It may be the biggest stage for the sport of MMA, but both TJ Laramie and Darrick Minner feel right at home.
Laramie, 22, is fresh off earning his UFC contract via Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) just over one month ago with a doctor stoppage victory over Daniel Swain.
Laramie said he feels more relaxed heading into his UFC debut than he did for his DWCS appearance, and believes that will show in the cage.
“I feel so much better going into this one. I was having a great deal of anxiety going into the last one (DWCS). It was the most nerve-racking fight I’ve had in my life, and I’m not a guy who really gets too nervous for fights,” said Laramie in an interview with MMA Empire.
“Having gone through that, I feel more ready for this fight, especially back-to-back like this. I feel amazing, and I couldn’t ask for a better situation for myself right now.”
Minner, 30, endured the UFC debut experience back in February at UFC on ESPN+ 27 where he went on to drop a second round submission loss to Grant Dawson.
Minner said he didn’t feel any octagon jitters when he made the walk to the cage, but felt more of a sense of relief, a feeling he expects to continue on Saturday night.
“As far as the UFC jitters, I don’t think I really had them at all. I was just relieved to be in there finally. I’ve been at this s**t for 12 years; I’ve been a pro since 2012,” said Minner in an interview with MMA Empire.
“When I was in the cage, it was more like I was relaxed and relieved, and saying finally, let’s go.”
Similar feeling for Laramie
Although he’s about to make the walk to the UFC’s octagon for the first time in his young career, Laramie said the lead-up, so far, has felt similar to DWCS.
He said he doesn’t feel any added pressure this time around, and feels his DWCS experience really helped prepare him for this moment.
“It feels the exact same as Contender Series, except when I think about Contender Series I think of that as the UFC. Even though it wasn’t officially a UFC fight, that’s what it felt like. It’s the same venue, same audience, same atmosphere, it’s all the same,” said Laramie.
“The pressure of Contender Series versus this was a lot more. Not that I’ve made it, by any means, but the fact that I’ve already secured a contract and I’m not fighting for a position at this point is a lot less stress on me. There (DWCS), win or lose, you don’t know if you’re going to get a contract. You could win and just not be impressive enough to get a contract. Now, if I win, I win. It’s just a win now. I’m not fighting for anything extra.”
Laramie ended up being one of the most impressive prospects to earn a contract on this season of DWCS so far, which Dana White echoed in his post-fight speech to Laramie.
Laramie said hearing high praise and kind words come from White’s mouth was highly-motivating, and a surreal moment for him.
“It honestly gave me chills to hear him talk about me like that, knowing he appreciates that style of me getting on top, putting the pressure on, and doing damage,” said Laramie.
“There are some people that don’t really like that, don’t like the ground and pound, but I feel like I do it in a way that makes it exciting. I really hurt people when I’m on top, and I’m really dangerous when it comes to that kind of stuff.”
Throughout his career, Laramie has proven to be a threat wherever the fight goes, currently boasting seven stoppages due to strikes, and another two via submission.
Laramie said he believes he has the edge over Minner in every aspect, but is also wary of the risks Minner likes to take, which makes him dangerous.
“I feel I’m a little bit better everywhere, but what makes Darrick dangerous is that he will take a risk for a big reward. If you look at his career, that’s where he’s had success. He’s not afraid to jump for that neck, and he’s not afraid to throw those big bombs,” said Laramie.
“As far as skill-wise, I feel like I’m better everywhere. I feel like I’ve beaten better competition. He’s had a lot of fights, but I don’t feel like he’s had a lot of success against the top guys he’s fought.”
Minner prepared for aggressive Laramie
In 24 professional wins, Minner has proven to be a submission wizard, forcing the tap-out in 21 of those fights.
Minner said he’s expecting Laramie to bring an aggressive, high-paced attack, but feels his game is suited to neutralize that onslaught.
“He’s a young, hungry kid. He’s good everywhere, and I just expect him to come in ready to fight. I’m expecting f**king 15 minutes of fun,” said Minner.
“I’m excited to get in there with a guy who likes to press you and drive you into the cage. He kind of does the same stuff I do, so let’s just see who’s better at it.”
Prior to making his appearance on DWCS last summer, Minner was a staple on the regional scene throughout the United States, taking on the top fighters from around the country for various promotions. Minner went on to drop his DWCS fight to Herbert Burns, but rebounded with two straight wins later that year, leading to his UFC signing.
On the regional scene, Minner shared the cage with multiple fighters who are also now in the UFC, such as Kevin Croom and Jordan Griffin. Having faced off with the best the regional scene had to offer for several years, Minner said he believes that level of competition he’s had will work to his advantage with Laramie.
“Canada doesn’t really have those stars, so I feel like he’s been put up on a pedestal for his whole career. I was the main event on the card he had his third pro fight on, and he was put on such a pedestal,” said Minner.
“I have 35 pro fights, I’ve been in the ups and downs, and I just know it’s time for me to get that big win, and I deserve it. I’m just going to go in there and kill it.”
For most of his fights camps in the past, Minner made the trip to Las Vegas to train around at multiple gyms in the area, including Xtreme Couture. But after discovering Laramie also spends a large part of his training camp at Xtreme Couture, Minner decided to make a change and began working with James Krause and the team at Glory MMA & Fitness.
Minner said he had been in talks with Krause shortly after fighting Dawson, who also trains at Glory MMA & Fitness, and said they were happy to have him.
“I’ve fought four of his guys over the years, so he’s game-planned for me four times. There’s nothing better than having a guy on your side who already knows your ins and outs, what you’re good at, and what you need work on,” said Minner.
“With a mastermind like that, I couldn’t have it any better.”