Archive for the Interviews Category

Verbal Sparring: Chris Brady (Legends MMA)

Posted in Interviews, Legends MMA with tags , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2009 by jaytan716

Conor Heun (left), Chris Brady, Chris Reilly (right)

Conor Heun (left), Chris Brady, Chris Reilly (right)

While many aspiring fighters aim high and want overnight success, Chris Brady is a cat of a different breed. Not to say that he sees a glass ceiling for himself in MMA, but he knows that on his path to proving himself, gaining match experience, and becoming a pro MMA fighter, the journey is the destination.

For Brady, Legends MMA is his life. If he’s not training with the fight team weekday afternoons, he’s teaching the beginner and regular Muay Thai classes. If he’s doing neither, you might catch him working the front desk or even joining in on classes.

In this interview, Brady gave his thoughts on an array of topics, from the professional (his transition from Muay Thai to MMA, his technical strategy, the effects of cutting weight) to the more personal (life as “the angry kid,” how he became a part of Legends, and his aspirations of becoming the “professional student of MMA”).

JT: What city did you grow up in?

CB: I grew up in Knoxville, TN. They had a lot of wrestling. Where I went to school, I knew kids that wrestled, but I never really thought about doing it. Now, looking back, I wish I had. Because now, I like it. I think its fun. But at the time, I was on some punk-rock, “fuck that.” I thought it was stupid. I wasn’t really athletic in school.

Wrestling is a tough sport. Doing it now, doing the fighting, with all this, I really wish I had. It just wasn’t the group of kids I hung out with. The group of kids I hung out with partied and just hung out and didn’t want to do anything. That’s all we did.

JT: You had to be a big music buff, rocking a Black Flag tattoo on your chest.

CB: Yeah, the whole punk rock thing was a really big influence in my time.

Growing up, I was the older brother. I was taking care of my brother, and helping my mom. So I didn’t have anybody else to look up to. So the kids that I knew – that was what we listened to. It was just something I kinda fell into. Going to shows all the time.

See, I wasn’t an artist. You’d think I’d really get into it. “Oh he plays guitar.” I don’t play guitar [laughs]. I just like partying, I like the music, and I like having a good time.

So its kinda one of those silly things you do when you’re younger. You’re like “fuck yeah. Black Flag tattoo. That’ll be hardcore. I’m gonna get laid.”

JT: Did that tattoo get you laid much?

CB: Uhhh, it did. I was good at being the kid in high school with the tattoo. Girls like that, I guess. “oh, he’s bad.” But now I’m thinking I could have put something way cooler than that. But you don’t think about that shit. You’re just like “dude, must do it. Let’s do that right now!”

JT: How long have you lived out here?

CB: About four and a half years now. I moved out here with my girlfriend [at the time], who I met in high school back home in Tennessee. She was from out here. I came out here with her. We’d been together for awhile. When we broke up, I had a lot of time on my hands. So I wanted to start training.

JT: Did you do any martial arts as a kid or anything?

CB: I did a little bit of Taekwondo as a kid but it was one of those strip-mall Taekwondo spots. I started doing it for a little bit, but at some point my mom couldn’t afford it anymore. So we stopped going and that was the end of that.

JT: And Legends was the place where you fell into fighting?

CB: Yeah, I came down to Chris Reilly’s old gym, The Bomb Squad. Originally I was looking for, like, Kung Fu. Just because a buddy was like “oh, that would be cool.” I didn’t know anything about it. So I came in there and I was asking him. . . where I could find that. He said “well, I don’t really know of any places, but if you want to check this place out, try our Thai boxing. You might enjoy that.” So I took a class with Paolo Taka, who was the trainer there at the time. I liked it a lot and I just started doing it.

JT: So you were training in Thai boxing and Paolo. Then, from there, you started messing with Eddie too?

CB: No, I actually just recently have been training with Eddie seriously. I didn’t start my jiu-jitsu MMA training until a little bit before Tuff-N-Uff. That’s one of the reasons why I feel like my first fight went the way it did. I got subbed in the first round with a rear naked choke. Many other factors contributed to that too, but when it comes down to it, I just hadn’t had enough ground training. I just got my blue belt from Eddie two days ago.

JT: Talk me through your amateur Muay Thai matches and your amateur MMA.

CB: The amateur Muay Thais I started doing when we were at The Bomb Squad. I had my first fight at USKO in Riverside. I did really good. I can’t really remember now if I won or lost. But from there, Chris . . . said “that’s the way you gotta do it, if you want to get good at Thai boxing.” And at the time, all I wanted to do was Thai boxing. I wasn’t trying to do MMA.

It’s like, if you wanna get good at this, just like anything else, you gotta fight all the time. And not so much because it’s the number of fights, but it’s the experience of doing it over and over. You become comfortable, and once you’re comfortable with things, then a whole other level allows your skills to come out. All of a sudden, you’re not tense anymore, so you throw that combination. You’re not tensing up. You’re thinking and using all your weapons.

So he just took me to . . . MTA in North Hollywood. We’d go to Kru X’s gym in the Valley. Basically, for the first couple of years, that’s what I was doing – Thai boxing.

Slowly but surely, I just kinda started to turn Thai boxing into MMA. First I was doing both; I was trying to learn a little bit of it. But now, it’s like MMA is all I do. I still train in Thai boxing and I’m still down to do Thai boxing fights. But the focus right now is on MMA. Where I’m really gonna make money, hopefully.

JT: What’s your philosophy or approach to training?

CB: My approach to training – a lot of people say that I’m a real technical fighter. . . especially with my striking. . . I like to punch and brawl a little bit too, but I’m very technical. That’s one of my big strengths. But at the same time, I feel like as much as putting in reps and learning something. . . you gotta work hard to and push hard. Push push push. Train hard, train longer than everybody else. That’s the only way you get good at something. By just doing it constantly. Every day.

JT: Would you say you’re letting fighting and training take over your life right now?

CB: Yeah. And a lot of people feel like that would be kinda a problem for them. That would bother them, or they’d get bored with it. Yeah, I get bored sometimes, but this is what I want to do. I want to go and train today. At three on Saturday. And I want to go on Monday and train at 4pm, then go to jiu-jitsu. I want to do those things. So it doesn’t make it that hard for me. I want to go and put the time in. I don’t want any distractions. I want to just do what I’m doing.

JT: It sounds like this was something you had intended to do for a long time; that you just never got around to it.

CB: I always liked it. I just . . when I was at Chris’, with the Thai boxing at the Bomb Squad, they were like “you’re pretty good at that” and I was like “yeah?” Having something that is actually fun, that you’re good at. . . that really did a lot for me. For my self esteem. I can tell you right now that I’m a totally different person than I was [before]. I’m still me, but it does something to you. It changes you.

JT: Do you have to cut weight much?

CB: Not really. I walk around at 145 or 148 lbs. I fight at 135, so it’s pretty easy. If I have a month to get ready, I can come down to about 140, just from dieting and training. And then I just cut the last five pounds in the sauna. So I don’t make a huge cut.

JT: Doing a cut at that weight is that much harder. You have less to cut.

CB: Yeah. Ten pounds to me is huge. Twenty pounds is ridiculous. That’s why I see so many guys at 135 and I’m like “how do you fight at 35, man? “ This dude that walked in the other day, this dude that Shu [Hirata] brought in. He’s walking around at like 160. I’m like “really?” You know, I’ll take you five rounds and see if you can go five rounds after cutting that much weight.

I’d much rather have the gas. There’s a certain degree of cutting that you have to do. Otherwise, you’re just going to be somewhat smaller than everyone else. So you just kinda have to do it to even the playing field. Wrestling’s the same way. They wouldn’t do it if there wasn’t a reason why.

JT: It’s hard also to maintain that, because there’s always going to be some level of trying to get the advantage. If you move the weight classes up, there’s going to be guys who will try and cut one weight class down. If you move them down, then the guys that are at whatever level will still try and cut lower, to be the bigger guy in the weight class.

CB: They should make it same-day weigh-ins. It’s just healthier for people. It’s already a tough sport. There’s no reason to make it tougher. You’re already getting punched in the face. You can only do that for so long. I think the weight cut has a similar effect, to not only performance, but eventually, it shortens your career. Eventually, you’re gonna run out of steam. That takes time off your career, I think.

JT: For you, what’s the toughest part of fighting? The training? The mental? The rules?

CB: I think the training is probably the toughest part. . . I love going to train, but sometimes, when you’re getting close to the end of your training phase for a fight, then you’re just fucking tired. You just want to go home and eat a big fuckin’ pizza. That’s the worst part. The repetition of it.

And every once in awhile, you’ll have those glimpses and breaks of new stuff that you learned. Then you get inspired. “oh, I just learned that. I just caught so-and-so in this new submission.” And then you get inspired, so you start training even harder. You’re just like “I just want to do it again and again.” And the better you get, the slower the learning comes, because now you’re learning the intricacies of this sport. It takes a lot longer to land that right hand than it does to throw that right hand. How to actually make that punch land. So you get inspired, but sometimes, you just get tired and hungry. You want to go home [and] do something else. Because you’re just. . . .like. . . out of it.

JT: How do you balance that out? How do you keep yourself afloat?

CB: I like to go home and watch TV. That relaxes me. I like to watch the news. I like to read magazines. I like to read. I like to go to the beach. I like to do the normal shit that everybody likes to do.

JT: You still skateboard, right?

CB: No. I used to. I would go and train and I’d go home and be like “oh, let’s go skate.” Then I’d go to sit down and do a trick and I’d be like “ooohhh, I don’t have any power.” I just worked all my legs out. So it just came down to choosing what I thought was more important. And too, the injury thing, man. I’m not trying to tear my ACL on some stupid shit and then be out for months at a time. That’s the worst, to me. Being stuck. Not being able to do anything.

Like Conor [Heun}. I don’t know if I could handle that. Conor had his jaw wired shut. Couldn’t fight for months. Couldn’t train for months. That would kill me.

JT: Would you consider yourself more of a Muay Thai fan or an MMA fan?

CB: I’d say I’m more of an MMA fan now.

JT: Who are some of your favorites?

CB: I’d say [Lyoto] Machida, Anderson Silva. Machida’s game is so tight. Not tight in the sense of cool, but tight, in the sense of technically sound. His background is crazy. He’s a black belt in karate. He’s done sumo wrestling. He’s a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He’s so good at all these things and he’s so technical. He puts Tito Ortiz on his back and makes him look like a fool. But his style is what a lot of guys don’t get. . . The matador and the bull. He’s the matador. Tito Ortiz was the bull and everybody else. . . he’s showboating, and when he’s ready, he stabs that motherfucker and he’s done.

That’s what I like about him. He’s just waiting for you to make that one move. Just waiting for it. You can just see it, and it’s like boom, crack. I like guys with pinpoint accuracy. I think because I want to be like that. I want to be like Anderson Silva. I want to be that good, and that technically sound and that professional. Because I feel that those guys are real athletes, and real fighters. They’re not about some bullshit. Real martial artists.

JT: You’re the first person to mention Machida. Most of them go straight towards the Anderson Silvas, and the Wanderleis too.

CB: Yeah, well, I don’t care how hard you punch or how strong you are. Eventually you’re gonna meet somebody that’s gonna punch harder or be stronger than you. So it’s good to have that killer instinct, but you also need the technical prowess to change your game up. . . There’s always a way to beat somebody. And that’s why I like Anderson Silva and the Machidas. I feel like they’re good at everything, but it’s not like they’re ten times better than everybody else. They use this [points to head] and that’s what I respect.

And a lot of guys in MMA have that wrestling mentality. Go, go, go, go! And that works on a lot of guys, but you’re not going to beat Anderson Silva like that. You’re not gonna tough him out. He’s gonna [feigns, ducks, and punches] – bop, bop, bop. Wear your ass out. I like that style. When you’re ready, just take somebody out.

JT: What’s the best and worst memory for you?

CB: I think the best was the last fight I had. It was a good memory because all of us had gone up there to fight and everybody had gotten stopped. We were taping for the pilot for that reality show. I think I was the third fight out of our guys. It was just like “man, I can’t let us go home like that. I don’t want to get beat and have it be on this show. That would ruin our whole shit.”

That’s my best memory, because under pressure, I was able to go out there and perform. I don’t care how good you are in the gym. If you can’t fight in front of all those people, under the lights, you’re not worth shit.

JT: Because that’s where the real test is.

CB: that’s the real test. Whether or not you can do it on that day at that time, that you said you were gonna step in the ring and get in there with that guy. If you can’t handle it then, I don’t care what you can do in the gym.

And worst – I think the worst is when I was in one of my Thai boxing fights. I fractured my arm. I was blocking, but I was being a lazy showboat. You’re supposed to get two hands up there and make it nice and tight and solid. Instead, I was like “go on, kick.” And just put my arm up. It was all loose and I fractured my arm. I won, but it was hard, because I was out for a really long time. I felt like that injury took awhile to get me back into where I was at before.

JT: What do you think you would do if you weren’t fighting? Or when you don’t fight, later on down the road?

CB: If I wasn’t ever going to fight, if I’d never done this, I’d probably be a mechanic. My grandfather is a diesel mechanic, and he’s always wanted me to come and work with him. To learn the trade. I still see him to this day and he’s always like “well, you can always leave and come to Ft. Valley, GA and learn all this stuff that I’m doing. . . “

After fighting, I just want to open my own gym. I have all the goals besides being a great MMA fighter. I want to get a black belt in jiu-jitsu. I don’t just want to be a great kickboxer. I want to be a great fighter and a great martial artist. Just to be good and know a lot of different things about fighting. . . to be able to teach people everything.

I feel like, okay, you’ve put all this time in to learn this stuff. You can’t do it for the rest of your life, so you gotta pass it on and use it to help. Otherwise. . . you’re not taking full advantage of what you’ve learned. Because part of it is the fighting. That’s personal. But giving back to other people, or helping other people learn what you’ve learned. That’s probably what I’d do after fighting.

Chris Brady teaches the regular Muay Thai classes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 12pm, and also on Wednesdays at 6:30pm. His beginner Muay Thai classes are at 12pm on Saturdays. He anticipates returning to the ring on March 24th at Tuff-N-Uff amateur MMA, at the Orleans Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV.

Verbal Sparring: Neil “Chaos” Cooke (King of the Cage)

Posted in Interviews, King of the Cage with tags , , , , on February 13, 2009 by jaytan716

With only three matches and less than two minutes of total fight time under his belt, the career of Neil “Chaos” Cooke is just getting under way, but there’s already a wealth of knowledge and wisdom behind it.  At six-foot-four and 260 pounds, the man they call “Chaos” is a towering powerhouse even in his own 265 pound neighborhood.  And although lesser fighters might rely on those physical attributes to get by and power their way to victory, Cooke knows better.

He continues to compete in Jiu-Jitsu tournaments.  He’ll travel to spar and roll with fresh faces, but he believes in sticking with his original trainers.  He relishes the challenge of pushing himself to the limit, if only to see where it is.  Because he thinks he can push it a bit farther.

In this interview, we sparred over the benefits of training under a healthy lifestyle, the role of being part of an MMA team, and the relief of life outside of the fast lane.

JT:  Let’s start out with the basics and discuss your background.  Where did you grow up?

NC:  Generally, I lived in Mission Villejo, which is a real upscale area.  Kinda yuppity-yup.  My parents split, and I kinda stayed there, but I really wasn’t finding the right path.  Just kinda rebellious and stuff.  I bounced between my two parents, in and out of trouble.

That’s what made me shoot over to Santa Ana, which is like a major inner city right now.  That was like a big change.  You [go from seeing] people that have everything to people that are striving with nothing.  It’s a big shocker, but it kinda gave me equal sides.  I ended up graduating out of Santa Ana.

JT:  When you say Santa Ana, it doesn’t have that ring of Compton or something.

NC:  I wouldn’t say it’s like a Compton, but it was pretty rough.  We had metal detectors on campus.  We had cops on campus.  The year I went, there were two homicides on campus, a couple of stabbings.  But that’s just the lifestyle there.  A lot of gang population.  There’s like five different street gangs in a one-block radius.

It’s too bad.  You grow up and you see things different.  It’s kind of a wasted life.  There’s a lot of good people and a lot of different ways.  But it’s just real weird what gang life will do to some people.  The value of life is very little, you know?

JT:  Tell me about your background getting into MMA.

NC:  Santa Ana had a real good wrestling team, so all my friends – all they did was wrestle, fight, and mess around with each other.  I just did it because I enjoyed it, but I really didn’t train in it or anything like that.

Some of my old buddies were training.  Like my buddy, Jake LaRoche, my best friend from high school, he was around Rob McCullough and a lot of those guys from HB Ultimate Training Center. . . John Lober, one of the old guys from MMA, and a lot of other people.  I used to see them all the time and they’d always say “come in,” because they always thought “hey, this guy could be pretty good,” but I never really focused on it.  I was always really athletic, but I was too busy partying, man.  Hanging out with guys that thought they were tough guys, you know what I mean?

And then, later on, I moved out into Corona, which is right near Norco.  I had a son and just wanted to stay away from the environment and stuff I used to be around.  And that’s when I met up with John Munoz [with Pinnacle Jiu-Jitsu].  I started training there, and I actually started getting serious into it.

JT:  Is it what you envisioned four years ago?  Where your career is now, and / or what the training was like?

NC:  I don’t know.  The training is pretty rigorous.  I’m a pretty humble guy, but I always knew I was pretty tough.  And I always knew I was pretty strong for my size.  But I didn’t know how far it would take me until John started pushing it on me.  And I didn’t know how much it would really take, because I started winning jiu-jitsu tournaments at intermediate, with less than a year’s experience.  I’d never wrestled a day in my life, and I was like 42-3 before I blinked.

I didn’t really train that hard, and then when I started to lose. . . I’m one of those people who hate to lose.  So that’s when I said “dude, you can actually do this. You need to shape up.  You’re looking like a sack of shit out here.  You could actually push yourself to do something better.”  Pretty much quit drinking.  Cut it down to where it’s very, very rare when I drink.  And now the training is a lot harder, and it’s a lot more of a mental game to keep the body going, as far as being sore and tired.  As opposed to being hung over and being exhausted from partying and trying to go to work.

JT:  The sore and tired is typically a little bit easier than hungover and having a headache.

NC:  For sure, because you don’t wake up and say “what happened?”  You don’t wake up and have to figure out who’d you get in a fight with, or what girl were you with.  It’s a lot more of a stable way of living, which you can actually relate to a normal human, instead of being like a zombie that’s just like drunk all the time.

JT:  Do you still compete in jiu-jitsu tournaments or are you straight MMA now?

NC:  I’ll compete in any tournament I can.  I think competition’s the way of life.  Win or lose, I think to remain steady and tough, you should compete.  I think a lot of these guys that are winning MMA fights; they’re like “I’m a badass MMA fighter now. I’m not gonna compete.”  But I think differently.  I think constantly competing just gives you that edge.  You’ve got your Monsons, your BJ Penns.  These guys are winning Mundials.

JT:  That actually leads into another question I had about your approach or philosophy behind training.  It sounds like part of it is to always stay on point, test your skills, and to push yourself.

NC:  Totally.  For me, I’ve been blessed by God or something.  Because in four years, two years of real hard training, I’m actually doing pretty good for right now.  I’ve been to numerous camps; I’ve trained with the best guys in the world, and am constantly trying to stay the best I can be.

A lot of people don’t push the limits, and if you’re not pushing or striving to do something that other people aren’t doing, you’re just going to end up happy where you’re at.

I think a lot of the people that say “I can’t do that” or “I couldn’t do this” – honestly, I think it’s their fear of losing.  You really can’t have fear.  You can have anxiousness.  Get your God or something, but you can’t really think like that.  You have to think “hey, I’m going to do my thing.  And whatever happens happens.  I’m putting it on the line.” You’ve got my respect just for putting it on the line in general now.  Win or lose.  I hate to lose, but I’m down to put it on the line.

JT:  What’s the toughest part of fighting for you?

NC:  That’s a tough question.  For me, it’s mental.  It’s just saying “hey, let’s do it.”  I think I possess some things that have gotten me pretty far.  Because out in the street, you fight, boom, it’s on.  But in [the cage], it’s the game plan, it’s the thinking, it’s the control and the nerves.  You’ve prepared for this and you know what’s going to happen and it’s inevitable, but you have to stay hungry.  You gotta stay focused, you know what I mean?  The training is way harder than the fight.

JT:  It seems like the mental challenge is that you want to peak at that moment in the cage, as opposed to days before that or hours before your match.

NC:  Exactly.  And I leave that in the hands of my trainer.  I trust him.  I see a lot of people who think they’re getting stagnant.  They think “oh man, I’m not doing as well as this” or “I’m not getting money like this guy, and he’s with this guy” or “my hands aren’t getting as good.”  They jump around and get lost, instead of staying with one camp and focusing.

You gotta find where you’re weak at and you gotta talk to your trainer / manager.  Once in awhile, get out of the box.  Meet other bodies.  That’s what tournaments are for.  You got to other gyms; that’s what sparring is for.  But a lot of people jump around and forget who’s taking care of them, and who’s preparing them to get them on that schedule.  And when they jump around, they get lost.  And I think that’s why they lose, or they try to go too fast too far.  And they get caught, and they get beat up real bad or they’re not ready for what they’re going into, or they’re getting knocked out.

JT:  It really makes you realize in what way this is such a team sport and how important it is to have a support network for you.

NC:  Totally.  The loyalty to everything – to the organization you’re fighting for, to the team, to your manager, to your friends.  Everybody loves you when you’re on top.  But somebody knocks you out, where are all your friends at?

JT:  And sometimes it’s hard to stick with that – when you’ve taken a knock and you’re on your way down, it’s gotta be hard to give that trust.  To remember who really does care about you and who’s in it for the long term.

NC:  That’s for damn sure, and I don’t want to be that guy.  I don’t want to be that clown, just saying “I’m knocking your head off.  I’m gonna kill you, this and that.”  And then I’m on the highlight reel with that guy knocking me out.  Anybody can have their day, you know?

JT:  Now in December, you were supposed to fight Tim Williams, but his wife went into labor the night before.  Are you getting a rematch?

NC:  I asked for a rematch, but I think he went and fought somewhere else.  I don’t know what exactly happened with that.  The fallout from there, I just know something happened with his wife, which is understandable.  But if he wants a rematch, no problem, man.

JT:  Switching gears for a moment, as a fan of MMA, who are some of your favorite fighters, or favorite matches to watch?

NC:  Guys that really impress me are guys that put it out on the line every time.  Somebody comes to fight and you know “man, this is gonna be a bad fight” [not bad meaning bad but bad meaning good], that’s somebody you want to watch.  Wanderlei Silva.  The guy keeps his style.  He gets knocked out, and he does the same thing.  BJ Penn’s a phenom.  St-Pierre’s an incredible athlete.  Rampage is cool to watch.  Fedor.  He can be getting beat, and then he throws just one bomb, and that fight just changed.

JT:  Who would you like to fight in the future?

NC:  I guess that’s up to the organization that I fight for, and John [Munoz].  I just love the sport.  Whoever the fans want to see me fight [laughs].  Whoever has the belt in my weight class.

JT:  Right now it’s Tony Lopez.  Have you watched him much?

NC:  Yeah, I’ve trained with him.  Yeah, I’ll fight Tony, no problem.  Let him know that [laughs]. . . Actually, right now, the answer to that question is the guy I’m fighting on the 26th.  One fight at a time, man [laughs].  I’ve got a long way to go.  I want to fight the guy in front of me next.  After that, whatever they want me to do, I’ll do.  I feel that my skills are gonna do the talking and hopefully I’ll get to where I need to be, as opposed to another way.

JT:  How far away would you say you are from being ready for a title shot?

NC:  Well, I’m a fighter, you know?  Personally, if you ask me, I think I can win the title right now in the first round.  But the question is “do I think I’m ready right now?”  I’d like to get some more fights under my belt.  But am I down to fight?  Hell yeah, you know what I mean?

It’s kinda like a catch-22, because you ask a fighter that, and a lot of them are going to say this, say that.  But then again, when you’re the champion, you got that bull’s-eye on your chest, you know what I mean?  So it all changes.  And I give Tony a lot of respect.  He fights with a lot of heart.  He’s been in some wars.  I haven’t had that chance.  But as far as my ability and my mind?  I could fight right now for the title.

JT:  That’s a self-aware answer.  I think you need to have that kind of mentality, to feel like you could do it anytime and every time.  And then you have your coaches and trainers to guide you with a more realistic voice.

NC:  People come and go, but I’m pretty tight with the guys and I keep cool with everybody.  I try to be positive.  Try to be there for them. . . You’re never too big for an organization, or for the people you’re around.  Your team, or the people who help you.  I think the guys who are the best have proven that.  Georges, BJ, Fedor.  They stay tight to their guys, man.

JT:  What’s your downtime like?  What do you like to do to unwind?

NC:  I spend time with my son and hang out with my buddies.  Just cruising.  I go down to the beach a lot with my buddy.  I’m a pretty simple person.  I’m not around the violence and the partying anymore.  I really like the mellowness.  You forget about that stuff, when you’re living fast.  You forget how it is to just to chill and cruise, you know?

JT:  What about your sponsors?  Who should the fans know about and why?

NC:  I got Iron Fist Manufacturing.  My buddy Mako Mike’s from there.  He does a lot of board shorts for fighters.  I got Shameless Ink Clothing, with Vic Morris, out of Riverside.  They’re coming up in some big stores, and make some cool stuff.  And my buddy Dave is with a company called Hotskins, who are out of Riverside as well.  They do jerseys, and life-size posters and banners.  Rick from Nutrishop Corona sets me up with all my supplements monthly.  That guy’s been a blessing.  He’s also with Big Game Hunters, who are a group of cops who put together a clothing line of shirts, hats, jackets, and beanies.

A lot of these guys I got a hold of are because they heard of me through word of mouth through guys around.  Or there are some of them at the gym I train, or just from hanging out one day.  I kinda got blessed.

JT:  It seems that you place a lot of value on making sure there’s integrity among the team and support network you have contributing to your fight career.

NC:  I think that’s how everybody should live.  I’m real big on karma and loyalty.  This is a game where talking trash is cool, and don’t get me wrong, you wanna start it, I’ll finish it.  But a lot of our talk is gonna happen when that bell rings.  And there’s no reason to be too cocky, no reason to think you’re a superhero and no reason to do people wrong.  I mean, it’s all gonna come out in the wash, man.

Editor’s Update:  Neil Cooke challenges Chance “King of the Streets” Williams for the King of the Cage Super Heavyweight title at King of the Cage: Immortal, on February 26th, at the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in Highlands, CA.

Verbal Sparring: “Bad News” Ben Lagman (King of the Cage)

Posted in Interviews, King of the Cage with tags , , , , , , , on February 5, 2009 by jaytan716

“Youth is wasted on the young.” Although that saying applies to many, Ben Lagman is one of the exceptions. For the man they call ‘Bad News,’ “carpe diem” is more apropos. At 22 years of age, Lagman is wasting no time in learning the MMA ropes firsthand. Having recently made the jump from amateur to professional MMA fighter, Lagman has also established himself as a referee for amateur fights.

In this round of Verbal Sparring, “Bad News” spoke out about MMA in unregulated states, the lifestyle balance of partying and training, and his strategy to build a career he hopes to look back on.

JT: Tell us a bit about where you’re from and how you got into MMA.

BL: I’m from McCull, MI, and I didn’t wrestle in high school. I was just someone who loved watching fights. I liked watching boxing, or anything. Even professional wrestling. One day, a buddy of mine asked me if I wanted to learn how to do it. He took me to a gym called Martial Arts Unlimited, and I met Chris Malgari, who pretty much changed my life.

Before I saw it, I was a knucklehead, man. I was getting in trouble. I used to smoke cigarettes and drink all the time and things like that. I started doing MMA and my first day of grappling was my first day of striking. So I just started training with Chris for awhile and I started noticing that I was advancing much faster than anybody around. So my trainer Chris got me an amateur fight in Northern Michigan and I think it lasted about 28 seconds before I rear naked choked him.

I never started this gig thinking that I was going to be a professional fighter. I was working full-time when I started training. I did MMA as a hobby that I just kinda started getting a lot better at.

Towards the end of the amateur career, I was working in residential construction. I had a pretty good job, but when the housing market crumbled, they couldn’t keep me around anymore. So I just decided “fuck it, I’m going for it.” So I’ve just been trying to pay my bills through fighting, training people, and refereeing these amateur fights in Michigan. Basically, any way that I can get paid through martial arts.

JT: How did you get into refereeing?

BL: I fought in a couple different local amateur organizations, and just became networked through them. I basically just asked them if I could do it. And I did, and everybody seemed happy with the job I’ve been doing. And it just kinda flowed from one organization to the next. I pretty much referee for five or six of these local amateur organizations that they have around here.

JT: Have you ever faced conflict of interests or a scenario where you’ve had to referee one of your students?

BL: I haven’t refereed any students of mine, but I’m the type of guy that gets along with everybody. I train with some of these local fighters, so I’ve had to referee my buddies, you know? To be honest with you, I don’t think I’ve ever been booed by the crowd. I see a lot of referees get booed about their stoppages and things like that.

JT: It’s definitely one of the more thankless jobs.

BL: To me, when I’m in a fight, I’m not really concerned about the other man’s well-being. Because it’s my job to take ‘em out. Yet, if I’m a referee and somebody gets hurt, it’s on me. I’m there for the fighters’ best interest. To keep them safe. Especially in these amateur organizations where, to be honest with you, a lot of these fighters shouldn’t even be in there.

JT: Did you have to go through any licensing for Wisconsin or any of the states?

BL: Wisconsin is unregulated. I’m all about getting licensed, but really, there’s no way to do it in this state. I’d have to go down to Ohio to do their thing, and that’s actually something that we were talking about doing. I’d have to shadow the other referees one time. And then I’d have to go through a little bit of a process and get myself licensed. And I plan on doing that, definitely.

JT: Talk about your team and training partners.

BL: James Lee is my manager and one of my trainers. MASH, which is his gym, is my fight team. But I’m still with my first trainer, Chris Malguiri. Because I’m a loyal person and I’m not just going to leave somebody who helped me get on top as soon as I’m getting there. He corners me in all my fights and I train with him a couple of times a week. He and James get along real well.

As far as Michigan goes, MASH is the premiere fight team around. We have the majority of professional fighters in the metro Detroit area. The King of the Cage Middleweight Champion, Brandon Hunt, is my training partner. So I’m training every day with the champion of my division. And I do just fine against him.

JT: That’s access to some good insider information on the champ.

BL: I would never fight him. He’s a good friend of mine and I don’t want to steal any of his glory. That’s all for him, and I’m happy for him. The King of the Cage belt is definitely something I want to see down the road. If anybody beats him, I want first crack at whoever beats him.

JT: Who are some of the guys in your stable that we should be watching for?

BL: You’ve got Don Richard, who is basically James’ first guy who started MASH. He’s a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and a pro fighter who’s helped me out a lot. Tony Hervey, a 145’er, should be fighting for the belt real soon. Myles Jury, who is an absolute stud at 170. Undefeated pro, undefeated amateur. All-around sick athlete. Daron Cruickshank, who’s an amateur still, but the kid’s got unlimited potential with his wrestling pedigree and his striking abilities. John Tolth is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu purple belt under Saolo Riviero, who trains at MASH. He just won the Grapplers’ Quest a couple months ago. He’s not an MMA fighter, but he’s a great grappling partner for me.

JT: Do you have a certain approach or philosophy behind your training?

BL: Yeah, train hard, win easy. I think that’s shown so far in my professional career. That means being disciplined. It means not going out with the boys. I’m 22-years old. You can only imagine the distractions, from friends and things. When my friends are all smoking weed and going out all night . . . shit, I’d like to go out with them all too, man, but I just can’t. I’ve got bigger fish to fry in my life, and I feel like if I let this opportunity go, I’ll never forgive myself. And I’ll always be wondering “what if I didn’t party so hard.”

Don’t get me wrong, after my fights, I love to go out and have a good time, but then get right back to it.

And training hard means being disciplined and not just sparring hard. You have to train smart. You have to listen to your body. If you’re too sore to spar, do some cardio. Or roll. Do other things. And that goes with eating right, the right supplementation of vitamins, and just proper preparation fully. Physically and mentally.

Because this sport is hugely mental, which people can’t even contemplate. They think it’s just a big physical thing. But I think a positive mindset breeds positive outcomes. I don’t ever walk into a fight thinking I’m going to lose. There’s been times where I’m in a good fight and I’m thinking “holy shit, this guy might actually get me” but you should never walk into a fight thinking you’re going to lose. Why even show up?

JT: Being at the age you are, with all those distractions, what was it that triggered you to develop that kind of dedication?

BL: I would say Chris Malgari has had a lot to do with all that. He just showed me a better way to live. The priorities of my friends are not my priorities. I have two sets of friends – I have my friends from, I guess I could call it, my previous life, right? Of high school, and growing up. And then I have my friends through MMA. And the priorities of my friends in my other life, they’re just not conducive with being a professional athlete.

It takes somebody to show you that. He really made me believe that I have an opportunity to be really great in my life. And I didn’t really have anything going for me in the sense of being that I could be great. Schooling wasn’t for me. I was working these blue collar jobs ever since I graduated. Not really going anywhere. This is my opportunity to do something great with my life. And to be remembered as somebody who was a stand-up guy, a brave, honorable man. And I think all the bullshit is not worth taking that from me.

JT: Are your friends from your previous life supportive of you as a fighter?

BL: Aawww, hugely supportive. When I have fights in Michigan, I have a crowd. And they’re all hugely supportive and they all understand, when I tell them “yeah, fellas, you’re not gonna be hearing from me for about three weeks. I got a fight coming up.” They’re all “alright man, we’ll see you when it’s all over.” Then, after the fight, call ‘em up. We meet up, go out to the bar, have a good time, do all that. Then, next week, we’re back to business.

JT: It’s good to have that balance, to have those guys, even if they’re not walking down the same road as you, they all support and understand it.

BL: They’re all real proud of me, because I’m doing something positive with my life. I think at one point, some of them thought I wasn’t going to be doing anything positive with my life. There have been times where I’ve gotten into a lot of trouble. I’ve been arrested a couple of times. A couple of years ago, man, people probably wouldn’t expect to see me doing big things.

JT: What’s the toughest part about fighting for you?

BL: The hardest part about fighting, to me, is definitely the dedication involved with being excellent, and the repetition off doing these things day-in and day-out. It’s not a hobby. It’s a lifestyle you have to live. It’s an everyday thing. I have to go into the gym and get punched in my face every day. And get choked, or choke somebody, or hit something. It’s very demanding, physically and mentally.

But I have such a passion for this . . . it’s like my mom told me when I was younger. She said “if you find a job that you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” And that’s kinda where I’m at right now. It’s exciting. To me, the benefits far outweigh the negatives.

JT: Even if you’re able to do it and make a living at this sport, MMA is still one of those things that’s very much a labor of love.

BL: If you’re getting into MMA for the money, you’re in for a rude awakening. And anybody who tells me “yeah, I wanna get in it to make the money” and that. . . I tell them “what money? What money are you talking about?” Unless you are the minority, which is the guys in the UFC, or the guys who are lucky enough to fight in Japan, you’re not getting paid dick-squat!

JT: As a fan of MMA, who are some of your favorite fighters?

BL: To be honest with you, I don’t have a favorite fighter. There’s guys that I respect, and each part of their game, I try to model mine after. Guys like Randy Couture, for the fact of all his accomplishments and things he’s done. I think Georges St-Pierre is a great role model for up-and-coming fighters like myself. I try to knee like Anderson Silva, I try to do takedowns like Couture. Just try to model myself off a little piece of each one of them.

JT: What would you say are your best and worst memories in your MMA career?

BL: I would say my best memory would be going out to California, training at Team Quest for two weeks, and fighting and winning at San Manuel Casino. I’d never been to California before, and for me, to cross the whole country to go fight – it was my pro debut, so it was big for me.

My worst memory – I fought in an amateur show, down here in Michigan, in a tournament. I got to the finals of a tournament, and I fought this named Eddie Sanchez. Not the one from the UFC, but another one. Within 40 seconds, I dropped him with a head kick, and I started bouncing his head off the mat with right hands. One of the guys on the outside of the cage blew the horn, meaning the fight’s over. I pull off him, hop on top of the cage, and I’m the new middleweight champ for such-and-such organization. Well, I guess the referee is not the one who stopped the fight. He said he was the only one who could stop the fight. They restart the fight after I clearly booted this guy in the head.

I continued to kick this guy’s ass. I mean I beat his ass hard. For two solid rounds. The third round, I come out; man, I’m gassed. It wasn’t even a physical – I mean emotionally. The emotions that are involved in a fight are crazy. The highs, the lows, the nervousness, the excitement. So there were a lot of chemicals being released in my body. It was crazy. I’ve been exhausted physically through training. It was a feeling I’d never felt before. And I ended up getting choked unconscious.

I did a little bit of research on this guy the next day. Turns out he’s been a professional for like 10 years. He’s fought Dave Menne and all kinds of guys.

JT: And they allowed him onto an amateur show?

BL: This was this promoter’s first show. He didn’t do proper background checks on people. I don’t know why Eddie did that. . . I was supposed to fight him in the last King of the Cage, but he dropped out of the fight. And this was my fifth amateur fight. Fighting a guy who’d been a pro for like 10 years. And I still kicked his ass.

That was my worst experience, but at the same time, I learned so much from the whole thing. It was the worst physical feeling ever; waking up, puking, your face is in shambles. It was a bad feeling that night, but in life, I think it made me a lot better of a fighter; I learned so much from it.

JT: A lot of fighters take pride in embracing the bad experiences. They follow the credo of “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

BL: And I really believe that, too.

JT: What’s your downtime like? What do you do to take a mental break from training?

BL: I’ve got a girlfriend that I hang out with all the time. She’s very supportive of the whole thing. I spend a lot of time with her. It’s my life, so my downtime – even if I’m not training for a fight, I’m still at the gym and teaching my class . . .

JT: Let me rephrase it: what does your girlfriend make you do, when you’re away from the gym?

BL: She makes me work on having sex with her constantly. I don’t know if that’s downtime or if you want to call that “uptime”. . . .

JT: It’s a good time, for sure.

BL: For sure. But we go to the movies, hang out or whatever. When it’s nice out, I like to go out to the park and do a lot of outdoor activities. Or go out on the lake and go fishing, or go out on the boat. I like doing all of that.

JT: Talk a little bit about your sponsors. Who are some of the guys that support you, and why should the fans know about them?

BL: Booyaa is really my only sponsor. They hook me up with gear, and put me in all the programs, and they give me great exposure. All those guys – Romero, the Godfather . . . We all hang out and have a good time at all the fights.

The problem is that around here, professional MMA is unregulated. So what kind of exposure can I get these companies? So I see where they’re coming from too.

JT: With Michigan being unregulated, it’s bad all around. You’ve got promoters, fighters, and managers who get away with bending the rules. And subsequently, you can’t draw real sponsors because you don’t have real promotions working up there.

BL: Any kind of sponsorship or any kind of promise that’s . . . talk is cheap. I’ve heard a lot of shit from a lot of people, but nothing’s ever come through. People have made me a lot of promises, but haven’t come through.

JT: What are some of your goals, within fighting and outside of fighting?

BL: My goal in life is to live my life how I want to live it, and not be dictated from other people how to live it. To be able to make my own agenda. I wake up when I want to wake up. I set my own schedule. To be able to set my own schedule and have to clock in and answer to some dickhead supervisor. I would probably want to kick their ass after a year anyways. Just to live my life how I want to live it.

As far as fighting goes, if I can make a life out of being a professional athlete, and I’m not even just talking about the money – the perks of being a professional athlete – being in great shape throughout life, and setting my own schedule. That’s my biggest goal.

I want to fight in Japan. I’m gonna fight in the UFC one day. I truly believe in all those things, but my goal on top of all that is to be able to make a decent living and live my life how I want to live it.

Ben Lagman fights Uber Gallegos at King of the Cage: Hurricane, on February 21st, at the War Memorial Auditorium in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

Verbal Sparring: Dave Cryer (King of the Cage)

Posted in Interviews, King of the Cage with tags , , , , , , on February 4, 2009 by jaytan716

The Dave Cryer story is one we all know well – to never judge a book by its cover.  It’s one that many fans find to be the truth about MMA fighters – that despite tattoos, shaved heads, threatening muscles, and the habit of looking you right in the eye, most fighters are easygoing, approachable, unassuming, friendly guys (and girls).

He’s the fat kid who didn’t like sports, but ended up training to be an MMA fighter.  He has no arrest record, but looks like many guys who do.  And despite standing at a meaty six-foot even and sporting more ink than a Sharpie factory (including where his eyebrows used to be), Dave Cryer is jovial and self-effacing, almost to a fault.  In this interview, we discussed male role models, the meaning of team loyalty, and life as “the tattooed guy.”

JT:  Tell us about where you’re from and how you got into mixed martial arts.

DC:  I’m from all over Southern California. I was born in Anaheim, but I’ve lived everywhere.  I went to high school in Orange County, and then on weekends I hung out in Norwalk.  But I’ve been all over the place.  I’ve been to 30 different schools, just from my mom moving all over the place.

JT:  Did you have brothers and sisters or anything?

DC:  Yeah, it was me, my mom, and my sister.  And my stepdad came around when I was about ten.  That’s when we settled into the one home.

My stepdad showed me a lot of good worth ethic.  I’ve been working with him since I was 10 years old as a diesel mechanic.  Then I stopped working for him when I went into the military for awhile.  I was in the Marine Corps for four years.  Then I came back and worked for him.  He was definitely a father figure.

JT:  Did you go overseas or anything?  What was that like for you?

DC:   September 11th happened, and everyone got motivated after the Twin Towers.  I figured “hey, there’s a reason to go into the military now.”  And I went in on December 11th, hoping to go to war, but it never actually happened.  I just did my time and that was pretty much it.  I can’t say it was the best experience but it was an experience.  I put it on the line.  I just didn’t get to go over there.

JT:  Tell me about your martial arts training.  Did you do anything either in the military or high school?

DC:   I was a big fat loser in high school.  I played football for two years and then I decided I didn’t like sports.  I remember the wrestling coach was like “hey, you wanna wrestle?”  I was like “nah that looks like it’s a lot of work.”

Then there was this old fighter from King of the Cage, Dave Step.  He fought on a very early King of the Cage, he was at 145 pounds.  We were working on the same construction site together.  Someone told me that he was a cage fighter.  And I didn’t really know much about it.  I said “hey, you’re a cage fighter.”  He said “yeah.”  I said “there’s no way you’ll kick my ass.  I’ll whip your ass.”

And thank God he didn’t kick my ass on the job site.  He says “hey, come over to my house.”  And he and his old man beat the shit out of me.  And I remember going “wow, you’ve gotta be kidding me.  Can you teach me some of this stuff?”

I trained with him for five or six times and then I went in the military.  The military martial arts are garbage.  You gotta teach thousands of people, and you can’t really teach them too much.  It doesn’t matter when you have a rifle anyway.

I did some Muay Thai down in San Diego, and then I met John Munoz at Team USA, now Team Pinnacle.  I came to him and said “hey, I want to fight.”  He goes “You should learn first.  We’ll wait until you get blue belt [in jiu-jitsu], then fight.  Do a lot of tournaments.”

And I just started competing.  And I got tired of getting my ass whooped.  Then I started winning.  I won Grappler’s Quest.  Got third in the Pan-Ams, got second the next year, made it to the semis at the World’s, won the Copa-Pacific Open.  Before my first [MMA] fight, I think I competed in like 40 different jiu-jitsu tournaments.  I had never wrestled, so that really helped me out with the ability to compete in front of everybody.  I really thank John for that.

Then John started to teach me some striking.  He called Terry [Trebilcock] and I did my first fight with Uber [Gallegos].  I had so much support, it was amazing.  I think I sold like 250 tickets my first fight.  I was so damn nervous; I don’t remember any of it.   I think that was my first time in a cage, but it went good for me.  That guy was pretty tough.

JT:  Talk about the guys you train with.

I’ve been fortunate.  Now I train at Millennia [MMA].  John still manages me.  I’ve got “Concrete” Chad Davis.  He took me under his wing and put me through the ringer.  I’ve got Ryan Munday, he wrestles.  Then I’ve got Romie [Arum], Betiss [Mansouri], Will [Sriyapai], Reggie Orr.  All those guys help me out a lot.  I still train once in awhile over a Pinnacle.  Those guys helped me out a lot to get me a good solid base, and they still support me and they’re still solid friends of mine.  It’s all about team.  I know it’s an individual sport, but man, without a team, you’re crap.

JT:  Neil Cooke (also a Pinnacle MMA fighter) recently said the same thing.  Even though you’re the one guy that steps into the cage and performs, it’s all about the support network you have around you to get to that point.

DC:   That’s exactly it.  I’ve had so many people help me out, that, if someone didn’t show up, I [had] a big hole in my game.  Because if you’re not getting pushed by your teammates, then you’re gonna lose.  You can’t do this sport on your own.  Some of the guys that are training, they don’t get nothing out of it sometimes.  They just work their ass off every day, for you.  And then you’re the one getting all the money and the glory.  I feel kinda bad for them in that way, but it’s a special breed of person.

JT:  You spoke about it a bit just now, but how would you describe your approach or your philosophy behind your training?

DC:   A lot of people say I abuse my body and overtrain.  I think, just annihilate yourself in the gym, and it comes back to you when you fight.  Because a lot of times, when you’re fighting, you can’t think.  It just comes out of reaction. And if you just murder yourself in the gym, I think it benefits a lot.

I’m a big fan of wrestling.  I never wrestled in high school, but I’m a big fan of Dan Gable, and all those guys just murder themselves in the gym, and they become Olympic champions.  That’s my philosophy.  Not everyone agrees with me.  I don’t think it’s necessarily the right way or wrong way.  It’s just kinda . . . that’s how I train.  But I still think there’s more levels I gotta reach.

JT:  What’s the toughest part for you?  Is it the training?  The mental?

DC:   The hardest fight is all the time away from my family.  I got two kids and an old lady.  I wake up in the morning, I train, I got to work fulltime, I come home, and I train.  So my day starts about six and its ends around eleven o’clock at night.  Sometimes, when I’m leaving, my kids cry because they want to hang out.  And I’m just hoping that it picks up to where I don’t have to work and I can just fight full-time.  But that’s probably the hardest part, being away from all them.  It kinda sucks.

JT:  Tell us about your family life.

DC:   I have an 18-month old and a two and a half-month old.  Both boys.  I can’t handle having no girls. My old lady has five sisters or something like that.  It’s insane!  But my old lady is so supportive, I couldn’t ask for anything more than that.  She’s real responsible, loyal, and good-looking.  Maybe I’ll have three or four more [kids].  I’m pretty good at it, so I might as well stick with it.

JT:  When did you first watching MMA, as a fan?

DC:   Didn’t watch it very much.  I remember the first UFC happened.  I didn’t see it.  One of my stepdad’s friends brought over a tape and I saw 30 seconds of some guy getting elbowed in the head.  I went “oh my gosh, are you kidding me?”  I was young.  Then I just put it to the back burner, never saw fighting again.  I met Dave, still didn’t watch fighting.  Started training jiu-jitsu, still didn’t watch fighting much until about six months before I started fighting.

JT:  So you’ve only been watching it on TV for about two years or so.

DC:   Yeah.  Like when you start talking about the old shows, there’s people that I don’t really know.  Everyone’s bringing people’s names up and I had no idea who they were.  Now I gotta pay close attention because I might be fighting some people some day.

JT:  Let’s switch gears here and talk about your artwork.

DC:   I do plan on covering myself.  No more on the face, because it really hurts the kind of job you can have.  Almost all my work is Celtic and Viking work.  The one on my eyebrows: “Valhalla Bound.”  Valhalla is this belief where the Vikings, when they would die in battle, they would go to Odin’s Valhalla.  And there’s a symbol on each side – one stands for life, one stands for death.

A good friend of mine, Jeremy Huckabee, died in a car accident, and that was his saying.  And I have it tattooed on my face.  A good friend of mine, Mark, had it tattooed on the back of his head, and Jeremy’s wife has it tattooed on the back of her arms.  I think I got it a week after he died.

I got “Hooligan” tattooed across my throat.  Before I had my kid, I was kinda a knucklehead.  Everything else is pretty much all Celtic and Viking. I’m not a big fan of tribal style.  But I wanted to get something meaningful.  Like the big one on my chest is a Thor’s hammer.  And the ones on my shoulders is for Odin the Viking God.  I have Vikings on my arm and Viking boats and stuff.

Tattoos don’t make you tough.  Sure, there’s a lot of guys covered in tattoos who’ll stab you, but tattoos don’t make you tough like people think.  I don’t have tattoos because I want people to think I’m tough.  And most people who are covered in tattoos don’t know how to fight.  They get tattoos because they don’t want to get in fights, and sometimes it intimidates people away.  But if you watch the heavily-tattooed people specifically, most of the time, they’re the ones getting their ass beat.  

JT:  I’m always curious to hear from fighters why they got into the sport.  Do you ever look back and contemplate how far you’ve come and what drove you to fighting?

DC:   When I was a kid, I was always going to punk rock shows, and I really thought I was tough.  But really, I was just big, fat, and dumb.  I had no idea.  And maybe being dumb helped me think I would be tougher, but ever since I really started training, I haven’t been in a street fight.  Which has been about four years.  I haven’t thrown fists with anybody on the street for that long.  And now I never go out anyhow.  Because every drunk guy wants to fight the guy with tattoos.  And I’m not that small of a guy, so everybody wants to fight me.  So I don’t really go out much for that.

But I do look back and I say “man, I’m lucky I never really got hurt too bad.”  Because I did not know how to fight.  And I still have a long way to go now, but back then, I REALLY didn’t know how to fight.  I look back and say “wow, I was an idiot.  I got lucky.  Thank God I never came across anybody who knew what the hell they were doing. ”

JT:  What would you say is your best and worst memory of your career so far?

DC:   The first fight is the most emotional fight ever.  Luckily, I won.  I had people coming up to me, taking my picture, and shaking my hand for the next hour.  That was insane.  I’m so happy I never have to do my first fight again, because I was so nervous.  I just wanted to get it over with.  There was just so much emotion in that.

My worst one was when I fought the guy from Holland [Noufel Amellouk] from last December.  He punched the hell out of me.  Busted my nose in the first round, and I got gassed.  And that is the worst feeling in the world, to get gassed.  I think it had something to do with all the blood going down my throat [after the nose was broken].  We went all the way to a decision, and I ended up winning, but that was one of my tougher fights.

JT:  What’s your downtime like?

DC:   There’s not much of it. I work six days a week.  We (the family) just hang out; take the kids to the park.  My oldest one is walking and somewhat talking.  He’s happy as long as he’s outside and someone’s playing with him.  We’re trying to buy a house, so a lot of times, we’re shopping for a house.  Once in awhile, I go out and see my buddy’s band, Brassic, play.  But really, I have a good time just hanging out with the family.  I don’t need to go to the bars.  I don’t drink.

JT:  Did you never drink, or did you give it up for family or fighting?

DC:   I drank a lot when I was a kid, up until I turned 21.  And since I’ve been training a lot, I’ve had a lot of good influences.  John [Munoz] said “hey man, there’s no point in doing that.”  He was kinda a big role model for me, and John still gives me a lot of good advice.  I look up to him and this old man Jeff, and my buddy Matt.  They gave me a lot of good advice.

Now, I probably drink once a year. I’m getting older now.  I’ve never done a drug in my entire life, and I’ve never been arrested, contrary to what everybody thinks.  I know I look like a convict-tweeker-dopehead, but I’ve never done any of them.

JT:  How do you deal with that dichotomy?  With all the tattoos, you throw a certain image that everyone stereotypes when they see you walking down the street.  But you’ve got this otherwise clean family life. You’ve [gotten tattoos] voluntarily, so did you just accept that this is the price you’ve paid for it?  Or is there anything more to it?

DC:   Well, the cops love me.  Man, they’ll pull me over.  Luckily, it hasn’t happened with my family in the car, because that’s real embarrassing.  Once, they pulled me over and had me half-naked, taking pictures of all my tattoos.

And I know a lot of people decide “man, this guy looks just like some prison white supremacy prick.”  I know some people think that and I’m like “whoa, that’s not how it is. I just have a bunch of tattoos.”  I’ve got a Mexican manager; I’ve got an Afghan trainer.  I just ended up being covered with tattoos.  And once people get to meet me, they’re like “oh, shit, this guys pretty funny.  Not just funny-looking, he’s actually funny.”

That’s why a lot of people support me.  People are really nice to me, but I do get the “man, this guy looks like a dickhead.  He thinks he’s a badass.”  No, I don’t think I’m badass.  There’s a lot of people out there I know who would kick my ass, but I’m working on getting better [laughs].

JT:  Tell us about your sponsors.  Who are they and why should the fans know them?

DC:  I just picked up by Toe-To-Toe clothing.  My good friend Jeremy from Focus Victory hooked me up.  Jeremy’s been with me since my very first fight.  Focus Victory has helped me out with tournaments and everything.  309 helps me out.  Shameless Ink out of Riverside – they help me out a lot.  C&D Pumping, JTS Insurance.  There’s so many; Nutrishop Norco, Sub Q tattoo, my family, everyone at Pinnacle Jiu-Jitsu –  Matt Curl, Jeff Stiller, Ken Knapp, Ryan Mundy, Chad Davis, John Munoz, and the Millennia Fight Team.

I also want to thank San Manuel for letting me fight, because they almost cancelled my fight last time.  They got me confused with Melvin Costa. [Editor’s Note:  At a King of the Cage event on October, 7th, 2007, at Soboba Casino, Dave Cryer lost to Roch Worthy.  After the match, fans that were mistakenly identified as Dave Cryer’s fans racially harassed Worthy as he walked backstage.  They were later identified as fans of Melvin Costa, who was scheduled immediately after the Cryer-Worthy fight.] When I went to San Manuel, I explained the situation [that Dave’s ringside seat fans got in a bar fight the night before and missed the event altogether].  She said “well, if any of your fans say anything racial, we’re gonna pull the fight.”  I said “yeah, that’s not a problem.”

But I understand where they’re coming from, because you don’t want a bunch of fights [in the crowd].  Then nobody’s gonna show back up.  You don’t want a rough crowd.  The sport’s evolved for that too much anyway.  At least they weren’t there to see me get knocked out [laughs].

JT:  What are your long-term goals, with fighting or without fighting?

DC:  I think I’ve got about 10 to 12 years left.  I love fighting.  As much as I can.  I’ve got a good manager, a good team.  John takes care of me.  If I’m ever doing something wrong, he’ll let me know.  Same with my team.  If I start getting 35 and I’m getting my ass kicked all the time, they’re going to let me know “this is a good time to retire.”

My main dream is that I’d love to fight in a King of the Cage event in Japan.  I wish someday King of the Cage would go to Japan, and I’d love to fight over there.  The Japanese are the greatest fans.  They love martial arts, and I think they’d get a kick out of me.

Terry’s helped me out.  He’s been loyal to me and I’m not going anywhere.  King of the Cage is my home.

Dave Cryer steps in the cage against Lucas Taber at King of the Cage: Immortal, on February 26th, at the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in Highlands, CA.

Verbal Sparring: Victor “Joe Boxer” Valenzuela (King of the Cage Junior Welterweight Champion)

Posted in Interviews, King of the Cage with tags , , , , , , on January 26, 2009 by jaytan716

Victor “Joe Boxer” Valenzuela is a paradox of a fighter.  He doesn’t like his nickname, despite that 1) he’s known by that name almost as much as his own name and 2) it describes a style of fighting he’s trained in all his life.  His team, Millennia MMA, is particularly recognized for their jiu-jitsu game, and he’s won at least half of his victories by submission, but he’ll be the first to acknowledge that he prefers a stand-up slugfest.  And he’s the champion of a weight class above the one he’s fought at throughout his career.

But few names are more synonymous with King of the Cage than “Joe Boxer.”  After a stuttered MMA start in 2003, Valenzuela went undefeated from 2006 to mid-2007.  His feud with Charles “Krazy Horse” Bennett was already KOTC’s equivalent to the Ortiz-Shamrock legacy, and when both he and “the Horse” were called up to EliteXC, their bitter rivalry continued on a national stage.  In August 2007, Valenzuela beat Krazy Horse by submission from punches, and one year later, he would become the King of the Cage Junior Welterweight championship.

In between training sessions for his upcoming title defense, I caught up with “Joe Boxer” and got his thoughts on his infamous rivalry, what it means to win championship gold, and the key to giving fans a good fight.

JT:  Let’s start with your background and how you got involved with MMA.

VV:  I grew up in Covina, CA.  I’ve been boxing pretty much since I was probably around eight or nine years old, when I started training with my uncles.  They used to box, so they would teach me how to throw a punch and stuff. . . I married my high school sweetheart, had a couple of kids, worked, and stopped fighting for a little bit.  You know how that goes.

I got back into boxing in my early 20’s.  Just amateur stuff, because I liked to fight.  I didn’t think I was going to turn professional or anything.  I just liked training and stuff.

JT:  Did you go pro with boxing?  Win any championships?

VV:  I won a Golden Gloves by a walkover one year.  There were no opponents in my weight for that one.  I was supposed to go to Colorado for the finals, to try to get into the Olympics, but I never made it there, only because of work and stuff.  I had a mortgage payment and I had a family to take care of.  I was a runner-up in another Golden Gloves tournament.  I turned pro when I was 30 years old.  I tried it out and went 0-2 as a professional; only because I couldn’t really train the way a professional boxer has to train in a fight.  I was working 70-80 hours a week and trying to box and it just wasn’t working out for me.  So I retired.

A buddy of mine – my son used to play baseball with his son – said he knew some guys that grappled and did MMA.  And because he knew I boxed, he wanted to know if I was interested in checking that part of fighting out.  I was interested from watching Royce Gracie do his thing.  I said “yeah man, I would love to learn how to grapple.”  So that’s what got me turned on to Millennia MMA.

We were Millennia Jiu-Jitsu, back when it was a straight jiu-jitsu academy then.  I started training there back in 2002.  And everybody there was grapplers and wrestlers.  I was the only boxer coming in there.  That’s how I got my nickname “Joe Boxer.”  Nobody knew my name, but I was the only boxer in the gym. [Some guy said] “I guess his name is Joe” so they just started calling me “Joe Boxer.”

JT:  That’s one of the more unique ways to get a nickname.

VV:  Yeah, they still clown me about it.  ‘Cuz I hate the nickname.  I told them I didn’t like it, so after that, it was over.  They ran with it and that was my name.  I train with a bunch of clowns.

JT:  You should have known that was going to be the final nail in the coffin.  If you could pick a nickname, is there another name you would want?

VV:   I used to be called One-Punch back in the day, in high school, when I did street fighting.  One punch and I would knock people out.  I wouldn’t mind having that nickname now, but “Joe Boxer” has stuck, so I just roll with it.

JT:  You talked a bit about the street fighting.  I always like to ask fighters if there was anything in particular of their upbringing that they think led them to MMA. Obviously, with you, there was the boxing and the adrenaline rush of competing.

VV:  Honestly, I’ve been fighting since kindergarten.  My first fight was in kindergarten, over a girl.  I don’t even know the guy’s name, but I remember that he liked the girl and I was sitting next to her and he wanted my seat or whatever.  One thing led to another, we got into a fight, and I beat him up.

Ever since then, I guess I had a bulls-eye on me, because guys are always trying to pick fights with me.  I’ve never started a fight in my life.  If we had YouTube back in my day, I’d be Kimbo Slice in the 80’s.

I didn’t even plan on fighting.  I just wanted to learn how to grapple, actually.  I was infatuated by that stuff.  The guy at the gym actually talked me into doing a King of the Cage fight when I fought Shad Smith back in 2003.  I was basically just a boxer fighting Shad Smith, and I almost beat the guy.

JT:  What do you remember of that first fight, as you prepared for it and when you were in there?

VV:  At Millennia, we had a downstairs area we called “The Dungeon,” where all the fighters practiced.  Since I was a boxer, all the fighters wanted to get ready for the fight, they wanted me to go down there and spar with them all the time.  So I never really got a chance to grapple for the first six to eight months.  I was always down with the guys, getting them ready for their fights.

I was doing pretty well sparring with the guys, beating everybody up, dropping people with body shots and hurting people with hooks and stuff.  One of the co-owners from Millennia says “Terry Trebilcock is looking for an opponent to fight Shad Smith.”  I said “hell now, I’m not even in this to be a cage fighter.  I’m just a retired boxer who wanted to learn how to grapple.”  I wasn’t even expecting to be a fighter.  I just wanted to learn a little bit of jiu-jitsu.  Just in case I got into a fight on the street or something.  If somebody took me down, I’d know how to ground fight a little bit.  So he hit me up and I told him “no, I’m not a fighter.”  They kept pushing it, saying “we think you can beat this guy.  He’s a pretty well-known name.”  I slept on it a couple of days, came back, and said “let’s do it.”

All I basically did was box for that fight.  I tried to learn how to sprawl a little bit.  And the guy there told me that Shad Smith is a stand-up fighter.  “He’s not gonna take you down or anything.”  And I’m like “cool, we’re gonna fight.”

And even the rules were changed for that fight.  It was a no-submissions match.  He wouldn’t fight me unless submissions were thrown out.  So we fight and the next thing you know, I crack him a few times and hurt him.  I almost knocked him out, and he turns into an Olympic wrestler.  I lost that fight on a decision from a takedown.  If you watch the fight, you hear the commentators saying “we’ve never seen Shad take anybody down.  This is the first time” and blah blah blah.  Well, what’s he doing taking me down in the first place?  It was his idea for no submissions, and the next thing you know, he’s taking me down.  I didn’t really get it.

JT:  So he wanted to prohibit the submission skills that you hadn’t really had a chance to develop at that point?

VV:  I didn’t even have any submission skills yet, but he didn’t know that.  I guess he knew Millennia, so he probably thought that I had some pretty good submissions.  Which I didn’t [laughs].  He probably would have won if it was a submission fight.

JT:  For the fans who don’t know, talk a little bit about Millennia MMA.

It’s awesome, man.  All the coaches, and the fighters, and students – it’s like a big family there.  I can’t say enough about them.  They brought me from being retired and got me a belt around my waist.  They molded me into a champion.  You’ve got Romie Arum, Javier Vasquez, and Betiss Mansouri.  Chad Davis helps me out a lot.  All my training partners.  There are so many people there.  I’m going on seven years with them now.  If it wasn’t for those guys, I don’t know where I would be.  I would be just working and nobody would know who I was.

JT:  And now you’re a champion and at the top of your game.

VV:  And that’s all because of those guys.  They’re the ones that talked me into fighting.  They saw something in me.

I’m looking at this fight to keep my belt.  The guy’s coming into my backyard. He’s from New Mexico.  This is my stomping grounds, bro.  This whole West Coast right here. . . I was knocking people out before the guy was even born; you know what I’m sayin’?  If he thinks he’s gonna come into my backyard and take my belt, then he’s got another thing coming.  It’s gonna be a dogfight.  I’m not gonna lay down for nobody.

Especially in that this is my hometown right here.  And if he thinks [because] he’s from New Mexico, New Mexico this and New Mexico that, he’s got another thing coming.  Because my whole family is from New Mexico, so you’ve got nothin’ on me.

JT:  You pretty much got both sides covered.

VV:  I got both sides covered.  The guy says he’ll stand and bang with anybody and then he fights my guy, Will Sriyapai, and ends up taking him down and ground-and-pounding him.  Don’t tell the world you’ll stand and bang and then go in there and shoot and take the guy down. . . To me, if you shoot and take a guy down and ground-and-pound him, that’s not a fight.  People want to see guys standing up.  They want to see guys punching each other.  They don’t want to see guys shoot, tackle, and watch guys roll around on the ground.  It’s boring.  I mean I’m an MMA fan my damn self, but when I see guys do that, it’s boring to me.  I wanna change the channel.

JT:  What’s the toughest part of fighting for you?  Is it the preparation?  The mental part?  The rules from one state to another?

VV:  It’s just the preparation.  Getting ready for the fight sucks, bro.  That’s where you get injured.  You get up every day and go to the gym, and bust your ass for four, five hours.  It’s tough, but that’s a part of being a fighter, dude.  The day of the fight, I don’t get nervous or nothing.  I just can’t wait to get in there and do my thing.  It’s like going to an amusement park for me.  I love the adrenaline.  Like I said, I came out of the womb to fight.  I’ve been fighting since I was a kid.  My ancestors must have been some great gladiators down the line.  Some good stock, I guess.

JT:  Some Aztec and Inca warrior blood going on there.

VV:  Sometime like that.  I feel like I was born to fight.  I’m almost 40 years old and I’m still hanging with these younger cats, you know what I mean?  I’m fighting a guy 14 years younger than me next month.  And it’s like I said – to me, it’s like a man fighting a child.  To me, a child can’t beat a man; you know what I’m saying?  I’m almost old enough to be his pops.  And I’m old school.  I can’t see a kid whoopin’ me.  Can’t see it.

JT:  Let’s step back in time a bit.  Your first match with Krazy Horse was your second fight.  It led to a scheduled match in EliteXC, which didn’t happen.  You finally got your match and revenge on a ShoXC event in August 2007.  Now that that whole thing is a year and a half in the past, do you have any new thoughts on it?

VV:  Honestly, as soon as he gets out of jail, I’m ready to get back in there with him.   You guys don’t see it, but behind the scenes, the guy has the biggest mouth.  I mean he talks so much crap.   “Hate” is a bad word, I really don’t hate anybody, but I really can’t stand this guy.  He gets under your skin.  He talks a lot of stuff.  If you go on YouTube and you punch in ‘Krazy Horse,’ he’s got a bunch of stuff talking about my kids, talking about how he’s gonna beat my ass.  The guy doesn’t shut up.

When we fought in Mississippi, we stayed at the same hotel, and he had camera crews following him around like he was a big superstar.  When we would pass each other in the lobby, he would just talk so much shit.  You know how ghetto the guy is.  Just imagine him in your ear for two or three days talking about how he was going to whip you, how you’re too old for him, how he was gonna kick the senior citizen’s butt.  I just can’t stand the guy.  Hopefully, when he gets out of jail, I can whip his ass one more time for everybody.

JT:  Seems like you just wanna make that part of your career.  Every time he comes up, knock him down again.

VV:  The guy’s an idiot.  They guy’s got so much potential.  He’s making a lot of money fighting, but . . . the guy’s actually got talent.  If he trained and got into a good school, he’s probably be pretty damn good.

And EliteXC was paying him so much money.  Same thing with Kimbo.  He’s a smaller version of Kimbo Slice, I’d say.  Kimbo was another guy they spent all this money on and he gets knocked out in what, 14 seconds?   I’m over here training my ass off every day doing this and doing that and I’m not making that money.  It’s kinda discouraging.

JT:  Let’s talk about personal triumphs.  You won the King of the Cage Junior Welterweight championship.  You had a big smile on your face.  That must have meant a huge deal to you, to achieve that kind of championship status.

VV:  It’s like going to college and getting your Master’s degree.  I’ve been fighting for so long.  Since I was a kid, I’ve always thought I could be a champion.  I thought it was going to be boxing, but it happened to be MMA.    This sport gave me an outlet, another option to be a champion.  I’m grateful to MMA bro.  I got my Master’s degree finally.  You go to school for so many years, and I’ve finally got it.

JT:  You got that at 160 lbs.  Most of your career, you’ve been fighting at 155 lbs.  Would you feel comfortable going down to 155 lbs. and chasing after that title or would you rather focus on defending?

VV:  That’s another thing I’ve been thinking about.  I just jumped into this 160 lb. weight class because EliteXC didn’t have a 155 lb. weight class.  But no, 155 lbs. is my weight.  That’s the weight I like to fight at.

I just jumped into this King of the Cage 160 lb. weight class because it was made to order for me.  Joe Camacho was the champion.  I’d trained with him a few times and I knew I could beat him.  Terry asked me if I wanted to fight and I’m like “let’s do it.”

Actually, after this defense, I’d most definitely want to jump back into my more comfortable weight class, which is 155 lbs.  Because the guys that are coming down to 160 lbs. now are welterweights that are coming down from 170 lbs. to cut another 10 pounds to come in at 160 lbs.  If I stay at 160 lbs., I’m gonna be fighting guys that are a lot bigger than me still.  I think at 155 lbs., I’ll be fighting guys that are my size, or a little smaller than me, but I’ll have the advantage, you know?  After this defense, I’m definitely coming after the 155 lbs. champ.  That’s my goal.

JT:  The current champ [KOTC Lightweight champion] is Rory McDonald.  Do you know anything about him?

VV:  I don’t know, but I heard he’s like a 19-year old kid.  So it’s like beating up my son.  I got an 18-year old son.

JT:  You’ll use him as a training partner?

VV:  Probably.  He needs to get his ass kicked.  [Laughs].  But that 155 lb. belt, that’s actually another goal of mine.  So let’s just see how this fight turns out, but 155 lb. weight class is a legitimate weight class.  I’m pretty sure they made the 160 lb. weight class for Nick Diaz, because they had all their plans with Nick Diaz and EliteXC.  He couldn’t cut to 155, so I’m pretty sure they made that 160 lb. weight class because they thought Nick Diaz was going to be the next superstar.  And then KJ Noons too.  He couldn’t cut to 155, but he’s their 160 lb. champ.  You know what I mean.

JT:  What would you say is your best and worst memory in your career?

VV:  Losing in 47 seconds to Edson Berto on the Strikeforce card (“Strikeforce / EliteXC:  Shamrock vs. Baroni”) up in San Jose.  That was the first fight of that main event and I got heel hooked in 47 seconds.   That was the worst. . . I felt like retiring right after that fight.

I was supposed to fight Krazy Horse that night and he went to jail again.  [EliteXC] was supposed to bail him out, so the whole time I was out there in San Jose, I would hear every hour, half-hour “oh yeah, Krazy Horse is getting bailed out.  You’re gonna be fighting Krazy Horse . . . oh no, you’re not.  You’re gonna fight such-and-such.”  So I didn’t know who I was going to be fighting until that day.

I’m not making any excuses, but I really didn’t do any grappling for that fight.  It was all just basically stand-up.  Because when you fight Krazy Horse, you’re not gonna really grapple.  It’s just throwing punches as hard as you can and it’s basically a street fight.  So I did a lot of sparring, a lot of boxing for that fight, and I go in and fight a guy that, I guess his best move is an ankle lock.  So I got caught, bro.  Shit happens.  But that was pretty much the worst part of my career.

JT:  At first, I would assume that your best memory is winning the title, but the way I hear you talking, maybe it’s also knocking Krazy Horse out.

VV:  Yeah, they both pretty much running neck-and-neck.  I gotta say winning the belt.  I mean that’s why I got into the sport – to be a champion.  I’ve fulfilled my dream there.

JT:  Who are some of your favorite fighters or the best matches that you’ve ever seen?

VV:  I like the stand-up fighters.  I like the guys that just stand-up and just bang.  I’m a Wanderlei Silva fan.  Just the way he fights; he’s an animal.  He doesn’t take a backward stance.  He comes at you.  He tries to kill you with every shot.  I like BJ Penn.  He’s one of the best, I gotta say.  Anderson Silva’s another one.  Guys like that.

But yeah, in this sport, people are evolving, dude.  You can’t just go out there and think you’re a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and you’re gonna go out there and tap everybody.  Guys that are well-rounded in every aspect of the game. . . It’s tough now.  Like I said, I thought I could just go out there and punch people out, but these guys – they know they’re fighting me, they’re working on their wrestling, their grappling, they’re working on tying my punches up.  I gotta extend my game now.  Next fight, you might see me throw some kicks, bro.  You never know.

JT:  What do you like to do in the downtime, when you’re trying to get away from fighting or training?

VV:  Nothing, really.  If I’m not fighting, I’m working.  I basically just hang out, chill, and watch TV.  I got pretty much a boring life.  I’m basically a loner.  Which ain’t bad; I mean, no stress, man.

JT:  Besides the Horse, is there anybody else you’d like to put your skills to the test with?

VV:  I’d like to fight Nick Diaz before I retire.  Or KJ Noons.  Guys like that.  I think KJ and I would be a good fight, because we’re both boxers.  We both have boxing backgrounds.  I think it would be an exciting fight for the fans.  Nick Diaz the same thing.  He likes to stand and please the crowd too, so I think that would be an exciting fight also.  But actually, before I retire, I would like to fight some of the best of the best.

JT:  You’d go in there with BJ?

VV:  If the money was right, you better believe I would!

JT:  How about if the money was wrong?

VV:  I’d probably fight him just to say I fought him.  When I was older, I could say “hey, I fought that guy.”  It would be an honor to fight that guy.  Probably wouldn’t last a few rounds, but it would be spectacular.

JT:  Who are some of your sponsors and why should the fans know them?

VV:  I got MaxMuscle here in Rancho Cucamonga that helps me out with all my supplements, keeping me young.  I got Warrior Wear taking care of all my fight gear, my shorts and stuff like that.  I got AA Glass & Mirrors.  He’s my uncle, his name is Armando.  He gives me money monthly to help me live and stuff, to train.   I got Chronic Cantina, over in Upland.  It’s a nice little place to go chill.

Victor “Joe Boxer” Valenzuela defends his KOTC Jr. Welterweight title for the first time on February 26th, at the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in Highlands, CA.

Verbal Sparring: Jerry Millen & Sean Wheelock of M-1 Challenge (Part 2 of 2)

Posted in Interviews, M-1 Challenge with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2008 by jaytan716

In part two of my interview with M-1’s Jerry Millen and Sean Wheelock, we discuss M-1’s plans for continued expansion, cohesiveness in MMA (including the idea of international rules), and where fans can find “The Next of the Best.”

JT:  What can you guys tell us about the plan for 2009 and afterwards, such as the strategy for expanding regions, new TV outlets, and more teams?

JM:  One of our guys just got back from Sportel, which is the international television market, in Monaco.  There’s a lot of interest in the M-1 Challenge and the “Fighting Fedor” program.  So this year I would assume we’re going to pick up quite a few more countries.  This first year was just our chance to get out there and show the world what M-1 was and our concept of team challenges.  So we definitely plan on 16 teams, 10 events again in 10 different countries.  China and Bulgaria have been mentioned.  And we’ve been working on some bigger M-1 Global shows as well.

Also, we’re working with Affliction Entertainment with Fedor and his fights.  I’m not sure if everybody knows but Jimmy [Smith] and Sean will be the commentators on the Affliction pay-per-view on January 24th, with Fedor and Arlovski.

And we’re finally getting this “Fighting Fedor” reality show off the ground.  People don’t understand how difficult an endeavor doing a reality show is, especially based in Russia.  It’s a very difficult task.  But we’ve been working on it for quite a long time.

JT:  Would the show be made up of M-1 fighters?

JM:  I wouldn’t say M-1 fighters, but it’ll be fighters that we bring under our umbrella.  If we’re going to give them this type of exposure, they’re going to have to become an M-1 fighter at that point.

JT:  Sean, besides Gegard Mousasi and Daniel Tavera, who else is going to emerge as the top international stars?  Are there fighters that we should be looking for to emerge from M-1 Challenge?

SW:  It’s a great question.  Jerry and I have seen some of these guys now, three and four times over the course of this season and seen their growth.  I think Kiril Sidelnikov, who’s from Stary Oskol, which is the same hometown as Fedor, is a kid to watch.  He’s the one they call “Baby Fedor,” and he really worships him.  I think Fedor takes a lot of pride in Kiril as his protégé.

Jason Jones, who is 26 years old, fights at middleweight for Holland.  This is someone who people need to watch out for.  He’s got great hands, and is one of the most explosive fighters I’ve seen in the history of this sport.  He’s Dutch, but both of his parents are from Aruba.  So he speaks perfect English, almost with an American accent.

Daniel Tavera, who I talked about, has fought for us twice at 205 pounds.  He’s a world class fighter.  His only loss was a very close decision to Roman Zentsov, when he gave up about 30 pounds.  I actually thought he won the fight.

Bogdan Christea, who fights for Holland, is the toughest person I’ve ever seen in this sport.  I like him a lot.  He was hit by a car when he was on his bicycle. He was left for dead and they almost amputated his arm.  In his fight against Daisuke Nakamura, he lost on decision.  I’ve never seen anybody withstand those types of submission attempts.  On the air, I think I said that this was gruesome.

I think Karl Amoussou, the 23-year old middleweight from France, is fantastic.  Mikhail Zayats, of the Red Devils, in Russia . . .

We’re seeing these guys coming through, who are now getting on this international stage.  Again, how does the UFC find Karl Amoussou if he’s only fighting in Europe?  How do they find Mikhail Zayats if he’s only fighting in Russia?  This is what’s great about this opportunity.  Nothing against the UFC, because they have incredible fighters, but there are so many good fighters out there.

I think the analogy is to be the college basketball fan and to look at your conference, like the Pac-10, Big 10, Big Twelve, or ECC, and say “all the best college basketball players play in my conference.”  Well, that’s not true.  You might have a high level of talent, or better talent than others, or the majority of talent, but that doesn’t mean you have the best.  And I think some people have seen with M-1 that there are world class fighters that they just haven’t had a chance to see until we put the TV cameras on and show them globally.

JT:  And you think that these guys have the potential to develop that star power like a Fedor, Shinya Aoki, Rampage Jackson, or Anderson Silva?  They can be known on that higher, recognizable level?

SM:  I think there’s only one Fedor Emelianenko.  I think he’s the greatest fighter in the history of this sport and a unique individual. I think he’s Tiger Woods, Babe Ruth, Wayne Gretzky, or Pele.  But I think that everybody that I talked about has the potential to be absolute A-level fighters.  If they’re not already, quite frankly.

JT:  I know it’s a very broad question, but where do you guys see MMA from now?

JM:  In a perfect scenario, it would be as big as the NFL.  But the NFL wasn’t built over a 15-year period.  I think the NFL took like 30, 40, 50 years to become the powerhouse that it is.  I think it’s really hard to say.  It took PRIDE ten years to reach the level of PRIDE.  It’s been one year in M-1.  We’ve learned so much from PRIDE and other organizations.  Hopefully we’ve learned some shortcuts to get it to the next level where it needs to be without rushing it.

UFC is the big dog right now, and I’m ecstatic that the UFC is doing as well as it is, because that means the sport itself has that chance to grow.  But unfortunately, there needs to be other organizations that work, even hand-in-hand with the UFC, for this sport to survive.  Otherwise, you have one entity trying to control the sport, trying to control the rankings, trying to control the match-ups you see.  When one company drives control into the ground, it hurts everybody, except that one company.

SW:  You see Jerry’s passion.  I have that same passion.  There are other sports that I could announce, but the sports that I choose to announce are sports that I’m passionate about.  I love mixed martial arts. If you hear me on television, you know that there’s no place in the world that I’d rather be.  If it’s just a job, if you’re just getting a paycheck, you’re not going to last.  I think that’s why a lot of people have fallen out of MMA.  And they’ve lasted 18 months, a year -they didn’t have a love for that.

In terms of where I want to see this sport in five years, I think we all learn a process where we have to educate.  We take this so seriously.  I’ve announced the World Cup; I’ve announced three Super Bowls for the BBC.  I treat this sport the same.  This isn’t two guys ripping off their shirts and fighting in the back of a grocery store parking lot.  And I think unfortunately there’s still people that see that –  they don’t understand the difference between two world class fighters competing in MMA and a couple of 17-year olds beating each other up on a YouTube video.  This is a legitimate sport with world class, highly-trained special athletes.  People need to get educated on this sport.

The fact that you can’t do mixed martial arts in certain provinces in Canada, states in the U.S., or countries like France – I think it’s just a lack of knowledge.  I think every single one of us, who loves this sport, who cares about this sport. . .we have to continue to put forth the best product and show the general public that this is a legitimate sport.

JT:  On the heels of that, I would think that one of those things which needs to fall in line would be the rules.  To be an international sport, there would need to be international rules, so that everyone plays on an equal level.  Given how hard it’s going to be to affect the rules that the Big Dog uses, how do you reconcile the discrepancies?

JM:  Until the UFC gets on board, it’s going to be very difficult to have a standardized set of rules.  As soon as Dana White understands that there are going to be other players, rather than fight against them, work with them for the good of the sport.  If you really care about the sport, then work with those that also care about the sport.

They don’t want anybody else playing on their block.  At some point, you have to let your child grow, so that it becomes what it needs to be.  If UFC works with another company, does that mean that UFC is going to go out of business?  No, that does not mean that.  It means that maybe at that point they will truly have the best fighters in the world and they can prove that fact by saying “look, we took on those guys that said they were the best.”  Whether they cut it or not.  The proof is in the pudding.  But international rules won’t happen until they’re ready to play with some other people.

SW:  Look at other global sports.  Soccer, basketball, which is the second biggest participation sport globally, even baseball.  All those sports have a world governing body, and maybe that’s something that we’re moving to.  Boxing has escaped from having a world governing body, but saying that, there is a world governing body at the amateur level.  So you do have that system where guys are coming through and they’re fighting under uniform rules.  Even if there are variations in boxing, it’s still essentially the same sport.

Also, there are a lot of promoters who hate each other and yet they put aside their differences to work together for the good of the sport.  They hate each other, but they see not only is it good for the sport, but it’s a way to make a lot of money.  And that’s something we have to head to.

I just think it’s the evolution.  You can spin it any way you want, but for all intents and purposes, modern MMA started with UFC 1 in 1995.  We’re talking about a sport that in essence is a 15-year old sport.  I read a ton of sports history and see how other sports have evolved and where they were 15 years into their evolutionary process.  I think we’re already well ahead of that curve.  It just has to take time.

JT:  And M-1 is one platform where it’s evolving on the international level.

SM:  There’s no question about it.  M-1 is just doing everything correctly.  We have great fighters, we go to great venues around the world, and we’re exposing great fights on television programs in over 80 countries.  We’re bringing fighters that people have never seen before to countries that are not that exposed to MMA.  That’s what I think grows the sport.

M-1 Challenge can be seen on HD-Net every Friday at 5pm, with repeats throughout the weekend.  Check your local listings for airings outside the U.S.

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

Posted in Interviews, King of the Cage with tags , , , , , , on December 10, 2008 by jaytan716

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.