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Dr. Rhadi Ferguson Discusses His Scholastic Approach to Fighting

As someone who is a longtime coach, a motivational speaker and holds a Ph.D. in education in addition to being an Olympian, a black belt in judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, you can expect Rhadi Ferguson to hold a more scholarly outlook towards mixed martial arts.

This was especially the case when I spoke to Ferguson (2-0) this week as we approach his Strikeforce debut this Friday at Strikeforce Challengers 13 in Nashville, Tenn. In an exclusive interview with below, Ferguson spoke candidly about his realistic expectations as someone making his MMA start at 35, his belief of a major misconception of judo in MMA, the importance of having a spiritual adviser and much more.

Ray Hui: How's training coming along for your third professional MMA fight?
Dr. Rhadi Ferguson: It's been challenging.

Why specifically has your training been challenging?

It's a lot of different disciplines to learn -- and quite honestly, I'm still a neophyte when it comes to my mixed martial arts game. Even as someone who has coached before, It's difficult when I'm putting all the things together because I don't have a 'me' to organize my training (Laughs.), if you will. I wish I could hire myself to help myself out.
I'm still a neophyte when it comes to my mixed martial arts game.
-- Dr. Ferguson

Who do you have to be that "me" to help yourself out for this camp?
I have a team of individuals still morphing and changing. My head corner person and my boxing coach is Howard Davis. My team engineer who helps me with everything that happens outside of the cage is Winston Williams. My jiu-jitsu coach is Dustin Denes. I have some mentors in my MMA game Rashad Evans, Mo Lawal and Lloyd Irvin. I also have a minister on my team, Minister Taneshia Curry, who helps out to not only to get me prepared physically but also spiritually. My masseuse Nick Cress. I have a physical therapist who's name is Mariesol Wallace, so I have my team of individuals.

I'm still trying to put together my Muay Thai component and I'm still trying to get the other pieces in terms of grappling. I want people to understand distance, space and time. Those particulars when it comes to managing the area and the cage. Lloyd Irvin understands this a lot; he did a lot of judo with me. There are a lot of factors of MMA that a lot of people aren't familiar with except for the top dogs or coaches in the sport. People like Randy Couture understands things like this. I'm missing that component which may not be necessary right now, but it's something that I actually need if I'm going to reach a higher level of mixed martial arts.

How long have you been training your striking and how has that been coming along?
I do a lot of boxing. I just started training MMA in January, so, I'm a newbie when it comes to striking. I'm still learning the art of pugilism. I really enjoy the boxing a little more than the Muay Thai at this particular time because it really stresses head movement and getting hit is not something that you want to do or should do, especially when it comes to wearing four ounce gloves.

You first two fights ended quickly in TKOs. Was that your specific intention, to go out there and test your hands?
Without a doubt. Without a doubt, I wanted to go in there and work on my hands. Without a doubt.

Most of the time when we see judo player-turned MMA fighters, we don't see much of their judo in use. For example, Yoshihiro Akiyama prefers to box, Hiroshi Izumi has been widely criticized for neglecting his judo game and trading punches instead ... Why is that?
You know what. I really disagree with that. I disagree with what you're saying. Remember, "The eye don't actually see what the mind can comprehend." A lot of people think that judo players aren't using judo because they don't see the judo takedowns. The sport of judo is a little bit of boxing, a little bit of wrestling, it requires inside control, it requires you to control the distance. It requires you to control the movement patterns. So some of the things you see judo players do, you wouldn't characterize it as judo because you don't really understand what high level judo looks like. You only know what a judo throw looks like. Just because you don't see a judo throw doesn't mean the individual is not using judo.

... The farce is that you actually believe you can control the situation whereas when you're outside the cage, you can't control the situation.
-- Dr. Ferguson
Why don't we see judo throws?

It's a matter of risk being worth the reward. It's just like anything else. Wrestling has throws in there too but you don't see to many wrestlers doing throws.

Is it because judo is gi-based and also, it's harder to land throws since competitors get increasingly sweatier as the fight progresses?
There are some people that say that there are some of the throws are difficult without the gi. I 100 percent disagree. Judo is a philosophical approach. The sport requires a gi and pants. That's just the bottom line. If you can throw, you can throw if you can footsweep, you can footsweep. Learning the game with the gi is part of the sport of judo but applying the principals of judo comes from being a good martial artist. When you see the application of judo, you can't see the judo being used like I can see it being used, just like it's difficult for people to see the small things that Randy Couture does when he's on the fence, when he's using his Greco-Roman wrestling. You really can't see the pummeling and striking integrations that he's merged together. It's just different. They are fans, they're fanatics, they don't really know the sport of MMA, but knowing what you're looking at from the point of view from a fan and someone whose actually coached the sport are two different things.

You've fought twice already, how would you compare yourself mentally and emotionally between watching from the outside to fighting inside the cage?
It's a lot easier fighting than it is sitting outside watching somebody fight. Man, sitting outside watching someone you know-- watching someone you know on TV, makes you nervous man. When I fight, I don't get nervous.

Why is that? Is that because of your own personal self confidence?
It's a farce. You think you have more control over the situation cause it's you. Actually you don't! But you believe that your training, your preparation and all the things that you've done to get to that point. You believe that all things are going to create a situation where you win. Well, the bottom line is, those things don't create a situation where you win, those things increase the propensity for which you win. But the farce is that you actually believe you can control the situation whereas when you're outside the cage, you can't control the situation.

Sticking with the training mindset, you mentioned that a spiritual adviser is a member of your team. With the exception of Fedor, who has a priest with him, you don't hear of too many fighters having a personal spiritual adviser. How long have you had a spiritual adviser in your athletic career?
To be honest with you, that was a change that I made -- my prior team that I had when I was training for the Olympics was almost the same, except maybe Howard Davis being my striking coach, my strength and conditioning coach is still J.C. Santana, but I did not have my spiritual component covered. So I put Minister Taneshia Curry in place. We pray several times during the week, she keeps me focus, gives me scriptures that I need to be reading, always makes sure that I have time in the morning, every morning where my wife and I pray. It's not only mandatory for my training program but it's mandatory for my life. So I put her in place because I believe the spiritual component of this thing is very, very important.

Sometimes when you walk away from the sport and everybody is yelling and screaming your name, looking up your name on Google, sometimes you think you're a little bit more important than you actually are. Honest to God truth is, you're no better or no different than anyone else. You still have to stay humble and stay rooted and grounded and you need those individuals around you a times just to check you when you get out of place.

Coming from a motivational speaker like yourself, how different is it to have someone speak to you as well?

I just gave a motivational speech to the Stanford University Cardinals Saturday night. The whole football team all 105 players, Jim Harbaugh was there. I could see the look on the players' face and the way they were getting energized and getting charged and I know how they felt because i feel the same way when people speak positive things into and over my life.

Does your spiritual adviser provide you with motivation?
I receive that from everybody in my camp. If you don't know how to communicate with me in order to help me improve, then you won't be in my camp, at all You will be eliminated. When it's almost fight time, when it's 24-36 hours out of fight time, I'm only speaking to the people in my camp . I turn my cell phone off and I hand it to Winston Williams . because my mind has to be guarded because i can't allow any chance or any of the peripheral conversations to works its way into my cognitive domain. I cannot allow it.

What are you looking to accomplish as an MMA fighter?

I would like to keep winning. I haven't earned the respect of the fans and the practitioners. I want to leave knowing more than when I came in. I think the amount of information and knowledge that I've gained having stepped in the shoes of an athlete once again will greatly enhance my time as a coach, as a person. It's given me some great perspective in terms of my life and knowing what I can do and knowing when it's time to stop. When I jumped into MMA, I know I only have a small window at the age of 35. I know I'm not going to be able to sit on my couch at the age of 45 and turn the channel and say, "Hey, I want to do that! I want to fight on TV." I know this is a time I can do that. and that's why I've chosen to do that. when I leave the sport I want to know I've gave everything I know to it.

When I can no longer do that, I'm going to sit with my team of individuals with Team Ferguson. When I sit down with all these people and I say, "Listen, is it time?" And they say, "Man it's time." Then it's time. If they say one more round then we go one more round. But if they say, "Listen, you're fooling yourself, bro. You may win a couple of more fights but you're never going to win a championship." You have to listen. You have to have advisers in your life to provide you with quality advice. People who have your best interest in mind. I want to listen to the people I have in my life and what the coaches around me have to say about my progress. And if my progress is such that I can fight for or be in position to fight for the Strikeforce light heavyweight championship by the end of the year-- Man, I'd love that. If it's such that they tell me I need to sit down, then so be it. I really don't know how good or how bad I am yet.
I think the amount of information and knowledge that I've gained having stepped in the shoes of an athlete once again will greatly enhance my time as a coach, as a person.
-- Dr. Ferguson

You seem to be in the same boat as Herschel Walker. Are you a fan of his?
Man, I absolutely love what Herschel Walker is doing. I mean he was one of my favorite football players growing up. He's also an Olympian. He's an African American brother whose doing really positive things. He's a huge inspiration and not only to me but to a lot of individuals because if you look at the demographics of MMA. It's from like 18-45. You have people who look at Herschel Walker and get inspired. As a strength and conditioning coach, I'm sure there are 23 or 30-35 year-olds sitting down on their couch looking at Herschel Walker and saying to themselves, "Man, I need to be better. I need to work out. I need to do something different. If he's in here fighting and putting his life on the line and looking like this at this particular age, why can't i do better?"

And I think a lot of people are missing the purpose and point of Herschel Walker fighting. The purpose of Herschel Walker fighting is not to be the Strikeforce heavyweight champion. The purpose of Herschel Walker fighting is to let people know whatever hurdle you have in your life or that you perceive you have in your life, it is possible to knock it down or leap over it. Stop trying to put Herschel Walker in there with Alistair Overeem . That is not why Herschel is there. Herschel is there to learn, he's there to inspire. a massive amount of people. It doesn't matter if you're 20, 30 , 40, 50 or 60, anybody can go to a local dojo, start doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu , learn no-gi, learn how to wrestle , drill and learn the sport of mixed martial arts without ever stepping in the cage. Lose weight, get healthy, improve their blood profile, listen, live a healthier life and just getting leaner. If there's nothing else that Herschel Walker shows you, he lives a quality, clean life. That's why Herschel is there.

Since you brought it up, the argument out there is that Walker is taking someone else's spot on television who could potentially contend for a title.
That argument is stupid in it of itself because someone else is taking up someone else's time is no different than someone saying, someone is taking my job. Because you don't have a job. You don't have TV time. He's not taking away anything. He's earned his spot, just like someone else has earned theirs. If you don't believe me, you name me someone else who has a Heisman Trophy. I'll wait. I'll wait.

Sure, for argument sake. The Heisman Trophy is a football merit. We're talking about mixed martial arts.

No, no, no. We're not talking about mixed martial arts, brother. Mixed martial arts has nothing to do with nothing. What we're talking about is viewers and ratings. And the question is: Do people want to see Jeremy Smith from whatever place he's from or do they want to see Herschel Walker, former Dallas Cowboy Heisman winner. The answer is the want to see Herschel Walker.

Case in point, Rhadi Ferguson is nothing spectacular. Am I [on top] in the world of mixed martial arts? No, my Heisman trophy is similar to what Herschel Walker has, I went to the Olympics, I have four national judo titles, I have a Ph.D in education, I coach some high level athletes and I have a 2-0 record. Man, there are other people out there who I'm sure who are better than me, but there are people [out there] whether they see me win, see me lose, see me succeed or see me fail, this is what they want to see. and if you can't bring viewers you're not going to be on TV. It's not about you having a spot. It's about you earning your spot by any means necessary.
When you become a scholar-practitioner, you will understand the sport better. And that doesn't mean you will beat everybody, it just means you understand the sport better.
-- Dr. Ferguson

You're different in that your accomplishments are in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo -- actual disciplines within martial arts. Football isn't a fighting art.
No, no, no, no. It's the same sense, bro. It doesn't matter if we're talking about wrestling, it doesn't matter if we're talking about judo. It doesn't matter if you're talking about football. All those sports require the understanding of distance, space, time and the implementation of velocity, not speed but velocity. All those are the same, can all be broken down as a battle over territory. Football is the battle back-and-forth over territory. Boxing battle over foot placement and territory. Wrestling, battle over territory which is the circle. It's all the same. It's the individuals who don't understand the art of war by Sun Tzu. They get things mixed up because all t hey see is the end point -- all they see is the kung fu or the karate or judo or wrestling. They don't see the root of art itself. The root of the Art of War. There's no difference. Absolutely zero difference.

That's an interesting way to look at it.
It's not just an interesting perspective, it's the only perspective for those who study. There are people out here who are practitioners and these who are practitioner-scholars and then there are these individuals who are climbing in terms of their physical abilities and they are becoming scholar-practitioners which is where I am at a particular time. Then I'll be a sole scholar when I can no longer practice. There are people who are just thinking about practicing. When you become a scholar-practitioner, you will understand the sport better. And that doesn't mean you will beat everybody, it just means you understand the sport better. A lot of people get caught up and say, "Oh look at this guy he's 0-7 or he's 1-6, he can't teach me anything." This guy can teach you, like Herschel Walker, Herschel Walker can definitely teach someone how to shoot a double-leg. It might not be the same double-leg you see in wrestling, just like a double-leg in judo is not like the one in wrestling, but he knows how to exert velocity, or a force over a distance at a certain angle. The way he can watch a linebacker's hips is the same way a boxer can read another boxer's shoulders. It's no difference.

So what you're trying to say is, there's always something to learn from anyone.

Without a doubt man, without a doubt.

According to your Wikipedia, it says you're related to Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson. Obviously, you two share a same last name, but is there truth to that?

Well, I got introduced to Kevin from a mutual cousin that we have. My aunt, God rest her soul, explained the relationship between us, but I personally don't know it. From what I'm told, I'm told we're related, I'm not sure, but that's what I'm told. We're originally from a very small island seven miles wide and seven miles long in the Bahamas. I am a second generation American. He was born in the Bahamas, so the likelihood of us being related is high.

Do you two keep in touch?
Not really, when he was training. I helped him with his training at American Top Team. But in terms of -- My family members in Miami, he knows all of the family members I know. All of them! All of them! But my parents moved when I was younger so I didn't grow up with him.

Have you been working on any specifically in preparation for your opponent?

There's no way to train particularly for him because I don't have any video on him. I don't know him.

(Note: This interview was conducted on Tuesday, a day before he would receive word his opponent would be changed from Ion Cherdivara to John Richard due to VISA issues.)

So basically, you're just doing what you would normally be doing in the gym, doing what you need to do be the best MMA fighter you can be?
That's it brother. That's all I can do.

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