When did your martial arts training start and what made you choose that particular style of karate?Twelve years old – actually, I used to watch Kung Fu and demonstrations and it took me a while to talk my Mum into letting me do martial arts. We went to this one school twice and it was closed both times. It was on our way home from school that we went past a different school, so I kinda got lucky in the style I chose.
As a child what do you want to do with your life and how did that change as you matured?
I guess I was like anyone really – during baseball season I wanted to be a professional baseball player, during football season I wanted to be a ptofessional football player. Then when I started martial arts I wanted to open a school. I was competing in wrestling at high school and college, then I started kickboxing and instead of getting a job when I left school I kind of hung and carried on kickboxing. Then I got offered a fight in the UFC, then I opened a gym and now I’m here!
You are known as arguably the world’s best striker but you had lots of experience as a wrestler from a young age – how successful were you?
I was OK. I beat some guys I probably shouldn’t have beat and lost to some guys I shouldn’t have lost to. I was about a .500 wrestler. One of the things I was really good at was scrambling and takedowns.
It is said that on seeing UFC 1 you decided that MMA was for you – what and who made impression from that first event?
I don’t think it was anyone in particular, I just thought “hey this is real fighting!”. It puts together two things I’m really good at and there was this new stuff, Jiu Jitsu, which I needed to learn. After watching the first couple of UFCs I’d take holds and shoe them to people. They’d say “that’s nothing”, then they’d be “oooo, ouch!”. You kind of figure it out form doing martial arts. Just the fact that a) it was real fighting, and b)can I make a living out of that? When I was in High School I always said that the thing that really sucks is that the one thing I’m really good at I can’t make any money doing. Ends up I was kind of wrong!
Did you ever consider pro wrestling?
Those guys impress me some of the stuff they do, and what those big guys get away with doing. But I love fighting, I don’t want to go out and do a show like that.
What are your recollections of your first fight for UFC against Noe Hernandez?
The biggest thing I remember was seeing a film of this guy and all he had was an overhead right – I think I let him hit me with it in the first 10 seconds of the fight. I thought if that’s all he has then it’s going to be a long night for him!
How did the UFC approach you?
This guy came to me who had promoted some of the kickboxing shows, and they knew I could wrestle. They asked me if I wanted to fight in this and they sent me a tape. They brought me in as the alternate for a tournament which was $1,000 a show with the possibility of getting the tournament and winning $20,000. That was kind of a cool thing and it worked out good for me, obviously!
When you fought Jeremy Horn at UFC 19 you suffered your first MMA loss, how did this affect you?
That was something to learn from, I wasn’t really upset about it. Looking back I still think the bell went before I was out, or at least before they knew I was out. I got to avenge that loss anyway.
A bit later on you went into PRIDE, how does PRIDE differ from UFC?
It’s a different set of rules, but apart that, not much. As for kicks on the ground, I quite like that – I’d rather be able to kick a guy in the head when he’s down than elbow him. But then I prefer the cage because there are no breaks, you can’t wrestle with a rope.
Do you think the rules will ever change in UFC?
I don’t know if it’s too dangerous, it’s public perception and what people perceive is wrong.
At UFC 37.5 a fight between yourself and Vitor Belfort went the distance – was it a surprise that a fight between two such formidable strikers didn’t end with a knockout?
No, not really – a lot of times the strikers are harder to knock out, they’re hard to hit. He was a little afraid of my striking, I was surprised when he took me down at the beginning of the fight because I wasn’t expecting him to shoot. I think if he’d decided to go toe to toe it would have ended in a KO. The reason he came out for the 3rd round was because his corner said he might be losing the fight and he had to win that round. As soon as he came out I sat him on his ar$e!
Was their pressure on the fighters that night knowing that they could be on network TV for the first time as part of the Best Damn Sports Show Period?
No, that doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t get nervous, that’s why I got my nickname. I’ll fight in front of 2 people or 50,000 people – a fight’s a fight.
Your victory over Belfort solidified your status as the number one contender to Tito Ortiz’s Light Heavyweight title but that fight never happened, why was that?
Because he’s a p*ssy! You want the simple version or you want me to elaborate?
That was the first time anyone mentioned me and him fighting, his fat mouth jumping in the ring and he started on about fighting me. Then I was supposed to fight him next but they asked if I’d step aside so he could fight Ken (Shamrock) as Ken v Tito was a big fight for them. I said fine, as long as I get the shot after that. I fought Babalu and knocked him out. He beats Ken and then he’s all of a sudden saying “oh, I don’t know if we can fight, we’re friends”. So why the &*$% were you running your mouth at UFC 37.5 if we’re such good friends? Now all of a sudden, when it’s coming up to where he has to fight me, he starts running his mouth. Losing to Randy was the biggest crush to me – it wasn’t that I lost to Randy as I have all the respect in the world for him, it was that it took the pressure off of Tito to fight me. I could beat him any day of the week and he knew that. Then I finally got round to fighting him and I proved that. When we fight again, if his crying ar$e will actually fight me again, I will butcher him! I’m begging for him to let me carry him for 3 or 4 rounds, just so I can punish him. If he comes out fighting like he did against Forrest (Griffin) it’ll be an ugly mess!
Has he said anything since you beat him?
Yeah, he’s always running his mouth. That guy will always run his mouth, you can’t shut him up. He’s a legend in his own mind.
At UFC 40 you fought and defeated Reanto ‘Babalu’ Sobral and a rematch between the two of you has been set for UFC 62. How have you both changed since the first fight?
I think I’ve got better and think he’s gotten better. He’s a tough guy but I honestly don’t think he’s improved enough in the areas he needs to improve in. He’s still a dangerous fighter, if you make one mistake he’ll be right there to capitalise on it.
Do you foresee the same result?
Maybe not as quick, but I’ll end up knocking him out!
Two or three.
After a victory over Alistair Overeem at PRIDE Total Elimination 2003 you lost to eventual finalist Quinton Jackson at Final Conflict. Looking back on that fight, where did you go wrong?
I wasn’t in the shape I should have bee and I didn’t jump on him when he was hurt, which I normally would have. I told myself in the ring to take it easy and relax. The biggest thing was that I fought with an injury and thought I could beat him anyway – I got cocky.
Quinton Jackson is currently the only un-avenged loss in your career, is that a rematch you are keen to have?
I’d love to – I’ve been trying and trying! That was my first request before Jeremy (Horn). They asked me who I wanted to fight and I said Jackson, and then Jeremy.
At UFC 47 you made your return to UFC and finally fought Tito Ortiz, beating him by knockout in the second round. Did this fight go the way you’d expected?
Yes, though I think I could have finished it earlier. I tore my ACL, so when I kicked him at the end of the first round I tried to limp back to the corner and told myself “that’s the last time I’m throwing a kick this fight!” I think I showed him too much respect, that fight should have ended in the first round. I trained with the guy and he hadn’t changed – he still can’t break an egg!
Onto UFC 52 and you had a re-match with Randy Couture for the Light Heavyweight Title. How did you prepare differently?
Yeah, and I executed my game plan better. It was like I said about the first fight, whoever executes their game plan better would win.
What did it mean to you to become the Light Heavyweight Champion?
It was great. At High School I was gonna be the guy was going to win State but didn’t quite make it. I was the guy that was supposed to be the best at this but didn’t quite get thetre, so it was great to finally get there. I knew I was the best in the world but I had to actually go there and do it, so it was nice to do just that.
At UFC 54 you avenged your loss to Jeremy Horn and made your first successful defence of the Light Heavyweight Title. Does it make any difference fighting as the Champion as it does the Challenger?
No, I don’t think so – as I said before, a fight’s a fight. Once you get out there it doesn’t matter about the belt and who’s got what – it’s just two guys fighting. I don’t assume it’s going to intimidate anybody at all – they know me and they know how hard I hit.
The rubber match between yourself and Randy Couture took place at UFC 57 where you were victorious again. Were you happy with your performance?
Yeah, real happy. I hurt him late in the first round – I got a little over-anxious and allowed to get a takedown but I got right back up.
How did you feel when Randy announced his retirement and did you know he was going to retire?
I had a feeling and I’d heard he might retire, especially if he lost that fight. I think he was ready to retire after that fight no matter what. I think that was his last fight though I think he’d have stuck around if he’d won the title to help the UFC – so there wasn’t a vacant Light Heavyweight Title all of a sudden. I think he wanted one more shot at me and to go out on top. I don’t think he wanted to start again and build up to being a contender.
As the current lightweight champion, do you have any say in who you will defend the belt against?
I don’t really care. I do ask for some people and if they could get Wanderlei Silva for me that would be wonderful, or Quinton Jackson, that would be great for me. I’ll fight anyone they ask. They just ask me “can you fight in August?” and I say “sure, oh yeah, who am I fighting?”
Going back to Wanderlei Silva, there is a rumour that he’s out of contract with PRIDE…
I heard that same rumour too, I’m hoping and I’m asking!
You’ve been with John Hackleman and John Lewis for many years now, what is it that keeps them vital your MMA training?
John Lewis is the guy who started me in Jiu Jitsu, he knows my game better than anyone, we created it together – me, him and Scott Adams. John’s a great technician. Hackleman, he’s my striking guy from back when I did kickboxing. When I first came to MMA he had other things going on and we weren’t training together for a bit – it was just really hard for me to strike. Then he came back and I started knocking people out again!
From fighting to coaching, what was it like to be one of the coaches on the first series of The Ultimate Fighter?
It was cool – that’s the part, the teaching game, that I like the most. Teaching guys that are ready to fight and improving on what they do – I show them a few finer points and add something to what they already know. In the end I didn’t have a lot of time with those guys so I just tried to give them something to take home with them – some ways to train and some techniques. I learnt a lot of things from them too – some things they do, I do different. These guys are the best up and comers in the sport and if they don’t understand what I’m trying to show them then I must be showing them wrong!
How do your family feel about your career as a MMA fighter?
They’re supportive about everything I do, they’re a very supportive family. All I had left was my Mum when I started fighting in the UFC. My Grandma used to say that I should go and get a proper job – good thing I didn’t take her advice!
What’s your favourite fight of yours?
Tito – I got to shut him up, even if it was only for a little bit.
And your favourite fight not involving yourself?
Matt Hughes v Frank Trigg. Matt Hughes is a good friend of mine. I was watching and things weren’t looking good for Matt but then he turned it around. Trigg had been mouthing off about stuff he shouldn’t have been. Matt’s a great guy – he had some words to say about Trigg after the fight, so that was good. It was the first time I ever saw Matt talk bad about anyone!
How do you see his fight with Royce going at UFC 60?
Royce is getting a beating. Royce is a tough guy, he’s good at taking a beating and he’s good at sticking around.
Now a bit of fun – just say the first that comes into your head when you hear these names:
Dana White – bald! Happy face.
Ken Shamrock – needs to retire, great guy though.
Tito Ortiz – punk!
Randy Couture – great champion.
Wanderlei Silva – I wanna fight him.
Royce Gracie – great fighter in his time.
Forrest Griffin – good fighter, tough kid.
Big John McCarthy – great guy.
Thanks very much Chuck and good luck with your fight against Babalu.