Kids these days, man. We don’t even know how good we have it. We walk around complaining about how we don’t know which Fox the UFC is going to be on, or we wonder if a MMA fight could fill a 50,000-seat stadium in the United States.

Sit down and talk with ol’ Paul Buentello, and he’ll tell you about how professional MMA fighters used to get paid a few hundred bucks, and that was just if you won. Yes, the 40-year-old Mr. Buentello has been there, and done that, and been back again, but he has no intention of stopping anytime soon. Scheduled for his 49th professional bout, the former heavyweight has found purpose in his new weight class of 205 pounds, and he hopes to make his way back to the UFC one more time.

First, “The Headhunter” has to take care of business at Legacy FC 29, where he will fight 9-2 Myron Dennis for the Legacy light heavyweight title. Even though Buentello has a much more experienced record of 33-15, there’s no way he’s letting the title slip out of his hands by underestimating his opponent.

“As soon as we took the fight, my whole group got together and we searched and searched, and found some stuff online,” said Buentello in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “You got to search what their movement’s like, what their tendency is.

“There’s not that much stuff,” Buentello continued, “but I have a good idea that he’s going to bring it. This is his chance to shine. It’s also my time to shine as well.”

Buentello knows all about given moments to shine, and he unfortunately knows all too well about falling short of his goals. Whether it was his loss to Andrei Arlovski for the UFC heavyweight championship back in 2005 or his loss to Alistair Overeem for the Strikeforce heavyweight belt in 2007, Buentello has been on the verge of living his dreams, only to have them taken from him.

Yet, by no means does that diminish his love of the sport. The love is still there. The dream is still there. It might be a little different than the first one, but Buentello is ever hopeful, which is one of the reasons he has been fighting for over 17 years.

“It means a lot,” said Buentello on fighting for the Legacy title. “There [are] a lot of reasons. One of the main reasons is that people sit there and try to give up on something, and not try to strive for something when their back’s against the wall.”

As much as Buentello will be fighting alone in the cage come fight night, he still believes he is not only fighting for himself, but to prove to everyone that you should never give up, even when the odds are tough and people say you’re old and washed up.

“Thank God that Legacy is putting on great shows and is a top promotion here in Texas,” said Buentello. “The opportunity they’re giving me is huge.”

Buentello’s debut in the promotion, which was also his first fight at light heavyweight, was back in August of last year, when he took on TUF alum James McSweeney. Buentello scored the TKO win in the second round with punches to the body. Those seven minutes and 44 seconds of fighting had justified the five and a half weeks of hell leading up to the bout.

“A lot of personal moments came from that weight cut,” shared Buentello. “I hadn’t eaten or drank anything for 22 hours.”

As opposed to his cut for this weekend’s fight, the first weight cut to 205 pounds was only with about five weeks’ notice. With less time for dieting, it meant drastic measures had to be taken.

“I get out of the sauna,” continued Buentello, “and I’m begging, praying to God, that I’m two pounds under so I can get something to drink or eat. Just some ice cubes or something.”

He was 1.4 pounds over. Back in the sauna.

“It was one of those mental moments where I was on the brink of just losing it,” he admitted. In fact, Buentello recorded moments of his first weight cut, which will be available in due time on The MMA Corner.

“It shows you the part of the weight cut that most fighters don’t want you to see, but I’ve always been real about my fighting [and] about what I do,” said Buentello.

Talking about the harsh experience seemed like a distant memory for the Texan. He was able to chuckle about how he had to get back in the sauna, and he could joke about how he misses drinking sweet tea by the gallon.

Still, jokes aside, Buentello knew that if he wanted to make it back to the biggest promotion in the sport, it would have to be at 205 pounds. He and his coaches, Brad Barnes and Albert Martinez, decided a new weight division would be the perfect way to show that Paul Buentello means business.

“Let’s make a splash. Let’s show them you’re committed to training again,” said Buentello, recalling the decision. “My last stint in the UFC—it was horrible. Let’s just be honest, it was just a horrible showing at heavyweight.”

“The Headhunter” had only two fights, both of which resulted in losses, in his second stint in the promotion. However, Buentello feels he could be a “monkey wrench” in the light heavyweight division. With his combination of rediscovered vigor, experience and size, he’s hoping to get the call from UFC matchmaker Joe Silva.

One has to question, though, how much of a toll nearly 20 years of fighting has had on Buentello’s health. There are fighters who are barely 30 who sound much worse than the 40-year-old does, but Buentello would attribute that to intelligent training.

“I’ve always trained smarter,” he explained. “Good headgear, good head movement. And, at a time, training was getting pretty rough. Every now and then I’ll have a slur or have problems with a word.”

Working with Andy Fong, one of his coaches, has not only helped his abilities to fight, but also to preserve his health as much as possible in this rough business.

“Probably the last three years, I’ve been on point,” Buentello said. “I’ve been working on my head movement and my striking to where I’m a lot cleaner. My defense makes a better offense.”

Buentello also believes his continuous love for the sport has kept his body from injury.

“Thank the Lord that my knees, my back, my brain cells, my elbows, my shoulders—everything—feels great,” said Buentello. “The key is to keep having fun, and my body’s saying yes, I’m going to keep going ‘til the wheels fall off.”

As much as Buentello is focused on the future, he still can’t believe how far he and the sport of mixed martial arts have come.

“Every day I sit there and just pat myself on the back, saying, ‘Wow, I’ve been doing this for so long.’ I remember sitting on an airplane or sitting around people with a black eye, and I’d have to tell them I was a boxer and that I’d just done a boxing match,” remembered Buentello. “At the time, when I said I fought in a cage, or fought MMA, the first thing that would come out of their mouth was, ‘Oh, that’s cockfighting. Oh, that stuff’s illegal. People die in that everyday.’

“Most these guys that are on these cards now don’t realize that when I started the sport, it was shunned. It was in the backdoor. Thank God that [UFC President] Dana White and the Fertittas stayed on top of it and got it to where it was at. It’s very rare now that you say you do mixed martial arts and people don’t know about it.”

That’s what’s so great about Buentello. Win or lose, whether he was a UFC champion or not, he still played an important part in the sport. He’s the kind of guy who will fight for a few hundred bucks for fun. He’s an O.G.

“How much more can you be happy about?” asked Buentello, reminiscing over his career. “You can sit there with a nice, cold beer or a shot of Jack Daniels and say, ‘Hey, I did this.’”

Paul would like to thank Xzavier Clothing, Dynamic Fastener, Lexani Wheels, Legacy Fighting, LifeTime Meals, Bastos BJJ Midland, and Oral IV. Follow Buentello on Twitter: @paulbuentello

About The Author

Zach Miller
Staff Writer

Zach is a Boston native and has had a fascination with martial arts since playing Mortal Kombat at five years old. He was introduced to MMA after watching The Ultimate Fighter 5: Team Pulver vs. Team Penn. A recent graduate of the University of New Hampshire, Zach seeks to one day become a full-time MMA journalist. In addition to watching the sport, he has also trained in Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu, kickboxing, and tae kwon do. Zach has also written for NortheastMMA.