(Paul Buentello lands a right at UFC 107 – photo Hedges/Zuffa)
Paul Buentello’s return to the Ultimate Fighting Championship at UFC 107: “Penn vs. Sanchez” against giant heavyweight Stefan Struve displayed exactly why “The Headhunter” was welcomed back to the promotion for a second campaign.
During his first run with the UFC, Buentello developed the reputation as a competitive heavyweight with the undying desire to stand and bang in all-out wars. A vicious first round knockout against Justin Eilers at UFC 51 was just the introduction he needed to grab the attention of the fans, and it became the standard performance to expect from the brawler.
However, Buentello and the UFC parted in 2007, which led the former top contender to short stints with Strikeforce and the now defunct promotion Affliction Entertainment. But it was only a matter of time before Buentello returned to the top promotion in mixed martial arts and he is certainly glad to be back in full stride with the UFC.
“(I am) definitely back at home,” states Buentello. “You know, it’s the show. It’s the major league baseball. It’s the NBA. It’s the NFL right now. The UFC is that category. And it’s good to be back.”
While Buentello’s return may have ended with a majority-decision loss, the 36-year-old proved his ability to compete at the highest level in mixed martial arts again and now has another opportunity to do so. He is set up against feared kickboxer Cheick Kongo for “UFC on Versus 1” where Buentello will be looking for an exhilarating brawl.
“I definitely think it’s going to be an all-out war,” states Buentello. “It’s going to be who wants it more. I know I definitely want it.”
Buentello is well aware of how a fighter’s desire and heart can lead to successfully pulling out a close battle inside the octagon. However, the former member of American Kickboxing Academy also knows the importance of a quality training camp leading up to a bout. And that is what led Buentello to Grudge Sports in Denver, CO. earlier this year to begin training with acclaimed striking coach Trevor Whitman and UFC veteran Mike Van Arsdale.
“I’ve flipped my training camp around and surrounded myself with the best people,” explains Buentello. “I moved to Denver for the high altitude. I got Trevor Wittman working on my striking. I’ve got Mike Van Arsdale working a lot on my wrestling and my conditioning.”
Van Arsdale and Wittman, two members of Rashad Evans’ coaching staff during season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter, may be helping Buentello improve on his striking, wrestling, and conditioning, but the two mixed martial arts experts are also responsible for setting up a specific plan for Buentello to operate under.
“Those are the guys that put the game plan together,” explained Buentello. “We don’t know which Cheick Kongo is gonna show up. Is it going to be the division one wannabe wrestler that wants to shoot in and go for the takedown like he did against Heath Herring and also against Cain Velasquez? Is it gonna be that guy that shows up, or is it going to be the guy that draws a line in the sand and wants to stand up and see how good his striking really is? We’re ready for both situations, we just don’t know which Kongo’s going to show up.”
With several weeks spent training under Van Arsdale and Wittman to go along with an expert game plan written up by them, Buentello’s preparation seems to be at a level never experienced by the MMA veteran. However, the past several weeks of preparation would hardly have gone so well without the 13 years of experience Buentello can claim.
“Experience is the hard, grueling fights that I’ve had my whole career. I know how to push the pace. I’ve learned a lot of lessons in other fights,” exclaims Buentello. “I think I could say I’m in a better situation and more well-rounded in all those areas (than Kongo). I’ve been doing this for almost 13 years now and I don’t think he has that mind-set to go out there and lay it on the line.”
Not only would a victory quench Buentello’s thirst for his first win with the UFC since 2007, but it would also display his ability to compete with a highly competitive heavyweight, while raising his ranks in the division.
However, Buentello is not thinking about what a win over Kongo would mean, or who he would face next. In fact, the former top contender has no intentions of concerning himself with thoughts on the heavyweight championship at this juncture. He is just focusing on March 21.
“All I’m looking forward (to) is this fight,” states Buentello. “That’s all I want to do is fight. Whoever they put in front of me, I want to fight. I’m not worried about the belt. I’m not worried about any championships. I’d rather be the people’s champion right now, and have just a hell of a time fighting whoever they put up in front of me.”
With a successful training camp and highly skilled team at Grudge Sports behind him, Buentello is ready to earn another hard-fought win on March 21 against Kongo. Perhaps a victory will introduce the new version of Buentello as a force in the heavyweight division in such a way as the old one was. But, for now, that is far from his mind.
“Let’s just get past Cheick Kongo right now and worry about the rest later.”