Justin Wilcox (14-6) has found a new level of confidence since moving down from Bellator’s lightweight division. When Strikeforce was bought by the UFC, he spent a year as a free agent before finding a home at Bellator MMA. Justin Wilcox is set to face Daniel Straus (22-5) tonight in the main event of Bellator 127. Both featherweights desperately want a rematch against Pitbull, but who will walk away from the cage with a case for the title shot?
How do you feel going into Friday’s fight with Daniel Straus? How prepared do you feel to fight at featherweight?
Wilcox: I feel the best I’ve felt at 45′, I can say that much. I feel really good and I would say I feel faster. I’ve stayed away from the weights because I tend to gain weight if I lift. I don’t worry about not being strong because I’ve been a strong kid my whole life, that’s the way the Lord made me.
What was it like to cut down 10 pounds from lightweight?
Wilcox: I tried ’45 in my first tournament but I didn’t really have my ’45 legs under me that whole tournament. I didn’t feel really great at all for that whole tournament. I felt like the end of my strike force days was when I was really at my best because I was at 55′. But my weight cut has been going great, I feel really good.
What did you do in your year off between Strikeforce and Bellator?
Wilcox: I was a free agent and I was really hungry to fight. The opportunity popped up and I had 6 days to cut 22 pounds. I just went for it and I prayed really hard. I said “Lord, I’m not gonna be able to do this without you, show me what to do” and I literally contribute that fight to my father. I was beat in the fight against Stepanyan, I don’t know how I had the strength to climb on his back and choke him, but I give the glory to God. People don’t know what it’s like to cut weight. I’m a 5’6” guy with 5% body fat. To cut 22 pounds off of a body like that in 6 days and then to fight is crazy. People will say, “what do you mean the Lord helped you?” He literally showed me what to do and helped me prepare for that. I was passing out in the room before weigh-ins, it was really rough.
Did that extreme weight cut give you a better idea of what your tolerance is?
Wilcox: Yes, I learned a ton about my body and just about what my body is capable of. I learned a lot.
Do you have a kind of feel from Bellator as to when you will get a title shot?
Wilcox: I’m not gonna look too far ahead you know? All I know is I’ve got to beat Daniel to even have a chance to face Pitbull next.
You’ve successfully gone the distance 10 times in your career, it seems like it’s a strength of yours. What’s it gonna be like now that you’re fighting at 145?
Wilcox: I hadn’t felt like I could go as hard at ’45 because my weight cuts were so hard. I was wore out and done. This fight has been so much easier, I’ve been very blessed for this cut. I feel like I’m cutting down for a ’55 fight.
How do you think Friday’s fight will play out? Do you have a gameplan against Straus or are you ready for anything?
Wilcox: I have to be ready for anything for this fight because our techniques kind of clash. We’re both grinders and I think it will end up being a really exciting fight for the fans. When techniques clash, you gotta go for other things. I think it will be a real exciting fight.
You’re going on your second year in Bellator. What are your thoughts on the changes with the tournament format? Having worked with Scott Coker in Strikeforce, what was it like to see him come in as president of Bellator?
Wilcox: I’m really really happy that I’m working for Scott again. He’s a man of character. I was sad when the UFC was going to take over Strikeforce. People were excited but it was like, you guys have no idea what just happened. The UFC came in and said they wanted to support the fighters, but the first thing they did was cut our sponsors. All the sponsor money and everything. It was not a good experience. Bjorn was a nice guy too, I had no problem with him, but I have a good relationship with Scott and his team. I really respect Scott’s knowledge of martial arts. He really understands what fighters go through and how much they put into it.
What do you think about the use of kicks in MMA and for your game specifically? Is it something you want to incorporate more in your game?
Wilcox: I actually like the kicks, but the thing about it is the set up. I’ve been really working on knowing when to put my kicks in there. I’ve been training myself to throw a lot more kicks.
You seem to be on your feet for the most part, but you have a few submission victories too. Do you have a feel for where you are most comfortable in the fight?
Wilcox: When I’m at my most comfortable and when I fight my best is when I go out there and just have fun, that’s when I open up the most. When I tend to be too concerned and overthink, I don’t perform at my best levels. I’m just gonna go out there and let go.
You didn’t have your first MMA fight until you were 26. What made you you decide to start fighting?
Wilcox: Josh Koscheck got me into it. He said I should come in and train with him and go to California. I went out there and they put me through the ringers at AKA. The first day there I sparred with Jon Fitch, Baroni and Josh Thompson. That was a lot of fun. They like to test you.
Is it something you always had an interest in?
Wilcox: My Wife knew about MMA before I did. I was a bodybuilder before I was ever into MMA. When I was dating my wife in College, she started following fights before I had ever heard of it. She’s a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, so she knows a lot about martial arts.
Are you still based out of San Jose?
Wilcox: I mix up my training. I train there, I’ll go down to Fresno to train with Koscheck and I’m training out of Fight Club Pittsburg. I did my camp there because I had a lot of good training partners. Boxing in Pittsburg is really good, good wrestlers too. I had a really good camp.
Daniel Straus fights Southpaw, but you fight orthodox. Does it trip you up to fight against a southpaw?
Wilcox: I tend to do well against Southpaws but I feel fine against anyone. You just have to remember that they’re gonna be coming at different angles with kicks and combinations. It sets up stuff for you if you know what you’re good at. A head kick is really good against a guy that’s a southpaw because they’re always stepping into it.
Do you have a set amount of time you want to be in MMA?
Wilcox: I’m gonna go until I feel like I’m done. I don’t think you can really get an exact answer from any fighter on that one.
Anything else for our readers?
Wilcox: I give all of my credit to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, my wife and my family for all they do for me.
Catch Straus vs. Wilcox at Bellator 127 on Spike TV at 9/8c live from Pechanga Resort & Casino.