SAN JOSE, Calif.—This past Friday at Strikeforce Challengers 15 on Showtime, lightweight Justin Wilcox had more than Rodrigo Damm facing him in the cage.
The American Kickboxing Academy representative told Bleacher Report at Sunday’s grand opening for the new AKA facility that Damm was the last fight on his current contract, so the pressure to perform at the Stockton Grand Arena was greater than a win or loss on his ledger.
"It was picture perfect. My last fight ended [the] contract. It's great for me,” said the 32-year-old, who battered the Brazilian to a doctor’s stoppage for a bloody five minutes. “It's good for Strikeforce to show the world that Strikeforce has got some talented fighters too."
“The Silverback” intended to leave no doubt of his value at the negotiating table especially with potential to be Octagon-bound in wake of Zuffa—UFC's parent company—purchasing Strikeforce.
Former UFC welterweight champion and Strikeforce commentator Pat Miletich called the first and only round a 10-8 if he’s ever seen one, “possibly a 10-7.”
A statement fight is always the goal, but for up-and-comers like Wilcox, it is about reducing the sacrifices, like staying three hours away from his wife and daughter to train full-time until the sacrifices are no longer necessary.
His stand-up showcase solidified why heeding former Edinboro College teammate Josh Koscheck’s call to come to San Jose was the right choice.
"I came to the American Kickboxing Academy because the stand-up aspect they have. I already have the ground game. I really got to love the stand-up game,” said the former natural body builder.
“I got Javier Mendez training me and he's really helped me broaden my horizons with the stand-up. I love putting in the work in the cage."
Stopping Damm moved Wilcox to 2-0 in Challengers main events. It also gave him his first finish since September 2009 and extended his win streak in the organization to five—undefeated since submitting to Mitsuhiro Ishida in his promotional debut in September 2008.
"It feels good because a lot of people, they talk like, ‘He just goes to decision and a lot of stuff like that.’ They gotta realize I was just a young fighter coming up,” he said. “I'm just really getting all my tools tuned in and really being able to use them now. And now people are really taking notice and giving me my props that I deserve. It feels great."
Wilcox aims to graduate from this Challengers series and face top-10 competition next. He advised his manager he is ready to compete tomorrow and sees negotiations moving quickly.
With hopes the UFC connection provides more opponent options in his weight class, Wilcox does not want to be left out of the conversation when it comes to the divisional elite as he improves from fight to fight.
"I'm not gonna go back to the gym and just train my stand-up or my jiu-jitsu. I get back to the gym and train everything,” said Wilcox. “I'm not gonna every stop improving on everything. You never know, in my next fight I might be submitting somebody."
Danny Acosta is the lead writer at FIGHT! Magazine. Follow him on twitter.com/acostaislegend