NEWARK, N.J. – Every day, admitted small-town guy Eddie Wineland climbs in his car and drives 200 miles to two different Chicago-area gyms.
Not wanting to leave his acre of land and small-city life in Indiana, he logs nearly 36,000 miles per year on Indiana and Illinois freeways.
However, Wineland (18-6-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC), who still holds down a job as a firefighter, knows his whole life could change with a win over Urijah Faber (24-4 MMA, 0-0 UFC) in the co-headliner of Saturday's UFC 128 event at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
So what does Wineland do with all that drive time?
He puts it to good use.
"I'm just thinking about nothing but fighting," he told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
) at today's UFC 128 open workouts. "'How am I going to beat this guy? What are his weaknesses?' If you're in the car for three hours a day ... that's a lot of thinking time. It's my reflection period and my downtime. My downtime isn't sitting on my couch, watching a movie or relaxing. It's sitting in the car and driving to my next gym."
In many ways, Wineland is Faber's polar opposite. Wineland was the WEC's first bantamweight champ and arguably the littlest known. Faber, meanwhile, was a mega-MMA star even after losing his belt.
Faber enjoys the attention, big-city life and opportunity to connect with legions of fans. Wineland, though more than accommodating ahead of his UFC 128 bout, admittedly likes a more low-key approach to life.
"I like staying in my comfort zone," he said.
Part of that comfort zone is his post at the local firehouse. He admits he kind of stumbled into the job and had no big illusions of becoming a firefighter. But by working 100 to 110 days per year and getting the others off, it worked perfectly for his pro-fighting schedule.
"It's a job," he said. "It allows me to do what I'm doing here. If I wasn't a firefighter, I wouldn't be sitting here today. I need to thank that job for everything it gave me.
"It never once crossed my mind (to quit). What I'm doing is working for me, so I really don't feel like deviating from that."
But Saturday's pay-per-view event could change all that. UFC president Dana White won't promise it, but the Faber vs. Wineland winner could be next in line for a title shot and even a head-coaching stint on "The Ultimate Fighter 14" later this year against champ Dominick Cruz.
Such opportunities also could pad his wallet. Wineland is content fighting fires, but fighting people soon could become more much lucrative.
"I think it could get very tough to do both," he said. "That thought has crossed my mind a couple times.
"It's not a bad problem (to have). If someone is going to say, 'Hey, we're going to pay you a bunch of money' – probably more money that you're going to make in your lifetime at the fire department – you really can't pass that up. If I'm going to make more money in three years than in 30 years, it doesn't really balance out."
First, though, he has to get by Faber. And to do that, he'll likely need to win with his hands and avoid falling victim to his opponent's. But Wineland said he's been knocked out only once in his life – and it wasn't in MMA.
It was when he was 17 years old and had a fledgling pro-BMX career.
"It got a little too dangerous," he said of his near-career. "It was the only time I've been knocked out. I was about 20 feet in the air, and (I went) straight down to the ground."
Wineland now dishes out far more punishment than he takes (from fellow fighters or from bikes). But in 28 pro fights, Faber has been stopped with strikes just twice. Wineland is well aware of Faber's ability to take a punch.
But, he said, Faber's never faced a striker like him.
"You look at Manny Tapia, you look at George Roop – you look at anyone I've fought, really," he said. "George Roop, his claim to fame was, 'I've never been dropped. I've never been rocked.' I put him on his ass four or five times in that fight. Same thing with Tapia. ... I put one punch on him, and he fell. I possess a lot of power for a 135-pound guy.
"Urijah is going to feel it. He may have a chin of granite, but we're going to find out for sure."