For Ian McCall (8-2), his talent and love of fighting have never been in doubt.
Growing up in picturesque Dana Point, Calif., doesn’t sound like the place where a young kid would develop an interest in beating people up, but that’s where McCall and others developed a taste for it.
“I was an a**hole as a kid,” McCall said. “We were in the local white kid street gang. It wasn’t like we were running drugs or anything. We just liked to get into fistfights.”
He wasn’t the only one, either, growing up in the area with a number of successful combatants, including UFC vet Rob Emerson, Strikeforce heavyweight Shane del Rosario, and former Bellator and Strikeforce combatant Bao Quach.
“I had black belt in Kung Fu when I was young,” McCall said. “Since I’ve always been small, I was always getting picked on, so I usually was the person to throwing the first punch.”
After winning his first five matches, McCall made it to the World Extreme Cagefighting organization — then the premier MMA promotion for the 135- and 145-pound classes until its merger with the UFC. But while campaigning at bantamweight, he expected to do a lot better than going 1-2 in three fights.
“The whole thing was a regret to be honest with you,” McCall said when asked if he felt he made any mistakes during his WEC stint. “I never trained hard when I was younger. I didn’t really start training hard until recently.”
Things started off fine, as McCall defeated Coty Wheeler by third round TKO at WEC 30 in September 2007. But he admitted that the win over Wheeler went to his head and he felt he could rely on his natural ability.
“I beat the crap out of Coty Wheeler and started thinking about how I’m this great professional fighter,” McCall told ProMMAnow.com. “I went overboard on the partying and lost focus.”
McCall returned to action three months later against Charlie Valencia at WEC 31. He was asked to take the fight on short notice and knew he wouldn’t be ready.
“When they called me to fight Charlie, I tried to say no,” McCall said. “I wasn’t ready for that fight. I could’ve gotten ready physically, but I wasn’t ready mentally.”
He continued, “I’ll just say they were persuasive and I had to take the fight. I knew I wouldn’t be ready in two weeks. Charlie is good, crafty veteran.”
Valencia submitted McCall with a guillotine choke 3:19 into the first round.
After picking up a win in his only fight in 2008, McCall got one more shot with the WEC in January 2009, this time against eventual champion Dominick Cruz. McCall had a game plan, hoping to use leg kicks to nullify Cruz’s footwork. However, a leg injury halfway through the first period disrupted things, and McCall gutted it out but lost a decision.
Now wiser at the age of 26, McCall is ready to put in the working in training to fulfill his potential. And he isn’t bothering with any modest goals either. McCall wants to show he’s the best flyweight fighter in the world.
That sounds like quite a leap for a guy that hasn’t competed at 125 since his first professional bout. But there is no better way to prove you are the best than to beat the best, and McCall will have the opportunity to do just that when he faces top-ranked flyweight Jussier da Silva (9-0) at Tachi Palace Fights 8 on Feb. 18 in Lemoore, Calif.
“I just think I should be number one, not him,” McCall said. “I’ve screwed up and messed around enough in my career. It’s time to grow and up.”
That’s not to say that McCall doesn’t respect da Silva. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, and McCall understands why the Brazilian has received so much praise.
“I think the record speaks for itself,” McCall said of da Silva. “He’s good, very good. He’s a world champion and black belt in Jiu Jitsu. He can punch and he can kick pretty well. His wrestling technique isn’t the best, but his timing is pretty much perfect. The timing on his shots is pretty awesome.”
With his strong wrestling background, McCall may be able to keep the fight on the feet and avoid da Silva’s ground game. However, McCall isn’t going to panic if it goes to the ground, knowing that MMA adds a number of different elements to the Jiu Jitsu battle.
“I might not be a black belt,” he said. “I’ve definitely become a black belt in punching someone’s face on the ground.
“I’m not really afraid to take it to the ground. I do feel like I can definitely test my standup a little more against him. I know my wrestling and standup is better than his. I do have to worry about his very, very nice [grappling] transitions.”
Competing at 135 for so long, McCall also has to focus on making weight for the flyweight title bout, and he admits that he added some extra weight to try and match up better physically with the other fighters at bantamweight. But when talking to him, he doesn’t sound concerned about making the weight cut.
“I have a small frame,” he said. “If you look at the guys at 135 now, they walk around at 155, 160 when they aren’t in fight shape. When I’m not fighting, I walk around trying to hold weight at 145. I heard that da Silva saw my fight with Dominick and thinks I’m way too big to fight 125. I was big then. But I think my frame, it’s meant to be [at 125]. I just put on a lot of weight to fit better at 135.”
So why make the drop now? Well, a fight with da Silva is hard to pass up.
Plus, not only has Tachi Palace Fights put together a solid venue for the flyweight class to flourish, but UFC President Dana White recently suggested that a UFC 125-pound division could pop up sooner than people think. In fact, McCall said he would never have fought at 135 before if more opportunities had existed at flyweight before. He’s even started Tweeting White to help persuade him to welcome the flyweights to the Octagon.
“Besides the people [that were] in the WEC at 135 that can drop down, if they want a reason to bring in a 125 pound class, watch my fight on Feb. 18,” McCall said. “After that, people will realize I’m the best 125er in the world.
McCall added, “The main goal is obviously to go to the UFC and being able to say, ‘I’m the world champ. Look at me; this is what I’ve got. Now come try to take it.’”