After working his way into a lightweight-contender role and competing on the main card in his last two appearances, Evan Dunham will return to the preliminary card for a bout against Shamar Bailey at UFC Fight Night 25.
Back-to-back losses against 155-pound standouts Melvin Guillard and Sean Sherk have forced Dunham to take a step back in competition. However, considering the controversial nature of his loss to Sherk, Dunham could find himself right back in fights with some of the best in the lightweight division, if he can put on an impressive performance against Bailey.
While his last few fights have been highly anticipated, Dunham's upcoming bout with Bailey has flown under the radar. Although he would prefer to have more of the spotlight on him, Dunham hasn't concerned himself with the lack of attention this fight is receiving.
"It doesn't really matter to me," Dunham told Bleacher Report MMA in an exclusive interview. "Obviously, the more attention on it the better, but it's just the nature of the beast, so I understand why there isn't as much attention, but I'm not doing anything differently. I'm training hard and taking this fight real serious."
Between his loss to Guillard and his upcoming fight on Saturday, Dunham was forced out of a scheduled bout with George Sotiropoulos—a fight that likely would have been more intriguing to fans than his bout with Bailey. Dunham hopes that the matchup with Sotiropoulos comes to fruition eventually.
"[Sotiropoulos] is a great fighter," Dunham said. "I'd love to get a fight with him one day."
Who wins this fight?
Before looking ahead to another fight inside the Octagon, though, Dunham must avoid a third-straight loss. A defeat at the hands of Bailey, an opponent Dunham is fully expected to beat, could potentially lead to Dunham's release from the UFC.
Although few believe he will have a problem getting back on the winning track against Bailey, Dunham isn't preparing for this fight any differently than he has for past opponents like Guillard, Sherk or Tyson Griffin. Bailey is dropping from welterweight to lightweight, which could affect his conditioning, but Dunham isn't banking on that.
"He's a tough dude," Dunham said. "Coming down from 170, we'll see how he handles that cut, whether it's an issue or not, but I'm not really taking that into consideration. I'm training for him just like I would train for anybody else. He's a tough dude. He wouldn't be here if he wasn't."
In his time on "The Ultimate Fighter," Bailey displayed some impressive wrestling. While that part of Bailey's game appears to be his biggest advantage in this fight, Dunham is confident in his ability to stifle his opponent's takedowns.
"[Wrestling] is his strength, in my opinion. However, I think I wrestle with guys with better wrestling everyday. I don't think he's going to have as big of an advantage in the wrestling department as a lot of people think."
Training out of Xtreme Couture, Dunham spars with some of the best wrestlers in the sport on a daily basis. Dunham has been improving his wrestling against the likes of Tyson Griffin, Michael Chandler and Martin Kampmann.
Even if Dunham is taken to the ground by Bailey, the six submission victories on Dunham's record suggest that Bailey would be in just as much trouble on the ground as he would standing in this matchup. Having threatened more experienced wrestlers like Sherk and Efrain Escudero with submissions, Dunham should be the favorite no matter where this fight takes place.
"I think he's got his hands full with me anywhere this fight goes," Dunham said.
While the opposite has been said of Bailey, Dunham has become known for producing entertaining fights. Even off of his back, Dunham is going to force Bailey to remain active. In the best case scenario for Dunham, this fight will end in a spectacular finish, allowing him to work his way back into fights with the most elite 155-pound fighters in the world.
"I plan on putting him away, hopefully in the first round," Dunham said. "If not, I plan on taking him to deep waters and seeing if he can swim. I'm definitely going to come out aggressive. I know he is, too, so it should be a pretty exciting fight."
Sean Smith is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report MMA. Sean has also had his work featured on UFC.com and LowKick.com. For the latest insight and updates on everything MMA, you can follow Sean on Twitter @SeanSmithMMA.