(James Irvin rockin’ on – photo Hedges/Zuffa)
After nearly two years away from the Octagon, knockout artist James “The Sandman” Irvin will make his return against the heavy-handed Alessio Sakara at UFC on Versus 1. Heavy.com recently spoke with Irvin about the fight and found out that he really doesn’t want to fight Anderson Silva again.
Heavy.com: The last time we saw you in the Octagon was against UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva in his debut at 205-lbs. That fight was nearly two years ago and since then you’ve had to battle several injuries. How are you feeling now?
James Irvin: The past six months have been the best six months of my life. With my last fight, Anderson Silva just put it on me and after that I was suspended by the athletic commission. I’ve had three knee surgeries in the last three years and it’s been kind of a downward spiral for me and I started using pain medication. Now that I have taken the time off, my knee is back at 100%. So being able to train these past six months has been the best thing in my life and [it has been] the best six months of my career.
Heavy.com: Since the Silva fight, has your approach to training and fighting changed at all?
James Irvin: Fighting Anderson Silva was such a privilege and I was surprised that so many people turned it down. I think I was like the fifth person they called as everyone else turned it down, so I took it on short notice, but that didn’t have anything to do with me losing. I knew I had a one in a million chance of beating that guy. I don’t think I would ever be lucky enough to beat someone of his caliber. But that is what I strive for. To reach that top ten someday.
Heavy.com: Do you think Alessio Sakara is an ideal matchup for you considering he’s a guy who loves to brawl and throw his hands quite a bit?
James Irvin: The UFC definitely gave me a favor with this fight. I’m not saying it is going to be easy, but they gave me the perfect matchup. He’s a brawler with some pro boxing experience and I feel really good fighting against guys who want to stand and trade. Out of all the potential fights I could have had, this is the best stylistic matchup for me and it is going to be a great fight between the two of us.
Heavy.com: This is going to be your debut in the middleweight division. Talk us through your decision to drop down from light-heavyweight down to 185-lbs.
James Irvin: Well, I started my career as a heavyweight and my first fight in the UFC was in the heavyweight division. I was just really big from playing professional football, so I was more of a bodybuilder and most of my training was lifting. Over the years in MMA, I started lifting less and less and my body weight came down. But to tell you the truth, the biggest reason [for me dropping to middleweight] is my range. I seem to do really well against guys who are shorter than me and I’ll be one of the tallest guys at 185-lbs. I think I will do well against guys who I will have reach on.
Heavy.com: How tough will the weight cut be for you?
James Irvin: Being on this long layoff, I have been walking around at a much lighter weight. I have been working on my Jiu-Jitsu for so long in the gi and stuff that my weight has been gradually going down as it is. I’ve been walking around at about 205-lbs for the last six or seven months anyway, but this weight cut is not going to be fun. As we speak right now, I’m at the gym in my sauna suit getting ready to cut weight and there is nothing fun about it. It’s definitely going to be a tough cut, but I am comfortable at this weight so it’s not going to be too outrageous for me.
Heavy.com: Originally your fight with Sakara was penciled in for the preliminary card but recently the UFC has announced that it will be shown on the live Versus broadcast, how happy are you with your fight being promoted to the televised card?
James Irvin: I’m so grateful. Dana White and the UFC take good care of me and I am so honored that they bumped me to the main card. It was between me and the Clay Guida fight and they actually picked mine so I was honored when I heard that. There are a lot of knockout artists on this fight card, so between me and Sakara and [Brandon] Vera and Jon Jones, it’s going to be a night of standup fighting that the people want to see.
Heavy.com: When some fighters take a year or two off from the Octagon, more often than not, ring rust is an issue once they return. Do you think that will play a factor at all in this fight?
James Irvin: Like I said before, my last two years of fighting I was dealing with a big problem with pain medication and knee surgery so I’ve had a rough few years. I have made the most of it though. I’ve really taken the time to work on my ground game with two belt promotions during this long layoff. Now that I have lost all this weight, I feel a lot more flexible and my striking has improved leaps and bounds. Seriously, my standup was dangerous before, but it looks nothing like that now. I am excited for people to see what I can do.
Heavy.com: With names like Nate Marquardt, Demian Maia, Chael Sonnen and other studs in the middleweight division, does anyone stand out as someone you would really like to step into the Octagon and fight?
James Irvin: I’ve wanted to fight guys like that for a long time and I believe I am a few wins away from getting to them. But guys like Marquardt and Demian Maia are way out of my league right now. Especially a guy like Marquardt. He is probably little too much for me to handle right now. That guy is in the top ten for a reason. He is a bad ass and so is Demian Maia. I would most like to fight guys like Chris Leben and Patrick Cote because stylistically, they would be great matchups for me.
Heavy.com: Are you looking to work your way towards a rematch with Anderson Silva before he retires?
James Irvin: Honestly, I don’t think I would ever deserve a rematch with him unless I won ten fights in a row by vicious knockout! He might even be retired by then. I don’t want a rematch with Anderson Silva to be honest.
Heavy.com: Alright James, thank you for taking the time to chat. The floor is yours.
James Irvin: I just want to thank the UFC and I really appreciate you guys doing this interview for me after this long layoff.