When Danny Downes first entered the sport of MMA, he adopted short term goals of winning and surviving. Now a member of the UFC, nothing has changed for Downes, who has his sights set on picking up one win at a time in order to survive in the sport’s premier organization.

After losing to Jeremy Stephens in his Octagon debut, Downes will be looking to pick up the first win of his UFC career against Ramsey Nijem at UFC 137. With the stress of his first UFC appearance behind him, Downes enters his second bout in the organization with a renewed focus and poise.

“It’s not my first fight in the UFC,” Downes told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t added pressure about that. The one thing I learned the most from the Stephens fight is that I’m not in over my head. After having that fight with Stephens and going the distance, I belong in the UFC, so my confidence for this fight is completely different than the last one.”

“Once, you’re actually in there, a fight’s a fight,” Downes said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in front of 100 people or 100,000. It’s the lead up. It’s just the scope of everything just gets magnified. Now that I’ve been there and experienced it, it’s not going to weigh on me like it did the last time. There’s no real substitution for experience. I have that experience in the Octagon, all the fans, all the lead up and stuff. I’m just going to be a lot more comfortable. I’ll be able to fight the fight I want.”

A long-time trainee of renowned kickboxer Duke Roufus, Downes’ striking has been considered the strongest part of his game. However, former NCAA wrestling champion Ben Askren recently joined Roufus’ Roufusport gym. Offering his outstanding amateur credentials, Askren’s influence on the gym’s fighters has already been put on display, as Anthony Pettis recently showed much-improved wrestling in a win over Stephens.

With Askren’s aid, Roufusport’s fighters will become more well-rounded and could eventually come to be one of the best groups of mixed martial artists in the sport. In the shorter-term, Askren’s involvement may play a major part in Downes’ first victory inside the Octagon.

“Especially for my camp here, [Askren’s involvement] has been the biggest difference,” Downes said. “I think people think that our gym is a striking gym. Yeah, we’re known for our striking, but we’re always working everything. We’re always working our jiu-jitsu, working our wrestling, conditioning. We do all that. The fact that we have Ben Askren to work with now, an Olympic wrestler and NCAA champion, it’s a whole different level. He’s elevated all our games.”

“I hate working with him,” Downes admitted. “He throws me around like a ragdoll, but I know that no matter who I step into that Octagon with, he’s not nearly the level of wrestler that Ben Askren is. You just always try to surround yourself with the best possible training partners that can push you. If you’re the best guy at your gym, you’re at the wrong gym. You’re not getting better.”

While Downes and his training partners would disagree, the fact remains that Roufusport remains widely recognized as a striking gym. Even fellow fighters seem to have a lack of respect for the ground games of Roufusport fighters, as Clay Guida and Jonathan Brookins recently had no interest in standing with their respective Roufusport opponents, Anthony Pettis and Erik Koch.

According to Downes, though, the gym’s coaches and fighters are making a concerted effort to change that notion by using their improved wrestling to force opponents into stand-up fights.

Danny Downes (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

“If you know that’s what guys are going to try to do to you, they’re not going to strike with you, they’re going to try to grind you, then you can either just complain about it or you can try to make sure they can’t do that,” Downes said. “That’s what we’re trying to do. We know that people don’t want to strike with us, so we’re getting our wrestling even better so that if we want to strike with them, we can, but we’ll outwrestle you too.”

Downes will look to employ that very strategy in a fight against Nijem on Saturday. After watching film on several of his opponent’s previous fights, Downes believes Nijem is an aggressive fighter and will likely look to take the fight to the ground quickly. Confident that he can keep this matchup standing, Downes expects to hand Nijem his second loss in as many fights under the UFC banner.

Though he has spent plenty of time watching Nijem’s fights, Downes was unaware of his opponent’s antics on The Ultimate Fighter, where Nijem made a name for himself by reaching the finals of a welterweight tournament. Also on the reality show, Nijem earned the nickname “Stripper”  by stripping in a house full of fighters on multiple occasions.

“I guess I’m not too concerned by his career prospects,” Downes said. “I’m concerned about ending his career prospects. Everyone says, ‘You’re fighting “Stripper” Ramsey.’ I’m like, ‘Uh, sure?’ On the bright side, after I beat him, at least he has another job prospect he can go into. That’s good for him. He’s got a back-up plan.”

Top Photo: Danny Downes (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

This piece was authored by Sean Smith. Follow him on Twitter, @SeanSmithMMA

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