Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, June 5, 2010 | 9:29 p.m.
Gilbert Yvel waited years to know what it felt like to be inside a UFC octagon.
His first opportunity to find out turned into an experience he’d rather just forget.
Yvel made his highly anticipated UFC debut in January at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, only to suffer a first-round TKO loss to Junior Dos Santos that lasted a mere two minutes and seven seconds.
On his way out of the octagon that night, a place the fighter once thought he would never be allowed to enter, Yvel felt emotions far from what he had hoped to have on one of the biggest nights of his career.
“Losing is always very bad,” Yvel said. “Walking out of the cage or ring not a winner, it’s just like, I failed. It’s the worst thing ever. And OK, you can lose, but to be done so quick without even putting up a good fight — it was just terrible.”
Despite the disappointment of that loss, Yvel (36-14-1) has good reason to believe things will be different when he takes on former IFL champion Ben Rothwell at UFC 115 in Vancouver, Canada on June 12.
The Las Vegas-based fighter refuses to make excuses for his lackluster performance against Dos Santos, but it’s no secret that as far as UFC debuts go, Yvel’s was about as rough as they get.
The UFC asked Yvel to step up on short notice last December after a string of injuries forced multiple fighters to pull out of the January card.
After once thinking the state of Nevada would never license him due to behavioral issues he’s had in the past, Yvel had less than one month to train for one of the top fighters in the heavyweight division.
“When he came over here, he got approved pretty fast and then we had a month notice for the fight,” said Yvel’s long-time manager and trainer, John Lewis. “We were game because we just wanted in to the UFC, but it wasn’t a lot of time to prepare mentally for the fight.”
Not only did Yvel have less than a full month to train, his camp would have to take place right in the middle of the holiday season — making it a tough chore to persuade training partners to meet him in the gym.
Yvel, who says he has trouble finding training partners as it is because of how intensely he spars, says that when it came to preparing for his UFC debut, he was basically on his own.
“I started with two sparring partners. One got knocked out in our first session and the other I did three rounds and he didn’t show up anymore,” Yvel said. “Everybody was doing the Christmas thing.
“But we wanted to get in the UFC and this was our chance. I knew the conditions weren’t right but I said I didn’t care. I will fight prepared or not prepared. Sometimes you have to work with the things you’ve got.”
Yvel will have the advantage of a full, three-month long training camp under his belt when he steps into the octagon for the second time at UFC 115.
As far as pressure goes, Yvel says he’ll still be nervous when he makes his way to the cage but that’s nothing new. Ever since making a name for himself early in his career as an explosive striker, he’s felt a pressure to live up to the expectations of his fans.
“There’s always pressure,” Lewis said. “He has to win this fight and wants to win this fight. He needs to get a win to get him started in the UFC and help him calm down. There’s pressure, but I know Gilbert will rise to the occasion.”
A win over Rothwell would be the first step towards a goal Yvel had in mind when he moved to Las Vegas from Holland in 2008 — claiming the UFC heavyweight title.
Yvel knows he has a long road ahead of him to reach that goal, however he’s already allowed himself to hope who might be waiting for him at the end of it.
While he’d obviously be happy to take the UFC belt from any fighter someday, Yvel says it would be perfect to end the journey with the same opponent he started it — Dos Santos.
“I sincerely hope Dos Santos will become the champ so I can beat him,” Yvel said. “He beat me in my debut and I honestly think he’s doing really well right now. I can see him becoming the next champ. It would be great to avenge myself and take the belt from him when he’s at his high point.”
Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or firstname.lastname@example.org.