I was fortunate enough to be invited via zoom to Bellator media day to speak to some of the fighters competing at Bellator 257 on 16th April. Due the busy nature of the event, I was only able to ask each fighter one or two questions, the responses to which can be read below.
This light-heavyweight grand prix is full of big names, legends and former champions. As well as being the current champion, you’re also coming in as the youngest fighter by a few years. How does it feel gearing up to face these legends and more established names?
I want to win this tournament. I want to prove myself to everybody. I am in my prime age right now, I already have a lot of experience, I’m well prepared for this tournament and because I’m younger that’s just another plus for me.
You’ve mentioned wanting to get that win back over Vadim Nemkov, so I was wondering how much that first fight factors into your mindset going into this weekend? Does it fuel your motivation that much more to try and get this one back? Do you feel like you know him better and that you have a better handle on him than you did going into the first fight?
I approach it almost as a brand new fighter and a brand new fight because it keeps me from falling into the trap of underestimating or thinking that he didn’t improve here, or he didn’t improve there. No, I have limited knowledge of what you like to do and what I think your plan of attack will be. My job is just to come at you with a blank slate, because with rematches they tend to be completely different from the first fight a lot of the time because guys are doing round six or round four of the first fight. So I want to come in with a completely blank slate. I kinda have an idea what you do, but I’m approaching it as brand new. That just allows me to see what’s coming at me and make adjustments based on what he’s doing, not what I think he’s going to do.
Recently Bellator, as well as other promotions, but Bellator especially has been showcasing that great MMA is not just in the UFC, you can find it all over the world in all different promotions. This tournament, with all of its legends, big names as well as newcomers, has brought a lot of eyes to the Bellator product that might not be there otherwise. Do you feel any obligation to showcase the Bellator brand and show people that may usually only watch the UFC that elite, world-class MMA can be found all over the world.
Oh, absolutely. I’m always down to rep my team and rep the Bellator banner, this is my family. Absolutely, we have some of the best fighters in the world, definitely the best light-heavyweight division. This is the best light-heavyweight tournament ever.
A while ago on instagram you said that “Soon I will put the blade to rest.” At this point in your career after so many professional fights, what is it that’s fuelling you going into fights? What is it that gets you up in the morning in training camp?
I love to fight, and above that, very few people that meet me have the same idea of me that they did prior to meeting me. Everyone thinks I’m this f*cking psychotic fighting machine, but deep down I’m a martial artist. What brought me to martial arts was ninjas, y’know? That is what got me into martial arts, it wasn’t the fact that I was some kind of street-fighter… although *laughs* Let’s just say that initially I wasn’t some kind of street-fighter. I just wanted to be a ninja, I wanted to disappear, I wanted to do the meditation things, intertwine my fingers and f*cking summon a dragon or some sh*t like that. So, deep down I’m a martial artist and that’s what keep me going. I’ve said it, and it’s a bit of a cheesy quote, but it’s the ‘endless search for perfection’ that drives me, I just want to be the best martial artist I can be. You can see that…y’know I was just recently awarded my black belt. I’m still here in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, I’m still here in Bellator competing against these guys after so many fights and so many years in the game so, I just want to be the best I can be.
Awesome. So as you may have been made aware, it’s just recently been ten years since your fight with one Nick Diaz. A fight that many have said had one of the greatest rounds in MMA history. The sport has changed and evolved so much over the years, so how does it feel looking back on that fight ten years later and looking back on that chapter of your career?
It’s not something I look back on often. Y’know I get people tagging me in it, saying it was the best round in history or whatever, but I lost the fight. I’m in there to win. Initially I would share it because I was in there with Nick Diaz who I regard as one of the best mixed martial arts fighters of my generation, but now I don’t tend to share it. I lost the match, I didn’t do what I was supposed to do in preparation for the fight, so it’s just another fight. But that Masvidal victory I look back on because I whooped his ass, I got that victory. Now he’s claiming to be the BMF, but we all know who the real BMF is.
As previously mentioned, this tournament is full of big names and legends, as well as newcomers like yourself. Are there any particular matchups that intrigue you the most?
To answer your question, I think Romero is the name. Not that I super want to fight this guy, but I was always a fan of his fight-style and how he acts in public, so I kinda respect this guy. So, if you ask me who I would like to fight from this tournament, Yoel Romero.
You’ve obviously been around for so long, you’ve fought in Strikeforce, Invicta, and now Bellator, won titles and faced a who’s who of iconic female fighters. Women’s MMA and the sport as a whole has changed and evolved so much over the years, so how does it feel to hae been a staple throughout all of these changes, to have fought at a high level throughout it all, and to have been a key figure in this emergence of women’s MMA?
Yeah, it’s been amazing, it’s something I’m really proud of. I’m proud of my journey, I’m proud of where I started and how it’s gone. I’m still here, I still have a lot of drive, and I can’t wait to go out there and put on a great performance on Friday night.
At this point in your career after, as I mentioned, the journey you’ve been on, winning titles, fighting these iconic names, has the motivation changed from when you started your career all of those years ago to now? Or has it stayed the same, is this next fight just a stepping stone to getting your title back?
It’s always to be number one. That’s always my goal, to be the champion. But at the same time, I never overlook an opponent because it can be dangerous. I’m fully focussed on my opponent Friday night, and I want my performance to be so good that they can’t deny me a title shot.