I actually spoke to you a few years ago when you were in Strikeforce. We had a really interesting talk. Obviously it’s been, ah, I want to say three years since then, and a lot has changed. How does it feel to be back with Scott Coker and company?
It’s great. I think everybody has been asking about the Coker thing. Coker has a big name and he’s well respected by a lot of people, so I think it’s great to have an opportunity to work under him again.
So realistically, in Bellator, you can be potentially be the first person that holds a major pro-wrestling promotion’s title and a major MMA promotion’s title. So with that said, are you making a run in Bellator?
Well no, I’ve never thought about it that way. I think that would be amazing history, and I think that will never be done again. So I guess so. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep that TNA title. There’s a lot of people coming after me, so if I can keep it longer than that and have it by the time I get an opportunity at a title shot in Bellator, that would be an incredible experience. So I’ll do what I can.
There was rumors of you fighting Fedor. How close was that to coming to fruition?
Well that was kind of stuff that I was asked. I was asked after, I think I was probably two fights into, maybe three fights into my career, and I got called to fight Fedor on like a two day notice. So it wasn’t from like whether I was ready or not, it just how much money they were gonna pay me to go out there and just swing for the fences and that’s it.
Right. I trying to think, when was this? What fight would you have hopped in against? I’m trying to think, like…
Well, you know, it was on an Affliction PPV where I think he was supposed to fight Josh Barnett.
Josh Barnett. That makes sense.
I think he ended up fighting, um… who was he fighting? Brett Rogers. Fedor was fighting Brett Rogers.
I wasn’t in a camp at the time, so it wasn’t a really realistic offer for me.
Yeah, absolutely. It seems like you took a step back from MMA in 2012. Kind of got bearings, healed your wounds. And then you had three great fights in 2013 and now you’ve taken another 8-9 months off, maybe longer, since your last fight. Why did you take those breaks? Did you need to revitalize your love of the sport?
No, I just went through a kind of family issue, really. A relationship change where I have kids and I got used to being a single father. It took a while to adjust. I really couldn’t train as much as I wanted to because I had my kids. I had two very youngs kids, they were two and five at the time. I had a family thing; I had to be a daddy for a little while. Daddy and mommy for a while. That was the real reason why I stood back and got everything together and just spent a lot of time with my kids in that transition.
That’s great. Coming from someone who was raised by a single parent, that’s admirable and appreciated. So did you fighting in TNA have any impact on your coming to Bellator?
No, I mean I spoke to Dixie about it. Originally, when I signed a contract with TNA, they asked ‘You know,’ they gotta protect the company, they asked me if this was something that I wanted to be apart of. They didn’t want me to be a part timer with TNA. With just such a limited schedule, they wanted to make sure that I was really gonna be there for the extent of the long haul. And I did, and that’s one thing that I wanted to make sure they knew. That I wasn’t just gonna start with them and then walk away. Wanted to make sure they knew that I was all in, but at the same time we talked about doing the fighting thing and making sure that they were completely open to it. Wanted to see what happened if I went to do it. I talked to Bellator a little while ago and then when they actually offered me a contract I called Dixie, talked to her and asked her what she thought about it, and she was all for it. That made it huge for me to sign the contract and I look forward to fight.
Yeah, that’s really cool. So when you were originally negotiating with Bellator, talking to Bellator, was that pre or post Scott Coker? Were you speaking to Bjorn Rebney at the time?
Yeah, I talked to Bjorn and actually I signed before Coker came in.
I’ve talked with Bellator for years and years it seems like during the transition. I didn’t want open up my personal life to let them know that I was talking a step back from everything. That I was just gonna be a daddy for a while.
Didn’t want to bring that into the equation. Just kind of told them that I didn’t think it was the right time and that I didn’t think I was gonna be able to do it just because, for a father, maybe it’s a little easier for a mother, but for a father taking on little kids – it’s a little bit of an adjustment. I didn’t want to put my kids second to anything. I wanted to make sure that I had a good plan and schedule in place. Then, had it been going the way it’s supposed to before doing anything else, yeah I took a little bit of time, but my kids are the most important thing to me.
Looking back, if you could have changed anything about your ECW championship run, what would it have been?
Ah, I don’t know. Many moons ago…
I would understand a little bit more. I didn’t understand kind of the politics of wrestling as much then. I didn’t know how to play anything. I would probably educate myself a little bit more on the power struggles. Teach myself to watch out for kind of, I guess, how I’d have allied with. And then I would’ve just spent a little bit more time in the gym. I think my wrestling ability now is way more advanced and way more than what I was. Then I was kind of a big guy playing a big guy role, whereas now, I’m working with really good guys and my work rate a lot better.
Interesting. So Josh Burns, your opponent, he’s a big, scary dude. You’re just a giant of men, heh. How do you think this fight is gonna play out?
I think it’s gonna be like a train wreck. I don’t think it’s gonna be anything less. It’s one of those classic tales of striker versus wrestler. The striker versus the ground guy. I know he’s gonna come out swinging hard and I gotta kind of screw his game plan; take him down, control him, beat him up on the ground, and then kind of wear him out a little bit. I think my conditioning is a lot better than it ever was before. I don’t think that’s gonna be a factor. I think it might be a factor for him. So I’m gonna try and take him into deep waters and see how he survives.
Do you have any interest in wrestling in Japan?
Oh yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of wrestling in Japan. I’ve been doing that for about 3-4 years after I left WWE.
When’s the last time you were back? I can’t remember, I think it’s been over a year, right?
Yeah, it’s been over a year. I was wrestling with Inoki in IGF.
That organization, they’re not that traditional pro-wrestling style. But I enjoy it down there. It was a case of taking guys that didn’t know how to wrestle and then kind of mixing it with the fighting.
Right. And if I remember correctly, Inoki’s promotion is going to North Korea with Bob Sapp as a headliner. Would you ever be interested in doing something like that?
Yeah, they actually asked me to go there. The timing was just off. It was this weekend and of course I couldn’t do it because I got a fight the weekend after it. If they were doing it the weekend after I had fought, then I would’ve definitely entertained going.
So my final question for you is one of the most fascinating stories, and we’ve talked about this briefly many years ago, but this is something that I think has to still stick with you. It’s interesting to me how life has paths and they work out this way. You’re in the bank, the robbery happens, you fall on your knee, and that ruins your Olympic hopes. Do you still think about that day and how things have worked out for you?
Yeah, you know I was just talking about that this past weekend. Cause everybody asked me, why pro wrestler? It was one of those things where one door closed and the other door opened at the same time. I think it’s one of those things where you’re meant to be. I always say that. There’s a lot of things that we want to do, but then there are a lot of things we’re not even meant to… we’re cruising on cruise control. I think at that point in my life I was still geared towards trying to make it to the team and wrestling and everything. And when everything got taken away it was like a big shocker for me. I didn’t know what I where I was gonna go or what I was gonna do. With the bank robbery, it was just a time of stopping everything and then shaking everything up and doing something different. Literally, I mean, I was sitting on the couch, praying, saying ‘What next?’ I spent 18-19 years of my life in hopes of possibly making it to the goal, and I was right where I wanted to be, for staying in the right weight class and I took third at the world team trials and I took second in the world trials – or – the world championship the year before. So I was like man, this is it I mean, I have some longevity here, I can make my name here, and I could really go for it. But I think that wasn’t the plan I was designed to take. So I don’t really look back at it and say ‘Well, it should’ve went this way.’ It was like I’m kind of grateful for the way things happened, because the way things happened now, it gave me an opportunity. It gave me an opportunity of becoming a pro-wrestler, which I never thought that I would ever be. And I’m glad that I got an opportunity to go down that path, because I love it and I think that’s where I needed to be.