One of the surprises of the 2018 Professional Fighters League campaign has been the run of Ultimate Fighting Championship castoff Steven Siler. The 13-year veteran earned the No. 1 seed in the featherweight playoffs after executing first-round submissions in both of his regular-season appearances.
As Siler approaches PFL 8 this Friday in New Orleans, he appears to be peaking at the right time. He credits his decision to switch gyms and the support of his wife for his turnaround. When the Professional Fighters League season started in June, oddsmakers did not view Siler as a threat to make the playoffs, let alone to win the million-dollar cash prize that will go to the tournament winner at 145 pounds. “The Ultimate Fighter 14” graduate has enjoyed a respectable career but had lost back-to-back fights and three of his last four. Yet unbeknownst to many, Siler made a change a month before the PFL season started -- a change he believes led to his latest run of success.
“I first started coming out to Colorado and starting my camps out here at Factory X with Marc Montoya [at the beginning of the season],” Siler told Sherdog.com.
The UFC veteran had trained previously out of Wasatch Combat Sports in Orem, Utah, but felt he had to look elsewhere if he wanted to grow further as a mixed martial artist. Factory X met his needs.
“The training in Utah wasn’t the same as it used to be, and I needed the partners, the coach [and] the guidance,” Siler said. “I wanted to be with people my own size [and] work with other 145ers, 135ers [and] ’55ers, and they have a bunch of them. It’s just a great mixture out here.”
Factory X serves as the home base for a number of prominent fighters, including Anthony Smith, Megan Anderson and Brian Foster. Siler credits Montoya, the man behind the curtain, for the strides he has made in his standup.
“Marc Montoya’s striking is amazing,” he said. “I feel like my standup’s improved quite a bit.”
Despite having nearly 50 fights under his belt, he admits he had never hit mitts with a coach before he landed at Factory X. Siler also praised Montoya and his coaching staff for the guidance he has received while being cornered. He still trains in Utah when not in camp for a fight but credits his wife, Mary, for affording him the opportunity to leave home -- they live nearly 500 miles from Factory X -- for weeks at a time to prepare. She works two jobs, all while caring for their two children and four dogs.
“I have a wife that’s Superwoman,” Siler said. “The fact that she’s willing to step up and do all of that for me just so I can live this dream, I appreciate her more than she knows. She probably does it better without me there than with me, because I sidetrack the kids with distractions.”
Siler’s devotion to his family and his desire to provide motivates him during fight camps in Colorado. However, his purpose at one point became a detriment to his career. From November 2013 to December 2014, Siler lost four fights in a row. Three of them were in the UFC -- it likely cost him his job there -- and the other came in his Titan Fighting Championship debut. He can pinpoint the reason behind the lack of focus on his career: “2014 is when I had my first kid.” Siler enjoyed being a father even more than being a professional athlete. “I took days off from the gym because I wanted to be with my son,” he said, “and I still want to do that to this day.”
With his wife’s support and his new gym pushing him beyond his bounds, Siler sees the value in suffering while away from his family. The pot of gold -- a $1 million payout to the winner of the Professional Fighters League featherweight tournament -- at the end of the rainbow also serves as incentive.
“My focus got away from fighting, where now I know how important fighting is,” Siler said, “especially with a million dollars on the line. That’s going to be life-changing, so now I’m going to be doing that for my family, where back then, I took fighting for granted.”
As he prepares to enter the cage for his tournament quarterfinal at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, Siler understands the buying public still views him as a longshot.
“I still [feel like] more people are on the Lance [Palmer] and Andre [Harrison] bandwagon, which is cool; they both have wins over me,” he said. “I just plan on doing what I do, getting in the cage and having fun.”
If Siler gets past Nazareno Malegarie in the quarterfinals, a showdown with the Jumabieke Tuerxun-Alexandre Almeida winner will await him in the semis. That could conceivably be followed by a rematch with Palmer or Harrison in the final. While Siler would welcome the opportunity to avenge a previous loss, he remains driven by other factors.
“I mean, I can’t say I’m not planning to at least see [Harrison or Palmer] in the finals, because I know how good they are,” he said. “I don’t see any way one of them doesn’t meet me in the finals. Redemption would be cool, but that million dollars would be way better.”
Win or lose, Siler finds comfort in having a home on the PFL roster. He has fought in 18 different organizations during his career.
“Just being in the PFL in general has been amazing,” Siler said. “The way they treat their athletes, the way they’ve taken care of me, they’re so professional. It’s been a dream come true.”