Germany’s Daniel Weichel has been with Bellator since early 2014, winning the featherweight tournament that year and challenging Patricio Pitbull for the featherweight title in 2015. In that title fight, Weichel was close to finishing the champion in the first round, but caught a left hook from a resurgent Pitbull to lose by second round TKO. Since then, Weichel has won his last three fights against top opponents in search of another chance at the title. He feels that a win tomorrow will put him in position for the winner of next week’s fight between current featherweight champ Daniel Straus and former champ Patricio Pitbull, “Yeah, I think so. I think I beat the top guys of the division, and I’m ready to face whoever’s next in line for the championship belt.”
Weichel’s journey in MMA began as a teenager in Germany. Like so many others, watching movies was the gateway into the sport for young Daniel. “What got me into martial arts was actually martial arts movies with like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Bruce Lee. These movies got me motivated to start with the martial arts,” he says. After beginning at the age of fourteen with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, other videos influenced him to branch out into mixed martial arts. He explains, “When I started jiu jitsu, I started watching video tapes of Renzo Gracie and Rickson Gracie, and they were doing Vale Tudo at that time, so I got pretty much inspired from Renzo Gracie and that’s how I got into MMA.”
When he first started competing, mixed martial arts was a fringe sport at best in Germany. “I think when I started in MMA, nobody knew what MMA is, or jiu jitsu, either one.” In the years since then, however, the sport has grown in his native land. He and a few other German fighters have had success on the international stage in the past decade, increasing MMA’s profile in Germany. “Now people kind of know what MMA is,” says Weichel. “Not everybody knows what MMA is, but more and more people know about MMA and that it’s a sport – mixed martial arts. Especially here in Frankfurt, a lot of people recognize me on the street from my fights they can see online. Yeah, it’s growing. I can see that MMA is growing in Germany. I think the understanding of what’s happening on the ground, this is what I have to tell more people about. That is one thing most people don’t understand, because they don’t know jiu jitsu and what’s happening on the ground. But as soon as they understand that even a guy who is on his back can attack and finish fights, then they’re getting interested and understand that this is the point of the ground fighting as well.”
Since he started with jiu jitsu, and twenty-two of his thirty-eight wins have come by way of submission, he’s considered by many as a jiu jitsu specialist. That’s true to a degree. “Not anymore,” declares Weichel. “I am a jiu jitsu specialist, but also striking and wrestling. You know, MMA is so modern and you can’t rely on one style. The better you put the styles together, the more complete you are as a fighter. Especially the last six or seven years, or even longer, I really worked on putting my styles together, and building a good striking base. I think at MMA Spirit here in Frankfurt, my coaches did a great job in coaching me in striking and wrestling, so that I became a complete martial artist to compete on top of the world.”
Bellator’s expansion into Europe is a bit of a treat for Weichel. After his first seven Bellator fights took place in North America, he fought in Ireland in December, and tomorrow in Budapest. While he enjoys fighting in Europe, he’s hoping for an opportunity to perform in his home country soon. In the meantime, bouts in other European countries are “Almost home,” for Weichel. “I mean, I can bring some friends and family to the venue, but yeah, I would love to see Bellator in Germany. I love to see that Bellator is coming to Europe more often, having big shows in Italy, in Budapest, in England, and Ireland. I would love to be a representative for the sport and for the brand Bellator here in Germany. It would be amazing.”
“I think this is one lesson that will make me a true champion. I learned from that fight that I always have to stay focused, no matter what is happening in a fight. I always have to control my emotions, and carry the emotions in my heart. That my fire is burning, but in my head it’s cold and I have my focus.”
Part of the benefit of fighting close to home is the convenience of not having to travel nearly as far. “I don’t get too much of a jet lag when I’m going to the U.S., but still it’s a long travel,” he says. “When I am doing my weight cut, it’s not the coolest thing on Earth to be in the plane for eight or nine hours, having a layover, and then going for another six hours. So in total, we are traveling for over twenty hours, or almost thirty hours, before we are at the hotel where the venue is. Definitely fighting in Europe makes the last week of the fight way easier.”
While he could have waited for the rematch between Straus and Pitbull to play out and then challenged whoever emerged with the belt, Weichel preferred to accept the Teixeira fight rather than wait. Asked if he considered sitting on the sideline, he says, “Not at all. I love to stay busy, and I want to fight even more than I did in the last year. Last year I fought twice, the year before I fought also twice. I’m planning on doing even more fights in the future. I am always training. It’s not hard for me to stay in shape or to go into training even if I have no fight coming up, so for me, I love to stay busy as much as possible.”
In training for John Teixeira, Weichel has a general game plan based on Teixeira’s strengths and weaknesses, but relies more so on just being prepared for Teixeira’s style. “I have a game plan figured out with my coaches, but when we come closer to the fight, every time the coaches, they train me for that game plan. They put in training partners, they have certain goals to put pressure on me, or to go for takedowns, to play a specific strategy against me. So I just feel what the game plan is, and do my thing together with my coaches, so I feel very confident in the way they prepare me for my fight.” Along with this, he explains, is the ongoing work to keep improving his own skill set. “Sometimes it’s a mix of both. I would say the main part is to work on my own strengths and weaknesses to become a better fighter myself. I think it comes together. The coaches, they watch my opponents, they see me and then we work on techniques and special stuff for the fight.”
Both he and Teixeira have black belts in jiu jitsu. In mixed martial arts, oftentimes when two strong grapplers meet, the result is a fight that comes down mainly to striking. He’s ready for that possibility, although he thinks the fight could take place either standing or on the ground. “I don’t know, but I think it would be a hell of a fight. People can expect a war, and I will do everything to get this victory. For me, it doesn’t matter where this fight takes place, striking, wrestling, or on the ground. I will bring fire to Budapest.”
If it does end up being mostly a striking battle, the 5’ 10” Weichel has a reach advantage over the 5’ 7” Teixeira. “I will use it to my advantage, whether it’s with kicks or with striking,” says Weichel. “I will try to stay in my range, my distance, and keep him out, of course. The main thing is don’t fight his game. I mean, he will pressure forward. He will try to get me in his range. I will avoid that, and I will try to make him play my game. This is, I think, the main key.”
Other than taking too many risks during the second round of the Patricio Pitbull fight, Daniel Weichel is known as a methodical fighter who doesn’t let emotion drive him toward fighting out of control. “I think the style of my striking especially comes from my coach, Mohamed Ouali, and he teaches me always fighting with good defense. Never open up yourself to get in risks for making it a 50/50 brawl. Always try to be in defense while we’re attacking. It relies probably more on my coach than on my personality,” he says. That tendency toward technique rather than passion was reinforced by his loss to Pitbull. “I get this question many times, and I think this is also one thing that is important that I get this question asked many times. I think this is one lesson that will make me a true champion, and what brings me to become the champion. I learned from that fight that I always have to stay focused, no matter what is happening in a fight. I always have to control my emotions, and carry the emotions in my heart. That my fire is burning, but in my head it’s cold and I have my focus. I am carrying this from every preparation, in training, to every fight,” declares Weichel. “I will never forget this, and I think this made me a better fighter and hopefully a champion in the future.” Tomorrow and beyond, we can expect a technical but dangerous Daniel Weichel.
Tomorrow, Bellator 177 will take place in Budapest, Hungary. Since the event is in Europe, Spike TV will be airing it on tape delay here in the States, starting at 9 PM ET. The co-main event for the night’s fights is Daniel Weichel (38-9) vs John Teixeira (21-1-2).