Toby Imada has competed in 34 mixed martial arts fights over the last 11 years. Fourteen of his 22 victories have come via submission.
However, he will be hard-pressed to top the inverted triangle choke he used to defeat Jorge Masvidal in the semifinals of Bellator FC's lightweight tournament last Friday.
FanHouse spoke to Imada about how he pulled off the submission and how he's dealing with his new-found fame. The interview is after the jump.
Ariel Helwani: How has your life changed since you pulled off that submission last Friday?
Toby Imada: It really hasn't changed other than the fact that I'm the topic of a lot of discussion and getting looked at on YouTube. It's flattering. People are talking about me and nothing bad is being said so far.
I can't imagine anyone saying something bad about that move. The video has over 130,000 views on YouTube and the vast majority of the comments have been positive. Have you ever choked someone using an inverted triangle before?
Only in training and in judo and grappling competitions. Never in a fight.
Was there a point in the fight that you realized you could pull off that move or did the situation just fall into your lap?
It's something that I've always trained. Whenever I get put in a certain situation, I always want to have a few moves I can execute. It just so happened that I ended up with Masvidal holding the single-leg on me and that's pretty much a gimme. So right there, I just went for it and he didn't try to get out; he kind of just stood up. So I locked it up and I finished it, just like I did in training a bunch of times before.
I know everything happened so quickly, but what was going through your mind when you were working to lock in the submission?
Initially, I was like, 'Okay, I see it; let me try and go for it.' It went from there to, 'Okay, lock it up.' To, 'Okay, I got it locked up.' I just grabbed the hip, arch, pull and just hold. It's not really strangulation where the guy can't breathe; it's one of those things where the guy goes to sleep. Just like I said, I've done it a bunch of times before. I've been able to do it on really high-caliber grapplers and I just knew what to do.
Were you surprised that Masvidal didn't tap?
Yeah, of course. It's always normal for someone to tap, but he said it himself, he didn't know what was going on as I'm sure his air was cut off. On top of that, probably towards the very last second, he didn't know where to tap, because I wasn't in front of him.
Did you speak to Masvidal after the fight?
Yeah, he actually approached me after the fight. He was very respectful. He came up to me and congratulated me. He told me that he basically didn't have any idea what was going on and what I was doing to him until it was too late. I think I gained his respect and he was very cordial to me.
You've been competing in MMA for 11 years. Do you view this moment as a new chapter in your career?
Well, the first thing that was going through my head was, 'I won. I stood my ground. It was a war (and) I earned it. It wasn't just given to me.' The other part is, yeah, I'm sure a lot of people are going to look at me more. I'm sure a lot of people are going to approach me to see if I would be interested in whatever it is they have to offer. But really, it's just one step at a time. I'm still in that tournament (and) I have a contract with Bellator.
Do you think you will ever be able to top this moment?
Right now, I'm over-whelmed and blown away by all the publicity it's getting. But I think I can probably do something that can make just as much noise, if not maybe more.
So, you've got a few more tricks up your sleeve.
Yeah, I've got few.
You only have a little over a month to prepare for Eddie Alvarez. Do you feel as though that is enough time for you to get ready for a fighter of his caliber?
That's all I have and I gotta make the most of it. Right now, I'm just taking another day or so to recover and then it's right back into training, because I can't really miss a beat. There's a lot at stake facing Eddie Alvarez. He's a very formidable opponent and he's ranked No. 5 in the world at this weight class. It will be such a great honor to compete against someone of his caliber. It's a good test for myself. I gotta bring in the best I have and be the best that I am and compare how it stands up to Eddie. Hopefully, I can be the better man. If not, I know I went out there, gave it my best and can say that I proved already to everybody that I'm no slouch.
Have you been studying Alvarez's two losses in hopes of creating the same kind of problems for him next month?
Of course you always want to exploit someone's weaknesses and know what they are and use it as a strength for yourself. He has very few losses, but my whole thing is to have better tools than whomever it is I am facing off against. Hopefully, I can pull that off with Eddie.
What do you think are his biggest weaknesses?
I don't know. Eddie is a very well-rounded fighter, which is basically why I'm so excited to face off against him. It's a good test for myself.
Do you like Bellator's tournament format?
I like the tournament format. There's a lot less politics in the format instead of single fights. You fight whom you're put up against and that's how you gotta deal with it. I understand that there is certain seeding that always takes part where people may end up fighting each other, but I think it's good. You can't really negate whom you are going to fight or whom you won't. It's good competition.
Has Bellator treated you well up until this point?
It's been a relatively good experience. They do take care of the fighters, but they are relatively new, so I'm sure they're a bit rough around the edges. They have a good idea and they are following a good plan. I don't really have any problems or complaints with them.
Due to the fact that you made it to the finals of the lightweight tournament, does that mean that a new contract will kick in for you come season two?
I can't remember the details off the top of my head. I do have a six-fight or two-and-a-half-year contract, whichever comes first. Of course, they always have the authority to renew, renegotiate or extend. Hopefully, I impressed them enough for them to maybe offer me a better contract.