Despite getting off to a great start, 2013 wasn't the year that Isaac "Ike" Vallie-Flagg hoped it would be, but he has to chance to start 2014 off with a win at UFC Fight Night 35 on Jan. 15.
In February 2013, the Jackson's MMA fighter made a successful promotional debut by edging out storied veteran Yves Edwards by split decision at UFC 156 in a three-round battle that pushed both men to their limits. The Ann Arbor native had long envisioned getting his hand raised inside the Octagon, and his performance set bigger things in motion for the hard-charging lightweight.
While his profile had run under the radar for years, his victory at UFC 156 was a step in the right direction for him to gain more recognition. And it was well-deserved at that.
Over a five-year span that stretched back to the regional MMA scene, Vallie-Flagg had put together an 11-fight winning streak, with two of those victories coming under the Strikeforce banner. While those wins carried him to the biggest promotion in mixed martial arts, the Albuquerque transplant had every intention of carving out a place in the UFC's lightweight division in 2013.
When the call to face another established veteran in Sam Stout at UFC 161 came, the next step was clear, but a back injury suffered during training camp forced the 35-year-old to withdraw. While Vallie-Flagg hoped recuperation and rehabilitation would be enough to shore up the damage, the problem persisted, and corrective surgery was eventually the only option left on the table.
The road to recovery would eat up what was left of the year, but with a dance card set for UFC Fight Night 35 on Jan. 15, Vallie-Flagg will be looking to hit the ground running in 2014. He will face Elias Silverio when the Octagon rolls through Atlanta, Ga., and he is as eager to scrap as he has ever been.
"I'm hungry to make 2014 my year," Vallie-Flagg told Bleacher Report. "I feel good and have a lot of confidence coming into this fight. With the fight coming so early in the year, it puts me in a position where I can kick things off right and get a great start to what I want to do in the coming year. Having almost an entire year off has made me very hungry to get back out there and get back to achieving the goals I want to achieve. I definitely feel like I have something to prove and I'm hoping to get three or four fights in 2014.
"I like the matchup stylistically," he added in regard to his fight with Silverio. "He's a tough kid, and it is going to make for a tough fight. Both of us like to stand and bang, and we both have a little bit of brawler in us. I've always had that brawler style, but I've really put in a lot of work to develop the more technical aspects of my game, both in the gym here in Albuquerque and out in California.
"I wanted to add some technical aspects to my striking. I worked with Cub [Swanson] and his coaches while I was out in California and told Coach Wink and Mike Valle where I wanted to go with things. From there, they helped implement those elements in a way that would complement my style, and I'm really looking forward to showing off the work I've been doing. I think that is going to ultimately be what wins me this fight."
Vallie-Flagg looks to make an early statement against Silverio at UFC Fight Night 35, which is headlined by a five-round middleweight showdown between No. 6 Luke Rockhold and No. 10 Costa Philippou.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.