UFC 166’s Waldburger Thinks Win Over Amagov Will “Come to Play More Later”
By Timothy Gilbert
T.J. Waldburger isn’t like most jiu-jitsu technicians in the UFC. He has more professional submission victories than B.J. Penn, Demian Maia and Frank Mir, averages 6.36 submission attempts per 15 minutes, the second most out of any UFC fighter ever, and has never been submitted in a fight.
Notable accolades, considering the 25-year-old Texan isn’t even a black belt.
There’s no question that many of the fighters mentioned above are, in all actuality, much more skilled of practitioners (Maia is a three-time World Cup champion), and yet Waldburger, backed by longtime camp, Grappler’s Lair, has still managed to submit three opponents at the highest level of fighting.
Waldburger will bring his jiu-jitsu proficiency to the cage on October 19 against Adlan Amagov (12-2-1), a 26-year-old Russian Sambo champion out of Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts. Amagov is coming off his UFC debut in which he took a unanimous decision victory over Chris Spang, the import’s first fight to result in anything but a knockout since 2011. Amagov’s upcoming match against Waldburger will test the Russian, who brings the power behind seven professional knockouts into the cage alongside him.
“I think he’s very under looked, very underrated as a UFC fighter and I expect a tough fight,” Waldburger said. “I’m excited and I think it’s a great matchup.”
“When I win, he’s going to show in his later fights how good he really is, because I think he’s very under looked,” he declared. “I think this win will come to play more later.”
It’s a unique conflict. A showdown between brawler and grappler.
However, Amagov also has a deadly arsenal of grappling skills that could help keep the fight standing. If Amagov’s smart, he’ll use his sambo to stay standing and stick with his hands, as Waldburger’s chin is arguably his biggest weakness. Five of his seven defeats have come by way of knockout, with four occurring in the very first round. It’s a flaw that Amagov will almost certainly target. But to Waldburger, falling into his opponent’s strengths doesn’t change his outlook on the fight.
“I really don’t have game plans,” he said. “When I come in to fights I just react and adapt. I have an idea of what might happen, but really a fight is a fight so you have to be ready for everything.”
But make no mistake, he’s done his homework.
“Competitively he’s experienced. He’s well rounded. So, he’s dangerous in every aspect,’ he said. “I think it’s going to be a great matchup, I think he’s very under looked and I expect one of the best fights of the night.”
“He has a lot of good kicks. He ‘s got long range. He’s a taller guy so he uses his range well, and then he also is good with Sambo.”
Helping him formulate fight strategies is, father-in-law and coach, John Moore, the man in charge of The Grappler’s Lair in Belton, Texas.
Unlike many other aspiring fighters who, once potential gives them a lustful glimmer of success, flock to the resources of the larger, higher profile gyms, Waldburger has trained with the same camp all his life. Devotion that has kept “The Lair’s” most successful fighter stationary for all of his nearly eight year career.
“It’s not about what name school you’re at, but how you’re training.”
With a 16-7 record in nearly a decade of professional competition, Waldburger has certainly lived up to his words.
He bases his style on the mat off of a combined adaptation of the three styles of jiu-jitsu. Taking the strengths of gi, no-gi and MMA focused striking grappling, Waldburger has developed into one of the most highly active ground grapplers in the sport.
“You have to know how to mix the three. You have to know how to play off of each individual one as well,” he explained.
“I might be a black belt in MMA jiu-jitsu.”
With 13 of 16 wins, 81% overall, coming by way of submission, 10 of which occurred in the first round, you might be able to call him a number of things, efficient being one of them.
Waldburger refined his skills over nearly a decade of professional competition, fighting grown men when still technically a child. He had his first professional fight after only three amateur appearances, at the age of 17, after convincing his managers to allow it.
“I talked my parents into signing me over and everything,” he said.
There was reason, however, for Waldburger’s early induction into expert level competition. Along with many others amateur fighters in Texas, Waldburger essentially had no other choice.
“The reason I turned pro so quickly was because at that time, Texas had shut down all MMA fights,” he said. “And they soon brought just the pros back, and so a lot of the amateurs were turning pro.”
His upcoming match will be Waldburger’s first fight in over ten months, marking his inaugural appearance since a second-round triangle submission victory over Nick Catone last December. A significant time away, considering he’s coming off such a dominant win.
“It was just chronic problems that have been bothering me over the years. It was just one thing after another,” he began. “It was just so many things at once, and I also had a loss in the family.”
“Mentally I was struggling, and then physically I was struggling. It was just too much on one plate. And as a professional athlete you have to make those decisions for what’s best for my career and what’s also best for the fans,” he said.
Waldburger’s upcoming fight is set to take place in Houston, Texas, the state in which he calls home, and yet, on October 19, T.J. Waldburger will be looking forward to being reunited with one familiar residence of a different nature.
“Even though I’m not physically in the Octagon, you know, I’m mentally going through it in my head daily. That’s my home that’s where I live,” he said. “I’m ready to be home, but I don’t feel like I’ve left.”