Steven Siler has always been something of a loner and a nomad, yet he is at his best when he puts down roots. Siler, who is scheduled to face Magomed Idrisov under the Professional Fighters League banner on June 7, has spent long stretches of his career without the type of structured training environment that far less experienced fighters take for granted.
Consider for a moment: The man they call “Super Steve” began his MMA career by going a less-than-super 5-7 over his first dozen professional fights. That undistinguished-sounding record may be partly due to Siler’s age; he was barely 18 at the start of that run and not yet 21 by its end. It is almost certainly due in large part to the fact that for the first two years of his career, Siler did not even train.
“Those first 12 fights, I didn’t even go to a gym,” Siler told Sherdog.com. “I might have set foot in one once or twice, but it wasn’t until after my 12th fight that I started actually training.”
Once Siler decided to learn his craft by actually practicing and sparring with other mixed martial artists, he promptly went on a 13-2 tear. That scorching run, which included 11 finishes, recast the previously untrained Siler as a serious prospect -- an aggressive, lanky grappler with surprising power in his strikes. It also resulted in an invitation to appear on the talent-studded 14th season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” In turn, his solid performance on the show as a member of Team Mayhem and his win at the “The Ultimate Fighter 14” Finale led to a contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Then it became time to wander again. The long, unpleasant decline and fracturing of The Pit Elevated and its associated fight team, which lasted several years and culminated in the gym shuttering in early 2016, left Siler a man without a professional home once more. He responded in true nomad fashion.
“Before The Pit Elevated even went under, the fight team had already separated [from it],” Siler said. “The head coach and basically the entire fight team went one way, and Court [McGee] and I stayed back, then went another way. We’ve just basically done our own thing. We’d travel [and] if we needed [training] partners, we’d go to different gyms in Utah, but for the most part we’d just do our own thing at any gym we could find to work out in. Then Ramsey [Nijem] moved back to Utah, and for a while, it was the three of us, but yeah, it’s just been us working out in any gym we could find.”
In light of this revelation, it is perhaps unsurprising that Siler is 1-3 since 2016. Siler refuses to place the blame on his gym situation but did make the decision to train at Factory X in Englewood, Colorado, for his upcoming PFL debut. Siler admits he is thrilled to have settled into a conventional training camp at a real MMA gym for his match with Idrisov, an undefeated Dagestani prospect.
“Yeah, I definitely plan on making this [my permanent training location],” Siler said. “As you know, with PFL we have one fight right after another, so I plan on spending maybe four or five days back at home after this fight and then coming right back out here [to Colorado] and spending the rest of June and July getting ready for my next fight.”
While the seven-hour trip back and forth from the gym pulls him away from his wife and two small children -- both under age 5 -- more than he would like, Siler admits the benefits of training with a large team are enormous.
“When I fought Hakeem Dawodu,” Siler said, referring to a decision loss inside World Series of Fighting in March 2017, “his speed really threw me off; and you know, my main training partner was Court. He’s not slow, but he’s a 170-pounder. I wanted to go where I could train with more people my size, and Factory has about 10 featherweights that I can work with on a daily basis.”
Beyond mere strength in numbers, Siler is also enjoying the benefits of working under a true coach, and in fact, one of the elements that drew him to Factory X is head trainer Marc Montoya. Montoya actually helped Siler in a pinch a few years ago, cornering him in a Titan Fighting Championship bout when Siler’s usual coach, John Hackleman, was delayed in transit. While fighters claiming to know next to nothing about their opponents is a well-worn trope in this sport, Siler can perhaps be excused, given the palpable relief in his voice.
“I obviously looked [Idrisov] up on YouTube when the fight was offered and I watched one fight, I think, but something that I talked to Marc about when I decided to come to Colorado was I was putting too much on my shoulders, man, trying to be my own head coach,” Siler said. “When it was just Court and me trying to do everything for ourselves, it was just too much. I told Marc that [film study and game planning] was his job. He would scout the [other] fighter, put me with training partners that made sense based on the kind of fighter it was and let me just get back to just doing what I do.”
Siler is clearly focused on preparing for Idrisov -- while basking in the luxury of having a head coach to help with that preparation -- but also has an eye on of the pool of competitors who will make up the PFL’s season and playoffs. Two of them in particular, Lance Palmer and Andre Harrison, account for two of the losses in Siler’s recent 1-3 run. In both cases, Siler lost competitive decisions in fights in which he had his moments but was ultimately outwrestled and neutralized on the ground. Siler is fully aware that his path to PFL’s million-dollar championship is likely to go through one or both of the two featherweight contenders, but he claims it will be a different show the next time.
“That’s part of the reason I’m out here [in Colorado], to work on those things,” Siler said. “Me becoming more comfortable in my standup is going to lead to me not lunging in and giving up my hips as much, and that will lead to me not getting taken down as easily. Also, I’m working on setting up my submissions better and just rounding out my whole game.
“I’m not going to say I’m working on becoming a ‘new Steve Siler,’ because I feel like I’m close in every fight. Andre, you know, I had him in a lot of trouble a few times, and Lance, well, he did a real good job of laying on me,” Siler said with a laugh. “I just feel there are a few things I can work on and adjust and I’ll win those fights [the next time].”
As far as his goal for the fight immediately in front of him, Siler does not hesitate in painting the picture of his ideal outcome.
“A quick finish,” he said. “I’m tired of these decisions. I love quick finishes. You don’t get tired, you don’t get beat up. I want to [get the win] and be as healthy as possible for the second fight, so I’d like to go out there, hit him a few times, make him take a bad shot or maybe take him down myself and choke him out.”