Espinosa knows his UFC future is on the line in Saturday's fight - Albuquerque Journal

Espinosa knows his UFC future is on the line in Saturday’s fight

Albuquerque MMA fighter Jordan Espinosa works out with coach Ray Yee during a recent practice session at Luttrell-Yee MMA. Espinosa is scheduled to face Tim Elliott Saturday on a UFC card in Las Vegas, Nevada. JEREMY SANTOS/BORDER STATE MEDIA

Jordan Espinosa has been here before, preparing for a fight that, should he lose it, might well be his last in the UFC.

Pressure? Yes, as his fight Saturday against Tim Elliott approaches, he knows it’s there.

Does he feel it? Not so much.

“I’m looking to keep my job,” the Albuquerque MMA flyweight said in a phone interview from Las Vegas, Nevada, where he’ll face Elliott on UFC 259 at UFC Apex. “So it’s gonna be a fun fight on the weekend.”

Some nine months ago, as he prepared to fight Mark De La Rosa in Vegas, Espinosa found himself in essentially the same situation. After first-round submission losses to Matt Schnell and Alex Perez, he believed a third consecutive loss would result in a forced departure from UFC competition.

Responding to the pressure, he defeated De La Rosa by unanimous decision.

In September, however, Espinosa (15-8) lost by unanimous decision to David Dvorak. Now, having lost three of four, Espinosa finds himself back in UFC limbo.

Elliott (16-11-1), of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, also has lost three of his last four — though he’s coming off a victory by unanimous decision over Ryan Benoit.

The loser Saturday, Espinosa believes, will find himself on the UFC chopping block.

“The reality of the situation is that whoever loses will probably not be signed with the UFC after this fight,” said Espinosa, 31. “That’s how I look at it.”

Espinosa trains at Luttrell-Yee MMA in Albuquerque, but he’s done most of his preparation for this fight at Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone’s BMF Ranch in Edgewood — working with fellow New Mexicans Andrés Quintana, Luís Rivera, John Dodson and Jerome Rivera.

Given Elliott’s wrestling-heavy skill set, Espinosa has prepared accordingly.

“We’ve been working a lot on takedown defense, a lot of scrambling on the ground, a lot of getting back to our feet and just a lot of straight punches,” he said. “With Tim Elliott, you know what you’re gonna get.

“He’s gonna be in your face, try to look for the head-outside single (leg) for a takedown, and then his grappling is gonna be good. So that’s what I expect.”

What Espinosa doesn’t expect is to get progressively more nervous — despite all that could be on the line — as fight time approaches.

“I’m very confident,” he said. “I really don’t get too nervous until the day of the fight, and even then these days I haven’t gotten extremely nervous.”

As has been the case for the past year, Saturday’s card will be staged with no fans in the venue — only people essential to the event.

Not only is that fine with Espinosa, he’s come to enjoy it.

“I like fighting in the environment of no crowd and in the Apex,” he said. “I’ve done it twice in the Contender Series. I’ve done it twice now in the UFC, and I kind of prefer it, if I’m being honest.

“I think it’s less chaotic. I’m able to hear my coaches. I’m able to hear (the opponent’s) coaches. I mean, he has those advantages as well, but it just feels like I’m at the gym, like I’m doing fight simulation in the gym. I do well in that environment.”

Espinosa and Elliott originally were to have faced each other in January, but the fight was postponed after Espinosa tested positive for COVID-19. Since having recovered and regained his sense of smell, the only severe symptom he experienced, he’s ready for a fight he can’t afford to lose.

Elliott-Espinosa is on the early prelim portion of Saturday’s power-packed card, which features three UFC championship fights. Espinosa’s fight will be streamed on UFC Fight Pass, starting at 4 p.m.

Espinosa weighed in on Friday at 126 pounds, the flyweight limit for non-title fights. Elliott weighed in at 125.5 pounds.

BULLDAWGS REPRESENTED: Las Cruces High School graduate Joseph Benavidez (28-7) is scheduled to face unbeaten Russian Askar Askarov (13-0-1) on Saturday’s prelim card. Benavidez lives and trains in Sacramento, California.

Benavidez, 36, who has fought for the UFC flyweight title four times and lost on each occasion, said in interviews this week that he’s no longer fighting in quest of the title but simply because fighting is what he does.

Among Benavidez’s 28 victories is one over Elliott, Espinosa’s opponent, by first-round submission (guillotine choke) in April 2014.

The prelim card, as opposed to the early prelims on which Espinosa is fighting, is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN.

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