by Matt Lo Cascio
Louis Taylor is happy to be fighting for the World Series of Fighting on Saturday, but it’s been a wild, frustrating ride to get to there. He’s hoping that ride finally smooths out in 2016, so he can get back to doing what he does best: wreck his opponents and get his hand raised.
The frustrations began back in December, 2012, shortly after Taylor knocked out Joe Vedepo at Bellator 84 in front of a national audience on live TV. His vicious finish of Vedepo undoubtedly put a little extra width in his smile for the holiday season. But it wouldn’t last.
Landing with Bellator seemed like a perfect match. Taylor, a veteran fighter with experience in Strikeforce and now two Bellator wins, hoped to keep fighting for the promotion, especially after a highlight-reel knockout that made fight fans want to see more. But business is business, and Taylor was unhappy with the terms presented to him by the promotion. So he decided to come back home to Chicago and fight on the local circuit.
Taylor caught on with APFC, one of the few local promotions to put on pro MMA events. He was happy to fight in his hometown in front of friends and family, at least until another big promotion came calling. He took three fights with APFC beginning in 2013, and he finished all three opponents inside the first round. Things were looking up.
Taylor was riding a four-fight winning streak as the calendar turned to 2015. When UFC fighter Costa Phillipou got injured and withdrew from his UFC Fight Night 59 against Uriah Hall, the UFC turned to Taylor as a replacement, and he agreed to fight Hall.
But Taylor injured his back and had to withdraw himself from the fight. He felt horrible about it — even more so when the UFC decided to pull his contract and not offer him any additional fights. Taylor didn’t fight at all in 2015, and he was back in MMA limbo.
“I put in a lot of work to get into the UFC, but the dream quickly become a nightmare. I finished every physical test and exam that I needed to get done, all within a super-short amount of time, only to be stuck with the bills and no fight,” Taylor told Chicago’s MMA. “A lot of my family and fans went on an ‘I hate Dana White’ rampage, but I knew two weeks before the fight that this injury wasn’t going to go away without rest. My camp suggested I stay quiet about the injury but I didn’t want to screw Uriah Hall out of having an opponent, so I spoke up early enough so that I could be replaced. But for my honesty I was cut and forced to the bench for the next year.”
Taylor kept training though, and his phone finally rang again. The World Series of Fighting offered him an exclusive, multi-fight contract, and Taylor was back in business. WSOF president Ray Sefo called Taylor one of the “sport’s top prospects,” but Taylor, now 36-years-old, knows that it’s time to go for it.
“My manager just wants me to focus on one fight at a time, but time isn’t something I have to waste anymore,” Taylor said.
First up for Taylor will be fellow veteran and Strikeforce alumnus Cory Devela (16-6), a fight that will be televised live on NBCSN Saturday night. Taylor, as you can imagine, is thrilled to get back in the cage.
“Cory and I are both veterans who know how to win. Saturday night is going to be awesome! Two cage vets putting in work. First one to blink goes night-night!”
You can guess who Taylor thinks will blink first. “I’m no Conor McGregor, so talking isn’t what I do. But come fight night I will be the dog with the most fight.”
But even getting this fight in the WSOF hasn’t been without difficulties for the Chicago Fight Team middleweight.
“World Series Of Fighting was a place I should have been two to three years ago but for whatever reason they never offered me a real contract, just late last-minute replacement fights. After my fall out with the UFC, I just wanted to fight and to fight for a good promotion. Unfortunately it’s been almost a year since I signed with WSOF, but I’ll finally get to fight this Saturday.”
Taylor says the process of getting fights in MMA has changed, and not in a good way. “The fight game isn’t what it use to be. It has taken on a mirror image of all the things that are wrong in boxing. Fighters don’t want to fight tough competition, and promoters are only supporting certain gyms.”
While his pro career hasn’t gone as smoothly as he wanted, he still has time — and a promotion — to take care of business and finish strong. Not much has changed about his game over the years. The Louis Taylor you’ll see Saturday night is much like the one you’ve seen before. Expect big slams, fierce wrestling and power punches. “I hope the 2016 version of me continues to win, and continues to finish or be finished. I have no will to be judged by three.”
He never has. Taylor has been to a decision just once in his 14-fight pro career, a victory over fellow Chicago fighter Adam Maciejewski back in 2008.
But there will be something new about Taylor on Saturday night — his nickname. Formerly known as “Handgunz,” Taylor’s new nickname is “Put the Guns Down,” a plea to those caught up in the web of Chicago’s gun violence problem.
“I’m a true Southsider, born and raised in West Englewood. I’ve never been afraid to live there, visit there or stand up for the good people who reside there. The violence and hatred toward one another is out of control.”
Taylor made it clear he’s not trying to be political with the nickname change. “It has nothing to do with the second amendment. I’m speaking to all of my knuckle-headed cousins, friends, and friends of friends. It’s time to ‘Put the Guns Down.’
So it’s a new promotion and new nickname for Taylor, but the same punishing style of fighting. We finally get to see it Saturday night, and hopefully it’s the start of a nice run for one of Chicago’s best fighters.