Bellator 181 headliner Brandon Girtz knows main event opponent Derek Campos well. He should, as the two have met twice before, with each fighter picking up a win over the other. Friday night in Thackerville, Oklahoma, Bellator MMA puts on the rubber match as Girtz and Campos meet for the third time. It’s a key fight in Bellator’s lightweight division, which was thrown into chaos when Michael Chandler lost the belt to Brent Primus at Bellator NYC last month after suffering a leg injury.
That big event can be seen as a major milestone for the promotion, which has grown in leaps and bounds since former Strikeforce chief Scott Coker came on board as CEO. Bellator 181 is the first event the promotion has put on since the New York card, and Girtz (14–6) spoke to Cageside Press about about his take on the tentpole event, his trilogy fight with Campos, and more.
With the NYC card, and all the free agent signings of late, is there a feeling within the promotion that Bellator is making headway against the competition? Girtz certainly thinks so. He also sees the existing stars of Bellator proving themselves.
“I feel absolutely, man” he told us, using the Douglas Lima title fight against free agent signee Lorenz Larkin as an example. “We saw in the Larkin and Lima fight, I felt like Lima controlled that fight all the way. I think that shows the way Bellator is going. Lima’s actually like a homegrown Bellator guy. We just saw what he did against a top five guy in the world.”
As for the Bellator NYC event in particular, Girtz said “I thought the whole event was entertaining and it was a good show.”
One fight in particular on that card was more relevant than any other for Girtz, and that was the Michael Chandler vs. Brent Primus fight for the lightweight title. Chandler lost the bout due to a doctor’s stoppage after injuring his leg early in the first round. Lightweight being where Girtz competes, what was his take on what transpired in the fight that night?
“That’s a hard way to lose the belt” he told us. “I’m not going to say either way, if Primus did it with his kick or if Chandler did it on his own. Either way, it’s a hard way to lose the belt, especially when you see Chandler still trying to fight — I don’t even want to use the word ‘trying’ to fight, he was still fighting. So it’s definitely a tough way to lose the belt, and he definitely should get that rematch right away.”
While Chandler looks like he escaped serious injury, Girtz is a fighter who knows all too well the impact severe injuries can have on a fighter. The lightweight star has had his right ACL surgically repaired twice, first in 2014 and again in 2015. Knee injuries can be devastating in any sport, but especially in one that requires explosive bursts of speed the way MMA does. How rough was it coping with a second injury so close to the original?
“It was very hard, I’m not going to say it wasn’t” the lightweight fighter said. “It was definitely one of those things — the first ACL surgery, I just looked at it as ‘oh you know, things happen, injuries happen, I’ll be back from this.’ The second one was pretty heartbreaking, and it kinda felt like ‘maybe I’m never going to be the same again.’ It was definitely a lot harder road to come back from that second one, and going through all the stuff that I just did a year ago.”
“Coming back from an ACL isn’t an easy thing, you gotta damn near learn how to walk again” he added. “It was disheartening, that’s for sure. I’d say I wasn’t ready right away, but now it’s been about a year and a half or so now, and I feel good to go.”
So when did he get his confidence in the knee back?
“I got it back in that first fight against Piccolotti. After the fight, Piccolotti kicked my leg, my leg was bruised, he kicked my bad leg quite a bit, and I had no feeling, nothing felt wrong, nothing was bad so after that fight, I kind of looked at it like ‘your knee is good, don’t be thinking about it'” he told us. “Because before that fight, training, everything I was doing, I was thinking about my knee. All I was thinking about was ‘I can’t re-injure my knee.’ I’m not going to wrestle, I’m not going to do jiu-jitsu, I’m not going to do all this stuff because I was worried about re-injuring it. After that fight, it took everything that it needed to, so after that fight, I felt like it was good.”
On the next page, we discuss judging in MMA, the Manny Pacquiao vs. Jeff Horn judging controversy, and what we can expect in the Bellator 181 main event.