Hugely popular former pro and NCAA wrestling champion Brock Lesnar will face 7-foot-2 South Korean giant Hong Man Choi in the eagerly awaited co-main event of the highly anticipated “Softbank presents Dynamite!! USA ‘’ mega MMA extravaganza on Saturday, June 2, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It is presented by FEG (Fighting Entertainment Group), ProElite and Showtime Networks Inc.
In a grudge rematch, Royce Gracie faces Japan’s Kazushi Sakuraba in the other co-main event.
The Lesnar-Choi, Gracie-Sakuraba fights are two of six that will be produced and distributed live by SHOWTIME® Pay-Per-View (10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT). Other pay-per-view bouts are scheduled to include: Mighty Mo vs. Mu Bae Choi, Ray Sefo vs. Marvin Eastman, Melvin Manhoef vs. Dong Sik Yoon, and f ormer University of Southern California and NFL star Johnnie Morton, who will make his MMA debut, against Bernard Ackah.
The pay-per-view fights will be preceded by a one-hour telecast on SHOWTIME® (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT) that will feature some of ProElite’s top performers, Antonio “Big Foot” Silva (against Jonathan Wiezorek) and Jake Shields (against Ido Pariente).
Shields: I am fighting on the Cesar Gracie fight team and Fairtex team in San Francisco , Calif. I have been fighting for quite awhile, probably about six or seven years. I originally started fighting on the San Luis Obispo wrestling team. (A long time ago) Chuck Liddell had a little gym. I stopped by and hooked up with Chuck and started working out a little bit. (I) Kind of got into it from there. (I) Fought in a few small shows in California . Then I moved to San Francisco to wrestle and that is when I hooked up with Cesar Gracie and then from there he got me in Shooto. (I) Fought in Japan for quite awhile and won the Shooto world title. I recently hooked up with Rumble on the Rock and won the Rumble on the Rock Grand Prix tournament and their championship. Then I did a couple of other shows. Now, here I am with ProElite and ready to fight.
Question: Jake, when you began your career, you were not affiliated with any promoters yet you worked your way up to where you are now. How pleased are you now to finally be associated with a promoter?
Shields: I have fought all over the place, so it is nice to be finally in a big show in the U.S. I fought in some big shows in Japan, but now I am here with ProElite and ready for the big time.
Question: You are fighting a guy, Ido Pariente. What do you know about him?
Shields: I do not know too much. He is a brown belt in Jiu-Jitsu. He supposedly has got pretty good Muay Thai (skills). I have only gotten one fight of his, but he was pretty good. I think he is someone I should beat, but it is hard to tell. He is pretty much an unknown because of only having one fight and coming from Israel . It is hard to know too much about the guy.
Question: How would you describe your style?
Shields: I started as a wrestler and then got into Jiu-Jitsu. Lately, I have been doing just Muay Thai and boxing. I am trying to round it out but originally I was definitely more of a grappler.
Question: Jake, is it easier or more difficult to prepare for a guy with little MMA experience?
Shields: It is much more difficult because you do not know what he is going to do. I was finally able to find one video of his, (but it was) two years old. So it is hard to see what he really does. You have just got to go in there and fight.
Question: Is there anything specific you are working on in camp and do you have a specific strategy for the fight?
Shields: Not really, since I do not know what he does. So I have to kind of go and feel him out and see where he is best. I do not know if he is better on stand-up or ground. I just have to go out and fight and see how good his hands are, see how good his ground is and from there decide where I want to fight him.
Question: Are you worried that since Nick Diaz is now with ProElite that you guys might come into conflict with one another in the future, where you might have to compete against each other, or one of you has to step aside for the other to get a world title shot?
Shields: That is a little bit of a factor, but we are good friends and I am sure we can work it out. I doubt we would fight each other. It would have to be a lot of money to get us to fight each other, to make it worthwhile. As far as one of us holding the title, the other person could always either go up or down in weight or figure something out. It is just good to have a good training partner like that to really push (you).
Question: You pretty much based your reputation on smaller fights. Is there any way that you prepare differently for this type of bigger atmosphere, on a larger stage?
Shields: Not really. Some of those shows were smaller, but I was fighting top level competition. (In one tournament that was not shown in the U.S. ), there were like three or four top 10 welterweights in the world there and Shooto. So in the last two years, all my fights I have been training really hard and just doing the same thing. Trying to pick up and learn new things constantly. But my training is always hard.
Question: When you are preparing for a fight like this, much goes on in the background with promotions and talk on the Internet and people hyping a fight. Is this something that enters your consciousness when you are training and is it a factor? Or are you so isolated in your training that you try not to worry about that kind of stuff?
Shields: I just stick around my friends and training partners. I do not really go too much on the Internet. I just do the interviews when I am called and, obviously, the bigger the fight, the better you want to work and the more pressure. But regardless, I am training hard and training to go out there and do my best.
Question: Is there pressure on you as you continue to progress up the ranks?
Shields: There is obviously a little pressure, especially a fight like this where I am favored. I think you feel more pressure when you are supposed to win as opposed to the guy who is supposed to lose. So it is always nice to be the underdog. A fight like this, where I'm fighting an unknown and I am the known guy, there is definitely a little bit more pressure.
Question: Have you been the underdog for most of your career?
Shields: At least for awhile. I have been favored in my last few fights, but when I first started, I was kind of unknown. And then they (put me in with a guy ranked) three or four in the world. (Winning) Fights like that are always nice when you go out and they expect you to lose.
Question: What has been your toughest fight?
Shields: I have had some tough fights, but Yushin Okami was really tough. He comes to mind.
Question: What has been your most pleasing victory?
Shields: I've had a good amount of good victories, but beating “Mach” Sakurai was really nice because I was completely unknown at the time and he was one of the biggest name fighters.
Question: Do you live in the mountains near San Francisco ?
Shields: No, I used to live in the mountains. That's where I grew up. Now, I live in San Francisco .
Question: As a lifelong vegetarian, what do you eat and how do you prepare your food when you travel, or go overseas?
Shields: I try to bring some food with me, obviously. When I was going to Japan , I started even bringing my own little stove so I could cook my own food. Especially in Japan , it is hard to eat because everything is fish and meat. But around the U.S. , I am able to find vegetarian food. But when it is fight time, I try to bring extra food with me.
Question: How do you get food through customs?
Shields: I just bring stuff. You know, you cannot bring fruits and vegetables. You have to buy those. But you can bring all that canned and packaged stuff.
Question: As far as ProElite and EliteXC are concerned, the thing they have been saying (since day one) is that they are willing to work with other groups in an attempt to get one world champion in each weight class. How do you feel about that?
Shields: I think that is awesome. That is what the sport needs. That is what boxing has been able to do to a pretty good extent. So far, MMA has not been able to do that. Hopefully, that will take place. Realistically, I do not think it will happen in the next few years. But hopefully down the line, it will start happening.
Question: What did you get out of the experience of participating in the BodogFight filming?
Shields: The Bodog experience was great. I was in Costa Rica like nine or 10 days. All the people were really nice. It was interesting fighting for just the fighters. I definitely liked how it was run. So I might do it again.
Question: How old were you when you decided you wanted to pursue a career in MMA? Were you a tough kid growing up?
Shields: I was a pretty tough kid growing up. I grew up in the mountains and it was a tough area. My parents were kind of hippies. I had longer hair when I was a kid. So growing up there, I had to fight a lot. It got me kind of tough. But I never really thought I wanted to be a fighter. I always watched fights and then kind of got caught up in them by accident. In the first few fights, I did not think I wanted to make a career out of it. I was just doing it as more of a hobby, and then kind of got hooked from there. A few years ago, I decided to pursue it as a career.
Question: What is your deal with ProElite in terms of fights on your contract? Is it a single fight or multiple fights?
Shields: Three fights, but there is a little bit of a non-exclusivity to it. So I will still be able to fight in some other shows.
Question: Do your victories include primarily submissions, knockouts or by score?
Shields: More submissions and decisions and like TKOs, but no knockouts yet. Lately, I have been working on my standup, so hopefully I will get my first knockout on June 2.
Question: What is your impression of the image marketing of the MMA sport, and do you think there is a significant difference in taking this fight into such a large venue?
Shields: We will see how it works with the different marketing. Hopefully, it works out for the new style, more towards Japan and stuff. But definitely a big venue. Hopefully, they sell good. Sounds like a lot of people are going there, but it just depends – it is just so big..
Question: In the past, they have tried to promote the grudge aspect of fights or the intensity of the competition, as opposed to it just being a sport. Do you agree with that approach and maybe attribute that to having been able to approach a venue like the Coliseum?
Shields: Yes, I definitely think that is a great approach. But it is hard to say what the U.S. audience thinks. It is different than Japan here. Hopefully, it will work here. I think in the long run, it will be more of an entertainment thing, but currently in the U.S. right now, people have always been into the grudge matches and stuff.
Question: Do you consider yourself a role model for the sport?
Shields: Yes, I think so.
Question: Is there any disadvantage to having yourself in more than one promotion at this time and is it kind of hard to concentrate working your way up the belt(s)?
Shields: Hopefully, we are talking about two shows and hopefully I can take both their belts and then I can stay more active because I want to be fighting a lot this next year or two. I just want to stay busy and take all the belts.
Question: How many fights did you have in 2006?
Shields: I had four.
Question: Is that a good number for you?
Shields: Yes. I think about four or five fights is perfect because you want the active, but you also do not want to over-fight and run yourself down and get injured.
Question: Have you suffered any type of injury?
Shields: No. I have been pretty lucky and have never had any serious injuries. Obviously, I have been banged up a little bit, cuts and all that, but no serious injuries. I dislocated my elbow, but that was the worst injury I have ever had in competing.
Question: You have fought in Japan and Hawaii in the States. Do you think there is possibly a disadvantage to fighting so close to home? Are there distractions from family and friends?
Shields: There are obviously some disadvantages. I think the advantages outweigh them, but yes, there are disadvantages from having so many people there – which is good having all that support – but it can also be distracting with everyone trying to talk to you before the fight and everyone calling and dealing with everyone. It is kind of nice when you just go away and get into isolation and it is just like you and your corner with nothing to worry about.
Question: Do you have any closing comments you would like to share?
Shields: I want to thank all the fans for their support and thank Tap Out and Fairtex, my sponsors.
Question: Brock, how are you doing and what are your thoughts going into your first fight?
Lesnar: I feel really good. Of course, everybody is going to say that. But I feel good and I have been training for almost a full year for this. Since I signed with the company, we have been trying to organize a fight and it has taken a year. I am glad that the fight date is coming to an end and very excited to step in the ring and to show the world that I can fight.
Question: How do you prepare for somebody so big and is that an advantage or a disadvantage?
Lesnar: I think the things to prepare for are very obvious. He is a very large man. He has a long reach. He is fairly agile. I have got to up-weight his hands and be able to get inside and create angles, and angles create openings for my hands and for my takedown. So we have been working extensively on that program.
Question: It would have been easy to enter MMA and maybe take a tune-up or two and then move into a top-flight fight. But you chose to move right in against one of the main guys. Was that a plan? Are you trying to make an immediate splash in this sport?
Lesnar: Hong Man Choi has been successful as a kick boxer, fighting opponents that are obviously smaller than him. We are fighting a mixed martial arts fight here and I feel very confident as a mixed martial arts fighter. For me, it is kind of a catch-22. I have got such a large following throughout the world because of my pro wrestling experience, and also I think I bring to the table my 18 years of amateur wrestling. So I am able to combine my amateur wrestling with my standup and Jiu-Jitsu and I have had a year to train. I guess some people could look at it as jumping into the deep end of the pool right away, but I do not know any other way to do it. I have been a top athlete and trained with top athletes all my life. I skipped college football and went right to the NFL and tried my hand at that. This will be a very good fight and I feel like I will be victorious.
Question: Can this be an easy fight for you?
Lesnar: Will it be easy or can it be easy? I do not think any fight is easy. Everybody is as good as that one punch that hits in the right spot. I am coming into this well prepared. There is one thing I have control over and that is my conditioning. Because of a year of training, I have had control over my screening as far as learning the discipline. So that is how I got my training for three months. I have had plenty of time to prepare.
Question: You have a huge name, a big following from WWE and you will likely be a huge free agent in the world of mixed martial arts. A lot of promoters would like to match you with the real elite level fighter right away to maximize the potential marketability of that. Are you at all worried that you might not have as much time as you would like to fully develop yourself as an MMA fighter before you are thrown in with the elite level fighters?
Lesnar: I am not even looking that far ahead. I have two weeks and I am fighting Hong Man Choi and I really, at this point, have not given it any thought. I am so focused on fighting this big man that I could really care less what happens the next day right now.
Question: Is there one aspect of MMA training that you have been surprised at how easy you adapted to? Is there anything that has been more difficult than you thought it might be?
Lesnar: Practice makes perfect and I am surrounding myself with a good group of guys and good trainers. So I guess I would have to say the Jiu-Jitsu kind of flowed real well and probably the standup game, learning to get my shoulders to relax and to throw hands. I have been working on throwing punches for a solid year, and I just came leaps and bounds from the first day that I started to even fathom (myself) of me as a fighter. Obviously, everybody has room to grow. Experience is the key. I am even curious when I get into the ring as to how I am going to react. Hopefully, everything comes together. I have had enough repetitions. Just the other day, we were sparring and we were wrestling and my hands were flying around looking for angles and we were supposed to be wrestling. I have done so many repetitions. Even with the sparring; some days we are sparring and adding takedowns to it, and when we are not supposed to, I am throwing takedowns in. You want to practice so it just becomes instinct, and I believe that I am at that place.
Question: Has it been difficult to find a sparring partner to kind of mimic the size of Choi?
Lesnar: Yes. I have had guys come in that are as tall as 6'8”. You just do not find seven-foot guys that can throw their hands. So I have had guys taller than 6-5 and 6-6, up to 6-9. Guys with long arms just mimicking Hong Man Choi. So I am prepared for this fight.
Question: Can you compare the learning curve of MMA to the learning curve you experienced when you first took on the NFL or wrestling?
Lesnar: With each sport, you really have to break it down and the advantage that I have had to train for fighting has been I have had plenty of time. When I trained for the NFL, I was in football camp and football camp is a short period of time and everything gets thrown at you very fast. So you want to comp a lot of things in a short amount of time. As a fighter, I have had plenty of time to learn each discipline. The more time you have to spend with something, the better you are going to get at it. By the time I learned something in football, we were already on to another chapter. So I have had enough time to train.
Question: Can you talk about the influence of Sean Sherk in your training?
Lesnar: Well, Sean is there basically coaching me. There is some size difference. We went over technique and stuff like that. But Sean has watched me develop and has been very influential on a lot of different things. He has taken his wrestling background and became a champion with it. He has been a great tool to add and just a big part of my training.
Question: With reference to your Jiu-Jitsu training, who specifically are you training under?
Lesnar: Greg Nelson, the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy . Greg has been around and trained a lot of guys. He was an amateur wrestler at the University of Minnesota , and he was a guy that was able to make a transition and is just a great teacher. Also, I spent time down at the Miletich camp and Pat Miletich helped me out a lot in the early stages of my career as well.
Question: How long have you been focusing on Jiu-Jitsu as part of your fighting compliment.
Lesnar: Well, it has been probably a year's worth of training.
Question: How important has that become in your fight game?
Lesnar: It is important. You have to be well-rounded in this game. For me, I want to get a fight on the ground and be able to submit.
Question: Have you prepared enough to represent a submission threat to this large man?
Lesnar: Oh absolutely. Absolutely.
Question: You seemed to leave pro wrestling when you were at a very high point , very popular. What turned you off to pro wrestling and what got you motivated to try MMA?
Lesnar: Well, it was a time of my life where I needed to change jobs. All I can say is that I just was not happy with what I was doing anymore. This is no different. It is like somebody working at the newspaper and they do not like their job and they want a career change. That is the same point I was at. I had a spot in my heart to try out for football because I had missed the boat, I felt like, on an opportunity. So I wanted to go back and try to fulfill it and to see where it was going to take me.
Question: When did you first become aware of MMA? What was the first fight you saw? In the back of your mind, did you think somewhere down the road you would get into it?
Lesnar: In 1998, I got my first feel for the fight game. I was living in Lassen , Calif. , and there was a Dojo there that I was kind of lifting weights at. There were a bunch of heavyweights that were rolling and I just jumped in with those guys one day. I was actually going to fight in Reno . But it would have cost me my eligibility to wrestle at the university, so I chose to stay in school and fulfill my wrestling obligations. Then when I got done with college, there were not any opportunities other than pro wrestling for me to make a large amount of money. I was tired of rubbing nickels together. So I chose that route.
Question: So, now the money is there in MMA to be a draw for big time wrestlers like yourself?
Lesnar: Well, yes. MMA is huge. So there is money to be made and I am enjoying it. I have been a fan of mixed martial arts (a long time). So I have been a follower. And it has been something that I wanted to do for a long time, but a guy has got to make a living too. I was not going to go fight in some Bingo hall for $250 a night.
Question: Despite 18 years of amateur experience and your college background, do you think opponents will underestimate you?
Lesnar: Hopefully he does. By all means, this is very serious and a career for me. If somebody told me I had 18 years of amateur wrestling experience, and we are talking I was Division I national champ and a runner up in two years at Division I caliber, I would not underestimate that person at all. If he has got any brains to him, he will not underestimate me.
Question: During your training this past year, what kind of response have you gotten from fellow fighters and those that have watched you?
Lesnar: Everybody has been really helpful. If people just look at me as a pro wrestler without my background, they probably look at me a lot differently. But I think there are a lot of MMA fighters that are envious of my amateur wrestling experience because every gym that I go to, everybody tells me, ‘Man, I wish I had a lot more wrestling experience.' Because you cannot learn wrestling overnight. You are able to spend time as a Jiu-Jitsu wrestler and pick things up rather quickly, but amateur wrestling is a feel thing and it is all about positioning. So is Jiu-Jitsu, but you take an average Joe off the street and you can teach them Jiu-Jitsu, and a wrestler with 10 years experience can come in and will eat them up.
Question: Do you see this fight as a chance to erase or alleviate the stigma that you have gotten this past year of training of just being a pro wrestler since your name and pro wrestling has been so synonymous the past few years?
Lesnar: I do not give a “darn'' what anybody really says. I am coming out here to fight. I am having fun with this, and this is a career for me. As I said, I am taking this very seriously and what other people think does not bother me at all. This is a serious fight for me and there will be more to come.
Question: As a pro wrestler, did you ever sustain any serious injuries?
Lesnar: Out of the four or five years of being a pro wrestler, I sustained more injuries than I did as an amateur wrestler. Even though it is choreographed, the things that I did were very unforgiving on my body. But nothing (terribly) serious. I have had arthroscopic surgeries here and there and nothing really serious, thank God. I could have very easily ended up in a wheelchair. But no, knock on wood, and I am back down to 270 pounds, back to my college wrestling day's weight. So I feel really good.
Question: Do you have any heroes that have influenced you?
Lesnar: I am a big fan of Couture and Coleman and Shamrock. I enjoyed watching those guys. Those guys were very fun to watch. Coutere and Coleman were amateur wrestlers and so I kind of followed the amateur wrestling guys.
Question: Will this fight will be at 265 pounds or below?
Lesnar: I think this is a super fight, so I can come in weighing basically whatever I wanted.
Question: Do you have any idea what you plan to weigh?
Lesnar: Probably come in about 270.
Question: A good handful of some of the most successful MMA fighters these days have had a really strong Greco Roman wrestling base. Has that encouraged you at all in thinking that you might do well with your base?
Lesnar: Randy Couture was by far the more elite Greco Roman. I had) My folk style background. I trained extensively with a lot of Olympic-level caliber Greco Roman wrestlers. So where Greco Roman wrestling comes in as a factor is in the clinch and I have been working a lot in the clinch and getting inside and creating angles to get this big guy on the ground. I do think it is a huge advantage.
Question: When you were with Team Qwest last year, were you able to get any pointers on what the most difficult thing is to transition into a mixed martial artist from wrestling?
Lesnar: Well, everybody was really helpful. I spent maybe three days in the room with Matt Hughes and obviously he gave me a lot of pointers.
Question: Because of your unique position, having such a huge name from previous endeavors, are you concerned that maybe you will be matched against the best MMA guys before you are ready?
Lesnar: No. I think it comes to a promoting standpoint where you have a guy with a large name with not a lot of experience, but after this first fight, I think the story might change some. Am I worried some about facing some other top caliber heavyweights? By all means, no. For right now, two weeks from now, I will have a chance to prove myself.
Question: Is there any MMA fighters who you want to fight with?
Lesnar: Hong Man Choi.
Question: Without giving away your strategy, what weaknesses in Hong Man Choi do you see that you figure you could exploit?
Lesnar: Well, I think being because he is very large, there is going to be one definite difference in us. I will be able to move a lot better. He is very agile for a big guy, but I think I will exploit that he is not as agile as some people think. So hopefully that is the case.
Question: Have you had a chance to really get in there the past couple weeks and do a lot of hard sparring to where you are really getting punched in the face? Have you gotten a chance to really experience hard training?
Lesnar: Absolutely. My sparring partners come prepared every time. I have sparred a lot because I have got to get experience in that and the only way to do it is just doing it. So we spar quite often. Obviously, I am trying to avoid getting punched in the face, but I have been hit very hard and I have not left my feet in the past year. So I feel very confident.
Question: Would it be safe to say that if you do get cogged pretty well from Hong Man Choi that you will take the fight to the ground?
Lesnar: Well, yes. Obviously, my game plan is to try to get this guy on the ground and to smother him. I want to come out and set the stage for this fight. I want to set the pace. There is one thing that I do have control over and that is my cardio and I want to set a fast-paced fight for this guy, and one where I want to make sure I know that he will not be able to keep up.
Question: What was it that really frustrated you about wrestling and how much do you estimate that you lost financially by getting out of the business?
Lesnar: Go on and read on the Internet. I have talked so much about pro wrestling, I am tired of it. It is not all about the money. It is about being happy and being close to home every night, waking up and having my daughter run into the bedroom and wake me up. Being able to put my kids to bed at night and not be on the road 300 days a year was the main reason.
Question: Is there any sentimental meaning at all in fighting at the Coliseum
Lesnar: Well, the Olympics have been held in that arena. There have been a lot of things happening in that place. I think this promotion is trying to set a precedent in the United States and try to put on a really good show. That is what they are really focused on doing. So obviously, fighting in the U.S. is huge for me, and I definitely prefer fighting here than anyplace else.
Question: It is obvious you love challenges and are not afraid to take them on. Do you look at this as the biggest challenge of your sporting career?
Lesnar: This is a huge challenge. Life is too short to just let it pass by and I am very excited. I accepted this challenge a year ago and it has been fun training for it. I definitely want to make a career out of being a fighter and I am having a good time with it. I am trying to get back to my grassroots of who I am -- an amateur wrestler being able to train everyday. It has been very exciting to learn all the new disciplines – the stand-up game and the Jiu-Jitsu game and the kicking. So every day, it is like you are going to school and learning something new and trying to perfect it. So it has been very, very fun for me.
Question: What do you think is the possibility for Curt Angle actually getting into Mixed Martial Arts are? If he does, do you think it would ever be you two in the ring?
Lesnar: I hope so. I would really like to fight Curt. If somebody is willing to promote that fight, I am all for it. I think Curt has done enough jaw jacking where – I have said it before – he has got to either put up or shut up. It is time for him to stop running his mouth and to physically do something. I am the kind of guy who is going to walk the walk, and I do not do a lot of talking. So if there is a promoter out there that is willing to back this fight, I am all for it. If Curt has enough “guts'' to do it, then let us do it.
Question: Have you had a conversation with him about it?
Lesnar: I have not, no.
Question: Do you have any closing comments or statements?
Lesnar: Yes, I want to also thank the press because without the press, we do not get the word out there. It is up to me as a fighter to get out and to be able to talk to the press. I want to thank all the fans who have followed me in all of my endeavors. As much as this is a sport, we want to entertain people. On June 2, there will definitely be a full night of entertainment and some very good fighting, including my fight.