As most people know by now, the city of Denver suffered an embarrassing loss at Super Bowl XLVIII last Sunday. Favored to win the big game, although not by much, the Denver Broncos came into MetLife Stadium set up to bring a third Lombardi Trophy back to the Mile High City, only to have their hopes dashed when they put on the worst Super Bowl performance in decades. It only seems fitting that one of the state’s top MMA promotions is putting on an event only five days later.

One can be sure that from the opening bell of Prize Fighting Championship 5, the fireworks will fly, as a card heavily stacked with Colorado residents kicks off at the Paramount Theater in downtown Denver. The main card includes UFC, WEC, Strikeforce and Ring of Fire veteran Tyler Toner facing off against a short-notice replacement in what is sure to be one of the most exciting bouts of the evening.

Toner (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

Toner (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

Toner, a Colorado native and member of the Elevation Fight Team, has had a long, storied career in MMA. Opening his career at 11-1-1, including a first-round TKO of Brandon Visher in his WEC debut, Toner has won some and lost some, but he always puts on one hell of a show.

Toner’s last fight was in November against Raoni Barcelos at Resurrection Fighting Alliance 11 in Broomfield, Colo. The Brazilian is a former no-gi submission grappling champion who is also undefeated in MMA. His style is to use lots of wrestling takedowns to set up his ground-and-pound attack.

“It was a tough style match-up for me,” said Toner in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “A lot of my losses come from my wrestling not being good enough, you know? I’ve spent a lot of my career working on my takedown defense, and that just kind of reinforced that I need to work on it a bit more. We’ve been working on scrambling out. If somebody does take me down, making sure I get up right away, before they establish position. If you get stuck on the bottom for five minutes, you lose the round.”

The fight was a bit of a setback for Toner, but he circled the wagons and began preparing for his next fight.

The Elevation Fight Team is a new incarnation of training in the Denver area. Basically, a group of fighters and coaches got together and created a camp that uses a fairly informal structure to allow each fighter to focus on his or her specific needs. Toner, who used to train with the Grudge Fight Team, was one of the fighters to make the crossover.

“Man, I think it’s great,” said the Denver fighter. “We don’t really have a head coach. Leister Bowling is kind of our head coach. It really works out well. We just have a couple different facilities, a couple top-notch coaches and some of the best fighters in Colorado, all training together. It allows each fighter to gear his training toward what he needs. There are so many training sessions available each week with great coaches and great guys. I love it, man.”

Toner joins fighters like Brandon Thatch, Cody Donovan, Cat Zingano, Neil Magny and Jared Hamman, along with coaches like Bowling and Eliot Marshall, on Denver’s newest MMA team. Although the results have been mixed in terms of wins and losses, the experience has truly paid off.

Now, Toner is in a situation where he needs to get back on the winning track. However, he still wants good fights against people that will keep him on the UFC radar. His next fight at PFC 5 was scheduled to be against Ryan Schultz. Schultz is a longtime vet of the sport, going back to 2003 when he made his pro debut. Although he did have a few fights in the early days of the WEC, his best fighting days were in the IFL, when he went 7-2 and held the first and only IFL lightweight championship before the organization dissolved.

Schultz and Toner were set to face off on the main card of PFC 5. It would have been a great opportunity for Toner, but, a couple weeks out, Schultz suffered a torn ACL and Gilbert Jimenez stepped in on short notice. This is a bit of a curveball for Toner, but one he accepted graciously.

“I planned on fighting Schultz in a real technical way, you know, keeping my distance and trying to pick him apart from the outside, but Jimenez is a completely different fighter,” explained Toner. “He’s kind of a brawler. He’s got a huge right hand that he throws pretty recklessly. Apparently, he has pretty good jiu-jitsu, but, from what I’ve seen, he seems a lot more prone to standing in the pocket and trading bombs. So, I haven’t been able to have a fight like that in a while. I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a fun and exciting fight.”

Toner (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

Toner (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

Toner may have lost his last fight when he was held down by Barcelos for three rounds, but he is a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and has been working on improving his ground skills. Jimenez is a 6-9 brawler who has been stopped eight times versus his own four stoppage victories. The Texan has been knocked out or submitted in his last four fights, so one can be sure he will come out headhunting. Whether on the ground or standing, Toner feels really confident about his preparations for this fight.

“I’m focusing a lot more on my grappling in general, most specifically my jiu-jitsu for MMA and my wrestling, and combining the two,” Toner admitted. “That’s something that has always been lacking in my career. I always thought I had a pretty well-rounded striking game, especially because I came up with Duane Ludwig and Trevor Wittman. I’ve always felt comfortable on my feet. I’m just catering my training to a little bit more of what I need.”

Jimenez will need to watch out in this one. He may have a puncher’s chance, but he also needs to understand that Toner has tasted the Octagon, and that’s a tough thing to get over. After his last loss, this Coloradoan will be looking for a finish.

Toner has a very positive outlook on his future. He wants back in the UFC. The setback in his last fight was definitely a tough pill to swallow, but he has big plans for 2014 and right now, his schedule is pretty flexible.

“I can’t look past any fight,” Toner said. “I get nervous and scared for every fight. I’m just prepping for this one, and we’ll see how it turns out. Hopefully, I don’t get injured, which I’ve been pretty lucky with throughout my career. I haven’t really suffered any bad injuries. If I come out of this one healthy, I’d like to get another one pretty quick, hopefully like eight weeks or something like that.

“I have a contract with RFA, so hopefully I can get a couple fights with them. They said it’s a non-exclusive contract. I’m supposed to consult them before I take any fight, but they’re not too strict, so if I go out looking for a fight and I find something, I’m sure I can take it.”

Between local promotions and the RFA, Toner has some immediate options, but bigger promotions, like Bellator, World Series of Fighting, MFC and Titan have been acquiring a good amount of talent lately. The problem is that a couple of those shows can be a slippery slope when looking at long-term plans for the future. Toner knows he wants to get back to the big show, but he also knows he needs to be careful in choosing who to fight for.

“I’ll fight wherever,” Toner stated. “We were looking at Titan and they got bought out, I think by RFA. I fought for the Score Fighting Series, and I believe they got bought out as well. Wherever offers me good, consistent fights and good money, I’ll pretty much take.

“It’s a little scary looking at Bellator and WSOF right now, because they’re direct competitors with the UFC. If you fight for them, it seems to be a little bit of a death sentence away from the UFC. That’s eventually my goal, is to try and get back there. I think I’m at a point in my career, especially with how sparse it’s been between fights, I can’t really turn anything down. If either of those promotions contacted me, I’d probably jump on it.”

The MMA landscape in 2014 will definitely see some big changes. Titan has a huge push to renew itself and has added some really amazing talent. Toner’s right about the other two big promotions, though, because the smack talk that goes on is borderline high-school level. That all being said, to get back on the radar with the UFC, he needs to get tough fights. So, it’s all about making the best business decision.

Toner’s future starts this Friday night at the Paramount Theater, and he will be looking for a quick finish. The Elevation Fight Team had a mixed run in 2013, but Toner will be looking to get them back on the right track going into the new year. He knows exactly why fans do not want to miss this bout.

“I like to think of myself as an exciting fighter. I never fight to try and win rounds. I’m always looking for the finish. Most of the times I’ve fought, especially in the Ring of Fire, a lot of times people said my fight was the most exciting fight. I always go out there and look to take my opponent’s head off.”

Toner would like to thank his sponsors: Brothers BBQ, GPG Custom Prints, Rated Fresh Clothing, Brawlin Combat Gear, The Whiskey Bar in Denver and Performance MMA. He would also like to thank all of his coaches, training partners, family and friends. Follow Tyler on Twitter: @TylerToner