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Welcome to the good life

MMA fighter Puder stays grounded amidst the party

Posted: Tuesday October 2, 2007 4:59PM; Updated: Tuesday October 9, 2007 1:01PM
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Undefeated MMA fighter Daniel Puder topped Richard Dalton in three rounds at the Playboy Mansion.
Undefeated MMA fighter Daniel Puder topped Richard Dalton in three rounds at the Playboy Mansion.
Courtesy of Daniel Puder

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Daniel Puder finally met his match. The undefeated MMA fighter always does his best to stand out in a crowd. From his skintight Spandex shorts to his loud T-shirts, everything about Puder screams, "Look at me!"

The problem (if you can even call it that) is Puder's at the Playboy Mansion and he is competing with the likes of Hugh Hefner and The Girls Next Door to his left and Jaime Presley to his right. "It's definitely unique but you can't beat the Playboy Mansion," he says after defeating Richard Dalton with a unanimous decision in three rounds. "I think I'm going to go swimming in a few minutes."

While Puder, 25, has fought in some unique settings, he can't recall one quite like this. His locker was situated in a makeshift tent on the mansion's tennis court. He walked past peacocks and flamingos toward the cage to fight in the first mixed martial arts card at the Playboy Mansion. When it was over he celebrated his 6-0 record by taking a ring-side seat amongst the celebrities in attendance who sipped on their martinis and mojitos while Playboy Bunnies sauntered around the cage in between rounds as ring girls.

"I can appreciate it now and have fun, but during the fight I was totally focused," said Puder. "I wasn't focused on anything else but what I had to do. I wanted to pound his guts out."

Puder is the epitome of the new breed of MMA fighters; one part pro-wrestling showmanship, two parts ground-and-pound and a dash of sex appeal that is sure to attract fans. It hasn't been hard for Puder to discover the ingredients to stardom; his road to the MMA actually began three years ago in the WWE where he worked on his look inside of the ring and his gift of gab outside it.

"You have to sell yourself," said Puder, who returned to MMA in 2006 after winning his first fight in 2003 before shifting his focus to pro wrestling. "If I took one thing from my time at the WWE it was how to sell yourself."

When a television set up in the back begins replaying his match, Puder immediately walks in front of it and relives every moment of his fight again. "Watch this, I'm smiling right there," he says as he watches himself grinning at Dalton after putting him in a guillotine choke hold. "I'm having fun. I'm enjoying it."

There was a time when Puder wasn't enjoying what he was doing. After winning the WWE Tough Enough competition at the end of 2004, things were looking up for the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Californian: He was rewarded with a four-year contract worth $1 million. Puder, however, never made it to the end of his first year and was released in a cost-cutting move by the WWE. The move, Pruder believes, was as political as it was financial, and he was never given an opportunity to prove himself.

"That's the business," said Puder, who returned to the MMA soon after leaving the WWE. "I might come back at some point but there's more I want to get done in MMA."

If Puder continues to rise up the ranks of Strikeforce, the California-based MMA organization that signed him after he left the WWE, he may want to stick to a sport where he controls the outcome. He has ended three of his last five fights by submission, with three fights ending before the end of the first round.

"I get my arm raised all the time now, I'm undefeated," said Puder, who spars with Chuck Liddell and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and hopes to take on MMA newcomer, and viral superstar, Kimbo Slice next. "I worked so hard to get here. I'm not intimidated by anybody and I know what I need to do to get to where I want to be, the top of this sport."

As Puder leaves the Playboy Mansion and heads to his after party, it's clear he's always thinking two or three moves ahead. Not just in the ring, but his career outside of it.

"I love what I'm doing but I want to do so much more," he said. "This is only my first career. I'm going to have four or five careers. I'm only going to be doing this for a few more years and then I'm going to get into acting and then into politics. This is just the beginning."