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Exclusive: Tyler Toner talks about being in UFC’s first featherweight bout at TUF 12 Finale

Tyler Toner (R) goes on the attack against Diego Nunes (L) at WEC 51. (Picture courtesy of WEC.tv/Zuffa LLC)

The World Extreme Cagefighting organization still has one more event before its stable of lightweights, featherweights, and bantamweights move into the UFC, but at The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale on Dec. 4 in Las Vegas, fans will get a first look at the post-merger world. The fight card includes a 135- and 145-pound contest, giving two-time WEC veteran Tyler Toner (11-2) the honor of becoming the first featherweight to compete in the UFC when he faces newcomer Ian Loveland (13-7).

For those fighting below the 155-pound class, the WEC already represented the MMA pinnacle outside of some of the talent lining the Japanese MMA rosters. Nevertheless, virtually every fighter has admitted that fighting under the UFC banner carries extra importance, if for no other reason than the sport’s more casual fans finally catching a glimpse of the sub-lightweight world.

Even though Toner has already competed twice in the WEC, beating Brandon Visher via first round TKO and dropping a decision to Diego Nunes, it would make sense if he was a bit more amped up for this fight. Regardless of the outcome, Toner will have fought in the first-ever UFC featherweight bout.

However, Toner has been so busy preparing for his Dec. 4 fight that he hasn’t even had time to think about the UFC transition.

“It all seemed a little bit rushed in my head,” Toner said when asked by ProMMAnow.com about his reaction to the UFC-WEC merger. “I heard about the merger but then I had to take this fight really quick … It seemed so rushed to me that I guess the UFC thing hasn’t sunk in yet. I’ve just got to go in there and do my thing.”

Toner is coming off of his first loss since 2007. Losing to Nunes, who went 4-1 in the WEC, is nothing to be ashamed of, but Toner admits that he might’ve spent too much time strategizing for his last bout.

“I think I made a mistake in that I over-gameplanned a bit,” Toner said. “I watched a lot of tape on him, and he stood a lot and changed stances from orthodox to southpaw, so that’s what I was preparing for.”

Instead, Nunes countered an early strike from Toner with a well-timed takedown and mixed in grappling throughout the fight to dictate the pace.

“He did pretty much the exact opposite of what he expected me to do,” Toner said. “Obviously I learned you can’t put all of your eggs in one basket when you’re training for someone.”

Toner certainly won’t have to worry about over-preparing for Loveland. Up until a few days ago, Toner had been expecting to fight the aggressive, hard-hitting Leonard Garcia. But Garcia had to pull out of the contest, giving Loveland the chance to step in on short notice and make his UFC debut.

Asked whether he’s changing his approach for Loveland or focusing on his own preparation, Toner replied, “A little bit of both. I’ll be ready for anything, but he’s a completely different fighter than Leonard, so the game plan is quite a bit different.”

Toner added, “I have been working my wrestling a ton just to get better in that area.”

As Toner knows, with the UFC and WEC now joining forces, the room for error just got that much smaller. Those who don’t perform probably won’t last long. But with nine of his 11 wins coming by stoppage, Toner doesn’t have to worry about changing his style to make his fights more entertaining.

“I don’t think it’s every really been an issue for me,” Toner said. “I’ve always tried to go for a submission with my Jiu Jitsu and a knockout with my standup. I think I have a pretty exciting fighting style. Maybe it’s that fear instinct of being in a fight. I go in there thinking, ‘Man, I need to finish this fight so I can get the hell out of here.’”

Although a win would move Toner to 2-1 in Zuffa-owned promotions, he believes he’ll still have some work to do to work his way into a contender spot in the UFC featherweight division.

“I definitely think I’m going to have to claw up the ranks a bit,” he said. “Especially with all of these tough cuts the UFC has been making, I feel like I’m fighting just to keep my spot. But I do feel like I can hang with anyone in the division if I’m given the opportunity.”

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Toner asked to thank the following: “My teammates at Easton BJJ and Grudge Training Center, and to my sponsors Hayabusa, Blowout Cards, Fighter’s Fuel, and Headrush.”

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