Are you surprised with how fast the sport of MMA has grown in such a short period of time?
“No not at all, when you look at it MMA has something for everybody. Its got wrestling and jiu-jitsu for the grappling guys, and its got striking for the strikers. And when you mix it all together its a very explosive and fast paced sport and its hard not to like it. You see all these devastating kos and these cool subs that require a lot of technique to pull off. how could you not like a sport like that?”
What do you say to the people who slam MMA and the athletes in the sport?
“I don’t know I think some people that decide to do this sport and join it will do it for the wrong reasons, but when you reach the elite levels of any sport, you’re dealing with guys who dedicate their lives to the sport, and you’re dealing with professional athletes. It’s no different with our case.”
Would you ever want to coach?
“Definitely, I love coaching, I love giving back to the sport, teaching kids coming up things that i learned. I can’t fight forever so one of my dreams is to have my own gym. Id love to have a wrestling club in there and a little MMA, so that’s something I’ll be looking to do in the near future.”
How did you get into MMA? Did you transition from wrestling or were you a fan long before that?
“I was a fan long before that. I think the first UFC I saw, I was maybe 11 years old. It was like UFC 3 or something. My brother came home with a vhs copy of it and I just watched it over and over with my friends in my basement. I’d be telling them that they’d see me in there one day. And it’s kind of cool that it actually came into fruition now. Growing up I was always involved in athletics. I was always an athlete, and after I graduated college, I still had that drive to compete. It wasn’t gone, I still had it. So, I was working at a health club at the time and one of the trainers there is one of my main coaches Ricardo Ramos, and he has a background in boxing and Muay Thai, so I’d always tell him about how I wanted to fight. He was branching out and opening his own gym, so he told me I could come by any time and learn how to box a little bit and it just kind of snowballed from there.”
Is there any chance of you going back and continuing your education?
“You know, when I was in my pro career, it was right before I fought for my first pro title, I was kind of at a crossroads. I had to choose, I actually got accepted to a grad assistant program where they would pay for my schooling and interning, and I’d be on there as an assistant coach. I had to choose to move there (to Missouri) and maybe giving up my fighting career, or put that aside and see what i could do with the fighting. I think I made the right choice because you could always go back to school, but for fighting you only have a short window to do it. I remember sitting down with my dad and talking to him about it. My dad was all about school, school, school. Then I sat down with my coach from Elmhurst College Steve Meranetti, and he was like you have two choices. One that you can go back to later, and the other you can’t. So after talking with him I made the choice to stick with fighting and see what I could do with it and I’m glad I did.”
How does your dad feel about your choice now?
“He thinks I made the right choice too, he knows I can always go back (to school) also. My father is the type of father that no matter what he says, he’ll always support me in what I do. I’m very fortunate to have a dad like that.”
What age would it be good for a kid to get into MMA or do you think there is another discipline they should start in?
“You know, with kids it’s tough because you don’t want to push them and them end up hating going to practice and doing all that stuff. You kind of have to let them choose on their own, but you could definitely present it to them. I’ve always said I think wrestling is the best background to have going into mixed martial arts and it’s also the hardest one to pick up. So the earlier you start them with wrestling, the better it would be for their MMA career, if that’s what you’re looking to do. I’ve seen kids as small as five years old in wrestling programs wrestling around, so you know I think in the next couple years you should start looking around. You want to make it fun for them.”
What would your high school teacher say if we asked them how you were in high school?
“Aw man, I was not a good student in high school. I think I had the whole ADD thing going on. But I don’t know what they would have told you. I wasn’t one of those kids going around getting into a bunch of fights. I don’t think they would have thought I would be a fighter. But I’d like to go back and ask them that and get a real answer.”
How awesome was it to fight on the biggest stage in your hometown?
“It was like a dream, man. When I sat back and thought about it after the fight. I was totally shocked like I had just fought at the legendary United Center in Chicago where the Bulls won all those championships, Michael Jordan used to play, like on that same floor and it was a very surreal feeling, and it was something that I wish could last forever, man. But it is going to last forever in my memory and when I tell my kids about it and everything so it’s something that I’ll always remember for the rest of my life.”
Did you think your victory over Eric Koch set you up for a title shot?
“Yeah, you know I thought what I had done, especially given the fight before that Hatsu Hioki had been offered a title shot and if he had beat me, they would give him the title shot, I guess after Eric Koch would have fought Jose Aldo. So, those are two guys right there that I just beat who were both supposed to fight for the title and it’s okay. I was upset about it for a little bit but I sat back and had another talk with my dad about it. He told me that I’m doing something that I love and that I just need to enjoy it right now, and that kind of calmed me down and I realized he was right, and I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. And if I keep going the way that I am there is no way they can deny me, so I’m gonna get there no matter what.”
If Jose Aldo decides to move up, how would you feel?
“If they do that then hopefully they’ll make an interim title and I could fight for that. Because, actually that is the plan, you know from what I understand If Aldo wins his fight with Pettis, then he’ll get an immediate shot at 155 pounds, so that will throw him out of the mix even longer. So if that happens I hope they consider making an interim title for us.”
Starting out your career, you had five fights in 11 months. Do you think that helped you develop your game quicker or would you have wanted to spread those fights out now looking back to get more time in the gym?
“I think what really helped develop my game was being thrown into the whole WEC mix at such a young age in my career, like you said I only had five fights. And when they threw me in there it was sink or swim, so I really had to step my game up and step my training up and I think that’s what helped me out the most.”
How did you get your nickname, “The bully”?
“I got the nickname “Bully”, I’m the youngest of six boys, and I got my a** kicked my whole life, so I kind of had that big brother syndrome, where if I was in the gym with the guys, I would pick on them a little bit here and there, and some of the guys would joke around and call me the bully and stuff. But really I took the name and used it to represent my dogs that I got, I have two english bullterriers. And any english bulldog breed, they also carry the nickname bully.”
Did you think you would be a good fighter when you were young?
“No when I was young, I was real little, like if you looked at my little league baseball picture, the front row the kids are on the knees and in the back row the kids are standing up. Well I’m in the back row standing up but the kids on their knees are almost as tall as I am. So I was a tiny kid, and here and there I’d get picked on, but man, those kids that picked on me would definitely regret it, because I held no hesitation in going right after them. So whoever picked on me it didn’t last long.”
Your thoughts on TRT?
“I personally have never used anything like that. I rarely use supplements, the heaviest I’ll go is a protein shake. And I get so lazy that sometimes I forget to take that. I’m really all about just staying natural and showing what your natural ability is. Without any use of drugs or anything like that.”
If Cub Swanson wins his next fight, and you do as well, is that an interim title matchup in your mind?
“If he wins yeah, he is going to have a big fight coming up against Frankie Edgar, so that fight makes sense. You can’t leave Chad Mendes out either, he’s coming off two big wins and only been beaten once by the champ, so he’s in the mix also. It’s really up to the UFC and what fight they want to put together. But me, Mendes and Swanson it would definitely be between one of us three.”
Is there any chance of you moving weight class?
“No, 145 is the weight class i’ve wanted to compete in for a long time, even before I got into the WEC. But when I got to WEC, they told me they’d rather have me at lightweight so that is what I stayed there. But now that I dropped to 145 I feel like it’s where I should’ve been along along, and I don’t see myself going anywhere.”
How do you see a fight between you and Pettis going down?
“Pettis is a dangerous dude, and if you give him the space he will use it and most likely catch you with something. He has some techniques that come out of nowhere. In a fight with me and him I’d probably be trying to smother him the whole time. Be in his face, give him no space the whole 25 minutes of the fight. Pretty much just like Clay Guida did. Every time he closed the gap, Guida looked for takedowns and put Pettis on his back and kept him there. That’s one of the keys to beating him I think.”
Where is your advantage in this fight?
“I think the wrestling is to my advantage. If you look at the competition he’s fought, he hasn’t fought a wrestler like me before. A lot of the guys he’s fought are willing to stand right in front of him and slug it out, but I have a little more movement in my style and more angles and definitely mix it up with the takedowns I’ll pose some problems for him.”
How do you prepare to fight a guy like Korean Zombie who can take so much damage?
“Working on my cardio, and getting my cardio to the point where I can keep the punishment up and keep putting it on him for the entire 15 minutes of the fight. Also I’m not going to play into his game, I’m not going to stand in front of him and start swinging. Like I said, I’m going to be using my movement looking for angles and he’s tough, he’s got a good chin, but it’s not like he can’t be knocked out. Roop knocked him out with a head kick and he does have a tendency to leave his hands down relying on his chin, and that might work out bad for him.”
What about the Korean Zombies’ jiu jitsu game?
“I train with Daniel Valverde at MMA Masters and he is the best brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners that I have ever grappled with. He goes live with us, he’s not one of those guys that just shows technique and walks around, no he goes with us, rolling with us in there. I’m already rolling with some of the best guys in the world. Besides him there’s also one of Daniel’s black belts who has great BJJ, and I roll with him all the time. On a given day I have about six different black belts to choose from to roll with. When it comes to grappling and being on the ground, I’m not worried about that at all.”
When the UFC calls you for a fight, how do you decide to take it or not? If it will further your career or what?
“My fight with Cub Swanson, I was actually really excited for, he’s such an exciting fighter, I knew the fight was going to be good. And I feel the same way about this fight. He’s a dangerous fighter, he’s got a huge name. His fights are exciting and the more high profile the fight I get, the harder I train, and the better I perform, I feel.”