I definitely think I have a better skill set than he does. My ground game is superior, and I’ve also been working on my Muay Thai with some of the best trainers in the world. Everyone knows that fighters are becoming more well-rounded these days, but I still think I have a huge advantage over most of them. I don’t think I can pick any one area in which I’m stronger than the other.”
Roberts credits his confidence to his current training team in San Francisco, which includes Gilbert Melendez, Nick and Nate Diaz, and Jake Shields. For someone who got his start in small shows throughout Oklahoma, the move was a major step up.
“I wasn’t getting much of a challenge in Oklahoma,” he says. “And now suddenly I’m rolling with Jake Shields? I’m sure Guymon’s working with some great people, but until you work out with a guy like Jake, you don’t know what training is. It’s just a whole other level. I’m picking up good habits from these guys and getting better every day.”
Roberts is so self-assured of his growth that he’s one of the rare fighters who’ll go as far as to make a solid prediction. “There’s going to be a finish is round one or two via TKO,” he says. “I really think I can take him. Looking at my last fight, he’s probably thinking I’m not really that good, but what he doesn’t know is that that’s not how I really perform. That’s a good thing because when I come out this time he’s going to be totally shocked.”
So consider the last two fights a warm up. According to Roberts, the third shot will reveal his true self.
“With my first fight I was too amped up, and in my next one I was a little too relaxed,” he says. “This time I think it’s going to be just right.”