Note: A version of this article is also available at Combat Press.
The stage was set for Rob Watley. He was coming into his first professional title fight in mixed martial arts on a 4-fight win streak. He was facing one of the more popular fighters around. Combining those factors with his confidence spelled a possible big night for the man they call “Ares.”
Unfortunately, it just didn’t happen.
Right before Watley (4-1) was going to face Dan Root (10-2) for the inaugural Shogun Fights lightweight title last year, his foot become badly swollen and bloated and he was forced to withdraw from the bout. The worst part was, Watley wasn’t exactly sure how the injury happened.
“I can’t pinpoint a specific time, it was so bizarre,” Watley said. “I had a bone bruise and torn ligaments. I was probably training harder than I should have, and when I woke up my foot was swollen and I had trouble walking.”
Watley’s withdrawal from his fight against Root was his first as a fighter. He attributes his injury to possibly having to switch his training from having to defend more kicks to focusing more on his takedown defense.
“Nothing was broken, but I had to take time and not do anything,” Watley said, adding that he underwent physical therapy for his foot. “I fight so often that I became like a kid who loves candy – I was getting it all the time and I was losing appreciation for it.”
Watley took advantage of his forced sabbatical from fighting, as it forced him to reassess his entire approach to his MMA career. Spurred by his desire to have a long-term MMA career, Watley improved his sleeping habits and switched to an organic diet, among other changes.
“I went back to the drawing board,” Watley said. “I improved my nutrition and my sleeping and started treating myself like a pro. Before, I was only getting 3 to 4 hours of sleep a night and I was getting colds and sinus infections.”
“It really stunk because I wanted to fight,” Watley added when talking about his canceled bout last year against Root. “”But it was a blessing in disguise. It now gives the fight some build-up.”
Although Watley had plenty of time to re-evaluate his approach to his fight career while rehabbing his foot injury, he chose not to take the time to create a specific game plan for his fight against Root. He opted instead to make sure he is as well-rounded as possible for his title opportunity on Saturday, April 16.
“I want to keep him guessing, because if you’re guessing during a fight, then you’re playing catch-up,” Watley said. His fight with Root will be Watley’s fourth with Shogun Fights, and he really enjoys the opportunity for himself and his fellow fighters to showcase themselves for the Baltimore fans.
“John sacrifices a lot to make this happen,” Watley said of John Rallo, founder of Shogun Fights. “This is one of the bigger shows on the East Coast. I’m still learning a lot myself, but Shogun Fights is doing some big things.”
Watley previously expressed a desire to help his fellow fighters by possibly helping to create a fighters union in the future. Watley hopes Shogun Fights can show fighters how to be professionals, so that they can put themselves in the best position to succeed when they hit the open market and not restrict themselves to one deal with just one organization.
“We have to do what’s best for us, and there has to be competition,” Watley said. “I’m so excited to be a part of that process. It’s an exciting time in MMA.”