'My speed is going to be a big factor' - UFC star Allen on his fight with Lentz, and his title ambitions
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Suffolk's UFC superstar Arnold Allen believes he'll be too fast for Nik Lentz when the pair clash this weekend - and says he matches up well with any of the world's best featherweights.
Allen, who turned 26 today, celebrated his birthday by talking to the world's media ahead of his fight with Lentz at UFC Raleigh in North Carolina on Saturday. He was originally due to face power puncher Josh Emmett, the tenth-ranked 145lb fighter in the world, but he was forced out with an undisclosed injury.
Up stepped grizzled veteran Lentz (30-10-2, 14-7 UFC) to fill the void though - the long-time lightweight is dropping back down to featherweight for the first time since 2015, and was due to fight Brit Nad Narimani on the same card until he was also forced out hurt.
Hence top prospect Allen (15-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC), ranked 15th in the world, will attempt to teach old dog Lentz - a man with more fights in the UFC than Allen has total career bouts - some new tricks this weekend.
Typically, Trimley St Martin's Allen is taking it all in his stride. "It was disappointing that the Emmett fight fell off, but I'm just glad it's worked out that I can still fight," he said.
"I'd still be interested in the Emmett fight down the line, but for now I'm just focusing on Lentz. He's a tough gritty veteran, with a wealth of experience. It's kind of like my last fight (a dominant points win over MMA legend Gilbert Melendez in Las Vegas) but I think this one is probably more dangerous for me.
"My speed is going to be a big factor. I think that's going to be the key."
While Allen's face, along with Emmett, adorned the posters for UFC Raleigh, the change of opponent has seen the dust-up tumble down from a prime spot on the main card all the way to the prelims - perhaps surprising given the Suffolk southpaw is one of the hottest young talents in the sport.
Again though, 'Almighty' remains unflustered. "It doesn't matter to me," he explained. "It just means I get to leave the arena earlier and go to try some of the local food!"
Allen's division has seen quite a few changes in recent times, long-reigning champion Max Holloway dethroned by Alex Volkanovski in December, while other big names look set for pastures new.
When asked where he sees himself in the 145lb shake-up, Allen said: "Alex is a good champion. I thought he'd beat Max because he's very smart and game. I feel like Holloway should probably get a rematch though, because of what he's done in the division.
"Then you've got (Jose) Aldo dropping to bantamweight, I think (Frankie) Edgar's going too, and (Renato) Moicano's going to lightweight, so there's a lot of changes.
"I feel like I match up pretty good with everyone in the division. I feel like I'm quite well-rounded, which means I can just use camps to sharpen specific stuff for each fight."
Allen added: "I'm trying to get two more fights in this year at least, one in the summer and one towards the end of the year.
"By the end of 2020 I want to be in the top 10, and this time next year I'd like to be pushing towards the title shot."
One thing that Allen, who trains at the world-famous Tristar Gym in Montreal, probably won't be doing this year is fighting in the UK. While he's competed at UFC events in England for every one of the last four years, he's not planning to be at UFC London at the O2 Arena on March 21 - at least not to fight.
"I'm not thinking about London," he said. "I just want to come home and chill with my family for a bit, I've been away for a long time. I'm hoping to go to London to watch though.
"I'm most looking forward to seeing Leon Edwards (who fights former UFC welterweight champion Tyrone Woodley in the main event). I think he beats Woodley, and I think he beats him well. Leon's really good, and he's finally getting the fight he deserves."
And when he does finally return to Suffolk after this weekend, there's another sport which will take Allen's attention. The avid Ipswich Town fan has been watching the Blues' League One adventure from afar, and plans to make a trip to Portman Road when he gets home.
"I'm hoping Town are going to go up this year," he said. "Obviously they were doing great and then had a dip, but I think they can do it. Hopefully automatic, although the play-offs coud be fun!"
- You can watch Allen's fight live on BT Sport 1 from 11pm on Saturday night.