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Danny Downes: “If I wanted to play it safe I’d be doing something else.”

When the lights dim tomorrow night at “NAFC: Mayhem” in Milwaukee fans will be treated to a unique opportunity, as UFC lightweight Danny Downes will take to the cage in a headlining tilt against 12-7 Tory Bogguess rather than sit on the sidelines while waiting for a bout in the world’s foremost MMA promotion to materialize.

While it is extremely rare to see a Zuffa-contracted fighter in action outside of the Octagon, as Downes explained in an interview with Five Ounces of Pain, it’s a situation he’s comfortable with even if a stumble at the event could cost him his spot on the UFC’s stacked 155-pound roster.

“Any fight is a risk and it doesn’t matter where you’re fighting,” Downes explained. “That’s why people love this sport. Anything can happen. One punch or one small thing you mess up even a little bit can change the entire complexion of a fight. If I wanted to play it safe I’d be doing something else.”

As far as his presence on a local card rather than an upcoming UFC event, the 7-1 Downes expressed mild confusion at the situation but harbored no resentment based on past experiences and his general approach to MMA.

“To tell you the truth I don’t even know. The UFC has kind of a locked in lightweight division so my coach asked if I wanted to take the fight and I said, “Yeah, okay.’ So I wish I knew what was keeping me out but that’s why you have managers. It’s still a fight. A fight’s a fight. My last fight was over five months ago so it’s a way of staying sharp after staying on the shelf for awhile.”

“The fight business is just inherently unpredictable,” he went on. “Even the way I got into WEC was kind of crazy. I pretty much found out that Tuesday and lost 24 pounds in five days. While building my record up on these low-level shows I’ve had 2-3 fights cancelled on me at the last minute. It’s just the business. You can’t let it bother you too much.”

The aforementioned bouts Downes referenced, a WEC 49 loss as a late replacement against Chris Horodecki and most recently a win over rising prospect Tiequan Zhang at WEC 53 in December, earned “Danny Boy” a post-merge spot on the UFC’s roster though he has yet to make his organizational debut.

Downes’ official journey towards the UFC started in college after having never participated in any combat sport as a youth growing up in Chicago. However, according to the 25-year old, his love of martial arts began as a child even if he was never able to make his way into a training center until adulthood.

“Part of it was watching cartoons as a kid – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – or especially the movie Three Ninjas. I have two brothers and we’d be like, ‘Gosh! We could be the Three Ninjas! There’s three of us and three of them!’ Like most kids I always wanted to do karate but my parents wouldn’t let me. They were always real strict about school. Even my grandpa whose from Ireland was really big into boxing and always wanted me to box with this guy he knew from the old country but my Mom never let me do that either.”

In fact, as it turns out, his current profession was never something he planned out.

“Eventually I got to college and I was playing rugby, just looking for something to do in the offseason to stay in shape. I figured, ‘I’m in college now. I’m a grown man,’ so I got into martial arts. I only signed up for a month or two. That was in 2004 and it just snowballed from there. I started doing kickboxing, then MMA, then a couple amateur fights, a couple pro fights, and now here I am. Growing up I was a big nerd, a bookworm, so maybe it’s like, ‘I’ll show all those kids who picked on me.’ That’s what my mom says – that it’s some displaced anger from getting picked on as a kid but so far so good.”

Family is an important aspect of Downes’ life as evident in his nickname and frequent decision to wear Irish gear down to the ring.

“My grampy came over here (from Ireland) when he was like 26. He was a farmer, the youngest of six children, and the first time he left his small village was in a boat over to New York City. Then he had some distant cousin in Chicago so he took the train from NYC to Chicago.”

His lineage was rarely lost on him as a child, elaborating, “It was always kind of imprinted as I was growing up even though my Mom tried to get me to take Irish Dance but thankfully I didn’t. If they wouldn’t let me do karate I wasn’t going to do Irish Dance. Then again, Michael Flatley is doing alright – makes more money than I do without getting punched in the face.”

“(Being Irish) was something I was raised with, instilled in me. It’s important to represent my heritage,” he concluded. In fact, according to Downes, he may even treat himself to a glass of Red Breast 12-Year Irish Whiskey after presumably walking away with a win tomorrow night.

When he does indeed lock horns with Bogguess on Friday evening it appears he will do so without a lot of information about his foe, and, according to Downes, that’s fine with him.

“I don’t know a lot about it him as an opponent. The problem is you can’t find a lot of info on him. I mean a YouTube clip from two years ago isn’t going to help me. He’s one of those guys whose good at everything but not great at any one thing. He’s strong, he comes out hard. The way I’m approaching this one is to let him pick his spots. If he wants to stand up, he can try. If he wants to go to the ground, I’m working my wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu. Maybe I’ll get me first professional submission victory.”

Downes continued by referring to a scenario most men can likely relate to, explaining, “Whatever opens up, I guess. That’s how most submissions and knockouts happen. I always compare it to, at least for me, picking up a girl. When you go out to pick up a girl you go home alone. Then the nights you go, ‘I don’t care if I meet anyone,’ then boom – you meet a girl. That’s the analogy I draw. Whatever happens, happens.”

A product of Duke Roufus’ academy in Milwaukee, Downes is part of a group including former WEC lightweight champ and current UFC contender Anthony Pettis who also recently decided to take a fight rather than sit on the sidelines and wait for a title-shot. When asked if a mentality of ignoring risk in favor of maintaining the pure spirit of fighting was instilled by the coaching staff at Roufusport, Downes replied the system there absolutely plays a role in the team’s attitude.

“There are differences between UFC fights and other fights – fighting for a lightweight title is different than other things – but what it really boils down to is that a fight is a fight; either you can or you can’t. And I think that’s just the attitude we have, especially the way we train. We train really hard all the time. We spar hard, we roll hard when we do Jiu-Jitsu. I think it’s just engrained in our attitude to just go out there and harden-up.”

Downes elaborated on the approach, saying, “For example, the way we do our sparring is that you ten minutes straight but face a new, fresh guy every minute. And it’s ridiculous, right? But it gets you to an attitude where the worst possible day of your life should be in the gym. You should never feel worse in a fight than you do when we spar and our training. And I think that’s how we maintain our composure when we get into the actual fight.”

An added bonus to shaking off some ring-rust at the NAFC show is the notion his friends and family will have an opportunity to see him take to the cage given the event’s location and his residence in Milwaukee.

“It’s definitely easier for friends and family to get here. It’s fun to do that. The one thing about friends and family, even fans in general, they don’t see how much time you put in and how hard you train. All they do is see your fight. So it’s a good feeling to put on a show for them.”

Beyond simply entertaining people, he also has a bit of extra motivation to perform at a high level, joking, “That way my parents won’t tell me to get another job.”

In closing, Downes thanked his fans and sponsors, including Form Athletics, and made sure to let people know they can check in with him on Twitter.


  • Rece Rock says:

    That headline is a nice quote… Good work Brendhan nice article

  • Dufresne says:

    I love it when young guys have this kind of attitude and approach to the game. Too many folks expect to be handed things and get upset when their job doesn’t go exactly as they hoped. You gotta work for it and roll with the punches.
    Downes sounds like he gets that. I fully expect to see him competing on a televised card in the near future if he keeps that mindset and work ethic.

  • MCM says:

    “Then again, Michael Flatley is doing alright – makes more money than I do without getting punched in the face.”
    He should have told him mom Michael Flatley is an ex-boxer.

    Very nice article Brendhan. Those boys at Duke Rufus’s all seem to be coming out with great attitudes about the business side of fighting. I fully expect several of them to be in the title hunt or wearing UFC gold in the next two years.

  • Brendhan Conlan says:

    FYI – Downes won via Triangle tonight. Erin go bragh!


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