For the first time in his mixed martial arts career, Paul Sass is looking to rebound from a loss.
After rattling off 13 consecutive victories to begin his career – including a trio of first round submission wins in the UFC – the British jiu-jitsu specialist returned to home soil last September, only to have his moment in the sun turn into a nightmare evening he’d much rather forget.
“Honestly, I don’t remember,” said the soft-spoken Team Kaobon representative with a chuckle when asked about the closing sequence of his UFC on FUEL TV encounter with Matt Wiman last fall in Nottingham. “And I don’t really want to relive that either. I’m trying to put that behind me, put that away with this fight now.”
Though the contest held true to Sass’ previous UFC appearances in terms of ending in the first round, it was the 24-year-old Liverpool native who was on the wrong side of the submission finish. While he controlled the early portion of the contest with his relentless search for limbs, it was Wiman who was able to find a finishing hold, latching onto an arm out of a scramble along the cage. Sass tried valiantly to defend, but the veteran lightweight Wiman was able to extend the arm, forcing the local favorite to tap and incur his first career defeat.
Now, just a little over four months after tasting defeat for the first time, Sass is prepared to step back into the cage, and get back into the win column, as he squares off with Team Alpha Male’s Danny Castillo Saturday night at Wembley Arena when the UFC returns to FUEL TV.
In a time when fighters are more well-rounded and diverse with their offense as ever before, Sass is a throwback to the days when specialists ruled the cage.
He has earned submission finishes in 12 of his 13 career victories, with his signature triangle choke known as the “Sassangle” accounting for nine of those wins. While he’s continually working to improve the other facets of his game, the talented ground fighter isn’t trying to disguise his desires when the cage door closes.
“Jiu-jitsu is obviously what I’m best at, so I want to get it to the ground as soon as I can. If that means I have to pull guard, I will do, (in order to) take them down and look for a submission. That’s just where I’m most comfortable.
“That was the move I was catching when I was younger; I was just getting everyone with the triangle,” explained Sass, who counts Jacob Volkmann, Michael Johnson, and fellow British UFC fighter Jason Young among those he’s submitted thus far. “Then I was learning new set-ups for it, and I’ve kept progressing with it – finding new ways to get it. Sometimes it’s there and I just go for it as soon as possible. It’s become my favorite move, and a move that I get more than anything.”
Getting the chance to get back into the cage this quickly after suffering the first defeat of his career was a great fit for Sass. Getting the chance to do it on home soil was a welcome surprise.
“I didn’t expect it when I got told there was going to be one at Wembley like four or five months after the one in Nottingham,” Sass said of the UFC’s decision to return to England this weekend after having reserved their British stop for later in the fall each of the last three years. “I think it was a shock to everyone when it came back so quick.
“My coach told me I was fighting at Wembley against Danny, and I just said, `Yeah.’ I couldn’t say no; I want to get back to my winning ways. I know he’s a good wrestler and he’s got a powerful right hand, and that’s all I need to know really. Either it goes my way, and I get a submission win or – well, I can’t afford to lose, really.”
That’s the reality Sass sees right now as he prepares for this fifth UFC appearance. Despite starting his career with 13 consecutive victories, that initial loss last September has brought his momentum to a screeching halt, and he has little interest in thinking about what a second straight defeat bring.
In a sport where “everyone eventually loses,” toting around as impressive a record as Sass had heading into his bout with Wiman last fall can be a blessing and curse. Each fight is accompanied by whispers about when the streak will end, the desire to maintain a perfect record ratcheting up the pressure of performing another notch or two.
While the loss to Wiman remains a memory buried away in his head and a bitter taste in his mouth, Sass acknowledged that there is a slight sense of relief that comes with no longer having the weight of an unblemished record on his shoulders as he enters the cage this weekend.
“It put sort of pressure on me – trying to keep the winning streak – so that’s gone now,” Sass admitted. “I’m going to come back ten times stronger now, and I have that defeat out the way. I can put that behind me, and just get back to my winning ways; make my way back up.”
They say you learn the most from your defeats, and that before you can truly know how to win, you must first experience losing.
Sass had done exceptionally well prior to having experienced his first professional setback. If that means he’s only now prepared to put it all together and make a real run in the 155-pound ranks, everyone in the lightweight division better step up their efforts when it comes to their submission defense – especially when it comes to defending the triangle.
Paul Sass: Primed to Start a New Streak
"I’m going to come back ten times stronger now, and I have that defeat out the way. I can put that behind me, and just get back to my winning ways." - Paul Sass