Saturday night in Dallas, Texas, Jeff Monson will fight under the Zuffa banner for the first time since UFC 68.
After a three fight winning streak carried him to the title bout against reigning champion Tim Sylvia, Monson came up short in his quest for gold, and asked to be released from his UFC contract. He hoped to face iconic Russian heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko, but the bout never materialized, thus starting Monson’s four year, 13 country MMA odyssey.
He’s gone 19-5 since departing the UFC, earning victories over quality heavyweights (Roy Nelson, Sergei Kharitonov), washed up veterans (Mark Kerr, Ricco Rodriguez) and relative unknowns alike in that span. Now 40-years-old, Monson is ready to return to the big stage and take a run at championship gold once again.
“I was at a different place in life then,” Monson said of his decision to leave the UFC in 2006. “At this age and point in my career, I want to go out with a bang and the big show is where it is at. I left on great terms with the UFC, and would love to fight for them again. Now that Strikeforce is under Zuffa, anything can happen.”
The first thing that will happen will be a meeting with unbeaten heavyweight Daniel Cormier this weekend in Dallas.
A two-time Olympic wrestler and unbeaten through seven fights in his MMA career, Cormier is a more difficult test than Monson has faced in recent years. Of course, the veteran of more than 50 fights will be the stiffest challenge Cormier has face to date as well.
Monson is as decorated grappler as there is in the heavyweight division. He’s medaled four times at the Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) Submission Wrestling World Championships, including winning a pair of golds. While Cormier has an accomplished history on the mats as well, Monson believes the difference between their two bases will be the difference.
“I think my BJJ is better than his. Wrestlers like to fight from the top position, and in BJJ you learn to fight from your back and be comfortable there. I think this is going to be a challenge for him.”
While the topic of retirement and exit plans has been a frequent narrative in recent months thanks to Randy Couture and Quinton Jackson, Monson says he has no plans of hanging up the four-ounce gloves. He’s even talked about making the drop to the light heavyweight ranks.
“I have this drive in me to compete, so I will continue doing it for as long as I can. As long as I can support my family doing what I love, I will.
“(As for moving to light heavyweight), I normally walk around at 230 pounds or so, so dropping the 25 pounds will be easy.”
With Zuffa currently coming under fire for the actions and comments of Jackson, Joe Rogan and Chael Sonnen, adding Monson to the fold could be viewed by some as a curious decision.
In addition to being a legitimate top 25 heavyweight and holding a Master’s degree in psychology, Monson is an anarchist. As he told Tim Leidecker back in 2006, “[I am] someone who would like to do away with all class hierarchy in society and the institutions that promote this inequality.”
A couple years ago, his views turned into actions, and those actions landed him in hot water.
Monson was charged with First Degree Malicious Mischief, charge that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and $20,000 fine, after pictures of him spray-painting the Washington State Capitol building appeared in ESPN The Magazine.
Asked if his political views and past mistakes might hamper his forward progress upon returning to the premier organization in the sport, Monson laughed.
“In comparison to what some other guys have done, I look like a saint! I think we can have different political views and still respect each other. While the graffiti incident wasn’t the brightest decision I’ve ever made, I brought attention to the anti-war campaign in a way that the protests I attend and groups I’m involved with weren’t able to.”
But Monson isn’t back on the biggest stage in the sport to express his political views; he’s here for more conventional reasons.
“I want to gain another title, so I want to fight anyone that is in the way of that.”
First up is Cormier. After that, Monson admits there is still one fight that remains high up on his wish list.
“I just want to fight the best, and I have a lot of respect for Fedor as a fighter and the talent he brings to the table.”
With a victory Saturday night, maybe the fight that began his MMA odyssey can finally happen, back where he belonged this whole time: under the Zuffa banner with the rest of the best heavyweights in the sport.