For me, I thought of this as a personal challenge to myself because I've never been in a physical altercation with any person growing up in Wyoming. I took it as a challenge for me to go out there and try a sport that I've never done before. It's a perfect opportunity. What really enticed me was going against an Olympic judo champion. Even though he has a lot more experience that me, a lot more time on the mat, in the room, time in the ring...all those things he has a lot more than me but I think with the training people I had, all the way from training with Randy Couture, training with Heath Sims, Ryan Parsons, Dan Henderson, Brian Foster, all these individuals have got me to the level where I think I can go out there and be successful.
What have you learned from those guys? A lot of people say that, yeah, you're one of the best Olympic athletes in your chosen sport of Greco-Roman Wrestling but this is a whole new ball of wax and you haven't had enough time to train, no matter who you're training with. What have you been able to pick up in the time that you've worked with these guys?
Well, we also trained in muay thai with a trainer from San Diego many times. We worked on my striking ability. Another individual was Dean Lister, world submission champion. Also Ken Shamrock. Training with these individuals has taught me striking, mobility, submissions, getting out of submissions, the guard, the mount, half-guard, all these positions and getting me somewhat comfortable in these positions. Seeing Yoshida's experience, all the way from Don Frye to Mark Hunt, who is a striker, to Wanderlei, who is an all-around athlete. He's been able to be successful against many different athletes, many styles of athletes. There're very few weaknesses that I see in his ability. He has a definite advantage over me but I think that I have the desire and tenacity to help me get to that level. Maybe I'm not at his level but that's where I'm going to try to go, find one or two weaknesses and be successful.
Obviously you have weight and size on him. Do you have any surprises for Yoshida on New Year's Eve or are you going to keep this close to your strengths?
I think we are going to strike but it's actually going to come down to a grappling match, a match where we go toe-to-toe and man-to-man. You get in a grappling situation with two grappling athletes, one of them will get out of position and a submission or something like that will happen. That's where he has the advantage but I think that my desire and my ability to stay focused on what I'm trying to accomplish will allow me to come out there and be successful.
A lot of people have said that for a guy of 295 lbs, your conditioning is incredible. Training and fighting are two different things but the 1st round is 10 minutes. Are you totally prepared to go 10 minutes with Yoshida?
Last night we went a total of 20 minutes; 10, 5 and 5. At the end of 10 minutes, I wasn't even breathing heavy. A little bit of muscle and arm fatigue but for the most part I was feeling pretty good, pretty loose. I've just got to convince myself to stay relaxed. Even though this individual is trying to physically strike you and hurt you, it's okay to relax yourself until you get where you are in a position where you have to defend yourself. That's when you need your muscles ready to react and ready to fight. I think right now that's where I'm at. The level I'm at is trying to learn when to cross the boundaries but not get hurt in those positions.
What would you ideally like to see happen in this fight? Do you want to submit him? Do you want to knock him out?
For me, I wish he'd walk out and quit. (laughing) That's every man's hope but it never quite worked that way in wrestling. I'd like to be able to go out there and learn a new skill, either by submitting him or knocking him out. Eventually, it'll come down to grappling, our skills, our abilities, and the things that made us the good athletes that we were and made us successful. For me, I have things that I feel comfortable with and things that I need to work. If I don't, I'll be in trouble. That's where I'll have to use instinct.
Mark Hunt amazed a lot of us by his natural instincts against Yoshida. Do you feel that you have a natural feel for this game?
I knew it was going to be difficult. A lot of the stuff didn't make sense when I first started because it's not natural (for a wrestler). In wrestling, when you go to all fours, you stand up and get out. Here, you get on all fours and the guy chokes you out. You have to be able to adapt to positions that you're not comfortable with. For me, working with Dean Lister, going through a lot of different submissions and grappling, I've learned a lot. But, there are a lot of things that Yoshida still has in his bag of tricks that we've never seen and things that I've never seen in practice. You can only study so much and retain so much information. At some point, you have to use your natural ability. The true mixed martial artist will be able to adapt through the evolution of a move. For me, that's going to be tough. That's one of my concerns where it gets in a situation with chain wrestling or chain fighting and the match is over before you know it. My biggest thing is that I hope neither me or Yoshida gets injured and we can walk out friends, hugging each other and say ??reat job, nice job' and see where we go from there.
Don't get injured. This is a sporting competition. Two athletes, two gladiators going toe-to-toe. Walking out there, respecting each other, battling each other as two warriors and then walking off, still respecting each other as two warriors. That's where I would like to be injury free. I made it through all those years of wrestling pretty much injury free. The last thing I want to do is get injured in MMA.
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