UFC lightweight Jorge Gurgel makes his return to the Octagon Saturday in Sacramento at UFC 73 versus Diego Saraiva. He spoke with me briefly about his return, the sport, and his academy.
On his nine-month layoff after knee surgery:
I feel better than ever to be honest with you, man. I feel like...I really feel like I was born again. I feel like for the first time in two-and-a-half years I have a completely healthy body. My knees do not hurt at all. I can run up the hills. I can jump. I can kick. As far as technically, I'm the best technically I've ever been before. Best stand-up, my wrestling has never been better. I really feel like I was blessed with a new beginning, with a new opportunity and I don't have ring rust. I don't suffer from those things because I actually get excited to get in the ring. I don't have jitters. I don't get nervous. For me it's just another day training. So, I'm ready to rock and roll.
On Diego Saraiva, his next opponent:
First of all, I've known Diego for 15 years. We're from the same hometown. He trained jiu-jitsu in a rival school when we were kids in Brazil, but we've always been friends. We're actually buddies. His losses to my student and to people I've fought don't mean anything to me. To me, right now Diego is the most dangerous, most prepared fighter in the world. He's the only guy that I have to face. I don't have to worry about any other fighter on the planet except for him. To me, he's the enemy. He's the devil and I don't care who he's fought. I'm coming out to kill him.
On Sherk vs. Franca:
I like Sean, a buddy of mine, a great guy. He definitely deserves to be a champion. He's put his work into it, has a lot of experience. He definitely worked the road to become and to earn the world championship. But, Hermes, man, Hermes is like family. We go back a long, long way. We started doing jiu-jitsu together 15 years ago in Fortaleza. We've been close friends for that long, so of course I'm pulling for my boy Hermes even though my dream would be to be the first guy from Fortaleza to be a world champion in the UFC. But, if that's not going to happen, it's OK. If it's Hermes it's a good pick. He's a good guy. He deserves it also.
On cutting weight to 155-pounds:
Hell no [it's not easy]! I walk around at about 185-pounds. Two-weeks from the fight I weighed 175 and my body fat is relatively low. The cut is not as crazy hard, but it's definitely annoying and definitely hard for me. I'm one of the biggest 155-pounders out there. I eat well all year round and don't let myself go or get fat. Definitely making 155-pounds is always a challenge, it's always difficult, but I'm only 155-pounds for about an hour. So, it won't bother me that much.
On Jorge Gurgel's Martial Arts Academy:
I don't like comparing my academy as the NEXT American Top Team, the NEXT Team Quest. We're one of a kind. We don't come from a millionaire-base with 15 black belts. We don't come from a world-class wrestling camp with former Olympians. Everybody has a different story; everybody started from a different background. I started this by myself, on my own at 21-years old with my hands behind my back, with $500 to my name in my bank account bussing tables in a restaurant. Due to a hard work ethic and a lot of students who believed in me, and friends that believed in me and trained hard we've built a team that's got a huge world-wide, great reputation. I take a lot of pride in this. There is nobody else behind it. There is no bunch of trainers. I built this from scratch, by myself and I take pride in saying this. Right now we have a great team coming in here. Of course we got better and evolved like everybody else. We have great, world-class Thai boxing coaches. We have boxing coaches. We have wrestling, Greco-Roman, freestyle coaches. And, we have three black belts from me that train here full-time. Of course Rich Franklin, a former world champion and a lot talent. I think it's all due to how you set the base and how you set an example. You have to lead by example. You've got to bust your ass! If you don't bust your ass, your students won't. I always say the same thing: This has never been a democracy. This is a dictatorship. If you want to be on my boat, you're welcome to it. If you don't like the way I run this place, get the fuck out!
But, I care. I take a lot of pride when people wear my name to fight. I take a lot of pride in what I've done with my team and with my students. That's all I am. Nobody can take that away from me. I have nothing. I've accomplished nothing in my life except for training great people, making champions and bringing myself up to this level to be able to make a living as a jiu-jitsu black belt and a professional athlete. People come here, there's always a family atmosphere. I know my sense of humor is kind of crooked, but I am a good ambassador for the sport. I consider myself a professional athlete. I carry myself professionally and I demand...it's called "tough love." I ride them hard; I ride my students hard, push them hard, but I get the results. Once I get the results, they understand I was so hard on them, why I pushed them so hard. They're always grateful at the end. I think my formula has been working out just fine, so I'll stick my plan and I'm happy with what I've done.
On the future of MMA:
I have one thing to say. Every year and every six months there's going to be a new wave of people evolving this sport. You think you're training hard. There's always somebody in a corner somewhere in Brazil, or in Thailand, or in Japan training harder than you. You know, there are those 18, 19-year old studs that people've never heard of before that are busting their ass to try to come here and kick the champion's ass, people that are 30, 35 pushing the peak of their careers. A lot people that I've seen around the country and in Brazil that are talented. They're going to make a name for themselves. Every year and every six months this sport is going to be twice as competitive. So it's going to be harder and harder and harder. I think the monopoly of reigning champions defending a title for six, seven times in a row is never going to happen again. It's going to be here and there, lose, win, lose, win because the competition is going to be very stiff and everybody's getting better all around the world.