‘Da Last Samurai’, now living in California, has fought his way back to the UFC, but this success has not come without sacrifice.
You had a UFC run as an up-and-coming prospect then you were released. You fought your way back to the UFC and you are 2-1 in this current stretch. Do you feel like you have some momentum going now?
Right now I feel pretty good. I won five of my last six. I feel like I am doing the right things. I feel like I found a really good formula. I want to see how far I can take it.
The ability to fight your way back to the big show is impressive. How great did it feel when you got the call and that second chance?
It was great. Honestly, I was starting to have doubts. At the time, before the call, I questioned whether it was even worth it. I just had a rough cut to 125. I got clipped in that fight. I gave it my all and I was so tired. Man, I had been working hard for a year to try to fight consistently. I had been in camp the whole time. I was super drained and tired. I was running out of money. Fuck, dude I might have to go get a real job. It was looking pretty bleak, you know?
You battled through some serious personal and professional obstacles during that time away from the UFC. What kept you fighting through those valleys?
It was for my wife and my kid. That was the only thing that got me through. I probably would have given up if it wasn’t for them.
Part of that personal struggle was a battle with alcoholism. How did you manage to work through that piece of the puzzle?
I was a reckless kid. That’s just how it was. I drank a lot. When I lost, I guess I was just looking for answers in the wrong places. It got me. I can live day to day like that.
You are a Hawaii native but now you are calling California home. What has that adjustment been like?
It’s crazy. The scene up here is really different. It’s so big. The infrastructure for fighters in California is so developed. Especially where I am in Orange County, the scene seems really developed. That is the best way I can describe it. I am not used to seeing this level of support of the industry. It’s pretty crazy. Everything is so finely tuned. There are so many sponsors. There are so many people who are working to help you out. There are so many facets of it which have been taken care of already by my manager Jason (House). There is a tax guy. So, when it comes time for taxes there is a dude that specializes in MMA taxes who gets my stuff done and knows how to write things off. There is a guy for that? What? There are guys who specialize in massage in our industry. They know exactly what to look for and what to work on. It’s trippy. It’s awesome.
While we are on the topic of California, I heard that you are training at the iconic Big Bear. What has that experience been like for you?
We went up there with Carla Esparza when she was training for a fight in Mexico at elevation. She dips out for 20 minutes. We are just chilling, watching movies or whatever. She comes back and has a picture posted on her IG with Gennady Golovkin. I was like ‘What the fuck?’ I said ‘You didn’t even call anybody, Carla? What the shit?’ She said she was sorry and that her friend knew him and she didn’t know. She said she thought she was getting some protein bars or something. Bullshit! I told her Carla I was going to give her shit forever for that. (Laughs)
Speaking of training, you have said that there are days where you just hate it all. What gets you through one of those days where you are hating life as an MMA fighter?
I subscribe to the Nick Diaz theory that you have to love it so much that you hate it. You have to love it so much, this is what you do, and to be better than everybody else you have to push yourself so hard. You have to love the process of figuring out the right combination and the right strategy. You have to be willing to push yourself to some really deep places. You have to be willing to kill yourself. You have to be willing to go really far for this. It’s horrible doing it. You are tearing your body apart, literally, to make this work. It hurts. It hurts to do. You are going to hate doing it. You have to love the process of what you are doing so much that you are willing to go through all of that.
There is a thin line between love and hate. So it definitely crossed that line for you?
Seriously! At the end of the day I know it’s what I love. I know the day I have to walk away I am going to be sad. Fuck it. Take the good with the bad and just try to keep going. Just suck it up, really.
With all that said, what inspired you to get into the sport to begin with?
I don’t know why I like it but I like fighting. Even as a kid, I always liked fighting. I have been fascinated with it. When I was a little kid I wanted to do WWE because that was the closest thing to real fighting. Then you get to be 10 or 12 years old and you realize that it isn’t real. It’s not what I thought it was. Then for a while I thought maybe I would just get into fights at school or at the bar. Then right around that time, MMA started coming on.
That’s when The Ultimate Fighter came out. I didn’t know what it was or watch it until season two. There was a marathon on Spike or something. I came into the room while they were fighting. Holy shit! What is this? Then on the TV it was like ‘The next episode coming up next’. I was hooked right there. I watched Rashad Evans beat the crap out of Brad Imes. I got hooked on the second season. I was in. I was all the way in. This is what is happening from now on! Then my friend Mike told me about Pride. I would stay up late at night to watch it. It was 1am in Hawaii. I would stay up late to watch it all.
You said that you act like a child and may be a bit immature. Your words not mine. Where does that piece of the personality and mindset originate?
Being stagnant is the enemy in our sport. Once you settle into a rhythm and you keep doing the same things you get stagnant and that’s when other fighters can figure you out. That will be your downfall. I try to act like a child because kids are always learning. If you are constantly learning you are constantly growing and you are constantly getting better. I try to look at techniques or demonstrations of philosophy with a really childlike mindset. I don’t want to go into any technique with any bias. I want to have an open mind to everything.