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Fatherhood, UFC title run in sight for Evan Dunham

Dunham meets Nik Lentz in UFC on FOX 2 preliminary card

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Evan Dunham celebrates a win over Per Eklund in a bout at a UFC event at the O2 Arena, London, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2009. Dunham won via 1st round TKO.

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Evan Dunham used to return home after long days of training at Xtreme Couture and immediately begin thinking more about fighting.

The local UFC lightweight would ponder areas he still needed to work on and replay workout sessions in his mind. It was an exhausting routine.

“I think, in the past, I obsessed over training a little bit too much,” Dunham said. “This time, it’s been nice to take my mind away here and there.”

Dunham (12-2 MMA, 5-2 UFC) has enjoyed a healthy distraction headed into his bout against Nik Lentz (21-4 MMA, 5-1-1 UFC) Saturday at the United Center in Chicago on the preliminary card of UFC on FOX 2. Dunham, 30, and his wife are expecting their first child.

Ava Marie Dunham’s due date is only a couple weeks away, which will fulfill a longtime desire of Evan’s to become a father.

“Instead of obsessing over a bunch of training stuff, I relaxed a lot and went to doctor visits,” Dunham said. “I got to see how she was coming along. It’s, more than anything, been a nice break on the mind.”

Dunham’s increase in responsibilities doesn’t mean he’ll take it easy in 2012. As anyone who trains alongside him will attest, it’s a lost cause to try to keep Dunham out of the gym.

Ideally, Dunham would like to fight four times this year. That would be the most of his career since 2007 when he was making the rounds on the regional circuit in the Pacific Northwest.

“I’ve got a lot of stuff to juggle,” Dunham said. “But I think it’s all really good timing. I don’t plan on slowing down whatsoever.”

Slowing down doesn’t work in the 155-pound weight class. Lightweight is the UFC’s deepest division, but Dunham hopes to pounce on an unforeseen opening this year.

At this time last year, as many as six fighters were bunched toward the top of the division awaiting a title shot. Dunham had lost two in a row and was nowhere in their proximity.

But then, one by one, all the contenders improbably began falling victim to upsets and losing their spots in the championship queue. Dunham, meanwhile, obliterated Shamar Bailey with a unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night 25 to break his skid.

If Dunham can beat Lentz and notch another victory or two, he’s right back where he was in late 2010 as an undefeated fighter — near the top.

“I definitely see that,” Dunham said. “I plan on putting on a big performance this weekend and taking that big step up in competition. I want one of these guys vying for the title. I want 2012 to be the year for me, so I’ve got to stay active.”

Dunham barely talks about his two losses. He says he’s all but forgotten about the highly questionable split decision that judges awarded to Sean Sherk over him at UFC 119 and the first-round knockout loss to Melvin Guillard at UFC Fight Night 23.

Unlike many other fighters who go through a losing streak, Dunham didn’t make any major changes or overhaul anything about his approach. He kept moving forward with what helped him win four fights in the UFC to begin with.

“Same ole Evan,” Xtreme Couture teammate Mike Pyle said. “He’s just a hard-nosed, hard-working guy.”

Dunham, because he’s a southpaw, helped Pyle prepare for his bout against Ricardo Funch at UFC 142 earlier this month. Pyle, who defeated Funch with a first round TKO, said using Dunham as a primary training partner was invaluable.

“Man, he’s looking sharp,” Pyle said. “I’m really looking forward for him to take Lentz to school and box his face up a bit.”

That’s precisely Dunham’s plan. Making it easy would be nice, because he’s got to get back to Las Vegas in time to deliver a baby.

“Up until recently, I was never in a position to take something like this on,” Dunham said. “But now things have panned out good for me, I’m in a position to do that and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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