No, we trained together for a while but we got out of touch.
2003 Abu Dhabi Absolute Champion. You won your 4 matches by submission, setting a record for the Abu Dhabi Championships. You are scheduled to take on Arona soon. Were you a one time or two-time US Sambo Champion?
I feel the decision is my fault. I can never let that happen. All my victories have been submissions. All three of my losses have been split decisions. I could get knocked out or submitted, maybe, but it's basically been the same situation in those three fights.
No, but to an extent I took more chances on my feet than I normally would have. Now it's different, though. I really got focused on my standup. The thing is, look at fights like Cro Cop versus Coleman. If it was a wrestling match, Coleman would get really close and take him down, but he doesn't have the confidence. He landed a kick and Cro Cop didn't even flinch. He didn't have the striking to make Cro Cop turn a different direction or block. Then he could grab him. Now, to become a good grappler in MMA fighting, you have to have the striking part down and vice-versa. If you're a good striker and you can't keep someone off of you, you can be K-1 World Champion and it won't matter if the guy takes you down and you can't do anything. You have to learn to use grappling to use your striking, and use striking to use your grappling. So, I changed my whole focus as to what I will do in this fight. Don't get me wrong. If the takedown is there, that's great but I'm in now rush.
When you say you changed your whole focus, you mean that you had to bring your standup to where your groundwork is?
In each of my three losses, at least one judge gave the fight to me. So, they were very close fights. I will never dishonor a decision against me because that is the judge's opinion. And that's what it is, an opinion. Those people are chosen to give their opinion, but it is an opinion. If I win by decision, I don't feel that I really beat my opponent. The opinion is that I won but I didn't beat him. I'm frustrated that I didn't win but I didn't get beat down. So, that's my mentality. I want to get more wins with submissions and knockouts.
Well, you know you have to put on a show in PRIDE. You can't just roll around on the canvas like you do in Abu Dhabi.
A lot of people win Abu Dhabi matches or BJJ matches by one point or an advantage, which I hate. You won the match by that? You didn't win anything. When I was in Abu Dhabi, I was winning 2-0 with 30 seconds left and decided to go for a knee lock. I didn't have to. He could have escaped and won the match but, you know, I don't want to win by points. I was winning another one ??E to 0 because my opponent pulled guard. I could have just sat there. He was on bottom so I could have held him there but I foot locked him and he tapped. I like to take those kinds of chances. It's just that before, I wasn't confident enough in striking to take those chances. Now I feel more confident to use those strikes and taking chances to my benefit, and using them to go to the ground.
Where is the confidence in your striking coming from?
I've been working out every day for the past 2 or 3 months with the head muay thai instructor at my gym. I look up to guys that use striking in NHB effectively. That's a different thing that striking when you have the bigger gloves.
What's your game plan going into this fight with Shoji?
He's been around for a long time. He has a lot more experience than me and he's a very tough opponent. I have a lot of respect for him. I know he keeps going and going. I don't know what his strategy is. I heard through the grapevine that he wants to take me down and ground-and-pound me. I hope so but I don't think so. I don't know what to expect so I'm going to go out there and focus on winning with whatever I can find. If the submission is there, I'll take it.
Did your new focus come from PRIDE's requirement to be more aggressive?
Yeah, I don't want to try to get too philosophical here but the striking game is like playing drums. There's a rhythm. It's like music. Grappling is like tying knots. I kind of need a certain amount of time to tie and un-tie knots. If someone's not letting me tie them into a not, which they won't, and the time's not permitting, it doesn't favor my methodical look on jiu-jitsu and the ground game. Because of that, and how this sport is becoming, I have to change how I fight. If I could, and people liked it, and there were no stand ups, yeah, I could just pull guard on people. It would be hard to get up. I would take my time and look for stuff but now I can't do that. Now, he stands up and motions for me to get up. The crowd boos and he looks like he's the man.
Well, it's how I felt about it. Some of my students tell me that they did well in boxing after a year but no so in grappling. Well, striking is like a drum. They weren't pros, of course, but anyone can hit a drum and make a sound. If you get a book with a thousand knots, you are not going to be able to tie a thousand knots in a day. It takes longer to get comfortable and feel you are getting good at grappling. It's not that one is harder than the other. I think they are both hard but one is visually easier to see. I can see when I'm hitting something.
How much do you think you improved since the Suloev fight?
You know, I would like to fight Suloev again because I didn't bet him. I don't feel like I lost. I didn't beat him so I would like to fight him but I don't have this eye of the tiger, Rocky 3 attitude. Actually, I won't be upset if Paulo beats Filho. That's going to be a tough match because, once again, it's a situation like I had. Suloev's not going to take Filho down. Of course not. I think it's going to be tough but Paulo is really tough.