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UFC 102:

Home cage advantage

Evan Dunham expects plenty support from the state he began his amateur career

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Courtesy of UFC

Evan Dunham reacts after defeating Per Eklund in the first round of their lightweight contest at UFC 95.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Evan Dunham is no stranger to mixed martial arts competition in the state of Oregon.

The 27-year-old fighter who now trains for his professional fights at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas was born and raised in Eugene, Ore., and had the first fight of his amateur career there.

In a skating rink.

“I grew up as a wrestler but by the time I came to college I was kind of burned out,” Dunham said. “I tried jiu-jitsu and really loved it. After awhile I thought it would be cool to test what I knew in a live, fighting environment. I signed up for an event at a skating rink in Eugene and was able to win it. I’ve been running with it ever since.”

Dunham (8-0-0) will return to his home state this Saturday to face Marcus Aurelio at UFC 102 at the Rose Garden in Portland.

For a fighter whose career has already taken him to destinations such as the Philippines and London, fighting back home in Oregon might not be such a big deal.

Not to Dunham though, who said he was looking forward to this weekend more than any other fight he could remember.

“London and the Philippines were great experiences, I enjoy traveling and any time you’re able to kill two birds with one stone is great,” Dunham said. “But when you travel you have to deal with jet lag and time differences and things like that. I’m looking forward to fighting in Oregon more than anywhere else.”

Although he usually makes the trip to Las Vegas to train three months before fights, Dunham’s permanent residence is still in Eugene where he works full-time with Team Megaton.

With his teammates, friends and family all still concentrated in Oregon, Dunham is expecting an impressive turnout for his second fight in the UFC.

It will be the first time many of those closest to him will be able to see him compete at that level, as only his father was able to make the trip to London for UFC 95.

While he may not be widely recognized by the casual UFC fan, his amateur career has built him a solid fan-base in his hometown according to his longtime training partner, Ben Baxter.

“In Eugene, people will come up to me I don’t even know and ask how he’s doing,” Baxter said. “So in Eugene, yeah, it’s reached that point.”

Dunham showed the fighting world he belonged in the UFC lightweight division when he finished Per Eklund just 2:13 into the first round by TKO.

For his coming-home party, the UFC has matched him with the experienced Aurelio (18-7-0), who is returning to the UFC after a brief absence to compete in other MMA organizations.

Aurelio took the place of Matt Veach who was originally scheduled to fight Dunham. Instead of looking at the change as an obstacle, Dunham’s camp was excited to hear the news they would be fighting a more experienced opponent.

“There was no big need to change anything, I think it’s awesome that the fight was changed,” Baxter said. “This is a better fight for Evan. He’s the younger guy and it’s in front of his hometown so I see him going out with a lot energy and being the Tasmanian devil in this.”

Dunham’s pull in the organization may not be to the point where he can hook his supporters up with floor seats to UFC 102.

But according to his camp, that won’t stop them from being heard in the Rose Garden Saturday night.

“The people who were able to get tickets won’t be anywhere on the floor, they’ll probably be in the nosebleeds,” Baxter said. “But you’ll be able to tell he’s the hometown kid.”

Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected].

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