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Robert Drysdale Readies for MMA Debut With One Eye on Roger Gracie

The term "world-class" is thrown around a lot in MMA, but when it comes to describing Robert Drysdale's Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu pedigree, that's the best way to describe him.

Drysdale (0-0, 1-0 amateur), a multiple-time world champion who placed first in the 2007 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championship's open division, is set to make his MMA debut Saturday night at Armageddon Fighting Championship 3 in Victoria, British Columbia, against Bas Huveneers (8-2-1).

MMA Fighting spoke to Drysdale about his MMA debut, the health issues which prevented him from making his debut earlier and why he would like to fight fellow BJJ wizard, Roger Gracie, in an MMA fight sooner rather than later.

The full interview is below.

Ariel Helwani: Why are you making your MMA debut now?
Robert Drysdale: Well, I had some health issues that prevented me from fighting. You know, the thing has been going on for a while. But it's clear now, and I'm able to fight, and that's what I want to be able to do. I just want to jump in there and get it done.

Can you explain what exactly you were dealing with?
I was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm. That was a little bit over a year ago. It put me on hold for a while. For a while, I thought my career was done. I don't have insurance in the States, so I had to fly back to Brazil a couple of times to get some exams done over there.

I have a small brain aneurysm. It's actually not inside my brain, it's inside my skull. So it's not life-threatening, and it's way too small to operate. The doctors cleared me, said I was good to go, and that's good news. But for a while there, I didn't know what was going to happen.

Despite the fact that the condition is not life-threatening, are you at all concerned about embarking on a career where you will get hit in the head?
Well, ideally, I don't want to get hit at all. But there's always a chance of something happening and that goes for everyone in this sport. I mean, it's not a safe sport, let's be realistic here. I am going to go in there and do my thing, and try not to focus on the bad things that can happen, just try to focus on the good stuff. But I suppose that is the risk I take.

How often are you going to be looking to fight?
I have a four-fight deal with AFC. I think they have three shows a year, and that's what I want to stick to. So maybe a show by the end of this year, another fight, and then another two fights next year, and then hopefully I will jump in the big shows.

Are you exclusive to AFC?
It's exclusive for Canada, unless it's the UFC. So I can't fight for any other Canadian organization.

So you could fight for anyone else in the US?
Yes, I can fight in the States [for anyone else]. If I wanted to go to Strikeforce or the UFC, then that would be OK.

Have you ever talked to Strikeforce or the UFC about fighting for them?
Yes, I have spoken to them before, and it's open. I would actually very much like to fight for them, and I even have in mind who I would like to fight.

Who would that be?
Roger Gracie.

I think that would be an interesting fight, just because we both have the same background; we're about the same height -- he's a bit taller than me. But I think it would be an interesting fight -- a fight that I would look forward to taking.

Have you talked to Strikeforce about making this fight happen?
I've spoken to them before, and it's a possibility. It's out in the open, and anything is possible. We don't know what's going to happen for sure, but I'm open to the idea and so is he.

Watch the new Drysdale vs. Laimon Super-Fight Ecko MMA commercial.

When world-class BJJ practitioners make the transition to MMA, the biggest question always surrounds what their striking looks like. How confident are you in your striking skills?
Well, I enjoy it -- that's the first thing. I see a lot of people who have a striking background who try to get into jiu-jitsu, but they don't like it. I think it's always harder for you to get good at something you don't like, and I truly, truly enjoy striking. I love boxing, it's fun. I love every second of it. I've been working on it consistently. It's not my main game; I'm not naive enough to believe I'm going to go out there and kill people on my feet, but I'm good enough to believe I can hang in there. You know, I've been sparring with some of the best MMA fighters in the world. So if i could hang in there with them, there's no reason why I shouldn't be able to hang in this fight. So I think the confidence is definitely there, but I'm not over-confident with it either.

You've competed on the biggest stages in BJJ, so I am sure you are no stranger to dealing with pressure. However, since this is your MMA debut, are you a little nervous about it?
Nervous enough. I'm not anxious, not scared, but just aware. You know, I respect my opponent. I don't take any fight lightly. It's a pro fight, and I take that very, very seriously, but I'm not intimidated in any way. Of course, it's a new arena and it's still very new to me, but I've been training for this for a while, and I'm prepared, man.

I'm actually excited, man. I'm looking forward to it. It's not one of those things ... I remember, early in my jiu-jitsu career, whenever a big tournament came up, I was like, 'Oh, I don't want that day to come,' and this fight has been the opposite. For the last few weeks, I've been like, 'I can't wait to fight, I just can't wait to get in there.'

Which weight class will you be competing in?
Listen, I can maybe make 185, but it would be very hard, and it's not my natural weight. I'm probably going to stick to 205.

So, your debut will be at 205, correct?

Your opponent, Bas Huveneers, is a BJJ purple belt whose only two losses have come via submission. Does this mean you are going to be looking to take the fight to the ground right away?
I think the fight will go wherever it takes me. I'm not the kind of guy who's like, 'Oh, this is what I'm going to do.' I think if you've been in any kind of fight, things don't always go exactly the way you plan the them to go. Anything can happen. Of course, I would like to get a submission, but I'm also willing to get a knockout, I'm willing to get a TKO. I'm willing to take whatever he gives me. I'm not going to force the fight to the ground. I think that's probably what he expects me to do and what most expect me to do. I'm not going to rush into anything.

When do you think you will be ready and confident enough to compete with the best at 205?
I'd like to think that I'm there right now, but experience[-wise] I'm not. I think technically, I'm not far away from any guy in the UFC at my weight. I don't believe that. I think experience certainly counts for a lot in this sport, and I don't have it. It's true. So, I'm going to take my time, but I would like to think that after these four fights with AFC, I can compete with anyone in my weight class.

Do you think Fabricio Werdum's submission win over Fedor Emelianenko gave some new life to BJJ in MMA?
I get this all time, people who don't believe in grappling, and that never made any sense to me. How can you say something like that? Do you not watch this sport? I'm not surprised Werdum finished Fedor. I wasn't shocked at all -- I know that surprised a lot of people. I know for a fact that Werdum is a much better grappler than him. He was the underdog in the fight. I think that, overall, Fedor is a better MMA fighter than he is, but I wasn't surprised Werdum made him tap. I know that Werdum is light years ahead of him on the ground.

For some reason, people ... I don't know, maybe a little resentment against jiu-jitsu -- I get that all the time -- I get that kind of vibe from people all the time, like, 'That doesn't work,' and, 'You don't need that,' people just want to scramble on the ground, and it doesn't really work like that. I've seen way too many people get tapped in the UFC; I've seen world-class grapplers get tapped in the UFC. So for someone to say that that doesn't work or don't train that, that's kind of silly. And I think that Werdum just showed what everyone who is smart about this sport already knew. I think that people who don't already understand it are the ones who are making statements, like, 'Oh, you don't really need to learn that.' But what every smart person in this sport already knows is that, yeah, if you make a mistake on the ground, you're going to get tapped. Fedor is a world-class sambo fighter, so he knows the ground game very well, and he still gets tapped. So what does that say about people who don't know jiu-jitsu. I mean, c'mon.

Watch a preview of AFC 3: Evolution below, which features veterans Kalib Starnes and Marcus Hicks, below, courtesy of The Fight Network.

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