June 16, 2010

Q&A with Kris "Savage" McCray

I talked to Kris "Savage" McCray before his upcoming fight with Court McGee at The Ultimate Fighter Finale.


Kris, I want to first congratulate you on making the finals.

A: Thanks.


Q: How is the camp going with Master Lloyd Irvin?

A: It’s going fine. We’re walking through what we are going to do for the fight.


Q: In your opinion, would you have made the finals if Tito Ortiz would have remain your coach on The Ultimate Fighter? I ask that because of the way he trained you for the first Josh Bryant fight.

A: Yes. I would have made the finals, I was determined to win.


Q: Let’s go back to the second fight with Josh Bryant. I thought your take down skills were awesome, but your stand up was not as strong. Has your stand up been a focal point in your preparation for this fight?

A: Yes, but I go to what I do best and that’s wrestling. If I need to trade (punches with him) I can do that, but takedowns is what I do best.


Q: You went from 5 professional fights in one year to 5 fights in six weeks. How was your body able to hold up?

A: I was beat down, but this is my dream. I just got a second chance and made the most of it.


Q: Your fight with Court McGee is now the main event. Why did the UFC make that change?

A: I don’t know. It’s the same I just have to wait a little while longer before we fight.


Q: How do you see this fight with Court McGee going?

A: I see a Stephan Bonnar and Forest Griffin type of fight.  I see a fun fight but an all out war as well. I’ll work my clinch game and we see how it goes.


Q: Are we going to see a back flip this weekend?

A: (Laughs) We’ll see. If I do a back flip is because I had won. So I hope so.


Q: I know you and Jamie Yager are friends. Have you guys promise not to fight each other like Rashad Evans and Keith Jardine?

A: We have for a regular fight. But not for a title shot. No. For twenty-five minutes we can put our friendship aside and remain friends afterwards. To become a champion is both our goal.


Posted by Kevin Richardson at 5:17 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Q&As

July 10, 2009

Catching up with Jon Fitch


I spoke with Jon Fitch, the consensus No. 3 welterweight in the world, about UFC 100 and he seemed pretty geared up for his fight with Paulo Thiago. If he wins, he would likely face the winner of the Georges St. Pierre-Thiago Alves fight.

On fighting on UFC 100
It’s a definite bonus to fight at such a large event. I was a little disappointed I didn’t get a fight sooner after January but being on UFC 100 absolutely makes up for it.

On the GSP- Thiago Alves fight
I’m not gonna pick but I want GSP to win so I can fight him again for the title. He’s a fairly complete fighter and has speed, agility and is a heck of an athlete. He’s got tight standup and good ground game and good control. He’s strong and has all the assets to be a top-level guy. Alves has made huge improvements in his takedown defense and is physically bigger and stronger. His standup is world class and he’s very good.

On how he’s changed since fighting GSP
I’ve tightened up my defense quite a bit. My ground game is continually improving. I needed to get back to the wrestling a little bit and focus on that. A lot of times we get away from the things we were good at to focus on other things so I had to get back to my wrestling.

On what would be different in a second GSP fight
I made a lot of technical mistakes in that fight and when you fight someone of that caliber and make mistakes, you pay for it. I took bad shots because of those mistakes. I took two big punches on mistakes and those alone set the course of that fight.

On his gameplan for Paulo Thiago
I don’t set a strict gameplan. Anything can happen and I just expect to pressure my opponent and try to force him to make mistakes so I can capitalize on them.

Posted by Andy Knobel at 8:53 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Q&As

June 20, 2009

Catching up with Joe Rogan

Joe Rogan’s comedy special “Talking Monkeys in Space” airs after The Ultimate Fighter season 9 finale on Spike TV this Saturday. Rogan is one of the more intriguing comedians working today (his interviews in podcast and satellite radio form with people he knows are incredible) and his special should kick ass.

I spoke to Joe earlier this week about the special and his work with the UFC.


On his special

All of my specials mean something at the time. This one means more because it’s the new one. I have a real good relationship with the Spike guys, they have seen me perform at comedy clubs many times and the beautiful thing is they are owned by Comedy Central. So the reruns will be on Spike and eventually on Comedy Central.

On doing comedy and UFC commentary
It’s fun, it’s an interesting way to do it. I like to go to these towns and do comedy one night and the UFC the other night. It’s been working out and has been the best of both worlds.

As a human being you evolve and your thinking evolves. As a comic and artist your comedy evolves as well. The more you do something the better you get at it. I think I enjoy it more now.

On balancing writing new jokes versus research for MMA commentary

All the research I do for MMA commentary is stuff I would do anyway. I’m a huge fan of mixed martial arts and I’d be going to the same websites, watching the same fights and same videos. I’m just a huge fan. I’m very fortunate to be a paid professional fan of the UFC. The more stuff you do the more your perspective is enhanced. The more different things I’ve done the more my comedy is enhanced. The better I am at comedy the better I am at commentary.

On Sanchez-Guida

Diego has a very good chance. It’s a very interesting fight. Clay Guida is a juggernaught. He has great conditioning, great wrestling, sets a relentless pace and is great taking fighters out of their game plans. But, at 155, Diego is a different animal. His jiu-jitsu is off the chain.

On his favorite fighters

I like different varities of fighters. I like fighters that are exciting and intelligent. I love Wanderlei Silva, he’s my favorite fighter of all time. He doesn’t have a safety sense style at all. He has that reckless abandon and just attacks with the most aggressive style ever. I really enjoy that and then I again I enjoy Lyoto Machida. He takes no damager, fights intelligently and is amazing to watch.

You can’t do commentary on the ground game unless you’ve done it. You can call a triangle while it’s locked on but you won’t see the setups, the transitions. There are too many steps before you finish that you won’t catch on. Doing jiu-jitsu has definitely helped my commentary.

Some sports fans just think UFC guys are all a bunch of meat heads. That they aren’t real athletes and that they aren’t intelligent. That’s the biggest misconception.

On the growth of MMA

The outcropping of new organizations like Strikeforce is very important. There are so many up and coming guys that need places to fight and I believe competition is good. New organizations are great for the sport. I just think this sport has so much potential. It’s exploded over the past few years and there’s so much more room to grow. I truly believe it’s the most exciting sport in the world.

On GSP vs.Thiago Alves at UFC 100

Thiago Alves is the very best striker GSP has ever faced. In his career he has one loss from a grappler and one loss from someone who struck with him. Alves is way more powerful than Serra, was more dangerous on his feet. Georges has to be careful in the standup aspect. But how will Alves handle GSP’s wrestling? GSP is the best mixed martial arts wrestler in the business. He’s the best at executing a game plan. His execution is flawless.

On Kimbo Slice joining the next season of The Ultimate Fighter

He’s got Roy Big Country Nelson on that show. He’s a really good jiu-jitsu guy with a ton of experience. He’s a dangerous fight for a guy who has a hard time on the ground. Kimbo will have a real hard time with guys who are good grapplers. It takes too long to learn the grappling game. You have to love it and do it for years before you can defend yourself from a high level guy. I don’t know that Kimbo is that guy. I don’t know if he trains all the time with the right people and goes over positions.

Posted by Andy Knobel at 3:50 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Q&As

June 19, 2009

Catching up with Joe Stevenson

I also caught up with Joe Stevenson, who is taking on Nate Diaz at The Ultimate Fighter season 9 finale.



On his TUF fight:

I think whoever dictates the pace has the best odds. We’re both very seasoned and very good fighters. You can never count out either of us.

On his hopes for the fight:

Ideally, he walks in, slips and falls, and they raise my hand. I’d also be happy if he slipped right into a choke.

On the MMA video game:

I like the game. I’m honored to be part of it. I’m also glad they did the digital scan of my body right before I had to make weight for a fight so my body fat was down.


On MMA's reputation:

The biggest misconception casual sports fans have is that we’re brutes. That we’re just in it for the rock and roll part of it. A lot of us that have made it to the top went to college and put in a lot of time and sacrifice to get here. They see one person back at home act that way and assume everyone acts that way.

On the B.J. Penn vs. Kenny Florian fight:

Well, I married a Hawaiian so I’m picking B.J. Penn. I think B.J. is awesome and will prove to be too much for Kenny on that day.

On his maturation:

I’ve grown a lot throughout the years. I’m training with Greg Jackson now and I think fans will be excited to watch me fight as I mature in how I fight. I think there will be a lot of happy fans out there.

Posted by Andy Knobel at 8:07 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Q&As

June 18, 2009

Catching up with Diego Sanchez

Diego Sanchez is headlining The Ultimate Fighter season 9 finale Saturday on Spike TV in a match against Clay Guida and I recently caught up with him for a few minutes to get his thoughts on the fight.


On his gameplan at TUF 9:

The key to the fight is me executing my gameplan. I’m a better fighter with better fights on my record. I have more experience and am going to have the fight of my career.

On his opponent, Guida:
I have respect for his heart and conditioning, but when he gets on top of people and lays there and holds them down? That won’t work with me. It’s a boring style and I’m ready for anything he tries to do.

On his strategy:

I’ll hit him with elbows, attempt triangles, hitting armbars, sweeps, guillotines. I will be constantly attacking from my guard.

On his current condition:

I feel strong and faster at 155, especially with my wrestling. My takedowns have improved as the guys I fight walk in weighing 160 now as opposed to 190.

On the future:

My plan is when I turn 30 -- I’m 27 now -- I want to turn back to the welterweight division and fight the best. I want to win the belt here and hold it and when the time is right, move to 170. Truthfully, I could fight in both weight classes.

On the MMA video game:

Oh, man, it is so awesome. They did such a good job with the video game. They made me a 90 rating and I’m pretty good on there. I don’t have knockout power but maybe in the next edition I can get that added.

On Georges St. Pierre:

It’s weird ... I fought GSP five times in a row and got my butt kicked. It sucked watching myself get knocked out five times so I switched weight classes.

On what fans don't know about him:

I think my fans know everything about me. What they don’t know they can wonder about.

I also caught up with Joe Stevenson and Joe Rogan, so keep an eye out for those interviews later today or early tomorrow.

Posted by Andy Knobel at 7:55 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Q&As

February 19, 2009

Q&A with UWC's Mike Easton

There’s a very cool event this weekend at the Patriot Center at George Mason. The UWC has put together an entertaining card Saturday at 7:30 p.m., headlined by Mike Easton against Chase Beebe. If you’re into women’s mixed martial arts, Felice Herrig will be fighting against Iman Achhal.

It should be a fun show, and I spoke with Easton earlier this week about it.

MMA STOMPING GROUNDS: For fans who aren’t familiar with you, how would you describe yourself?

MIKE EASTON: An exciting fighter who loves the stand-up game. Also, I’m very versatile on the ground, and I have a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I like to push the pace.

MMA STOMPING GROUNDS: What’s the key to your fight Saturday?

MIKE EASTON: Just being in shape, that’s the main thing. Pushing the action, pushing the pace and just putting him in situations he’s never been in before. The game plan is to make it an exciting fight. I feel unbelievable, I’m ready.

MMA STOMPING GROUNDS: What’s one thing you want fans to know about you as a person?

MIKE EASTON: You can just come up and talk to me. I like to have fun, and I’m always smiling and joking around. I have a son that’s about to turn 2-years-old in May and an 8-year-old stepdaughter and a beautiful fiancee. I’m a family-oriented guy, and I love being in the gym.

MMA STOMPING GROUNDS: What do you like most about MMA?

MIKE EASTON: The art. You have to work on your striking skills, grappling skills, wrestling skills, and conditioning. There’s just so many aspects of the game you have to practice and work on, which makes it so beautiful.

MMA STOMPING GROUNDS: How did you get involved in MMA?

MIKE EASTON: I’m a black belt in tae kwan do, and I bought a UFC tape -- one of the early ones with Dan Severn -- and then I saw their New Year’s special. Once I saw that I said, "Man, that’s what I want to do." Tae kwan do wasn’t enough contact for me.

MMA STOMPING GROUNDS: What’s your ultimate goal in this sport?

MIKE EASTON: To sit on top of the bantamweight division and to get MMA big in the mid-Atlantic and [Washington] D.C. area. I just want to show everyone that my city and my area has some of the best fighters in the world. I want to be one of the first guys to put Maryland, Virginia and Baltimore on the map. People talk bad about this area sometimes and how things are going wrong, and I want people to look at things differently and say, "These guys are awesome, they are good people and good athletes and do great things." I want to give kids in our area more role models.

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 10:37 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Q&As

December 17, 2008

Strikeforce Q&A with Mike Afromowitz

There have been a number of organizations that have tried to compete with the UFC and they all have failed miserably. One MMA organization that has done well for itself and is poised for a bright future is Strikeforce. For those who aren’t familiar with the promotion, I caught up with Strikeforce official Mike Afromowitz to give you some background.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What are the basics people need to know about Strikeforce?

Mike Afromowitz: We started in 1994 as a kickboxing series. We were on ESPN or ESPN2 as the exclusive provider of martial arts footage to ESPN and we presided over K1 back in 1999. We produced the first K1 U.S. event in Las Vegas in 2000 and our last event was last year. We launched Strikeforce MMA series in 2006 and crossed over from kickboxing to MMA. With our first MMA event we broke the North American attendance record for MMA with a sellout crowd of 18,265 at the HP Pavilion in San Jose. They actually had to turn people away and this is back in 2006 when the sport was first heating up.

Then again, northern California has always been a hotbed for martial arts. There are so many great schools, tons of students. It was a great fit and the time was right.

MMA Stomping Grounds: A lot of promotions come and go. What makes Strikeforce different?

Mike Afromowitz: Our core competence is strong production and experience. You can’t underestimate experience and that’s where we have a strong advantage over the next guy. The short timeline I walked you through, that demonstrates our experience in production of martial arts shows. It’s about experience in martial arts business. We respect anyone who gets involved in the business, but to succeed at a high level doing arena shows, you need a lot of experience and we have that.

At the same time, our longevity in the business has allowed us to attract and retain top talent. We have, I think, a very strong roster of world-class fighters and our existence for awhile in business has allowed us to attract that type of talent.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Who are some of the top stars in Strikeforce?

Mike Afromowitz: We have Cung Le, someone people are familiar with. You may have seen him in the kickboxing series on ESPN and ESPN2. He has entertained a lot of fans over the years. We have Frank Shamrock, who people should know as the first UFC middleweight champion. He’s a legend in the sport and the father of modern MMA.  Josh 'The Punk' Thomson, our lightweight champion, and he’s won his last eight or nine fights. And we’ve got Renato 'Babalu' Sobral, Kazuo Misaki, Joe Riggs, Gilbert Melendez. I think we have a healthy stable of world-class fighters [ed note: and now they have former UFC lightweight Jorge Gurgel]. There’s definitely a place for women’s fighting as well. That’s something we’re exploring. We’ve had a few women’s fights and it’s something we’d like to continue. It’s something we definitely want to host on our cards. Fans appreciate it and that’s what it’s about; putting on fights fans want to see. At end of the day, that’s a business we’d like to be in.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Is Strikeforce a competitor with the UFC?

Mike Afromowitz: Really, the UFC is No. 1 far and away. The job they have done under Zuffa and Dana White is remarkable. Right now they are No. 1 and really I don’t look at it that way. They are the kings. We are in business and want to be profitable and that’s our goal; to build a successful business really. 

These guys (the UFC) have put their heart and souls in the sport for years and they put the amount of time and energy into it. New organizations can’t match that off the bat. You can’t go to Atlantic City and say you’re going to compete with Donald Trump right off the bat. It’s hard. You can throw all the money you want at it, hire 100 people to work for you and throw all the money in the world at the project, but it’s not going to match the UFC’s experience and their brand. The UFC brand is so strong. That’s like taking on an 800-pound gorilla and that’s not realistic.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Where can people find Strikeforce?

Mike Afromowitz: We’re on every Saturday night on NBC after Poker After Dark.  We have live events on HDNet and a few events on Showtime, so hopefully fans will see even more of us in 2009.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What excites you the most about the sport’s future?

Mike Afromowitz: I think there’s more than one aspect, really. I’ve been in the business for a long time now so just to see the mainstream acceptance of the sport in the media and with the public. It’s an exciting time right now. The fact that the fighters keep progressing and getting better, I can’t imagine what the next generation of fighters will look like. Fighters today keep evolving into better hybrid competitors and it’s amazing to see the sport grow all around in its continuing evolution.

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 10:10 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Q&As

November 4, 2008

Q&A with Randy Couture

UFC heavyweight champion and MMA legend Randy Couture is back in the fold with the UFC and will take on Brock Lesnar Nov. 15 at UFC 91 in one of the biggest and most intriguing fights of the year. I recently caught up with Couture and talked about UFC 91.

MMA Stomping Grounds: How many fights have you had that have been bigger than what they anticipate this fight with Lesnar will bring?

Randy Couture: Well, they are predicting a huge [pay-per-view] buy -- I certainly hope it comes through. I take all the fights the same and treat everyone the same. It’s a title fight and every single fight is a big fight and it just feels like another UFC to me.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Do you think Lesnar deserves a title shot against you?

Randy Couture: It’s really not my call. I don’t think they are pretending Lesnar is the No. 1 contender, but I think first and foremost the UFC wants to put on big fights and this is a big fight.

MMA Stomping Grounds: In your mind, who is the favorite in this fight?

Randy Couture: I have no idea, I don’t really care about things like that. It’s all about who goes out and performs on the night. I know I’m preparing and will be ready to go on the 15th of November. Whatever happens happens.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What is the main roadblock at this point preventing a matchup with Fedor Emelianenko?

Randy Couture: I don’t really know what the issues are. I haven’t plugged back into that. I’ve focused on Brock and the fight coming up. If it’s meant to be it will work out the way it was supposed to work out. He has his Affliction contract and a bunch of other stuff to settle and Ill let the UFC deal with that. I just focus on the things I can control and that right now is my training,  and [there's] a lot of that going on.

MMA Stomping Grounds: You were outspoken about the issues facing fighters in the UFC. Have your problems with the UFC and the way it handles fighters been reconciled?

Randy Couture: It’s been reconciled for me, a lot of water under the bridge and you let bygones be bygones. I couldn’t afford to spend another year spending money on lawyers to see what may or may not happen. I gotta fairly short window of competition left here and I had to do what I had to do to take care of myself and my career.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What is your relationship like with UFC president Dana White?

Randy Couture: It’s been fine -- it was never personal between Dana and me. There were never any dispersions cast or personal issues. It was all business things that needed to be worked out and now everything is fine.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Do you think Kimbo Slice did any damage to the sport?

Randy Couture: I don’t think Kimbo has done any damage. I think that they pushed him out there ahead of where his real skills and capabilities, and some athletes were irritated by that. He got the pay and notoriety when his skill level wasn’t really at that point, but Kimbo has never acted that way. He’s been at our training center and I’ve been around him on several occasions. He’s  fairly quiet, humble guy who realizes he has a lot to learn in MMA and what happened to him against [Seth] Petruzelli could happen to anyone. Fault doesn’t lie with Kimbo -- If there’s anyone to blame it’s the powers that be that have marketed him like that.

MMA Stomping Grounds: If you could change anything about MMA, what would it be?

Randy Couture: I guess if there’s anything I could change, it would be that the athletes got things like health insurance and retirement plans and more equal compensation compared to other professional athletes and sports in our country. I definitely think its going to take time, any kind of change, especially like that, you’re talking about a lot of people and money. It’s going to take time.

MMA Stomping Grounds: It seems like there’s a growing number of MMA message boards. Do you follow any of that stuff?

Randy Couture: Nah, I don’t keep up with that. I don’t need to elaborate.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What do you like the most about the sport and the least about the sport?

Randy Couture: I think the one-on-one tactical, technical competition is what I like about it most.
Least? I don’t know, I guess at this point for me it’s sometimes the celebrity status that comes with competing at a high level. It can be overwhelming at times. There can be a lack of privacy and personal space just about everywhere I go at this point.

MMA Stomping Grounds: When did you first notice you were gaining some celebrity status?

Randy Couture: I think it was slow but the thing that stuck out to me was after the second Pedro Rizzo fight at MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Normally I just walk from the arena to the lobby and my room, but after that fight it took me three hours to get down the walk and get back to my room. I had my whole family with me and they were all frustrated by the time we finally got to our rooms. That’s when I realized I had to come up with alternate routes and some security might be in order, but that was the first time it really stuck out to me.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What is the coolest experience you’ve had because of your celebrity status?

Randy Couture: Well I’ve gotten tons of opportunities and met tons of interesting people through this sport and the exposure in this sport, it’s hard to single out just one. Probably going over to Iraq and getting to spend 12 days on the ground there with the soldiers that were putting it on the line over there. That was one of the coolest things I’ve gotten to do. The guys were great and they really appreciated that Rich Franklin and I came over. It was a good experience.

MMA Stomping Grounds: How much longer do you think you will fight?

Randy Couture: I haven’t put a date or limit on it. I take it one fight or training camp at a time and go from there.

MMA Stomping Grounds: You recently filmed The Scorpion King sequel. How was that experience?

Randy Couture: That was great. I’ve done seven movies now but this was my biggest part and the six weeks in Cape Town, Africa, were awesome. I really enjoyed the city and the people there and the sights in that part of the world were impressive.

MMA Stomping Grounds: If there was going to be a movie made about your life, who would you want to play you?

Randy Couture: I don’t know, I’m not sure ... probably a lot of guys could pull it off. Maybe a Sean Penn or Colin Farrell.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What do you like to do when you're away from fighting?

Randy Couture: I like the outdoors, motorcycles, mountain biking, hunting and fishing. Anything outdoors.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about MMA?

Randy Couture: Well, I think for a long time the misconception was that we were somehow dangerous or criminal because of what we did. Most of that is gone and I think there're still some people out there [who] think we will walk up and kick peoples' asses on the street for no particular reason.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What do you think has been the biggest change to the sport during your career?

Randy Couture: The fan base. My first fight was in a little civic center in Augusta, Georgia. The weigh-ins were at the Holiday Inn lobby and there were maybe 1,500 people at the show. They just got free tickets to come to a fight, they didn’t know who it was. Our fans are well-educated now.
MMA Stomping Grounds: With the economy in shambles, how do you think the sport will be affected?

Randy Couture: I don’t think it will be affected. Even in tough times people want that little escape, they want to forget about things and I think going to one of our sporting events or buying a [pay-per-view] allows them a couple hours where they can relax and not have to do anything but get into the fights.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Have you been affected personally at all?

Randy Couture: I haven’t had any issues: the training centers are doing fantastic, the clothing line continues to grow. We’re coming out in Men’s Wearhouse in November with Xtreme Couture, new blazers and denim and stuff. We have a new sports drink we’re kind of launching that I think a lot of guys will like. We’re building that from grassroots level -- it’s called Undefeated and things are going very, very well.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Chuck Liddell has endorsed John McCain. Are you endorsing any presidential candidates?

Randy Couture: Traditionally I’ve been a Republican, since I’ve been old enough to vote, but I haven’t endorsed anyone yet. It’s fairly complicated so I’m paying close attention to the issues.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Finally, what’s the key against Brock Lesnar?

Randy Couture: Well, I think like every other fight I’ve been in, I need to stick to the plan and impose my pace and my tempo and my will on the fight and things will go my way.

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 5:19 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Q&As

October 10, 2008

Q&A with Forrest Griffin

UFC light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin will be defending his title Dec. 27 against Rashad Evans at UFC 92 in Las Vegas. Griffin became the champ when he beat Quinton “Rampage” Jackson by unanimous decision at UFC 86. I spoke with Griffin earlier this week about almost everything, including why working at UPS was the worst job he ever had, how he plans to stop Evans (he needs your help), his thoughts on the economy and how it will affect the sport, why he considers himself a “boring dude,” his first tastes of fame, the toughest part of being Forrest Griffin and who he would like to face after Evans.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What’s been the biggest change in your life since defeating Quinton Jackson to win the belt?

Forrest Griffin: Well, I’ve gotten real into Scientology.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Ha. Wait ... what?

Forrest Griffin: Yeah, it seems like a lot of successful people are doing it so I decided to get on board with it.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Um ... so ... has that been a big change for you? (Note to readers: Even though I was familiar with Griffin's sense of humor, this was the first time we'd talked, so I wasn’t sure whether or not to take his comments about Scientology seriously. My first instinct was to laugh but then I didn’t want to offend him if he was being serious, because then I’m the jerk laughing at someone else’s religion. The whole thing threw me off for a good couple minutes.)

Forrest Griffin: No change, I hate change. It’s scary. I try and stay away from that. ... You know what the best thing about Baltimore is?

MMA Stomping Grounds: No, what’s that?

Forrest Griffin: The Wire. It’s pretty good.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Absolutely. Although I missed the boat when it was on TV and had to watch the DVDs.

Forrest Griffin: Yeah, I saw it on TV and was like, whatever, but then I got the DVDs. I think it’s a show you have to watch on DVD to get the whole experience.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Yeah ... so, after the win over "Rampage," was there any talk about a rematch?

Forrest Griffin: Yeah, at the post-fight press conference Quinton talked about it. Eh ... I didn’t really remember it. I don’t know. I’m pretty sure I’m fighting Rashad Evans on December 27.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What do you think of Evans?

Forrest Griffin: He’s a hell of an athlete. His quickness and speed is going to be a problem. It’s something a lot of guys have a hard time preparing for because it’s hard to find training partners that are that quick and have that upper body movement combined with wrestling. He has a lot of attributes ... I don’t know if that’s the word I’m looking for. You’re a journalist, you can figure it out.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Do you consider yourself the favorite in this fight?

Forrest Griffin: No, hopefully not. I would like to be under the radar and an underdog. I’d like to be the first guy to walk out in a title fight as the underdog.

MMA Stomping Grounds:  Do you feel like that’s something you need, that chip on your shoulder?

Forrest Griffin: Nah, I just don’t like to overstate things. I just kind of like to stay ... there’s no chip on my shoulder or anything. I’m kind of a grinder. I’m not super explosive or a flashy guy, so it only makes sense that I would be an underdog.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What’s the best part about being Forrest Griffin?

Forrest Griffin:That’s an interesting question. I’m not sure. I get to work out for my job and punch people and wrassle, that’s a pretty cool job. I’ve had actual jobs and this is the coolest by far.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What other jobs have you done?

Forrest Griffin: I’ve framed houses, worked on an asphalt crew, I was a cop, a lifeguard. I worked in a dining hall in college and I worked at UPS for a full three weeks -- it was the worst job I ever had.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Why was it the worst?

Forrest Griffin: It was from like 3 in the morning until like 8 and it was routing. A lot of memorizing numbers and figuring out what’s going on when you’re half asleep, and if you didn’t pull your packages, the guys behind you get jammed up and it’s a mess. The other good thing about my job is I continue to have enough money to buy gasoline, which is important.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What’s the coolest experience you’ve been able to have because of your celebrity status?

Forrest Griffin: I’ve done a lot of bit-part acting. I do a lot of endorsement stuff they don’t ask average people to do. I’m surprised they ask me because I’m a pretty average-looking dude.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Did you enjoy the acting?

Forrest Griffin: Nah it wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be. But the acting is up there, I don’t know. Every now and again you meet some people and they are cool and genuine. You just happen to be hanging out at the same place or waiting for a flight, you know it gets kind of nice. Actually, I was in the Dallas airport, I think I was, and I met some cops there and kind of hung out with them, and they actually ride the Segways, and they let me ride their Segways around. I had a couple hours to kill, so that was pretty cool.

MMA Stomping Grounds: On the flip side, what’s the toughest part about being Forrest Griffin?

Forrest Griffin: I don’t know. The expectations. People are always gunning for you in practice and in life and a lot of people want to talk to you at inappropriate times, like when you’re trying to train or work. I don’t mind talking to people, I like talking to people after practice but when you walk into the gym to work out, there will be people there that just want something signed or a picture and you’re not in that mindset, you know? You’re ready to fight people and your head is not on talking.

MMA Stomping Grounds: When did you first notice your fame?

Forrest Griffin: Right after the TV (The Ultimate Fighter) came on. I was a lot younger and it was such a new and exciting thing. I thought it was great and I didn’t really know what was going on. It was almost the best of times in that you didn’t even really think about it. There’s no pressure, there’s just fun and people recognize you and it’s such a new thing. Now, there’s a pressure to maintain. You’ve done a little something but you’re only as good as your last fight or your next fight and that’s just the way the world works. They forget you easy, you have to keep working to get better and there’s more talent and guys get better as the sport grows. A wider diversity of people get into it and th talent pool is increased. The sport is really evolving quickly and you have to stay ahead of it or be left behind.

MMA Stomping Grounds:  Have you ever had any weird interactions with fans?

Forrest Griffin: I’ve had quite a few, and I think that’s because I’m generally a friendly guy. I was actually just in Mexico and I hadn’t really met up with the people I was supposed to and my phone wasn’t working and I met these people at customs. I ended up seeing them later and they remembered me and I saw them on the strip area and ended up hanging out with them that night and it was pretty cool. They were like, “come hang out with us,” and I hadn’t found my people yet, so I was like “sure.”

MMA Stomping Grounds: What do you like to do away from MMA?

Forrest Griffin: I’m a boring dude, I’m really sad. I watch a lot of TV, a lot of movies. I read a little bit, not as much as I should ... and that’s about it, man. I like a lot of forms of entertainment that doesn’t involve doing anything for now. I try to abuse my body 100 percent during training so there’s not a lot left over for water skiing or anything like that. I don’t like to take risks. The most dangerous thing I do, besides driving because I’m a terrible driver, is play pick-up basketball. I play once a week maybe, I don’t play enough to not suck.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Were you involved in martial arts when you were younger?

Forrest Griffin: No, I never saw martial arts until I got to college. I played football and basketball growing up. There wasn’t even any wrestling where I grew up and I didn’t know anything about it. I thought Karate Kid was stupid and I didn’t care for Bruce Lee movies or anything. It wasn’t until the first actual time I was fighting people that I thought, “Oh, this is cool.”

MMA Stomping Grounds: When did you first realize you could do it for a living?

Forrest Griffin: I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to do it for a living. It just wasn’t the same sport back in 2001 when I was getting started, but I knew it was something I wanted to do. I figured it would be like a part-time job, something fun and extra on the side. I knew that the second time I ever rolled and boxed, I was like “Oh man, this is cool, I oughta do this.”

MMA Stomping Grounds: If you weren’t a fighter, what would you be doing?

Forrest Griffin: I’d probably be trying to pick up a Masters in administration and be in law enforcement in some aspect.

MMA Stomping Grounds: After Evans, is there anyone else you want to fight?

Forrest Griffin: The thing about 205 is there’s a ton of good guys. I’m not trying to be overly nice or friendly. There really are a lot of good fighters at 205. I would just prefer to fight the guys with the biggest names. I don’t think the difference in talent of guys at the top is too different. There’s a ton of good guys in that class.

MMA Stomping Grounds: After going through The Ultimate Fighter as a competitor and as a coach, what is one thing you learned about reality TV that most people might not know?

Forrest Griffin: One thing about reality TV, for me,  I didn’t realize how much of a job it was. That I would just have to be at the same place for so many hours a day. It was one of those funny things where ...  I was just watching the news and seeing how bad we’re [expletive deleted] economically. They just keep saying the same thing, I guess we’re screwed. I’m pretty sure my money is still in the bank. What were we talking about?

MMA Stomping Grounds: The reality show.

Forrest Griffin: Yeah, just how much footage there is to provide you with an hour show. There’s so much stuff I thought was worthy of being on and they can only put so much in and they have to make it cohesive. They can’t make it a bunch of random, funny stuff. Just how much footage they shoot for each show is stupid.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Well, speaking about the economy, has it affected you much yet?

Forrest Griffin: Well, I bought a house a year ago and it’s worth $160,000 less now and I’ve lost a little money.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Do you think it will affect the sport?

Forrest Griffin: It seems like it would have to. It seems like, to some extent, people don’t have the disposable money they had a couple years ago and everyone is starting to hide their wallets a little bit. But I tell ya, man, I go out to eat and you still gotta wait. People are still eating, the highways are still jammed with cars, people are still at the gym. It’s almost like a panic, but its business as usual for people. I live in Vegas and when people don’t come and people tip less, I mean the velocity of money in this town is very fast, and when it slows down the whole system breaks a little bit. I’m doing my part, I’m spending as much as ever. George Bush told me to and I’m doing it, damn it.

MMA Stomping Grounds: That’s because you’re a great American. Wrapping things up, how do you plan on stopping Rashad Evans?

Forrest Griffin: I’m not sure yet ... I was thinking about giving him some sedatives. If they make some sort of sedative I could put in his water or in his pre-fight meal to slow him down, that would definitely help. I’m open to your suggestions, if your readers have any ideas, they can tell you and then you can tell me. I’m definitely open to that.

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 12:38 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Q&As

September 3, 2008

Q&A with Rich Franklin

UFC star Rich Franklin is back in action this Saturday at UFC 88 in Atlanta and will be moving up a weight class. Franklin will be facing a fellow Cincinnatian in light heavyweight Matt Hamill. I recently spoke with Franklin about the match and his career.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Why the move up to 205?

Rich Franklin: I was talking to the UFC after the second [Anderson] Silva loss and they encouraged me to move up to 205. They told me my position there would be more appealing to them from a business perspective. They weren’t interested in a third match between me and Silva and they didn’t want me fighting contenders because I could eliminate possible title fights, so I was stuck in that I was going to be fighting people on the back end of their losses to Silva and I didn’t care for that gatekeeper position. After the Travis Lutter fight, I said I would try my hand at 205 again.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What’s the toughest part of the transition in weight classes?

Rich Franklin: I think that’s a question better suited for September 7, but me giving up some pounds there is quite the adjustment. If I’m carrying an extra 20 pounds in this fight and it goes the full 15 minutes, that takes a toll on conditioning.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What do you think about Matt Hamill?

Rich Franklin: He’s looked great, his success doesn’t surprise me at all. Matt’s an accomplished wrestler and a competitor. The first time I met him it was before he was doing MMA and I said when you’re done wrestling and all that -- he was making run for Athens games -- you ought to give MMA a thought because you could be good at it ... and before I knew it he was in The Ultimate Fighter and his only loss is a controversial one. He’s looked strong.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What would be your ideal fight?

Rich Franklin: I don’t know, it doesn’t really matter to me, I’m really just all about competing and having fun, doing it and putting on good fights for the fans. I’m one of those guys where if fans said “we’d love to see Rich Franklin fight so and so” I’d be in to doing that.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What part of the sport's growth has you the most excited?

Rich Franklin: I would guess the international growth at this point. The international growth the UFC is experiencing is showing how solid the future is going to be for this sport. So that’s great for guys like myself, who 10 years from now, I won't be fighting anymore and having a job within the MMA profession will be a possibility, but it’s also exciting for up-and-coming athletes.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What do you think is the biggest misconception casual sports fans have about MMA?

Rich Franklin: It’s that there are no rules. It’s the funniest thing I hear people talk about. People say, “I’ve seen that you fight in cage and there’s no rules,” and I’m sitting there [thinking] “yeah, exactly.” Quite frankly, the rule book for this sport is complex, more so than for most sports probably.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What is one thing you would want people to know about you?

Rich Franklin: I just think that people see the TV persona that’s developed and although I’m a lot like my TV persona, things get amplified and magnified so to speak, and all that stuff gets taken out of proportion. One aspect of your life seems to overwhelm public perception and they forget about other things. From what they read in newspapers they think they know you, but what it boils down to is they don’t.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Have you ever had any weird requests from fans?

Rich Franklin: Yeah, requests like “can you shave your autograph into my back hair” or stuff like that, it’s really not that bad though. I don’t get, like, women’s panties in the mail or weird fan mail or anything. I have had threatening phone calls to my house on numerous occasions. People call to threaten to kill me or beat me up when I’m not looking. My wife has also had threatening phone calls, which is odd because I’m a fairly well-liked fighter, so its weird. It’s weird having that kind of stuff happen because I come from a normal small town here in Ohio and suddenly my life is blown up and I’m perceived to be way more important than I am.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Do people call you a lot like that?

Rich Franklin: It’s kind of out of the blue, it will be three or four in the morning. I had a string of these calls occur over a couple months where they came semi-frequently. Then when I was out of town my wife was getting them. I had a fan who one time did some research and got my home number and called my house. My wife picked up and he said “This is Bob, I’m calling Rich about an interview,” and she said, “OK, who are you with?” He just said, “Oh, with no one, I just wanted to interview him.”

MMA Stomping Grounds: Do you have to contact the authorities when you get calls like that or do you just shrug them off?

Rich Franklin: At this point I’ve shrugged them off. It irritates me more than anything else. I don’t know, I guess being a fighter you feel you can take care of yourself anyway, but it’s never gotten to a point where I feel the need to call the police.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Looking on the upside of your fame, what are some of the cooler experiences you’ve been able to have during your time as a fighter?

Rich Franklin:That’s the thing with fame -- there’s the good side and the bad side. The bad side is when you’re out in public you get recognized, I couldn’t go to a club down here in Cincinnati without expecting to take 100 pictures with people on phones so they can put that crap on MySpace. I understand that goes on when I go out. The cool side of it is I’ve been able to do a lot of things most people haven’t. I got to go visit the troops in Iraq in 2006 and I’m getting ready to go back to the Middle East again. I’ve done tons of cool stuff around the military, like going on aircraft carriers and on a basic level I get invited to nice restaurants and people pay for dinner occasionally. You rarely have to wait in line for clubs and stuff like that. As you’re sitting there signing autographs in a club and by time you hit the 50th picture it’s like “at least we didn’t have to wait in line for this place.” Your friends think its more cool than [I do] but it has some perks.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Does the fame ever feel surreal to you?

Rich Franklin:  No, as far as I’m concerned, fame is a fickle thing. One minute people love you, the next they hate you. You always have loyal fans that think you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread, but really, 99 percent of my life I’m just your average guy. I’m sitting at my home today wondering if I’m going to have to cut my grass before the fight again. I’m not wanting to have to sit on my tractor for a couple hours in the sun doing it but that’s my typical life. It’s pretty normal and things will be more that way once I’m out of limelight and retire. For most part people will forget about you. I sign autographs not because it does anything for my ego but because the people that ask you for it wouldn’t understand if you didn’t sign it, and I want fans to have a good experience when they meet me.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What’s the toughest part about being Rich Franklin?

Rich Franklin: Juggling all the aspects of my life. So many people want your time. Once you gain some notoriety or perceived importance everyone wants or needs you. You have appearances for this charity or sign autographs for this or make appearances at this fight. I need to go visit the troops and I need to train and I need to do PR work for my fights but on top of everything else I need to make time for everything else -- family, friends and training and its difficult to juggle all of that.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Do you follow MMA much when you aren’t training/fighting?

Rich Franklin:Yes and no. I watch the bigger fights but there’s so much stuff. MMA has exploded so much that you could sit down and you got your Versus channel and your HDnet and the UFC and the WEC and all these other shows and acronyms. If you DVR’d everything on MMA on TV you could watch fights nonstop in your waking hours. I spend so much time in the gym training that sometimes the last thing I want to do is come home and watch more fights. I do watch some fights and anytime there’s a WEC and Jens Pulver or one of my friends fighting I’ll catch the show, but I’m always definitely making sure I pay attention to UFC events and major fights.  Honestly, my wife probably keeps up with that way more than I do.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What do you like to do away from fighting?

Rich Franklin: Well, when I’m training, I’m an athlete and an athletic kind of guy so I like to do anything active, but I don’t have the energy when I’m training. I will do things like play my drums, practice my Portuguese. I do often times spend a lot of time reading my bible and stuff like that.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Finally, what do you need to do against Hamill to be successful?

Rich Franklin: I think I gotta be quick on my feet. I’m giving up some weight so he might be giving up some speed. I need to use my footwork to confuse him and stick and move and stick and move and avoid takedowns. Once he does take me down, I can’t let him lay on top of me. I need to stay active on the ground.

Click here for a photo gallery of UFC 88 fighters.

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 11:05 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Q&As

August 17, 2008

Q&A with Chris Thomas

 Guest blogger Kye Stephenson is back in the mix. This time, he has an interview with Chris Thomas.

Chris Thomas is a Baltimore resident and highly respected figure in the mixed martial arts community. He has been involved in MMA since its infancy and is one of the few individuals given "all access" to MMA fighters and promoters. Currently, he co-hosts "Fight Club" on Sirius Satellite Radio. I was able to talk to Chris at length and get his insight into the current state of MMA, where he sees the sport going and what the future holds for MMA in Baltimore.

MMA STOMPING GROUNDS: How did you first become involved in Mixed Martial Arts?

THOMAS: In 1993 I was sitting with my karate instructor and class of students and we watched the first UFC. As I watched Royce Gracie beat everyone I thought to myself, "That's what I want to do." I became obsessed with the sport and I become known as "Chris the MMA guy."

I had a nutrition business, which I sold and started an MMA Web site. It was one of the first media outlets covering MMA. I met guys like Dana White, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz and Pat Miletich. 

I went to my first event in Rome, Georgia in 2000. It was in the middle of nowhere with about three thousand fans. On the card were Jens Pulver, Matt Hughes, Jeremy Horn and Rodrigo Nogueira. All these guys who became superstars of MMA. And these guys are amazing people. They could do anything. MMA is the triathlon of sports. If you ever go and see an event live, you will see something more impressive than any NBA Finals or Super Bowl.

MMA STOMPING GROUNDS: How did the show on Sirius come about?

THOMAS: I did a radio show in New Jersey for an IFL show. I met a guy there who worked for Sirius. He introduced me to some people and I initially ended up going on the show as a guest.  Within a couple shows, I became the co-host. We’re on every Tuesday and Friday from 1 to 3 p.m. We're doing well and look for us to be on more days as soon as the merger with XM goes through, whenever that happens. 

MMA STOMPING GROUNDS: What is your take on the Affliction event and its significance in the MMA world? 

THOMAS: Here is how I look at MMA – I think MMA is similar to NASCAR in that each individual promotion is their own car with their own budget, drivers, etc. The UFC is one car. Affliction is one car, EliteXC is one car, etc. Right now the UFC is lapping everyone because they’re constantly on.  Dana White wanted to be on free TV and he came through with his promise. The guys at Affliction had their clothing company and they started sponsoring a lot of top-notch fighters. I interviewed Randy Couture recently and he felt that the UFC basically banned Affliction because they wanted to affect him (editor's note: Affliction runs Randy’s Xtreme Couture clothing line). Affliction is on a different level when it comes to the heavyweight division. They have some great heavyweights and, of course, Fedor Emelianenko. Fedor is a different type of fighter. He is liquid in motion. His transitions are flawless and he is an economy of motion. Watching him is exactly what MMA is supposed to look like. 

I hope Affliction sticks around. They need more exposure. Donald Trump Jr. has been on my show and those guys are working hard to help the promotion and they seem to be about more than just the money. I hope Affliction makes it. It's good for the sport. It's good for the UFC and EliteXC.  This sport has proven that if you promote and put the fights people want to see, people will come. 

EliteXC was recently on CBS again and the UFC put on a re-run of UFC 84: Ill Will. Ill Will drew three million fans. Two million [fans] watched CBS, which proved established MMA can kick the ass of the networks. I think that was a watershed moment for the UFC showing their brand. EliteXC still got two million fans and the decrease was likely from not having Kimbo Slice or Gina Carano on the card. 

The UFC is just one version of what the sport looks like. The people that are new to the sport only see one version. There are other versions and people need to see other products. Let's face it, everyone talked about what they could do -- Dana White was the one guy who actually went to the Fertitta brothers and made it happen. Imagine going to your quarterly meetings and you lost $17 million. They lost $44 million until they turned it around. Not many people would continue to commit to that. But the car was already built -- Zuffa and Dana came along and put gas in that car and made it supercharged. Now Donald Trump has gotten involved and he's not a newcomer, he loves MMA and he has for a while. 

MMA STOMPING GROUNDS: You mentioned Randy Couture earlier. What is your opinion of his current legal situation with the UFC? Do you think he was justified in making some of the comments he’s made regarding his lack of pay and respect?

THOMAS: You have to realize that Randy wasn’t expected to win. They put him in as a sacrificial lamb and he surprised everyone and won. Nobody expected it. Randy deserves everything he gets. So does everyone -- including Tito Ortiz and other guys. They deserve to make at least what Dana White makes. They made the sport what it is. That's why I think Fedor is worth the money he made and ten times more. He is the guy these professional athletes look up to. At the Affliction show, if you look close, you will see boxing champion Zab Judah at the fight looking in awe at Fedor in the fight. 

MMA STOMPING GROUNDS:  What type of future do you see for MMA in Baltimore?

THOMAS: Baltimore is three years behind the sport right now. They're behind the curve and I don't know that Baltimore will ever be a big market. Can they be? I don't know. They haven't proven that promoters would want to be here. I'm cautiously optimistic. I work in New York, but I live in Baltimore and I would love to see the sport flourish here. I see us continuing to promote MMA in general and I believe I can be part of bringing the MMA community here together. I'm shooting a pilot TV show that's filmed in Maryland. It's an MMA variety show with John Rallo (editor's note: Rallo owns the mixed martial arts academy "Ground Control" in Baltimore) and myself.   

MMA STOMPING GROUNDS:  What do you see on the horizon for MMA in general?

THOMAS: I've already seen an evolution of the sport and I think that will continue. Imagine someone like Cung Le, who grew up in the traditional martial arts world and his first exposure. He was seeing karate guys get beat up. Now he is flourishing. We’re seeing the sport develop and grow constantly. The sport is not about violence. Honor is two athletes training their entire lives to compete against each other at the highest level. Most of these guys don’t hate each other and it’s a close community.

The state of New York right now is looking at the approval process to get MMA legalized in New York. I think we’ll see MMA at Madison Square Garden in 2009. That being said, the major companies really haven’t even jumped into the sport yet. I want to help continue to promote the sport at the highest level and be a face and name for the sport.

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 10:54 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Q&As

July 15, 2008

Q&A with Anderson Silva

I recently spoke with the UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva through his manager (and translator) Ed Soares. Silva will make his UFC debut at light heavyweight Saturday against James Irvin in the main event at UFC Fight Night 14. The biggest thing I took away from this interview is Silva's desire to make great fights happen, which may mean we’ll see more of him at light heavyweight. Silva's respect for fellow fighter Rich Franklin also comes through at one point in the interview.

I’ll have much more on the two big Saturday events -- UFC's and Affliction's "Banned" -- in the next few days but Silva is the hottest name in the sport right now and is widely regarded as the top fighter in the world, so I figured this Q&A should take precedence. I also spoke with Georges St. Pierre late last week and will post that Q&A sometime next week. Again, the responses below are from Silva, as translated by Soares.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Has the UFC approached you about any more fights at the light heavyweight level?

Ed Soares, translating for Anderson Silva: You know what, right now in his career, what’s going on is he’s the 185-pound champion and he’s got two to three years left in him to fight. What he wants to do is create fights the world wants to see and the fans want to see, so basically if it happens to be at 205, then we’ll fight at 205. If it happens at 185, then we’ll fight there too -- nothing's speculated and nothing's in front of us, but we’ll take the challenges as they come.

MMA Stomping Grounds: If you could pick anyone in the sport to fight, who would it be?

Soares (Silva): He said no one in particular. He trains to fight against the best so whoever the best is at that time, that’s who he’d like to fight.

MMA Stomping Grounds: How do you feel about James Irvin’s comments that he’s going to win Saturday?

Soares (Silva): [Silva] said that’s normal, anyone who has a mouth can say what they want.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What challenges will there be fighting at a weight class different from your last few fights?

Soares (Silva):   Maybe a little bit of strength.

MMA Stomping Grounds: When the UFC asked you to move up to 205 for this fight, did you hesitate at all?

Soares (Silva): Not at all, not at all. As a fighter there was no hesitation, more hesitation by his coaching staff and sparring partners but when they presented the challenge he stepped right up without hesitation to take the fight. He wants to test himself in every fight and he feels moving up right now is the best fight he can have.

MMA Stomping Grounds: How important is the title of the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world to you?

Soares (Silva): He doesn’t feel he’s the No. 1 pound for pound. He feels he won’t be able to say that until he’s retired. While he’s fighting, it’s hard for him to say he’s the best pound for pound.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Who does he think is the top pound-for-pound fighter?

Soares (Silva): He doesn’t feel there is a perfect fighter. He doesn’t know who it would be.

MMA Stomping Grounds: UFC president Dana White claimed you came to him and asked to fight more, is this accurate?

Soares (Silva): Yeah.

MMA Stomping Grounds: How often would you like to fight?

Soares (Silva): He’d like to fight as often as his body will allow him.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What has been the toughest fight in your career?

Soares (Silva): His first Muay Thai fight in his career, the first of his career.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Who has been your toughest opponent in the UFC?

Soares (Silva): Rich Franklin. His game is what he felt the toughest to train for. His striking game was probably the most complex in the UFC.

MMA Stomping Grounds: If you could change anything in the sport, what would it be?

Soares (Silva): A few of the rules. He thinks there should be more rounds.

MMA Stomping Grounds: How did you feel after the UFC wouldn’t let you box Roy Jones Jr.?

Soares (Silva): He said he understands their point of view but it’s something on his mind that at one point in his life he would like to do.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Why do you want to box Jones?

Soares (Silva): He likes to challenge himself and there’s no one better to challenge himself in boxing than Roy Jones Jr.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Were you frustrated when the UFC wouldn’t allow it at this time?

Soares (Silva): No, no. He said he wasn’t frustrated. He was a little bummed because he wants this fight to happen but understands their point of view and hopes it happens someday.

MMA Stomping Grounds: How do you think you would do boxing against Jones?

Soares (Silva): He thinks it would be a great fight.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What is one thing most people don’t know about you that you want them to know?

Soares (Silva): You stumped him with this one ... hold on. You know what, he doesn’t think there’s really anything the world doesn’t know about him yet. Everything the world needs to know or wants to know about him, he thinks they know.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What’s your favorite thing to do away from fighting?

Soares (Silva): Play video games and hang out with his family and kids.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What’s your favorite video game?

Soares (Silva): Soccer.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What do you like the most about the UFC?

Soares (Silva): He likes the way he’s treated here.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What excites you the most about the growth of the UFC?

Soares (Silva): He said he’s excited he’s able to demonstrate his technique inside the Octagon and he’s happy the people here in the U.S. are happy to watch him fight. And, he’s excited about going in and making history in fights. ...

MMA Stomping Grounds: How many fights are left on your contract?

Soares (Silva): Six fights.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Are you going to try to organize the boxing match with Jones at the end of that or sign another UFC deal?

Soares (Silva): We take it one fight at a time.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Finally, what’s the game plan for Saturday’s fight with Irvin?

Soares (Silva):  He says he’s going to go in there and do his game. He’s prepared to take the fight wherever it goes and just try to capitalize on Irvin’s errors.


Check out photos of UFC Fight Night 14 fighters.

More recent MMA Q&As:

> Brandon Vera

> Tim Sylvia

> Brock Lesnar

> Dana White

> CBS announcer Gus Johnson

> View all Q&As

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 3:43 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Q&As

July 13, 2008

Q&A with Brandon Vera

UFC heavyweight Brandon Vera is moving down to light heavyweight to take on UFC newcomer Reese Andy July 19 on Spike TV. The main event of the UFC Fight Night card is middleweight champion Anderson Silva’s debut at light heavyweight against James Irvin. Vera is coming off a pair of losses to Tim Sylvia and Fabricio Werdum and is looking to get back in the win column against Andy, a former IFL fighter. I recently spoke with Vera about the fight and a variety of other hot topics in the MMA world.

MMA Stomping Grounds: How did this fight with Andy come together?

Brandon Vera: I told the UFC I wanted to fight ASAP. They came in with a whole bunch of different options and I guess you could say I just took it.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Did they offer you any other fighters besides Reese Andy?

Brandon Vera: They offered me Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva, Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, Lyoto Machida and then Reese Andy. I turned down Machida. He’s not someone you take on short notice. You gotta get ready for Machida. The other fighters turned down the other fights so that’s how we came to Reese.

MMA Stomping Grounds: With you moving down to 205 and with Rich Franklin and Anderson Silva moving up to 205, do you feel more pressure to win knowing this is the most stacked division in the UFC?

Brandon Vera: No, not at all. I’m not worried about it. I don’t succumb to pressure like that at all and don’t think about stuff like that. There are a lot of great fighters I’m excited to fight but I’m not feeling any pressure.

MMA Stomping Grounds: If you and Anderson Silva both win, would you be willing to fight him at 205?

Brandon Vera: I would be willing to fight anyone they put in front of me. [The UFC's light heavyweight division] is stacked like you said, for sure, so I’m down to fight any of those guys whenever.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Andy isn’t a household name for a lot of fans, so what can you tell us about him?

Brandon Vera: He’s a three-time All-American wrestler. He’s tough and likes to take people to the ground and pound them. He’s competed in Abu Dhabi a couple times so his grappling level is pretty good. And he’s always in shape.

MMA Stomping Grounds: How important is it for you to get back on the winning track against him?

Brandon Vera: I don’t worry about getting back on the winning track, I just worry about having a good performance and showing what I can do in every fight. It’s just another fight and every fight is equally as important as the last one for me. We’ve been training hard and I took five days off after my last fight and got right back into it.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What did you think of the Forrest Griffin-Rampage Jackson fight at UFC 86?

Brandon Vera: Honestly, I didn’t know who won the fight. I thought it was a coin toss. It was so close and I was very disappointed in the judges' unanimous decision, I thought that was [expletive deleted].  I didn’t think Forrest won that [by that] wide [a margin] but I was cool with either fighter winning. It was a great fight. For them to say it was that one-sided and unanimous, I thought that was [expletive deleted].

MMA Stomping Grounds: If you could fight anyone in the sport in your next fight, who would you want?

Brandon Vera: Fabricio Werdum. I lost to him last time because of a [expletive deleted]-call by the ref, so I for sure want to fight him again ASAP.

MMA Stomping Grounds: You beat Frank Mir by technical knockout at UFC 65 -- do you think he earned a title shot after defeating Brock Lesnar at UFC 81?

Brandon Vera: Hell no. It upsets me but you can’t dwell on it. It is what it is. The UFC has given him a title shot, so what can you do? The powers that be I guess.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What do you think about Lesnar?

Brandon Vera: He’s cool. I’m kinda disappointed he’s in the big league so far but I’d like to see him in the second round. He didn’t pay his dues and earn his way into the UFC -- he got in because his name is Brock Lesnar. I can’t hate on the guy, I don’t hate him, I’m happy for him. He’s doing his thing and making money. He’s in the UFC but I don’ t like the situation, how he got in.

MMA Stomping Grounds: With the UFC expanding globally, there’s a lot more opportunities to fight outside the U.S. If you could fight anywhere in the world for your next fight, where would you want to have that card?

Brandon Vera: In the Philippines. I’d want to fight there for sure. I’m Filipino, so I’d have to be on that card. The UFC is pretty good about stuff like that. It would be easy, they would put me on that card.

MMA Stomping Grounds: If you could change one thing about the sport, what would it be?

Brandon Vera: I don’t know. There are a lot of things going on I like and a couple things I don’t like. I guess, uh, the scoring and the refereeing. I’d adjust that somehow. There has to be a constant variable and not always a judgment call but then again, it’s MMA, you have to have judgment calls. I don’t know, something with scoring.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What’s it like to have a wife who is also a fighter?

Brandon Vera: It’s really cool that that’s what we do. It makes it easy for training and traveling and stuff.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you that you think they should?

Brandon Vera: I’m a big geek. I’m a super geek. I have remote-controlled cars, Xboxes, and I watch kung fu flicks all day.


More recent MMA Q&As:

> Tim Sylvia

> Brock Lesnar

> Dana White

> CBS announcer Gus Johnson

> View all Q&As

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 11:07 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Q&As

July 8, 2008

Q&A with Tim Sylvia

Affliction has put together an incredible card for "Banned," the biggest mixed martial arts event of the year, which is scheduled to take place July 19 in Anaheim, Calif. Headlining the fight is Fedor Emelianenko, the man who has been considered the top fighter in the world for the past few years. He’s going up against one of the best heavyweights in the world, Tim Sylvia. Sylvia recently left the UFC and become one of the few high profile free agents in the sport. I recently caught up with Sylvia to talk about Fedor, MMA judging, Kimbo Slice, the growth of the sport and more.


MMA Stomping Grounds: How’s the training going for Fedor?

Tim Sylvia: Good, real good. I’m preparing the same way I prepare for anyone else, I train my ass off and may the best man win.

MMA Stomping Grounds: If you win against Fedor, do you think you would deserve the title of No. 1 heavyweight in the world?

Sylvia: Yeah, I’ve answered this question a couple times. I just don’t think, in MMA it’s hard to label someone as No. 1. I think the top five guys are all No. 1. It’s just so tough, we’re all so competitive. It’s so close and in MMA anything can happen at any given moment. I don’t care about being ranked No. 1, I care about beating the best guys out there.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What appealed to you about Affliction?

Sylvia:They are friends of mine, they had six of the top 10 heavyweights in the world, and with me they have seven. That’s the best place for me to be to fight all the best fighters out there, so I have to be there.

MMA Stomping Grounds: It’s been awhile since Fedor has fought a top heavyweight. Do you think that will factor into this fight at all?

Sylvia: I’ve fought top 10 guys the past three years and he hasn’t. His competition hasn’t been very good. He’s fought fat middleweights or he’s fought freakshows who weren’t good fighters. I think it’s going to benefit me a little bit.

MMA Stomping Grounds: There are some rumors floating around now -- I think Michael Bisping mentioned something about it -- that Fedor may be injured. Do you give any credence to stuff like that?

Sylvia: I don’t give a [expletive deleted] about any of that. We’ve all fought injured. It happens, so when it comes fight-time, if he’s injured, it won’t bother him at all.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Can Affliction compete with the UFC?

Sylvia: I don’t think Affliction is even considering competing with the UFC. They are just looking to put on quality shows, pay the fighters well and have a good time doing it because they can.

MMA Stomping Grounds: If you beat Fedor, who would you like to face next?

Sylvia: It doesn’t matter to me. I really don’t want to talk about those questions. Let the fight happen first and then I’ll be happy to talk to you about what’s next.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Down the line, do you see yourself back in the UFC or have you put that behind you?

Sylvia: Yeah, eventually I would like to be back in the UFC. Right now, I have other opportunities and there’s a chance for me to make some money as a free agent so that’s what I’m going to do right now.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Do you have friends in the UFC who are coming to you with complaints now that you’re currently out of the organization?

Sylvia: I was with the UFC for five years. I have a lot of friends in the UFC, eh, you know what, no comment. I eventually want to fight back there some day and I left on good terms.

MMA Stomping Grounds: If you could change anything about the sport, what would it be?

Sylvia: There’s a couple things. I would like to see knees and foot stomps allowed on the ground and I would like to see all the judges go to classes and get certified and have to re-certify every year. Just like fighters have to apply for licenses. I think judges have to take classes and know more about MMA. You can’t just have boxing refs judge doing MMA. It’s not working and fighters are getting screwed because of it.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What is the biggest misconception people have about you?

Sylvia: I think people just think I’m mean and hard to approach because I’m big. I’m not, I’m a good guy. I’m just more of a country boy, a redneck and I just like being with my friends and stuff. I find it hard to believe that people just want to get my autograph and get pictures with me. It’s really hard to fathom, even to this day. I’m just fighting for fun and it just happens that they put me on TV now and they pay me to do it. I just love the sport so much, I’m fortunate I guess.

MMA Stomping Grounds: When did you first really notice the fan appreciation and recognition?

Sylvia: After I beat Ricco Rodriguez. Overwhelming, it was overwhelming. I just could not believe it. I had his family taking pictures with me and getting autographs and stuff. It was my second fight in the UFC.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Have you had any weird encounters with fans before?

Sylvia: Oh, God yes. I’ve had fans offer me their wives before and just stupid stuff like that. Fans wanting me to sign their wife's boobs, guys getting tattoos of my signature on their arms. One guy told me was a huge fan of mine, I said ‘thank you’ and he said, ‘can we hang out sometime?’ I said, ‘what do you mean?’ He said, ‘grab a bit to eat, hang out, like friends.’ I’m like, that’s weird, I don’t even know you, man.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What’s one thing about you that most people might not know but that you think they should?

Sylvia: I’m a huge outdoorsman. A big, big hunter. If I’m not training and fighting I’m in the woods. I’ve got some farmland and I love being in the outdoors. I go to Canada to hunt black bear every year and I go all over the U.S. to hunt all species of turkeys. I’m a huge, huge bow hunter.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What do you enjoy most about the sport?

Sylvia: Just the level of competition. I used to play semi-pro football. If you lost the football game it was like, 'I lost but I could still kick your ass,' but [MMA] is the pinnacle. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, you know who the best guy is. It’s kind of a male thing, we want to prove our masculinity and see who the toughest guy is, and we really find out in this sport.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Do you ever have guys who try to prove their toughness by starting things with you?

Sylvia: I get guys running their mouths, hoping I’ll smack them and they can sue me and get paid. But, the majority of public knows I’m 6-8 and 250 pounds, and they know if they mess with me they will get their butt beat, but I do get guys trying to make a little bit of money.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What excites you the most about the sport’s growth?

Sylvia: Um, just being mainstream. And big sponsors are going to start coming in and then bigger sponsors and maybe the sport will be in the Olympics. It would be a huge accomplishment and I’d like to think I was a big part of it.

MMA Stomping Grounds: With the Olympics, is that something you hope can happen during your career?

Sylvia: That would be a lifelong dream but it’s not gonna happen while I’m still fighting. I would kill to be in the Olympics. That would be amazing. I think it’s still 10 to 20 years from the Olympics but I think it will be eventually and I will sit back, hopefully in the Hall of Fame then, and I can say I dug the trenches for this sport.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What’s the biggest misconception most casual sports fans have about MMA?

Sylvia: The biggest thing is they think it’s barbaric or they think it's fake. We need more mainstream coverage, bigger shows, bigger events. The UFC eventually getting on prime time, showcasing the superstars they have and not using Internet idiots to produce the sport and publicize it.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Speaking of Internet idiots, what do you think about Kimbo Slice?

Sylvia: I commend him for becoming somebody and making a living for himself. I’m not mad at Kimbo for making a living -- he’s a self-made man. They put his fights on You Tube and then they said, I wanna pay you $300,000 to fight on prime time TV. You can’t get mad at him for that. You gotta get mad at the people putting fights on TV. There are better guys to showcase, guys who have busted ass, who have fought for 200 bucks and had to get stitches and have paved the way for other fighters. A guy like Kimbo can walk in and be on prime time to fight a bum -- it’s not fair to the true mixed martial artists.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What do you think about Brock Lesnar?

Sylvia: I think once again, he’s a guy who it’s not fair to come in and be the co-main event. To have one fight and get half a million, it’s not fair to guys like me and guys like [Antonio Rogerio] Nogueira.  I know why they try to do this -- to get more fans -- but there are guys out there who have been loyal to the sport and when stuff like this happens it’s like a slap in the face.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What did you think about the decision in the Forrest Griffin-Quinton Jackson fight? Did you think Griffin won?  

Sylvia: No, I didn’t. I love Forrest, he’s a great guy and they are both good friends of mine, but that’s why I was talking about judges. I really believe Forrest won round two and I believe he won five, and Quinton dominated the first round -- maybe a 10-8 round -- and won rounds three and four 10-9, but judges just weren’t educated enough in MMA.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Looking back on your career, do you have any regrets, would you change anything?

Sylvia: Um, no. I’m pretty happy with the way my career has gone and the way I’ve been portrayed and I’m looking forward to the future and my legacy and this next big fight.

MMA Stomping Grounds: When you talk about legacy, do you have a plan in mind for the rest of your career or are you just going to keep fighting until you’re not on top of your game anymore? 

Sylvia: Yeah, I’m thinking three, four, five more years. As long as I stay healthy and I’m at the top. If I lose three, four or five fights in a row, I’m going to be done.

Photo: Tim Sylvia (left) and Fedor Emelianenko will square off in Affliction's "Banned" show on July 19. (Handout photo)


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> Brock Lesnar

> Dana White

> CBS announcer Gus Johnson

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Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 10:54 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Q&As

July 6, 2008

Q&A with Brock Lesnar

With UFC 86 in the rearview mirror it’s time to look ahead to some of the summer’s other big fights. One of those will be a battle between UFC heavyweights Heath Herring and mixed martial arts newcomer and former professional wrestler Brock Lesnar Aug. 9 at UFC 87 in Minneapolis, Minn. Lesnar, who lives in Minneapolis-St. Paul, will be entering the Octagon for the second time in his career, following a first-round submission loss to former heavyweight champion Frank Mir at UFC 81. Lesnar's UFC 87 matchup with Herring was arranged after his original opponent, Mark Coleman, pulled out of the fight with a knee injury. Lesnar recently took the time to talk to me by phone about his career and his preparation for UFC 87.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Why did you decide to get into mixed martial arts? 

Brock Lesnar: Oh man, um ... originally it was the decision to be a part of the NFL because contractually I couldn’t fight in MMA, so I just knew I was done being a pro wrestler for the time being, at least for the company I was working for. (Editor's note: Lesnar played for the Minnesota Vikings for a little over a month during the 2004 preseason, before being released by the team).

MMA Stomping Grounds: How was the transition to MMA?

Lesnar: I’ve enjoyed it. I’m able to train at home and be at home every night. It brings me back to the competitive side of who I am. It’s something I wish I would’ve done a long time ago, but hindsight is 20/20.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What was your biggest concern with joining the UFC?

Lesnar: I didn’t really have any concerns. My biggest concern was, financially, making sure that I wanted to do it.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What was it like making your debut in the UFC on the main stage against a fighter like Mir?

Lesnar: Well, it was an honor. I’m glad the company thinks highly enough of me to put me in a co-main event and it was an exciting first fight for me. It was only 90 seconds long [and] an outcome that I would like to reverse, but I enjoyed it. It takes awhile for people to find exactly who they are, and I think this is definitely me, for sure. We’re all put on this earth for some odd reason and some job title and I think this is what I should be doing.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What do you like the most about mixed martial arts?

Lesnar: This is who I am and it’s a chance for me to live out, competitively, who I am and I enjoy the sport. It’s a growing sport and it's become very big -- and it’s going to get bigger -- and I’m just glad to be a part of it. Life is all about timing, too. I’m glad the timing has worked out for me to be a part of this.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What part of the UFC’s growth excites you the most?

Lesnar: We just signed a merchandising deal with a company to make action figures of myself and other fighters, and [the UFC] is growing in different areas. It’s becoming a legitimate contender to pro wrestling, hockey, basketball, football ... it’s becoming one of those sports. Before long I imagine there will be trading cards and all kinds of merchandise that give fighters another avenue to make money, instead of just fighting.

MMA Stomping Grounds: How would you respond to fans of the sport and fighters lower on the totem pole who believe you got a big push because of your popularity in wrestling?

Lesnar: Tough [expletive deleted], buddy. Get in line. That’s just the way it is. This is a business and it’s a sport, it’s entertainment and it’s all three of those words wrapped into one. [UFC president] Dana White and [co-owners] the Fertitta brothers didn’t buy this company to say, ‘Hey let’s see if we can run this thing into the ground and not make a dime.’ They bought it to make millions and make it what it is, and that’s what they are doing. I’m just trying to have fun and get a little piece of the pie. I really enjoy it. I’m proud and honored to be a part of it. And it’s not like I didn’t pay any dues either. I wrestled amateur when I was 5 years old and put more miles in airplanes and working out. I’m 31 this year and I’ve paid dues. If [other fighters] want to be mad I think they should focus on how they can become a big contributor. They are mad because they aren’t making any money.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What was your reaction when Coleman had to pull out of UFC 87?

Lesnar:  After looking at Mark, I respect Mark a lot but it worked out for the better. Mark, I believe, is over the hill and had been out of the league and regardless of the injured knee, I don’t think it would’ve made a difference.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What did you think when they proposed Herring instead?

Lesnar: Heath is a younger guy, he definitely has a lot of experience and he’s a tough SOB. He’s a brawler and brings to the plate a whole variety of things that we’re looking at as a fighter. He’s well rounded with hands, feet and it’s a challenge for me, and I accepted the challenge when Mark pulled out. I’m looking at this fight where I’ve got a lot to gain and he has a lot to lose.
My back is against the wall in this fight too, because I said from the beginning I wanted to fight credible opponents and that’s what Dana is handing me in Frank Mir and Heath Herring.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What do you think about another newcomer to mixed martial arts, Kimbo Slice?

Lesnar: I don’t have a comment on that. It’s not worth commenting on it.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What’s been the toughest part of your transition to mixed martial arts?

Lesnar: Well there’s one thing I’ve got that you can’t take away and that’s a huge wrestling background. Another thing too is I’ve been able to keep my mouth shut and my eyes and ears open, and my trainers will tell you that. I’m trying to learn and absorb as much of the fight game as I can to be a well-rounded fighter and prepared for anything. I’m just another one of the guys who has his sights on becoming the UFC heavyweight champion.

MMA Stomping Grounds: After seeing the success Cheick Kongo had in taking Herring to the ground, do you think your wrestling will give you an advantage? 

Lesnar: I would imagine it would, I hope so. For me, I’ve got to be well prepared on my feet too. I might run into somebody I won’t be able to take down so I’ll have to stand and bang as well. Wrestling has taken kind of to the backburner as I try to brush up with my jiu-jitsu, hands and feet to become well rounded so I will see no surprises when I get into the Octagon.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about you?

Lesnar: I don’t know. I don’t really care.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What’s one thing about you that most people might not know that you think they should?

Lesnar: That I love my family very much.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Are you looking forward to fighting in Minnesota?

Lesnar:  Oh, absolutely. Any time I don’t have to get on an airplane and to be in front of my hometown [fans] is great. The state of Minnesota has been great to me and now people that want to come and see this and witness a UFC event don’t have to get on a plane and spend a lot of money. It’s right in the backyard and it’s a good thing for the city and for the state.


Check out Ring Posts, The Sun's pro wrestling blog.

Photo courtesy of Zuffa, LLC.

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 11:13 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Q&As

June 14, 2008

Q&A with Dana White

Here's the full version of my recent interview with UFC president Dana White.

MMA Stomping Grounds: I didn’t hear anything about the big announcement on Thursday. When is that going down?

Dana White: I’m doing it Tuesday. Let me tell you how out of [expletive deleted] control that thing is. I was talking to ESPN and [the reporter] was talking about competition and I said, 'Let me tell you what. People have been trying to compete with the UFC for years, even before we bought it. The last big one everyone thought was a big threat ... was the IFL. They went public, raised 800-[expletive deleted] million dollars, then they were talking about doing fighter benefits and stuff. They got the first network deal, those other guys weren’t the first on. They got time on 60 Minutes with us when 60 Minutes did their piece on us, and now the IFL is gone. They are [expletive deleted] down, their stock is worth half a cent (Editor's note: IFLI closed at $0.02 Friday).

That’s what we were talking about that day [with ESPN] and I said I’m going to make an announcement to my employees that shows everyone exactly where this business is going in the next couple years. I said I wanted to make the announcement to my employees, so it’s not even like I was making a big announcement to the media. If I was doing that I would’ve had a big press conference and then gone off to London. I wanted to wait until I was back to do it.

It’s a big [expletive deleted] announcement, it’s a big [expletive deleted] deal, but I got a lot of other stuff we’re working on right now. It was never anything I said I was going to announce to the media.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Are you going to announce it to the media after you tell your employees?

White: Yeah, I guess I have to now.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Why did the day change?

White: I wanted to do it after I got back from England and I got back late Wednesday. Also, all of our people are going to be in town next week for The Ultimate Fighter finale. All of our production guys, Joe Rogan, I mean everyone who works for the UFC is coming to it.

MMA Stomping Grounds: As someone who essentially built the sport of mixed martial arts to the popularity level it’s at today, how tough was it to see another promotion get the first big event on network TV?

White: See it’s not about the publicity they got. The problem is that it wasn’t the best foot forward for the sport. That fight turned a lot of networks off, turned off a lot of sponsors. You had a guy headlining on CBS who used to fight in [expletive deleted] backyards. It was disgusting.

That’s the problem and we’ve never, even when we were in the hole, we’ve never gone the freakshow angle. We could’ve done it and made some money, but we won’t do it. All you’ve ever seen in the UFC was the greatest athletes in the world. Never, ever did we do a freakshow and we won’t.

Kimbo Slice couldn’t win The Ultimate Fighter. He wouldn’t [expletive deleted] win the show and he’s headlining on CBS.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What did you think of the stoppage in that fight?

White: I didn’t see it. I heard it was a bad stoppage. I heard it shouldn’t have been stopped and that if it went to the judges that the other kid was going to win.

MMA Stomping Grounds: If the EliteXC/CBS show is turning off some potential fans and potential sponsors, how important is it for the UFC to get a network TV deal to show the fans more talented fighters?

White: No, it’s actually not a big priority. It’s going to take time and now it’s going to take more time because of the ProElite thing. Now, all these people come out and try to jump into the game and guess who has to clean up the [expletive deleted] mess. Me, I have to clean up the mess and I’m not knocking any doors down to get a network deal. When we get the right network deal we’ll be on. ProElite doesn’t have the right deal. They are going to [expletive deleted] lose money. Their show already sucks and now they are going to lose money on top of it.

MMA Stomping Grounds: How much longer do you think they can stick around?

White: Not long. I think people tuned in to see what it was all about. After what I’m hearing from everyone, I don’t think too many people will tune in for next one. They lost a lot of money and if people don’t tune in, all of that equals [expletive deleted] disaster and [the circuit not lasting] too much longer. You’re going to find, believe me, we make this [expletive deleted] look easy, but it’s a rough business.

MMA Stomping Grounds: The news reports indicate that New York is close to regulating MMA. How important is that to you?

White: It’s a big deal. Who do you think has been trying to work on New York, and all those other states? Think Mark Cuban and CBS have helped us try to get these states opened up? No, they don’t give a [expletive deleted]. They don’t care about MMA and building the sport. They know we’ll do it and they will just come hang out.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What was the deal with the original vote on MMA in New York on Thursday and the revote next week?

White: I don’t want to talk about it. I’m very confident New York will be done by the end of this year.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Will other states fall in line after that or do you have to work on those others as well?

White: That’s it. We get New York and that’s it. We’re there. This year we had Tennessee and Massachusetts and New York left. Tennessee is done and Massachusetts is close and New York is almost done. Once we get those done we’re moving into Canada. Montreal and one other place are the only spots you can have fights and we’re opening those provinces up.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Once New York is done, how soon will you move to have a fight there?

White: Soon. We’ll be there, at Madison Square Garden.

MMA Stomping Grounds: With the recent sponsorship deals and the Jakks action figure deal, what do you think has been the biggest thing to happen to the UFC in the past year?

White: All sorts of stuff. The sponsorship deals with Bud Light and Harley Davidson, two blue-chip, mainstream sponsors. Some of the ratings we pulled, the Jakks action figure deal and the success we’ve had internationally this year, with the fights in London. We just did a big TV deal in the Philippines. My announcement on Tuesday is a big deal. [Expletive deleted] like that. And I’ve got more coming.

Listen, the media, you guys love to play the whole [expletive deleted] angle with ProElite, CBS, M1, the IFL, every guy that comes out. Donald Trump now, Mark Cuban, [expletive deleted], I can’t even remember everyone. You love to talk about who is going to take the big dog down. No one is [expletive deleted] taking us down. No one is [expletive deleted] in our league. People like to make comparisons about the [Triple-]AAA and [Double-]AA in baseball, but in AAA and AA those guys can play the game. This is completely [expletive deleted] different. These guys aren’t in our league. We’re driving the bus and we have the road map and we are the ones that are forging the way in this industry. These other guys are just throwing [expletive deleted] at the wall to see if it sticks.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What part of your job is the most difficult?

White: Always, at the end of the day, we're in the contract business. Contracts are up every year or two years and that’s always a [expletive deleted] and never fun to deal with.

MMA Stomping Grounds: With other organizations trying to pry fighters, does it hurt morale among UFC fighters when other fights leave for a big payday?

White: The way I look at this thing right now, it’s like war and unfortunately in every war there are  casualties, and some of these guys that leave and go to other organizations ... it’s unfortunate.

MMA Stomping Grounds: If a fighter leaves for another organization, does that hurt his chances of coming back to the UFC down the road if that organization folds?

White: Unfortunately, some of these guys don’t look long term. Life goes on in the UFC. Guys will keep moving forward and things will keep moving. Maybe there will be some opportunity to come back someday or you get left in the dust.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What part of your job do you enjoy the most?

White: I love this sport. I love the fights and I love most of the guys in it. I love to win.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What fight are you most excited about?

White: Oh, [expletive deleted]. There are so many fights we have coming this year. I’m excited for a lot. I wanna see [Jon] Fitch-[Georges] St. Pierre, [Roger] Huerta-[Kenny] Florian, Forrest [Griffin] and [Quinton Jackson]. That’s the great thing about this thing. You realize we put on all the best fights people want to see and I want to [expletive deleted] see. People ask me what’s my dream fight. Are you [expletive deleted] kidding me? We make dream fights all the time.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What do you think is the biggest misconception the casual sports fan has about MMA?

White: I don’t know. I don’t think there are that many misconceptions. Maybe some people who watched the CBS show left with some misconceptions. I think we’re pretty much over that stigma. Unless we get the CBS thing [expletive deleted] this thing up, we don’t really battle that much anymore. Forbes magazine just came out with a list of like the hundred most dangerous sports and we’re not even on it.

MMA Stomping Grounds: You said earlier that getting a network TV deal wasn’t a huge priority. If that’s not a big priority, what is the biggest priority for the UFC?

White: To say it’s not a huge priority, I’m talking to different networks every day. We’re working on getting [MMA sanctioning in] states done. I’m working on getting stuff done in Canada, working down in Mexico, working on stuff in the UK, Germany, Australia, Brazil, the Philippines, Dubai.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What has to happen for you to sit back and say the UFC is mainstream?

White: When this thing is a worldwide sport that everyone is playing by the same rules all over the world.

I don’t know ... I don’t know. I have so many plans for this thing, even building it here in the US. We haven’t even scratched the surface here in the US. We’re so far from mainstream. Mainstream to me is walking down the street and asking about American Idol and everyone knows that. No one would know what the [expletive deleted] MMA is.


Other Q&As: CBS announcer Gus Johnson, Archived Q&As 

View photos: UFC 85 fighters, Kimbo Slice, Archived MMA photos

Photo courtesy of Zuffa, LLC.

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 12:36 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Q&As

June 13, 2008

Dana White on Tuesday's 'announcement'

I just got off the phone with UFC president Dana White. Got some clarification on the “announcement” and a host of other things. That guy must never rest. I’ll have the full Q&A up this weekend but here’s what he said about the announcement.

Dana White: I’m doing it Tuesday. Let me tell you how out of [expletive deleted] control that thing is. I was talking to ESPN and [the reporter] was talking about competition and I said, ‘Let me tell you what. People have been trying to compete with the UFC for years, even before we bought it. The last big one everyone thought was a big threat ... was the IFL. They went public, raised 800-[expletive deleted] million dollars, then they were talking about doing fighter benefits and stuff. They got the first network deal and those other guys weren’t the first on. They got time on 60 Minutes with us when 60 Minutes did their piece on us, and now the IFL is gone. They are [expletive deleted] down, their stock is worth half a cent (Editor's note: IFLI closed today at $0.02). That’s what we were talking about that day and I said I’m going to make an announcement to my employees that shows everyone exactly where this business is going in the next couple years.

I said I wanted to make the announcement to my employees, so it’s not even like I was making a big announcement to the media. If I was doing that I would’ve had a big news conference and then gone off to London. I wanted to wait until I was back to do it.

It’s a big [expletive deleted] announcement, it’s a big [expletive deleted] deal but I got a lot of other stuff we’re working on right now. It was never anything I said I was going to announce to the media.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Are you going to announce it to the media after you tell your employees?

White: Yeah, I guess I have to now.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Why did the day change?

White: I wanted to do it after I got back from England and I got back late Wednesday. Also, all of our people are going to be in town next week for The Ultimate Fighter finale. All of our production guys, Joe Rogan, I mean everyone who works for the UFC is coming to it.


Stay tuned for the full Q&A. There's some interesting stuff from White on network TV deals (not a big priority for them right now), CBS and EliteXC, fighters who leave the UFC for other organizations and then try to come back, MMA regulation in New York, the future of the UFC and more.

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 5:27 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Q&As

May 28, 2008

Q&A with CBS announcer Gus Johnson

I was surprised to hear that CBS tabbed Gus Johnson to call the action Saturday for their debut EliteXC event, mainly because Johnson has built his reputation in college basketball. Johnson is a great announcer, and maybe more importantly for EliteXC and the sport, he’s a mainstream announcer. I think he’s a great fit and should be a blast to listen to on Saturday night. I'm also impressed with the way he's embraced the sport and his new assignment.

Johnson recently took some time out of his schedule to talk with about mixed martial arts and Saturday's EliteXC: Primetime broadcast on CBS (9 p.m. EST), which will be the first live, prime-time MMA event on network television.

How did you get involved in the event?

CBS decided they wanted to get into the MMA business and they looked down their stable of announcers and thought I’d be a good fit. I got a call from the bosses and here I am.
Do you have any background in MMA?

I do have a background in martial arts. I study kung-fu, I’ve been a boxer for a number of years. I also recently started jiu-jitsu, so I have an opportunity to bring some of that [to] our broadcast.

When you saw CBS was picking up MMA, was it something you wanted to be a part of?

Are you looking forward to the event? Yeah, I’m really excited. I’ve always been a casual fan of MMA but now that I’ve had an opportunity to delve into it more seriously, I think it’s a wonderful sport. I love the competition, the honor and code the sport presents. It’s the sport of the future. I think this is what the kids like and I think MMA will be a mainstream event and it all starts on the 31st and I’m tickled pink to be a part of it.

Do you think MMA can become mainstream?

Yeah, if you look at what they are doing in the UFC and EliteXC has a big deal with Showtime, I think that its growing and the challenge will be to educate people that are watching it for the first time. We have to give them an idea of what they are seeing, especially if the fight hits the ground and with the jiu-jitsu aspect. Once we can make terms like “triangle choke” and “rear-naked choke” and “arm-bar” household words like a jab or a cross or an uppercut, that’s when MMA will really, really hit a point that will allow it to become one of the big sports in the country.

What type of prep work goes into a broadcast like this?

Well, I’m sitting here going over stuff right now. All kinds of info sent to me, I’m looking at James “Colossus” Thompson. I’ve got tons of research material and the challenge is to condense it and to put it in a good framework for myself. I’ve been watching a lot of film of different fights and I’ve been studying jiu-jitsu, so I’ve been rolling on a mat to know what moves feel like. I was telling someone the other day that I’ve only been doing jiu-jitsu for a month and I’ve been choked out more in that month than in my entire life and I like it, it’s fun.

What do you think about Kimbo Slice?

Kimbo Slice is such an interesting story. A former top linebacker [at] a Miami high school and he was on his way to major D-I scholarship before Hurricane Andrew hit and wiped out his senior season and changed his life. Those are the kind of stories you want to present as the night is going on so I’m trying to make sure I’m familiar with them and can speak fluidly on them when they hit the ring.

Editor's note: Click here for photos of Kimbo Slice and here for a column on Slice by The Sun's Bill Ordine.

What do you think is the biggest misconception the casual sports fan has about MMA?

Well, my father asked me a question about it when I told him I was getting ready to call this and he said, “Son, is that real?” My father is 75 years old so he’s thinking of professional wrestling I guess but I said, “Yeah, dad. It’s real.” He said, “Oh my goodness, if that’s real, it’s brutal” and I said, “Yeah, it’s brutal but there’s also a genius to it.” I think the biggest misconception for people who haven’t watched it before is “Is it real? Or is it wrestling?”

What do you think of Slice’s quick rise to fame?

Kimbo Slice is America. Especially in these tough times, everyone needs to have a little Kimbo Slice in them. Meaning, this guy has literally fought his way out of homelessness, fought his way out of poverty, fought his way into American consciousness and fought his way onto prime-time television. I think he’s truly an American success story and a story that should be celebrated, and come May 31, I think we’ll have an opportunity for the whole world to get to really know this man -- he’s a man worth knowing.

What would you say to a casual fan who is on the fence about tuning in Saturday?

Check it out. These guys are hard workers. There’s not a whole lot of money in this. They train their bodies to take all sorts of punishment. They are artists and athletes. Open your mind and grit your teeth a little bit because it’s primal, it’s violent but it’s something worth watching and appreciating.

What’s one thing you would want people to know about yourself?

That I’m just like them. I’m just a regular guy that likes sports and was blessed enough to be guided into the best business in the world for a sports fan, broadcasting.

What advice would you give students who want to be the next Gus Johnson?

Do it, do it. Map it out, plan it, eat it, live it, figure it out and work on it. Knock down doors. Don’t take no for an answer. Do everything you can to live your dream.

You know what, I’d give them the same advice my mom gave me a long time ago. Whatever you do, make sure you jump out of bed in the morning to do it even if it only pays you enough to meet your bills.

Photo courtesy of

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 11:52 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Q&As

February 25, 2008

Chillin' with the Tapout crew

Tapout crew pic by Tracy Lee

 (Tapout: From left, Punkass, SkySkrape, and Mask. Photo courtesy of Tracy Lee.)

The “Tapout” brand is synonymous with mixed martial arts. Venture to any MMA event and you’ll see the Tapout logo emblazoned on any number of fighter shorts inside the cage and T-shirts in the stands. Go to a WEC or a UFC show or other smaller shows and you just might see the costumed crew sitting somewhere near the cage.

And, for good reason -- the Tapout crew, consisting of Mask, Punkass, and SkySkrape (no, that’s not a misspelling), has been on the scene since the early days of the UFC. Their clothing and gear could very well be considered the granddaddy of MMA apparel. Since its humble beginnings, the company has blossomed. Along with a successful clothing line, the crew now has a TV show on Versus, a magazine, and other projects in the works.

I had the opportunity to interview all three members of the crew on February 13 by phone. The three were in a Las Vegas hotel room at the time, having just returned from a day at the MAGIC convention, a fashion clothing expose. If you’ve watched the Tapout TV show, you know the guys don’t take themselves too seriously and have fun with their work. You can also tell that the three are good friends. And, this was quite evident during the interview. Mask and SkySkrape cracked jokes while Punkass was allegedly texting during the interview. There were enjoyable interruptions during which the three tried to hatch a plan to cover up for all the f-bombs they’d been dropping. (Thankfully, I wield the power of “[expletive deleted]”). And, there were humorous stories including the crew’s propensity for getting lost despite the advice of the female voice in their GPS navigation.

But the crew did find time to be serious and to talk a little about where their company has been and where it’s going. What follows are some of the highlights of a conversation that spanned about 40 fun-filled minutes.

I read that Mask started Tapout in ’93 selling shirts out of the trunk of his car.

Mask: ’94.

How did Punkass and SkySkrape come on board?

Mask: Punkass ... I needed protection when I was out there in my car so Punkass always carried loaded guns (laughing). [I needed] Punkass to hang out with me and SkySkrape was just a fast runner so while Punkass would be shooting I’d throw the stuff to SkySkrape because he could get it out of there, away from the cops.

SkySkrape: I’m like a [expletive deleted] gazelle bro ... really fast.

Mask: He just jumps over bridges ... just with one leap.

OK, anyway. Now, I’m going to give you a B story to that (laughing).  

Punkass has been my best friend [for] 17 years. After about a year, year-and-a-half, he kept hitting me up, saw what I was doing and digging it and wanted to get involved. And, at the time, man, I was way worse [of a] control freak than I’ve learned to be. And, I just wanted to do everything solo. I wanted to be by myself, do it myself, my own vision.

But with him being so close to me and being such a good friend and honestly knowing him that good, I knew, “Man, I need help, I’m running out of money.” There’s still always the things that we’ve adopted so good now which is I always was a team player although I was trying to be a solo artist. ...

Later -- a couple of years later down the line -- as we started doing shows, by then everything I had [was] repossessed bro. By the time I brought Punkass on, [I was] actually living out of the car and on couch to couch. Punkass was basically working three jobs and supporting me and supporting the [expletive deleted] company.

So, I would end up going to these shows, the kid in the neighborhood – crazy ass in the neighborhood – happened to be my boy SkySkrape and he said, “Hey man, I dig all those UFC fights. I’ll help you. I’ll help you get down.” So, he started helping me and so it would be Punkass was working and taking care of the shipping -- because we were online -- and he was working supporting me and supporting Tapout financially and SkySkrape was carrying everything I told him to carry to the show. I’m just kidding. SkySkrape was helping me sell at the shows and helping me go search out fighters.

SkySkrape: I really tried to steal something from Mask and I said, "Hey man, I’ll work for you, but just don’t beat me up."

How did each of you become interested in MMA?

Mask: I saw the first UFC in '93 on pay-per-view. I was doing something and a buddy of mine taped it and knew I was into martial arts and fighting and said, "You gotta come see this [expletive deleted] ... basically there’s no rules ..." I went and saw that, thought it was crazy that a little skinny kid, little Brazilian kid, was beating all ... the fighting styles that I loved and he was doing it with some jiu-jitsu. I was like, "This [expletive deleted] is cheating." 'Cause he was taking people down on the ground and choking them.

Well, I went straight from there and went over to where Punkass was working the next day [and] told him about it. Within three weeks of seeing the first Ultimate Fighting champion in UFC, Punkass and I had found where Royce Gracie was teaching at the Gracie schools about an hour away from where we were living at the time and we were up there doing privates [lessons]. It was instantaneous.

Punkass: We basically started training right after the first UFC. We were going down there two, three times a week driving an hour there, hour back to go do this training and still trying to -- I had a job at the time and so did [Mask]. So, we were both working our jobs, trying to train, and we just fell in love with the sport. Actually, Mask was one of Royce’s training partners for UFC 5 when he was training for his next fight. So, we were down there a lot for that because he was having to get some extra time to work out with Royce because he was about Royce’s size -- he was closer to Royce’s size for the training.

We met a lot of people and we networked a lot with the right people and it later helped with what we were doing in Tapout, in the business.

In your own words how would you describe your own job titles?

SkySkrape: Mine is simple bro. All I do is clean toilets and mop floors. That’s all I do. My job title is janitor.

Mask: And, Punkass yells at him all the time, makes sure [to tell him] he misses a spot here, misses a spot there.

SkySkrape: [Punkass] doesn’t yell it though. He texts it to me. He doesn’t say anything. He texts it to me.

Punkass: Well, I would say we do have our own things that we do. That’s kind of why this relationship works so well for us, because when you have a company you don’t want three people doing the same thing. I think we each do our own thing; we complement each other. There’s some overlap there. We’ll help each other out. When we were doing this business with only three of us and no financing pretty much when we started out -- we were financing our own capital -- we had to kind of wear a lot of hats, where we were doing a bunch of different type of things. Mask was maybe designing clothes but he was also dealing with fighters and I was dealing with fighters and handling the shipping and lots of the financing and the business. And, ‘Skrape was handling fighters and helping out with the shipping and some of the business.

We had some overlap, but for the most part we complemented each other because we were doing our own things: Mask was 100 percent handling the design and the focus of what Tapout was going to be and my control was going to be in the business aspect and I think ‘Skrape was really good at taking up where we had some slack. He was coming in handling any of the things that we were leaving out or not able to handle at the time.

SkySkrape: They didn’t like to clean, bro ...  

What’s your favorite thing now about being involved with Tapout?

Mask: Yeah I love being able to have an extension, of being involved in something that creatively is its own monster. I like to think of musical terms – if you’ve seen the show you see that I like to think a lot about Jimi Hendrix and people that weren’t as scared to go out there and take chances creatively. I feel hopefully that we are doing that with the clothing company. Obviously myself and ‘Skrape are a lot more flamboyant where Punkass is real hardcore. I hope I’ve infused that into the clothing and the mixed martial arts world and blend fashion with fighting.

But, my favorite, man, is in doing the show I hope somebody somewhere, some kid in a Midwestern town, Oklahoma, or down South, or West Coast, or North – somewhere gets motivated to take a chance and believe in whatever it is that they want to do in life, like we’ve believed for the last ten years what we wanted to do and the impact we wanted to make.

I’d like to say on top of that, we believed in a sport that nobody believed in and [have] become an extension of it and now we’re going and finding the fighters that maybe haven’t been found and believing in them and helping them get to the top shows and being a backbone to the sport.

We don’t [have] to be front men, we don’t [have] to be quarterback or number one fullback, or wide receiver. If we can just be water boys to the UFC, the WEC, to the fight world -- hey, everybody needs that water boy. You come in off a hard play, you’re looking for that water. And, if we can just be an extension of touching someone’s life and maybe they laugh at me and ‘Skrape acting silly or dig the way Punkass handles himself or maybe got encouraged by ... seeing us take chances ... that’s my favorite part.

Punkass: You know people say, “Living the dream” and that’s kind of what we’re doing. It’s the American dream. We believed in something, we believed we could do it, we put our money where our mouth is. We didn’t have much money to put up. We put our time, our money, and our beliefs and put it all on the line and made it. We’re kind of an American success story. And then, we get paid to now go out and travel and help people and do this television show and watch fights. I couldn’t think of a better job to have. So, that’s what turns me on every day and makes me get up every day.

SkySkrape: People say, “When you love what you do, it’s not work.” We bust our ass, we work hard, but to us it’s really not work. We love doing it. We have fun. We’re all best friends. So, that’s how we can get on Punkass and joke with him and ... play hard with him ... he doesn’t get mad because he knows we’re joking with him. ... And, then helping the sport. We all love this sport and we like acting stupid and just bringing a laugh to it. The sport is such a tough-guy sport but we like to have fun and make it a little more exciting. ...  

How did you come up with your Tapout names and personas?

Punkass: I think it was just an extension of our personalities. In a weird way, if you really know us, if you’ve hung out with us day to day, everything that we do or how we look is just an extension of each of our personalities.

Mask: And, understand the fact that SkySkrape is 6-9 so that’s a pretty obvious one.

What was the pivotal moment for your company, when you knew you guys had something big and that you were on the road to success?

Mask: Back in November ’97, if you get what I’m saying. I knew when it started, bro. You ask Walt Disney, when did he believe in Disney Land; ask the Wright brothers when did they believe they were going to fly; ask Jimi Hendrix even though he never took lessons when did he think he could play guitar? Bro, it’s always 100 percent known. There’s nothing else to be said. And, I can tell you its going to be so much bigger. TapouT’s going to touch, change lives, be a part of the sport, and live long after we’ve come and gone.

A big issue right now is how much fighters get paid. Can you roughly break down how you pay fighters?

Mask: We can’t say exactly what we pay the fighters. If you have a B-level fighter, an A-level fighter, or C-level, or Triple-A that’s going to be all different. But, you have guys like Chuck Liddell who drives a Ferrari or a Porsche, [who has] two and three homes, so he’s not making $1.59 and eating a Taco Bell. They’re making good money. The UFC’s paying big, big money. We can at least say that they’re paying at least half a million for their top fighters because they’ve already said that.

Based on companies like us, based on where we’re at, it depends on the level fighter and the level of exposure and what the contract says. It’s all different amounts.

Punkass: I would say that comparatively – I’ve looked at some of the other sports that are out there – and especially like the extreme sports I would say our industry is paying better than a lot of the extreme sports, unless you’re talking about the very, very top guys. But, for the most part, our sport is paying comparatively better than the extreme sports market. I don’t think we’ve quite touched some of the guys that are playing some of the professional sports but we’re definitely close. We’re right there. I mean specifically baseball or basketball.

Do your sponsorship deals reach six figures, seven figures? Can you give a number like that?

Mask: Aaaah. Nice try. That was good. I like that. That’s like when I tell a girl, “Wait, what’s that over there?” and unbutton her belt buckle.

SkySkrape: Let’s just say everybody can go get a big-sized drink now. ... You know when you used to go to a fast food place and you’d order, “Can I get a water?” and they’d give you a water cup and you’d put Coke in it? Well, now they can actually go order Coke and pay for a Coke.

The MMA apparel market is becoming crowded with new companies forming all the time. What’s your attitude about this growth and who do you think is your biggest competitor?

Mask: Biggest competitor? Nike. Reebok. I don’t really pay attention to who else is out there doing whatever they’re doing because somebody has to be numbers three, four, and five and nobody’s going to be number two because we’re doing it so well we’re taking up the one and two spot. I don’t care who else comes in and does whatever they’re going to do because I’m just focused. My boy here Punkass is focused, SkySkrape is focused. We want to do something new, we want to do something different and if twenty other people want to play guitar, that’s cool. We’re just going to play ours our own way.

Affliction is a pretty big name (in MMA clothing). What do you think of them?

Mask: I don’t think of them.

Punkass: Affliction’s nothing, bro. They’re their own market. That’s fine. Let them do what they’re going [to do]. They’re not us. They don’t do what we do. They can’t do what we do. They’re not going to make gear or clothing like we make clothing. They can’t expand into some of the markets we can go in. It’s just apples and oranges pretty much. I think they basically capitalized on the fact that they can sponsor in the UFC -- maybe they knew some people or something -- but from what I hear they’ve gone a different direction and they’re not sponsoring fighters in the UFC anymore. It doesn’t really matter anyways.

Some of the rumors related to why you don’t see their sponsorship logo [at UFC events] is that they might be getting into promoting events or starting their own league. Has there been any thought on your guys’ part in terms of starting your own league since you know so many fighters and you’re so deep in the industry?

Mask: Never ever. We support the UFC and the WEC and any other mixed martial arts [league] that wants to do their promotion. We’re just here to be an extension and help the sport grow. We’re not a fight league. We’re not doing that. We do clothing. We find fighters. We help people achieve their dreams. That’s Tapout.

Punkass: We sponsor what is the biggest show and the most popular show out there right now -– the WEC and UFC. We’re big sponsors of those shows. We have a commitment with the UFC to be the official clothing of the UFC and also the WEC. And, we’re sponsoring the upcoming season of [The] Ultimate Fighter so that’s where we want to place our sponsorship money. We’re not trying to do our own shows. We’re not trying to recreate the wheel. There’s already successful companies out there doing it. Just let them do it. We’re going to concentrate on our own goals.

Outside of your magazine and your TV show and your clothing line, what can we [expect to] see from Tapout in the months or years to come?

Mask: We signed with Creative Artist Agency, which is huge, and the deal’s going through right now. I’m going to be designing and doing a Tapout comic book with SkySkrape, Punkass, and Mask in it and some other things so that will probably be pretty bitchin’. I know we’ve got energy drinks coming at us. We just want to be an extension of the sport and the name Tapout is always going to mean fighting but Punkass is really excited about the comic book deal we have coming because that’s like a little bit of fantasy and a little bit of dreaming right there. We can blur reality with unreality -- it’s always kind of cool.

Punkass: In the future, we’re going to expand into a lot of categories like Mask was talking about, between the comic books and energy drinks and our gear line expanding. Expanding categories is a big thing for us because Tapout can attach our name to a lot of products that we feel like represent our customer and it’s going to sell those products. We want the brand to live on and I think the way to do that is to become more than just a T-shirt company. And, that’s by attaching ourselves to products that can live on forever. And, keep us core or real careful to protect the brand and to only attach ourselves to products that we feel can relate to our customer.

About your show on Versus, what sort of creative input do you have with the show?

Mask: It’s all dictated by what we do. They haven’t said, “Do this” yet ... Everything you see us do, when the cameras stop rolling we continue doing. Nothing’s different. All the direction that Pilgrim Films gets to have is tell us what’s our call time, so we know be down there twelve noon because none of us get up earlier than that anyway and then, they just start filming bro. That’s it. We find the fighters, we pick the [fight] shows, we irritate Punkass, Punkass drives and gets us there on time -- and he can drive good while he’s texting as you’ll see next season.

How have you been able to maintain the mom-and-pop feel [with your company] while also becoming so successful?

Mask: This is something I noticed back in Boston. This is coming from my heart. We got through filming one day and just think of this for a second. We had a long day. They were filming basically in five days what we normally get two weeks to do. Long, hard days man. It’s freezing cold. It’s three hours difference. We’re from California -- we’re on the East Coast [in] Boston. It’s snowing. Punkass is driving in the snow and rain. Everything is really intense and we’re really trying to do very well for the company and for Zuffa having faith in us and for ourselves.

At the end of one long, hard day I became aware -- because Punkass and SkySkrape are my best friends -- I became aware that at the end of our hard day when we were completely done, we were like, “OK, now what are we going to do?” Now, let me tell you this again! We had just been together all day, man, and filming, acting stupid, on each other’s nerves! And, at the end of the day, we were like, “Hey, where do you guys want to go eat?” We still wanted to hang out.

So, bro, it’s just my boys with some cameras following us. We’re just going to do what we do until the damn thing gets done because we’re doing it. ...

A cool thing on your site is that your motto is “Bad for the sport.” I’m assuming that’s tongue-in-cheek. Explain why you came up with that as your motto.

Punkass: We see on the forums sometimes – we don’t really pay attention too much but ... ”Hey man, check on the forums, they’re talking [expletive deleted] about Tapout on the forums because you guys are wearing makeup and [expletive deleted] and running around with Afros” and they think we’re just playing games .

Our whole attitude is those [expletive deleted] don’t know us. They’re working at McDonald's and typing [expletive deleted]  – you know, keyboard warriors – talking [expletive deleted] on the [expletive deleted] Internet. They’re calling us bad for the sport and we just embraced it. You want to call us bad for the sport then [expletive deleted] call us bad for the sport. We don’t give a [expletive deleted].  

Let our actions speak louder than words. We’re out there putting our money back into the fighters. We’re out there supporting the shows. We’re out there supporting the fighters. I’d give my shirt off my back for any of our fighters. We’ve put up our fighters and given them money we didn’t even have. I bounced checks just so we could pay fighters because we said we were going to pay a fighter. We just put our money where our mouth is.

They can talk [expletive deleted] if they want. That’s on them. We’re comfortable. I can wake up every day knowing we’re doing everything we can to help people and help this sport grow. So, it’s basically just us embracing their [expletive deleted].

“Here for you to hate” is one of our other mottoes that Mask came up with during that -- [expletive deleted] them for not knowing about [TapoutTapout] ...

Posted by at 7:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Q&As

January 31, 2008

UFC 81: Tim Sylvia then and now

Just a year ago today, Tim Sylvia was the UFC's reigning heavyweight champion. About a month later, he lost the belt at UFC 68 to an un-retired (and apparently still-happy-with-the-UFC) Randy Couture. Shortly after his loss to Couture, I interviewed Sylvia for It's interesting looking back on that Q&A because Sylvia was clearly bummed about losing the belt and he was also suffering from a back injury that eventually required surgery.

One thing Sylvia felt at the time was that he would be back in title contention, even though readers weren't so sure. And, who could blame the readers? After all, Mirko Cro Cop had joined the ranks and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was on his way to making his UFC debut. With Couture as the champ and the new influx of talent, it was possible Sylvia wouldn't get a chance at the belt for awhile.

Instead, after one victory (over Brandon Vera last fall), Sylvia is back in a title fight, this time against Nogueira Saturday at UFC 81 in Las Vegas. In addition, Sylvia called out Frank Mir in this interview. If Mir defeats Brock Lesnar this Saturday, we could surely see a Sylvia-Mir fight in the near future.

Here's my Q&A from March 16, 2007:

First of all, how is your body feeling 10 days after your UFC 68 fight?

I got injured during the fight and I had a doctor's appointment today. I have a herniated disc in my lower back.

And this happened during the fight?

Well, I was injured before the fight and we weren't sure exactly what happened but we had an idea that that's what it was. I just got diagnosed with it today -- [I've] got a herniated disc pinching my sciatic nerve.

So, I couldn't train. I trained my [butt] off for the fight cardio-wise. But I couldn't do a lot of stuff on the ground because my sciatic nerve wouldn't let me.

How are you feeling mentally?

Um, I was pretty bummed out -- [I] couldn't believe I lost. But I went home for a week to Maine and hung out with a lot of close friends and family and they were really supportive. They don't give a [darn] if I win or lose. As long as I stay the same, and I've stayed the same, you know?

Before you fought Couture, there were reports that made it seem like you coveted the heavyweight belt. For example, there were reports that you carried it wherever you went.

Yeah, none of that stuff is true.

What did it mean to you to have the belt?

It meant a lot. It meant I was recognized as the best guy in the world. It means a lot. I still feel I'm one of the best in the world. I had a bad night.

How does it feel now to have lost the belt?

It sucks. I come home and I have two other belts on my TV that I look at. And it's like, [darn] I'm no longer the champ -- it sucks.

After the match, in your post-fight interview with Joe Rogan, you alluded to your back injury. Do you think it was a mistake to bring that up right after the fight?

Yeah, not that it was a mistake Randy beat me fair and square. Plain and simple. He was the better man that night. He beat me. So, I shouldn't have even brought it up.

Could you give us more details about the injury, for example when it occurred and how it occurred?

It happened about four weeks ago during training for the fight, defending takedowns and stuff like that. Wrestling with big guys you get hurt. I kept training, and [the injury] got worse and worse.

So you're saying it happened about three weeks before the fight itself?

Yes, that's exactly when it happened.

Did you consider pulling out of the match?

Yeah, I did.

How is your back feeling now?

It hurts. It's the worst it's been right now. I just got my MRI yesterday and I got diagnosed with everything so they put me on the pain medication -- some oral steroids, [I] go in for a cortisone shot [March 16] -- and they're hoping if I take one month off from training that it should get better.

UFC President Dana White said in the UFC 68 post-fight news conference that he thought you were "overconfident" going into the fight. Do you feel you were overconfident?

No, not at all.

White also said in the UFC 68 post-fight press conference that you have an "image problem." Do you agree with his assertion?

I have an image problem? What does he mean by that? Explain it to me.

He didn't elaborate on that.

Well, if he can't elaborate, neither can I. I don't know. I always have a self-esteem problem. I was physically and mentally abused as a child, growing up with my mother. So, I think it still sticks with me to this day that I have a problem with that.

As a fighter, what do you do when you hear the booing from the crowd?

I just block it out, man. That's gonna happen. A lot of the fans still aren't quite educated about all the stuff that's going on in a fight.

Did the booing surprise you at all?

A little bit.

Why do you think the UFC 68 crowd was so merciless to you?

I was fighting a legend, a Hall of Famer -- Randy Couture. He's everyone's idol. He's 43 years old, coming out of retirement, fighting me and everybody was rooting for him.

Given the outcome of your UFC 68 fight and some of the criticism you have received for your previous two title defenses, are you planning on changing your game plan or changing your style in upcoming fights?

Not at all. Not at all.

At a time like this, having just lost the title, where do you draw your strength to move forward?

I want to win my next fight. I'm on the road back to the belt. That's what I want to get. Every fight is one step closer to the belt.

What's the next step for Tim Sylvia?

Just to get healthy -- 100% -- and get back in the gym and start training and working on my next fight.

How much time will you take off before you start training again?

They told me I'm going to take at least one month off. I have another appointment [sometime in the next] two weeks after my cortisone shot [March 16]. Once that's done I will figure out what I need to do.

Have you had any conversations about when your next fight will be?

Nope. I haven't talked to the UFC at all.

What is your contract situation with the UFC?

I have three fights left on my contract.

Do you think you deserve an immediate title rematch?

I would like to think so. I think I do. But, I don't know if they are going to give it to me or not. I don't know.

If you can't get an immediate title rematch, which UFC heavyweight would you like to fight next?

I want to fight Frank Mir. He broke my arm a couple of years ago so we have some unfinished business to take care of.

A year ago the Miletich camp had two titles -- Matt Hughes and you -- and three titles if you include close associate Rich Franklin. Now, your camp has none. What is the mood of the Miletich camp right now?

No one cares about that stuff. We're all in this to fight and all fighters lose at some time. Just because no one is wearing the belt in our camp anymore doesn't mean anything. We're all out there to have fun and get up every morning and do what we love to do and that's fight.

Do you guys feel like your day to reign supreme will come again soon?

Oh, it sure will.

And you mentioned the word "fun." Are you still having fun fighting?

Of course I am. I love to fight.

Posted by at 5:45 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Q&As

January 21, 2008

One-on-one with Mark Cuban


(Photo courtesy of Timothy Greenfield-Sanders)

Mark Cuban is the billionaire owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and the co-founder of the high definition television channel HDNet. In October 2007, Cuban built upon HDNet's past mixed martial arts telecasts, diving head first into the MMA ring with the start of his promotion, HDNet Fights. I conducted an e-mail interview with him this past weekend in which he discussed everything from entrepreneurship to pro basketball to where the sport of MMA is headed. What follows is the transcript of that interview.

You’ve made your fortune through entrepreneurship in technology companies, most notably MicroSolutions and Has technology always been an interest of yours or why did you decide to go in that direction with your companies?

I've been a tech geek for a long time. So it was natural for me to pursue tech-based businesses.

What do you think are the keys to enjoying success with a startup?

Loving what you do. If you start a business that you find fun and interesting, it’s never work.

In recent years, you’ve become a more visible member of the sports community, first through your ownership of the Dallas Mavericks. Why did you decide to become an NBA owner?

I was always a [basketball] junkie. I still play as much as I can. I couldn't pass up the chance to buy my favorite team.

When I was growing up, the Mavericks were the laughingstock of the NBA. Now, the team is a hotspot for top talent. What are the essential ingredients in running a successful NBA team?

Having fun, always put yourself in the shoes of your customers and do what you can to give them the best possible value and experience.

Also going back to my youth, I used to love watching Bird and Magic duel in the spring and later watch Jordan battle the Pistons’ Bad Boys.  These days, I can’t even watch a full NBA game. Conventional wisdom says that the regular season is too long and only the fourth quarter of a game really matters. Why do you think the pro basketball game is so maligned these days and do you think this is deserved?

Because people like you jump to conclusions without actually watching games. [It's] that simple.

How did you become interested in MMA?

We started broadcasting MMA on HDNet a few years ago.

Why do you feel that this is the right time to get into MMA?

Because the UFC is a single leader and I think they have left the door open.

I recently interviewed UFC president Dana White and he says he respects you as a businessman. What do you think of the job White has done with the UFC?

His success speaks for itself. That said, no business is perfect. It’s hard to grow, expand internationally, keep all your employees happy as new competitors enter the market, keep regulators happy and the list goes on. Challenges change over time. It will be fun to watch him address all of these issues. Plus he has to be concerned over his ratings. If [The Ultimate Fighter] ratings drop materially, his whole game plan will have to change. That won't be inexpensive or easy.

That said, there is plenty of room for more than one company.

What flaws do you see in the UFC’s game that you think can be exploited?

The biggest is that their contracts don't adhere to the [Muhammad] Ali [Boxing] Reform Act. There will come a time in the not distant future when they will be required to.

Are you looking to defeat UFC or co-exist with them?

There is plenty of room for multiple companies.

What do you bring to the table that will allow you to overcome the perception that UFC = MMA?

My experience in marketing, technology, pro sports and a vertically integrated entertainment company.

What do you think are the keys to running a successful MMA promotion?

Being patient.

How big do you think MMA can be in this country? Can it be one of the major sports (with football, basketball and baseball)?

I think it will have a core following that can [be] bigger than it is today and then build marquee events that are mainstream.

I’ve read reports that you’ve had discussions with Floyd Mayweather regarding MMA. How far are you in those talks? Would he be a fighter or a business partner in a MMA venture with you?

Stay tuned.

I’ve read that you were once in talks with WWE to form a MMA company. Do you believe MMA draws its fan base more from pro wrestling or more from boxing?

I think WWE fans graduate to MMA.

Do you enjoy the more theatrical PRIDE-style MMA production or the more toned-down UFC-style production?

I like both. I don't think, however, that one size fits all. Different markets require different presentations.

Posted by at 10:33 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Q&As

January 8, 2008

One-on-one with UFC lightweight Melvin Guillard

Melvin Guillard

(Photo courtesy of Zuffa, LLC)

Editor's note: The following Q&A contains language that may be offensive to some readers.

TUF 2 alum Melvin Guillard is a young, colorful fighter in the UFC's jampacked lightweight division. 2007 was a rough year for Guillard, who suffered two first-round losses -- both by submission -- as well as an eight-month suspension for testing positive for cocaine. Guillard talked to me by phone ten days after losing to Rich Clementi at UFC 79 on Dec. 30. What follows are the highlights of the interview.

I was at UFC 79 and I saw your fight against Rich Clementi. How did you feel going in against Clementi?

Same as I feel in every other fight. I’m always ready. No matter who it is, I’m always ready to fight. I went into that fight the same way I would have gone into any other fight.

What was the beef you had with Clementi beforehand? You were talking a lot of trash to him and he was going back and forth with you. What was the origin of that?

He’s just a snake. He’s a backstabbing bastard. He likes to get over on people. I grew up around him all my fighting career and I thought we would have been cool but he’s jealous of my success at an early age with The Ultimate Fighter and just stuff like that. He would act like he’s my friend when he sees me and then when I wasn’t around – from other friends of mine who knew him personally also – he would always cut me down. He was talking bad about me and saying I wasn’t going to make it in the UFC, and [that] I was just a young kid who was going to throw his life away. [Stuff] like that.

So, I just got tired of hearing the [talk] and I confronted him about it last February at some fights at home (New Orleans). When I saw him [and had a] fistfight or whatever and I beat his ass then, I told him after that, “Every time I see you, we’re going to fight.” And, that’s how it’s been ever since then. Of course, everybody saw that he was the victorious one [at UFC 79] but he sits up there and says, “I’ll stand toe-to-toe with Melvin,” but everybody with their own eyes saw he wasn’t ready to stand up with me. He knew my weakness was my submission game as far as fighting him because he’s a seasoned jiu-jitsu guy -- I’ll give him that. As far as me putting my hands on him, I got my respect out of him. So, I’m not even tripping, you know?

So, in a way, it sounds like you don’t even think he won the fight.

He really didn’t. He didn’t take my heart. I took his heart before he got in the ring. He was scared to fight me before he got in the ring. And, it’s like I tell everybody – and I’m going to keep saying it – when I see him again, I’m going to fight him again. When I get ready to go home for Mardi Gras, he just knows not to be seen. I went home for New Years and the places he wants to go, he wasn’t even there. He knew I was going to be there looking for him. He never showed up anywhere. As long as he keeps hiding from me, running from me, I’m winning the war every day. Eventually, we’ll get another rematch in the UFC ...

How would a rematch be different? Are you working on your submission game right now?

Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I’m working nothing but my jiu-jitsu. ... I got all the good guys around me ... so I’m just working the weaknesses in my game. I’m going to give myself six months to a year before my jiu-jitsu is 100 percent.  I’ve wrestled my whole life and I know you can’t learn wrestling overnight, so jiu-jitsu is not something you’re going to learn overnight either. And I was already working my jiu-jitsu prior to that fight. By me being a state champ in wrestling, an average wrestler is not going to come beat me at my own game. It takes time for them to develop a game.

I wasn’t surprised by the submission. I tried to shake him as much as I could off my back. But, he was holding on like a scared little bitch. He was holding on for dear life as if if he let me go, he knew he would lose the fight. So, I don’t look back on it. It happened last year, of course. 2007 is over. I got a new year in front of me and I’ve got another year to get better at my weak game. When I do fight the next jiu-jitsu guy, I hope they have a prayer for him -- I’m not going to be so nice anymore.

After Clementi won, he did that crotch grab and that pissed you off. But, after all that trash talking, can you kind of understand why he did that?

No, I can never understand that and nobody is ever going to make me understand that. He disrespected me after the fight. He put his nuts on the back of my head. When I catch him, I’m going to kick him in his [expletive deleted] nuts. I can’t look at that and respect that.  Because of the beef we have? Naw, I can’t. That’s honestly like me seeing him next time ... and I spit in his face.  My dad always told me if a man spit on you or slapped you, [expletive deleted] kill him. And if he put his nuts on my head on national TV, I’m going to [expletive deleted] kill him, period. So, there’s no way I’m ever going to overlook that and be like, “Naw, it’s cool because we were having problems.” Hell no. I ain’t ever gonna let another man do that to me and get away with it.

As far as the fight, though, honestly, I was going to be the bigger man about it and give him that victory -- congratulate him on his win -- but let him know that we’re still not friends and we’re going to fight again. But, as I’m getting up, it’s like he kicked me in the back of the neck, and it pushed me back down a little bit. So, I’m like, “What the [expletive deleted]?” And, I jump up like, “No, he did not just put his nuts on my neck.” So, that’s why I went after him like I did.

I had a few opportunities where I could have hit him but I had just got off an eight month suspension from [president] Dana [White] and the UFC and the [Nevada State Athletic] Commission. I wasn’t going to be stupid and let him win again by me putting my hands on him and then they dock me some more pay. If I had done that to him, he’d still be winning. So, I just kind of let it go, let it ride just for now. Just for now.

Now, I noticed that also before your match with Joe Stevenson, you like to talk trash. Do you enjoy that part of the game?  I also notice that the fans tend to boo you before your fights. Do you enjoy being the heel?

Is that what you think? Do you think I just talk trash? Do you think I’m just trash talking? What do you think?

Well, I think MMA fighters in general seem to play it pretty safe. You stand out ...

Let me ask you this. If I wasn’t who I was, if I didn’t talk trash to these fighters, would you have a story to tell? Would you have a reason to call me? No. See what I’m saying? It comes with the game.

The only people I have to respect and obey are my fans and my friends and family. As far as fighters go, I don’t have to respect or be friends with any of them. As far as I’m concerned, I might stand in front of them and face them one day. I pick and choose who I want to be cool with and that’s who I’m cool with.  I don’t go befriend everybody but when it’s time to fight, yeah of course, I’m going to talk [expletive deleted]. Rich's talking [expletive deleted] now ‘cause he won this fight and that’s cool but he’s still a poor fighter. I lost the fight and people still hate him more than they hate me. He’s an arrogant bastard. And, he contradicts himself. How are you going to talk [expletive deleted] about me and say you don’t like me, and then a couple of interviews later you're going to say, “He’s a cool kid.”

And, when he talks to me on an interview, he’s like, “Hey, what’s up Melvin? What’s up buddy?” I’m not your [expletive deleted] buddy. And, he’s done that a few times, so to me, that’s fake. If you’re going to not like somebody and create mischief and create that problem, then you keep it that way. You don’t keep going back and forth.

I got booed before the fight, I got booed after the fight, but I’m still one of the crowd favorites. They booed him even more for him talking stupid, saying “Yeah, I told him I’d stand up with him.” And everybody that was there saw that when he stood up with me, I almost knocked him out. If I’m not the person I am, then you all wouldn’t have a job.

Yeah, I like to talk [expletive deleted] but I also back it up. I haven’t gotten my ass beat. I haven’t been in a fight yet where somebody has outclassed me or just beat me down. Every fight I’ve been in, the ones I’ve lost have been from submission or a close judges’ decision. When you really look at my record and all the losses that I have, I’ve lost to jiu-jitsu guys. Nobody is ever going to stand in front of me and beat my ass. My mom did that all my life so those days are over with. If I’m going to lose a fight because of somebody submitting me, I’ll take that any day over somebody beating my ass. 

Back to the original question, is this the real Melvin Guillard? You’re not putting on a show? This is the real you?

Yeah, it’s me, man. When I have to fight, bro, it’s a business. Me and Joe [Stevenson] are cool. That was some made-up beef to get a little tension going. With Rich, man, none of that is fake. People were like, “After the fight, you’re not going to be cool.” Hell no, I’m not going to be cool! They were asking, “Are you all going to let it go? Is that the end of it?” No, it’s not the end of it. Win or lose. If I’d have won that fight, I still would beat his ass every time I see him. That’s just how I feel about him on a personal level.

From the outside it would seem like 2007 was a rough year for you, with the two losses and the suspension for cocaine. How would you describe it since you lived it?

Well, it was a learning experience. I did a lot of growing up. I realized what was important. I had my fun. I happened to be the fighter that got caught. Like I said before, there are a ton of us that go out and party and have fun and do all those crazy things. I just happened to be the one to get caught. So, it was my bed -- I had to lay in it.

2007 was a rough year. I had a rough three years. 2005 was Katrina. 2006 was my dad passing away. 2007 was the suspension. I had my three years bad luck. It’s behind me now. So, now I look forward to having a great 2008 and getting back on the winning track.

Speaking of 2008, since it looks like you have a positive outlook on the year, what do you have in store for this year?

I’m going to take a few fights outside the UFC to get back some of my wins. Hopefully, it’s not any all-around chumps. I’m not going to take any fights at 155 [pounds] outside the UFC. I want to fight at 170 [pounds] -- a weight class above mine outside the UFC. I’m probably scheduled to fight again in the UFC late March, early April if they bless me with that.

Other than that, I’ll take a lot of side hustles, make some money this year.  Being suspended for eight months really hurt my pocket. You can put in the article [that] anybody [who] wants to donate to the Melvin Negro Fund, they can donate to that too because right now my pockets [are] hurting. Being suspended for eight months ... I almost had to go work a regular job to survive. I don’t want to have that feeling again.

So, the UFC has agreed to let you fight some outside fights?

Yeah, they did. But, I gotta be careful who I fight for and who I fight. It’s not one of those things where I can just go fight any show or fight anybody. I gotta be real careful how I pick the fights. It’s like taking a gamble because if [I] do that, I have to win. I have to win these fights. If I gotta fight two weight classes up -- to fight 185- [pounders] -- I’ll do that to protect what I have in the UFC. I’ll fight a 185-pound guy if I have to. It’s not one of those things where I can just go jump and say, “Here, I’m going to take this fight or that fight like I used to.” If something goes wrong -- God forbid something goes wrong -- and the UFC’s not happy, they can ... put me on a break for a long time from the UFC and I can’t live with that.

So, the deal you have with the UFC is that you cannot fight lightweight outside the UFC?

Well, they never technically said that. They never said I couldn’t fight lightweight. But, that’s a decision I made on a personal level. I don’t even want to mess with my lightweight status -- whether it’s a win, whether it’s a loss, whether it’s a draw. I don’t even want to play with that outside the UFC. I would rather keep my 155- [pound] rankings only in the UFC. So, me going out and fighting heavier guys in different weight classes, I figure they’ll be a lot more lenient on me, to say, “OK, that’s no problem.”

Plus, I don’t want to cut 25 pounds every time I have to fight. That’s not that fun. Fighting in the UFC is worth it. But, anything outside of that, I don’t feel like it’s worth it. I’d rather just fight at the weight I walk around at. So, that was kind of a personal decision. 

Have you started talking to other promotions? Would they let you fight for EliteXC or IFL?

No, and that’s another thing. I cannot fight for any competition organizations like IFL or EliteXC. I won’t do it anyway because all those other guys, they’ll try to put me on a contract. Plus, they’re all televised. The only way people will see me televised in a fight on TV, it has to be in the UFC.

So, we’re talking local promotions?

Right, I’m talking about local, backyard [expletive deleted], something like that. That’s how I started out fighting. I don’t mind a couple of backyard fights. You got anything lined up where you are at? We can do it in the backyard.

[Laughing] Unfortunately, I live in a state where they don’t have MMA sanctioned.


Yeah, Maryland ... We have it in Washington D.C. though, so if you want to come out to D.C. ...

I’m going to jump around a little bit, man. I’m just trying to stay loyal to the UFC because that’s my home. To me, there’s no other organization bigger than that. So, if you ain’t fighting in the UFC, then your life as a fighter has got be very [expletive deleted] boring. You ain’t going to get that kind of publicity or that kind of fame. And, they got so many guys now trying to get to that level -- they’re trying to get to the big show -- it would be naive and stupid of me to take it for granted. It’d be like, “I fight in the UFC already, so I’m just going to fight over here, fight there” – I don’t think like that. I’m blessed to be in the UFC at an early age so I’m just going to leave it like that.

How many fights do you have left on your current UFC contract?

Right now, I have about two years left on my deal. I don’t have, like, so many fights, you know what I mean? They do kind of guarantee us somewhere [between] three to four fights a year.  They kind of space it out on the average because the UFC has so many shows, the healthier you are the more chances you get to fight. But, I think the way they stretch it out, you’re lucky if you get four. You’re real lucky if you get four fights [a year].

Are you back in the gym training already?

Oh yeah.

Would you say you’re mostly working on your jiu-jitsu and your ground game right now?

Yeah, I’ve been focusing a lot more, even going back to my wrestling. Because I was getting away from my wrestling too. I started standing up so much. I got careless with guys taking me down. I wasn’t going for no takedowns. I’m really trying to work my wrestling game and my jiu-jitsu. I already know I can box and kickbox. That’s not something everybody needs to try and figure out. I need to sit down and reassess my situation with my ground game and actually focus a lot more on it. It’s kind of what I’ve been doing -- focusing on my weak spot, my hole in my game.

Do you know who your next UFC opponent will be?

No, not as of right now, I don’t know. I’ll probably know within another few weeks, a month or so, something like that.

Do you have a preference?

Well, I wanted to fight Roger Huerta, but they said he’s on vacation right now. So, that fight’s up in the air. Other than that, man, I don’t care. As long as they put me back in. I’d prefer to fight a few strikers for a while until I can get my jiu-jitsu game up. Because, my last two fights, they gave me mat rats -- they just wanted to hug me. I get enough hugs at home. I want to fight some people that are ready to stand up and trade punches and kind of put me to the test.

Do you have input with the UFC in terms of what kind of fighters you want to fight or who you fight?

Yeah, they’ll call and they’ll ask us [if] we want to fight this guy, that guy. They’ll call my agent, he’ll call me, and then I’ll sit down with my coaches and we really just think about if it’s a good fight for me. So, yeah we do have say [into] who we fight.

The lightweight division in the UFC is one of the toughest divisions in the world. Where do you see yourself?

It used to be the 170- [pound] class was the toughest. Now, with all the guys like Frankie Edgar, Clay Guida, [Tyson] Griffin, the 155- [pound] class is probably the top class and the hardest weight division in the UFC right now. At first it wasn’t. At first, it was almost like, man, the 170- [pound] class was still strong. But, the only guys you see winning the 170- [pound class] are Matt Hughes and [Georges] St. Pierre. They keep trading the belt back and forth. I don’t see nobody that’s going to beat them.

But, at the 155- [pound] weight class, you got Joe fighting BJ Penn next for the title. I really think Joe can beat him and everybody’s telling me he can’t. But, dude, Joe has a good well-rounded game and his stand-up is great now. I got to visit with Joe while I was getting ready for my fight. ... He’s looking good. All around. His whole game is looking good.

And, I sit back and I thought about it and that’s what I need. I got me a few new trainers now and I need to create me a training area around me where I don’t do nothing but just train ... and not worry about everything else. I got caught up worrying about everything surrounding these last three years. I was worried about everyone and everything around me instead of worrying about myself, and what’s my main objective. And, I think that’s why I lost sight and that’s why I fell short these last two fights.

Now, I finally got my mind ready and right. I’m focused on what’s important to me. Without fighting, I don’t know what I’d be doing ... I’d rob a bank or some [expletive deleted]. I’d probably do something that desperate because there’s nothing else I want to do. So, as long as I stay focused on what’s important, man, I think I’ll hold up pretty good.

Whoever they give me the next fight, I’m hoping and praying it’s a striker ... hopefully fight a couple of strikers. Give the crowd what they came to see me do best. The people come to see me stand up and trade punches ‘til I knock someone out. When I’m fighting and struggling to get guys off my back, to try to keep me off the ground, it takes away from what I’m really good at -- for the fans. With that, I’m hoping I get a decent fight next time around.

Posted by at 11:35 PM | | Comments (93)
Categories: Q&As

November 20, 2007

Lee Synkowski -- Baltimore's next MMA star?

Over the last year I've chronicled the rise of Baltimore's lightweight MMA star Binky Jones here at Well, after the The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 7 tryouts held in New Jersey on Monday, it now appears that Charm City is close to having a second MMA star.

Lee Synkowski, the instructor at Baltimore BJJ in Parkville, attended the tryouts yesterday (geared toward the middleweight division) and has informed me that he made it all the way through the interview round, which is the third round of the process. (As a matter of full disclosure, I took a few BJJ classes with Synkowski in the summer of 2006 before I began writing for the Sun.)

I asked Synkowski some questions about his trip and what it was like trying out for TUF 7. Here are highlights from that e-mail conversation:

What were the tryouts like?

149 people showed up.  They broke us into groups of 50, and we went into a room with Dana White and the show's producers seated at a large table like American Idol.  From there, they called us up in pairs and had us grapple from the knees, looking for submission or position.  I had the fastest submissions in our group, so I think I stood out there.

How did you find out you made it to the interview round?
The interview round was the third round, and occurred after the second round, which was striking mitts, again in front of Dana and the producers.  About 60 made it to the striking round and 32 made it to the interview round.

When will you finally know if you've made the show?

Well, they said they would call us if we did, I think by December.  After that you go to Vegas for some other tests and they make the final cut.

When does the show start filming?

I have heard it starts in January, although I don't know for sure

What would making TUF 7 mean for you and your MMA career?

It would be excellent exposure for myself and my school.  It would be a chance to train with world class coaches and learn more than I've ever learned.  It would get my MMA career rolling, because I have been mainly focused on grappling and jiu-jitsu as of late.


I confirmed with Spike TV that there are no other tryouts being held for TUF 7 so Synkowski is indeed one of the last men standing. In early December, according to Spike TV, the next cut will be made and those fighters that move on will be brought out to Vegas for the next round of interviews. And, in mid-December, the final 16-member cast will be chosen for the show after background checks and physicals.

Posted by at 7:31 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Q&As

July 22, 2007

Binky Jones on last week's loss

Last Saturday in Trenton, N.J., Baltimore's Binky Jones made his Bodog Fight debut against Nick Agallar.  Jones lost that fight in a very close judges' split decision, ending Jones' three-fight win streak.

I caught up with Jones and mentor John Rallo in the parking lot of the Sovereign Bank Arena that night and it was clear Jones was disappointed with the outcome of the fight.  However, he and Rallo both promised he will be back -- better than ever -- in his next Bodog Fight matchup and that extenuating circumstances more than anything else led to that night's loss.  In addition, Jones mentioned that he immediately asked Bodog Fight for a rematch against Agallar.

Jones and manager Cordell Hunter were kind enough to answer more questions during the last week about Jones' performance as well as Jones' plans for the future.  Those responses were relayed to me by e-mail and here are highlights of what both said.

Q: How did you feel going into this fight?  Was there anything in Agallar's game that worried you?

Jones: I felt real good going into the fight and was not worried about his game.   My job was to do my thing in the ring but it did not happen this time.  I felt that the fight was close and that a couple of different positions mays have changed the whole fight.  Nick is a good tough fighter who was in good shape. He trains with a good team but that is to be expected of everybody at this point.

Q: Were there any mistakes that you made during the fight that you think cost you the victory?

Jones: I think that with more time to prepare, the fight would have been different.  I really did not make too many mistakes during the fight.  You have to take chances and I considered my submissions attempts to be well-calculated risks.  I tried to do a couple of ankle locks, keep good positioning on the mat and work from the guard.  I tried a spinning back fist that did not connect and probably could have done more punching on the ground and standing.  I did get a little extended on a couple of shots and got caught with a couple punches because of that.

Hunter: Binky could have came in in a little better shape with proper time to get ready.  The fight was still very close and Binky tried to push the pace.  Now that he has submitted some top guys, fighters seem to be real cautious on the ground, tying him up and slowing down the pace that Binky would like to fight at.
Q: With the result so close, is there any one thing you could have done differently to change the outcome?

Jones: When fights are close you need to leave something in the judges' minds.  I ended the first round strong.  I will try to close out each round strong and punch a little bit more as sometimes [judges] do not look at submission attempts [when scoring fights]. 
Q: Was there anything Agallar did that posed problems for you in the fight?

Hunter: Nick slowed the fight down by tying Binky up on the ground.   To me, he was somewhat stalling or being very, very cautious.  At one point, I thought that he was holding onto Binky's glove but he was not, he was just keeping it tight on the ground.
Q: Would you like a rematch against Agallar?

Jones: I want a rematch ASAP and asked the Bodog guys for a rematch that night.
Q: Did you come out of the fight with any injuries?  Do you know how you got them?

Jones: I feel good -- no major injuries just some aches.  I am training again already and will not take much time off.  I will be focusing on helping my two teams get ready for their bouts.  Team Ground Control and Team Raww Dogg both have two fighters each fighting this weekend in amateur MMA shows.  Team Ground Control will be in Delaware and Team Raww Dogg will be in New Jersey at the Cage of Vengeance.

Q: Have you been handed down any medical suspensions by NJ Athletic Control Board after the fight?

Hunter: No medical suspension, no injuries just some minor aches and little pains. 
Q: When will your next fight be with Bodog?  Do you know where it will be?  Do you know who your opponent will be?

Hunter: We do not know who [Jones'] next opponent will be, but we were told that it will be against a good guy.  Yves Edwards was on the show as well and the 155-pound weight class is stacked.

Q: What is your reaction to the news that two of the top lightweights in the world -- Sean Sherk and Hermes Franca -- both failed drug tests for their UFC 73 title fight?

Jones: I can't believe that both Sean and Hermes both failed the drug test. I do give Hermes some respect for writing that apology letter to his family, fans, and to his students. Since Sean is the champ I hope he says something about the issue. I also wonder if the UFC will let [Sherk] keep the belt, because if they do there will be no title fights for the [UFC] lightweight class for one year. That would not be fair to the rest of the guys who fight in that weight class. I hope that all of the fighters try to keep it clean, because it took too long time for the sport to reach this level.

Hunter: It is one of those things that will get some bad press especially with what has happened in Pro Wrestling. So far in MMA several guys have tested positive for steroids -- [Tim] Sylvia, [Nate] Marquardt, Sean Sherk, Franca, [Phil] Baroni, etc.  Now in defense of these guys in a lot of these cases, they were taking steroids for weight loss or injury recovery.  For injuries -- to me -- that is not much different than taking a prescribed antibiotic or whatever.  Sylvia took a weight loss steroid so he would not look flabby on national TV, and you read Franca's response. I do not believe that all steroids enhance performance, but they should be banned until all are researched. No one should have an unfair advantage.


Posted by at 10:03 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Q&As

July 12, 2007

Binky Jones looks forward to fight against Nick Agallar

Baltimore's Binky Jones takes on Nick Agallar Saturday in Jones' debut fight with Bodog Fight.  According to, Agallar has a 17-5 MMA record and is a veteran of WEC.  He also fought in UFC 45, where he lost to Yves Edwards by TKO. Saturday's fight will be Agallar's fourth with Bodog Fight -- he enters the bout with a 1-2 record in the promotion.

About ten days ago, I asked Jones about his Bodog Fight debut by email. Here are his responses:

Could you get into the details of your contract with Bodog Fight? 

It's a two-fight deal that ends in December 2007, so I can fight in the Ring of Combat (ROC) tournament that will be held for my region in January 2008.

What do you know about your July 14 Bodog Fight opponent -- Nick Agallar?

I know that he has fought in the UFC and he is supposed to have heavy hands.
How did you end up signing with Bodog Fight?

After I found out that I was not allowed to fight in the ROC tournament in September because of where I lived, I told John Rallo and Brian Hamper to find me a fight. The next thing I know [Rallo and Hamper] were asking me if I wanted to fight on the next Bodog show and I said yes right away.
What does this opportunity mean for your career?

Since [Agallar] has a winning record and he also fought in the UFC this will be a great win for [me], Ground Control, and Baltimore.


This Saturday's Bodog Fight card is being held at Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, N.J.  The first fight begins at 7:30 p.m.  I will be at the event and I hope to be blogging for  Visit the blog Saturday night and read my live recaps of all of the action.

Posted by at 1:50 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Q&As

May 10, 2007

MMAC's Olumee discusses D.C.'s first sanctioned MMA event

Washington D.C.'s first sanctioned professional mixed martial arts event will take place Saturday, May 12, at the DC Armory.  The event is historic for MMA fans in both the nation's capital as well as those traveling from Maryland, where the sport is still not sanctioned.

Saturday's fight card -- dubbed "The Revolution" -- is being promoted by Mixed Martial Arts Championship (MMAC), which is "comprised of experienced martial art professionals" and advertises itself as Washington's first licensed organization, according to its Web site

The two main event fights on the card are Homer Moore vs. Fabiano Capoani and Amir Rahnavardi vs. Nino Schembri.  Moore has fought in the UFC, IFL, and WEC and sports a 24-8-2 MMA record.  Capoani, on the other hand, has far less experience with only a 3-2-1 record and no fights in any of the major organizations.  Schembri has fought in a number of PRIDE fights and carries a 3-4 record into the ring this weekend.  His opponent -- Rahnavardi -- has fought in PRIDE (two losses) as well as WEC and IFL and has a 9-7 record.

MMAC Director Omar Olumee answered a few questions by e-mail about the event. What follows is the transcript of that interview.

How are preparations going leading up to the event? 

Preparations are always difficult when you have to manage a number of people.  But my staff and business partners are wonderful people to work with and have been doing an amazing job!

Who will administer the drug testing of the fighters? 

[The] fighters have gone through D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission requirements as [far as] getting their medicals done.  I'm not sure if they will be tested afterward.

How many tickets have you sold so far? 

We expect a very good showing for our first ever event.

Was MMAC involved in having MMA sanctioned in Washington?  If so, in what ways were you involved? 

We were the ones who approached the commissioner about the sanction and after many meetings and discussions and reviewing of the rules we were able to get MMA sanctioned in D.C.

Are you fighting for sanctioning in neighboring jurisdictions, for example Maryland?

We are very happy that MMA enthusiasts in Maryland are interested in having fights and we support any state or jurisdiction who have fans that support MMA.

Do you have any plans to take your promotion to other jurisdictions where MMA is currently sanctioned, for example Pennsylvania or New Jersey?

Well, D.C. is the hub for us and we are of course interested in making sure D.C.'s fan base gets the best of MMAC.

How significant is "The Revolution" for the sport of MMA in D.C.? 

It is very significant [with] D.C. being the nation's capital and full of sports fans that we are able to grow the sport here.  If you ever go to the mall on Saturday you will see loads of young professionals playing football, soccer, softball and many more sports.  This shows DC is not a sleeping town and can handle the excitement of MMA.

The casual fan may not know many of the fighters on this card.  Are there one or two fighters on this card we should follow, who could end up being future stars in the sport? 

All of the fighters are strong and unique in there own way with great skills and heart. I believe the fans will find new fighters to love on May 12.

Do you know when and where your second event will be? 

MMAC looks forward to its next bout at a location to be determined in September.

What are the long-term goals of MMAC?   

Right now our goal is to wow D.C. with the excitement of MMA.

For more information about the event, visit

Posted by at 7:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Q&As

April 2, 2007

One-on-one with UFC heavyweight Heath Herring

I interviewed UFC heavyweight Heath Herring last week by phone. The former PRIDE and K-1 fighter is returning to his home state of Texas this weekend (April 7) to fight Brad Imes at UFC 69 in Houston.  Click here to check out the interview with "The Texas Crazy Horse."

Posted by at 11:02 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Q&As

March 16, 2007

Q&A with UFC's Tim Sylvia

I interviewed former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia on March 13. While he wouldn't discuss his UFC 68 loss to Randy Couture, Sylvia did answer questions on a wide range of other topics such as his back injury, his feelings about the UFC 68 crowd booing him, and who he wants to fight next if he doesn't get an immediate title rematch.

Click here for the entire interview.

Posted by Chris Handzlik at 1:57 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Q&As

March 14, 2007

EliteXC's Gary Shaw discusses Nick Diaz and more

Former UFC lightweight Nick Diaz stunned the mixed martial arts world Feb. 24 when he defeated PRIDE lightweight champion Takanori Gomi in a non-title fight at PRIDE 33. His impressive second-round submission victory was later tarnished by reports that Diaz  -- recently signed by EliteXC but allowed by that league to fight in PRIDE 33 -- failed a drug test the night of the bout. 

I talked to EliteXC President Gary Shaw March 12 to discuss Diaz’s reported positive test result, Diaz’s future with EliteXC and EliteXC’s next event. reported March 5 that a Nevada regulator said that Nick Diaz tested positive for marijuana at PRIDE 33. Can you confirm that Diaz tested positive for marijuana at PRIDE 33?

I can only confirm what the Nevada [State Athletic] Commission [has stated], which is that he tested positive for marijuana.

As far as you know, has Diaz received any penalty from the Nevada State Athletic Commission?

As far as I know, he has not been called to a hearing yet.

Do you know when that hearing might happen?

No, I don’t, but I’m waiting for notice from the commission.

Will EliteXC do anything to punish Diaz in any way for his positive drug test?

No, absolutely not.

So, whatever punishment Diaz receives from the commission is all that will happen?


Is Diaz still an important part of EliteXC’s future plans?

Absolutely, he’s a huge part of it. We all believed in him. We all believed that he could beat Gomi. Cesar Gracie kept telling me [Diaz] was going to beat Gomi and then he beat Gomi …

Have you talked to Diaz since the test results came out?

Yes, I flew him to -- I had a boxing match [between Israel] Vazquez and [Rafael] Marquez [for the WBC super bantamweight title fight on March 3] at the Home Depot Center in Carson [, Calif.] -- and I flew him to that fight.

What was the nature of your conversation with him?

It was actually the first time I met Nick and was introduced and I told him how proud I was of him for the great victory [over Gomi] and what an exciting fighter he is. That was basically it -- it was short. 

At that point, had the drug test results come out?

No, if they did, I didn’t know about it at that point.

OK, so you didn’t talk to Diaz about the drug test results at all?

No, absolutely not.

About Diaz’s contract, I understand that Diaz first signed with EliteXC and then he was allowed to sign a deal with PRIDE. What is Diaz’s contract with EliteXC?

We have a minimum three-fight deal. We have rights beyond three fights. 

What do you mean by “rights beyond three fights?”

We have the right to make other offers, to match any offers, and we believe that’s an important part of our company and our strategy. But at the same time, we’ve proved to the world that if you sign with EliteXC, EliteXC will let you fight in other big shows and look what happened. 

What is Diaz’s contract with PRIDE?

I believe they want to do two fights and they’ve already done one.

So, he has one more fight left with PRIDE?

Right, but we have the right of approval on the [PRIDE] opponents.

I wanted to switch topics and talk a little about your May 5 event.  Do you have any more details on that, for example location or fight card?

We’re switching to June. 

Do you have a specific date for that?

I do, I just can’t talk about it, yet. I’m not permitted. It’s going to be beyond EliteXC and it’s something you’ll be excited about. 

- Pramit Mohapatra

Posted by Chris Handzlik at 5:03 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Q&As
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About the blogger
Kevin Richardson has been a fan of mixed martial arts competition ever since UFC 3, when 600-pound sumo wrestler Emmanuel Yarborough was beaten by Keith Hackney. Kevin will cover the world of MMA — in Baltimore, nationally and internationally. He plans to take readers into the locker rooms and MMA schools, where they'll hear from local fighters and trainers. If you have a news tip or suggestions for the blog, please e-mail him.


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