In just his fourth professional fight, a 24-year-old Lando Vannata earned Fight of the Night honors when he and Bobby Green fought to a draw at UFC 216.
And while both fighters have had their fair share of ups and downs since 2016, they will have an opportunity to settle the score at UFC Vegas 5 on Saturday. Vannata believes that his growth since that showdown has been so significant that he will be able to show the world that he’s simply on a different level than Green is.
“There’s a lot to be said about that first fight with Green but I will leave that to the fans. I was a kid when we first fought. I was so young and so green in this sport and I’ve matured so much since then,” Vannata told UFC.com. “I don’t think that he’s changed a lot; I know his confidence is higher than when we fought at UFC 216, but he honestly hasn’t grown much. I’m a completely different fighter than I was then, and I think you’ll see that Saturday.”
A large part of Vannata’s development has been thanks to his commitment to improving the mental aspect of his game. With the use of a sports psychologist he has been able to fine tune his focus and hone in on Green as if he has never thrown down with him before.
“I’m detached from the outcome of the last one,” Vannata said. “I don’t feel like I need to prove myself; it’s the next fight in the lineup. I take it like I never fought him before and treat him like he’s a new opponent. That will keep me the most focused in there.”
Visualization has also been a component to Vannata’s focus, as he couldn’t imagine himself fighting in an essentially empty UFC Apex. Feeding off the crowd’s energy has always brought out the best of Vannata, and even though there won’t be fans in the seats on Saturday he will still be thinking of putting on a show for them.
“At first, it was weird to think of fighting without fans. I was like, ‘That is the last place I want to fight,’ but then I started opening up to the idea, eventually,” Vannata said. “I work with a great sports psychologist and I’ve done hundreds of visualizations when it comes to fighting in the UFC Apex. I will miss the crowd, for sure, and if I could pick, I would be fighting in the largest packed stadium I could with the most fans possible. So even though they won’t be there, I will make sure to put on the best show possible for them.”
“Groovy” has always known that he has the tools to compete with the lightweight division’s elite. To get where he wants to be, he just needs to listen to his close friend, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, and the rest will be history.
“It’s all about, as my good friend “Cowboy” Cerrone says, coming ‘unglued’ and letting my training take over,” Vannata said. “Letting go and just being present in the moment and just enjoying it. Letting my fighting do the talking. So that’s what I’m going to do.”
Vannata doesn’t care how the rematch with Green goes; he is confident that his training, combined with his determination, will help him leave Las Vegas with another “W” on his record.
“I’ve imagined easy fights, quick finishes, I’ve imagined tough three-round wars, I’ve imagined getting cut, I’ve imagined submitting him, and every time I’ve imagined this fight with Bobby I’ve walked out of that Octagon with a win,” Vannata said. “I f****** love this sport and I just want to fight my heart out and savor the victory.”
To see Vannata fight Green tune into UFC Vegas 5 on Saturday at 9pm ET/6pm PT on ESPN+.