Andre Soukhamthath has felt the heat since Saturday night. Phone calls. Texts. Social media posts. All questioning his IQ because he decided to take his fight with Sean O'Malley at UFC 222 to the ground rather than have his injured opponent stand.
"I'm getting trolled right now by so many people," Soukamthath says. "They are calling me the dumbest fighter in MMA. The dumbest fighter in UFC history. Even my friend Rashad [Evans]. Everyone is wondering why I decided to wrestle, and I'm wondering the same thing."
On the main card this past weekend, Soukamthath (12-6) faced O'Malley (10-0), an ultrahyped prospect. Late in the second round, Soukamthath checked one of O'Malley's kicks that immediately sent him into a great deal of pain. He was hopping around the Octagon and not able to put any pressure on his right foot. Nearly every leg kick Soukamthath threw from then on landed and sent O'Malley to the mat.
UFC analyst Joe Rogan was pleading for Soukamthath not to wrestle him on the ground and instead force O'Malley to stand on one leg and fight at a disadvantage. But that's not the way Soukamthath handled it, and his decision to go to the ground ultimately caused him to lose the fight.
At the postfight press conference, UFC President Dana White echoed Rogan's comments.
"I couldn't understand why [Andre] was laying on top of him instead of making him stand and get up," he said. "Not very smart."
Soukhamthath says the game plan initially was to weather the storm of O'Malley's "flashy kicks" early and then put a ton of pressure on O'Malley in the second and third rounds. That went out the window when one of O'Malley's right jabs landed squarely on Soukamthath's face toward the end of the first round.
"After he rocked me, I still stayed in the fight, but I was kind of dizzy and dazed afterwards," Soukhamthath says. "That shot really threw me off the rest of the game plan in the fight. I really wasn't there.
"I think I was just fighting with instincts. I definitely regret it, because I'm a striker first and a wrestler second. If I would have just done my thing out there, I easily would have won the fight."
But he didn't. That costly decision has kept the MMA world buzzing about the long-term potential of O'Malley. His exciting skill set coupled with a charismatic personality leads many to wonder if the UFC's next star has arrived.
As for Soukhamthath, a fighter who entered Saturday hoping to continue his own rise up the ranks but ended up being mocked? He plans to take some time off and then get back to the drawing board.
The ideal situation, he says, is to let his body heal before returning to the Octagon in about five months. He fought four times over the past 12 months and admits this last camp was "draining."
"This kid had a lot of hype behind him, so that gave a chance for the media to know me. The cameras were in my face all week. I love that feeling but it is really exhausting," Soukhamthath says. "I'll be ready to do another fight camp in a little while. I just want to have some time with my family and get better in the gym and then have another fight."
Whenever that time comes, he believes he'll be mentally stronger than ever.
"Even if people are still talking about my fight, I'm not really hearing it," Soukhamthath says. "I know what I did wrong. I realize what I did. I'm going to capitalize on my mistakes and learn from this.
"I'm not going to let opinions of others get in the way of my life. I've been through this before, and I'm not going to let it bring me down."