Depending on the era their MMA fandom began, fight fanatics likely best know Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou as either one of two things: the Cameroonian sensation who put together the most shocking six-week stretch in the sports' history, exploding onto the scene in 2007 with odds-defying knockouts over two titans of Pride FC in a combined two minutes and 22 seconds, or the journeyman light heavyweight who's struggled to a 10-11 record since.
Seven years after Sokoudjou's spectacular beginnings, reminders of those fateful nights against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Ricardo Arona still follow the judoka "all day, every day," he says. Yet because of the anticlimactic way in which his career has played out since, his defining run has also grown somewhat bittersweet as the years pass and the losses pile up.
"Sometimes it's frustrating," Sokoudjou said to MMAFighting.com. "It depends how it comes across. Sometimes, especially when I meet someone who was there and kinda relive the special memories, it's always fun to talk about. But then you have what I call the haters, who bring it up in a different way, and then it just becomes a problem."
On Friday, Sokoudjou will enter his Bellator debut against Terry Davinney mired in a two-fight losing streak. Considering Bellator's substantial reach on Spike TV, it's an unexpected chance for Sokoudjou to reintroduce himself to western audiences, and the veteran says the opportunity spurred him to make drastic changes to his training regimen, which he admits stagnated long ago at Team Quest.
"It's been kind of upsetting and kind of frustrating because of the way things have been going. I came to the conclusion that something had to change," Sokoudjou said.
"I looked back at what I used to do and what I'm doing now, and I felt like I needed to go back to doing things like I was doing when I first started, which was training with a whole lot of different people. When I first started MMA, it was brand new for me. I'd never trained with anyone else but judo players. Everything was new to me and I kept improving. And I think I reached a point where training with the same guys, I kinda [plateaued]. I wasn't evolving anymore, I wasn't improving anymore.
"It took me a bunch of beatings to realize that I had to change my training greatly."
Just as he promised, Sokoudjou toured across California in advance of his bout against Davinney, making stops at Victory MMA and Mark Munoz's Reign Training Center, among others.
He says he hopes to continue exploring new gyms in the near future, and because of the shift in his training, along with the startling fact that Friday will mark just the second time in Sokoudjou's last 14 fights that he won't need to travel outside the country, he's more energized than he's felt in years, affording him a chance to reconcile his recent slump and promise the start of a violent new chapter.
"It is what it is," said Sokoudjou. "You've got to deal with a few things. It can't always be great, but you've got to make the best out of it. And now that I'm fighting in the U.S., it's awesome. I don't have to deal with all that language barrier, all that jetlag. Usually at this time, I'm still fighting my weight because of [the travel], but now it feels like I'm in my backyard fighting and I don't have anything to worry about."
Regardless of whether his Bellator run proves successful or not, Sokoudjou knows his legacy will forever be tied to his ferocious beginnings and less than favorable aftermath.
But at age 30, "The African Assassin" is hopeful that he can still give fight fans a few more flashes to remember him by, starting with a potential run through Bellator's next light heavyweight tournament. First, though, he has to take care of business on Friday night.
"[Pride FC] is part of my career. It's one of my greatest moments," Sokoudjou said.
"Just like in any sport, there's ups and downs. I believe what I've done so far is nowhere near to what I really want to do, so I believe that I still have a bunch of stuff that I can do. Only time will tell."