On March 22, 2014, Sparta Combat League heavyweight champion Josh Copeland will look to defend his title for a second time against Jose Beltran at Sparta Combat League: The Undisputed in Denver.

The undefeated prospect fighting out of Grudge Training Center in Arvada, Colo., is currently 7-0 in his pro career with five of those victories coming by first-round stoppage. In his last two outings, Copeland has shown he can go the distance and still put on a great performance, something not often seen in the heavyweight division.

“Hopefully I can get back to finishing,” Copeland told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “The last two bouts I’ve definitely fought tough competition. You find out a lot about yourself when you throw that right hand and it lands and they are not sleeping. Life is about learning and always having different things thrown at you. It’s something else when you hit someone hard and it’s put other people out and you look and they are coming back for more.”

Copeland is fighting for much more than just a title on Saturday. He is on the verge of earning a UFC debut. A win simply is not enough. In order to get to that next level, he has to win in impressive fashion.

“When you look at the UFC, they don’t want decisions,” Copeland explained. “They want people who are going to be able to go out there and finish fights. My manager has actually been talking to [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva over the last couple of fights, and one of the main reasons Joe doesn’t want to take me is just based off of not finishing guys. My manager told them, ‘Hey, as you watch the videos you’ll see, even in the third round, Josh is still going out and he’s trying to get it. He’s not just sitting back trying to dance around.’ Joe said he likes that, but if I’m able to finish this guy, he’ll be more inclined to look at pulling me up.”

As an unknown fighter, Copeland understands the importance of being a finisher and being viewed as a fighter who goes out there and looks for the stoppage.

“If people don’t know the fighter, people who are just fight fans, they want to go out and see good fights,” Copeland said. “A huge part of good fights is a finish. People want to see people knocked out. People want to see people finished and submitted. We’re fighters. We are entertainment. And if we’re not able to go out there and fight to win, then it’s completely going against what the UFC wants.”

Yet, being on the verge of a potential call-up to the “big leagues” does not have Copeland scrambling and out of sorts. He is focused on the task at hand and his goal is the same that it has always been.

“I don’t want to put extra pressure on myself,” he admitted. “I just want to go out there and do the best I can and showcase the hard work and time that I’ve put into the sport. Even with the two decisions, I don’t care that it went to decision, because I know in my mind that for the first, second and third round I was still looking to finish the guy. I’m never getting on top of someone and just trying to lay there. I’m still trying to hit them. I’m still trying to look for submissions. I want to get out of the cage as fast as I can. Heavyweights aren’t meant to be bouncing off the walls like skinny people. It’s tiring. And the sooner I can get a good finish, the sooner I can hang up the hat.”

Fighting was not the end goal when Copeland started training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under UFC vet Travis Lutter in Fort Worth, Texas, back in 2005. It was not until he met future The Ultimate Fighter 10 competitor Justin Wren that he began thinking about taking a fight.

“Justin came down to Texas. He was 6-0 as a pro, and I had just been doing BJJ, and only BJJ, for two or three years,” Copeland explained. “We hit it off and became good friends. I told him, ‘I’m not a fighter and I’m not much of a wrestler, but if you need help with BJJ or if you need help with just moving around another big body, let me know.’

“Sure enough, we started working together, and it wasn’t but a time or two together and Justin was asking me if I had ever thought about fighting. I told him no, and he told me I should think about it. ‘For never fighting and for never wrestling, you move extremely well,’ Wren said. He kind of planted the seed, and before you knew it, I was his main training partner. He did really well on The Ultimate Fighter, and Rashad [Evans] and Trevor Wittman liked him a lot and invited him to come up to Colorado and train full-time. So, in the fall of 2009, we moved up here together and I have been training full-time ever since.”

The ability to train full-time was a huge advantage for Copeland at such an early stage in his career. However, even more important than the ability to train full-time is the opportunity to fight out of a camp like Grudge.

“It’s everything,” Copeland admitted. “Iron sharpens iron, and if you want to be the best, you need the best coaches, the best training partners. There are very few people out there that have the natural ability to go out and perform without being taught by someone who knows what they are doing. You need good training partners, and not just people who are going to stand there. Who I am and where I am today is a credit to my team. Besides hard work and just a little bit of God-given talent, the rest of it comes from the coaching and being blessed with a good team to help support me and get me where I am.”

Now, he’s on the brink of fighting under the bright lights of the UFC. However, that isn’t the most interesting thing about Copeland. The most interesting little tidbit is where he got the moniker. In a sport filled with “Assassins” and “Axe Murderers,” Copeland steps into the cage with the nickname of “The Cuddly Bear.”

“Alvin Robinson, whenever we’d be doing BJJ, he’d say, ‘Here comes the bear,’” Copeland said. “He would always call me ‘The Bear’ and I’d always tell him I’m not ‘The Bear’ because ‘The Bear’ sounds too angry and I’m not an angry guy. One day, I was riding back with Trevor Wittman from a wrestling practice in Boulder, and Trevor said, ‘We have to find you a nickname.’ I told Trevor that Alvin always called me ‘The Bear,’ but that sounds too mean, I’m more like a cuddly bear, and Trevor goes, ‘Oh, that’s it! It’s perfect for you.’”

With a huge opportunity ahead of him and a new baby at home, there is a lot riding on this title fight for Copeland. Yet, he remains grounded and keeps things in perspective. Copeland is more than happy to keep working his way up the ladder, letting the opportunities come to him. After nine years of training, Copeland’s journey in MMA is just beginning.

About The Author

RJ Gardner
Content Coordinator

RJ Gardner is a rabid sports fan and a long time MMA enthusiast. After watching UFC 1 at ripe old age of 11 RJ was hooked and his passion for the sport has continued to blossom over the years. RJ has been covering MMA since 2007 and has had work featured on Bleacher Report, SI.com, CBSSports.com and UFC.com. RJ is also a Petroleum Transportation Operations Manager during the day.