Interview with Joe "The Deal" Heink

In my continuing series of interviews, I'd like to introduce you to another guy fighting out of Highlander MMA in Louisville, KY - Joe "The Deal" Heink. Thanks to Joe for agreeing to the interview.

Check after the jump for the full interview as well as some of Joe's fight videos.

(FYI, I posted this on FightTicker first, so when you see a reference to FightTicker or "FT" asking the questions, it's really me, PV.)

FightTicker: First, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Joe Heink: I’m 23 years old, originally from Lexington, KY…I came to Louisville to go to Bellarmine University, and I graduated in 2008 with a degree in History.

FT: How did you get into MMA?

JH: I started out just training BJJ, after watching some of our guys have their first fights, I decided that I could do that too.

FT: What is your current record?

JH: Amateur: 8-1 Pro: 2-0

FT: In what promotions have you fought?

JH: RFL, AFL, Wild Bill’s Fight Night, Warfare MMA to name a few

FT: Are you able to train full-time, or do you work a regular job as well?

JH: As of right now I train full-time.

FT: Are you able to work a typical training camp before a fight, and how long does that generally last?

JH: I haven’t done a traditional camp yet, but I’m going to start one 5-6 weeks before my next one.

FT: What’s an average day of training like for you?

JH: In the morning I either see my strength/conditioning coach or I work out (strength and cardio) on my own, then I teach and train techniques in the evenings.

FT: What kind of mental preparations do you go through before a fight?

JH: Mostly I get myself very relaxed…I’m not one of those guys who gets all angry and spazzed out before he gets in the ring. I do get a certain intensity going, but I stay calm.

FT: What kind of training do you consider to be more important than the others?

JH:Any kind of training with a fully resisting opponent is pretty important!!

FT: Where did you get your nickname, “The Deal”?

JH: It was given to me by Mike Yanez, because “no one can deal with my Jiu Jitsu” haha.

FT: The Highlander Fight Team recently hit a milestone in getting win # 100 as a team – how did it feel to be the guy who hit that mark?

JH: It was awesome, but still just one win. A lot of other guys worked really hard to get Highlander where it is.

FT: Mike Yanez recently accepted a job as a trainer for the XFC in Florida – now that he’s mainly in Florida, what is your day-to-day role at Highlander?

JH: I’m co-owning it with Brian Holmes, another fighter. I make a lot of decisions regarding the school and training programs, and I am the head instructor.

FT: What do you think of Mike’s new position?

JH: It sounds like he is enjoying it! I have yet to visit down there and see for myself.

FT: One of your teammates, CT Turner, has recently been enjoying some success in the XFC – do you see him fighting for the title any time soon?

JH: There’s been some talk about it, CT is down there training now, he’s in a great position for a shot.

FT: What are your initial impressions of the XFC?

JH: They put on an impressive show! Any promotion that can get that many people pumped up to go and watch MMA is fine by me!

FT: You only have one loss (as an amateur) – a decision loss to Neal Craft – in a rematch in November (as a pro), you submitted him in under two minutes – how did you feel after that win?

JH: After I won, I felt that I had overcome a loss which had been bothering me all year. Losing the decision in January was frustrating to me, but I knew that I had gotten a LOT better since then, and I knew that if I fought Neal again I would have a lot more weapons in my arsenal.

FT: What do you consider to be your biggest achievement in your fighting career so far?

JH: Beating Neal Craft in the rematch.

FT: You’re currently 10-1, with all 10 of your wins coming by submission – clearly your BJJ background has proven effective – where do you think BJJ ranks in terms of skill sets necessary for strong competition in MMA?

JH: BJJ is wholly necessary for MMA! I think the wrestling/BJJ style we train at Highlander is particularly effective for the sport.

FT: What is your favorite technique?

JH: Hmm, probably the triangle.

FT: As a pro fighter, what kind of sponsorship deals do you have/are you working on?

JH: I have a sponsorship deal with Brawl and Maul, a clothing company from Ft. Lauderdale. I am currently working on a few others but I can’t name any names.

FT: How have you seen the sport of MMA grow since you’ve been involved with it?

JH: When I first started, amateur fighting was pretty much unregulated and not standardized between various events and promotions. Now it is all under the state Boxing commissions, which I feel is a good thing because it keeps things organized and keeps the fighters safer with insurance and medical support. Also, MMA recently got legalized in Tennessee, which is awesome.

FT: Who are some fighters, past or present, that you admire?

JH: Kenny Florian, Minotauro, Matt Serra, GSP, Sakuraba.

FT: In your opinion, who is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world?

JH: Anderson Silva.

FT:What do you like most about being a pro fighter?

JH: I get paid to do what I love!

FT:What do you like least?

JH: Its a tough schedule and its hard on me sometimes.

FT: What’s something you’ve had to deal with you didn’t expect when you first started in MMA?

JH: Hate to say it, but having to deal with drama and bickering type stuff.

FT: What kind of hobbies do you enjoy in your down time?

JH: Music (both listening to and making it), reading, video games, and being with my friends and beautiful girlfriend!

FT: How do your family and friends feel about your fighting career?

JH: They weren’t sure about it at first and had a lot of questions, but they all support me!

FT: When do you think your next fight will be?

JH: February 20 in Knoxville, TN!

FT: Thanks for taking the time to answer all these questions, Joe – are there any people or sponsors you’d like to give a shout out to?

JH: Mike Yanez, Brawl and Maul and all the guys at Physique Institute!

So that's Joe - really nice guy. I intended to interview him immediately after he got the 100th win for Highlander, but time constraints prevented that. However, when I ran into him at the Soneca tournament (where I also met Alan Belcher), he readily agreed to the interview.

Here are a couple videos of some of Joe's fights.

(Joe is wearing the white shorts with black trim.)

(Joe is in the white shorts - not a good angle on his submission win, but there's a great slam around the :50 mark.)

(Joe is the one in the black shorts with the white Brawl and Maul logo.)

More of Joe's fights (along with other Highlander stuff) are available on YouTube here.

You can find Highlander on the web here.

I'll be back in the future with more from Joe and the rest of the Highlander crew.


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FightTicker Bloggers' Favorite Moments of 2008

On of my fellow bloggers on FightTicker asked a few of us to write a brief description of our favorite MMA moment of 2008. As the year is wrapping up, I thought I'd go ahead and post a link to this article because I thought it was a nice year-end look at MMA from different perspectives.

After the jump, you'll find a link to the full article on FightTicker, as well as my favorite MMA moment of 2008.

The other guys wrote some great things about everything from the emergence of the WEC as a promotion, and Forrest Griffin as a great fighter, the fall of Kimbo Slice and the return of B.J. Penn as a dominant fighter.

And from me....

I guess I'm taking a different approach. My favorite MMA moment of 2008 was covering the MMA Big Show: Relentless. It was my first official event coverage for FightTicker, the first time I got to do a live blog, and the first time I got to sit cage-side at a show. Watching the fights from that perspective and knowing that people were keeping up with fights as I reported them was a great feeling. Watching Chad Hinton win the 155 lb title and watching Matt Egner put on a Fight of the Night caliber performance after taking the fight on about 10 minutes notice had to be one of the greatest fight-related experiences I've ever had.

Also, being able to talk to Chad Hinton after he won the 155 lb title was a great way to wrap-up my first live-event coverage. I met a lot of cool people at that show, made a lot of great contacts, and had a great time. I've attended shows before that one, and I've attended shows since then, but that will always stick out in my mind as my favorite MMA moment of 2008, and one of my favorite MMA moments of all time.

Thanks to FightTicker blogger Hardyz55 for setting this whole thing up - nice concept and a nice end result. For the full article, go here.


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ICF: Shattered - Jan 24th at Turfway Park

From Intimidation Cage Fighting:

Intimidation Cage Fighting presents "Shattered" on January 24th, 2009 at Turfway Park

On January 24th ICF will be back at Turfway Park to bring you "Shattered" our biggest event yet.

Undefeated Pro Roger Bowling takes on Grant Sarver in the Main Event. There will be 2 title matches for the evening. 9-0 Matt Egner will be defending his ICF Lightweight belt against Steven Muldrow. Newly crowned and undefeated Light Heavyweight champ George Oiler will take on undefeated T.J. Ball. "Ruthless" Ron Mitchell makes his ICF return to the cage against Mark Crawn.

There will also be a womens match for the night. Team Visions Jami Miller will go up against Buffi Hayes. This will be an awesome match so you won't want to miss this one.

Lucid Grey will be opening the show so make sure to get there in time to check out this up and coming band from Lexington, KY. You can find them on MySpace here.

I'll be at the event doing a live blog like last time, and I'll be talking to some of the fighters for my post-event write-up as well.

To check out my post-event write-up from ICF: Redemption, go here.


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FightTicker Radio Show # 2 - Thursday Night, 7pm ET.

From FightTicker.com.

Fight Ticker Radio is back this Thursday at a brand new time: 7 PM ET. This week I have two very special guests: Dr. Johnny Benjamin, MD for the first half and Dr. David Mayeda, PhD for the second half. We'll discuss a myriad of topics ranging from the Corey Hill leg break to "justice being served" on TUF 8.

Check after the jump for some details on the two guests as well as the call-in number in case you'd like to call in and ask the guests some questions.

Dr. Johnny Benjamin, MD, is a fight doctor who has been featured on FightTicker, MMA Junkie, and on the HDNET show, Inside MMA.

Not only is he an established doctor, but he's also a well-spoken guy and an mma fan to boot, so listen in for some great opinions.

Additionally, Pramit is hosting Dr. David Mayeda, PhD, a socials issues contributor for FightTicker, and author of the book Fighting for Acceptance: Mixed Martial Arts and Violence in American Society. For Dr. Mayeda's latest article, "A Visual Glimpse into Thailand's Culture of Combat", go here.

If you're interested in ordering his book, go here.

I've personally corresponded with Dr. Mayeda a number of times - he's also an intelligent, insightful guy - a huge mma fan with a great respect for the sport and its fighters.

I'm sure that the two doctors are going to have some great things to say - make sure to check out the show Thursday night at 7pm ET. You can get to the radio show by going here.

If you're interested in calling into to chat or ask one of the guests a question, just call this number (standard long distance rates do apply). (646) 929-1737

I'm looking forward to it. Additionally, I've been asked to be on a future show, so I'll give you all plenty of notice when that is going to happen. As Pramit is waiting until after the holidays to have another show, I imagine it will be sometime early to mid-January.

Until then....


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FightTicker.com Radio Show - First Episode Archived

Just wanted to let you know all about a new feature that we have on FightTicker that's going to take things to another level. That's right, people - Pramit (the owner of FightTicker) has started a radio show.

Check after the jump for info on the show, and how to get to the first archived episode.

The inaugural episode happened yesterday and in addition to being hosted by Pramit featured two guests - MMA Fighter Binky Jones and one of FightTicker's top bloggers, Bryan Levick, a/k/a KingLev.

Each episode, Pramit plans to interview someone from the industry (i.e. fighters, promoters, etc.) and have as one of his guests an mma pundit, like KingLev. Each week they'll discuss current news in the mma world, including things like follow-ups on recent events. Additionally, during part of the radio show, people can call in to ask questions and comment (I'll post that number with my next article on the shows).

I'll be posting either a reminder about the show each week, or a follow-up with a link to the archived show.

In this first one, though, I'm going to post a link directly to the article on FightTicker, and from there you can find a link to the show. So check that out on FightTicker here.

Tentatively, each show is scheduled for Thursday nights at 6p.m. e.t.

Keep watching for updates. Next week's show may have a very special guest.


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Behind the Scenes with Rick Brewer of House of Pain (Clothing Company)

When I attended the MMA Big Show, I got a chance to speak with the reps from the House of Pain company. I got in touch with their President, Rick Brewer, and he agreed not only to this interview, but to sponsor one of our giveaways on FightTicker.com. If you're interested in getting entered in the giveaway, just go to FightTicker and sign up for a membership (it's free) and then follow the instructions on the main page for the giveaway.

House of Pain doesn't just sponsor MMA fighters, but other athletes as well.

Check after the jump for everything Rick had to say. You can find House of Pain online here, or you can get there by clicking the House of Pain banner that is currently at the top of the main page.

PV: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Rick Brewer: I’m just a regular gym-rat, with a history of Powerlifting and boxing. I’m basically the weakest powerlifter ever, but I have a decent bench - and I never quit competing. Best recent competition bench-press of 468# at bodyweight of 214#. Is started selling HOUSE OF PAIN gear at Powerlifting meets, and began shipping worldwide in 1996.

PV: You sponsor a number of athletes in other sports as well, i.e. bodybuilding – how do you feel this multi-sport approach sets you apart from other similar clothing companies?

RB: A lot of my friends are fighters, so HOUSE OF PAIN got into the MMA Fight world back in the late 90’s. There is a lot more crossover between these groups (weightlifters and fighters) than most people realize. We even did a study a few years back on what was more important in the cage; explosive speed, or absolute strength. I can’t use the word ‘power’ because most people don’t understand true meaning - but we basically examined the value of weight-lifting for fighters. As expected, there were heated disagreements over the results!

We sponsor extreme athletes in a variety of disciplines; including Strongest Man Competitors (everyone loves to see a telephone pole thrown for distance), MMA Fighters (breakin hearts and teeth), Powerlifting(stronger is better), and Bodybuilding (size matters). When the Last Man Standing was filmed all over the world; the biggest fighter wore HOUSE OF PAIN at his own expense. When Never Back Down was filmed; several of the MMA fighters (and one bouncer) wore HOUSE OF PAIN gear. Our gear is on Powerlifting platforms all over the world, and anytime big rocks are lifted by men wearing kilts - HOP is there! HOUSE OF PAIN is on MTV and cable-TV fights every day of the week. We are pleased to clothe fanatics in a wide variety of pursuits, and happy to ignore the normal population.

PV: Who was the first athlete you ever sponsored?

RB: First sponsored athlete; Skip LaCour (former natural bodybuilder). First celebrity contact; James Caan (led to my 15 seconds of fame).
(PV's note - I asked Rick to expand on the James Caan contact - here's what he had to say.)
I met James Caan in the Venice Gold’s Gym, about the fall of 1999. I was sort of stuck between OR & CA Powerlifting meets, with a HOUSE OF PAIN truck & trailer. I had one more HOUSE OF PAIN P/L meet to do, before I could return to TX. I met James Caan the first day I worked out at Gold’s Gym, and we casually talked between sets. I told him I was a fan. On day 2, I gave him some HOP clothes. I worked out every day that week at Venice Gold’s, and talked to him every day - it was just a random coincidence that we were there at same time day after day (I had extra time to kill).

That Thursday afternoon, after 4 days of these gym-meetings, I went to a business lunch with a famous bodybuilder. We went to a famous Venice dive called The Firehouse (I still love it). He suddenly looked over my shoulder and whispered “there’s James Caan!” I turned around in time to see James and several big guys walk in; they came over to our table - and James said ‘Hey Rick, how’s it going?’ with his hand on my shoulder. I remained cool and casual, but inside I glowed like radioactive waste! The bodybuilder was incredulous, and I laughed and laughed as I drove away later! Of course, I realize that James Caan forgot my name before I got back to TX - but I was famous for a few seconds! LOL.

PV: Can you tell us about a typical sponsorship deal H.O.P. would have with an mma fighter?

RB: We sponsor fighters on a per-fight basis, rather than year-round. We go to as many cage fights as possible, and try to sponsor at least 2 fighters everywhere we go. Fighters send us info on their fight (date/location), and the fight promoter (with contact info). If we can arrange an HOP booth; we sponsor them. For this reason, we have sponsored almost 150 MMA fighters so far. Some of these fighters have been sponsored 4 or 5 times by HOP. We’ve sponsored a similar number of weightlifters and porn stars. (Just Kidding)

We take a grass-roots approach, with an emphasis on being present to see the fights in person. We attend well over 200 events per year in the US, with roughly half being MMA fights or grappling tournaments (the other half are weightlifting-related contests). We go to fights and shows all over the USA, and we are currently looking for HOP event-reps to go to events in NY/NJ, PA, IL, MO, MA, GA, MI, MN, and SC/NC. (These HOP-reps would stock & sell gear, as HOP Distributors.)

On MMA fights; we require a HOUSE OF PAIN booth before we offer anything. Then our sponsorship level depends on TV coverage and other factors concerning exposure value. A typical amateur deal might be free HOP gear; possibly with a small $$ win-bonus. A typical pro-fighter deal might be extensive free apparel for fighter and friends; plus base $$ and a $$ win-fee. If the bout will only get TV coverage of highlights, then the fighter might also get a $$ bonus for any HOP logo appearance on network TV.

There are thousands of MMA fighters that think they are the next big thing, based on winning a few amateur fights. These guys think they have hit the jack-pot, and get a sponsorship manager to help them start raking in the cash. It is much easier for us to deal with a professional manager, because IF THEY HAVE SEVERAL FIGHTERS, they will be more realistic about the value of each fighter. Obviously, there is a wide variety of fighter values. Unfortunately, fighters are generally worth much less to an apparel company (like HOP) than they think. Sad, but true.

PV: What kinds of challenge do you face running a company like H.O.P.?

RB: Working here at HOP is like trying to work a huge puzzle, with 1000 complicated pieces, while people hit you. That’s what I like best. Our HOP customers are the most interesting people in the world. The thing I like least about working here at HOUSE OF PAIN is when I have to talk on the phone! I much prefer email, so that I have a written record of lies that people tell me. If someone calls HOP and tells an employee that “Rick asked them to call and speak with him;” my guys know to hang up on the obvious liar!

If you're a fighter, Email me with info on your MMA fight: Rick@houseofpain.com

Thanks for your willingness to talk to me, Rick – and thanks for agreeing to sponsor a giveaway on FightTicker. I'm looking forward to see what House of Pain has to offer in the future.


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A Chance Meeting: One-on-One with UFC Fighter Alan "The Talent" Belcher

Like I've said before, you never know who you'll see at local fighting events. This weekend, I realized that also included local grappling tournaments.

This weekend I attended the 1st Helio Soneca Grappling Tournament. Check it out on the web here. They haven't posted results yet, but there were definitely some good matches. They had both gi and no gi competitions. A number of guys from Highlander MMA were there as well as Stephens Vale Tudo.

A couple hours into it, Helio Soneca made an announcement that Alan "The Talent" Belcher had walked in. I was definitely surprised by this, and sought out Alan to get a few words with him. Belcher is coming off a split-decision win over Ed Herman at UFN 15, and is slated to welcome Denis Kang to the UFC at UFC 93.

Check after the jump to see what Alan had to say.

PreView: So you're coming off a split decision win over Ed Herman - what have you been doing since the fight?

Belcher: Man, I've just tried to jump in the gym a little bit faster than I normally do. Just been training every week and trying to get back into my conditioning, like two weeks after [the Herman fight]. I started just working on my speed and stuff, trying to keep going, because I think I'm at the age where I can improve the next couple years on my speed and strength. I think that's going to be what makes me beat everybody, so that's what I've been working on. Mainly my agility and speed, hand-speed, stuff like that. I'm up here in Kentucky training with Helio Soneca. I've been with him about the last four years. I got my blue belt and purple belt [under him]. I try to get up here whenever I can.

PV: Prior to the last fight with Herman, I heard you spent a lot of time working on your muay thai.

Belcher: My deal is I have a lot of different styles. That's something a lot of people can't do. You can pretty much tell what one guy is going to do if they only have one style, so I have a couple different styles - you don't know if I'm going to counter or clinch; it keeps the guys on their toes. But my main thing is always going to be my athleticism, my footwork, hand speed, that kind of thing - slick boxing, sparring muay thai and trying to use a lot of that. I'm getting stronger, my takedown defense is getting stronger. I'm getting to a point in my life where I'm just worried about getting ready for the fight. I've got complete confidence in my game. I used to sit in bed the night before a fight and go through every situation and worry about what to do in those. I'm learning to, kind of like a boxing mentality, just go in there and do my work; spar, do my different kinds of training, get my hands and my eyes going. Go in there, get in the fight, get hit, have fun.

PV: What's your training schedule with Helio like?

Belcher: I just train with him whenever I can. I've got the fight [with Kang] coming up, and I'm going to do a camp with Duke Roufus up in Milwaukee, so I thought I'd take a week and come up here. We train twice a day every day; I'm also sparring with Brent Weidman, a really good local fighter, and just working with the gi and no gi, trying to get slick on the jiu jitsu, take time to work my mind. He [Helio] has some really good jiu jitsu guys up here, too.

PV: Talk to me about your upcoming fight

Belcher: January 17th, against Denis Kang. It will be his first fight in the UFC.

PV: How do you feel about the fight right now?

Belcher: I feel strong. He's good, and he's got a lot of the same aspects that I do. I've got a couple things on him. I'm bigger, and taller, and I've got a lot more experience boxing. My hands are a lot faster. He brings a lot of stuff to the table; I'm sure he could beat me in a straight wrestling match or jiu jitsu tournament, but it's going to be hard for him to take me down. That first fight in the UFC is hard for everybody. It's going to be a little bit different than what he's used to and I think he's going to be a little nervous about going in there and falling on his face in his first fight [in the UFC] like some of the Pride guys have. I think he's looking for an easy win, so I've just got to take him down - I break people's spirit, so I look forward to every guy trying to take me down and breaking their spirit when they figure out they can't - then I've got them.

PV: Where do you see yourself in the middleweight title picture?

Belcher: I'm definitely thinking about it. I want to keep improving. In my last fight, I felt it was all starting to come together for me, I'm started to get it figured out. So we'll see how this one [against Kang] goes. If I can do what I did in my last fight, it could be in the near future for sure. There are so many tough guys though, it's hard to say who you need to beat to get in contention for that top spot. You know, there are five or six guys who look equal to me. In the UFC, it's all about what the fans think, what [match-ups] makes sense to the fans, who to put in there. So if this fight is on TV, and they see me and a lot of the people are talking about it, it's only going to make sense to the fans that I deserve to be there. It's weird ranking people in the UFC - there's no guy that's undefeated. Everybody has some loss, and you never know who's going to lose, so it messes the mathematical rankings up. So who knows? If I put together a couple wins, you may see me in there fighting for the belt. I definitely feel like I can fight with anybody. It's just about going in there and letting my hands go.

PV: I know you're not looking past Kang, but is there anybody in the division you'd like to fight that you think would put you in a better spot to fight for the title?

Belcher: I'd like to fight Rich Franklin or Dan Henderson. Both of those guys could be a good fight for me, I see myself beating both of them. And those guys would definitely put me up there [to contend for the title]. The guy I'm most afraid of now would be Nate Marquardt. He's a really dangerous, aggressive guy. Being aggressive as he is, he can throw guys off their game. As far as guys I think I match up with - I'd like to fight Demian Maia or Jason MacDonald - I think those guys would match up well with me, all of their fights are hard.

PV: What do you think about the Penn vs. St. Pierre, and then the potential match-up of St. Pierre vs. Silva? Do you think these fights are just going to hold up the titles or what?

Belcher: It does [hold up the title], but us UFC fighters, we're just trying to keep fighting and keep getting a pay raise every time, and it ain't really - that's just something we deal with. The titles are always held up - there aren't many title fights and there so many good fighters, it's [getting a title shot] is a very slow process.

PV: What do you think about the recent criticism of TUF? As a fighter yourself, do you think TUF is a bad thing for the image of the UFC as a whole?

Belcher: No, because there is a good mix of guys on there. It shows that everybody is their own person. I think that maybe if the show wasn't there, I'm not sure that MMA fighters would have a better rep. At least on there it shows that just because you're an mma fighter doesn't mean you act a certain way. Every single one of the guys has a different personality. Some of the guys aren't really tough guys at all; some of them are sweethearts and nerds. I think it's good for the sport; it gets new fans all the time and gets more people interested, so I'm not hating on it.

PV: How many fights do you have left on your current contract?

Belcher: I got a new one after my last fight, so I've got four fights on it. They keep you on a leash like that. When you win, they give you a new contract, and you don't want to turn it down, because it's a little bit more money than you'd be making your next fight anyways.

PV: Does that exclusivity bother you? Would you like to be fighting more often?

Belcher: I'd like to be fighting more often for sure. I'd like to be making more money for sure. The UFC is the world championship - I can't wait to be making that world championship kind of money.

PV: About money, what do you think about a guy like Lesnar coming in so early in his career and getting a title shot and getting paid so much for it? As somebody that's been in the game longer, does somebody new coming in like that, making that kind of money bother you, or do you think it actually benefits the other fighters?

Belcher: It does [benefit us]. I think it's great man. That guy [Lesnar] has got skills - he's spent his whole life wrestling, and he went into the WWF because that was the way he could make the most money. A lot of these top wrestlers get stuck not being able to make money doing wrestling. I'm proud for him. He worked hard and he deserved it for sure. He's an athlete and he deserves to be where he is. I guess if you're the best, you should be making the big money.

PV: I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me Alan. Any predictions for the Kang fight?

Belcher: I'm predicting I've got a knock out coming. I haven't had a knockout in a while and I'm wanting one pretty bad. I think I'm going to end up catching him. I'm going for a knockout for sure, I'm trying to push it a little bit harder every fight. I trust my conditioning. I'm scared to death of getting tired, but I think I'm going to push it this fight and get that knockout. If not, I'll definitely win a decision, it would be nice to get one of the bonuses for KO of the night or Fight of the Night.


So there you have it. I really appreciated the fact that Alan took as much time as he did to talk with me, and he was just as accommodating with the rest of the crowd. He was there the rest of the afternoon, hanging out and talking with everybody, even helping coach some of Soneca's fighters during their matches. He also helped present an award on behalf of Soneca to Allen Manganello for his service in supporting BJJ in the state of Kentucky - I'll be talking more on that with Allen in the future.

I'm interested to see what Belcher does against Kang. I do think he showed a marked improvement against Herman, and I'll be looking for him to score that bonus-winning KO.


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FightTicker's November 2008 Top 10 Rankings

I recently participated in a "Top 10" ranking poll for FightTicker.com. As a member of the ranking team, I submitted my Top 10 fighters in each weight class from Heavyweight (206-265) down to Featherweight (136-145).

You can find the final lists on FightTicker here. These are really for FightTicker.com purposes more than anything else. We're not saying that our rankings are better than any other website's (even though they are). We just use them as a more official way to speak of the fighters we're writing about (i.e. "FightTicker's #1 ranked Heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko decided today that.....").

Members of FightTicker do these rankings approximately once every quarter, so the next rankings will be published in February. If you're interested in getting in on the next rankings, head over to FightTicker and join the site. The spots on the rankings team are open to all members of the website.


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Mike Yanez Named Head Trainer of Xtreme Fighting Championships (XFC)

We can say we knew him "back when".

As some of you might recall, a while back I did an interview with Mike Yanez, owner of Highlander MMA in Louisville, Kentucky. You can find that here.

When I spoke to Mike at the MMA Big Show: Relentless, where he ref'd all the fights, he let me know about some big news he had. I held back on it at the time because he said details were being finalized, but now it's out in the open, so I thought I'd let you all know.

Mike has been named the Head Trainer of the XFC.

Check after the jump for all the details.

From the XFC Website:

Head trainer and professional Mixed Martial Arts fighter Mike Yanez led his Kentucky-based Highlander MMA Camp to a 101-30 combined amateur and professional record – and an incredible winning percentage of 77% – over the past few years, earning Yanez industry-wide acclaim as one of the rising superstar trainers in the sport. One of the industry leaders who has closely followed Yanez’s string of victories is John Prisco, the president of Xtreme Fighting Championships (XFC) – the Southeastern-based MMA promotion that MMAJunkie.com credited with being “the best kept secret in the sport.” Following a nationwide manhunt to upgrade XFC’s training staff, Prisco announced today that Yanez has accepted the position of head trainer at XFC’s MMA training facilities. Yanez will begin working immediately with all of XFC’s professional and amateur fighters.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to be a part of the XFC, the fastest-rising MMA organization in the United States,” said Yanez. “And after competitively wrestling for eight years – and earning my black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ten years ago from legendary world champion Pablo Popovitch and his father Jorge Popovitch of the Carlson Gracie side of the Gracie family tree – I firmly believe that my training qualifications and career résumé speak for themselves; no trainer wins 101 of his first 131 fights on a fluke. The Mixed Martial Arts are my one true passion, and I’m 100% dedicated to transforming dedicated fighters into unstoppable world champions. I’ve been following the XFC for quite a while now, and they clearly have multiple fighters on their roster who are right on the cusp of stardom. Hopefully I can play a role in helping them reach to the top of the mountain.”

John Prisco was effusive in his praise of his company’s most recent addition: “I’m deeply proud of all the past and current trainers here at XFC, but opportunities to hire a rising superstar trainer like Mike Yanez don’t come around every day. It’s not just the lineage of his BJJ black belt that makes him so special – it’s his uncanny ability to motivate young talent, instill his technical mastery in his pupils, and develop a program that wins nearly 80% of its matches. Look, there might not be any shortcuts to success in this sport, but Yanez sure makes the path a heck of a lot shorter. We’re honored and privileged to have him in XFC.”

Prisco recently mentioned these training facilities in his most recent entry on MMA Junkie.

And our gyms – I've got to mention our XFC training facilities! Our first gym is located slightly north of downtown Tampa, and we're in the process of opening multiple XFC-branded gym franchises throughout the Southeast. In addition to MMA-themed gyms being incredibly popular right now among the general public (why in the world would anyone go to a one-discipline dojo to learn self defense when top-notch MMA training is available?), almost everyone who trains – or knows someone who trains – at our facilities becomes a goodwill ambassador for XFC. They wear our shirts, hats and merchandise all over town, taking pride in their affiliation with XFC. A good many of them bring their friends, neighbors and kids to all of our shows and become part-time promotional members of our team. In the very near future, we envision each new XFC gym franchise playing an instrumental role in not just providing us with a pipeline of new talent but also providing us with a pipeline of new fans. And vice-versa.

Mike is a definitely a BJJ standout, and based on his team's fighting record, there's no doubt he knows how to motivate fighters.

I think the fact that the XFC is opening a line of gyms is yet another indication that they know how to capitalize on the growing sport of MMA, and securing a guy like Yanez shows they're serious in their commitment to the sport.

I don't there will be much of a concern with XFC branded fighters fighting in XFC events. The way I understand it from the website, it seems more like the XFC fighters are the ones who are locked into more exclusive contracts with XFC, and that many of them train with their own teams, but are given the opportunity to train at the XFC training facilities.

Congrats to Mike on this great opportunity - given this development, I'm even more interested to see what the XFC has to offer. They're definitely one of the top-notch growing promotions, and I'm interested to see where they go from here.

The XFC noted that Mike will immediately begin working with all of the XFC's pro and amateur fighters, and Mike's teaching skills will once again come into the spotlight this Friday when one of his longtime students, C.T. Turner, takes on Brett Chism. The event will be broadcast on XFC's website for $9.99.

I'll be talking to Mike again in the future, so look for updates from him on XFC developments and how his new role with XFC is taking shape.


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ICF: Redemption ----- Post-Event Comments

What follows are the post-event comments I got from talking to the promoters Steve Stanton and Jeff Hale; Dan Christison and Steve Banks; current UFC fighter Jake O'Brien; Chris Curtis, the new ICF Welterweight Champ; and Chad Hinton from Cincy MMA and Fitness.

The pic is one of Dan Christison, immediately following his victory. More pics are available on the ICF website - you can find those here.

A1Entertainment handled the pictures/sound/video - you can find them on the web here.

In case you missed my live blog of the event, you can find that here.

Check after the jump for the full post.

As with the last show I attended, everyone was more than willing to talk to me, and it was great hearing what everybody had to say. I realize that this post has a bit of length to it, but since the guys were so willing to talk to me, the least I can do is post as much as I can of everything they had to say. However, if you're wanting to skip to a particular part, I've put the names in bold so they're easy to locate.

Steve Stanton

About the show: “I couldn’t believe how many people (about 1200) showed up. We did a lot of TV ads, [ads] on the radio – just good fights. This is our fifth show, we’re taking off December and we’re going to come back January 24th. I just signed a big deal with Turfway, to put on a show every other month. We’re trying to get down to Bel Terra [casino], and to Louisville, KY [to put on shows]."

About the card: “It was sick. Dan [Christison] is a tough dude, Lambchop is a tough guy, a good guy. People just underestimate Dan, he’s tough – got good standup, good on the ground, he’s been around for years. Dan is great – he brought a lot of people with him and did a lot of promotion for the show through the internet and myspace and things like that."

About the show coming up in January: “We’re actually doing a big biker rally, I’ve got Live 2 Ride involved in it, Tombstone Motorcycles is going to be a sponsor, so is Live 2 Ride – we’ve got Hooters on board, and Miller Lite. Just a big biker rally Saturday during the day, and coming Saturday night we’re actually going to have a Florence, KY cop fighting a biker. We’re going to call it “Pigs vs. Hogs”.

About his own mma experience: “We were affiliated with Militech Fighting Systems, but I bought in with Scott O’Brien and we changed it to Domination MMA. We’re actually getting ready to team with Team Vision. We’re going to have a Team Vision up in Ohio and in Kentucky.”

On plans to get some other big names for the show: “Dan Christison is such a good guy, he’s hooking us up with some other former UFC guys. We’ve got a lot of big stuff coming. We’ve got Roger Bowling [MMA Big Show Welterweight Champion] is going to come and have a fight with us, and Mojo Horne might have a fight with us soon – we’ve got a lot of big things going on.”

On Competing with other local promotions, like the MMA Big Show: “We’re 100% competing against each other. Jason Appleton is a good guy and he runs good shows – he does sick production – nothing bad to say about him or his show at all. We’ve got a lot of the same fighters fighting for us that fight for him. We’re just trying to do our thing and he does his.”

On Promoting a Women’s fight: “Dara, out of Team Vision is great, she’s tough. She’s going to be one of my highlight fighters. We’ll have at least two women’s fights next time, maybe three – this time I didn’t even promote the women’s fight that much, but it got the biggest crowd response of the night. We’ve got ad spots on SpikeTV, and a lot of big promotion stuff coming up."

On signing fighters to exclusive contracts: “We’re getting ready to start doing exclusive contracts with guys, and getting ready to start promoting specific guys, too – I’m excited about everything we have come up."

Jeff Hale

On the show: “I was really happy with the show, I was satisfied with the turnout. I’m pretty much the matchmaker for the promotion and I was very pleased with how the fights turned out. It seemed like the crowd was into it, like we had a lot of good, even match-ups.”

On promoting women’s fights: “I think there might be one other [local] promotion that does women’s fight. We’ve always wanted to have women on, and Dara looked awesome tonight. Greenwell looked great tonight – it was a good fight and we hope that will set us apart, and maybe bring out more women that might be interested in it. They’re grown women that make the choice to fight and they enjoy it.”

On the January 24th show: “Differently, all I’d like to see is more people. More people and keep getting the good fights. You could say you want to change a lot of things, but the fights were really good tonight and I was really happy with them. I wouldn’t change any of the fights we had; the match-ups were great. The only thing I might do is pray more people come in. (PV’s note – Jeff told me that with the layout they use, the venue could probably accommodate about 2700 people). If we could squeeze 1500-2000 people in there every time, you’d never hear me complain."

On the time it takes to do the ICF: “It takes up about all of my free time. If I have any free time, it’s usually talking to a fighter on the phone, talking to my partner Steve. Steve is a crafty talker, to say the least." (PV’s note – I jokingly asked Jeff if he was going to take Monday off after putting on such a good show, and he replied that since they weren’t putting a show on in December, he might take Tuesday off, too, but then it’s back to work.)

On the financial aspect of promoting a show: “It’s been good. I think it’s a misconception – people think ‘Look at all these fans, you guys are ripping in money’, but the problem is, all those pretty lights, those cage, the professional grade fighters, all that costs money. The amateurs don’t get paid, but we do try to help them out with paying their gas so they can get down here for the show, because a lot of the amateurs travel a long way. I’d say on this show we haven’t lost money, but it’ll put us back to even so we can start the new year at zero. We made the decision August 30th of this year – we did four pro fights, and it was a great show, but we had to pay out a lot more money than we brought in. We decided what we’re going to do is a series of all-amateur shows, because that’s where you build up your purse to pay the pro fighters. We’re going to use amateur shows to get more people interested – we’ll still have the same high level of production and great fights, and that way we can build up a surplus, and we can bring in these high level pro fighters and pay them to get them here so the fans can see them. The bottom line is, [if we] take care of the fighters, they take care of the fans.”

On having Dan Christison in the main event: “Getting Dan was a “ [we] lucked into” situation. I honestly can’t remember how we ended up meeting him, but he came out to our September 20th show to ref for us and see if he might be interested in fighting for us. Great guy, he’s got a great wife, and we all seemed to mesh pretty good. They’ve got all these connections, they put the name out there, I think they brought almost 70 people on their own. That is a talent pool we’d like to draw from. Dan is an amazing fighter, and he’s got great connections. Dan puts on a great show, he knows other guys that put on a great show, it’s a great friendship to have."

Dan Christison

About the fight: “He went for a head kick – I saw his body weight shifting and thought he was going for a kick – I made the assumption – and sure enough, he went for the head kick…once it went to the ground, I was trying to transition to the side-guard or full mount, but he did a really good job of locking me down. He left his arm hanging out and I saw his head turn toward my right elbow and I thought his face was going to stay there, and I came back with an elbow and I think I might’ve gotten him on the ear. That was unintentional, I was sorry, I told him I was sorry and we just kind of continued on from there….he went for the underhook and I was able to transition to the shoulder lock."

About fighting for multiple promotions: “It’s gone well for me! I think it’s an awesome thing - there’s only so much an individual fighter can do for the community, and as a fighter fighting at smaller shows, we don’t necessarily make as much money as we do at the larger shows, so as far as monetarily, we can’t push all kinds of money to different charities and things in the community, but what we can do is give our time, hopefully somehow, some way that can inspire others to do the same, and if everybody in the martial arts community does that, we’ll move mountains."

About fighting in the local shows versus the bigger promotions like the UFC: “I like pretty much doing everything. No matter where you go, the UFC gets its guys from somewhere. They’re coming from the shows like these, and they’re the very same guys that I’m fighting now, lending my experience and name to the event, and to the [fighter’s] experience. The guy I fought tonight, Steve, is going to take this experience and work the crap out of his ground game, move ahead and hopefully grow from it. As a martial artist, my first and foremost concern – yes, I’d love to do well, but I want to also inspire. At The Sandbox, that’s my school, that’s one of our mottoes – We Seek To Inspire."

Steve Banks

About the loss to Christison: “Hey, you know, it happens – I’m more disappointed that I slipped. I’m not really concerned that I got submitted – everybody gets submitted. I’m more concerned I slipped. Every fighter falls, it doesn’t matter who you are. Tonight I got caught in a submission. So be it, it happens."

About the match in general: “I think I had him standing up – it was fun, I enjoyed the punching, elbows, knees, kicks. I’ve actually been working on my ground game a lot – I had surgery on my left shoulder about a year-and-a-half ago, and it just so happens that’s the side he got. I did feel my shoulder come out. It happens. I’m happy to fight a guy my size, that was enjoyable."

About the future: “I’m going to try and fight as soon as I can. I don’t feel I was seriously injured in this fight. My shoulder popped, but it went back, it feels fine, not sore. I want to fight as soon as possible. I’d absolutely love to have a rematch [with Christison]."

About being a pro fighter: “I just enjoy doing it. I actually work at Home Depot, and this to me is just pure fun. I don’t look at it any other way. I’d love to go to the top, but it’s just going to take time. Every win takes you a step forward, every loss takes you three steps back."

I also got the chance to talk briefly to “Irish” Jake O’Brien – he told me his next fight is going to be at UFC 94 (Penn vs. St. Pierre II) on January 31st, and that he was initially scheduled to face Christian Wellisch, but the UFC notified him it could be someone else, and that it hasn't been finalized.

In case anyone doesn’t know, O’Brien had almost a 14-month layoff between the Herring and Arlovski fights. He had to have neck surgery – he had both a herniated disc and a pinched nerve. However, O’Brien assured me that he’s running at 100% and he’s ready to get back in the cage after back-to-back losses to Andrei Arlovski and Cain Velasquez. He also let me know that he’s got three more fights left on his current UFC contract.

I asked O’Brien what it was like to have his first televised UFC fight (third overall) be against Heath Herring, in his UFC debut. O’Brien told me that it was definitely a step up in competition for him,

I also spoke toChad Hinton, the MMA Big Show Lightweight Champ and co-owner of Cincy MMA & Fitness.

About the Fights: “I thought it was an exciting night – these guys put on a hell of show, the match pairings were great, a lot of good competition, one of the better cards I’ve seen in a while.”

On his teammate Marcus Finch’s tough decision loss: “We go back to business Monday as usual. My guys haven’t lost a whole lot. We’re a fairly new team. I was just talking to the guys tonight – we were actually, as a team, 29-1, coming into the fight. To lose two fights in one nights is a little humbling, but we feel it’s going to help us grow, help us get better. In order to get better sometimes, you have to lose. If anything, it’ll make Marcus a better fighter for sure.”

Chris Curtis, the newly crowned ICF Welterweight Champ had this to say: “I just came here on two fights back to back, so I was already in pretty good shape. He [Justin Hunt] had a pretty heavy right hand, so I worked a lot on that, just countering the right hand. He’s a tough kid, but this is what you put the hours in at the gym for, this is what we do everything for.”

FYI, two of FightTicker.com's newest site members fought on this card. Chris Curtis, TheActionMan513, and George Oiler, nofee. Drop them a line and say congratulations - they both deserve it.


So there you have it. Being at the show, it wasn't hard to see that Steve and Jeff had put in a ton of time getting this show together, and it clearly paid off for the fans. The fights were exciting, the the crowd seemed to really get into everything. I'll definitely be back on January 24th to see what they've lined up for us then.


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ICF: Redemption ---- Post-Event Comments Coming Soon

Saturday night I got to attend the Intimidation Cage Fighting: Redemption event at Turfway Park in Florence, KY. I was lucky enough to have a cage-side seat for the event, and it was a great time.

I just wanted to drop this quick post to let you all know you can find my live-blog from the event on FightTicker here, and I'll be back tomorrow with my post-event commentary, including discussions I had with the promoters, Steve Stanton and Jeff Hale; Dan Christison and Steve Banks on their fight; a couple of the guys from Cincy MMA & Fitness; and UFC Fighter Jake O'Brien, who was at the event cornering Christison. It was a great event, a lot of fun.

ICF has their next event at Turfway planned for January 24th, and I'm planning on covering that show as well. I'll give you more details on that as they're made available to me.

Check back tomorrow for my full post-event commentary.


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One-on-one with Stephens Vale Tudo's Aaron Stephens

In the next of my ever-expanding interview series, I'd now like to introduce you to Aaron Stephens, of Stephens Vale Tudo (SVT). Aaron is the coach/trainer/manager for Jason Stanley, a fighter I interview a while back. You can find that interview here. You can find SVT on the web here and on Myspace here.

Check after the jump for the full interview. Stephens has been on the MMA scene for a while now, and he's got a lot of great things to say.

PV: First, can you give us a quick introduction and some background on yourself?

Stephens: Hmmm, I’m originally from Flatwoods/Russell, KY, (which is where we have our school now). I started training (BJJ, JKD, Kickboxing, etc.) in early 1993 in Oklahoma City, when I was in the Air Force. My first instructor was Rafael Lovato, Senior. Coincidentally, Lovato Junior is now the second American after BJ Penn to win Black Belt Mundials (Worlds). Junior was around 10 when I started, lol. Now he’s a BJJ STUD! Anyway, I trained there for a couple/few years.

Also, during this time, I went to Carlos Machado’s in Dallas, Texas, sporadically. After that, I trained at USA Stars in Norman, Oklahoma. My main instructor there was Tony Equigua but I was most definitely influenced by the MASSIVE Judo presence there (Pat Burris is basically a Judo legend). I also got to work some with Ron Tripp (Sambo Champion who’s supposedly the only person to beat Rickson Gracie in competition - a Sambo Competition). While I was there, I also spent some time with Frank Trigg and Evan Tanner who trained there off and on.

I trained at USA Stars up until 1998 when my enlistment ended. Of course, I have to thank some of my most dedicated BJJ Instructors (virtually, via VHS) – Pedro Carvalho, Mario Sperry, Carlson Gracie, Jr. are a few who come to mind. Man, those guys spent a lot of 1 on 1 time with me to help me get knowledge. MANY THANKS to them! ;-)

PV: Tell us how Stephens Vale Tudo came about.

Stephens: Wellll, when I came back to this area in 1998, I had been training in BJJ, Judo, Sambo, Kickboxing, etc. for around 5 years and was a pretty decent fighter, competitor, and instructor. I was absolutely hooked on BJJ. I loved training and rolling every day. BUT, when I came back here, there was NOBODY doing BJJ.

I searched around for a while and found a group about 30 minutes away (Huntington, WV – Ground Zero / Ashley Lockwood, Head Instructor and all around GREAT guy). They were pretty much on about the same level as me so, I trained with them occasionally, when time would allow. Somewhere during this time, I was found, through the internet, by Joe Hall (now an Editor for Sherdog.com). He was a freshman at the University of Kentucky, but was originally from my area. Soooo, I began training him (when he came home) and some more of their friends from the High School that he went to. From there, word of mouth spread and before I knew it, I was teaching classes to 5 to 10 people a few nights a week in my garage at my house. Stephens Vale Tudo was born…

PV: Why Vale Tudo? Why not Stephens MMA or Stephens Combat Sports? What made you choose to have a vale tudo based approach to your training?

Stephens: O.K. Back when we were doing this in my garage, “MMA” was not the household name that it is rapidly becoming. I almost went with Stephens Submission Fighting but, I’m going to be completely honest here, I felt some loyalty to the BJJ I had incorporated soooo much of into our system. BUT, since I didn’t have “set” training with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Instructors (my main instructors were white belts, so what belt was I gonna get?).

If you hadn’t been training in a Gracie garage, you probably didn’t have a belt. So, since I didn’t have a BJJ Belt, I didn’t feel that I could claim to be a BJJ Instructor. So, wanting to pay homage to my Brazilian training but not wanting to claim BJJ without a belt I went with Stephens Vale Tudo. Since we did no gi, stand-up, and everything, I liked the ring to it. I guess that’s pretty much it.

PV: What kind of classes/training do you offer? Who teaches the various classes?

Stephens: Currently, I teach all of the “Martial Art” classes (BJJ, MMA, Kids, etc.) – My son, A.J. (13) helps me teach the “younger” kids BJJ Classes. My girlfriend, Spring, teaches some awesome Cardio Kickboxing and Toning Classes. She also does a lot of personal training work.

PV: What is your day-to-day role at SVT?

Stephens: Daily, we open up, and I’m there most of the day. I have day and evening classes, etc. We’re pretty much there all day (9 to 9), 5 days a week. We both also have classes on Saturday.

PV: When you opened SVT, was training competitive fighters one of your goals?

Stephens: When I started SVT, almost 10 years ago, just being able to continue to roll was one of my only goals.

PV: Since you opened SVT, how have you seen the fight scene in KY change?

Stephens: That’s easy, there wasn’t one…

PV: Can anybody off the street walk in and train for fun, or do you focus more on competition-based training?

Stephens: We have classes SPECIFICALLY designed so that ANYONE (regardless of fitness level, experience, etc., can come in. I also have kids BJJ Classes ranging from 5 yrs to 15 yrs).

PV: How many staff members do you employ?

Stephens: There are currently 2 of us.

PV: How many fighters (pro/am/otherwise) do you train/coach?

Stephens: Probably only 3 or 4 guys. I’m very picky about when someone is “READY”, even for their first fight. Lots of guys are willing to jump in the cage, but very few are ready to do the WORK it takes to WIN.

PV: Do you have other roles with the fighters (i.e. manager/agent)?

Stephens: Yes, all of the above. We are like a family.

PV: Have you ever had to work on finding sponsors for your gym and/or fighters? If so, has it been hard to find sponsors?

Stephens: We’ve not really pursued the sponsor thing very heavily, but I do have some deals in the works as we speak.

PV: What is the public perception of your gym on a local level? Do you feel it’s well received and has a lot of community support, or is it more a situation where the community thinks you’re just a bunch of brawlers?

Stephens: Between Spring and I, we do a lot of good things for people in the community. Actually, we’re still largely unknown. But, with us doing personal training and her doing Cardio Kickboxing and Toning classes, we’re WAAAAAYYYY more than a BJJ/MMA school.

What kind of things do you do to promote your gym and fighters?

Stephens: Right now, nothing. I don’t want them known yet. ;-)

PV: Are there any other gyms that offer what you do in the area? If so, do you find that you’re competing with them for students, or do all of the gyms seems to find an equal amount of success?

Stephens: Our nearest neighbor is 20 plus miles away and we really don’t compete for students. Completely different markets. We have a good, respectful relationship and that helps.

PV: How many of your fighters are able to train on a full-time basis?

Stephens: One (Jason Stanley) is currently it and we’ll see what happens.

PV: What’s an average day of training like for one of your fighters?

Stephens: When Jason’s in “full swing” he’s got an average of 2 or 3 “sessions” per day varying from weights, technique (ground and standup), running, core work, etc.

PV: What are some of the promotions/competitions your fighters have competed in (MMA or otherwise)?

Stephens: Kentucky Fighting Challenge, North American Grappling Association, Smokey Mountain Grappling Open, Tennessee State BJJ Championships, Extreme Grappling Open (EGO), Sinister Grappling Championships, Tri-State MMA, even Danger Zone back in the day (Dan Severn and Becky Levi’s old promotion in Indiana).

PV: What events do you have coming up?

Stephens: In BJJ, we have the Helio Soneca (my BJJ instructor) Tournament in Louisville on December 7th and we will be competing at the Arnolds (NAGA) in March of next year.

PV: Do you also corner your fighters? If so, how much importance do you place on the coach in the fighter’s corner?

Stephens: I definitely try to corner my fighters when they fight. I believe that it’s HUGE. The coaches voice serves many purposes, ranging from specific things to do and work to just being a voice of comfort for a fighter in a bad spot.

PV: What do you like most about running SVT?

Stephens: ALL OF IT.

PV: What do you like least?

Stephens: NONE OF IT.

PV: What’s one thing you’ve had to deal with you wouldn’t have imagined when you started SVT?

Stephens: Five year olds!!! LOL. You gotta love ‘em.

PV: What kind of financial issues do you face that the general public might not know about?

Stephens: LOL, ALL OF THEM!!!

PV: Do you like to follow MMA in your personal life (i.e. watching UFC events)?

Stephens: Not a huge MMA Fan actually. I went to UFCs and met fighters many years ago. Lots of awesome stories. Imagine sitting in a Hotel bar where the only people in there are you, your buddy, and Randy Couture and his brother. I didn’t even approach them. I had a picture with Chuck and Tito on each side of me in a Hooters in Rome, Georgia. Coincidentally, the other guys (unknown at the time) setting at the table with Chuck and Tito turned out to be….. THE TAPOUT CREW.

A picture with me having Kevin Randleman in a headlock (his idea). Watching a UFC when there were only 1500 people in the place. Sitting on the edge of the mat (hotel conference room) watching Pat Miletich cut 12 pounds for a fight (rolling and “cooking” in his suit) not realizing that several of the guys hanging around in the room were future STARS (Matt Hughes for one).

If you watch Mark Coleman’s pre-fight reel for the First Pride Grand Prix (where he’s doing takedowns on Brandon Lee Hinkle) you’ll see some of my students and I sitting along the wall – we were training with them when the Japanese guys came in to film his pre-fight video.

ANYWAY, THAT WAS FUN. THOSE WERE THE DAYS… Those days are gone. It’s just not the same today. I paid $230 per ticket to set in nosebleed seats in Columbus, OH. I watched the fight on the big screen. To me, the golden era has passed. ;-)

PV: Is there a particular fight team or camp that you admire?

Stephens: Miletich, Jackson, Sityodong, Rickson Gracie (a truly AMAZING SPIRIT), Renzo Gracie (himself and his team). That’s it for now, although I’m sure I’m missing some.

PV: Do you have a training background in combat sports? If so, what?

Stephens: Dating back to 1993, when I started, I’ve trained in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, Judo, Combat Jujitsu, Sambo, Shootfighting, JKD, and Muay Thai. My first love and still #1 is BJJ.

PV: Are there any particular hobbies you enjoy in your down time?

Stephens: I enjoy reading and collecting books. I’m a computer geek so I play computer games with my sons when I can. Used to like to shoot hoops but I’m too busy teaching classes these days. I try to spend time with my family and the love of my life (Spring) and after that, there’s just not much else that fits.

PV: Thank you for taking the time to do this, Aaron – is there anyone you’d like to give a shout out to?

Stephens: First and foremost, to my family and loved ones. They are #1, hands down. Secondly to my SVT Family. To our friends and students, for choosing to share their lives and goals with us and for giving us the opportunity to serve them and help them achieve. Thanks to you PreView, for the opportunity to reflect on some of my fun times back in the day. It’s been a while. LOL.


So there you have it. Stephens has some great stories - I particularly liked hearing what he had to say about being a UFC fan before it was cool.

Stay on the lookout for updates on Stephens, SVT and Jason Stanley - they've got a lot to offer in the MMA world.


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A Look at the Nevada State Athletic Commission's New(ish) Drug Testing Policy

In a post I wrote for FightTicker yesterday, I commented on the fact that two more UFC 91 fighters testing clean in another round of the Nevada State Athletic Commission's year-round tests, I had a couple questions about this testing policy because I didn't know much about it.

I started researching a little bit and found the memo, dated May 24, 2008, that John R. Bailey, chairman of NSAC, wrote to all NSAC Licensees. You can check it out yourselves here. (It's a .pdf file.)

Check after the jump for some text from the memo as well as my thoughts on their new drug-testing policies. For another post I did on drugs in MMA, go here.

From the memo:

Therefore, in addition to the steroid and drug performed on contestants on fight night, the Commission will be requiring fighters licensed by the Commission, and applicants for such licensure, to submit to these tests when ordered by the Commission at other times during the year. (The costs of these "pre-fight night" tests will be paid by the Commission if funds are available; otherwise, the costs will be paid by the fighter or the promoter.) The process for selecting which fighters are required to submit to these tests will be based on: (i) a random selection; (ii) some indication that a particular fighter may be using a prohibited substance; (iii) the fact that a fighter has previously tested positive for using a prohibited substance; (iv) a request by a Commissioner; or (iv) any other cause determined by the Commission.

I realize that last (iv) should be (v), but I'm quoting from the original.

First, let's start with what will likely be one of the less controversial/easier to deal with complaints. The potential financial cost. If the promoter runs out of money, they're going to charge the fighter. Sure, that might not make a difference to guys like Couture or Lesnar, but what about guys fighting in the smaller promotions making $500 to show and $500 to win? Drug tests aren't cheap. To combat this, the Commission could just raise the cost of licensing fees, to make sure there was some surplus money that could pay for these tests, but who do you think that extra cost gets passed on to and hits the hardest? The fighters. So let's hope that NSAC has been stashing away money for some time now, because nobody likes a raise in fees.

As many of you have undoubtedly realized, the process by which someone can receive one of these pre-fight night tests is fairly subjective. Sure, I understand testing people who have previously tested positive for a banned substance, but testing someone on "some indication...a request by a Commissioner...or any other cause determined by the Commission" could cover pretty much anything. First of all, let me say that I am in favor of this, in principle. I also understand that NSAC is supposed to be a non-partisan commission, above the influence of promotions.

But let's be real - this process could easily be abused. Not to mention, if a particular fighter pissed off one of the Commissioners, that Commissioner could cause the fighter to be randomly tested every week - or for that matter, every day. I'd like to believe that such an abuse of power would quickly be noticed, but one man's abuse of power is another man's modus operandi.

I understand that some people could be particularly wary of the "...any other cause..." language because of the potential for massive invasions of privacy. However, let's not forget - these are not just random people on the street being picked for drug tests - they are athletes who chose to apply for a license to fight. They know sports are drug free, and should behave as such. I'm not judging what anyone chooses to do on his or her own personal time, but I think it's ludicrous when some athletes get upset when their licenses are suspended, or when they're fined. The broke the rules that were outlined for them at the very beginning and they should be accordingly punished.

Additionally, I'm sure some fighters will make the argument that they agreed to testing when they were signed up for a fight, but not year-round. Frankly, that's probably just not true. Sure, the fighters did not likely anticipate being tested year-round, but I'd almost guarantee that all NSAC license applications (prior to this new change) had in language that stated that the licensee could be subject to random testing at any time.

Some other relevant language relates to what happens if one of the fighters fails one of these tests.

If a fighter either fails to take the test within the required timeframe (determined by the Commission) or fails the test, the Commission may refuse to license the fighter, refuse to allow the fighter to compete, and/or discipline the fighter.

I emphasized "may" because of, once again, the potential for abuse of power/disparate treatment. This sort of power the Commission has once again allows for potential manipulation. If the language had read "will" refuse to license the fighter, or "will refuse to allow the fighter compete", the fighters would know beyond a reasonable doubt that if they tested positive, they would not be competing. However, the "may" allows for the possibility that somebody might still be allowed to compete if they test positive, and hypothetically, a powerful promoter or executive could attempt to sway the commission to allow the person to fight.

But that's a hypothetical situation. I actually don't have a big problem with this language because it gives the Commission some wiggle room. It's not hard to imagine a situation where the Commission would need some leeway, such as where a fighter took a prescribed diuretic to help rid his body of a staph infection long before a fight was supposed to occur, but because of these year-round tests, he tested positive for a banned substance. Because the Commission has "may" in there and not "will", they are not required to refuse the fighter a license or prevent them from fighting. They could, for example, just order a regular round of tests until the fight occurs to make sure that the diuretic is out of his system long before it would help him as a performance enhancer.

Athletic Commissions get a lot of bad press, whether it be from guys like Armando Garcia, who recently resigned from the California State Athletic Commission (to see a comprehensive list of the bad decisions Garcia made or was a part of, check out FightLinker.) However, the bottom line is that the Commissions are looking out for the fighters, whether or not they look out for themselves. Their decisions may be unpopular, but they're meant to keep the fighters safe, level the playing field, and bring legitimacy to the sport.

NSAC's website has a number of other articles/memos/studies linked on their website, so I'll likely be posting on some of those in the future, too.

Until then, I'm just waiting to see how this new policy plays out.


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PreView's Picks for UFC 91 & Lesnar vs. Couture Roundtable

This Saturday I'll be watching UFC 91, and the main event is the fight that the UFC has billed as the biggest in its history - Randy Couture (Heavyweight Champ) vs. Brock Lesnar.

There is a lot of drama leading up to this fight, including the fact that Randy Couture hasn't fought in over a year due to contract disputes with the UFC, and this is only Brock Lesnar's 4th professional fight. Add to that the fact that the winner will only really get 1/2 of the Heavyweight championship, as there was an interim Heavyweight champion named - Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Nogueira will be facing former Heavyweight champion Frank Mir for the interim title, and then the winners of both matches will meet to unify the titles.

For those of you who aren't mma or UFC fans, I know that may seem like an odd situation. Regardless, as I generally do, I'm posting my predictions for UFC 91, sans my extended analysis. This time, it's picks only. However, on FightTicker.com, a number of us participated in a roundtable about the Couture vs. Lesnar fight. In addition to my picks, I'm posting a link to the roundtable after the jump.

Randy Couture vs. Brock Lesnar - Lesnar via TKO (strikes), Round 3

Kenny Florian vs. Joe Stevenson - Stevenson via Split Decision, Round 3

Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Josh Hendricks - Hendricks via TKO (strikes), Round 2

Nate Quarry vs. Demian Maia - Quarry via TKO (strikes), Round 2

Dustin Hazelett vs. Tamdan McCrory - Hazelett via Submission (armbar), Round 2

Jorge Gurgel vs. Aaron Riley - Gurgel via Submission (choke), Round 2

Jeremy Stephens vs. Rafael dos Anjos - Stephens via Unanimous Decision, Round 3

Alvin Robinson vs. Mark Bocek - Robinson via submission (choke), Round 1

Matt Brown vs. Ryan Thomas - Brown via Unanimous Decision, Round 3

To check out the FightTicker Roundtable on Couture vs. Lesnar, go here. We'll be back with more roundtables for the next few UFC events.

I'll be back with my post-event thoughts on Sunday.


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Intimidation Cage Fighting: Redemption On November 22, 2008

Indimiation Cage Fighting: Redemption, on Saturday, November 22, 2008 at Turfway Park in Florence, KY. Check out the ICF on the web here.

I'll be covering the event, so you can expect a post-event write-up for sure, and a live-blog of the pro fights, if there's available net access.

Doors open at 6pm, Fights start at 8pm. Tickets are $25, VIP Tickets are $35.

I've never attended an ICF before, but they're put on by two guys who train at the local Militech Fighting Systems affiliate - and on a random note, one of promoters attended the same law school I did (although at a different time), so I'm always happy to help support colleagues.

I'll make more info available to you as it comes to me.


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Rich Franklin Helping Out the DAV

I would consider myself a long-time supporter of Veterans' issues - from doing what I can to bring awareness to the POW/MIA groups and the issues they've been dealing with for years, to doing the small part I can do in supporting and encouraging candidates and legislation that benefits veterans, I would say that at most I've done a little bit to help. But only a little.

Guys like former UFC Middleweight Champion Rich Franklin are doing great work - Franklin is using his position as a prominent MMA fighter to support the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization.

Check after the jump for part of the story from MMA Junkie as well a link to the full article and a few more of my thoughts.

From MMA Junkie:

Former UFC middleweight champion and UFC 93 headliner Rich Franklin has joined the Disabled American Veterans organization as a spokesperson and ambassador.

Formal announcement of Franklin's involvement, which will be the basis of a tribute program called "Real American Fighters," will be formally announced on Tuesday (Veterans Day) during his visit to the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, DAV officials have confirmed with MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com).

Franklin has been a longtime supporter of the U.S. military and even left for the Middle East to visit troops in the hours immediately following his UFC 88 victory over Matt Hamill.

Franklin's Real American Fighters program will serve as a "tribute to the men and women of the U.S. military who have been wounded in defense of our freedom," according to the DAV.

The initiative will receive funding from limited-edition American Fighter T-shirts sold by Franklin and the apparel company, which he co-owns. He also recently filmed a public service announcement for the organization, and he will continue visiting disabled veterans on behalf of the DAV while serving as an ambassador between the DVA and the mixed-martial-arts community.

"I believe that no one should ignore, forget or disregard the sacrifice that the men and women who go to battle give," Franklin stated. "When I visit a disabled veteran who has lost a limb or has an injury so severe that their life is changed forever, I think we all need to get on our knees and thank God for these real American fighters."

Yet another great move by Franklin - this guy is tireless in his efforts to help out anybody he can. Taking this step to help the Disabled American Veterans is awesome. We need more people like him - not just in the mma community, but in the country - to step up and do their part.


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Video of Junie Browning at Xtreme Couture

Found this video of Junie Browning today on one of the mma blogs on Yahoo:

Check after the jump for the video and my thoughts on it.

A lot of this is typical Junie, like when he says "Half the stuff I did I don't even remember cause most of the nights were a drunken blur."

However, I think there are hints that his maturity level has gone up some. He talks about his time at Xtreme Couture as a positive thing, as well as the fact that he's signed with Denaro Sports Marketing and that he's been living with Shaun Thompkins. For anyone not familiar with Denaro, their clients include such fighters as Mac Danzig, Gabriel Gonzaga, Luis Cane, and so on. (However, they're not immune to having troublesome clients, as they also represent Melvin Guillard and Chris Leben.)

Regardless, I think it's evident that someone has worked on Junie's public persona, whether it be his new agents, Couture, or somebody else -- he seems like he's calmed down some, and he says that he hasn't "gone out" since he's been in Vegas and that the only thing he's been drinking is water. I think that's probably an exaggeration, but I think everybody would agree that they run a tight ship at Xtreme Couture.

Finally, I think it's interesting that Junie said he felt that he wasn't being used by Dana White or the UFC. He didn't elaborate on it too much more except to say that he thought TUF was designed not so much for the hardcore MMA fan, but for the more casual fan, to get people watching the UFC who might not otherwise watch it.

While this may be true, I think that last week's episode was one of the nastiest we've seen in a while, if not ever, and even though it may not turn the casual fan away from the UFC events, it's definitely going to turn fans off from the show. Just take a look at all the posts that sprung up after last week, of people criticizing the show.

In spite of all that, I'm interested to see what Junie does with his time at Xtreme Couture. He's got a wealth of opportunity there -- I, for one, am hoping he doesn't waste it.


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