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SYDNEY – George Sotiropoulos is an intelligent man who could have easily settled into a comfortable existence as a banker. He has a bachelor's degree in banking and finance and an associate's degree in international trade.
But he's also a guy who, with a wide grin, tells you that as a child he used to jump off the roofs of houses and buildings. He never got hurt, he says, in part because he paid attention to the way cats landed when they jumped and tried to emulate them.
"I used to love climbing things and I'd climb up on the garage and then run across the roof and jump off," Sotiropoulos said. "I'd jump off and do commando rolls. I would watch movies and do any sort of thing I saw."
Hearing that, it's clear that Sotiropoulos made the correct choice when he opted to put a career in high finance on hold to pursue a job in mixed martial arts.
This is the guy who would punch the walls in his home or, better yet, kick things off the wall and from the ceiling.
"I'd kick things off the walls or I'd start punching things," Sotiropoulos said, days before he'll get a chance to kick and punch Joe Stevenson and get paid when they meet on the main card at UFC 112 on Saturday (Sunday in Australia) at Acer Arena. "Everything was a target – my mum's china, her little ornaments around the house. I just started kicking things off the walls. If it was a light hanging down from the ceiling, I'd kick that."
He'd later scramble to cover up his footwork so when his parents got home, they wouldn't realized what he'd done.
Sotiropoulos is now 32 and in the middle of an outstanding career. He's obsessive about conditioning and drives himself ridiculously hard. He literally has traveled the world, going from country to country and city to city in search of the best boxing training, the finest jiu-jitsu training, the best wrestling coaches.
He once lived in an office of a gym in San Diego, buying a cot and sleeping on it so he could get the most amount of training time. There was a nightclub next to the gym, however, and it blared music from dawn until dusk.
"After three weeks, I had the worst headache of my life," he said.
Sotiropoulos was a member of Season 6 of "The Ultimate Fighter" but lost in the semifinals when he was knocked out by Tommy Speers, seconds after being inadvertently thumbed in the eye.
Prior to joining the cast of the popular reality series, he lived in Japan for much of 2006. He then moved home to Australia for five months and continued his intense training. In February 2007, Sotiropoulos earned a spot in the Australian qualifier for the Abu Dhabi World Submission Grappling championship.
A few weeks later, he turned professional as a boxer. A week after his boxing debut, he flew to South Korea and fought an MMA fight. Two weeks after that, he flew to New Jersey for a grappling tournament and the week after that he flew to Los Angeles to audition for the reality series.
Sotiropoulos is excited about the UFC's debut in his homeland but is so focused on fighting that he's not caught up in the hoopla too much.
"I want to give every last bit of everything I have to this sport and test myself at the highest possible level," he said. "I don't think I could have lived with myself if I had never done it. There would be a void there if I had stayed [in banking] and I'd be regretting it the rest of my life. Now I'm a fighter and no matter what happens, no regrets."
With that, let's hop into the mailbag, where I'll respond to your questions and comments.
I don't understand why Demian Maia was given the nod to replace Vitor Belfort as the opponent for Anderson Silva in the UFC middleweight championship match in the main event of UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Clearly, styles make fights especially when it comes to Silva. I see Maia lying on the ground and Silva refusing to go there and the crowd booing. Why not give Nate Marquardt his chance. Yes, he lost to Chael Sonnen, but he has to be the one person that can make it exciting against Silva. He would certainly be a more exciting choice than Maia. I don't see it. Enlighten me on the UFC's thinking.
I don't like the fight either, but in defense of the UFC they had little choice. First, they wanted Silva to fight on this card. It's the first fight in Abu Dhabi, the home of their new partners. They want to put on a major show for Flash Entertainment, which in January bought a 10 percent share of the UFC. Second, Silva hasn't fought since August and needs to get back to action. Third, there aren't a lot of choices. Of those who aren't either hurt or don't have fights scheduled, whom should they have chosen other than Maia? Sonnen was too physically banged up. Would you have rather seen Silva fight Alan Belcher or Yoshihiro Akiyama? Marquardt already lost one title fight to Silva; given the fact he decisively lost a bout in a title eliminator in his previous outing, does he deserve another one now? This was one with few good options.
Choosing Maia as the replacement for Belfort on the UFC 112 card is making my stomach turn. Silva-Belfort was the one fight I was actually looking forward to watching. Belfort-Silva would have been an amazing fight. This replacement match? Tame at best. I'm not interested in seeing another Forrest Griffin-Anderson Silva-type match, where Anderson looks bored and the opposition looks scared (and rightfully so) all of it ending with a quick, sad knockout. I, for one, am boycotting this match.
You certainly have the right as a paying customer to boycott, Robert. But I think a lot of people would be happy under the circumstances with a quick knockout. I think too many people recall the Silva-Thales Leites fight at UFC 97 and shuddered when Maia was picked.
In your article about Maia replacing Belfort, you state Maia is medically suspended until August. Did you mean April?
No, I meant August. He was suspended until Aug. 6 or until he was cleared by a physician. Maia was examined by a Nevada Athletic Commission doctor this week and he was cleared to fight.
I have been upset for days now about the Silva-Belfort cancelation. It had Fight of the Year written all over it. I presume this huge fight was taking place in Abu Dhabi in order to create additional excitement for their new partners. So now they are pitting Silva up against Maia? Why didn't they seek a 205-pound matchup for Silva with someone like Randy Couture? It might not be a title match, but it certainly would be more exciting.
I agree that a Silva-Couture fight would be more exciting than a Silva-Maia fight. But Couture is 46 and has fought three times in seven months. He has many business interests. He needed some time off. He'll probably return in mid-to-late summer to fight Rich Franklin, but he wasn't really an option for Silva in April.
Kevin, I thought you believed that Demian Maia was a "one-dimensional" fighter? Do you really believe that his last performance was good enough "to prove he can strike and is more than just a grappling expert?" What do you think his chances are against Silva? I think he is a 50-1 underdog.
Fort Worth, Texas
I wrote that Maia was trying to prove he can strike in his fight against Dan Miller, not that he did it. I think he has little chance of winning, but I'd peg his odds at far better than 50-1 against.
Can't stand "The Count"
Kevin, you should be responsible for Michael Bisping's PR. I can't stand the guy. He says the wrong thing and does the wrong thing every chance he gets. I did think Matt Hamill won their fight at UFC 75, as well.
If it's any consolation, Jason, I scored the Bisping-Hamill bout for Hamill as well. I'm judging Bisping on how he treats me and how I see him treat others, and I have no reason to blast him. I won't argue with your opinion if you don't like him, but he's not the ogre many fans believe him to be.
Buying a PPV with replacements
These injuries are seriously taking a toll on UFC cards. I purchase three or four pay-per-view events a year and when marquee fights like Silva-Belfort are lost due to injury, I don't buy. These fighters either need to adjust their training regimens or face some sort of consequence for pulling out. I don't question their toughness, but I'm not going to pay to see replacements.
Pay-per-view is a very democratic business and you have the right to spend your money as you wish. If a card doesn't turn you on, don't buy it. That's sending a message to ownership. I don't think the injury has anything to do with a training regimen. This is a physical sport and athletes in physical sports get hurt, even in practice.
With the Winter Olympics going on, I was curious to know if you think MMA has a chance of becoming an Olympic sport in our lifetime. It has a ways to go in terms of mainstream acceptance here in the United States, but most international markets seem to be very receptive, if not ahead of us (Canada, Brazil, Japan, the Middle East). It's already a sport in which a wide range of nationalities compete, and one in which national pride often plays a role.
R. Scott Wells
I do think it will eventually make it to the Olympics, Scott. Several MMA disciplines – boxing, judo and wrestling – are already in the Olympics. I think MMA will make it some day, but probably not in my lifetime. Maybe yours.