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Means puts the pieces together

Comparing boxing to mixed martial arts, former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz once said, is like comparing checkers to chess.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with that statement, it seems fair to say MMA offers many chess-like challenges: layers upon layers of strategy mixed in with the sport’s inherent brute force.

Above all: make the wrong move at the wrong time, and it’s checkmate.

In that respect, Tim Means knows as well as anyone that there are no guarantees.

Yet, entering his fight Saturday night against Brazil’s Dhiego Lima on UFC 184 in Los Angeles, Means is confident he has an opening, a middle game and an end game that – if executed – will result in victory.

His coaches at Albuquerque’s FIT-NHB gym, Tom Vaughn, Arlene Sanchez Vaughn and Jon Judy, have seen to that.

“You get the three of them together, and it’s like playing a cool game of chess with your good pieces,” Means said this week in a phone interview. “You’ve got the queen, the rook and your bishop, and they just really put myself in scenarios that work for me, that play into my style.

“We all trust one another. I know they’re gonna be there when I need to train hard, they know I’m gonna show up, and we just worry about getting the fights.”

He’s got one. Means (22-6-1) will face Lima (10-2) on Saturday’s undercard at the Staples Center.

Means, who turned 31 on Friday, has been primarily a striker during his decade-long MMA career. Of his 22 victories, 15 have come by knockout or TKO.

Lima, though he can and will punch, is a Brazilian jiujitsu practitioner who averages almost six takedowns per fight.

Means believes his coaches have prepared him for any eventuality he might face against Lima.

“I have my footwork days with coach Arlene, and she really works me on my striking,” he said. “We bring Jon Judy in, and he works on my wrestling and on my takedown defense. … (Judy’s) really helped my hand placement, and he’s shown me a lot of wrestling footwork.

“Then we bring Tom Vaughn in the picture, and he’s able to mingle everything and piece everything together.”

That puzzle, Vaughn believes, is as complete as it could possibly be.

“Totally prepared,” Vaughn said. “It’s a mistake to go into a fight thinking the other guy’s only going to do this or that, but chances are (Lima) has a better chance if he takes Tim down.

“We’ve been working on Tim’s wrestling, and he’s had good wrestling (in the past). It’s just about getting comfortable in the octagon.”

Means, weathering and learning from the inevitable ups and downs, has pieced together an outstanding MMA career.

He had won seven fights in a row when the UFC first brought him on board in February 2012. But after winning his first two UFC fights, Means, tall for a lightweight at 6-foot-2, began having trouble making the 155-pound limit.

In a July 13 loss to Danny Castillo, Means’ second UFC defeat, he failed to make weight. The UFC dropped his contract.

But, Means said, he was not forgotten.

“(UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva wanted me to come up in weight and move to Legacy (a Texas-based MMA organization) for a couple of fights,” he said. “If I did well, he was gonna bring me back right away.”

Means did well, all right, scoring first-round victories by strikes in his two Legacy appearances. Silva was as good as his word, re-signing the Moriarty fighter.

In his return debut, Means lost by unanimous decision to Neil Magny. He rallied, however, with victories over Hernani Perpetuo (unanimous decision) and Marcio Alexandre Jr. (split decision).

The welterweight class, he said, is where he belongs and where he’ll stay.

“I have plenty of energy at 170 pounds, and I have more confidence in myself right now when fights are trying to get away from me,” he said. “(At 155) I needed to be more mentally tough than what my body wanted to.

“I feel real good mentally going into this fight. I feel real strong, and I want to get a finish.”

THE MAGICIAN RETURNS: Albuquerque native John Dodson, idle since his victory over John Moraga in Albuquerque on June 7, is scheduled to resume his career against Zach Makovsky (19-5) May 23 on UFC 187.

Dodson (16-6), the UFC’s No. 1 challenger to the 125-pound title held by Demetrious Johnson, had knee surgery in July.