Wineland feels heat against biggest foe yet

For all Eddie Wineland had achieved in World Extreme Cagefighting – and he is quite accomplished – the Indiana firefighter will be forever known for his final move on the promotion’s last night of existence.

For that was the night Wineland, a former WEC bantamweight champion, out-Rampaged Rampage.

Ultimate Fighting Championship star Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is one of mixed martial arts’ most popular and colorful figures, as well as one of its fiercest fighters. Jackson’s reputation as a can’t-miss fighter was burnished forever on June 20, 2004, when he slammed Ricardo Arona so violently that he nearly drove him through the canvas.

Eddie Wineland (right) prepares to slam Ken Stone at WEC 53.
(Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Arona was on his back, working for a triangle choke and an arm bar, when Jackson lifted him into a vertical position and then drove him down to the mat with frightening force. Videos of the slam on YouTube have generated more than 3 million views.

The move stood as the standard for a slam knockout for more than six years, or at least until Wineland met Ken Stone at WEC 53 on Dec. 10. Stone went for a standing guillotine choke on Wineland and wrapped his legs around Wineland’s back. As Wineland’s corner shouted instructions to him, Wineland’s mind briefly drifted back to 2004.

“I knew I was going to slam him, but right before I did, I started thinking about the Rampage-Arona slam and I said to myself, ‘How cool would it be to do something like that?’ ” Wineland recalled.

In an instant, Wineland slammed Stone cold, adding his name among MMA’s all-time greats.

The sound of the slam was like a sonic boom. WEC general manager Reed Harris, seated cageside, looked panicked as Stone lay motionless. Harris raced into the cage to check on Stone as Wineland celebrated the fight-ending move. Only later did Wineland realize that Stone was injured and would need a stretcher to leave the cage.

It turned out that Stone was fine and Wineland, 26, had taken a major leap in the eyes of the Zuffa brass. WEC 53 was the organization’s final card before it merged with the UFC, and Wineland put himself into prime position by winning Knockout of the Night in his second consecutive fight.

“We have big plans for Mr. Wineland,” a beaming Harris said at the postfight news conference.

Harris wasn’t kidding. For a bantamweight mixed martial artist, it doesn’t get much more significant than a fight with Urijah Faber, the WEC’s most popular fighter.

That the fight is the co-main event of a major UFC show only adds to the excitement for Wineland. The two will meet on March 19 at UFC 128 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., with a bout against highly regarded champion Dominick Cruz hanging in the balance.

“It’s not a make-it-or-break-it fight for me,” said Wineland, a full-time firefighter in La Porte, Ind. “But, obviously, with the title shot out there, and fighting in the UFC and fighting Urijah, it’s a pretty huge deal to me.”

Despite his record, Wineland has a fairly low profile in the WEC, being overshadowed by stars such as Faber, Miguel Torres and Cruz.

But Wineland, the WEC’s first bantamweight champion, is building a record to rival any of his more renowned competitors. He’s won four in a row and five of his past six. He’s 18-6-1 overall, 5-2 in the WEC and has won 15 of his past 17 matches – yet he’s still only the 13th ranked bantamweight in the world in the February USA Today/Bloody Elbow ratings.

Wineland is hardly bothered because he knows he’ll zoom up that list should he win his next two fights.

“As a fighter, you want these kinds of opportunities against guys like Urijah because you can open a lot of eyes with a win,” he said.

Faber is one of the UFC’s most engaging personalities and rarely has a bad word to say about his foes. He wasn’t exactly trash-talking Wineland, but in a UFC promotional video Faber said Wineland is good in just one area.

“His style is exciting – and when it comes down to matchups, that’s what I like to see,” Faber said. “I feel like as a threat, he’s a threat in one area: He’s a dangerous stand-up guy but he’s facing a guy who is good at everything.”

Faber’s words provided an extra bit of motivation for Wineland.

Wineland’s 18 MMA victories include nine by knockout, and most of his fights are spent standing. However, that isn’t because Wineland doesn’t have diverse skills. With Faber being one of MMA’s best wrestlers, Wineland may finally have the opportunity to display another aspect of his game.

“Faber is obviously in very great shape and he’s just a great athlete,” Wineland said. “He’s very, very strong, very powerful, very explosive. He’s a very dangerous fighter. He’s good at all aspects. Word on the street is, he feels I’m only good at one aspect.”

“I may not be the best wrestler but I can wrestle with just about anybody,” Wineland said. “Wrestling is my main base. I grew up wrestling from the time I was just 6 years old. But I just so happened to adapt real well to striking. I’ve got that style of stuffing, the takedown and keeping it on the feet.

“Not a lot of people have seen my ground game because of my movements. It’s hard for people to get at my legs. It’s hard to find me. I’ve brought in a bunch of wrestlers – collegiate wrestlers, national champs, all kinds of champs. I’m not worried about if it becomes a wrestling match.”

Wineland knows that Faber often wrestles to set up a submission, with his signature win being the rear naked choke. Wineland’s confident, however, that he’ll be able to force Faber to adjust rather than the other way around.

“He’s a scrambler,” Wineland said of Faber. “He creates the scramble, and that’s where he gets his guillotines and his rear nakeds from – in the middle of the scramble – because he’s fast. He’s a very fast person. But if you’ve seen me fight, I’m a very fast person as well. I’m going to match his speed and I think I’ll match his power.”

Wineland may never match Faber’s fame or popularity, but his Rampage moment in December didn’t hurt. And if he could duplicate that on the world’s biggest stage against one of its most popular fighters, who knows what may happen?

Wineland, though, isn’t ready to look too far ahead.

As a fireman, he said he remains cool under pressure because of the intense training he’s undergone and his faith in the wisdom of his captain. As a fighter, it’s not much different. He needs to believe he can win and needs to keep his composure.

Getting caught up in fighting a big-time star won’t help.

“You know what? I don’t want to put pressure on myself thinking about the title shot or anything else because Urijah is more than enough for me to worry about now,” Wineland said. “It’s all about just going out there and doing what I know I can do. If I fight my fight and perform, all the attention and all the stuff that goes along with it will occur naturally. “That’s part of it,” Wineland added. “My whole thing is just working as hard as I can to be the best I can be – and after that, it’s just a matter of performing.”

Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Mar 9, 2011