JS: Hi Matt, cheers for taking the time to talk today. Ok, so your promotion “Sport Fight” is hosting its 30th show this coming weekend, an organisation which you co-founded with Randy Couture. Is “The Natural” still involved at all with Sport Fight?
ML: Nope. Randy moved onto Vegas and I’ve taken it over. But even when he moved out to Nevada, he’d bring over plenty of the guys that he trains to start on our show. Fighters like Gray Maynard and Evan Dunham. Randy understands our business model, and he appreciates the quality of our show, so when Gray was starting out, he realised it would be the perfect platform.
JS: Great. You should ask Randy to tweet out a promo for the upcoming Sport Fight 30 to his 150,000 followers. You and Randy also co-founded Team Quest, and Dan Henderson became involved in 2006. However, I read about the trademark infringement lawsuit that Dan Henderson filed against you earlier this year. How is your subsequent personal and working relationship with Dan?
ML: Good idea man, I might hit Randy up. Yeah I licensed a gym to Dan back in ’06. I don’t know what Dan’s up to right now. I’m not sure what Dan’s problem is, because he hasn’t spoken to me in a while. We haven’t had a relationship in a while now. Even when he was speaking to me, he wasn’t exactly forthcoming. I don’t know, maybe he has a big ego, and thinks he wants to take over the world. I just keep my chin down and move forward.
JS: Irrespective of that, how do you think Dan will fare against Shogun? Would a victory warrant a title shot at MW or LHW belt? How would he fare against Anderson and JBJ?
ML: I think Shogun’s a pretty great matchup for Dan stylistically, and I think he’ll do fantastic in that fight. I don’t think JBJ or Anderson would be good matchups for Dan. In terms of what a win over Shogun warrants, I don’t know. That stuff is usually up to the whim of a promoter. It’s not always based on performance requirements. No athletic architecture is really in place. Wouldn’t that be nice?
We are in the sports’ business, and I understand there’s an element of entertainment also. But wouldn’t it be nice if MMA was a meritocracy like in other professional sports. I remember in the Olympics, I had to earn my way there, and there was a specific criteria set.
JS: Yes, that sounds fair. Team Quest is primarily known for its excellence in wrestling. I made the obvious connection, and was wondering whether the name was partly based on the cult 80s wrestling film “Vision Quest?”
ML: Haha, no. But that is a cult classic, especially for American wrestlers. I didn’t realise that film would be well-known outside of the US.
JS: I must be honest here. At UFC 129, Randy entered the Octagon to Red Rider’s “Lunatic Fringe,” and Joe Rogan mentioned that it had featured on the film's soundtrack, so I subsequently looked it up. Moving onto Chael now, you’re obviously close with him. Given both of your involvements in politics, is your friendship based more on politics or fighting?
ML: Haha. I’ve been Chael’s coach since he was 15 years old in high school, so I can pretty much answer anything on him. Chael and I are both involved in politics, and we are aligned in a lot of our philosophies and beliefs, but Chael is a straight GOP party guy in my opinion, therefore more conservative, whereas I’m a strict libertarian, even though I ran on a GOP ticket. Chael and I both live in different districts of Oregon, so there’s a chance that we’ll both run for office simultaneously one day. But for now, both of our focuses is on MMA.
But politics and religion are topics that people tend to stay away from in their conversations, because they’re polarising. But they are important topics, so they should be discussed the most, so we should know each other’s opinions on them.
JS: Is it your own experiences with the law, specifically having to secure your spot on the US Olympic team through the courts, which fueled your passion for politics?
ML: I think there’s some truth to that. I’ve always been intrigued with law and the political process, which is all based on law. I think our country has taken a lot of liberties, such as killing the al-Qaeda member in Yemen a couple of weeks ago. That was completely unlawful, and we didn’t have congressional approval to go and kill another citizen.
Regardless of whether he’s a terrorist or not, there is a law in place which requires us to give a due process. So yeah, I’m a big believer in the system, but I just don’t think we follow our own system and laws very well. I think ultimately we’ll see the system collapse. You know, no system has ever stayed around forever. Returning to your question, I’m not sure what fueled my interest in politics. I guess human nature, curiosity, just constantly striving to learn more.
JS: Would you prefer to run against him for office or have to face him inside a cage? Which would be easier?
ML: Haha. Well, I’ve already got victories over Chael on the mat. I don’t think either of us would want to face each other inside the cage. I wouldn’t want to battle Chael on wits, or strength. Both would be very difficult. I’ll stay allies with Chael on both fronts.
JS: Haha, sounds sensible. Now you’ve gone on record as stating that Anderson is already attempting to shirk Chael. If the fight eventually materialises, how would Chael fare in the rematch?
ML: I think the rematch would look just like the first one, except I’ve got a game plan for Chael to finish him before the end of the third round. So, yeah it’ll look similar to their first encounter, but with some additional techniques and strategy, it won’t make it to the championship rounds.
JS: WOW. Just trying to probe a little further, would these additional techniques involve wrestling submission holds or BJJ?
ML: (Sounds jokingly astounded) BJJ submissions? We are not Brazilians. We are Americans. You understand that right? Why would we be working BJJ? We do not employ BJJ. We employ American wrestling submissions.
JS: Haha. Fair play. I’m just a naïve Englishman here.
ML: Okay, I’ll let that one slide since you aren’t an American reporter. But yes, we would employ a submission hold finish or some vicious ground ‘n’ pound to finish that fight.
JS: You know Chael better than nearly anyone. Is he as funny off-camera as when being filmed? Good to go for a beer with?
ML: Yes, he is. Haha, he’s fairly entertaining off-camera also. He has always amused me, even when he was a young man. And he’s a great person to go for a beer with, because if you want a drink, he won’t have one and he’ll drive you home. He can be pretty funny without even the beers at the pub. I’ve got a ton of funny stories about Chael, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Half the time when he amuses me, I don’t even think he’s trying to be funny.
JS: You alluded to it before with your jovial comment about BJJ. What did you make of Chael’s remarks about Brazil? Did you believe they were light-hearted, because Brazilian natives took offense?
ML: Of course they were light-hearted. It was just marketing and promoting. Expanding his brand and showcasing his personality. I mean, you can’t take everything serious. Too many people take this sport too seriously, like this is the be all and end all. It’s just an athletic competition. I think the Brazilians need to lighten up and get a sense of humour.
JS: Moving onto your career. Obviously you’re 41 now, and your resume features some legendary names. Amongst the hardcore you’re renowned and respected but to the casual fans, new to the sport, you are relatively unknown.
ML: Well, you know, when I was fighting in the UFC, they weren’t promoting and marketing as well as right now. The FOX deal will only enhance its popularity. Me personally, I never got into MMA to be famous, I got into it to compete and pursue athletic aspirations. They were my pure intentions. I came from a true sport, an Olympic background, winning multiple national, international and Olympic medals. So I entered MMA as a sport.
I started MMA in 1997, and in 2000 I jumped in both feet. Coming from a pure sport background, I treated MMA as such, rather than focusing on the fact that it’s also an entertainment industry. But I’ve learnt later on in my career that it is also an entertainment industry, and I’ve coached my athletes to be both entertainers and sportsmen.
JS: Now, as Chael has risen to prominence within the MMA world, have you consequently advised him to be more outspoken, in order to market himself and his brand?
ML: Yeah, absolutely. And what you see is Chael’s real personality. It isn’t an act. But it’s better to accentuate your personality than to hide it. People will become more familiar with you and talk about you, whether they love you or hate you.
JS: Okay, thanks for your time today Matt. I really appreciate it. I look forward to our forthcoming interview in which we'll discuss your newfound role as an advisor to the future home of MMA Takedown Fight Media, and its inaugural coverage of your promotion Sport Fight 30 on 22nd October
ML: No worries, it was a pleasure talking with you.
Follow Matt on Twitter @mattlindland
Follow me on Twitter @jonathanshrager