Link to Part I --> HERE
Part II - Preparation & Career Trajectory
This is the second interview I did with Mike the day after our first one presented in part I.
*Editor's note: as of this publishing, the fight has taken place and Mike lost. I wasn't able to watch the event live on PPV, as I was busy running around for our gym's own amateur event Saturday. I knew ahead of time Mike's fight card was supposed to be taking place 8:00pm on Friday night, but I didn't even get online until 2am, and I saw no comments on Mike's wall on facebook, so I began to get nervous, then I looked up Ring of Combat's twitter and saw this tweet. I was heartbroken. I saw him at the amateur event our gym put together the next day and he seemed to be in good spirits. I hope to get a better picture of what happened in part III when I interview him for the last part in this series.
We just got done with practice; we just got done rolling. How are you feeling psychologically, physically for your fight?
Physically, I’m basically at my peak. I feel great every day. When I’m not in my training camp I usually have fun on the weekends. You know, go out and drink. Usually I feel like a little bit hungover. That often carries over until Monday. But it’s Monday today and I feel great even after practice.
I’ve heard a lot of people say, they use that phrase, ‘I’m at my peak right now,’ ‘I’m trying to peak’, and I don’t know what that really means because I’ve never gone through a training camp. What does that mean? What is the contrast between the feeling 6 weeks out and your claim to be "peaking" right now?
What I mean by that is my physical conditioning is at the highest. So if you watch me rolling out there today I’m not really getting winded that much compared to a month and a half ago.
Is it something you specifically seek out to make sure cardiovascularly you’re at your peak?
Yeah and also throughout my offseason – you could call it – I do a lot more lifting, so my muscles are always kinda’ sore. But right now I’m kinda' off of the lifting that much and more on the cardio. So my muscles feel fresh and strong and I’m also upping the cardio. So it’s a combination of both.
Do you find if you don’t work on your cardio you get visibly out of shape? Would your training partners be able to notice?
Yeah I think so. Maybe not in a class so much, but if you notice me in sparring, yeah I don’t think I woulda’ been able to make it through last Friday if I didn’t do it.
Yeah last Friday was pretty interesting to watch. I hadn’t seen anything like that in person (iron man sparring). Is it important for you to do well in that kinda’ training? Or do you just want to mentally get through that?
I want to just push the cardio to the limit and it’s also a gut check to see how it would feel in a real fight situation. If I can do well going against six fresh guys going against one guy it isn’t going to seem like a lot.
And another thing is here I’m the only professional fighter so I have to go against fresh guys to simulate going against a higher skilled person.
-To overcompensate for the lack of skill that we have here basically.
Yeah. When I was training at Bombsquad it would just be one fresh guy a round instead of two.
What led you to come to this gym specifically?
Well I knew Rex, he was an assistant coach on the wrestling team. And we also coached at World Gym together. And then they opened up this place and I hopped in.
How long ago was that?
I think about two years ago.
You are, according to Sherdog, 7-4 right now. Right?
You are on a 2-fight losing skid. This is going to be cliché, I’m sorry, is this a do-or-die fight for you? Do you have to win this?
It certainly feels that way. For sure. So you have that. And it’s also a title fight. And I’ve never fought for a title before.
Five 5-minute rounds?
No , it’s not for this promotion. Three 5-minute rounds.
Are there any special rules or are they using the unified rules?
No, unified rules.
What is the highest level that you’ve fought professionally? Was it the Bellator card under Eddie Alvarez?
Yeah it had to be the Bellator card. I was 4-0 at the time.
If you don’t mind, I’d like to get into specifics with you and your skill level. How do you feel you compare to other pro fighters right now? Why do you think you began to suffer losses?
Well, the main reason is a higher level of competition. Also having really good training partners around you makes a huge difference. I believe that was kinda’ towards the end of my college years. So I think my first loss had a lot to do with timing of the fight. I took it on short-notice. I was excited because I was going to Bellator. So I don’t think I was as prepared as I could have been for that fight.
Did you not have a lot of time to prepare? Were you in shape?
Actually I actually injured my ankle pretty bad – not to make excuses. I wasn't in as good shape because I injured my ankle, so I couldn’t run and whatnot and I was rehabbing that.
Do you have a favorite pro-fighter? Or maybe two or three? People you try to watch, maybe emulate? Do you have anyone you would compare yourself in terms of your style?
Hmm. I’m not really sure. I guess I’m kinda’ a grinder. Kinda’ like a Jon Fitch-type approach I guess. As far as a favorite fighter...my favorite guy to watch is Jon Jones. He’s just so interesting to watch.
Not least of all because you actually trained with him.
Yeah that has a lot do with it too.
I love watching Chris Weidman too.
Do you feel like you are still learning new things – you’re a blue belt in jiu jitsu?
Do you feel like you’re going to still be learning new techniques you’re going to be able to practically apply or are you working more on refining current techniques and making sure that they apply to your MMA game?
I feel like you’re always learning new techniques in jiu jitsu. New stuff is invented every day. A lot of it is just knowing how the body works; physics. Like tomorrow I’m going to be working a lot on guard-passes over and over and over again. Doing the same thing repeatedly. Trying to lock down muscle memory for specific movements.
When you think about this fight do you have a specific gameplan? ‘Cuz I know you said you know a little bit about your guy. He’s 2-0 and he’s a jiu jitsu player. He’s 6’2’, and he’s from Jamaica.
He’s 6’2", he’s from Jamaica, looks like he has decent hands. And good jiu jitsu.
For other up-and-coming fighters is a gameplan based around your personality? Do you worry about what you’re good at or do you base your strategy around your opponent’s strengths?
Well the thing is you can develop a gameplan if you have a lot of footage on your opponent. Which I don’t. I’m going to go in there to look for some strikes, look for any openings, feel him out. If I feel threatened on the ground I might even let him back up.
When you fought in Bellator did you ever meet Bjorn Rebney? How did that fight get setup?
My manager found that fight for me. I don’t really remember if I met Bjorn.
The reason I brought it up is did you hear any rumblings or rumors that Bjorn was treating fighters in a bad way?
Not while I was there.
You also fought for M-1.
I had a fight on M-1 where a guy pulled out an hour before the fight too. I was setup for two but only ended up only being one.
I’m going to guess they didn’t pay you show-
-I got paid for show. And a guy missed weight so he had to pay me $500 too.
Oh ok. Where was that?
That’s in New Jersey.
Did you ever get to see Fedor? Or Fedor’s entourage? Vadim Finkelstein?
No, I heard he was there once but I never saw him.
[we argued about whether Fedor was the GOAT for 17 minutes…]
[I cut about 35 minutes of conversation related to fighter pay, rankings, sponsorship]
I feel like fighters are being treated like pieces of meat. They’re not being valued like…fighting’s fucking tough.
Yeah if you think about that last pay-per-view with Jon Jones he only made half a million dollars from the UFC – his total purse. Everyone there was there to watch him. No one really cared about the undercard. Not even Cerrone. Nobody ordered the PPV to watch Donald Cerrone. Jon Jones is the only reason everyone was there and he only made half a million dollars.
I didn’t agree with what Rogan was saying.
To what extent? That he did it on-air?
Whatever, that was great for their ratings. It was crazy.
It was posted on websites that don’t even cover MMA.
But you know he’s saying, "I don’t see you ever beating the top guys", "I don’t see you beating Junior Dos Santos; I don’t see you beating Cain."
Do you think he has a chance against those guys?
No, I don’t think so. But just because you’re not going to be the champion doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t fight anymore.
That’s a good point. I didn’t even think about that.
Do you think Joe Rogan is a top-10 comedian in the world?
Probably not, right?
This guy is top-10 in the world at what he does. And you’re not top-10 in the world at what you do, and you’re trying to give him advice at what he does? I don’t think that was warranted.
Well there’s one caveat: Joe Rogan isn’t getting any brain damage from doing standup comedy.
To be fair, Brendan Schaub has been prone to be getting finished by punches.
Yeah, and if I was Brendan Schaub I would take it a little bit easier in sparring then. Did you hear about how Robbie Lawler took six years off of sparring?
Yeah, I heard that.
I think most of the damage you take is leading up to the fight and not the actual fight.
What is your diet like in and out of competition?
Out of competition I generally eat healthy, but I’ll eat pizza and go out for lunch and stuff like that. Cheeseburgers.
I want to get really specific. How many meals a day do you eat out of competition? If you had to guess the calories…
Honestly I can’t guess the calories. I can tell you this, the way I eat is, I’ll eat a little bit throughout the day. I’ll eat a bowl of cereal in the morning, if not some greek yogurt. Throughout the day I’ll eat a banana, an apple, some almonds, I’ll eat a protein bar. I’ll never have a set lunch. Just one thing after another.
What time do you get up and when do you go to work?
I wake up at 6:40. I start work at 7:30.
When do you eat breakfast?
This morning I ate some special-k for breakfast it was like 6:50.
You don’t eat lunch?
But I mean I’m eating a lot of different things throughout the day.
Like nuts and fruit?
Yeah, fruit, nuts, I eat nature valley bar. I eat a big protein bar.
Is that like chocolate and peanut butter? Is it rice?
Yeah, what kind of protein?
I think it was one of the MET-Rx Colossal bars today. But I switch that up.
So every hour are you gnashing on something?
Yeah, like every hour.
Are you hungry? Or are you forcing yourself to do this?
I feel a little bit hungry. Then I eat some more. I drink some green tea when I get to work.
Basically every day I have a banana, apple, greek yogurt, protein bar, another nature valley bar. Then I come to practice. I practice. Then I go home and then I drink a protein shake right away. And then I’ll make whatever’s lying around for dinner. I usually have some type of lunch meat that I’ll snack on real quick.
Like a cold cut?
Yeah. And then I’ll eat maybe some rice. Some long grain rice. Tuna fish. A lot of tuna fish.
Canned tuna fish?
Or haddock or salmon. Also chicken. Salads. They’re like healthy things that aren’t too expensive.
Then after dinner, are you gnashing more on nuts and fruits?
Yeah, like last night I was eating a thing of sunflower seeds before going to bed.
What is your weight at right now?
Right now I’m about 183.
Is that good for you? Is that on par for your past fights?
Yeah it’s fine.
Energy-wise, how do you feel now as opposed to when you were 20 years old? Do you feel like you’ve got as much energy as you did then?
Yeah I would say so. The difference is right now I work 9 hours a day. And when I was 20 I was just going to classes-
-You look forward to practice.
I look forward to practice more, but I mean working 9 hours a day does take something out of you.
But throughout the day my energy levels are fine.
That’s good. That’s good.
You talked earlier about lifting weights and then you cut that out 6 weeks out and you start focusing more on your cardio?
I lifted today but just not heavy. Just to maintain. Because if you completely stop lifting you’ll lose a lot of strength.
Ok. So you feel like you’re in-shape. So talk me through the next two weeks of your life. How is your diet, life going to change?
Diet is going to change. I’m losing a little. Last ten pounds or so will mostly be water weight.
The last ten pounds, when do you start that?
The day before. The last workout I’ll sweat it out and then I’ll see where I’m at.
Your fight is on a Friday night?
Yeah, so weigh ins are on a Thursday. Hooters, Atlantic City.
Hooters? Are you going to start cutting weight on a Wednesday? You’re not going to be restricting food, right?
Yeah, I won’t be eating. I’m probably going to drink a lot of water two days before that. It kind of tricks your body to think, ‘wow, I’m getting a lot of water, I can pump this out.’
I would think you’re just going to pee a lot of it out.
Yeah then I’ll cut out the water even though I’m not putting anything back in.
Do you take any kind of natural diuretic?
Like plants or coffee? Coffee and whiskey are things bodybuilders used to use.
Yeah, like Ronnie Coleman would talk about – former Mr. Olympia – would drink whiskey and stuff and really suck the water out and you could see his veins pop and stuff.
Yeah well I’m not going to drink whiskey.
Yeah well I wouldn’t suggest whiskey. There are other things you can take.
To be honest I wouldn’t really want to do that because my heart rate, when I’m in the sauna, I can feel my heart rate getting jacked up.
Do they rub-
Alboline. It’s like a makeup remover type thing that opens up your pores.
Is this a thing you learned in wrestling?
I learned it in MMA.
Just to talk out of my ass for a second, Bas Rutten would talk about how he didn’t agree with weight cutting to the extreme extents. He thought people would lose the water that helped protect their brains when they were cutting water weight. But you say you haven’t been rocked in a while if not ever.
I guess my question to you is, do you think you’re putting yourself at a deficit? Do you think about this? Or are you just more worried, ‘I have to fight at 170, I have to do it.’
Yeah, for myself, for the weight class I fight at, I fight at 170 because of my height. So if you look at the height of the champions, the guys that are the top level of each weight class, they each have a certain build to them. The guys that are the top 185 lbers. in the world, they’re all like 6’2" if you haven’t noticed.
Yep, Anderson and Chris Weidman.
Yeah, so I can’t fight at 185, I’m not going to be long enough to fight there. If you look at 170, all the guys that are going to be champions are going to be between 5’8" an 5’10".
And Johny Hendricks is 5’9".
He’s a short, stocky dude. I heard he gets up to 218.
He puts on a lot fat though. That’s just his metabolism.
So I think 170 is my optimum weight class. I think I’m average, or maybe even more below-average. So that’s why I have to lift more weights.
You’re pretty close to Rory McDonald’s build. He’s like 5’10" or 5’11"ish. 190-195ish.
He’s a little bit more lanky than me though.
He does seem pretty lanky. He has a good prototype build I think for the weight class.
And then you’re still strong enough to wrestle. I feel like if you’re 6’2" and you’re fighting at 170 then you’re not going to be strong enough. Like if you watched Carlos Condit get taken down a ton of times, he’s not strong enough to win at the highest level.
Yeah, it’s tough to see Carlos Condit going up against Tyron Woodley again in the wrestling department. Because Tyron Woodley is what, 5’10"? And looks bigger than Hector Lombard did at 185. Tyron Woodley’s like a tank.
So you get it out with water. How long does it take to get the water out? How long do you have to torture yourself?
That kinda’ varies. What I usually do is go in for 15 minutes and weigh myself. Then do another 10 minutes and weigh myself. And then after that do rounds of 5 minutes.
That sounds terrible. How about your training? How is your training going to change?
It’s going to be pretty hard sparring on Friday. Not quite as hard as last Friday. This last week will be a lot more technique. Just kind of avoiding injuries. You don’t want to walk in there with a hurt knee.
How do you feel mentally about the fight? Are you antsy to get in there?
I feel good. I feel confident. I look forward to continue to increase my cardio before the fight.
You’ve never had a knee injury? How do you do it? How do you avoid that?
I think a lot of that is just luck.
I don’t like to put anything into luck.
It’s not like my knees never hurt before, I did have something behind my knee going on for a little bit. I had someone in a triangle choke, trying to posture up. Something happened in my knee where it hurt for a while, but now it seems fine.
Who are you bringing with you to the fight? Who’s your corner, and what is their contribution? I don’t understand the point of the corner.
Ok, as far as coaching from the corner goes, I’m not really too concerned with being coached from the corner, especially because the other guy can hear what the coach is saying, you know what I mean?
But aren’t your ears tuned to people that you like or you know?
Yeah I guess.
Maybe if I had someone that was way more experienced than I was in there.
So are you saying you’re going to dissuade them from coaching you in the fight?
Yeah, I’m not really concerned about that. But I have Rex going with me and he does all the managing stuff. So he’ll make sure everything’s taken care of.
Okay. Rex is a fighter too, right? What weight class did he fight at?
He’s fought everything between 185 to heavyweight.
Yeah he looks like a heavyweight.
So Rex is managing stuff. Ok.
Yeah and he keeps everything calm, keeps everything good. And I also have Coach Jiles going down with me for boxing. So it’ll be good to have him, he’ll wrap my hands, he’ll warm me up with punches and what not. And Rex can do all around. He can hold pads, and do that. And then I have Haleem going down.
Haleem is the guy you’re always rolling with?
Yeah, he’s my main jiu jitsu partner. And he’ll help me with jiu jitsu stuff on the ground, and maybe coach me from jiu jitsu positions if I need it – which I don’t think that’s going to really be necessary.
It’s good to have an outside perspective. Because they can see things you can’t see, right?
Or like push me, like, ‘you need to win this round here, you’re down!’ or, ‘you need to finish with a takedown.’ So more motivational type stuff.
So you rely on them for motivation. Are you unable to score a round that you’ve been in? Do you need someone else to tell you, hey you won this, or hey you lost this.
Yeah it definitely helps. But even that you never know. If it’s even that close that you have to ask, you don’t want to leave it to the hands of the judges. If you need to ask your coaches whether you won or not, it’s probably not a good sign.
Are they only going to let two guys into the cage?
Only two are allowed in the cage. And then one guy keeps time as well. In between rounds you get a minute break. It goes by really fast.
Is this being sanctioned by the New Jersey athletic commission?
From what I read, Nevada, New Jersey, and California are the best. Do you have any input on that?
I mean I’ve only dealt with New Jersey, so I can’t really speak for the other two. But yeah, New Jersey is a good commission. Nick Lembo is the commissioner, and he’s always been a reasonable guy to deal with.
Are they going to drug test you?
I’ve been drug tested. I think it’s random. Every one gets the pee sample. They don’t take it until afterwards, the random.
Let’s say you fight three times in New Jersey, they’re not going to test you all three times, are they? They pick random people from the card to keep people guessing, basically.
Ok. And then they just take the one urine sample after the fight? The night after?
You pee test right before the fight. You do the fighter meeting, you go into the locker room, they basically watch you pee into a thing, and then they put tape over it, label it, and keep it.
And when do you get paid?
I get paid that night.
They give you a check?
Yep. Right after a fight, you’ll go back in the locker room, you’ll be changing, and then someone from the show will come meet you with a check.
Assuming you win – which you will – is it show + win? Is it just one aggregate sum?
For this card, this is the first show that’s like this: it’s purely based off ticket sales. I don’t make any extra money if I win for this one.
I don’t make any extra money for winning. I’ve never done that before.
Oh. How do you feel about that?
Dude, honestly, winning the belt is worth more than whatever they would pay me anyways.
You think so?
Yeah. The recognition of it. The last guy to have the belt went to the UFC, from what I heard.
In that weight class?
Yeah. It’s a vacated title.
Not a bad position to be in. I know the UFC likes New Jersey in terms of their history, they go back there. They like the commission so they’ve got a good relationship with the commission.
Yeah, and you know the UFC is acquainted with Ring of Combat. A couple former champions are Chris Weidman and Frankie Edgar.
That sounds awesome. That’s really cool.