In the ultra-competitive world of mixed martial arts, if a fighter is no longer progressing, he will quickly find himself pushed aside.
The evolution of his skill set is a must, and perhaps even more important than natural talent is a fighter's ability to adapt to the changing tides and continuously hone his craft in the face of adversity. It is a nonstop process and one that all fighters must face. But in some cases, a setback can propel an athlete to greater heights.
This is the exact path Danny Castillo is looking to travel.
Over his five-year career, the Team Alpha Male fighter has put together several successful runs in both the UFC and now-defunct WEC lightweight divisions. That being said, each time the 33-year-old has built solid momentum, a misstep has forced him backward.
Coming into his most recent outing against Michael Johnson at UFC on FX 5, Castillo was riding a three-fight win streak. But after a dominant first round where "Last Call" put the former TUF alum on the deck, "The Menace" bounced back to earn a knockout victory in the second frame.
Some fighters fold in the face of adversity, but Castillo uses the experience to motivate him to push harder toward achieving his goals. The Sacramento native knows the importance of honest critique, hard work and dedication—all factors which will ultimately make him the fighter he aspires to become.
"There are a lot of things that have happened to me in the past year," Castillo told Bleacher Report."I've changed my life completely. I've always been completely focused on my career but last year I made a bunch of changes to improve my life. I took alcohol completely out of my life and that was something I really enjoyed. I'm more disciplined as a fighter, my diet is different and now I'm never out of shape.
"Unfortunately things didn't go my way in the last fight. But that is the reason people love MMA because anything can happen. I take the good from every bad situation. The good from that situation is that I was dominating him the entire first round. I just got caught with a punch in the second and it doesn't change the fact I beat the crap out of him for a full five minutes.
"I feel every fight you see me in I improve in some aspect or another," Castillo added. "My striking is a work in progress and I'm continuing to get better in all aspects of the fight game. I got my brown belt last year and everything is coming along. I was able to work with Richard Perez for that last fight. He did a wonderful job and is an awesome coach. I learned a lot from him. With the addition of Duane Ludwig as the head coach of Team Alpha Male, things are looking brighter and brighter for my future."
When Castillo attempts to rebound back into the win column, it will come against Paul Sass at UFC on Fuel TV 7 in London, England. The British fighter is a slick submission artist who has earned victories in three out of four showings under the UFC banner, all coming by way of finish on the canvas.
During his time inside the Octagon, the 24-year-old Team Kaobon-trained fighter has shown an impressive display of heel hooks and leg locks. While those finishes have been highlight worthy, the young Englishman is best known for his signature submission called the "Sassangle," which is a combination of a traditional triangle choke and armbar.
Castillo comes from a wrestling background and is no stranger to facing jiu-jitsu-based fighters. That being said, he also understands how unique Sass' ground skills are and is prepared for anything the Liverpool native throws his way.
"Obviously if you have seen Sass fight you know his submission game is really strong," Castillo said. "He comes out using his stand up to get the fight to the ground. I'm expecting him to come forward, throw some crazy shots, and looking to pull guard to work his game. That is basically what I've seen in every single fight he's had in the UFC. That is what I'm counting on.
"If for some reason he feels confident in his standup and wants to stand and trade with me—that is awesome too. I try to be a well-rounded fighter and I think I've prepared for every aspect of this fight. Submission defense is something I've definitely focused on but it's not as much submission defense as it is submission awareness. If you are aware of the triangle before it gets thrown up then you don't have to fight a triangle off.
"Basically my mentality for the entire training camp was to see those things coming. He's really tall and lanky and if I can see that submission coming before it is ever thrown up, then I will be in a good position to stop his submission game. At the same time, I don't necessarily want to go to his strengths but if we go there I'll be comfortable. I'd like to keep this fight on the feet but we'll see how it goes. It is a fight and anything can happen."
The bout with Sass not only comes at crucial juncture of Castillo's career, but at a time when the lightweight division is set to become more competitive than ever before. Over the past three years the UFC's 155-pound weight class has become one of the deepest in the organization, and with a collection of talent coming over from Strikeforce, the battle to gain divisional positioning will intensify.
Having made the transition from the WEC, the scenario is one Castillo is very familiar with. He knows the challenges on the road ahead will only become more difficult. But with his work ethic and passion to improve, Castillo is eager to showcase his latest progressions.
"I have a new confidence coming into this fight," Castillo said. "I'm really anxious to get out there and show the improvements I have made. I feel I show progression in every fight. Whether I win or lose; you still see improvement. I don't have an offseason and I'm always working to get better. I want my fans to know I'm working hard for them and that is the reason they support me. They know I'm a hard-worker and I'm looking to crack that top 10 this year.
"The lightweight division is a shark tank and I believe it is the most talented division in the UFC. It's the deepest division and with the guys coming over from Strikeforce, things are only going to become more competitive. Every fight for me is the biggest fight of my life. I'm not getting any younger. If I'm on a four-fight win streak or have lost back-to-back fights—they are all important to me. At the end of the day if I don't win I only get one check. I love fighting and competing but I love paying my bills too. Two checks are really important."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.