What does Darren “The Damage” Elkins need to do to prove he deserves some attention at featherweight?

Not surprisingly, more than just the man himself appears to be asking this question to no end these days, what with Elkins’ record of 4-0 since dropping to 145 pounds. Of course, his record can read as 3-1 from the eyes of those who felt Michihiro Omigawa spoiled Elkins’ featherweight debut, but unanimous decision wins over Tiequan Zhang, Diego Brandao and Steven Siler proved less controversial and more clear to spectators and experts alike.

Either way, the man earned clear wins in the division and even talked about UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo, something that normally kills momentum for rising stars and contenders. Despite all of this, his bout with Canadian prospect Antonio Carvalho at UFC 158 in Montreal’s Bell Centre stands as a FX preliminary bout, albeit one that precedes a welterweight contest between “The Predator” Patrick Cote and “Vicious” Bobby Voelker.

After entering a division and notching four straight wins, most fighters either get a step up in competition or at least enter the title talk among MMA fans. Perhaps due to the cases of Ricardo Lamas and Chan-Sung Jung, or perhaps due to the blockbuster that will feature Aldo against “Showtime” Anthony Pettis, Elkins’ name currently does not come up in those talks.

Worse yet, with both men currently outside of the UFC’s featherweight top-10 ranks, and with no clear knowledge of whether a win puts Elkins close to a step-up in competition, the bout proves something of a lose-lose situation on paper for both Elkins and Carvalho. More than that, the recent cuts announced by the UFC all but confirm that close action-packed bouts must happen for fighters to remain on the roster.

Luckily for both men, they won’t need to abandon their proverbial “dates to the dance,” so fans of Carvalho’s striking will not leave disappointed, nor will the fans of Elkins’ wrestling and ground-and-pound. However, both men clearly must fight hard, if not finish, to stay on the roster. While it likely will not prove problematic for Elkins, a fifth straight unanimous decision verdict in Elkins’ favor does little to help his case, unless it proves impressive enough to land him a fight against a top-15 or top-10 featherweight.

This returns us to the original question with a fully defined answer. We asked what Elkins needs to do to prove he deserves some attention at featherweight, and within one argument for “The Damage” lied the answer.

Elkins knows he needs a win over a significant opponent to keep his name alive in the title talks, but to get that step up in competition, he needs to keep piling on the victories at featherweight. Incidentally, he needs to defeat Carvalho in more impressive fashion than he did Brandao, Siler or Zhang.

Does defeat mean finish? It can pay dividends to hand Carvalho his third career loss by a form of TKO, but Elkins does not need to hunt for a finish against someone who threatens to neutralize his wrestling in the way that Carvalho does. If Elkins senses that he can find it, he should make the attempt. As long as he leaves no doubt that his crack at the top-tier of the division files itself under “long overdue,” he can earn the chance to cement his status as a top contender.

Of course, Elkins does possess the tools needed to threaten many in the division, especially those with proven ground games that opt to strike, but he won’t claim that he holds the dark-horse label any more than anyone else, because, quite frankly, he knows that fighting his way to the top will pay more dividends than calling out the champion before the time actually comes.

Other contenders likely held more weight in their claims towards the top tier of their division than Elkins does in his, so we will hold off on saying Elkins must stand as the most underrated and overlooked contender ever. But until Carvalho or someone else beats him, he will remain a contender in his division, and he will pose possible problems for Aldo down the line.

Again, though, he needs to prove he can beat all the guys knocking on the door to a title shot before he can knock on that same door. To prove his case, he can start with Carvalho in Montreal, and if he defeats him more impressively than he ever thought about doing to his previous foes, the higher-profile fights will come in time.

Photo: Darren Elkins (James Law/Heavy MMA)

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.