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MMA: Vannata set to fight, have fun in Australia

Fighters who win just one of their first six fights in the UFC, MMA’s most powerful and most demanding promotional entity, often are rewarded with a pink slip.

What such fighters rarely get is a new contract.

Yet, Lando Vannata got exactly that – the new contract, that is, not the pink slip.

With that four-fight contract in hand, Vannata, who trains in Albuquerque at Jackson’s MMA, will face Brazil’s Marcos Rosa Mariano on Saturday in Melbourne, Australia.

“It feels good,” Vannata, 26, said in a recent interview. “It feels good to have a home, somewhere steady, where I know more or less what’s happening.”

Vannata was 8-0 when the UFC first signed him in the summer of 2016. He’s 1-3-2 since then.

The saving grace, though, is the flair, energy and competitive zeal he brings – win, lose or draw – each time he enters the octagon.

“It’s always an exciting fight,” he said. “I like the dogfights a little bit.”

The UFC introduced Vannata to its ranks in 2016 by matching him with Tony Ferguson, a far more experienced opponent with 11 UFC fights already on his resume. Vannata lost by second-round submission (brabo choke) – though the newcomer almost got a knockout victory with a head kick before succumbing.

In his second outing, in December 2016, Vannata scored a sensational first-round knockout of John Makdessi via a spinning wheel kick. That performance earned Vannata – real first name Landon, preferred nickname “Groovy” – Knockout of the Year honors in some quarters.

Vannata then lost by unanimous decision to David Teymur. Vannata tired in the fight, later admitting his conditioning wasn’t what it should have been.

Then came a bloody, brutal draw with Bobby Green – Vannata’s post-fight commentary was delivered from the back of an ambulance – a loss by unanimous decision to Dakkar Klose and a fight-of-the-night-candidate draw with Matt Frevola last November.

“It was close,” Vannata said. “We got ousted (for Fight of the Night) by (Chris) Weidman and Jacare (Ronaldo Souza).”

Now comes Mariano (6-4), a UFC rookie who has never before fought outside his native Brazil.

“I know that he likes to strike,” Vannata said. “He’s long, he’s lanky, he’s moving up a weight class (to 155 pounds) for this fight.”

Beyond that, Vannata said “I’ll take it as it comes.”

Before the Frevola fight, Vannata had left Jackson-Wink MMA, his training base since coming to Albuquerque in 2012. He trains full time at Jackson-Wink’s original location on Acoma Road SE, now Jackson’s MMA, with an occasional visit to Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone’s BMF Ranch in Edgewood.

Greg Jackson remains his primary coach, assisted by Nick Urso. Jackson, Urso and former teammate Kyle Noke, an Australia native, will corner for him on Saturday.

“This new gym’s really good,” he said. “There’s no drama, no negativity, just people who enjoy each other, enjoy training and enjoy getting better all in the same place.

“It’s a good community.”

Fighting overseas will not be a new experience for Vannata, whose fourth professional fight took place in Tokyo on the Pancrase circuit.

Fighting before lunchtime, though, might be. He and Mariano are scheduled to fight on the early prelim portion of the card, scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. MST. That’s 10:30 a.m. on Sunday in Melbourne.

As the nickname “Groovy” might suggest, Vannata isn’t one to worry about such matters. He and Urso left for Australia last Friday – mostly to adjust to the time change, but also to experience the country.

“I’m very excited to go down there and be a bit of a tourist,” he said the day before his departure. “See the sights, maybe doing a little bit of surfing, see the animals, see what Melbourne has to offer.”

What he offers Melbourne, in return, is the fighting style that earned him the new contract.

“I’ve got a lot of fans in Australia, so it’s going to be awesome to fight in front of all of them,” he said.

“It’s gonna be fun.”

SATURDAY: UFC 234, Melbourne, Australia: Early prelims, 4:30 p.m, UFC Fight Pass; prelims, 6 p.m., ESPN; main card, PPV, 8 p.m.

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