One of the sport’s most colorful characters, at least when it comes to nail polish, Frank “Twinkle Toes” Trigg made his return to the UFC last year after four years away from the Octagon. Josh Koscheck got the better of Trigg, but the persistent wrestler returns at UFC 109 against former welterweight champion Matt Serra. Both men are know for motor mouths almost as well as for fighting, so Heavy.com expected plenty of fireworks. Trigg delivered, but he spent as much time talking up his opponent’s legacy and his heart as he did dissing him for being fat and stupid. This matchup, no matter what either man says going forward, is grounded in respect.
Heavy.com: You called Serra a little guido and he made fun of your tattoo. So, things got started early! Do you guys enjoy the war of words?
Frank Trigg: I know I do. I think it’s fun. I can’t speak for Matt. Dan Hardy and Georges St. Pierre are going at it a little bit too. GSP is just kind of taking it. For a guy like me, who is not as good as St. Pierre, not as good as Anderson Silva, not as good as BJ Penn, because I’m talking, I get just as much notoriety as those guys. I like trash talk. It makes it fun. Plus it makes the fights more interesting. Fans pay a little more attention. I don’t know what he’s said. I don’t get on the message boards or read the media sites. I don’t know what he’s said other than he doesn’t want to lose to a guy with a tramp stamp. Once he loses to a guy with a tramp stamp, not only does he lose to a guy with a tramp stamp, but to a guy who’s nickname is “Twinkle Toes” which is kind of gay, a guy that paints his toe nails which is kind of gay. What’s he going to do after that? Is he going to retire? Is he going to quit? Will he be able to eat pasta in his Long Island home or will they laugh him out of there? Really, what’s going to happen?
Heavy.com: When he makes fun of Triggonomics, is that hitting you a little too close to the wallet?
Frank Trigg: Shows how much he’s in the know. The clothing line doesn’t exist, I shut it down over a year ago. I’m fully on board with designing my shirts for Silver Star now. I’m literally in the process right now of finishing up the final design work for my UFC 109 walkout shirt. It’s one of the things I do with Luke and Charis over at Silver Star. I work really hard to design my t-shirts correctly and that’s why I’m with Silver Star, because they allow me to do that. Help with the design, help with the cut, help with the feel. Are we going to use foil or are we not. They help me with the whole development process. Matt’s making fun of something that doesn’t exist. He might as well make fun of the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot at this point. That’s interesting. You’re the first one to tell me he said that.
Heavy.com: What to you makes a good t-shirt? Frankly, so many of them are terrible. What makes it something you would want to wear?
Frank Trigg: I’m a little bit older. At 37 years old, I’ve seen the rotation of fashion, of style. I’ve seen things go out of style and come back again. There’s a reason Adidas clam shell shoes are still around. There is a reason people still wear Nike Air Force Ones. It’s an older style. It’s perfect for guys like me who couldn’t afford that style. When Run DMC was wearing Adidas and Michael Jordan first came on the scene, we couldn’t afford that kind of style. We were too youngf and too poor. Now, in our thirties, we’re allowed to get that kind of stuff. I like that old school, everyday look. I’m not wearing a shirt to tell you I’m a fighter. I’m not wearing the shirt to tell you how cool I am. I’m not wearing the shirt to tell you how tough I am. This shirt is made for a guy who already knows how tough he is. Maybe he’s a dad with three kids who has to work from nine to five everyday and understands the daily grind. I’m making this shirt for the everyman, who doesn’t have to stand around and yell to the world how tough he is. If I’m a mechanic, everyone knows I’m the best mechanic in my town. I don’t have to tell you about it. My reputation speaks for itself. That’s the kind of shirt I’m trying to make. If you look at my UFC 103 shirt from Silver Star, you’ll see it is a little bit more laid back than the other designs out there. It’s more of a laid back, self assured style. It’s for a guy who already knows he’s cool.
Heavy.com: I know I’m not cool enough to wear any of the MMA shirts.
Frank Trigg: You’d be amazed. If you’re the best writer, reflect that man. John Morgan over at MMAJunkie is not the best looking guy in the world. He’s not the most in shape or fit guy in the world. But he believes in his mind ‘I’m the best writer in the world. He dresses like it and acts like it every day. And you think “Wow.” At the end of the day you end up listening to him because he knows what he’s doing. Like Marc Laimon, who I’ve been working with for this fight. He doesn’t beat people up and run around. He jsut quietly goes about his business. But when you listen to him speak you know Laimon and Cobra Khai Jiu Jitsu in Vegas know what they are talking about. He’s not putting on a shirt to look cool. He is cool. And that’s really what it should be all about. Your clothing and your outfit is a shell. It’s not you. It should reflect you, not make you.
Heavy.com: It’s interesting how the perception of Serra has changed. For so long he was just a little scrappy grappler. Then the GSP fight happened.
Frank Trigg: Yeah, it’s kind of weird. All I can say is he’s the former champ. I tried twice to be a champ and I didn’t make it. He obviously has one up on me; he knocked out one of the best guys. One of the who’s who of mixed martial arts in St. Pierre. All I can say is three of my fights made the top 100 fights in the UFC’s history. I don’t know if he made it at all. One of my fights was voted by the fans as the number one fight ever in UFC history. I don’t know what to tell people. History speaks for itself. We made fun of Serra for just being a scrappy grappler. He punches one guy, one time, with one punch. He puts him down and suddenly he’s a big puncher. Now he did catch Karo (Parisyan) with the same punch. But he didn’t put Karo down. In everyone’s mind Karo Parisyan is not as good a fighter as GSP is. He caught GSP just right, knocked him down, knocked him out, and that’s the end of the game. I kind of get that, but let’s also be honest. One punch does not make a big puncher. It takes a lot of punches to make a big puncher. Mike Tyson wasn’t known as the scariest guy on the planet because he knocked one guy out. He knocked everybody out. That’s just how it works.
Heavy.com: I thought Matt Hughes seemed to really buy into it though. He seemed timid and a little nervous about staying standing with Serra. Do you think that was a mistake?
Frank Trigg: No, because Hughes just doesn’t have an standup ability. He just doesn’t have that game plan. He just isn’t a guy that has striking ability. That’s cool. That’s understandable. He had to do what he could do with his abilities to win the fight. He did it will, pulled it together, and did the best he could. He ended up winning the fight, even though it was close, he still won the fight. Could he have stood with him a little more? Yeah. But let’s be honest-Hughes isn’t known as a guy who can knock you out. So he had to take him down and make it a three round fight.
Heavy.com: Did you see a battle plan in the Hughes fight that you will try to follow?
Frank Trigg: No, I don’t think the Hughes fight is a good fight to pay attention to. When it comes down to it, I don’t think the Hughes fight is a good one to look at for how Serra fights. You have to take a little bit from the Hughes fight, a little bit from the GSP fight, a little bit from the Karo fight, a little bit from the Jeff Curran fight. You have to watch all of his fights because Serra develops quite a bit as a fighter over the course of his career. He put himself in the position to grow and he’s really become a much better fighter as his career has gone on. You even saw him develop on the show (The Ultimate Fighter Season 4), he became a better fighter on the show. He’s definitely a tough opponent. He’s definitely a scrappy opponent. And he does have that ability to knock you out, one punch power. He’s not a big puncher, but he does have that single punch, that overhand right, unless he’s developed something in the last couple of months I don’t know about. But you can’t look at the guy’s last fight and say ‘I’ve got him. I know what he’s going to do.’ You look at all his fights and realize how much he’s really developed. He’s gone from a grappler to someone who really knows how to fight an MMA fight. It’s interesting to watch him change over his career. And he’s only had 15 fights.
Heavy.com: So often people are dismissive of their opponents. But it seems like, for all the trash talk, you have a lot of respect for Serra.
Frank Trigg: Oh, absolutely. I have respect for any fighter that steps inside that Octagon. I don’t care who you are or what your ranking is. I don’t care if you are 0-17. You step inside that Octagon on Saturday night, with all the lights on and 15,000 fans screaming at you, and a million fans watching at home on pay per view, and you dare to step out there and throw a punch? I respect you for that alone. But to have his abilty, to come back, win the comeback show, beat GSP, have a rematch and dare to take the rematch in Montreal in his hometown? To not argue about it and say ‘Look, I’m the champ, I’ll pick the spot.’ He didn’t do that. He said ‘You want to have a rematch in his hometown? I’ll go to Montreal and fight him. I don’t care.’ That says a lot about Matt Serra’s heart, a lot about his mental state, and a lot about how tough he really is. You have to give a guy like that credit. For as much crap as I talk about Matt Serra, I really do respect him quite a bit. Because he is a little guy who should be at 155 pounds. If he ever got on a real diet, he could be a 145 pounder. And he’s up at 170 fighting. He’s outmatched in his weight class by height. He’s outmatched in his weight class by size. He’s outmatched in his weight class by speed. But he still finds a way to win a lot of his fights. You have to give a guy like that a lot of credit. And you give him your respect.
Heavy.com: I’ve always wanted to ask you about your amateur wrestling career. It played out a little strangely. You went from Oklahoma to junior college, then excelled nationally at a level you never achieved in college.
Frank Trigg: I’ve always been a late bloomer. I didn’t have my first date, she ended up being my first wife, until I was halfway through my sixteenth year. I just wasn’t a guy that could get it all together. I was tough nosed, but hard headed. I looked at Oklahoma State and realized I wasn’t going to make the team there with guys like Alan Fried and Chuck Barbee. I wasn’t going to make that team. No chance in hell. I didn’t have the maturity level. I was recruited to Oklahoma and that’s where I went. I got hurt my junior year and was horrible. Horrible. I was the worst guy on a great team and that’s just the way it is. Afterward I thought ‘I like wrestling, I want to continue wrestling. And I did. I was on the U.S. team, one of the top six, for a lot of years. Was I number one? No. I couldn’t beat guys like Brandon Slay, I couldn’t beat guys like Joe Williams. They were guys who were just too good and too big for me. Fighting became the next stage when I realized after the 2000 Olympic Games that I wasn’t going to make the team. It wasn’t going to happen for me. My whole life, since I was eight or nine, I dreamed about winning an Olympic medal. And it just didn’t happen. Randy Couture and I talked about this, just a year and a half ago. If I had won an Olympic Gold Medal, and the same thing for him, we probably would have quit athletics and become wrestling coaches. We would not have done this MMA stuff. You would not have Randy Couture if he had won a Gold Medal. You would not have had a Frank Trigg. That would have been it for me. I would have been done.
Heavy.com: How did you get hooked up with Rico Chiapparelli? What was it like in those early days with you and Randy and the whole Real American Wrestlers (RAW) crew?
Frank Trigg: Randy was a great wrestler, an All American at the Oklahoma State University. Rico was a great wrestler, a national champion at Iowa. They were looking for other great wrestlers to try their hand at fighting. Rico was living in New York and training with Renzo Gracie and decided he could break out on his own and do a lot from the management standpoint. I was actually the last wrestler they brought in. He had Vladimir Matsyushenko and Dan Henderson and Alan Fried and Randy Couture, all before me. I was the last guy brought in. And that was because one of his good friends, Joe Corso who also a wrestler said he should take a look at me. And I was with Rico until just last year. I was with him for my entire fighting career. Twelve years I was with Rico. He was my manager and my trainer for 10 years and my manager for 12 years.
Heavy.com: Those other guys all left fairly early. Why did that go wrong?
Frank Trigg: I don’t know. Those guys all made their decisions early. I’m loyal to a fault. I stayed with the guy far too long. When Randy left, I probably should have left with him. When Vladimir left, I really should have left the same time he did. But I really believed in Rico’s philosophy ad the way he was doing stuff. I really believed if I stayed with him things would turn a corner and things would get better. And it just didn’t work out that way. And let’s be honest too. I’m not the easiest fighter to work with. I am hard headed. I am big mouthed. I believe that I should be making a $1 million every time that I fight. I express that to my sponsors and I express that to the powers that be over at the UFC. That I should be one of the highest paid, not just for what I do as a fighter, but what I bring to the table as a diplomat for the sport, as an all around good guy. But that’s just not the way it is. You get paid based on what you negotiate, not what you’re worth. And you get paid off of how many fans want to see you. GSP gets more money, BJ Penn, Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz. Those guys make more money because the fans want to see those guys fight. Fans don’t necessarily pay to see me fight. But that doesn’t stop me from calling my manager and saying ‘What the hell? How come Gatorade isn’t using me? How come they aren’t giving me the promotional push?’ It’s because I don’t win as much as I should and that’s the reality of it.
Heavy.com: The first step on your way to that next big endorsement in Matt Serra. Any last words for him? It sounds like you want to see him in with Urijah Faber instead of one of the top guys at 170 like you.
Frank Trigg: I think he’s a little bit small for the weight class. I think he should move down. Concentrate a little bit more on weight cutting and less on eating pasta. You can eat pasta when you retire from fighting. He needs to pay attention to his diet and his lifestyle if he really wants to fight. I kind of get the sense from him that because his jiu jitsu schools do so well, because he does so well from a coaching standpoint, that he doesn’t want to fight anymore. I think if I beat him up he might be done. I think he might retire. It’s time for him to go. Unless you want to start a diet and really train hard, and get yourself down to a weight class you belong in, you can’t fight in this game anymore. It’s not just about being really big and fat and running around hitting guys with overhand rights and knocking them down. It’s like BJ Penn. BJ Penn is a great fighter at 170, but the best BJ Penn is at 155. I think the best Matt Serra, the best he can truly be, is at 145.