Some UFC fighters have skills unlike any other inside the Octagon. Whether it's a kickboxing stud, an incomparable judoka, or a Muay Thai specialist, there are a select few who have skills that make them stand out among the rest.
Outisde the Octagon, there are some who possess a skill that's equally as difficult to master: The gift of gab. Here's a look at those who always step up to the mic and leave the fans begging for more.
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Emotional, honest, filterless, brash. Those are the attributes former middleweight / welterweight Phil Baroni always brings to an interview, sometimes in the same sentence. And while “The New York Bad Ass” can definitely bring out that persona, his interviews are among the most revealing about the sport and his place in it when that skin gets shed.
QUOTABLE: “When I was a little kid in my yard, other kids were winning the World Series by hitting an imaginary a home run with a count of three balls and two strikes, and some kids were sinking the three pointer with two seconds left to win the championship basketball game. I was shadowboxing Mike Tyson or I was fighting in the Kumite in Bloodsport. That’s what I always wanted to be – I always wanted to be a fighter and a world champion. I never wanted to be Don Mattingly, I never wanted to be Patrick Ewing or Mike Bossy; I wanted to be Mike Tyson and Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran.”
If there’s someone who hates interviews more than Cro Cop, it could be Nick Diaz. But like the former PRIDE legend, Diaz is someone who will give a writer what he needs and more once the questions start flowing. I hate to kill the bad boy persona, but Diaz and his brother Nate are two of the more thoughtful folks in the game once you catch them. But oh, the chase to catch them…
QUOTABLE: “I just think in my head that the guy that I’m fighting had it easy. They haven’t been where I’ve been and they’re not as crazy as I am and that’s the way it is. You’re just not. I know you’re not. I know it. That’s the way I think. I know you’re not trying to get up out of this hell hole. You’re just trying to be the best that you can be. I’m gonna come out of my hell hole and I’m gonna beat you.”
Including Forrest Griffin may come as a surprise to some of my colleagues, but despite the fact that the UFC Hall of Famer can pop off one word answers to questions and go completely off-topic at times, I like that with a Griffin interview, I have to be on top of my game. And if you take the time to prepare for the interview and come up with good questions, more often than not, he will give you a great interview in return.
QUOTABLE: “It’s one of those things where when you’re training and fighting, you can’t worry about your bills, your mortgage, did you get your girlfriend pregnant, your pet’s cancer, or anything. Nothing else matters but that dude trying to kick you in the face or throw you on your head or trying to rip your arm out of the socket. It becomes a singularity of purpose, which an ADD kid like me rarely gets. I like that moment of clarity in fights, and I truly have that. I lose myself in the details of those 15 minutes and you don’t worry about what people think of you.”
No one sells like a professional wrestler. Put that pro wrestler in mixed martial arts, and while the outcomes aren’t scripted anymore, the ability to tell a story and promote remains unchanged. UFC Hall of Famer Ken Shamrock was the king when it comes to this, and Brock Lesnar, while not as loquacious or accessible as “The World’s Most Dangerous Man,” was just as able to get you interested in his fights. Being 6-3, 265 pounds didn’t hurt either.
QUOTABLE: “I was born this way. I was born a bad motherf**ker and that’s who I am. It ain’t an act, and it’s not a line. There’s nobody out there like me. I was born to do this, and I’ll fight whoever they put in front of me. I’ve proven myself over and over again that this is my way of life. Where does it come from? I don’t know, it’s just who I am.”
An elite self-promoter, UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor may have talked the talk since his Octagon debut in 2013, but he’s also walked the walk, tearing through all comers on his way to the 145-pound title. But fighting can only get you so far. People have to have a connection with a fighter if he’s to become a star, and Dublin’s finest certainly has made that connection with his fans.
QUOTABLE: “It hasn’t surprised me. I set my standards high, I aim high, and I was expecting this. As soon as I got the contract I knew this was gonna happen, I knew I have something that people want to see. I don’t quite know what it is and I can’t put it into words, but people tune in, they see me once, and they will tune in every time after that.”
The late, great Kevin Randleman was my first MMA interview back in 2000, before his UFC 28 fight against Randy Couture, and when it was over, I knew that I would be covering MMA for the rest of my career. If you ever talked to “The Monster,” you’ll know why. If not, just know that every interview was an experience I will never forget.
QUOTABLE: “With the things that have happened in my life, I don’t sweat the small stuff. To get hit in the face in a fight does not scare me one bit. Randy Couture had me down and you don’t understand what was going through my mind. ‘Wow, I’ve never been punched like this before, and it doesn’t hurt.’ That’s all I kept thinking. I looked at the clock and I was like, ‘Okay, I’ve got 20-30 seconds,’ but it was stopped.”
The first lady of MMA may be a household name these days, but even from the start, Ronda Rousey was a quote machine unwilling to use the phrase “off the record.” She was one of a kind then, and after chatting with her recently in New York City when the MMA bill was signed into law, nothing has changed.
QUOTABLE: “Contrary to what a lot of people believe, I never underestimate a single opponent. I always assume that they’re going to be the best I’m ever going to be facing, the best version of them that’s ever going to be seen, and the very first opening I see, I’m gonna go for it. I’m not going to be cocky enough to think that I can let certain openings slip by so I can finish the fight in a style that I think is cooler. I assume that if I see one opening to finish a fight, that could be the only one I will ever see and I have to capitalize on it. I never relax in a fight, thinking that I’m such a shoo-in that I can finish in any way I want. I’m always so worried that there might be only one chance or no chances for me to see a finish, so I have to try and create and capitalize on every single thing that I see.”
Well, you knew “The Gangster from West Linn” was going to make an appearance here. But the great thing about Chael P. Sonnen is that while most have only realized how great he is in the interview process over the last few years, he’s been doing this ever since his first stint in the UFC. I recall dubbing him “MMA’s last honest man” one time, and he corrected me by saying he was MMA’s “only” honest man. That’s Chael.
QUOTABLE: “I will take on whoever, and a lot of guys say that because it’s got a nice ring to it, and then behind the scenes, when Joe Silva calls, all of a sudden their arm hurts, their knee hurts, or their shoulder’s sore. They need to get their tonsils removed or they need to play in a movie when they really don’t know how to act. Guys come up with a lot of reasons not to get in there, and I have a lot of reasons too. I’ve never felt good when it comes to fight. Not one time have I walked in the ring feeling good. But when that music comes on, I will make that walk every single time, regardless of the opponent. I never think about who’s across from me.”