By Jesse Holland
Alessio Sakara is no stranger to the Octagon. Yet for a fighter with five UFC fights under his belt, many fans don't see him as one of the sport's elite.
In addition, his first-round losses against Dean Lister at UFC 60 and Drew McFedries at UFC 65 may have kept him from being in the title hunt anytime soon.
"Legionarius," however, is looking to change all of that on September 8.
"That was the old me," remarked Sakara.
At UFC 75 Sakara faces Houston Alexander -- a tough and dangerous striker who exploded onto the MMA scene back in May with a devastating technical knockout win over light heavyweight contender Keith Jardine.
A win over Alexander would certainly go a long way in erasing the memory of the Sakara of old.
Sakara has relocated from Italy to Miami thanks in part to his new partnership with the Fight Management Group. Now able to focus solely on training, he prepares for UFC 75 under the tutelage of MMA training gurus Moacir "Boca" Oliviera, Denzel Mauras and Ferreno Procoro.
I caught up with "Legionarius" on a rare day off, where he took the time to fill-in UFCmania (www.ufcmania.com) and our readers on everything from growing up in Italy, fighting three rounds with broken ribs and his surprising choice for fighter he most admires.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): Alessio, first and foremost thank you for taking the time out of your training to check in with us at UFCmania. You have a pretty big fight coming up against Houston Alexander at UFC 75, why don't you start by giving us your thoughts on how you match up against him and how you see this fight going.
Alessio Sakara: This fight is good for me because Alexander is a good fighter. He knocked out Jardine in round one and is a strong guy, a tough guy. It's also good for me because people have only seen the old me. Now they will see the new me, and the new team that has my back.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): Do you think Alexander is a getting too much credit based solely on the win against Jardine or do you think he really is that tough of an opponent?
Alessio Sakara: I don't know, maybe Jardine was the one getting too much credit. Who can really say how good he is based on the Jardine fight? We only saw him for a minute. We don't know if he has good boxing or good wrestling or good jiu-jitsu. We know he is strong and we know he can throw a good punch. What I do know is that come September 8th we are going to see a good fight.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): I interviewed Houston Alexander back in early July and he didn't leave me with the impression that training jiu-jitsu was a priority for him. Knowing he has heavy hands, is that something you might try and exploit when you face off?
Alessio Sakara: Everybody has to be comfortable with their own style, but if he doesn't train jiu-jitsu than it is a problem for him. To me a good MMA fighter will train every day in every discipline. I like to fight stand-up and that is how I will approach this fight. I don't know, maybe if I am having difficulty on my feet I will put him to the floor. I have been training four years in Brazil and have a brown belt in jiu-jitsu but people don't get to see it because I like stand-up. One day people will see it. Maybe this fight, maybe another fight.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): You've mentioned now a couple of times your love for stand-up. What made you pursue mixed martial arts as opposed to straight boxing?
Alessio Sakara: Six years ago I was planning on pursuing only boxing. But I found in Italy there is very little money in boxing. One day my uncle was watching UFC 5 with Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock. When I saw that I knew it was the sport I wanted to be in. Now I am here many years later fighting in the UFC. For me it is a dream come true.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): You have a new management team now as well as a new training strategy. Talk a little bit about how difficult it is as a fighter to try and compete professionally when you have so many distractions behind the scenes like poor management.
Alessio Sakara: It is very hard as a fighter when you cannot focus solely on training. I was very unhappy trying to pursue this sport that I love but always on my mind was having no money and no place to train. It was okay for a while in Brazil but when my time there was completed I was right back to the beginning again being in Italy with nowhere to train. My old managers did not care about me or my career, they only cared about how much money they were making. Now I have good management because they put my interests before their own. Now I only have to concentrate on two things: Training and winning.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): So you are the new and improved Alessio?
Alessio Sakara: Yes, the fighter you saw against McFedries and Lister was not Legionarius. That was some other guy in the cage.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): Well it sounds like your new team has got you on the right track. I hope they give you a day off.
Alessio Sakara: Ah yes, Sunday is for me.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): What do you do on Sunday if you're not training?
Alessio Sakara: I like to spend time with my wife. She is an Italian girl. I also like to go to the movies. I love cinema. And of course I am an Italian guy so I love my wine and my food.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): That must be hard sticking to a training diet knowing you're missing out on all that Italian food.
Alessio Sakara: Well now that Gold Ribbon Valley is my sponsor it's been a little easier because I am able to eat bison every day. My wife will cook it for me. But for sure on Sunday I eat pasta. I love Italian macaroni.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): How's the Italian food in Miami?
Alessio Sakara: For me it's hard to say I never have time to go into the restaurants I only have it in my home. My wife cooks very good so staying home is good for me.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): Well if you make it up to UFC 78 I'll be sure to take you to one of New York's finest to celebrate your win. But if you lose I'm taking you to the Olive Garden for some bison alfredo.
Alessio Sakara: (Laughs) Just make sure it's after the fight.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): I heard a rumor that you were starting a wine label?
Alessio Sakara: Yes, my father had a vineyard in Italy back in 1912. I am going back to Italy soon to help my Uncle who has taken over things. My wine will be called Legionarius. When I get back from Italy I will bring you three or four bottles. It is a beautiful red wine. Very smooth. But you must be careful; the wine is like me it has good punch. Two glasses and you will be drunk.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): In that case maybe I will give two glasses to my wife.
Alessio Sakara: (Laughs)
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): What were your aspirations as a young boy in Italy? Did you always want to be a fighter?
Alessio Sakara: When I was very young I played futbol. Like every Italian futbol is very popular and I was a very good player. But because it is so popular not only do you have to be the very best to become professional, you must also have a contact. If you don't have a contact, you don't play. That was not good for me. That was one of the things that drew me to boxing. Once I started I could not stop. One day I told my mom, I will be very famous in this sport. Now I am in the UFC and a very famous fighter in Italy.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): Is it true that you support your mother?
Alessio Sakara: Yes. I purchased a home for my mother and my brother. And I am looking to get an apartment for them here. My family comes first.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): A lot of fans really like your tattoos. Can you tell us the meaning behind some of them?
Alessio Sakara: Every tattoo I have has great significance. My history is in my tattoos. My name Sakara belongs to the Legionaries and can be traced back to the Roman Empire. On my back is Legionarius, Gladius and the Empire of Rome. Each tattoo is in the Latin language. Respect, honor and the throne.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): To that end, do you feel that you fight not only for yourself but for your legacy as well?
Alessio Sakara: Before I fight only for my family and me. Then I began to realize what it meant to have the support of the fans. They are so good to me always encouraging me. Now I fight for me, my family and my fans.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): With so many new fans of MMA, why is there not much of a presence in Italy?
Alessio Sakara: MMA is popular but not popular for training. The focus on sports training in Italy is for soccer. I am hoping I will change that.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): The UFC has many fans in America, but unfortunately other professional athletes, especially in boxing look down on the UFC and give the fighters very little (if any) respect. Because of the popularity of soccer in Italy, do you find it hard to get respect from other professional athletes as well?
Alessio Sakara: Most Italian athletes respect me very much. They have told me I am either crazy or have a lot of balls because the UFC is a very difficult and sometimes dangerous place. It takes a different kind of athlete to step into the cage and I think they appreciate that.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): Let's talk about your UFC career. How frustrated were you to have the fight with Ron Faircloth end in a No Contest?
Alessio Sakara: I was not happy but sometimes this happens. He's a good guy. I think (the strike to the groin) was a mistake.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): In my interview with Steve Mazzagatti he mentioned fighters who may be at a breaking point or who may have run out of gas try to "intentionally-unintentionally" commit a foul. You don't think he may have been looking for a way out?
Alessio Sakara: Well anything is possible. He was tired for sure. But I don't think that is something he would do. He tried a similar strike in the first round. Only the next time he tried it went into my groin. I think it was an accident.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): The UFC light-heavyweight division has always had Chuck Liddell, but as of late has really become one of the more competitive divisions with the addition of guys like Rampage and Shogun. Where does a win over Alexander put you in the rankings?
Alessio Sakara: This is the best division in all of MMA. So many of the top names are here. This is good for me because I don't like easy fights. I want only the best challenges. If I defeat Alexander I would like to face Chuck Liddell or another big name. Other than Dean Lister I have not fought a big name and that is something I want to do.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): Would you fight more conservatively against a top name than you would against an unknown fighter or vice versa?
Alessio Sakara: I always fight to win but it is also important for me to make the fight exciting. Sometimes you have to take chances if you're going to win. Many fighters today care more about winning than they do fighting. That's not good for me or the fans. Am I afraid to lose? Yes, but I am there to fight first and win second. I am an Italian fighter and I try to fight with a similar style to Jake LaMotta, Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini and Vinny Pazienza. I want to keep with the rough and aggressive tradition of Italian fighters. I like to fight but I love a war.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): Who is a fighter in the UFC of past or present that you have either admired or tried to model yourself after?
Alessio Sakara: Two fighters: Mark Kerr and Don Frye.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): Do you think it's time for Don Frye to hang up the gloves or is there still a little gas left in the tank?
Alessio Sakara: Don Frye is very strong and a good fighter, but he is old-school. He is not training jiu-jitsu or other techniques that you need today to win.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): I think that's been the downfall of a lot of the older guys like Frye and Shamrock. They're very stubborn when it comes to change. I guess you can't teach an old dog new tricks. What do you think you would be doing if you weren't fighting?
Alessio Sakara: I would be an architect. I love art history and the design of monuments and classic structures.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): What was the worst injury you've had while fighting?
Alessio Sakara: Against Assuerio Silva in Jungle Fight I broke my ribs in the first round. I was able to finish the fight but it was very painful.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): I know it was a very close decision. Do you think if the ribs were not broken you would have taken home the win?
Alessio Sakara: I think so. I was giving away maybe forty pounds against Silva. It was a great fight but it didn't go my way.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): How difficult is it for your wife to watch you fight?
Alessio Sakara: It's difficult for her but it is even more difficult for my Momma.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): Well it isn't difficult for us and we really look forward to your battle against Houston Alexander. We wish you the best of luck and thank you again for checking in with us.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): And don't forget about my wine.
Alessio Sakara: (Laughs) Okay you got it.