Saturday, July 11, 2009

Kerrzy's Notebook: Interview with Sportsnet's "Showdown" Joe Ferraro

UFC 100 goes this weekend in Las Vegas - so to get prepared, I called up an expert. Showdown Joe Ferraro sat down with me Friday afternoon to talk a little UFC and get an idea of who he is pulling for in the two big fights.

JK: Showdown Joe Ferraro - you're in Las Vegas for the big show on Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Event Center - the biggest UFC event in the history of the sport - two championships on the line. First lets talk about Brock Lesnar...is he the real deal?

JF: I think he's the real deal, I mean here's a guy that comes from an NCAA wrestling background. he WWE is one thing, that's where he went afterwards. He had to get paid, he wanted to make some money, because you don't make money coming out of amateur wrestling. But then he realized the competition spirit. A lot of these wrestlers, they've been doing it since they were seven or eight years old and it's just bred into their system so he wanted to fight. And now here's a guy that's learning as much as he can, as quickly as he can and he's doing a very, very good job. His striking is coming a long way, his wrestling is a natural form and now he's got to learn those submissions, so talking to his guys - a lot of guys in his camp are saying this guy's a human sponge, a big human sponge we know that, but he's able to absorb the information and start using it when he's training. The question is, can he do it on Saturday night versus Frank Mir.

JK: I was a bit skeptical when he first came in, just because of the WWE background, but he's shown that he can be an absolutely destructive fighter...

JF: Of course! Look at his hands - they have to custom make gloves for his hands, he's an absolute monster. They're like cement blocks when they're coming at you, just ask Randy Couture. It's not just that he can generate power, it's an 85-inch reach. If you think about it, 85-inch reach...you cannot replicate that in training with most training partners. You can bring in big guys, but do they have an 85-inch reach like Brock Lesnar? That's the first thing Randy Couture told me after the fight when he lost the title, he said "Joe, I brought so many different guys in to try and replicate his type of style, what I couldn't do is get a guy with an 85-inch reach that I could bob and weave and flip those punches. And we saw what happened before the end of the fight, he got hit with that right hand and then we saw the beginning of the end there for Randy Couture. This guy, when he hits you, and that's the one thing about Frank Mir, he's got the submissions but if he gets rocked and he did it twice to Frank, he'll be in big trouble.

JK: It's the unification bout for the heavyweight title - Frank Mir won by submission the first time around, what do you expect in the grudge match?

JF: It's one of those situations where you look at Brock Lesnar and he's learning so much, but I'm one of those guys, when I break down fights I look at experience and I look at the track record. Frank Mir has fought some of the best guys out there and he's won. He's been in wars, he's got tons of experience, he's not afraid of Brock Lesnar, he's already defeated him once and his submission game is absolutely phenominal. Next to [Antonio Rodrigo] Nogueira and Fedor [Emelianenko] - you talk about Frank Mir who's easily top three in terms of submissions in that heavyweight division - I'm still going for Frank Mir believe it or not. I might be bigging up a lot with Brock Lesnar and Lesnar's got that one-punch knockout power so I wouldn't be surprised if he knocks out Frank Mir, but if the fight goes on I think Frank Mir can surprise everyone and pull off another submission and that's who I'm going to go with for this fight.

JK: It's going to be interesting either way, because you've got one guy where, if he hits you you're probably done...but on the other hand if you leave yourself vulnerable, Mir's going to submit you.

JF: That's the thing about Mir. Mir surprised a lot of people. And the other thing about Frank Mir that people are forgetting is he's not a small heavyweight, he's a big heavyweight. He's 245, 250 pounds! When I interviewed him two days ago, he dwarfs me! I mean most fighters dwarf me anyways, I'm only 5'7, but here's a guy who's big. And when I was talking to Brock afterwards I said 'you know what? The size difference isn't as big as when you saw Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar so Mir's a big guy, so the size situation may not be as much of a factor as some people think. We saw Mir's striking against Nogueira look phenominal, so if he can sort of bob and weave and get away from those strikes from Lesnar, and that fight does end up going to the ground - because Lesnar can take it there whenever he wants - we might be seeing another surprise submission with Frank Mir.

JK: Lets move on to the other MAIN fight of the night - George "Rush" St. Pierre and Thiago "Pitbull" Alves. GSP says he's "fighting for his legacy" on Saturday night; Alves says the title is his destiny. Doesn't this sound like the trailor for a movie?

JF: (Laughing) Yes it does, it's true! The funny thing is, when I interview Thiago I think I asked him four or five questions and every one of those questions pretty much ended with 'I'm going to knock him out, I'm going to knock him out and I'm going to knock him out!' With Thiago Alves, this guy's a mercenary, who are we kidding. His leg kicks are ruthless. They would snap anyone elses legs if you're not a trained and conditioned fighter. But George St. Pierre, in my opinion, is on a completely different level than any fighter on the planet next to Anderson Silva and perhaps Lyoto Machida. I mean, he is absolutely phenominal. George is saying, and he's doing everything he can to convince people that Thiago Alves is his toughest opponent to date - I don't believe it. I believe Jon Fitch was his toughest opponent. Again - it's mixed martial arts, anything can happen in a fight, I just think George St. Pierre is on a completely different level than Thiago Alves and we'll see what happens, but I've got George St. Pierre winning this fight, I think he's going to suck the will to win right out of Thiago Alves and eventually close out the fight, either third round or fourth round.

JK: I've seen comment from a ton of fighters that all seem to think that, like you say, St. Pierre is just too good of a fighter not to win this one. You've spoken to him before - the thing that I like about him from reading and seeing interviews, is he just seems like such a genuine guy. He works harder than anyone else, he's got all kinds of publicity...but he still seems to be pretty grounded, ordinary guy.

JF: Very grounded guy. George fought for me, his first four fights he fought for me in the UCC and TKO organization and he's never changed. He's just one of those guys who just understands the game, understands what's required as a fighter in terms of what you've got to do in the cage or in the ring, as well as outside the cage or ring in terms of interviews and getting sponsorships and being a good ambassador and role model for the sport. The one thing that's also never changed for George St. Pierre is the fact that he never stops evolving, he never stops learning, he's never content with his style. We're talking about a guy that's arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, yet he still thinks he needs to improve and is always looking for that next thing, the intricacies of moves - your bobbing and weaving, your standing and trading, your setting up of your transitions. He also looks at fighting different than any other guy out there, he looks at it as a science and he looks at it in different ways, for example: In that BJ Penn fight, no one saw it coming, but they looked at BJ Penn's body type and realized with that type of body, we've got get him tired in a certain way. We remember in that first round against BJ Penn I think he had him in a single-leg attempt against the cage, but he refused to take him down. I thought to myself, 'why isn't he taking him down? He could take down BJ at will at this point, he's already in this for the takedown.' Well no, BJ Penn had his under-hooks on George St. Pierre and the plan was to lean on BJ Penn and get those smaller shoulders tired, get them fatigued and when there's about a minute left in the round, disengage and now lets start boxing. So BJ's shoulders were physically exhausted and he couldn't throw a punch and that's when George started peppering him and punishing him and he continued that strategy until Penn wanted to take it down to the ground, which is exactly where George wanted to go and then started punishing him down there. Just imagine when he's looking at Thiago Alves right now and thinking 'okay here's a different type of body type, a big, big, BIG welterweight - now what?' I tried to get it out of George, what are you doing this time around, he wouldn't give it up. He did a really good job there, no matter how many times I peppered him with the question, so we'll see what happens on Saturday night, but here's a guy that looks at fighting scientifically and is always trying to get better.

JK: You know, when I heard about what he did to prepare for that last fight, I was blown away. It reminded me of seeing Muhammad Ali train for the Rumble in the Jungle - okay well he's a big hitter, so I'm going to work on getting pounded and then I'll just pounce. If Alves wants to keep that eight-match win streak going and take the belt away from St. Pierre, what does he have to do?

JF: Well the best thing to do with St. Pierre is keep your distance, you know, and George has really long extended jabs but at the same time you've got to catch George St. Pierre when he plants his feet, be aware of that left-hand superman punch because most guys don't throw it, they usually throw it with their right hand. They'll skip up and then throw it, so with George you've got to watch that, at the same time, you've got to pepper George's legs. Punish him, punish him, punish him, punish him, while being cognizant and being very, very aware of where you are in the cage. If you're Thiago Alves and you're getting backed up, you need to be aware of where the cage is behind you because if you get too close to the cage, George will come in for a takedown. But if you look at Thiago Alves' fights, whenever he has his back to the cage, I don't know if you've ever noticed in the octagon, the mat itself has black sort of barrier before you get to the cage about a metre out, I think he realizes once he's around that section there, he needs to start getting out of the way or teeing off and I think that's what he's going to want to do if George gets too close. Thiago's very dangerous when his back is against the cage, but a guy like George St. Pierre - you've got to go for the knockout. I don't think, even with Thiago's black-belt in jiu-jitsu, he'll be able to submit George. He's got to rely on his striking, use his Muay-Thai, because that's where he has the advantage over George.

JK: And now one last question for you: UFC President Dana White is expecting a record pay-per-view audience on Saturday. Which of the other fights on the 11-bout card should fight fans be really excited for?

JF: There's a whole whack of them to be honest with you, but there's two of them that I'm paying close attention to. Of course, the two coaches for The Ultimate Fighter season nine, Dan Henderson and Michael Bisping, which potentially could be the fight of the night. It's definitely flying under the radar with this main event and co-main event, but these two guys are looking to tee-off on each other. Bisping is looking to making an example. He wants to use Dan Henderson as a stepping stone to be a real contender in that middleweight division and if he defeats Henderson there's a title shot on the line, in his home country, probably in October or November in England and that's what he wants. For Henderson, he does not want to be used as a stepping stone, he wants to prove that he's still got it, he's not washed up, and he's not old. Henderson's wrestling and clinch game is phenominal, look for that overhand right. The other fight that I'm playing close attention to is what I'm calling basically your redemption match - it's Jon Fitch taking on Paulo Thiago. If you remember, Paulo Thiago came out of nowhere, he's undefeated in the welterweight division and he knocked out Jon Fitch's training partner Josh Koscheck with a beautiful uppercut. Jon Fitch wanted that fight immediately, as soon as Koscheck was given that loss he said 'I want Paulo Thiago.' And Paulo Thiago is the type of Brazilian to say 'you know what? You want to fight me? Sign on the dotted line, we're going to get this done.' So that's the one fight that I'll be playing very, very close attention to, and it's another candidate potentially for Fight of the Night.

JK: Alright Showdown Joe, thank you very much for your time and hey - enjoy yourself this weekend.

JF: Always a pleasure, thank you very much!

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