For the past 10 months, Andre Fili has been a frustrated man. It took him longer than it should’ve to sign a new deal with the UFC, and more recently, he spent a month without a UFC 214 opponent. But a replacement was eventually found, and the waiting game is now over.
Andre Fili was on top of the world on Oct. 1, 2016, having just upset a ranked featherweight in Hacran Dias at UFC Fight Night 96. It appeared that the hot Team Alpha Male prospect, who had suffered a few bumps along the way, had finally moved into contender status. But his career has been quiet ever since — not because of a loss or any wrongdoing — and he will look to regain some of that momentum when he meets Calvin Kattar at UFC 214 on Saturday night.
The unanimous-decision victory over Dias — also the biggest win of his career — marked an end to Fili’s contract with the UFC. “Touchy” wanted to get a deal done with the UFC quickly so he could keep that newfound momentum alive, but eventually he realized that simply wasn’t in the cards.
Instead, he was forced into playing the waiting game for the next 10 months of his life and career.
“It was kind of annoying. I just wanted to hurry up and get back in the cage and get a fight after that Hacran win,” Fili told BloodyElbow.com’s The MMA Circus. “I’m just happy to be back. I know the UFC was going through a lot of changes, and there was a lot of sh-t going on. It was sort of a messy time to be a free agent — messier than usual, I would think — because the UFC had just gone through the big sale, and there was all kinds of other stuff going on. It took awhile. It was kind of frustrating.”
Fili got to a point where he knew he needed help, so he signed on with management group Iridium Sports Agency to help with the process of going from free agent to UFC fighter. It’s been valuable having Jason House and his team on board, he said, but even after joining the group’s roster of fighters, nothing was set in stone with the UFC immediately.
Right from the beginning of his stint in free agency, Fili knew he wanted to continue to fight in the Octagon. Many fighters have jumped ship to Bellator and beyond over the past two years, but Fili wasn’t interested in joining that group.
The idea of heading off to Bellator or another organization “got tossed around,” Fili said, but he stuck to his gut and eventually — after months of waiting and anticipation — signed the dotted line on his new UFC deal earlier this year.
“I want to be in the UFC; that’s the top of the sport. That’s what I care about doing — being at the top of the sport, putting on fights that the most amount of people are gonna see and fights that mean the most,” he said. “I’m in this sport to be the baddest motherf-cker, so you got to beat the dudes at the top of the sport. You can’t fight bums, you can’t fight dudes who are the second best or the third best.
“Being in the UFC is what I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. I want to be a world champion, I want to be a household name. The way to do that is to be in the UFC. I never really lost sight of that. I’ve never really been a guy to have a plan B. This is my whole life. … I just trusted the process and knew that if I had the right people looking out for me and throwing my name in there, I’d get in.”
In May, Fili agreed to fight Doo Ho Choi at UFC 214 in Anaheim, Calif. He had a new contract and an opponent. That’s all he needed. At last, the waiting game was over.
Or so he thought.
It was over until Choi pulled out due to injury in early June. At first, it seemed likely the UFC would find a replacement, as there was still over a month before fight day. But when a third title fight was added to the card, and then Robbie Lawler vs. Donald Cerrone — and as days passed — it got less and less likely.
With no idea whether he would be able to legally punch a man on July 29, Fili was forced to sit and wait in darkness once again. At least this time, it was a familiar feeling.
“There were some rough moments and some very frustrating moments. It was kind of a clusterf-ck a few times in this fight camp not knowing who I’m getting ready for, not knowing what date I’m going to be on,” he said. “I feel like I’ve really grown up and I’ve really evolved as a person and a fighter; maybe I would’ve stressed about it more earlier in my career. But right where I’m at now, I feel so good that I don’t stress about it too much. I just trust the process.”
Though the Kattar matchup came about only two weeks ago, Fili kept a good attitude throughout his camp. Never once did he put a pause to his fight camp and stop training because of the uncertainty, he said.
“I grinded the whole time. I’ve been busting my ass,” he said. “I’ve been visualizing knocking somebody out in front of a big crowd in L.A. at the Honda Center and getting a nice, big, fat paycheck and a nice bonus and impressing the new owners.
“There was never really a time where I stopped and was like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on; I’ll take a week off.’”
Fili’s camp wasn’t ideal. That’s pretty obvious. Has he had eight weeks to specifically prepare for his opponent? No. Did he have to fight through a lot? Yes. Could he have just stopped training until he knew for sure he’d be fighting at UFC 214? Absolutely. But did he? No, and that’s why, he said, none of that will matter come Saturday night.
“To me, being prepared is more than just knowing what your opponent likes to do,” he said. “I’m prepared, because I’ve put in all this work, I feel super sharp, my mind’s in the right place, everything is going perfectly. I could fight anyone right now, and I would win. My mind is: walking around at 145 pounds, I’m the baddest motherf-cker in the world. Whoever I’m fighting is getting knocked out. They’re getting clipped on the chin.”
Fili vs. Kattar will be televised on the FXX preliminary card, which begins at 8 PM ET/5 PM PT.