Exciting, energetic, and colorful are all apt descriptions for one of the best kept secret’s in the bantamweight class.
Antonio Banuelos holds the claim as one of the true pioneer’s of the 135-pound division, having competed for the now defunct World Extreme Cagefighting organization since it’s early years, debuting in the promotion in 2002 at “WEC 5: Halloween Fury.”
Now, flash forward nearly nine-years later, and the California native is on the cusp of debuting in the worlds largest mixed martial arts organization, which recently assimilated with it’s sister promotion in the WEC. He faces one of his toughest challenges to date in former world champion Miguel Torres, on arguably the most stacked card of 2011.
“I was just happy that they kept me on the roster and got me on this card. Just nothing but good things came out of it,” Banuelos said of the merger while a guest on the MMAWeekly Radio Show.
“I love the WEC, it was big, but the UFC has that giant brand market name. Even though we fought in the same cage and did the same thing that everybody else did, everyone’s like ‘whoa, you’re a UFC fighter?!’ Well, I’ve always been a fighter guys, come on.
“It’s a huge fight in a huge arena on a UFC pay-per-view card, it’s going to be amazing.”
Banuelos is making his Octagon debut on the main card for UFC 126: Silva vs. Belfort, with a championship headliner pitting titleholder Anderson Silva against former teammate Vitor Belfort, as well as a light heavyweight match featuring Forrest Griffin against Rich Franklin. The Feb. 5 event in Las Vegas is already sold out. Even for the most seasoned veteran, making your debut on such a prestigious pay-per-view is a daunting task in of itself, but for the 31-year-old Banuelos, he’s enjoying every minute of it.
“I’m excited, I’m pumped. I love fighting in front of big crowds, I always loved wrestling in front of big crowds, it’s the thing to do,” Banuelos exclaimed.
“I’ve been wanting to take it to the next level and this is the next level, and it’s time to shine. I’m rolling with the punches and I’m excited, man. I’m pumped about this fight.”
The lighter weight fighters in the WEC have long had a reputation of putting on some of the best fights of the year, and Banuelos has done his fair share of supporting that claim. He’s as intense as they come. “The Pit” product believes it’s going to be sooner rather than later for fans and the UFC to start noticing the lightweight classes as the real show stoppers.
“I think it’s going to take UFC 126. Once the UFC fans see us, the way we go, 135’s is stacked,” began Banuelos.
“I believe it’s the toughest weight division out there. Anybody in the Top 10 fighting when we go out, we go out 110-percent fighting. It’s nonstop excitement, whether it’s a 15-minute fight or it’s a 25-minute fight, it’s nonstop. It’s exciting. We’re throwing punches, we’re taking people down, we’re working jits. This is going to prove to everybody that our weight-class is the toughest and the most exciting.”
Banuelos has been on the cusp of a title shot many times over throughout his near 10-year career as an MMA fighter. After putting a few solid wins in a row, a loss put him back at the bottom of the division. Now looking to climb back up once again, he is able to recognize the opportunity in front of him, and knows that it will take the best of him to make his dreams of becoming a world champion turn into reality.
“We always wanted that match-up,” said the bantamweight spitfire in regards to Torres.
“He had the belt for a while. I’ve been trying to grind my way to get there. I get close then I have a loss. I always get close then bounce back, and now I’ve got this shot and here we go. Game on.
“He’s a former champ, plus he’s still ranked in the Top 10 and he’s a tough opponent. We’re both trying to work our way towards the belt, so this is a huge fight for me and we’ll just go out and put on a great show.”