Lando Vannata knew he was ready for the UFC when he got the call last year to face No. 2 ranked lightweight Tony Ferguson on just two weeks notice.
At the time, Vannata was an undefeated prospect training out of the Jackson-Winkeljohn academy in New Mexico — the same team that produced Jon Jones, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and many others — but he was an unknown to the mass audience of mixed martial arts fans.
While Vannata ultimately came up short of getting the win against Ferguson, he put on a stellar performance after nearly finishing the future title challenger in a back and forth war that won them “Fight of the Night.”
It was going to be tough to top that outing but Vannata did just that in his second UFC fight when he uncorked a jaw-dropping spinning wheel kick to knock out veteran lightweight John Makdessi before earning a “Performance of the Night” bonus for that effort.
Some fighters shy away from the spotlight or the expectations to put on a show like that with each consecutive performance, but don’t count Vannata among them. He loves that people expect excitement whenever he steps into the Octagon because that’s what he always plans to deliver.
“I love it. Bring all the hype,” Vannata told FOX Sports ahead of UFC 209. “Everybody keeps telling me that I’m going to be the next champ, I’ve got the ‘it’ factor. I’m the next superstar. It’s cool. I’m still over here doing my thing. It brings a smile to my face when I hear it or I read it or I see it, but otherwise I’m just doing my thing.
“It makes me smile when I see people tweeting ‘oh [expletive] Lando’s fighting! That justifies the $50 bucks [for the pay-per-view] right there!’. I think it’s awesome. It definitely makes me smile but it doesn’t add any pressure, there’s no negative side to it. It’s cool. I’m glad people enjoy watching me do what I love to do.”
As much as Vannata loves the idea of being dubbed a human highlight reel, he also understands that the expectation to always put on an eye-popping performance could come back to haunt a lesser fighter.
That’s why he enjoys the praise and the excitement surrounding his fights, but Vannata never allows that to permeate his mind when it actually comes time to get into the Octagon and throw down with an opponent.
“It’s a delicate balance,” Vannata explained. “You’ve got to be able to perform while putting on a show and you can’t always go out there with the same exact style and expect the same thing to happen every time. It’s not how I’m approaching this fight.
“My style is different for this fight as it was different for [John] Makdessi as it was for Tony [Ferguson]. It’s tailor made for this opponent. It might be exciting, it might not. You’ll just have to tune into see.”
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As he prepares to face David Teymur at UFC 209, Vannata isn’t exactly predicting another knockout but judging by his assessment of the former “Ultimate Fighter” competitor, he’s strongly suggesting viewers not to blink when they watch on Saturday night.
Vannata is brutally honest when breaking down Teymur, who has scored two consecutive knockouts to start his UFC career. Despite his extensive striking background, Vannata sees Teymur as a novice in comparison to his own skills and he looks to expose that weakness when they finally trade hands this weekend.
“He’s got two knockouts off the show and both those guys looked like they never learned how to fight properly,” Vannata said. “They both look like they would easily get knocked out. Not to mention, Teymur’s been dropped by at least one of those guys and it didn’t look like either one of them hit very hard. I think it’s going to be a fun fight.
“He thinks he has great striking but I watch him and it’s archaic. It’s the [expletive] we were seeing 10 years ago in the UFC. It’s basic Dutch kickboxing. There’s nothing special about it. I’m going to make him do what I want to do in this fight. I think he’s chinny. He’s been dropped by guys who have no power and I think it’s a great matchup. I’m excited for it.”
Given Vannata’s assessment of his opponent along with his own style that has resulted in eight finishes in his nine victories, he might be going home from Las Vegas with another $50,000 bonus check in tow.
“I hope so. It would be awesome,” Vannata said about earning a third consecutive bonus. “I’m hoping to get another one in this fight, too. I think it will happen, too.”