photo courtesy Esther Lin/All Elbows
Heavy.com: You’re headlining the first-ever Strikeforce event in Texas, a place where you spent a lot of time growing up. How much influence did the state have on your upbringing.
King Mo: I claim Texas as my home, but I’m pretty much from the South. I traveled to a lot of places but I did spent a lot of time in Texas. My upbringing comes from my Momma, who was a single parent. She raised me to be a hard-working, smart and intelligent kid.
Heavy.com: When did you start watching MMA?
King Mo: I started watching it my sophomore year. It had been around for awhile, but the thing is that I never saw it until one time I saw it at Blockbuster. I rented it, and after that I just started renting all of them. I had this one friend who had bootleg stuff, so I started watching some of the bootlegs of these vale tudo fights he had from Brazil and from Japan. And after that I just fell in love with it.
Heavy.com: So when you decided you were going to do this, to start training in it, did you spend more time watching film than you already were?
King Mo: At the time, no. Back then I just watched it as a fan because that’s all I was. I was a huge wrestling fan, too, and I pretty much just focused my attention on wrestling. MMA was just something I would do when I wasn’t wrestling.
Heavy.com: You’re known as a fan of professional wrestling. Before you ever started training in MMA, did you ever look at those pro wrestling characters and say “this is a way I can set myself apart from everybody else,” by having this kind of flamboyant and over the top persona?
King Mo: Not really. I started doing it when I was wrestling and then when MMA hit and I started fighting, I definitely wanted to keep doing it. I wasn’t going to change nothing. Pro wrestling helped influence my persona, though.
Heavy.com: Who influenced that persona the most?
King Mo: I took a little bit from Booker T, from Jerry Lawler and Harley Race. Some of my stuff came from movies, like the rose petals from “Coming to America.” I watched a movie about this mafia don and he had a guy just holding an umbrella over his head while he was walking. So I just threw a little bit of everything in there. Some of it I got from TV and movies and some of it I got from pro wrestling.
Heavy.com: I asked about the film watching earlier because you’ve told me before that you still watch a bunch of fights every single day. When it comes to analyzing the fights and breaking down the technical details, you’re one of the brightest fighters I’ve ever talked to. I remember you telling me in Los Angeles that Werdum was going to submit Fedor by triangle in the first round, and you called the entire sequence almost perfectly. How much do you still watch on a daily basis?
King Mo: I still watch a lot, man. I live on YouTube and other websites. I probably watched at least five or six fights a day.
Heavy.com: Does that stuff influence you? Jon Jones is a guy who said he kinda learned the sport by watching fights on YouTube and teaching himself the moves. Is that what you do, or do you just watch it to be entertained?
King Mo: I watch it to learn. I don’t learn techniques from the videos, because I learn those from my coaches. But what I do is pick up ideas from watching fights. I watch what people do and their demeanor. Because the thing is that I could pick up these techniques and moves from YouTube, but it doesn’t mean that I could apply it to certain opponents. You have to apply your technique to certain opponents, because they all fight in different ways.
Heavy.com: When you first started off, you became a pretty popular figure over in Japan. Were you content to stay there, or did you always know that you’d eventually have to fight in the States at some point in your career?
King Mo: I had no idea what was going to happen. In Japan, the sport is very different from America. Over here, a lot of people are just fans of the UFC. They’re not MMA fans. They’re fans of organizations. And a lot of those people don’t understand MMA. They just hear these ideas and run with them. I saw someone make a post on a fan site last weekend that said “Chael is soft. He should’ve finished Anderson in the first round.” I replied “how many times has Anderson been finished with strikes?” Never. He was finished years ago by submission, back when he was 160 pounds. So a lot of people think this is easy, and they don’t understand the hard work that goes into it. We train to do damage and we train to keep from being damaged, and they don’t understand that in America. In Japan, they understand that a lot more, and they’re more appreciative of what we do.
Heavy.com: You’ve told me before that you get tired of people referring to Strikeforce as a minor league, or of people referring to the sport as “UFC” instead of mixed martial arts. In your mind, do you think you will eventually have to end up in the UFC, or are you fine with building your career in Strikeforce?
King Mo: Well, with the way it is right now, I win. Because in boxing and with Strikeforce, you have a better chance of big fights happening because of co-promotion. You can co-promote with another organization and make a big fight happen. You have a better chance of seeing Pacquiao against Mayweather than you do of seeing Overeem versus Lesnar. Because Alistair vs. Brock ain’t happening, but at least Pacquiao and Mayweather can talk to try to make it happen. It all goes back to the fans. You never hear fans of Mayweather say that if he wants to really prove how good he is, he needs to go fight someone for the WBA title. It comes down to winning. When you win, things open up.
Heavy.com: What would interest you in the UFC light heavyweight division in terms of matchups? I know a fight with Rampage Jackson would be first and foremost on your mind.
King Mo: I’d fight any of those guys except for Rashad, because I train with him. He’s up here with me right now helping me get ready. But as far as the organization goes? I just want big fights with big fighters. I want to fight somebody that is confident. Somebody who feels they can beat me. That’s what I want to do.
Heavy.com: Are you happy at light heavyweight, or do you see yourself eventually settling at heavyweight?
King Mo: I can go up, I can go down or I can stay here. I just have to wait and see what happens.
Heavy.com: You’ve got the upcoming fight with Feijao. I’ve seen you telling people that you should be the underdog in this fight, when you’re actually a heavy favorite. Why do you feel that way?
King Mo: People go off my accomplishments. They look at my record and see that I’m undefeated. Then they look at Feijao and see that he’s 9-2 and he’s been fighting for longer than I have. In boxing, you have prospects who they build up into something. But in MMA, anything can happen. Feijao has been training a lot longer. He’s been training full-time since he was 24, right?
King Mo: Six years. He’s been training four years longer than me. He’s a black belt in jiu-jitsu taking on a world-class wrestler. You take away my last fight against Mousasi, who would be the favorite in this one?
Heavy.com: I guess Feijao would either be the favorite, or it would be a lot closer than it currently is.
King Mo: Exactly. One fight doesn’t make you the favorite.
Heavy.com: That’s what I mean about being analytical. You approach the sport a lot differently than a lot of guys do. Do you enjoy the thinking part of the game more than the fighting, or do you like the physical part the best?
King Mo: I enjoy both. I believe the thinking part is the most important aspect, though, and that’s what sets me apart from the rest of the guys. People want to have a certain impression of me, but they don’t know what I do. They don’t know who I am. But I’m telling you this — I can watch tape of anybody and break them down. I have a high MMA IQ. I’m a fight nerd. I take pride in that. This is combat sports, and I’m a fan of combat sports. You ask me who the best judo guy in the history of judo is? It’s Kimura. You ask me who the best jiu-jitsu guy is? Right now it’s Roger Gracie. In the past it’s been Rickson Gracie or a bunch of other people you could name. I try to learn about every major component of MMA. It’s very important, and I think it’s what sets me apart.