As a freshman at Marquette University, Danny Downes (8-2) was looking for something to do that would keep him in shape during rugby’s off-season. Little did he know where the Google search he did for MMA gyms in the Milwaukee would take him.
This past June, seven years after his initial search, Downes made his UFC debut against Jeremy Stephens. And while he didn’t get the win that night, Downes did gain the confidence that he belongs in the UFC, and now he’s back to prove it.
PRO MMA NOW: You’ve got an interesting story about how you became involved with MMA. Can you talk about that a little bit?
DANNY DOWNES: In 2004 I was a freshman at Marquette University and I was just looking for something that would help me stay in shape and lose a couple of pounds. I had always wanted to do martial arts, but my parents never let me. So I was like, “I’m in college now. I’m a man and I can do what I want.” I was playing rugby at the time and it was the off-season so I figured that I would only be able to do something for like a month or two. So I just did a Google search for martial arts places in Milwaukee and Duke Roufus’ gym kept popping up. The first class was free so I gave it a shot. I went and did it and signed up for like a month or two. Over time I just kept getting more into it and eventually it became what I wanted to do. I would be sitting in class thinking, “I can’t wait to get out of here so I can go to kickboxing.” So I started doing that and I eventually wanted to have a fight. I had an amateur fight, and back then it was unregulated so I thought that I might as well have a pro fight and at least get a couple hundred bucks and get some beer money. So I had a pro fight and I kept winning those. Then it was about time to graduate college and I was thinking about what I was going to do and if I should go to graduate school or get a job. And then one day it just kind of hit me that what I really wanted to do was to be a pro fighter. That summer I had an internship in Germany and when I got back from that I started my career as a full-time pro fighter. From there it has carried me all there way here to the UFC.
PRO MMA NOW: So you have a degree in international affairs and German, but you decided that you wanted to pursue a career in MMA. What was your family’s reaction when you told them what you were going to do?
DANNY DOWNES: Oh gosh. I remember that. It was parents’ weekend during my senior year and we were eating dinner at this restaurant in Milwaukee. It was my mom, dad, and my two brothers who had come up with them, and they were like, “Well what are you going to do when you graduate?” And my mom asked if I had filled out my law school applications and I told them that I didn’t want to go to law school so they asked, “Well where are you going to graduate school then? What are you getting your masters degree in?” And so I told them didn’t want to do that either and so they asked me if I had a job and I told them that I had one in mind. Then when I told them that I wanted to be a pro fighter it was the most awkward silence I have ever experienced in my life. I think it was like one of those token TV scenes where like my mom stopped eating and dropped her fork. I still remember it because my brother was like, “Man, I’m so angry at you because you ruined dinner and there was a really good dessert I wanted and I couldn’t ask for it because they were too angry.” That was terrible, but they have definitely warmed up to it. They probably still want me to do something else. Nobody wants to see their son, even on a good fight, getting punched in the face. But they’re very supportive. They come to all of my fights. It’s one of those things too where my dad will say that I should go back to school but I can tell he still shares all of the articles about me fighting and he tells all of his buddies at work about it. It’s just one of those things, but they’re still really supportive and they have definitely warmed up to it. Plus they’ve gotten to come to Vegas for a couple of vacations so it gives them an excuse to do that.
PRO MMA NOW: Now you lost your UFC debut this past June against Jeremy Stephens via decision. What would you say was the biggest lesson you took away from that fight?
DANNY DOWNES: Not a lot of fighters will admit it, but it’s scary to fight. I guess maybe I shouldn’t admit this right? But you’re fighting in front of thousands of people, there are millions of people watching, and you’re fighting against a guy whose sole focus for months was to beat you up. It’s a scary prospect, especially in the UFC, which is the highest level of fighting. So there were nerves going in there for the first time, and it didn’t go the way I wanted, but there was never a time where I thought that I was in over my head. Now after that I realize that I wasn’t giving myself enough credit. So you come in there with that new level of confidence that I belong here, I can do this, and I can win. It just kind of changes your perspective. It doesn’t seem as daunting of a task anymore.
PRO MMA NOW: After your loss to Stephens, do you feel any pressure at all going into his fight?
DANNY DOWNES: There is always pressure. There is pressure to win and pressure to perform and not to shame your gym or your family. So there is that pressure, but I wouldn’t say that it’s any worse than other times. Whether it’s my first pro fight or this fight in the UFC, I think that there is always that level of expectations and stuff. You’ve just got to manage it and use that fear and adrenaline to your advantage.
PRO MMA NOW: Can you talk a little bit about your training camp for this fight and how that went?
DANNY DOWNES: It has been going really well. Basically for this camp I’ve been training with Ben Askren who trains at our gym and is the Bellator Welterweight Champion and he was an NCAA wrestling champ. He has brought everyone’s wrestling up, not just mine, but everyone at our gym. Our grappling is at a whole new level. The other thing that has really helped me too is my strength and conditioning. The big thing is that every camp you have to improve on the last one. You don’t want to flat line. So that’s what I do. I just keep improving, and when I have a full training camp I’m something to wreck with. I tell people that a fight isn’t like an algebraic thing. You can’t cram two weeks out. When you can put in a full camp you can get ready and know your opponent a lot more. It’s a lot different.
PRO MMA NOW: Now you’ve said that you expect Nijem to come in and try to take you down fairly quickly. How would you say that training with Ben Askren has helped you become a better wrestler?
DANNY DOWNES: Well it has been good because Ramsey is a good wrestler, but he’s not Ben Askren. I haven’t seen Ramsey on any U.S. Olympic team. So it just gives you that confidence that when I get in position I know what to do. Before, when you’re wrestling, you’re like, “What do I do? What do I do?” Now I’m just really comfortable with what I have to do. It’s like the first time I ever sparred. I had never been punched in the face like that before so I was like,” What do I do?” But now it’s like,” Ok. I do this.” It’s like anything you do. You get more comfortable over time. As you do that more and more it just becomes second nature.
PRO MMA NOW: What has it been like this week in Vegas leading up to the fights this weekend? I know you just ran into Nick Diaz and got a picture with him. What was that like?
DANNY DOWNES: That was really cool. Actually Nick Diaz is one of my favorite fighters and it was cool to see him. I’m not going to lie, I was thinking to myself, “Be cool. Be cool.” I wanted to ask him for a picture but I wanted to be nonchalant about it. But that was really cool to see him. Even just other times around Vegas when we had that fighter summit in May, you would see all of these guys and even though we work for the UFC, it’s not like we see each other all of the time. There are only say ten fights on a card, so that’s only 20 fighters. So it’s cool to see these guys and run into them. It’s just a lot of fun.
PRO MMA NOW: What would you say would be the best way for fans to keep track of what you’ve got going on and coming up in the future?
DANNY DOWNES: Definitely my YouTube channel and my Twitter (@DannyBoyDownes). I also want everyone to check out the fighter diary that they just put up on UFC.com last night. You can see my training camp and getting prepared for this fight.
PRO MMA NOW: Is there anyone you want to thank or sponsors you want to plug?