There was a rumor that you were offered money to cut your hair so that you could be in UFC Undisputed: 2009. Any truth to it?
In Columbus, Dana White offered me $10,000 to cut it. First it was $5,000, and then $10,000, and I laughed. I told him to add a couple zeros and we'll talk. The hair's here to stay. It's part of my style, part of my trademark.
It wasn't because of the video game, but my hair is the reason I'm not in the video game. They couldn't perfect it. They didn't have enough technology to do it right. More to come for 2010. It will be bigger, better, more sharp, and hopefully I'll be wearing the belt in that game.
After the Diaz match, you were criticized for grinding out a decision. What's your response to that?
I describe that fight as a sloppy wrestling match. We stood and exchanged. He was picking me apart, and I was putting together combinations that were maybe just a couple inches short. If I see something that doesn't work, if I can't get anything done with my punches, I'm not going to stand with a guy who is six inches taller than me. It felt better on the ground. It's not that I was scared on my feet, it's just that my combinations weren't doing as much damage as I was on the ground. Call it what you want. I was criticized after my Danzig victory, too. I'm all about gameplan and strategy. I think Randy Couture is someone I follow very closely in my career. I try to mirror him. He can switch it up and take the fight out of you.
Nate was there until the last seconds of the fight. It was close, but I don't think it was as close as he thought it was. I got my takedowns when I needed to, I got some good strikes, some good ground and pound. He landed some good punches, too. He's a tough dude.
If you beat Diego Sanchez, do you think you deserve a title shot?
After I beat Diego, I feel like I've fought the toughest competition in the lightweight division in the two and a half years I've been with the UFC. People see my record, and 5-3 is nothing great. But people who have seen my losses know that every time I fight, I put on a show. I've lost a few close ones. Roger got the best of me, in a fight that he deserves. That was a turning point in my career. I grew up as a fighter after that fight, as far as my training and my cage presence, being more patient in fights. They guaranteed Diego a title shot if he beats me, but he's not getting that title shot.
I know I'm ready for a title shot. When I fought Roger, I lost, I wasn't ready. In my heart, I'm always ready, but mentally, I wasn't. I was still green. And I'm still green in the sport, but I rise to the occasion. I fight better for better opponents. I'm going to outwork everyone in my division, I'm going to outwork the champion, and one day, I'm going to have that belt around my waist.
After the fight with Huerta, your style seemed to change. Do you agree with that?
My ring presence has changed. I'm much calmer. I still keep my high pace, but if you look at that fight, I fought my fight for a while, but in the third, we were just slugging it out, going toe-to-toe, and he likes that. He's a brawler. He's scrappy. He's technical, but he likes to make it a brawl. I fed right into that. Right into his kicks. So, I fought him in December, and then I didn't have a fight again until April, and I had time to think about it. I sat back and really looked at where I was in my career, and here's where I was, against a top contender, poster boy for Sports Illustrated and the Latin community, and now I'm down at the bottom. So what do I have to do to get back? I reassessed my goals, my training, as far as how hard I train, and training productively. It's more timing, and being patient in the cage. I fight my style. Most of my fights, I push the pace. I'm the aggressor. I make him fight my style.
So are you less likely to take chances in fights?
I think taking chances and being aware and smart are two different things. I think there's a thin line between them. If you see my last fight, I took Nate's back a few times, and he's a hard guy to submit. He's better than I am on the ground in jiu-jitsu, but I'm a quicker grappler. He's very patient. He'll take two, three, four, five punches to the face straight to the face before he'll hook you up in an arm bar or a triangle. I think I'm more cautious. I'm not as reckless as I used to be. I'm willing to get in there and go submission attempts with anyone. It's just a matter of, I'm not going to stay married to something that is not realistically going to finish a fight.
Who will win between B.J. Penn and Kenny Florian?
Kenny looks the best that I've ever seen him. He keeps getting better with every fight. He demolished Joe Stevenson. He's gone through so many opponents and demolished all of them, finishing everyone but Roger. I'd like to see the B.J. we saw when he fought Sherk, when he fought Jens, when he fought Joe Stevenson. If he is, that could make it one of the best lightweight fights ever. I hope he's past all of the stuff from UFC 94. Whatever happened in the cage happened, now forget about it. Get back to what you're doing to wear that belt. I'm going to go with B.J, he's the man with the belt right now.
How do you choose your walk-in music?
(I choose) something upbeat, something that I like. Something I've listened to for a while, like Alkaline Trio. They're from McHenry, near my hometown. The song I come out to, "Stupid Kid," tells the story of a guy who is never going to settle down or fall in love, and makes crazy decisions, so it's kind of relative to my life. Very fitting. Another band I've used is The Refused from Switzerland. In one of their videos, these guys were maniacs. They were skinny guys who looked like the Beatles, and they were punching the guitars, and the drummer slapped the cymbal so hard that he snapped it in two, so I liked that. I like something hardcore, something upbeat.How do you keep up your energy in a fight?
There's no time to get tired in there. I'm having too much fun. I've got no time to get tired. Fifteen minutes? If you can't last 15 minutes, or 25 minutes, which is what I'm hoping to be doing in the future, you're in the wrong sport. Go find something else.
If you could fight anyone in any organization, who would you face?
I'd like to fight Diego Sanchez. He's all I'm thinking about right now. The UFC is my home. It has been for almost three years now. I want to beat everyone in the lightweight division. But if I had to, Shinya Aoki would be fun. I'm not big on rematches, but maybe Gilbert Melendez. He beat me in an awesome title fight in Strikeforce. To me, unless it's for a title, a rematch doesn't make much sense.
So you wouldn't want to fight Roger Huerta again?
Look where Roger's at right now. I kind of put things in perspective like that. I think Roger's been exposed. I exposed his takedown defense. I outstruck him in the fight. I outworked him, and then look what Kenny (Florian) did to him. Kenny kept a great gameplan, and frustrated him for three rounds. Now he's got one fight left on his contract, and he wants to try acting. Good for him. He's helped me change my career in a different way.
Do you beat on your brother?
We spar live twice a week. As much as I train with the lightweights, I train just as hard with my brother. When he grapples, he mounts me. He doesn't try to necessarily beat the crap out of me, because that's not what being teammates is about, but he'll hit me hard, I'll hit him hard. He knows that he's the reason I'm in the sport. Otherwise, I'd just be sitting on the corner of a bar, telling stupid stories about what I did, falling off a roof earlier that day. He's the reason I'm here, and I thank him for it.
When we were younger, he made me a tough son-of-a-bitch. Not picking on me, but just making me tough. When we get in here to train, I know he has the best intentions in mind. Don't get me wrong. You'll see us stand in the middle and slug it out. But then I'll be smart, because he hits hard. I get out of the way. I'm no dummy. But it never gets heated.
What do you do in condtioning to keep your energy level so high?
My coach, Edson Castillo at the Institute for Human Performance, he makes things fun, but intense at the same time. Rope climbs, jumping two foot hurdles, we'll be outside on the track, doing kettle bells out in the sun. I do stuff on my own, too. I've got a jetski, and I'll go out on the water and it's an awesome core workout. I'll take my bike up to the high school, go around on the track and hit the bleachers. I live near Chain of Lakes, so I'll go kayaking for a day. I try to mix it up. I try to make my strength and conditioning fun, though. I'll go run up a hill, throw a ball up a hill and chase it down. Caveman workouts.
- Diego Sanchez