In this exclusive Q&A with MMA Fighting, the two-time NCAA wrestling champ and teammate of Brock Lesnar talks about improving his standup with Pat Barry, how he deals with fighters calling him out and how he partakes in his MMA fandom -- without the luxury of a television.
Check out the interview below.
With this extended layoff, what are some of the areas you've been focusing on in your training?
I've been working extensively on my feet. I think I've come a long, long way since even my last fight to where I am at now. I've been very fortunate to have Pat Barry move up here and we've been working together daily. He's helped me a ton on my feet and I feel like I've helped him a ton with the wrestling game. I think that's the biggest area where you'll see improvements out of me. Obviously, I haven't neglected my ground game or my wrestling. I still train that just as much as I always have but I've really focused and tried to become more of a well-rounded fighter.
Are the improvements on the feet dramatic enough that people can expect a different fighter against Buentello?
I hope so. I think you'll see a more confident fighter on the feet, as much sparring with high-level guys as I've done in the last ten months. I'm definitely not shy on confidence when it comes to standing up and exchanging punches. I think if you saw the fight go in that direction, I think people will be pleasantly surprised. I'm not saying what direction where the fight will go because you never know until you get out there, but I think there's certainly a new attitude in me as far as my standup goes.
Considering the addition of Pat Barry to the mix of your striking coaches along with the regulars Erik Paulson and Peter Welch and how different trainers can have their own specific detail to moves and techniques, how do you process everything you need to know when working with a variety of trainers?
I've been very fortunate in my career with both wrestling and fighting that I've been surrounded by numerous great coaches and what you learn from that is that you learn to pick up the things that work for you and incorporate it in your game. Bottom line is that I can't do the same things that the guy next to me can do and he can't do the same things that I can do. If I see 200 different techniques and I can pull six things that work for me, that's a win. And fortunately having Marty Morgan as my main coach, he knows me. I've been with him since I was 18 years old, day in and day out with wrestling and now with fighting.
What do you consider to be Paul Buentello's strongest asset, his striking or his experience?
I think it's a combination. I think he's an accomplished fighter. I think he's fought numerous times and with that comes a lot of knowledge in the cage, that's obviously a danger. Anybody that's been out there a number of times -- you learn so much when you're actually in the cage. You can sit and practice all day but when that cage closes a lot of that stuff goes out the window and you're relying on instincts and past experiences. That's a big deal.
He's a good standup fighter. He's got quick hands and that's where he's going to want to take this fight I assume. I don't see why he would want to take it to the ground where it's obviously my strong point. His experience and his hands are two dangerous, dangerous combinations.
Returning to the topic of cage-time, would you say being Bellator champion limits the amount of fights you can get per year?
I wouldn't say it limits the amount of fights. I think the higher up the food chain so-to-speak the more difficult it is to get competitive fights and fights that do make sense. So Bellator or not Bellator, I think it's always a struggle get guys fights that make sense, that it draws and it's an intriguing fight. For me this is a good fight for me. I'm going to be tested in areas I haven't truly been tested before and I don't think that's a reflection of being so-to-speak "limited" in Bellator. I think once you get to a certain level there's only a handful of guys you can turn to, to make that fight happen and fortunately Paul stepped up and took this fight and I think it's a perfect matchup for me. I don't think it matters what organization. I think when you get towards the top it's difficult to get fights, relatively quick, anyways. Every six months you're going to find a fight but not every eight weeks like I was used to last year.
As your career continues to progress, you're going to become a target for other up-and-coming fighters. How do you react to a fighter calling you out?
I just ignore it. I've been in top of the world before as far as the wrestling world goes. If I paid attention to that, you'd drive yourself crazy. I don't care what people say or what people do. When it's time to fight, I'm ready to go. Honestly, I don't follow it at all. I didn't even realize I was called out until about a week later when someone told me about it because I just don't follow it. I just don't care what someone else says. Saying stuff doesn't mean anything. Step up and put your money where your mouth is. I'm assuming you're talking about the last guy I fought, Neil Grove, calling me out. I mean (Laughs.), put your money where your mouth is. Look at what happened the last time you stepped up. You just won a sloppy fight against a subpar fighter, I don't understand the basis for the claims.
Did you get a chance to see that fight? It was a unique, to say the least.
I didn't see the fight and I was told about it a week later so then I hopped on YouTube. I didn't see it live. I actually don't have TV.
Since you don't own a TV, how closely do you follow the sport?
I'm well aware of what's going on. I follow it close, it's just I'm not obsessed with watching everything live. I catch a lot of things on the Internet. I'm aware of who's who and what's going on and things like that. When I'm out of the practice room and out of the cage, I kind of want to shut my mind out of it and not overthink it. You start doing that then personally, I start to overthinking it or start worrying about things I don't need to be worrying about -- like a guy calling me out. I don't care to worry about it because it means nothing. I try to limit what I see to an extent and I've just found that it helps for me. It's always helped me in wrestling and I've carried that over to the cage. Obviously, I love fighting and I do love to watch it but I can't obsess over it or it'll drive me mad.
When you're watching a fight, what's your experience like as a spectator? Do you envision yourself in there or can you enjoy fights simply as a fan?
A little of each and usually I try to sit back and enjoy it. But regardless of whether I'm watching a heavyweight or lightweight it doesn't much matter. (Chuckles.) "Ooh, what would I do there?" It always clicking in my brain. "You should have done this, this or this. I would've done this or this." Once you're in the sport and you love the sport, you're constantly analyzing things all the time and you're working out solutions in your head.
It's all but official that UFC is heading to FOX and if that's the case, Bellator would presumably be a good match for Spike. Are you looking forward to the prospects of that happening?
If that's the case, that's great. I don't know viewership or things like that. I don't know if it'll drive it up or down or whatever. If that's a move up, that's great. It's great for the company and it's great for me to get on TV and get more exposure. Bellator has really been taking off and it's been fun to be with them this last two years.
It would and it would also be in HD, if you're into all that.
Cool. Yeah, well, that's sweet. I don't have a TV. (Laughs.)