Bellator featherweight champion Daniel Strauss has been sidelined for over a year due to injury and as a result, the title has been uncontested for the same duration. Even though champ has been out of action, the division has been extremely active hosting some of our favourite fights of 2016.

The past year has produced some clear contenders in the featherweight division. Contenders who wait patiently for that chance at gold. Right at the top of the list is Daniel Weichel. Fighting out of Hessen, Germany, Weichel has amassed a professional MMA record of 37-9, with over half of those victories coming by submission; not surprising given he’s been grappling for almost two decades. Outside of the cage, Weichel keeps busy as an ambassador for RESPEKT, a German organisation that fights against racism and prejudice.

Come December 17th, Weichel will face Brian Moore at Bellator 169 after his original opponent, Paul Redmond had to pull out of the fight due to injury. Weichel fills us in on his preparations, his thoughts on the Strauss situation, and why the recent change of nickname from The Weasel to Drake.

The Neversphere: How’s training camp and the lead up to this fight been with the change of opponent from Paul Redmond to Brian Moore?
Daniel: My training camp hasn’t changed a lot…it’s the same – I just focus on myself, try to get better each and every day, and just be ready for who ever is there on December 17th.
The Neversphere: So you haven’t really had to adjust much during your training camp? Just business as usual?
Daniel: Not too much. I just watched some tape and studied his movements a little bit. My trainers are doing most of that job; to put a game plan together that fits perfect for my opponent.
The Neversphere: I managed to catch some of Moore’s previous fights. He won his last fight via ground and pound…but he clearly left himself open to some submissions. When you were looking back on his tapes what were your thoughts on his skills?
Daniel: I saw some holes in his ground game as well as in his striking. But yeah, when I train I try to see the openings and try to use them. I will take whatever he gives me.

Brian Moore, Daniel Weichel's next opponent, Defending an Armbar at BAMMA 24

Brian Moore Defending an Armbar at BAMMA 24. Image: YouTube

The Neversphere: In your last fight you faced the extremely durable Emmanuel Sanchez, were there any take aways from that fights you’ll bring into your next fight on December 17th?
Daniel: Yeah, I worked more on getting back to my old submission game like, attack more, don’t hold positions longer than necessary, and if I see the opening don’t wait; go for it.

In that fight I hesitated a little bit to go for a submissions. For this training camp I worked on Jiu Jitsu, to go for each and every opening that I see on the ground…or standing as well.
The Neversphere: So in a perfect world how do you see this fight going down? Potentially a submissions victory coming your way?
Daniel: No specific prediction, just that I end this fight inside the three rounds and my hand gets raised after that.
The Neversphere: So looking past this fight, you’re sitting atop one of the deepest divisions in Bellator. The champion Daniel Strauss has been inactive for over a year after undergoing surgery…should everything go to plan at Bellator 169, what do you want to see happen with that belt?
Daniel: That’s what I’m working on…for my entire career…to get that belt.

I think I’m in that spot. When I put on another performance on December 17th then I’m going to fight for the belt.

Bellator Championship belt

Image: Pintrest

The Neversphere: Would you wait for Strauss, or do you think he needs to be stripped if he remains inactive for much longer?
Daniel: He started training again; I read one interview of him that said he’s now ready to fight. So, if he’s now open and free to fight, yeah he can defend his belt. If it would take longer, yeah, can make an interim-title but I think he is ready to fight from what I’ve heard.
The Neversphere: True, I think the term “Featherweight Champion” sounds nicer than “Interim-Featherweight Champion” too.
Daniel: Yeah, he’s the true champion right now and I would love to face him.
The Neversphere: So outside the cage, you’re involved with RESPEKT, an organisation originally set up to deal with racism in sports, particularly in football. Can you tell me a bit more about this organisation?
Daniel: Yeah, it’s not only football, it’s celebrities and sportsmen all over Germany representing respect. It stands for fighting every sort of racism, or prejudices of any kind. We are representing RESPEKT wherever we go and show the world what our specific sport – whether it’s football or any other sport, in my case MMA – is all about, and how you should treat everybody in front of you with a certain kind of respect.

A photo posted by Daniel "Drake" Weichel (@daniel_weichel) on

The Neversphere: I heard you also hold seminars, teaching people about RESPEKT?
Daniel: I hold seminars for refugees to help them out a little bit, to help them find a way in society. Also on big exhibitions I represent RESPEKT, as an MMA fighter. Anywhere I go I represent RESPEKT as well.
The Neversphere: So in dealing with people who may not be well acquainted with MMA, have you noticed much of a change in the public’s perception towards MMA in Germany over the past few years? I know it’s still a very contentious issue in France…
Daniel: Yeah it is…But I can recognise the change…slowly.

The thing is, that people in Germany need to understand what ground fighting is all about. Most people they know boxing, Thai boxing, kick boxing and they know wrestling…but only a few people really know about Jiu Jitsu and the ground fighting. They don’t understand why people on the ground, laying on their back, can still get hit. They don’t understand that they are not helpless, that they can attack as well from the ground with submissions.

Anywhere I go, I talk about MMA. I have to explain that and show how difficult it is to strike on the ground, and how important protecting yourself is. I have also recognised that more and more people, because of the internet, they see MMA fights and they get a better understanding of what’s happening there.

So yeah, MMA is growing and the understanding is growing as well, but there is still a lot of work to do here in Germany.
The Neversphere: One last question for you Daniel and I think this may tie in with you changing your nickname…We cover music as well as MMA at the Neversphere. So what’s your walk out song going to be for Bellator 169?
Daniel: [Laughs] Yeah that’s funny. My walkout song will be from Drake – Started From The Bottom [laughs]. You recognised my nickname changed also to Drake. It happened because since I’ve been fighting in the U.S, I get so many messages with people calling me Drake. They say, “Oh, Drake is fighting in Bellator”.

And yeah, a nickname is what people give to you…more and more people started calling me Drake, so I adapt to that.

Yeah, Started From The Bottom, it kind of represents the way I’ve gone in MMA. Starting from amateur and small shows, working my way up the big shows to Bellator. I think the song really represents what I stand for and where I come from, I really like it.

Daniel Weichel / Drake

Weichel left, Drake right. Images: Facebook