Anthony Birchak (15-7 MMA, 2-3 UFC) is looking to score his first UFC win since 2016 when he squares off against Tony Gravely (20-6 MMA, 1-1 UFC) at UFC Vegas 24 on April 17.
Anthony Birchak vs. Tony Gravely: Tale of the Tape
Birchak said Gravely is a great wrestler who fought a stiff test in Brett Johns in his first UFC bout after a successful stint on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series in which he TKO’d Ray Rodriguez. However, Gravely’s wrestling is the “only thing he’s got,” according to Birchak. He feels he can neutralize Gravely’s greatest asset.
“I won the USA Freestyle Men’s National in 2018 here in Las Vegas,” Birchak told MMASucka. “So it’s not like I don’t know how to wrestle. I’ve been wrestling since I was 4 years old. I’ll be 35 this year. It’s the one thing I’ve done consistently my whole life.”
From there, the fight would be a stand-up affair.
“Once I stop his takedowns, I think he’s going to be stuck on the feet with me,” Birchak said. “I’m going to be able to pick him apart and hurt him, and maybe put him into a bad position where I can submit him or take his back.”
The 5’8″ Birchak holds a three-inch height advantage and a 1-inch reach advantage over Gravely. Birchak was previously slated to fight Johnny Eduardo, who he shares similar physical attributes with on the tale of the tape.
“I’m actually really stoked to be able to move from Johnny Eduardo to Tony,” Birchak said.
Birchak is 0-1 since his return to the UFC, being submitted by Gustavo Lopez in November. Birchak admitted there are concerns that his back is against the wall in the UFC once again.
“The first time I was in the UFC when I lost to Ian Entwhistle and my back was up against the wall with Joe Soto. We saw what happened there.”
Birchak knocked Soto out just 1:37 into their bout back in 2015. He compared Soto to Gravely.
“They’re kind of the same guy, except Joe Soto is really, really good at jiu-jitsu,” Birchak said.
His game plan against Soto was to stop the takedown, avoid the BJJ at all costs and make him stand and trade. A quick finish was the result.
“It’s always good to fight like your back is against the wall,” Birchak said. “Don’t ever get comfortable or complacent in the UFC, because things change all the time. We’ve been told, ‘Oh, don’t worry, during COVID, everyone’s contract is safe.’ But that’s not the case. They’re trying to turn and burn fighters right now. So, if I don’t win here, that’s a big thing. My livelihood could definitely be in jeopardy.”
Anthony Birchak Awaits Robbie Lawler Moment
Birchak went 2-2 in his first UFC run from December 2014 to July 2016, defeating Soto and Dileno Lopes while dropping fights to Entwistle and Thomas Almeida.
“The first time that I was in the UFC, I was a young kid with piss and vinegar in his veins. I was like, “I want to fight those dudes right now.’”
Birchak attributed his impatience to a lackluster first run. He understands the importance of patience now that he’s matured, he said.
“I think in due time, on the second run that I’m having here, I’m waiting for my Robbie Lawler moment.”
Lawler was 19-9 when he began his second stint with the UFC in February 2013 after a 4-3 run from 2002 to 2004. Lawler had just compiled a 3-5 record with Strikeforce, primarily at middleweight, when the UFC completed its acquisition of Strikeforce. The rejuvenated Lawler moved to welterweight and rattled off wins in a run that culminated in him as the UFC welterweight champion.
Birchak built his own gym in Tucson, Arizona, where his students have become some of his best training partners. He splits his time between his Tucson gym and Las Vegas.
“I think as long as I continue to have a good camp, whether it’s at home in Tuscon or out in here in Las Vegas, I can start picking away at the top-15 and the top-10,” he said. “I see myself being right in the top-10 with some of those dudes. There’s nobody up there who I don’t think I can’t win rounds against. With winning rounds comes more confidence, then I’m looking at winning the entire fight. That’s how I’m envisioning my future with the UFC; with just a little bit of patience, a little bit of composure and poise, when climbing the ladder, and I think everything will fall into place beautifully once I accept that.”
A Stacked 135 Division
Birchak is excited at the idea of climbing the ladder, as the UFC bantamweight division has quietly grown into one of the best in the sport.
“When we used to talk about how 170 and 155 was stacked in their heydays, I think the 135 division is like that right now. Back in the day, you had Urijah [Faber] and Dominick [Cruz], and a couple of tough dudes here and there. Now it’s littered with dudes who are talented from top to bottom. When you look at the top-10, everyone is a fucking nightmare.”
Cruz is currently ranked at No. 9 in a division currently led by champion Aljamain Sterling, who will likely run it back with former champ Petr Yan next.
Anyone with a number next to their name at bantamweight has earned their spot as far as Birchak is concerned.
“There’s nobody I look at and go, ‘Ah, that guy doesn’t fucking belong in there.’ Everybody has earned their right to be in that top-10 and top-15 for sure.”
Standing in Birchak’s way is Gravely. Birchak believes he can finish his opponent.
“I can definitely knock him out or TKO him. If he does end up getting one of his takedowns, out of the six losses that he’s had, five of them have been submissions by guys who I consider to be the same caliber as me. Whether it stays standing or he takes me down to the ground or I take him to the ground, I believe I can finish this fight anywhere it goes. I don’t have a specific prediction. I’m just going to go out, play my game, and he’ll fall into one of my traps.”
UFC Vegas 24 is slated for Saturday, April 17 from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas.
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