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Nate Maness setting up shop as a flyweight at UFC Fight Night 214: 'This is the class I belong in right now'

Maness discusses bringing his talents to his new division and talks about facing Tagir Ulanbekov on Saturday
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To the surprise of absolutely no one, Nate Maness has dealt with more than a couple social media clowns creeping into his posts and suggesting that his move to flyweight is him tucking his tail and running after getting beaten in his last bantamweight appearance.

"I didn't lose to no scrub," laughed Maness, who landed on the wrong side of the cards against Umar Nurmagomedov in June. "Umar is an undefeated guy, a great fighter. I definitely wasn't running from the division; I just think I can make the class."

Following that setback – his first in the UFC – the Kentucky native investigated the possibility of relocating to the 125-pound weight class, going through a battery of tests with the team of professionals at the UFC Performance Institute. As soon as he received the green light, this weekend's clash with Nurmagomedov's teammate Tagir Ulanbekov (13-2 MMA, 2-1 UFC) was booked, and Maness (14-2 MMA, 3-1 UFC) started working his way towards hitting the flyweight limit on Friday morning.

"I know people say it gets harder to cut weight as you get older, but it's really gotten easier and easier for me as I've gotten older, gotten more experience with when to eat, the training, and things like that," explained Maness, who earned quality wins over Johnny Munoz, Luke Sanders and Tony Gravely prior to running into Nurmagomedov in the summer. "When I fought Umar last June, I got back in the cage the smallest I've ever been, and I didn't really see the point of being the smaller guy in there if I can make the weight.

"Height-wise and reach I'll be a bigger guy, but I'm going to be weighing the same as those guys on fight night," he added. "This is the class I belong in right now, and that's really the only reason for the move."

Now two years and four fights into his UFC tenure, the 31-year-old has finally reached a point where he's feeling comfortable with the process and settled in to dealing with everything that comes with competing on the biggest stage in the sport.

"I think just the moment," he said, identifying the biggest adjustment he's faced since starting to fight inside the octagon. "It feels a little different inside the UFC cage, as opposed to local shows and things like that. I think it's getting used to the experience of walking out there, being on ESPN.

"It's not really the fighting – fighting always feels the same; it's just taking in the moment, getting more comfortable in there. I'm feeling good now, and I'm looking forward to putting on a show with this next one."

Part of what has "Mayhem" feeling so good ahead of his flyweight debut is that he's had the first extended training camp of his UFC career ahead of this weekend's clash with Ulanbekov.

The bout was announced in early August, giving Maness all kinds of time to get everything dialed in as he prepared to make 125 pounds for the first time and step into the octagon with the ranked grappler from Dagestan.

"I like the longer training camps; it gives me time to take the first two or three weeks where you're not having to push as hard," said Maness, who carries a 14-2 record into Saturday's contest. "You're settling into camp and can space things out in terms of intensity, hitting your peak, and winding down the weight cut. I'm a fan of it; I wish I could get a training camp like this every time.

"For Luke Sanders, I think I had five weeks. Umar was four weeks, and I had a 10-week camp for Tony (Gravely) and I put on one of my better performances," he added. "I think it does benefit me, so maybe we'll have some talks with the UFC."

Before he can talk with the UFC about his next assignment and training camp, he needs to deal with Ulanbekov.

A training partner of Nurmagomedov and new lightweight champion Islam Makhachev, the 31-year-old also returns to Las Vegas looking to rebound from a loss, having dropped a decision to veteran Tim Elliott at UFC 272 earlier this year. The setback snapped a five-fight winning streak for Ulanbekov, who is a little more willing to mix things up than some of his training partners.

"He's an interesting guy," Maness said, beginning to offer his assessment of Ulanbekov and how the fight may play out. "He's still a Dagestani wrestler, so he can still take it to the ground with that mauling type of stuff on top, but he likes to strike. He'll stand his ground and he'll throw – we saw that with Tim Elliott and Bruno Silva.

"I expect him to stand with me a little while, but I expect him to mix it up, and we're prepared for that. I think it's going to be a really good fight; we match up well together. He does it all pretty well – I have no complaints about him at all; it's going to be a good fight."

In addition to being a competitive, entertaining fight, it's one that carries some significance in the flyweight division, as well.

Ulanbekov was only recently bounced from the rankings and has already shared the cage with former title challenger and top-15 staple Elliott. On top of that, he trains under UFC Hall of Fame and potential Coach of the Year candidate Khabib Nurmagomedov, which automatically elevates his profile.

As such, Maness knows that an impressive showing this weekend in his divisional debut could help him make an instant impression in his new surroundings, and possibly set him up to make a quick ascent into the rankings.

"All of Khabib's guys have a lot of hype behind them, even with him coming off a loss," he said of Ulanbekov. "I still expect him to be the favorite coming in, but these are the fights you want.

"I was excited to have Umar and I'm excited to have Tagir," he added. "It's a great opportunity to fight one of these well-rounded guys and make a statement in the division. I'm not getting any younger, so it's time to move up, get this guy out of there, get a top-10 (opponent), and make my name."

This story first published at UFC.com.