"We’re obviously gonna push each other until the battery acid’s pumping through our veins and we can’t move, but if it goes three fives, then I’m gonna be prepared for that.”
Kyle Kingsbury always had the physical part of sports down. He wrestled and played football since he was a kid, moved on to play as a defensive lineman for Arizona State University, and in his first nine pro MMA bouts, he emerged with a 7-1, 1 NC record.
Then came The Ultimate Fighter 8 in 2008, and back-to-back losses against Ryan Bader and Krzysztof Soszynski. A third TUF-related loss followed in his first official UFC bout, as he dropped a three round decision to Tom Lawlor. It should have been panic time, but then he went back to a conversation he had with Soszynski during a chess game following their bout.
“He was the most experienced fighter in the house,” recalled Kingsbury. “I picked his brain while we were playing chess one day and he said the thing that guys don’t get, and some don’t get it their entire career, is that the mental part of the game is by far more important than the physical part.”
Immediately, he recalled the Lawlor bout, one where he was dominated on the mat by the former college wrestler.
“Every time he took me down I was like ‘aw $%^&, this again.’ It was like the world was crashing down on me mentally and it wasn’t until the third round that I snapped out of that and just said I’m gonna get back to my feet and pound this guy, no matter what; I don’t care if I lose. And once I reset myself mentally, you saw a different fight in the third round; it was just too late.”
The third round with Lawlor and the conversation with Soszynski both struck a nerve though, and he began to approach the fight game from a whole new angle, aided by work with a sports psychologist.
“I started working with him on different things – visualization, breathing techniques, and staying relaxed and calm when I’m in the pocket,” said Kingsbury. “Plus, we had a term in football – ‘push the reset button.’ So if a quarterback throws an interception, what does he do? He’s got to push the reset button. He can’t dwell on the past and the mistakes he made. He’s got to go out there and throw that ball without worry and without worrying about throwing another pick. It’s the same thing here. If I get taken down, I’ve got to say ‘where’s my hand positioning, how am I gonna get back to my feet?’ And start working on those things. So the change in mentality has really been a difference maker in each fight.”
Since pushing “the reset button” on his career, Kingsbury is 2-0 in the UFC, with a decision win over Razak Al Hassan at UFC 104 in October of 2009, and a points victory over Jared Hamman last September that earned Fight of the Night honors. Now all of a sudden, the 28-year old Kingsbury is a player in one of the sport’s richest divisions. But the 205-pound prospect can’t afford to rest on his laurels, not with Ricardo Romero charging at him this Saturday night in Las Vegas. On a UFC 126 card stacked with great matchups, this is another one with the potential to give the big names a run for their money. So Kingsbury has prepared for war.
“Obviously you push the cardio, but most importantly, anybody can pound a treadmill or go and run ten miles, but what has helped me and helped me in my fight with Jared was sparring a high intensity three rounds,” said Kingsbury. “I don’t need to go ten rounds, I don’t need to do five fives, I need to do three fives at a high pace with guys that are gonna push me. If that means bringing in fresh bodies, they do it; if it means staying with the same guy, like (UFC vet) Trevor Prangley, and working hard, then that’s what I do. I’ve had many battles where we’re throwing as hard as we can, we’re kicking each other and doing all these things. I’m working with (Olympic wrestler and MMA prospect Daniel) Cormier and he’s 255 and he’s laying on top of me, so I’ve got to push his head off the centerline and get back to my feet. And if I can move an Olympian that weighs 255 pounds off me I’ll have no trouble getting any 205er off me. You do those things enough so that when you go in there, it doesn’t really matter. We’re obviously gonna push each other until the battery acid’s pumping through our veins and we can’t move, but if it goes three fives, then I’m gonna be prepared for that.”
And Prangley, Cormier, Jon Fitch and the rest of the standouts at the American Kickboxing Academy gym in San Jose aren’t the only ones getting Kingsbury ready for this fight, as he split his camp this time around, working with fellow Sun Devils Ryan Bader, CB Dollaway, and Aaron Simpson at their new gym in Arizona. It’s a relationship that goes back to the days when Kingsbury was playing football at ASU and Bader, Dollaway, and UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez were roaming the campus as top level wrestlers. In those days, Cain was Cain – quiet until you got to know him, with Bader and Dollaway a little more outgoing. And while they were all friendly, the wrestlers didn’t necessarily hang out with the football players.
“The wrestlers really stick together,” laughed Kingsbury, whose last game for ASU was the 2004 Sun Bowl. “You go to these athletes’ parties when you’re in college and you see people from the volleyball, tennis, and golf teams, but the wrestlers, you never really saw that. They’d always have their little wrestling parties and invite their own friends. Cain would tell me that’s because no one wanted to hang out with the wrestlers. (Laughs) But it was all fun.”
A year and a half after graduation, Kingsbury moved on to MMA out of a desire to keep training, and while he didn’t have a steady home to train, that soon changed when one of his strength coaches at ASU recommended that he look up Velasquez at AKA. Kingsbury, a San Jose native, took the advice, and when his girlfriend got a job offer in Phoenix, the stage was set for Kingsbury to split time between San Jose and Arizona for training.
“I live there (in Arizona) half the year and then at AKA half the year. When I’m out in Arizona it’s an awesome change-up. You got a different look from new coaches, and it’s a nice variety to get that kind of quality input from different guys and they’re terrific wrestlers too, so to get to work with them as sparring partners and training partners has helped raise my game. And my family’s in the Bay Area and once I got to AKA, my career took off. I have a lot of coaches who are invested in me and I truly believe in them, and I’m training with some of the best in the world at AKA as well.”
It’s the perfect situation for Kingsbury, and with everything in order in his personal and professional life, there’s no need to hit that reset button again. It’s all forward progress from here.