Light heavyweight fighter Victor Valimaki (16-7) would love to get a second chance to prove himself in the UFC. But before he can think about that, the longtime veteran has to win a fight in his hometown against Karl Knothe (17-6), a tough fighter looking to boost his own profile at Valimaki’s expense.
Valimaki and Knothe will square off on Dec. 10 at The Fight Club 12: Devastation, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Although he has a game plan in mind, Valimaki is always ready for the unexpected.
“I definitely have a game plan going in, but I’m not getting too specific with it,” he told ProMMAnow.com. “That is one of those things I think I do fairly well, though, is analyze other fighters and their tendencies.”
Sometimes fighting close to home, with family and friends in attendance, can add to the pressure of a professional fight. Also, as a UFC veteran, Valimaki has that much more of a target on his back. It would make a win for Knothe that much more valuable.
But Valimaki is used to fighting for the hometown crowd and he knows that at his level, there really are no easy fights. And having that “UFC” target on his back means he has no shortage of interested opponents.
“I just look at it as another fight,” Valimaki said. “But it’s not hard to get a fight, that’s for sure. At this point, I’m either facing guys that are right up near the top or guys who are a little lower level but don’t have anything to lose.”
There are plenty of different avenues that have led fighters to a career in mixed martial arts. Some simply transition from a successful amateur wrestling career, while others among the sport’s younger generation fall in love MMA at a young age and cross-train from the beginning.
However, there is also a third group: guys intrigued by the physical chess match, maybe take up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and before they know it, they’re fighting on a regular basis and moving up the ranks. Valimaki falls into the last category.
“Originally I was doing it just for fun,” Valimaki said. “I started training Jiu Jitsu and I was competing in a lot of grappling tournaments.”
After only a handful of professional fights, though, Valimaki had to put his career on hold to tend to a knee injury and the birth of his daughter. Three years later, he got the itch to get back into competing, and five wins in a row — including a first-round submission victory over UFC veteran Jason Day — meant that Valimaki’s big opportunity came sooner than expected.
“I wanted to take another shot at it,” Valimaki said. “At one point I decided I was going to give myself two or three years to try and get to the UFC, but then six months later I got the offer.”
In December 2006, Valimaki faced David Heath at the Ultimate Fight Night 7. It was a close fight that many observers felt Valimaki won, but the judges gave Heat the split decision nod.
“It was definitely disappointing even though I thought that I won that fight,” Valimaki said. “The UFC staff people I talked to even felt like I should’ve won.”
His second shot in the Octagon didn’t go quite as well. In less than two minutes, the hard-hitting Alessio Sakara stopped Valimaki with a TKO.
“I actually felt pretty good going into the Heath fight. People talk about Octagon jitters, but I didn’t have that,” he said. “The second fight against Sakara, though, I think I was a little bit star struck, being over in Manchester, England fighting in front of 19,000 people.
“I didn’t have the right kind of training camp either. I think I did 10 rounds of striking to get ready, and to prepare for a guy like Sakara, that’s not a good idea. Looking back at it, I’m 100 times the fighter now that I was then.”
Valimaki added, “I still haven’t been hit as hard as I was in that fight.”
Valimaki had been riding a seven fight win streak, highlighted by a decision victory over former International Fight League competitor Lew Polley, but his comeback hit a speed bump with back-to-back losses to rising Canadian prospect Martin Desilets. However, he’s still optimistic he can get another shot in an elite organization.
“I’m not saying I’d go in right now and beat Anderson Silva, but I firmly believe there are a lot of guys in the UFC I could beat,” Valimaki said. “We were actually talking to the UFC recently, but that was back before [the first Desilets] loss; obviously they aren’t going to bring in a guy coming that just lost their last fight.”
Strikeforce or DREAM would be nice, but having come up short in the UFC once already, Valimaki would prefer another shot in the Octagon to erase those memories and show what he can do in the cage.
“Hopefully I can get another chance in the UFC and vindicate myself,” he said.