Monday, March 5, 2007

Gilliam's first UFC experience a sour one

By Troy Mezera

COLUMBUS, Ohio - For Muncie's Jason Gilliam, Saturday's Ultimate Fighting Championship debut was a quick one.

The Ultimate Fighter, a highly-skilled and conditioned mixed martial artist, lost his first fight in the UFC by way of submission in 1:38 to Jamie Varner. Months and months of three-a-day training came crashing down in less than two minutes.

"It's disappointing," Gilliam said on Sunday. "Varner was right, it was different out there."

Gilliam's opponent talked in pre-fight interviews about how his first fight in the UFC was bigger than he could have imagined, and felt that Gilliam would struggle with his nerves.

Chas Bowling, Gilliam's manager, said Gilliam handled the pre-fight activities with the UFC with class, but did think he struggled with the pressure just before going into the Octagon.

Gilliam agreed.

"I've been around thousands of people before, but never around 20-some thousand people," said Gilliam, about the sold-out crowd at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday. "It was powerful. The screams and yells of the people were like some kind of car stereo turned on high."

The fight ended when Varner secured a rear-naked choke hold. The move, known to many wrestling fans as the sleeper, prevents oxygen from reaching the brain and most fighters placed in the predicament choose to tap out and end the fight.

Gilliam, who was previously undefeated in mixed martial arts competitions, has never tapped out and chose not to on Saturday.

Instead, Gilliam flipped Varner "the bird" shortly before passing out.

"The crowd loved it," Bowling said.

Gilliam explained he wasn't directing his gesture toward the fighter, but toward the end result he knew was coming.

The fight never made the pay-per-view portion of the television show since the scheduled television fights took too much time.

Bowling, and several mixed martial arts Web sites, said the fight began with the two athletes trading strikes, and began to go Varner's way after a mistake by Gilliam.

"I was trying to shoot on him, take him down," Gilliam explained. "At the same time, he chose to kick me and it threw me off what I wanted to do. He gained side control and tried to end it right there."

Gilliam escaped the first rear-naked choke attempt, but in a scramble to stand up, lost position again and eventually lost the fight.

While the fight's outcome was not what Gilliam was looking for, the paycheck wasn't bad. Bowling said Gilliam made nearly $10,000 between the fight purse and sponsorship deals, a number that could have been much higher if several factors would have went his way.

"He still made out OK," said Bowling, who was one of the first people in the Octagon after Gilliam passed out. "But he's just frustrated with the outcome. But he's not going anywhere. He's here to stay and that wasn't the best Jason Gilliam has to offer the sport. He'll be back and he'll do very well at this level."

Gilliam and Bowling both said future UFC fights are a possibility, but no official plans for another fight with the sports' top organization have been discussed yet.

Gilliam said he plans to be in the gym today and will continue his training. He said he will work to improve his strength, and hopes to have a better plan the next time he fights.

"I need to be better next time," he said. "I'm ashamed of my performance, but just because you have a bad day at your job doesn't mean you don't go back to work the next day."


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