Cole Williams first dreamed of fighting in the UFC more than a decade ago.
About six years ago, he believed he was ready for the bright lights of the octagon. But he never got the call to fight on mixed martial art’s biggest stage.
After turning 35 years old last December, Williams, a Darien native, started wondering if that call might never come.
Then, last month, his phone rang.
“Long story short, I hadn’t really been training since October, because I’d been focused on work, but they called me up about a week before a fight because someone else had backed out and they were having a hard time finding a replacement,” Williams said. “I was about 40 pounds overweight … but I never could have said no.”
Ramazan Emeev was set to be the opponent of Claudio Silva at Fight Night Newark in New Jersey last Saturday. When Emeev couldn’t go, Williams wound up seizing the opportunity to fight in an event that aired on ESPN.
As soon as Williams hung up the phone from agreeing to the fight, his training and weight-cutting blitz began.
He carried an 11-1 record into his bout with Silva and hadn’t lost since 2009. He liked his chances, despite having little to no time to do any hard training.
“I felt my wrestling background would be enough to keep him from taking me to the ground, and his game plan is to get you to the ground,” said Williams, a 2002 Delavan-Darien High graduate who was a WIAA state tournament qualifier for the Comets. “I wanted to use my footwork and movement and counter-strike to catch him.
“I couldn’t put in hard (training) sessions being a week out from the fight, because my body wouldn’t have rebounded. But I was getting some timing down as good as possible, focusing on the weight cut and keeping my energy level.”
Williams shed 35 pounds, which meant he missed weight and gave up a percentage of his purse to Silva.
Williams declined to give specifics on his UFC contract.
But he also said he might have made weight if not for a travel delay.
“The day we were supposed to fly in, all the flights got delayed, so I wound up missing a full day of weight cut,” he said. “I woke up at 3 a.m. the morning of weigh-in and tried to cut the remainder, but there wasn’t much left.”
With the fight being on such short notice, many of Williams’ family and friends were not able to make arrangements to travel and see his dream come true.
But he said he heard of fight night parties in his hometown, in Madison where he lives now and in Dubuque, where he had a highly successful college wrestling career and where his MMA career began.
And Williams said once the fight began, he was happy with how things started.
“I did wobble him a few times, so it (my plan) was working,” he said. “But he got me to the ground, and I made a technical mistake and he was able to get me in a rear naked choke hold.
“It is what it is, but I felt good.”
The bad news is that Williams’ UFC debut lasted 2 minutes, 35 seconds.
The good news is that, because he took the fight on such short notice he said, the UFC gave him a four-fight contract, so his dream will not be a one-off event.
“I talked to the reps afterward, and they said they were impressed with what I did on short notice,” Williams said. “I went out there and didn’t let the bright lights get to me.
“So they said they’ll get me more fights and they’ll get me with more notice.”
That would allow him not only the time to prepare but also for his supporters to make arrangements to see him fight.
His son, Owen, is 7 years old, and he said his girlfriend, Amanda, is one of his biggest supporters along with his brother, Steve. His father Roger, mother Sandy and stepfather Ed all still live in the area, which was a big draw when he moved back to the area.
Williams said there was no definitive timetable for his next fight, but he intends to keep up his training regimen while waiting for another call.
A regional manager for Best Buy, he currently lives in Madison but said he may be moving closer to the Janesville area soon. He trains out of Chosen Few Gym near Madison.
“They have a lot of good contenders. I would say four guys I train with are UFC-caliber ready,” Williams said. “And most of them are 10 years younger than me.
“I may have been the first one to get a shot, but those guys still have time and it’s their career.”
At 35, fighting in the UFC may no longer be a career opportunity for Williams.
But he got the call and the contract he’d long been hoping for, and he intends to make the most of it.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled with the opportunity. I’m really excited to show them what I’m capable of,” he said. “I accomplished that dream and that goal, and now it’s time to put in a full training camp and get a couple wins.”