Local Mixed Martial Artist Heading for Prime Time
June 9, 2011
Despite a semifinal round loss on Spike TV’s The Ultimate Fighter 13, Carmel Valley’s Chris Cope became a contracted Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter on Saturday night, in Las Vegas on the show’s finale. He won his first ever UFC match in a unanimous decision against Chuck O’Neil, a fellow fighter from the show who had become Cope’s friend.
“That was a big deal for me,” Cope says, adding that it was a way bigger fight than his loss to Ramsey Nijem in the semifinal round, which aired on Wednesday. To win a fight in the UFC was one of Cope’s personal goals in mixed martial arts competition, one of three he wants to complete before retiring. He had been an underdog that many counted out of the running when the show began.
“I’m in with the big leagues now,” Cope says. He will return to The Arena gym in San Diego to continue training vigorously, in addition to studying for the LSAT and working as a paralegal at a law firm. His philosophy: “You gotta put up or shut up.”
He does not expect his next opponent to be as evenly matched: “I’m definitely gonna have to step my game up.” His thumb was injured during the fight, but he expects to fight again in the UFC in about four months. A month after the end of the taping of the reality show, which is an MMA competition to win a contract to fight in the UFC, Cope got a call from UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, who told him he would be fighting his buddy, O’Neil, on a main card welterweight bout. Cope cut off contact with O’Neil, with whom he had been planning a trip, along with fighters Charlie Rader and Clay Harvison from the show.
For the past two months, Cope has taken advantage of the time to prepare and train. “We got down to it, “ Cope says. He utilized his network of coaches to create a game plan, a fighting strategy that he attributes as a group effort.
Part of that strategy was getting beaten down three times a week by sparring partners that were 3 to 4 inches taller than O’Neil. Another part went into effect from the start of the show, as Cope would watch members of his own team during training sessions. While it got him into trouble with the rest of his team, who accused him of spying for the opposing team, the extra attention paid off.
“You do whatever it takes to win,” Cope says, “I’m glad that I watched it; look what happened.” It helped him to gauge O’Neils’ strengths and weaknesses and prepare accordingly. For example, he knew O’Neil wouldn’t try to take him down to the mat for a submission. “I was finally able to let my hands go a lot more, use a lot more of my arsenal,” Cope says. He began competitive fighting as a kickboxer, and was criticized by UFC President Dana White on the show for not being a more aggressive striker. The win allowed him to prove to White, but also to himself, that he was capable of becoming a legitimate UFC fighter. His next two goals: to fight at least once in Japan, and to win a title belt in a major MMA organization. He hopes to accomplish both in the UFC before he retires without any qualms.