Every athlete puts themselves in a certain “comfort zone” before they compete. Without it, they find themselves in a situation where they either perform poorly or they look as though they simply came to collect a paycheck without putting forth effort. A number of things affect an athlete’s comfort zone, though, so the responsibility ultimately falls on the athlete to know when the time comes for them to make some changes.

UFC flyweight Tim Elliott represents a college-educated athlete who wanted to keep his competitive drive alive and healthy after wrestling ended. He found an outlet for that drive when he discovered MMA, but after an 0-2-1 start to his cage career, he knew something needed to change. That desire to switch things up eventually led him to a new camp and the fresh start he needed to find success in the sport.

“I actually moved out to Kansas City to train at a different gym,” Elliot told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “I moved up here to train with HD MMA, and I didn’t really like what they were trying to tell me. They were trying to tell me not to switch my stance and not to move around so much, and I didn’t really like that, and then I heard about Grindhouse. I cross-trained for one day, and the head striking coach up there, Brian Davidson, told me, ‘Hey man, if you’re going to move your feet this much, twist your feet around and move your head this much, you also have to do this, this and this to be successful.’ So as soon as I got back with those coaching instructions, I switched gyms immediately, and I’ve been in there every day since.”

Elliott (R) looks for a cartwheel kick (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Grindhouse MMA and its affiliates feature the likes of UFC lightweight James Krause and the 11-4 featherweight and head striking coach, Davidson, as well as TUF 17 competitor Zak Cummings, lightweight prospect Bobby Cooper and other rising young stars in Missouri’s MMA scene. Elliott’s game showed major improvements after joining the camp, as he posted up eight straight wins, including a victory over former UFC lightweight champion Jens Pulver, before the UFC called him with the offer to fight Dodson. As much as “Mr D.” deserves credit for those improvements, Elliott also gives due to Krause, who has since played a major role in the 26-year-old’s success.

“The way [Grindhouse MMA] works,” Elliot explained, “we do creative striking, we try to think outside of the box and we practice a lot of crazy, weird, awkward things that a lot of people might think is silly, and some of it is silly and some of it seems silly, but a lot of times, we find things that really work and we try to split them. I pretty much just keep my mouth shut and listen to what Krause tells me. Krause is my No. 1 coach and my No. 1 training partner. I just do everything he tells me

“As long as I listen to him, I don’t think I’ll lose.”

With that firm belief in Krause, Davidson and the rest of his team, Elliott rode that eight-fight winning run into his UFC debut at UFC on Fox 3 against Dodson. Despite taking the fight on close to 10 days’ notice, Elliott and Dodson delivered an electrifying three-round battle, but Dodson came out victorious via unanimous decision.

Elliott remained undeterred mentally by the loss, though, and prepared for a bout at The Ultimate Fighter 16 Finale against former King of the Cage bantamweight champion Jared Papazian. Elliott emerged victorious via unanimous decision. The bout took home “Fight of the Night” honors inside the cage, but between fighting back from an illegal knee and trying to collect himself during the bout, Elliott felt like he missed the boat on a finish, despite taking a unanimous decision and scoring that all-important first UFC win.

“I didn’t feel like I performed that well,” Elliott admitted. “I thought I kind of got robbed of a good performance. He made me nervous before the fight and very uncomfortable before, leading up to the fight, so I felt awkward going into the cage, and then in the first round, I caught that illegal knee and I wasn’t ever the same after that. The whole fight, I was just trying to get my feet underneath me and get my bearings about me, so I wasn’t really happy with my performance. I was glad I won, and taking that knee and fighting the way I did got me ‘Fight of the Night,’ but that’s a guy I felt I should’ve finished.”

That pre-fight discomfort comes from an incident where the two men encountered each other inside of a sauna while cutting weight. Elliott remembers Papazian acting rather confrontational and even saying a few words about his coaches. Though he still showed up to fight, the encounter made it to where Elliott actually wanted to be around Papazian less than before, even if he did sign to fight him.

“We’re cutting weight in the sauna, and he was just talking some noise, calling me out, calling me some names, and being really confrontational. He was even messing with my coaches a little bit, and it didn’t make me want to fight him more,” Elliott revealed. “Mostly, I just didn’t want to be around the guy, so it affected my performance. I’m glad that it happened, because I’m a little more ready for anything, but I don’t think I have to worry so much about that now. Most of the guys in the 125-pound division are very respectful and very professional.”

Elliott (L) delivers a left hand (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Elliott now gets to face another professional in The Ultimate Fighter 14 cast member Louis Gaudinot at UFC 164 this Saturday in Milwaukee. Elliott doesn’t hold any beef with Gaudinot, save for Gaudinot winning “Fight of the Night” for his fight with John Lineker on the same night Elliott debuted against Dodson. Elliott’s manager came to him with an offer to fight Gaudinot, and Elliott accepted.

“I know [Gaudinot’s] striking is really crisp,” Elliott said. “He’s going to be fast and explosive, but I don’t think he has anything that Dodson doesn’t have. I feel like everywhere that he’s good, Dodson is better, and I feel like I just fought the best 125-pounder in the division. I know Dodson lost to Demetrious Johnson, but I think he went out there with a bad coaching strategy. I think he’s a better fighter than Demetrious Johnson, and I think he’s the best guy in the division, so I’m going to try to fight [Gaudinot] just like I did Dodson.

“I’ve been working on settling down on my feet a little bit more and actually trying to throw a little bit of power, so I’d like to get the knockout”

Elliott knows what comes next with a win on Saturday, even if he does not know who comes next. However, he will not look too far past the green-haired challenge in front of him. He wants to prove that he possesses the tools needed to claim Johnson’s world title and the status of the world’s premier flyweight, but those fights will come when they come. Right now, Elliott just wants to fight the best in the world at 125 pounds before the UFC deems him ready to fight against the consensus-best 125-pounder in the world. He also wouldn’t mind scoring some sweet bonuses along the way.

“I want to fight guys that I feel I have an opportunity to get bonus money with, that’s my goal,” Elliott admitted. “I’m not out there just trying to get half-wins. I’m trying to get some big checks, and the 125-pounders are starting to get noticed, so I feel like getting ‘Fight of the Night,’ ‘Knockout of the Night’ or ‘Submission of the Night’ is the best way. So if I can get someone like Lineker or Ian McCall—and even Gaudinot is a good fight for me—those are the fights that I want.

“Eventually, I’d like to get a title fight, but who knows what’s going to happen? The division is pretty shallow and I wasn’t impressed with John Moraga’s performance. I think there are a hundred different [flyweights] that could put up a better fight than that, and I’d like to get that eventually, but personally, I just want exciting fights. I want to get recognized for my talents and skill, and I want to get compensated for that.”

Tim would like to that Dethrone, as well as his team at Grindhouse MMA, James Krause, Brian Davidson and everyone supporting him for UFC 164. Follow him on Twitter: @TElliott125

Photo: Tim Elliott (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)