"Let's be honest, if I'm up two rounds and we're going into the third, I
still have a guy trying to punch me in the face, I still have a guy
trying to choke me out..." - Kyle Kingsbury
The Octagon is a war zone and UFC fighters are its soldiers of fortune. The rank and file enter the cage aiming for a win, but there are others with deranged views of glory who seek three round slugfests that metaphorically set the arena on fire as fight fans scream along in the inferno of combat viewing excitement. The viking-like savagery these particular Mixed Martial Artists desire in their 15 minutes of ambidextrous assault is what keeps sane men up at night. These warriors who are only satiated by this havoc are bestowed upon them a coveted honor:
Fight of the Night.
One owner of two of these bonuses in his last three fights, UFC light heavyweight Kyle Kingsbury, rides to the cage to hand-picked battle anthems that strike fear into the heart of those waiting for him. Kingsbury’s songbirds of his opponent’s impending Octagon apocalypse are terrifying: Kenny Loggins, Duran Duran, Miley Cyrus, and, for the most unfortunate of foes, Selena Gomez.
“There's no doubt my love for the 80's,” laughs Kingsbury. “People ask why do you come out to that music? When I get to the cage, I want to be relaxed with a smile on my face and feeling comfortable. I don't want to be pumped up. The fight itself is enough to get me pumped up. When the cage door shuts and they're calling out my name and the crowd is cheering, that's enough to get my heart rate up. I don't need death metal or any of that stuff to get me going. When I go out there, I want a song that is going to make me laugh, make me smile, make me think about the old days growing up and put me into a nice cool place. It's no different when I'm heading to the gym. I don't need to have Metallica on when I'm going there; maybe when I was lifting weights back in the day playing football I needed that. But when I'm headed to the gym, I want something that is going to put a smile on my face, something I can sing along to. A little Selena Gomez or Miley Cyrus - there's nothing wrong with that.”
Truly dark and twisted, indeed. In all seriousness, the 29-year old Californian doesn’t need to “mean mug” or get himself angry to go blow for blow with the best 205ers this sport has to offer. Kingsbury is a professional fighter who enjoys his job of knuckled competition and is trying to stay as far away from fighting on pure emotions. After four successful trips to the Octagon, Kingsbury is more focused than ever to keep that mellowness while exchanging fists and feet with “The American Psycho,” Stephan Bonnar, in Kingsbury’s hometown of San Jose, California on November 19th at UFC 139.
“Especially fighting in front of the hometown crowd, it will be about how composed can I be,” says Kingsbury. “If I'm more relaxed and composed then you're going to see some pretty cool stuff standing and a lot better wrestling. Everything is going to come together better. I use my teammate Daniel Cormier as an example. His last couple fights against Jeff Monson and Antonio Silva, you see a look of relaxation on his face and just how calm and collected he is and then everything starts landing and everything starts working. That's what I want to have going into this fight. I want to be completely relaxed and enjoy the moment with the crowd, but I don't want it to get the best of me. I don't want to let it get me sidetracked. Get drawn in by the energy of the crowd and stay even keel and be relaxed fighting Stephan and if I can do that then the crowd will see some really cool stuff.”
The UFC faithful have already seen marked improvement from the 11-2, 1 NC Kingsbury in his three years in the organization. After The Ultimate Fighter season 8, Kingsbury’s UFC debut was a decision loss to fellow housemate Tom Lawlor. Since then, Kingsbury has racked up a four fight win streak, including a 21 second knockout of Ricardo Romero and two Fight of the Night bonuses against Jared Hamman and, most recently, Fabio Maldonado at the TUF 13 Finale in June. Kingsbury is 6’4”, athletic, can eat a punch to deliver two back, even against a knockout artist like Maldonado, and is only gaining confidence with each hard fought win.
“I think I've really improved upon the mental aspect of the game,” tells Kingsbury. “I've touched on it before that I've worked with sports psychologists since being on The Ultimate Fighter and I think I've improved greatly focusing on the positives going into fights. Even still, there was a level of nervousness going into the fight with Maldonado because of how dangerous he was with his hands. Getting into a fight with those nerves, but being able to keep my composure and staying somewhat even keel enough to last all three rounds I think is a testament to my will. Even when things are not perfect, I can make it through them un-rattled. Maldonado is an unknown and not enough people give him credit for being 22-0 in boxing with 21 knockouts. This guy is knocking dudes out with big gloves, so you put this guy in 4 ounce gloves and you will feel it. I feel like I've gone against one of the best boxers in the division, if not the whole UFC. Honestly, I respect Stephan Bonnar's standup, but I don't think he's going to hit me with the same power. Being able to go through a fight and having taken those shots, and I'm not saying I was walking right through them, but I didn't get knocked out and I still came through with the victory. I feel like I can stand with anyone now. I have an increased confidence in my standup knowing that my chin is solid and able to make it through a guy who has that boxing pedigree.”
As for the brutal bout with Maldonado, it was all about the clinch game. Kingsbury’s weapon of choice was on full display, as he secured that Muay Thai clinch and delivered knees to Maldonado’s body. Meanwhile, the Brazilian fought back by delivering some of the sickest body punches ever seen inside the Octagon. It was a game of chicken, a war fought in the trenches, and it came down to who would blink first. After three rounds, Kingsbury walked out the victor, but a healthy respect was earned for both competitors’ ability to give and receive punishment that Saturday night.
“One of the things my coaches told me was, ‘Every time you get in the clinch you want to move his head because if you don't he'll just plant and deliver one to your body,’” remembers Kingsbury. “That's easier said than done when you have a guy with a great base. Some of the time I was able to give him a quick turn and start throwing knees and he would go right into blocking and trying to defend. Other times, I would get the clinch and approach with knees first without that movement and he would just bury one to the body. A lot of people don't realize how hard those hit. After the fight, I was in the hospital and the nurses would walk by and look at my face and go, 'Oh my God, are you ok?' And I would go, 'The face doesn't hurt. This hurts.' And I would lift my shirt and it was black and blue all up and down my ribs. You don't see guys let go of that plumb, the Muay Thai plumb, often, but he would deliver one of those shots right down the pipe and I would have the wind knocked out of me. I had the wind knocked out of me a couple times in that fight. People were also saying what about your cardio? I had great cardio going into that fight, but you try staying relaxed and breathing easy after you've had the wind knocked out of you a few times - it doesn't really work that way.”
Up next for the Arizona State University alum is the showdown at UFC 139 with Bonnar. On paper it is tough to tell who will be the “thunder” and who will be the “lightning”, but this should naturally be a perfect storm inside the Octagon. “The American Psycho” will be making his 14th UFC appearance with an overall career of 16-7, including a Fight of the Night with Krzysztof Soszynski and, of course, the most famous fight in company history against Forrest Griffin at the first TUF finale. Bonnar is big, aggressive, and versatile, and he should be an excellent counterweight to Kingsbury to make for a high energy, back and forth clash that the fans will love.
“I wanted a bigger name guy who was the right fit coming up and obviously someone I thought I matched well against and would make for an exciting fight,” asserts Kingsbury. “Stephan fit the bill. He’s a guy who is known for exciting fights, he's got incredible tenacity, incredible heart, and he's never been finished in a UFC fight except for a TKO from cuts. That's the type of guy I want - this Fight of the Night feel. Whether I get a Fight of the Night or not, we want to put on exciting fights and that's something I want to be known for. Getting into a fight with Stephan fits the bill because you know it's going to go three 5's - it's going to be an all out war.”
To prepare for the battle with Bonnar, Kingsbury has been training for the last four months with his team at the highly regarded American Kickboxing Academy in sunny San Jose. For this bout, Kingsbury has had an added focus on his cardio to be ready to push the pace on Bonnar for all three rounds. One way Kingsbury is achieving this is by taking on some of the wrestling world’s best everyday in the gym.
“You surround yourself with great coaches, great sparring and training partners like I have, there is no other option than to improve,” states Kingsbury. “We've had Daniel Cormier as my wrestling coach and his pedigree is unsurpassed. Cain Velasquez has his fight a week before mine, so we've been in camp together this whole time. You come in everyday and get your butt kicked by Cain everyday and it is sink or swim because you have to make improvements. King Mo (Lawal) is a new addition to our team and has been a great help. Also, Mark Ellis (2009 NCAA national heavyweight wrestling champion from University of Missouri), who is a relatively unknown in MMA. So I get a lot of different looks. No matter which day I come in there's always someone there who is better than me at something. There's always someone there that will be better than me that will push me in that department and after we're done training they'll give me tips to get better in that department. All of that rubs off on you. Just being around those guys forces you to be a better athlete - a better fighter.”
This Saturday, Kingsbury will look to extend his winning streak with another slobberknocker against the similarly game Bonnar. Taking on “The American Psycho” is definitely a step-up in name recognizable competition, but Kingsbury has proven he can fight through adversity in the cage and is only getting better by training with the UFC’s best outside of it. He is progressing as a fighter, as a force in the light heavyweight division and, at UFC 139, Kingsbury will be moving forward against Bonnar for a win and, maybe, another Fight of the Night.
“There's a hundred reasons to keep trying to knock the guy out,” affirms Kingsbury. “There's a hundred reasons to keep trying to finish the guy. There's really only a couple to coast; that would be if you're badly hurt or completely gassed to then put it in cruise control. Even still, you see guys like Wanderlei Silva completely exhausted just swinging for the fences in the last minute of each round. That's something that's awesome and it's something the fans love. He's not mailing it in at any point. That's something that I try to embody when I'm out there. I want the fans to think that yeah, he's going for it. Let's be honest, if I'm up two rounds and we're going into the third, I still have a guy trying to punch me in the face, I still have a guy trying to choke me out, I still have a guy trying to put me on my back and trying to smash me. All those things considered I'm still engaged. Even in my last fight, I had a fractured eye, but I was still coming after Maldonado trying to keep him away from me. Defensively, I have to stay on offense. There's not really a situation in this fight where you're not going to see me pushing the pace in the third round and going after Stephan and making this an exciting fight.”
While Bonnar and he are battering each other with their fists and feet, remember that Kingsbury is enjoying all of this and, just maybe, with Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” playing in his head. Which does beg the question, who is the real “American Psycho”?