Virtually every fighter in mixed martial arts must endure the mental recovery associated with a tough loss. For Chris Honeycutt, beating Leo Leite at Bellator 202 on Friday at the Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma, will rectify his most recent setback -- a decision defeat to Rafael Lovato Jr. in December.
It was just the second loss of Honeycutt’s career. The former welterweight was undefeated in four appearances at 185 pounds, until he ran into Lovato.
“I actually thought I beat Rafael,” Honeycutt told Sherdog.com. “I controlled the fight, every minute of every round.”
Honeycutt admits he has not fully moved beyond the Dec. 1 defeat. He fills with frustration and regret when he discusses it. “I’m still baffled on how I didn’t win that fight,” Honeycutt said. Like any fighter in the industry, moving into title contention remains the primary goal. A fifth consecutive victory certainly would have improved his position, and Honeycutt bemoans the missed opportunity as a difficult pill to swallow. “There was so much more I could have done that I wish I would have,” he said. “I guess I sound a little bitter about it, but in a way, I am.”
Honeycutt was further annoyed by not being able to get back in the cage to quickly turn around his misfortunes. “I felt like the timing of each loss was not very good, either,” he said. The two-time NCAA All-American always appreciated college wrestling and the opportunities he had to process losses by competing on a more regular basis. The seven months that have passed since his battle with Lovato have only compounded his aggravation. However, Honeycutt admits adversity has its positives. “Anytime you lose,” he said, “you learn something.”
The 29-year-old Brook Park, Ohio, native feels he has done plenty of learning over the last few years, and he can point to improvements he has made. “I think over the course of the last three years or so [I have been] smoothing the edges [of my game] a little bit,” Honeycutt said. Instead of a wrestler who throws a two-punch combination to set up a takedown, he thinks he is “looking like a sharper, well-rounded fighter.”
That could prove problematic for Leite, a 40-year-old judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt who will downshift to 185 pounds after a 10-1 run as a light heavyweight. Honeycutt could seek to test Leite’s cardio after a difficult weight cut and turn their encounter to war of attrition, but he has other ideas.
“If I feel threatened and I need to drag him to deep waters to get the win, I will,” he said, “but I don’t think I will need to.”
Although Honeycutt enters their bout on the heels of a loss, his confidence remains unshaken, even as he prepares for an Olympic-level judoka and a multiple-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion. He believes he has the tools to minimize the threats Leite poses.
“My wrestling’s going to shut his judo down,” Honeycutt said before pointing out that Leite’s jiu-jitsu skills are best-suited for competition in the gi.
With an impressive victory over Leite, Honeycutt hopes he can vault back into title contention. If that fails to materialize, he would entertain thoughts of big-money fights, as well. Recent Bellator MMA signee and former Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder Lyoto Machida has popped up on his radar. “I would love to fight him,” Honeycutt said. “Machida’s got a big name, so fighting him would only raise [my overall value].”
Honeycutt remains open to fighting at welterweight once again and would also consider opportunities in the light heavyweight division. He competed at 197 pounds in college.
“If the fans want to see me fight a certain person at 170 or 205 [or] catchweights, I’m a fighter,” Honeycutt said. “I’m not hiding from anybody.”
With that said, he sees middleweight as his optimal weight class.
“I think 185 is probably my best bet as far as being successful,” Honeycutt said, “[and the likeliest path for] getting the belt and being the champ.”