Now entering into its 10th week the ULTIMATE FIGHTER is down to the first of two quarter-final eliminations. This Friday May 11th there will be two-quarter final fights and on May 18th there will also be two quarter final fights live. On May 25th there will be two live semi final fights. The Ultimate Fighter will be crowned on June 1st at the Ultimate Fighter live at the Palms in Las Vegas.
Today I have the pleasure of talking with the Cruz’s Team and James Vick who will be faces off with Joe Proctor of team Faber and the second fight is team Cruz’s Justin Lawrence against Michael Chiesa from team Faber.
Coached by Dominick Cruz UFC bantamweight champion and World Extreme Cage fighting featherweight king Urijah Faber, it is coming close to finding out who will be crowned at THE ULTIMATE FIGHTER. Yesterday, the MMA world learned that Domicnik Cruz has suffered an ACL injury which has his team concerned about where they stand. That being said these four men from all over the United States are about to go for their dreams.
Thanks for taking the time today guys, lets just jump right in. Who do you see as the favorites now to advance to the finals?
James: I think there are three or four guys that have the chance to beat anyone.
What is it about them that stand out in your mind?
James: The most are well-rounded guys – there are some guys here that are good and just the well-rounded aspects of martial arts comes out. They are not just wrestling and not just boxing, they are well rounded.
Joe: I think everyone is good here everyone is dimensional in their own aspect. If I have to pick two it would be Alex and me. I’ve sparred a lot with Al and he’s is a very tough kid and great at wrestling and jujitsu and he’s very tough on his feet.
Justin: Everyone here is really tough and like what Joe just said they have their own aspect and there own main skill set. You have Jose Proctor on the other team and you Alex and you can’t forget Michael. Everyone here has an opportunity. With a tournament like this it depends on your injuries and our element. You can flip a coin and almost come out with a different one every time.
Michael it seems like your colleagues are a big reluctant to pick anyone, what about you?
Michael: I agree with all three of these guys. We are all great fighters and are here for a reason. I believe mentality is 90% of the fighting game. He’s got a good set of skills to go with it. I think Andy is one of the biggest threats in the house. He’s a very tough kid He’s just very mentally very tough.
For James and Justin, when you heard about what happen to Dominik and have any insight into how it happened and how it might affect your team?
James: Well we found out yesterday. Dominik set us all down to talk about it and I can’t give any details to how it happened, that will be up to him, but I can tell you he was clearly upset and sad about it. I’ve had two surgeries myself and its never good.
Do you know how its affected the way you’ve been training the last few days, more difficult?
Justin: No effect at all. Doms a great coach and a set back like this just increases and drives us. He pushes us. We know he’ll be back because he’s so young. There’s no doubt in my mind that Dominic Cruz will be back stronger.
Hey Joe, you were talking about this situation – what kind of experience has it been?
Joe: This experience has been great for me. I thought it would go by a lot quicker. I’m training with the best guys and learning tons of stuff. I’ve become friends with a lot of the guys on my team. Not just the level back home but around the world. We’ve got everyone from Brazil and England and everywhere around the United States.
Can you talk about your next match up?
Joe: Fighting James Vick and he’s a really tough guy. He’s got good jujitsu and good boxing. We’ve all come here with one thing and that’s to win. I’m very confident with this fight, I feel good and put in all the hard work and now I’m going for the win now.
Justin, I’ve seen that you’ve trained with Black House, how much confidence or advantage do you feel it gives you?
Justin: It’s definitely a confidence booster. He’s one of the best fighters in the world. In the locker room I said all these guys are tough and good but I guarantee none of them stood toe to toe with Anderson Silver. Back when we had the fights in the house there were so many emotions running around it was one of the most pressured fight. You see fighters coming back with the win and vice versa. You can’t over work it at the end of the day; once you do that the outcome won’t be pretty I can promise you that.
Joe, how is the training going?
Joe: Yes, training with Joe I’m one of his main training partners. He has taught me from day one and I knew nothing and he taught me wrestling and jujitsu and boxing. I try to go in there and finish my fights.
Michael, we’re very sorry about the loss of your father, what kind of inspiration is that giving you?
Michael: The loss of my dad has given me a lot of inspiration. Sometimes I stop and think would anyone else have done what I did? It was a very tough thing to cope with. I was only home for less than 24 hours. I went home, went to the funeral and came back. I’ve proven how tough of an individual I am staying here. I had a lot of things to overcome in that fight just to get in there to fight was a lot of things for me to mentally overcome. I think a lot of guys here would understand that. I’m looking forward to showcasing my skills. I feel blessed that I get a tough opponent in Justin Lawrence because I think he’s one of the best guys here. I’m looking forward to a great fight. I am here to keep making my Dad proud with me staying here and toughing out the competition and going to practices and stop being an idiot. A lot of the guys on the show can really cut loose in the wrong ways and I’m taking it all in. I’m not letting my Dad down.
James, I see that on the show you’re very good with your hands and they are very strong but your wrestling isn’t as strong, how do you think that will come into play?
James: Absolutely, my offense in wrestling isn’t that great and I’m not a take down guy. You can ask anyone on my team I’m not easy to take down. I didn’t come from a wrestling background and I’m tall compared to a lot of guys here. It hard for me to drop level and get double legs and stuff like that. I think I have the best take down defense in the house honestly.
To Joe and Michael, you’re facing a guy from team Cruz in this fight but obviously team Faber has more guys in the quarterfinals. Have you discussed how that would play out?
Joe: We have all sat down as a team and talked about it. We’ve gotten close being here for so long. I’d rather fight and win or lose against a teammate than lose against the opposite team. So when it comes down to it – it will be a little tricky but for the most part we are 100 percent ready to fight each other.
Michael: I’d be honored to fight any one of my teammates. We have all pushed each other very hard the last night weeks. It would be an honor to fight them and that would mean as a team we pushed each other that hard to the point that we have to fight each other. If it comes down to it- it won’t be an issue for me, win or lose it will be a good fight.
Justin, coming into the show you had a lot less experience than some of the guys but you had such an impressive performance. You set yourself up to be the favorite on the show how is that pressure?
Justin: We all know that records don’t mean anything. Only being 3-0 doesn’t mean a thing or being a number one pick that doesn’t mean anything. It does add a little pressure but pressure it what I strive for. I like people counting me out. I relish that rule. Records don’t mean anything when we get into the cage because we are both 0-0. Honestly, I’m striving to be 4-0.
James, you fought early on in the show and the new dynamic is a little different. The old show you would have fought every two weeks. You’ve had the first fight and now two weeks off. Do you think that’s benefited, help you or does it matter?
James: It absolutely helped. I didn’t take any damage in either fight. I had to miss a day of practice instantly. I was in practice again so I’ve had the best and longest training camp in my life. I felt like I was so much better especially from the wrestling and take down than I was eight weeks ago.
This years season of the ULTIMATE FIGHTER has been remarkable and the professionalism of all the fighters in the house, even the practical jokes everyone has done in a good nature. It seems it’s been different than in previous shows even though you’re going to be there for a longer period of time. Was there any discussion between the fighters and the teams or has everyone gone along with everything?
Justin: I think we lucked out because we have a great group of guys here. We are very determined and the life that we wanted out there we have to go for it. In previous seasons you’ve had some guys who were here to party or here for this or that. The house now is filled with talented fighters. I’m not trying to be bias but I think this is one of the best and talented seasons of the ULTIMATE FIGHTER. It shows this sport evolves every year. Everyone in this tournament is tough and has great skill sets and I think we lucked out with that.
Michael: I have to agree with Justin, there are 16 fighters in the house and everyone is very serious about their career. We are all here for the same thing, we all want to fight in the UFC ultimately and there are eight guys left vying for that contract. Everybody here is professional and there was no speech on what we needed to do. Everyone here is distinctive and it’s been a great season so far. You have guys here that aren’t even in the quarter finals that are great fighters and think that if this wasn’t a tournament or if this was a round robin things would be different.
Michael, is it daunting to think about where you are in the show? You might be fighting your teammates or your friends and people you’ve bonded with?
Michael: No, not at all. I’d be honored to fight any of my teammates. It would just mean that as a team we pushed each other that hard and that far. If we have to get in the cage and do the dance I’d be honored.
What do you think of the match between you and Justin Lawrence?
Michael: I like the match up and Justin is a tough guy. He’s done a lot of great things in his young career and he’s got a very bright future ahead of him. A lot of the people outside the house have him favored as being the number one pick. That’s what I want. I came here to test myself against the best and there are no cupcakes here. Justin is definitely far from that. I only showed a very small fraction of the skill set and I’ve overcome a lot of mental things. I look forward to putting on a good show for the fans.
What is it that you do to recharge yourselves mentally, physically and spiritually when you have down time?
James: I just try to take naps between workouts and eat write and write in my journal. All of us have been keeping journals with the techniques we’ve been learning and the day-to-day activities going on. I try to read the Bible and stay close to God.
Joe: I’m with James. We all do little antics and hanging out by the pool and tan. To get back on ground level I write a lot of letters home to my family and girlfriend and talk about my day and how I miss them. I keep in touch even though they can’t read them now but will later. At least at the end of this they can read them and know I was thinking about them the whole time.
Justin: Its tough here to get your own time being in a house with 15 other dudes. You can’t go out and go to the movies to get your mind off fighting and off training. I try to make friends with the guys here and be cool with everyone. Try to talk to them about their lives and we have a bunch of people all over the world so its kind of cool to hear other guys stories. Being the youngest in the house I hear all their stories when they were my age and some are kind of funny. It helps get your mind off things. I also try to read the Bible and stay close to God.
James, what are you learning about yourself?
James: I started fighting a lot later in life than most of these guys. I’m learning about the hard work. I’m catching up but it takes time. I’m learning how important technique is. I just want to spar everyday and I’m learning to be patient with things. You have nothing but time here to think about things. I’m learning how to analyze situations more than I ever have.
Michael, how do you find balance?
Michael: I’m a big talker and a pretty friendly guys and social with everyone in the house. I like hearing their stories, everybody has a story to tell here and everyone is from all over the world and its always interesting to hear stories form Andy and Christiano. I like talking to everybody. So to keep my mind off of things I talk to the guys. That’s what we are hear to do is fight but that’s not all you want to talk about. I try to talk to the guys and hear their stories and also do quirky little things. As the blue team we do weird goofy stuff and when the night comes I write letters home to friends and family and write in my personal journal about how the days are going. There are things to pass the time but it’s definitely not easy.
Joe, what makes you laugh when things get crazy?
Joe: When I need a good laugh I go to my teammates, everyone on our team is funny. We hang out as a group all the time, its not just hang out a couple of us, we are all together. Usually if you sit back and listen to their stories some of them are hilarious. Some of these guys are the funniest on our team. They make it very light hearted in here.
Justin and Michael, as winners of the fights you have two weeks to kind of heal up and prepare for the semi final. Do you think because you’re fighting this week that you have the edge?
Michael: Yea, I do feel like we get an advantage. I want to be in the first round of the quarter-finals for sure but definitely it’s an advantage We are going to coach each other. Him and I definitely have an advantage to the two-week break to sit back and relax. It gives me a little extra time to get my weight in check and prepare for the next week up and the next fight.
Justin: Exactly what Michael said, it’s going to be nice that we had an extra week to get our weight down or get it in check. We are going to be a little banged up after so we can kind of sit back and watch the next set of quarters and get our minds sharp again and go over a game plan again.
Justin, I know all the guys have been able to do this but something new is sending Twitter while you’re in the house?
Justin: Its really cool. We are kind of limited to what we can do with that but its kind of cool and nice to do live Tweets and see what’s going on in the outside world. We are limited in the house and don’t get to do a lot of things. Being able to post a status in our Facebook or Twitter it’s a lot of fun. We are all crazy for it. It really makes you appreciate the small things in life.
James and Justin, I’m wondering what your initial thoughts were on the coaching set up when you heard about Dom’s injury and has it changed at all since you were informed and how it should be moving forward?
James: We are really sad for him and we can tell it’s a depressing thing. I’ve gone through two surgeries and its no joke. It’s the most depressing time in your life. As far as him staying in coaching we don’t want anyone else but him. He’s been here for ten weeks now. He’s a great coach with a great coaching staff and he’s like family. There is no one else I would want but him to coach us.
When did you hear about all this?
James: Yesterday, he told us during breakfast.
If they brought someone else in would you be okay with that or keep it as it is?
James: Alliance has enough guys that they can bring in from camp and we want the people we’ve been working with. We are very happy with what we’ve got.
Have they made you aware when a decision will be made whether Dominik would remain the coach or have they not gotten that far ahead?
Justin: I don’t know about that, they keep us kind of limited on that. I tell you what; they have eight guys who will be upset if they try to change our coach. It’s already been nine weeks and we’ve made a bond with the coaching staff already and they are like family. We were bummed out. Being a high level athlete like that stuff is going to happen. The way that guy trains is incredible. Then again, it makes me want to win the tournament even more for him.
What type of coach was he, what have been the most important lessons so far?
Justin: He really showed me what a world champion trains like. It’s really nice to have that on our side. He’s a world champion for a reason, they didn’t give him that title – he worked for it. Just the grind he puts his body through and our bodies through and we come home after practice and we are instantly in our beds and crashed out. When the next training session comes along we are ready. It shows me what a champion trains like and how intense a training camp should be.
Justin, you said earlier you like being an underdog being a young guy coming into this competition. Do you like being known like that?
Justin: Honestly, I don’t even think about that. Once you get in that cage we are 0-0 and we don’t have records anymore. Win that victory. Normally I don’t think who is the underdog or who is favored. He’s going to be a top level and I have to be ready and prepared to execute my game plan.
What’s the one thing you guys are going to take form this whole process and the thing you’re going to carry with you after this?
Joe: If I were going to take stuff home back to where I live form this whole thing it would be the training. I’m training with the best guys and learning a ton of stuff. All the stuff I’m learning will make me better as I go along in my career and give me support when I need it. If I ever need anyone for anything I can call them up, we are like a family now.
Michael: The one thing I do want to take back home with me to Spokane, Washington since we don’t have an established MMA community yet is the skills and format. I’d like to take it back home and spread it out to these guys. I coach high school wrestling back home in Spokane and I’m learning a lot of thing to share with my kids and expanding their skill sets as wrestlers. They have an open door policy from us. We are there to back them up as well.
James: The biggest thing I’ve learned is training like a world champion. Back home I trained so hard and then we get here and Dominik’s workouts are so hard. I can always push to the next level and no matter how hard your training there is harder. Now I think I mentally know that I can now that I’ve done this 8 weeks and I haven’t missed a day of practice. I’ve passed all the tests so I know when I get back home I can continue to do the same thing. When you’re doing two days six days a week you’re going to progress.
Justin: Back home I was born and raised in a gym so training twice a day wasn’t a big deal and some guys here had to adjust to it. Taking things back it’s going to be the tips and tricks that Dom has showed us. Wrestling move or a striking angle move or in the cage, I’m going to use it to the best of my ability and show and share what people have shared with me on the show. Alliances opened the door for all eight of us and whenever ever we need a great training camp we have it. It’s also really cool that we got to rub elbows with a lot of talented coaches. It’s really cool to have a model in those types of guys.
Michael, you talked about it being an honor to potentially have to fight against your teammate on the show, I know you haven’t seen the footage but it’s obvious about your relationship with Cecilia. I know you won’t have to fight him on this show but would you have the same feelings if you had to fight him on a UFC card in the future?
Michael: That’s a totally different animal. We were brought together by the show. Sam and I were brought together by genuine friendship, hard training and we’ve been through a lot of tough phases in our lives that brought us close to each other. I looked at Sam as a big brother when I heard about my Dad I could turn to him. There were situations where I was the first person he turned to. Fighting Sam never crossed my mind and I don’t think it will happen. I don’t see why they’d want to match us up together. It wouldn’t happen anyway because I’m 90% sure Sam will go to 145 after the show. Sam and I fighting unless there was a title on the line there is no way we would fight.
Is there a single coach like Lloyd that has stepped up in place of Dominik?
Justin: Yea, we have Eric the head trainer and he keeps the tempo of the practice. We also have Wilson and he’s an absolute monster. Roy Irvine, he’s a Jedi alone and he has a lot of great things he brought to the table. We have Wilson, he’s a phenomenal black belt and he’s done a lot of great things for the sport. Wilson has done a great job of stepping up and really done a great job with jujitsu.
Vick, can you weigh in?
Vick: He’s Dom’s head coach; Eric has the last say in most things anyway because he’s the head trainer for the whole Alliance gym. He comes in and thinks we need to work harder than we work harder or if we need to relax that’s what we do. When he’s here he is the behind the scenes.
Vick, when you see the footage you’ll see you’re a good story being the most raw talent and good guy. If there were one aspect of your game what would you say that is?
Vick: My take down defense. Honestly when I’m sparring, of course one day you feel like Superman and the next day you feel like the worst guy in the gym. It’s a confidence thing. This whole experience has been great for me and I’ve been overwhelmed a little because I’ve only been pro for 10 months, not even a year, I feel like I’ve been learning so much but its really hard to take me down now.
You are all use to fighting three rounds but you’ve been in situations with two rounds or a sudden victory round – does that change your game plan?
Michael: You always want to train for something more than what you’re supposed to fight. I’ve trained for a pro title fight before. As far as going the distance in a fight you need to train to go beyond the distance. You want to push yourself at the end so you do that with your training.
Justin: You are always ready for that third round. You’ve got to be prepared mentally and physically and you automatically think it’s a three round fight. If you keep a point system in your head you’re going to lose the fight. You’ll always prepare for three rounds no matter what you do.
What were you thoughts on having Ronda Roussey be the first female to watch the fight with you guys, what was that like?
Justin: It really made me respect the female aspect of MMA. I never thought it was going to live long but after a female like that shows us her judo is incredible it made me respect it and her. Once she came in the house yea, it was fun. Once we get out of the house I’m not sure a lot of us are going to remember how to communicate with a female. It was nice having her at practice.
James: Well, when she first walked in I thought she was amazingly beautiful. Then she started doing techniques and it was shocking how she could hip toss a full-grown man. It’s all technique with her. She can’t match us with strength but she has technique. She’s definitely a highly trained athlete. Obviously she is very well respected in the MMA world. Having her in the house we stayed away from her like we were shy. There was a big gap between her and us but we were looking at her out the corner of our eye for sure.
What was the best advice she gave?
Justin: Just the technique of judo and some of the wrestling you have and the placing of the hips. She emphasized that and I realize that training with her. It was just cool to have a high-level judo specialist like that show us those sides of judo.
James: The technique because she is such a small lady so everything has to be technical with her. If you don’t do technical stuff like this she could end up hurting her back. If she can do it then we should do it. If you’re strong technically then you’ll be unstoppable.
Joe or Mike, did you have any insight that Rhonda was coming or were you shocked?
Joe: Yea, we had no idea that she was coming here. I think everyone was in shock that there was another female in the house.
Michael: I saw Rhonda at the gym before we got into the house so the initial shock wasn’t there. She’s a world champ so she’s a lot like one of the dudes. Having Rhonda around was like watching the fights with a bunch of dudes.
Thanks guys, congratulations on how far you’ve come and we can’t wait to see who becomes THE ULTIMATE FIGHTER!
This Friday at ten at 10 p.m. is the ULTIMATE FIGHTER quarterfinals. Make sure to tune in on FX to experience the show and what the fighters who are working hard to become the best at what they do.