by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
At the ACF show this weekend in Denver, Colorado, many fans will get the opportunity to see a rising young hometown prospect fight for the first time in a long time when Donnie Liles returns to action against Chris Avila.
Liles had been one of the region’s top upcoming welterweight fighters when an accumulation of injuries put him out of action last year. After returning triumphantly in March at an MMA event in New Mexico, Donnie is getting ready to make his debut as an ACF contract fighter.
MMAWeekly caught up with Liles as he finalized his preparations for what could be one of the evening’s most exciting bouts, as he takes on the Jackson’s Submission Academy up-and-comer, Chris Avila.
MMAWeekly: First off, Donnie, tell us how you got into MMA.
Donnie Liles: I got into the sport when I was introduced to it at a friend’s house. We were watching the UFC where Tito Ortiz fought Ken Shamrock, and I was really intrigued by it. I did some leg-work around town to find a gym, found one, and they let me train there, and within a couple months had my first fight.
MMAWeekly: You had an extensive amateur career before turning pro, which is still rare in our sport. How do you feel that having all of that amateur experience has impacted your development as a fighter?
Donnie Liles: It helped me a lot. I had nine amateur fights before I turned pro, and I had a pretty good experience there. I got to fight some tough guys and got a lot of good, positive experiences before I turned pro. I really recommend to anyone looking to get into MMA that they really should compete on the amateur side before they turn pro.
MMAWeekly: How has your pro career gone so far?
Donnie Liles: Won my first four, lost one, then had to get some surgery done on some injuries I had… actually had [previously] as an amateur. After I had my surgery, I had my first fight a couple months back and I won that one, so I’m 5-1 as a pro now overall.
MMAWeekly: You were out of action for quite a while recovering from surgery. How did it feel to get back into the ring after the time off?
Donnie Liles: It was pretty close to a year, but it felt great to get back. I had just changed gyms and I started training under some new people, Keith Wilson and Drew Lawrence at the Toolshed Fight Team in Colorado Springs. It was an all-new program for me, so in essence I was just learning how to fight again. To finally get out there and finally exercise some of the new things I’ve learned was a great feeling for me. I finished the fight in under two minutes and didn’t take a whole lot of damage, so I’m happy with that.
MMAWeekly: How do you feel you’ve developed as a fighter, when comparing where you started to the fighter that we see today?
Donnie Liles: I really didn’t have any background when I started. I just saw it on TV, liked it, and decided I wanted to try it. The people I trained with initially had wrestling backgrounds, so I tended to lean towards the ground game. A lot of times I would take people down and get position, get the mount, start ground and pounding them, they’d give their back, and I’d get the choke. But in my last fight, I won by armbar, and it was probably the only really clean submission I’ve ever won by [laughs]. Especially now since my surgery, I’ve been training my stand-up a lot, and I’m just trying to become a more well-rounded fighter. I feel that right now, my ground game may be stronger than my stand up, but it’s getting close. It’s getting real close.
MMAWeekly: All right, let’s turn our attention to what you’ve got coming up this weekend. You became one of the first contract fighters for the ACF, which allows you to train full-time, something that a lot of UFC fighters don’t get to do. How does it feel to have that kind of security?
Donnie Liles: Naturally, it feels great for anyone to notice your hard work and give you credit for it. For them to offer me a contract at the early stages of the company is awesome for me. Since I got under contract, my training schedule has changed. I was doing the regular 9-to-5, come home, shower, eat, then run to the gym for a couple hours a night. That was pretty much the extent of my training. Now it’s three times a day, five days a week, and once on Saturdays usually. I really think it has benefited me a lot and helps me focus on what I need to do.
MMAWeekly: You’re set to face Chris Avila from Jackson’s [Submission Academy] in New Mexico. Have you had any chance to see anything on Avila or formulate a specific gameplan?
Donnie Liles: I really haven’t seen any tape on him. So as far as a gameplan, I know he comes from Jackson’s and has a wrestling background, so I’m expecting the takedown. So, I’m going to try to keep my takedown defense up, go in there, throw some punches, and go from there. I don’t try to plan my fights out too much. I just try to be prepared for whatever scenario may arrive once I get in there.
MMAWeekly: What kind of goals do you have for yourself for the rest of the year, should this fight go well?
Donnie Liles: I just moved to a new camp, and I’m finally getting to train other areas, aside from the ground game, more extensively… and so I’d really like to step it up and start fighting some tougher guys. Eventually, of course, I want to fight for the ACF Welterweight Championship. John Cronk has that title, and I’d love a chance to fight him for that title.
MMAWeekly: Thanks for your time, Donnie. Is there anything you’d like to say as we head out?
Donnie Liles: I’d like to thank my sponsor, Above Suspicion Tattoos in Colorado Springs. I’d like to thank my wife Jennifer and my mom for always helping out, watching the kids and stuff. Thanks to all my training partners at the Tool Shed in Colorado Springs… Nick Setrackian, Keith Wilson, Drew Lawrence, Chilo Gonzales, all those guys. Vellore Cabellaro – fighting over in Iraq right now – helping to defend the country right now, can’t wait ’till he gets back. For all the fans, just check it out. I’m going to come out there, make it exciting, push the fight, and put on a good show.