Kiwi UFC star James Te Huna has decided to drop down a weight division, only a month after succumbing to a stunning first-round knockout by Brazilian Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in Brisbane.
Te Huna, who became the first New Zealander to compete in the UFC in February 2010, will leave the light heavyweight division, and now become a middleweight.
The 32-year-old has compiled a 5-3 UFC record in the division since his UFC debut, but suffered two straight first round losses last year to Glover Teixeira, in Las Vegas on May 25, and Rua, on December 7.
Te Huna said he felt uncomfortable as a light heavyweight, which features fighters who weigh between 84 and 93 kilograms, and was always trying to "make up" his weight difference.
"For the start of this year, I am going to the middleweight division," Te Huna confirmed to Sunday News from Sydney this week.
"Everybody has been talking about how I should be dropping down a weight, because I'm not naturally a light heavyweight, even though I've fought there.
"Because I'm not naturally a light heavyweight, I'm constantly trying to eat up to make myself heavy, to be able to keep up with these guys.
"In the end, I'd always walk up onto the scales and I'd be making weight up. For this year, I'll be making a new challenge, and stepping into a new division - which I think will be my right position. Middleweight - it will be a fresh new start for me."
Te Huna will leave the light heavyweight division ranked 15th in the world, but will have to prove himself as a middleweight, which includes fighters who weigh between 77.5 and 84 kilograms, before gaining a ranking.
The Kiwi admitted he struggled to focus for the majority of 2013, which began with victory over Ryan Jimmo in London in February.
"The last five months were pretty bad," he said. "I got through that first fight in London - but before all of my last three fights, in training camp, I was having problems getting my head together.
"I don't know what it was. Mid-way through the year, it was troubles not believing in myself. Towards the end, too.
"I haven't got any regrets. I had a great time that got me on track. I was in a position where I could call out guys, and I always go after the big names.
"I just went out there and asked for a challenge - and it didn't work out my way. I've lost that position, and pretty much all last year, it felt like I was going stale."
Te Huna is making significant changes to his fight preparation in 2014. He will be joining the Team Alliance MMA group in San Diego in March, where he will continue his transition into his new division, which he hopes to debut in mid-year.
"I think I will need some time to adjust to middleweight. I'll have to do some trial runs first, and make sure I can perform at that weight," he said.
"Two or three months time is too soon for me, but I'm confident I can be competitive. It should be good for my mind, good challenge and a new division. I'll be enjoying training more - and it will be a fresh new start."
Te Huna, who has been in the professional MMA ranks since 2003, said his knockout from Rua was embarrassing, but is hoping to use it as motivation for the next stage of his career.
"It was like I went out there and had my pants pulled down," he said. "That was what it was like. I was bummed out.
"But I've been in the game 10 years, and it's got to happen some time. Most of the UFC fighters have been through that at some stage. Georges St Pierre, Cain Velasquez - everyone goes through it."
- © Fairfax NZ News