Today’s mixed martial arts landscape is a crowded one. There are many regional shows that have popped over the years and with the large number of fights taking place, it is becoming harder than ever for fighters to get noticed by top organizations. Existing relationships between major fight promotions and select regional ones has created a sort of farm system. This system has left many top regional stars on the outside looking in when they can’t get signed to one of these feeder organizations. In the Pacific Northwest, it has become increasingly difficult to find footing inside the top MMA promotions of the world. This is ironic considering the Pacific Northwest has one of the most active regional fight scenes in the country. Even those fighters who seem to be doing everything right have found it hard to get one of the coveted roster spots in the UFC or Bellator. For Clarkston, Washington’s Austin Arnett, the call up to the big show is long overdue.
Arnett has found a way to do things exactly the way you’re supposed to in the fight game. He has fought increasingly tougher competition the deeper he has gotten in his career, he trains with a highly regarded camp, he has worked as a cornerman at more than one UFC event, and he has even been personally introduced to UFC matchmaker, Sean Shelby. Additionally, he has the numbers to back up his desire to fight for a major organization. At 15-2 with 12 finishes to his credit, Arnett has more victories by submission or knockout than UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt has in his entire career. Not getting the call up to the big show is clearly frustrating for Arnett, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been able to keep a positive mindset. I recently had a chance to speak with him about how he stays motivated and what he expects for the future.
“It’s been a little tough [not getting the call from a major organization]but I’ve got a good team behind me…Working with Rick Little, Michael Chiesa, and Sam Sicilia [at Sik Jitsu]is great and I know it’s going to happen sooner or later. I just stay positive because I know the call will come. I think a lot of it is timing; things just need to align at the right time. The biggest way fighters are getting into the UFC these days [seems to be]for short notice fights…that is kind of what I have been waiting on. Someone is going to get hurt and when they need someone to step in I will be there to do it.”
Having fighters like Sicilia and Chiesa in his corner has been a great benefit for Arnett. He has been able to use that as a reassurance that even though his record speaks for itself there are still some UFC veterans lobbying on his behalf.
“All those guys [from Sik Jitsu]have pumped me up to the UFC. They have thrown my name out there and having them in my corner is huge. They have been great to me. Sam has had me corner for him and even introduced me to Sean Shelby. But they can only do so much, I have to stay busy and keep winning big fights.”
Arnett admits that much of the burden is on him to continue to perform in such a manner that he stays on the radar of top promotions. As it turns out, that is where things have gotten increasingly difficult for him. At this stage of his career, a single loss could be devastating to his chances of signing with the UFC or Bellator. As a fighter who has fought twelve times over the last three years, slowing down and getting more selective about fights is something that is new to him.
“When I don’t have a fight it’s hard for me. I like to get right back in [the ring]. At this point I need to find the fight that can mean the most for me. I like to stay busy but now I have to pick the right career move. It’s not just about wining fights. The UFC and Bellator look at the quality of wins and when you don’t have good opponents they don’t want to look at that. You can’t just fight scrubs.”
Arnett has fought top ranked opponents in three of his last four fights, but it is getting more difficult to lock down a fight that will bring him the type of notoriety he needs. Currently riding an 11 fight win streak, he is beginning to understand that sometimes you have to let the right fight materialize instead of jumping back into the ring just to stay active.
“What’s the difference between winning 11 fights in a row or 12 fights in a row? Taking a loss now can put me right back at the bottom. So at this point I am working on signing a big fight. If that doesn’t happen I will just have to wait. I want to stay active but I have to be sure the benefit is there.”
Austin Arnett is ready for the call up to the big show. His window of opportunity is opening up wider each day as he waits patiently for his phone to ring. The only question is, who will call him first?