World Series of Fighting welterweight champion Steve Carl walks the walk.
In an age when fighters are quick to call out opponents on Twitter and engage in verbal sparring online without repercussion, Carl backs away from his smartphone and computer, buttons his big-boy pants and lives up to his status as the WSOF welterweight champion.
Nothing exhibited these traits more than Carl's recent decision to accept a fight with UFC castoff Rousimar Palhares, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist with a checkered history of cranking submissions well beyond the referee's stoppage in fights, in practice and in grappling competitions.
Now under the WSOF banner, Palhares finds himself thrust into title contention, and he is set to take on Carl March 29 at WSOF 9.
Carl admits that he was not thrilled about this matchup, but dangerous fights come with the territory when one is champion, and he must accept all responsibilities and burdens that come with the shiny belt.
"He's a bad matchup for me, and he's a dirty fighter," Carl told Bleacher Report. "But at the same time, I am the champion now, and I have to be willing to fight anybody."
When Palhares' signing was announced to the public, one of the promotion's top welterweights, Jon Fitch, boldly exclaimed that he simply would not fight the Brazilian ground ace.
Talking to MMAoddsbreaker's Brian Hemminger, Fitch said, "It [a fight with Palhares] would be the first time in my career that I turned down a fight.”
Carl said that he felt the same about the prospect of facing Palhares inside the cage.
"I absolutely thought twice, and I'm 100 percent on board with Fitch," Carl said. "I kind of wanted to jump on board with him [Fitch] and say, 'I don't want to fight that guy.'"
To Carl's delight, he was initially offered a bout against Fitch, not Palhares, for his first WSOF title defense.
However, the promotion offered him that matchup in June, and Carl expressed interest in fighting sooner. He had snagged the belt from Josh Burkman at WSOF 6 in October 2013, and he wished to stay active and keep in the groove of fighting every few months.
June was just too far away, and the WSOF brass reassembled, whipped up a plan and offered their champ a new fight.
Despite his initial reluctance, Carl said yes, and the WSOF 9 main event was booked.
"I'm the champion now, and I have to be willing to fight anybody," Carl said. "When they offered me that fight, regardless, if I beat Fitch, I'm going to have to fight him [Palhares] anyway. Besides, I was requesting to fight sooner, and that's what they offered me."
The welterweight titleholder said that he does not have a strict game plan heading into this bout with Palhares. Rather than fearing his opponent's strengths on the ground, he is focusing on what he can do and where he can impose his will.
And there's one area in particular where Carl feels he holds a significant advantage.
"I would definitely like to use my hands," Carl said. "If he gets a little too confident and sticks his head out there a little too far, I think I can put him to sleep."
Should Carl seize victory at WSOF 9 and emerge unscathed, a fight with Jon Fitch looms in July.
This is a fight that Carl has already thought about, and it's one that he eagerly anticipates.
"I have to go through Palhares to get it, but I think I match up really well with Fitch," Carl said. "I think it'd be not only a good win, but it'd be a hard-fought fight. It'd be action-packed, and everyone would love watching it."
For now, a limb-snatching, Hulk of a man who goes by "Toquinho" stands in Carl's path. It's not a fight that the WSOF champion awaits with the same giddiness that he feels for a showdown with Fitch, but it's part of his job.
And to him, that's all that matters.
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