Verbal Sparring: “Rhino” Mike Bourke (King of the Cage)

The Super Heavyweight MMA neighborhood is not a big one, as any resident of that community will attest.  Subsequently, it should come as no surprise for fighters above 265+ to might meet each other in the cage more than once.  So when the first meeting between Mike “Rhino” Bourke and Chance “King of the Streets” Williams ended in no-contest controversy, after Bourke was unable to continue due to strikes in the back of the head, setting a rematch was inevitable.

This will be Bourke’s fourth rematch (and Williams’ second) in his career.  In this interview, we discussed the factors involved, such as the age and experience difference, as well as how last-minute opponent changes affects the heavyweight weight class differently than other weight classes.  Bourke also reflects on his memories of the very first King of the Cage, and how things have changed for the better, and for the worse, since then.

JT:  If you can, give me a little background on you and how you got involved with martial arts.

MB:  Well, it’s gotta be about 10 years ago now.  I was working out at the gym and I met a guy who was taking judo classes with Ted Mollenkramer.  He said “you want to come try this?”  I said “sure, I wrestled for two years in high school.  It sounds like fun.”  So I went down there and the instructor, Ted Mollenkramer was only like 190 pounds.  I was, at the time, 250, 260, and he choked the crap outta me. I was like “what’s going on, this isn’t supposed to happen.”  Because I was pretty much manhandling him, but I just couldn’t stop the submissions because I didn’t know what I was doing.   I got really interested in learning.

Probably my first five or six years of my career, I was only training one day a week.  Ted Mollenkramer was using the high school in Long Beach and they only let him use it on Wednesday nights.  Even to the point of when I went to PRIDE in Japan, I was only training on Wednesday night.

Now I’m training four or five days a week with Mollenkramer, since he has his own gym.  I also train with John Munoz at Pinnacle Jiu-Jitsu in Norco.

JT:  What was your football career like?

MB:  I’ve played football for about 16 years, from Junior All-American, all the way through high school, college, and the semi-pro now.  I almost made it to the Big Show.  When the Arena League first came out, I got offered to play in that.  But it wasn’t enough money when they first started.  I went to a Rams & Raiders scout camps as a longsnapper.

JT:  You were on the very first King of the Cage.  What are your thoughts on how the company’s changed throughout the years?

MB:  They started out at Soboba [Casino].  I remember the first show was an indoor show, actually.  It was before they put slot machines in one of the casino areas.  It was pretty small.  Then they moved it to the outdoor event.  The shows really grew out there.  It went from probably 1,000 people to 5,000 or 6,000 people in a couple of years.  They put on a good show.

JT:  Where the indoor shows a lot more roughneck than the outdoor ones?

MB:  No, I think the outdoor shows made it a bit rougher.  Because it sat a lot more people, so you got a much bigger crowd.  A lot of different people from a lot of different areas come in.  I think at the smaller shows, they couldn’t let as many people in.

The crowds get into it pretty good.  It’s unfortunate that you see a lot of really good technical fights where you see a couple of good grapplers going at it for the distance, or a couple of good stand-up guys going for the distance, and sometimes the crowd expects a street fight.  They don’t really understand that there’s a lot of technique and skills involved.  Sometimes they’re booing and roaring “this is boring” or “that’s B.S.”  Even when a fighter gets hurt, they boo.  And it’s really uncool, because they don’t understand the whole sport.  You just can’t drag somebody off the street and say “hey, go ahead and fight,” because it’s just not how it is.

JT:  Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, and they want their entertainment.  Did you see a big change in the fans between the beginning shows and the shows that are going on now?

MB:  I think since the sports been televised now and it’s blowing up so big in the last couple of years, there’s a lot more people that have come to really understand the sport.  They are learning the rules and they are learning what high caliber athletes most of these fighters are.  Of course, you’re always going to get your thugs in there that are just there to see blood, drink beer, and watch people fight, but I guess that can happen at any type of fighting event.  But the sport has evolved.  It’s blowing up, all over TV, and PPV.  And it’s good for everybody, especially the athletes that are fighting these days.

JT:  Your upcoming bout with Chance Williams is a rematch from a no-contest result back in May.  Tell us about the first match.

MB:  I was supposed to fight Brian Sesma, and 10 days before the fight, something came up with Brian, and he couldn’t take the fight.  So I had actually lost a lot of weight to fight Brian, because I wanted it to be a fair fight.  Because I knew he was around 240-250, and I got myself down to 256 pounds. That’s what I weighed in at the fight.  So now I lose all this weight and I get down to 256, and all of a sudden I’m fighting a guy that’s 330 pounds.  So it kinda backfired on me.

JT:  There’s a big difference between fighting Brian Sesma and Chance Williams.

MB:  Oh definitely.  If me and Brian would have fought, there would have been only a 15 pound weight difference.  There was about 80 pounds when I fought Chance.

Well, we came out and shook hands.  I think I threw a left jab first, and then a right hand that connected with him pretty solid.  I don’t think he wanted to stand up with me.  He kinda came in and grabbed me.  So we tied up and went to the ground.

Now I was trying to sit up so I could get up.  And he elbowed me in the back of the head as I was getting up and then threw a couple of punches.  I got a little dizzy, a little lightheaded.  You get hit in the back of the head, it kinda rings your bell.

JT:  Do you think that was his way out, or was it errant shots?

MB:  I don’t think he did it on purpose, but I couldn’t really tell ya.  But being a professional fighter, you gotta know that you can’t hit somebody in the back of the head.  If you’re on top, there’s no reason you can’t bring your punches in from the side.  I’m not gonna say “he used a cheap shot” and this and that.   He apologized afterwards and I said “it happens, you know.  Whatever.”  But in a sanctioned fight, you play by the rules or just don’t play.

JT:  Obviously, you’re approaching this fight differently, since you know you’re fighting Chance.

MB:  I gained some weight.  I’ve been drinking a lot of protein drinks and eating good.  I’m not going to come in 285 or 290, but I’m going to come in around 275.

JT:  What’s your normal walkaround weight?

MB:  Between 265 to 280 pounds, depending on what holiday it is [laughs].  I can lose 10-15 pounds in a day.  If I just didn’t eat, or cut back on the water and trained hard.  It’s amazing how quick I could lose weight.  Or I could gain 4-5 pounds if I just eat like a pig.

JT:  I see that you’ve had your fair share of rematches, such as with Steve Treadmill and Eric Klepper.  As a fighter, do you think about stuff like that as you go into a rematch?

MB:  I’ve actually had three different rematches.  The first match was with Treadwell, and he knocked me out at the first King of the Cage.  I trained real hard for that and I was upset.  So I begged Terry for a rematch, and at King of the Cage III, I beat the crap out of [Treadwell].

The Klepper fight – I think it was in an eight-man heavyweight tournament, and beat the crap out of him then.  And he wanted the rematch.  I had already proved myself.  Ted Williams over at the Gladiator Challenge said “hey, he’s training with me now.  Will you give him a rematch?”  I said “yeah, if he wants one.”  I’m fair, I think everybody deserves a second chance.  Sometimes you feel in your heart that you’re a better fighter, or if you’re not as good, you can perform a little bit better.  So I gave him a rematch and beat him again.

And then with Roger Godinez, that was a rematch too.  The first time we fought was a draw, and I won a decision the second time we fought.  That guy was really heavy too.  He was probably close to 400 pounds.

JT:  And you pushed him to a decision?  Poor guy.

MB:  Back then, King of the Cage matches were only two rounds.  I think it stayed on the feet most of the time.  Staying on the feet is a lot less work than being on the ground.  I think it’s a lot less tiring than grappling.

JT:  Well, you’re doing pretty good with the rematches.

MB:  Yeah, I’m hoping for a good day.  It’s funny, because I think Chance is in his early 20’s, and the way he carries himself – his attitude, his persona, the way he carries himself – he just reminds me of myself when I was at his age.

JT:  How so?

I think he’s a little cocky.  I think he’s a little arrogant. I think he thinks he’s unstoppable.  He’s only lost one or two fights, but he hasn’t fought a whole lot of good guys, either.  I don’t think I’ve fought guys that are a whole lot bigger than him, but I know I’ve fought guys that are a lot tougher.

JT:  What are your thoughts now, reflecting back to how you were at that age?

MB:  I might have been cocky, and maybe a little arrogant, but I wasn’t in the sport at 23.  I was playing football or something like that.  That’s more of a team sport.  Sure, you’re part of a fight team, but when you’re in the cage, it’s one-on-one.  And I think regardless of whether you win or lose, or how you carry yourself, you still need to be respectful to your opponent.

Even people out in the crowd; it takes a lot of balls to get in that cage.  They have no idea what the feelings and the nerves are like.  To me, I don’t care if you’re the worst fighter in the world.  If you can get in that cage and they lock that door behind you, you gotta fight in front of a few thousand people.  Even if you lose, you’re the man.  Get in there and give it a whirl, tough guy.  That’s what I like telling people.  You’re thinking it’s that easy, alright, go for it.

JT:  Tell us a little bit about your approach to training.  Obviously you’ve been able to up your game a lot, in terms of being able to work out four or five times a week.

MB:  Yeah, I’ve got some really good training partners.  I’ve got some bigger guys now.  I’m training with Neil Cooke.  He’s one of the up and coming King of the Cage heavyweights.  He’s undefeated, and I think he’s going to be the next big dog in the heavyweight division.  There’s a few other big guys here in Norco at Pinnacle Jiu-Jitsu.  They give me a helluva workout.

I’m putting a lot of time and effort into this, and I’m looking to perform well.  He can take a good punch, but I figure if I hit him 50 or 60 times in the face, they’re gonna stop the fight.  I’m gonna turn his face into hamburger.

JT:  What’s the toughest part of fighting?

MB:  It doesn’t mentally affect me to get in the cage and fight anymore.  The hardest part is training four to five days a week and then getting up and going to work.  At my age, it’s tough.  I go to work all day, and then go train for a couple of hours, then come home and try to spend time with my kids and my wife.  And I’m just sitting on the couch like a potato because it hurts to move.

I’m getting my son into the sport a little bit.  He’s starting to train here and there.  He comes with me to class once in awhile.

JT:  How old is he?

MB:  He’s seventeen.  He’s a big boy.  He’s about 6 foot, 225 pounds.

JT:  He’s gonna be a training partner for you!

MB:  Yeah, but he doesn’t have his man-strength yet.  I can still have my way with him.

JT:  As a fan of MMA, who would you say are your favorite fighters?

MB:  I like Jon Fitch.  I think he’s a great fighter.  When PRIDE was around, I loved watching Igor Volvchanchyn fight.  I’d say my other two favorite fighters are Quinton [Jackson] and Wanderlei [Silva].  I’m friend with Quinton, back from when he was fighting King of the Cage fights.

JT:  What’s the best and worst memory of your MMA career?

MB:  The best memory was when I stopped [John] Matua. I was pretty excited about it back then.  Just because he was so big, and he didn’t want to continue the fight.  And I smacked him around pretty good.

JT:  The worst memory?

MB:  This is something that’s haunted me.  I think I’ve been knocked out twice.  Once was in that [King of the Cage] “Wet and Wild” show, and I fought in the rain against Shungo Oyama.  I was all over him, kicking his ass.  And I slipped the same time I got punched.   I wasn’t unconscious, I was getting up, but they stopped the fight and said he knocked me out.  I didn’t even go face-first.  I just hit a knee and came back up.  And the guy that he came over from Japan with was the referee.  And then he went on to PRIDE after that.  He knocked out Mike Bourke, he got to go on and fight in PRIDE a few times and get his ass handed to him.

That was a real disappointing fight for me, because it was a fight or two after I’d fought in PRIDE, and I really wanted to get back over to Japan.  So I figured if PRIDE had sent him over here to fight, if I could beat him, I could get back over there.  When all that happened in the ring, I just figured “enh.”  That was real disappointing for me.

JT:  What’s your downtime like?  What do you like to do when you want to stop thinking about fighting?

MB:  Me and the family, we got to the river a lot in the summertime.  We got a boat, we got a place in Parker.  In the wintertime, we go riding.  We got quads.

JT:  Tell me about your sponsors.  Who should the fans know about and why?

MB:  I’ve had some pretty good sponsors.  I’ve got Altman Insurance Agency in Norco, and Shane Lewis Clothing Company, and Platinum Audio in Corona.  But for this fight, I haven’t been doing anything but training.

JT:  When you look back in retrospect, what strikes you about your career up to this point?

MB:  I’ve never been in this sport to hurt anybody.  I’ve never fought anybody that I didn’t like, I’ve never hated anybody.  I’ve always just gone out there and tried to do the best that I could.  Whether I’ve trained or didn’t train properly.  It’s just like “well, alright, let’s do it.”  I’ve never had time to, like these guys that can train fulltime and they train 6-8 hours a day and they do cardio all day and they work out then they go train in the evenings.  I’ve never had that opportunity.  I’ve got kids, and a wife, and a family.  I just do the best I can do.  I think, this fight right here, I’ve put more effort into it.  I’m training 4-5 days a week, I’m training on my days off, I’m hitting the gym as much as I can.  I think it’s going to be a good day for me.

Mike “Rhino” Bourke will be challenging Chance “King of the Streets” Williams for the King of the Cage Super Heavyweight championship on December 11th at San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in San Bernadino, CA.

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