Sometimes what you think you want is not always what you really want or what is best for you. Undefeated featherweight prospect Brandon Bender found that out back in 2007. After winning his first two professional mixed martial arts fights under the King of the Cage banner, Bender decided he wanted to join the armed forces and gave up his budding mixed martial arts career.
“I joined the Navy Reserves,” said the 25-year-old Bender, who is now 9-0. “I was going to go active duty, but I ended up in the reserves. Once I got into the Naval Reserves, I figured out what I really wanted to do was fight."
With that discovery in hand, Bender went back to MMA. Since resuming his career in March 2009, he has won seven straight fights. Six of those wins came by first-round submission, and eight of Bender’s nine pro MMA victories have come by tapout.
“I’ve been blessed, to say the least,” said Bender, who trains at Millennia MMA in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. “Even with all of the wins I’ve been getting, I want to take my time with my career. It’s really easy to get ahead of yourself and not do what’s right for your career. I still want to let myself grow, learn and adapt to what’s coming ahead for me.”
In his most recent outing, Bender submitted Marlin Weikel with a triangle choke in the third round of their fight at Superior Cage Combat 4 “Grove vs. Silva” in February. The win was the first time since his professional debut that he had fought past the first round.
“I knew eventually I was going to run into somebody where I couldn’t submit them in the first round,” said Bender, “so that’s why you work so much on game plan and strategy and you have to be prepared for anything that comes. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to my MMA game, so until I fix every part of it, I’m just going to keep working.”
“I know I’ve been getting all of these first-round submissions, but I’d have to say my patience is one of my strong points,” said Bender. “Earlier in my career, I’d just get so anxious and nervous before a fight about getting hit or striking with someone that I’d want to just go right out there and finish them immediately and I’d gas myself out. Now, I’m more calm, have more experience and have matured.
“As of now, I’m happy and still growing,” he added. “I want my game to be even, so I’m working hard on my striking, muay Thai, wrestling and jiu-jitsu. I grew up training with adults and getting my butt kicked and that was a great experience. Now I have my man strength and those butt kickings are going to benefit me.”
Though he has been fighting as a featherweight, Bender thinks his future is probably a little bit further down the scale at bantamweight.
“I’m looking at going to 135,” said Bender. “I’m not a very big 145, so I’m going to see how the weight cut goes. If I can make 135 and still feel good physically, I feel like I can be dominating.”
Bender has already had a small taste of bigger MMA shows, having fought at Bellator Fighting Championships 35 in March 2011. In that fight, he submitted Josh Herrick with a first-round guillotine choke. However, Bender is not in any rush to sign with Strikeforce or the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
“Right now, I’m super content,” said Bender. “I put my faith in God that when it happens, it’ll happen. I’m just working at the UFC gym in Los Angeles, paying my bills, and if they’re ready to pick me up, I’m doing what I have to do to be ready for it. Obviously, if the right opportunity comes up and a fight is right for me, I’m going to take it, but I’m not going to rush into any fights without thinking it through and praying over it. If a short-notice fight with Zuffa were to come up and it sounds and feels right, then I’ll take it, but I still think my opportunity is coming either way.
“Everybody has hopes and dreams,” he added, “but I just try to do something to make myself better each day.”