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Elkins winning over the hearts of Octagon fans

<a href='../fighter/Darren-Elkins'>Darren Elkins</a> reacts to his victory over <a href='../fighter/Mirsad-Bektic'>Mirsad Bektic</a> during UFC 209 on March 4, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
As a diehard Star Wars fan, Darren Elkins knows that when the first film in the series was released in 1977, the initial plan was that Luke Skywalker was going to be the hero that everyone rushed to and wanted to be like. But as time passed, almost every kid enamored with the beloved space opera gravitated to the anti-hero of sorts, Han Solo.

And while this won’t come out of the Indiana native’s mouth, as he continues to pile up wins with his gritty, blue collar style, maybe, just maybe, Elkins is becoming the UFC’s Han Solo, the guy who came out of nowhere to win the hearts of fans around the globe.

He would be cool with that.

“That’s what I’m shooting for,” he laughs. “I’m starting to get that feel. In all my fights I show heart, and I think a lot of people are starting to see that and respect that.”

Winner of five straight heading into his Sunday bout against Michael Johnson, Elkins’ no nonsense, no frills attack has served him well as he’s risen to the No. 10-spot in the featherweight rankings, and he feels like things are just starting to come together for him.

“I think I’m improving and just hitting my peak,” he said. “I’m training full-time, no pipe fitting, I’ve got Team Alpha MaleDarren Elkins lands a punch to the head of <a href='../fighter/Godofredo-Pepey'><a href='../fighter/Godofredo-Castro'>Godofredo Pepey</a></a> during the <a href='../event/UFC-Silva-vs-Irvin'>UFC Fight Night </a>on July 23, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC) behind me and everything is just clicking well and I’m firing on all cylinders. I’m improving my game and having fun doing it. That makes a big difference too.”

Dodging Indiana winters doesn’t hurt either, and as Elkins and his wife and kids continue to soak in the sun rays in Sacramento, there is no question that the 33-year-old made the right call to begin working with the squad founded by Urijah Faber.

“When I first came out here I stayed for three weeks and trained with the team to kind of get a feel for it,” Elkins said. “And from Day One I knew it was a good fit for me and this is where I needed to be. They had similar styles to me and the same mentality, so right from then on, I was telling my wife that this is where I need to be. To be the best, this is where I needed to go, and the rest is history. I was nervous coming here at first, but it all paid off.”

Of course, his array of wins since moving out west speak for themselves, but there is always that question that boxing legend Marvelous Marvin Hagler brought up, saying that it’s hard to get up and do roadwork in the morning if you’re sleeping in silk sheets. Elkins doesn’t strike me as a silk sheet kind of guy, but does a little of the edge get removed when you’re not digging through a foot of snow to get to practice every day?

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“You can move me anywhere and I’ll have that edge,” he said. “Going to work (as a pipefitter and fighter), I had to find ways to get things done, and it’s what I’ve always done. As far as missing that stuff, it’s an edge, but it’s also a disadvantage. Half the time, people can’t make it to practice – they’re stuck in snow or it’s too cold and they’ve got to fix something. So you lose a lot of your training partners when it’s that kind of weather.”

Elkins doesn’t have that issue in California. But what about Hawaii? Would he keep the edge there?

“Hawaii’s nice,” he laughs. “I don’t know, I might just become a surfer.”

That might be good news for the featherweight division he is making his mark in at the moment. Owner of a 12-3 slate since moving from lightweight in 2011, Elkins knows exactly what longtime 155-pound contender Johnson is going through in his first move to the 145-pound class, and it’s not pretty.

“The big thing is, when I made it (145) for the first time, my transition was pretty long,” he said. “I think I had a five, sixDarren Elkins (top) punches <a href='../fighter/Chas-Skelly'>Chas Skelly</a> during the UFC 196 on March 5, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Zuffa LLC) month transition. You don’t know how much power you’re gonna bring, how strong you’re gonna be, or how it’s gonna affect your cardio. That’s always in the back of your head, I don’t care who you are. The first one’s the hardest one to make too, so I’m sure it’s going to be a hard cut for him.”

Plus, “The Menace” is fighting at home in St. Louis, another added distraction that Elkins is well aware of.

“Fighting at home is awesome, but there’s always more pressure on you,” he said. “You’ve got more people calling you, more things you’ve gotta do, so fighting in your hometown is definitely gonna add a lot more pressure. I prefer fighting a guy in their hometown.”

That sounds like Han Solo all right. And never tell him the odds, because when the Octagon door shuts, he can turn a favorite into an underdog in the space of 15 minutes.

“My cardio and my pressure is phenomenal, and I got the chin,” Elkins said. “Most people think it’s gonna be a one punch knockout and when they land that punch, I’m still standing there in your face coming at you, and I’m not even fazed by it. That really messes with somebody’s mentality. They’re not used to seeing that, and no matter what they throw at me, I’ll keep coming. And when they get tired, it’s all me.”

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