Danny Castillo (R) dodges a punch from Dustin Poirier. (Pic courtesy of WEC.tv/Zuffa)

Before the WEC fades off into the sunset and merges with the UFC, lightweight Danny Castillo (9-3) wants to make sure the promotion goes out with a bang.

As an accomplished wrestler with a 5-0 record, Castillo certainly wasn’t expecting an invitation to the WEC, an organization with national television exposure and some of the best lighter weight fighters in the world. With that in mind, Castillo readily admits that his invite had plenty to do with his friend and Team Alpha Male teammate Urijah Faber, who was holding the featherweight title at the time.

“I’m not going to bull**** you; I know the reason I got that fight with the WEC was because of Urijah Faber,” Castillo told ProMMAnow.com.

Castillo was actually in a bar celebrating his win over Isaiah Hill when Faber called him with an offer to take on Donald Cerrone.

“I actually wasn’t too sure I was ready for that, but [Urijah] thought I was ready,” Castillo said.

Ninety seconds into the fight, Cerrone submitted Castillo with an armbar. Even though Castillo had signed a five-fight deal, he knew his WEC spot wasn’t guaranteed.

“You and I both know it’s such a competitive sport right now,” he said. “I knew that even though I signed a five fight deal, they cut people left and right.”

So Castillo was grateful to get a second chance and he took full advantage, stopping American Top Team fighter Rafael Dias via second round TKO.

It was a big win and Castillo knew it. But that same night in the WEC 36 main event, Faber, his friend and training partner, lost the featherweight title to Mike Brown.

“Just to get that win was a huge monkey off my back, but at the same time it was a little bittersweet,” Castillo said. “Looking at him … he was the man, and it was just kind of hard to celebrate that night.”

Faber and Castillo actually met in junior high school, competing at the same wrestling competitions and traveling together over the summer on local area all-star teams.

Castillo went on to earn All-America honors at Menlo College in Atherton, Calif., but he didn’t move into MMA right away.

“I was working a desk job right after college,” he said. “But after awhile, I saw Urijah and he was all over TV and doing really well. Not everyone’s meant to be a fighter, but he and I were talking on the phone and he’s like, ‘I think you have it.’”

And if it looks like all of the guys on Team Alpha Male are a close knit group, it’s because they are. That could be what’s partly behind the success of Castillo, Faber, featherweight contender Chad Mendes, former bantamweight title challenger Joseph Benavidez, and the rest of the group.

“We’re all definitely like-minded and have the same work ethic,” Castillo said. “We have going away barbeques for the guys fighting, we celebrate birthdays together, our girlfriends hang out together … so it’s like a huge family.”

Up next for Castillo is Will Kerr (9-2), who is 1-1 in his two WEC appearances. The two will square off at WEC 53 in Glendale, Ariz. on Dec. 16.

Asked about what he thinks of his opponent, Castillo replied, “It’s hard to judge him. His fight with Shalorus, he was KO’d early, and he got a quick submission [against Karen Darabedyan]. There’s not too much tape on him.

“But he’s dangerous,” Castillo said. “There’s a reason he’s in the WEC. A lot of his wins are from submissions, so I’m expecting him to be strong there. I’m just trying to tighten up all the gaps I have in my MMA game.”

Even though it’s one of his strengths, Castillo is even making sure to tighten up his wrestling, knowing that only certain wrestling techniques and strategies can translate well to the cage.

“I’ve gone so far away from my wrestling lately, so recently I’ve spent some time in my old college wrestling gym,” Castillo said. “The stand-up part of MMA is awesome. It’s something I’ve never done before, so I fell in love with that for awhile. Right now I’m going back to my roots, wrestling with these 19, 21 year olds … they know I fight on TV and they’re coming after me all the time; it’s awesome and they keep me on my toes.”

While he’s prepared for anything, Castillo’s two WEC losses came via submission, so he won’t be surprised if Kerr thinks he can exploit his ground game. And whatever happens, he’s confident he’ll find a way to win.

“On paper, there’s no way I should lose this fight,” Castillo said. “I hit just as hard as Shalorus, maybe harder.

“I’ve had trouble with submission defense in the past. I think that’s where he’s going to try to expose me. But I’ve been grappling a ton and working on that, and my ground and pound is going to be a lot better than it has in the past.”

UFC Transition

Of course, WEC 53 will be the last event in the promotion’s history. Beginning in 2011, the bantamweight, featherweight, and lightweight fighters will make their way to the UFC.

As you’d expect, Castillo is eager to test himself on the biggest stage in MMA. But at the same time, he isn’t looking past Kerr or taking the UFC opportunity for granted.

“I was super stoked” when I heard about the merger, Castillo said. “I mean, that’s the big show. I’ve worked out with a lot of UFC guys and I think I’ve done extremely well against a lot of them, but you still don’t get the same recognition in the WEC.”

He added, “I haven’t stepped foot in the UFC cage. I have two or three fights left with Zuffa, but there’s a lot of pressure on me to win this fight.”

Plus, Castillo appreciates the opportunity the WEC provided for him, and he’d like to return the favor with a great performance against Kerr.

“I felt like any time [WEC general manager] Reed Harris and [matchmaker] Sean Shelby could’ve cut my contract,” Castillo said. “I lost two in a row at one point and they kept me here for a reason. I’ve seen other fighters let go, but they kept me around, so it gives me a lot of motivation knowing that they believed in me. Being in the last WEC, I definitely want to give them a little payback. I want this to be the best fight that I’ve fought for them.”

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