Eddie Wineland is a throwback to a different era.
The former WEC bantamweight champion and current UFC interim title contender moves along to the beat of his own drum and has proven to be a difficult man to shake from his course. As his decade-long track record has shown, Wineland has been susceptible to stylistic mismatches and savvy game plans, but his ingrained drive to bring the scrap has never been in question and is what sets him apart as one of the toughest men in a sport filled with "tough guys."
Where other fighters find their zone competing in the hectic environment of prize fighting, the Indiana native gives off a vibe which leads one to believe he would be just as comfortable sorting things out down on the waterfront or in an abandoned rail yard.
Then again, it could very well be the mustache that is giving off that vibe.
After his victory over Brad Pickett earned an interim title showdown with current strap-holder Renan Barao, the fighter/fireman committed himself to a full-blown campaign to the grow a handlebar mustache. It was Wineland's hat-tip to the hallowed days of bare-knuckled boxing and became an avenue of motivation as he prepared for his title fight.
But mixed martial arts is an ever-changing and uncertain landscape, and before Wineland could make good on his efforts to claim championship gold, an injury to the Brazilian phenom took the title fight clean off the table.
Rather than hang his head, shave his mustache or trade in his leopard-print training tights (he also owns tiger, cheetah and python prints) due to indifference or depression, the 29-year-old Chesterton-based fighter kept his focus on his task, despite the possibilities of his shot at gold having disappeared into the ether.
With the current state of the bantamweight division's title-tier teetering on the verge of chaos, Barao's injury couldn't have come at a worse time. Champion Dominick Cruz is rumored to be gunning for a return later in the year, and if the interim champion's layoff turned out to be of any length, Wineland's position as No. 1 contender would have been nonexistent.
Nevertheless, Wineland kept his focus intact, stayed on the training grind and hoping Barao would return to give him the title shot he's been working diligently towards. And as things turned out, the Nova Uniao product received a clean bill of health and the interim title clash was rescheduled for UFC 165 on September 21 in Toronto.
It was the news Wineland had been waiting for and immediately reignited the flames of motivation.
"It was awesome," Wineland recalled to Bleacher Report about the fight being rescheduled. "My fiance and I were out to dinner, and I never leave my phone in my car. We got back and my phone just went nuts. My manager was trying to get in touch with me, Sean Shelby, and everyone was trying to contact me and it was nuts.
"I knew they were talking about the fight happening, but whether or not it was actually going to happen wasn't set in stone. At first they were saying it could happen in October, but the more I thought about it I knew the more and more this fight got pushed back the less likely it was actually going to happen.
"I touched base with Sean and he was talking about October, and that changed to late September. Then he asked me if I was in and obviously I was. I'm excited, man."
While the bout becoming official has Wineland fired up and ready to go, there were several indicators leading up to the announcement that gave him reason to get excited. After Barao took to Twitter to announce his return from injury, the two surging bantamweights engaged in a back-and-forth Twitter campaign as each fighter jockeyed to lock down the fight in their respective backyards.
With the UFC committing to two cards in Brazil in the fall and the Milwaukee card approaching at UFC 164, the lobbying to lock down the fight showed the interest both fighters held to make the throwdown official. Ultimately neither location landed the fight, but Wineland was still appreciative of his opponent's participation in the exchange:
"I think that was good on his part," Wineland said. "He just wants to fight. Yeah, he's interested in fighting Dominick, but he's more interested in staying busy and defending what is his. All the respect to Renan, and I'm very grateful he took the fight."
With the interim title clash now official, there is now a possibility that the disrepair of the bantamweight division could be sorted out in the near future. In addition to Wineland and Barao squaring off in September, Cruz is steadily moving towards his return, and a handful of potential contenders are stepping into action in the coming months, which is precisely what the 135-pound division needs to turn itself around.
"It was kind of falling apart there for a while," Wineland offered in regard to the bantamweight fold. "I know there is talk about Dominick coming here soon, and hopefully by the time the year is out we will have a unified champion at bantamweight. I think it will be back in order, and I'm always happy to be up there at the top and right in the mix."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.