On the eve of perhaps the biggest fight of his career, Josh "The Punk" Thomson (14-2) took the time out of his busy schedule to sit down and talk with MMAmania.com about his Strikeforce lightweight title fight against his good friend and champion, Gilbert Melendez.
We focused our conversation on the fight, which is the main event of tonight's show being aired live from his hometown of San Jose, Calif., on HDNet. It's one that has been in the works for a very long time, pitting two of the top 155-pound fighters in the world against one another for possibly 25 minutes.
And despite what some people may think of him because of his nickname, Josh is a really nice guy and a true professional. Even after a hectic day of cutting weight, drug testing and all of the other madness that takes place right before a major championship bout he still made the time for a late night interview with us.
Here it is:
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): What's up, Josh? Heard there was some drama at the weigh-ins today. Did you have any problems hitting 155?
Josh Thomson: You know, the weight came right off. We had problems at the weigh-in with the scale. I don't know what the hell their deal was. I checked my weight on the same scale probably like twenty minutes before they actually moved it up onto the desk, and I was right on with my underwear on. Then when I got up onto the scale and weighed in, I was a pound over, so I had to drop my drawers and step on. It just didn't seem good, but then I broke right there, so it was good. I mean, as long as I make the weight the first time, we weren't going have to leave anywhere to go cut weight.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): You and Gilbert are pretty good friends. What's it going to be like fighting somebody you actually like?
Josh Thomson: I think we're kind of over it now, you know? Weigh-ins have been done. We talked about the friendship and stuff throughout the training camp, so I think now we're ready to just get it on. We know what reality is now. I think after seeing each other at weigh-ins and stuff, and it's here now, so it's like, just rest and go and just get it done and get it over with, and then just move on with the next chapter of our life, you know?
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Right, well you guys aren't just friends, you're also training partners. I've actually heard from a couple different people that he said when you guys do spar, he usually gets the better of the exchanges. Is there any truth to that, and do you want to maybe tell your side?
Josh Thomson: No, you know, it comes down to really who can do what. I mean, whoever got the better day that day. I mean, that’s really what it comes down to. If I come in and have a good day then I'm going to take it to him. If he comes in and has a good day, he's going take it to me. It's just one of those things, when you have two top guys, that's what happens. I mean, if that's what he wants to say, that's fine. It doesn't rub me the wrong way. Some fighters tell themselves that just to make themselves feel better. You never know.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): You guys were supposed to fight originally on the "Shamrock vs Le" card, but you had the shoulder injury. Can you talk a little bit about where that injury came from?
Josh Thomson: I was training like a week after a fight, and with a bigger guy. We got caught up into something and he was just trying to muscle me around, and he tweaked my arm a little bit too much and tore my labrum. Got done with that and the doctor said I could rehab it, so I rehabbed it up until January. Then I went down to help Rob McCullough train, and it just so happened to tear out of the socket when I started in on a double leg. I decided to just forget it, and I scheduled the surgery right away.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): So are you completely healed up from that injury now?
Josh Thomson: Yeah, you know, I'm completely healed up, but it takes a little bit longer than four months to be a hundred percent. We're constantly working on trying to get it better, and stuff, and the range of motion, and trying to build the strength back up.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Did you feel any pressure from anybody to take this fight sooner than you were ready for it?
Josh Thomson: Um, you know, maybe. I think that comes from both of us, you know? I think we're both talking about that. We were hoping for both of us to get one or two more fights in there before we fought each other. We were hoping to fight each other maybe in November. The HP Pavilion and Strikeforce really wanted to get the fight on and get it over with. I think they wanted to strike while the iron was hot, right after the Cung Le and Frank fight, and hoping to pull a big crowd from that. The thing is, knowing that we're the two top lightweights in the Bay area, you would think we'd put fans in the stands and stuff, but they really don't showcase the lightweights all that much in any organization. So you have a hard time selling lightweights in general. But we'll see what happens tomorrow night. I couldn't think of a better show to have two lightweights fight at, especially since we're both from there, so we'll see.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): You've been out for a while since the injury happened. Do you think the long layoff has been a good thing or a bad thing coming into this fight?
Josh Thomson: I don't know, we'll find out with the out come tomorrow (laughs). You know, I really don't know, it's hard to say.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Has it hampered you in training at all? Have you been able to go full force in practice?
Josh Thomson: You make little adjustments to your game. I think naturally it makes you feel a little, not really weak or whatever, but just mentally you're worried about hurting it again, especially with such a big fight on the line. Other than that I wouldn't say it hampered me all that much. What it did do was take me out of training for a while. So the rest of my body had to get re-adjusted to the impact and the training again. Other little injuries popped up, but nothing really kept me from training obviously.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Being a championship fight and obviously five rounds, do you think the injury is going to cause the advantage to shift towards him as the fight goes into the later rounds?
Josh Thomson: No, I think conditioning wise we're both pretty good. I think it's going to be a good fight, you know? I don't see any other way around it. I don't see how it can't be a good fight. He's got good wrestling, a big right hand, good ground and pound. The key for me is to make him work for everything he does and not let him get away with anything free. If I do that, then I'm going to win this fight.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): I know this fight is obviously for the lightweight championship, but you're listed as the Strikefore U.S. lightweight champion. I wasn't aware there were two different titles. Is this a unification bout?
Josh Thomson: He has the world title, I have the U.S. title. What it is is Gilbert got hurt or something along the line. So they were talking about doing like an interim title, and I didn't feel alright doing that. So they did a U.S. title for me and Duane Ludwig to fight for. They were talking about Duane and me fighting for like an interim title, and fighting Gilbert when he got better. I was like, you know, I train with Gilbert, I really don't give a shit you know? It doesn't make my pay go up any money, so what's the point? Eventually down the line, you know, if you want to put a title on it, put a title on it, I really don't care. A fight is a fight, you know? I don't look at fights for the belt. I look at it for what I can prove to myself. I see Gilbert, and I think Gilbert is going to bring out the best in me, and I think that's what's going happen. I think we're going to bring out the best in each other. We know that we've trained together, we've fought together before, and now we're basically just going to get paid to do what we do in the gym.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): You mentioned earlier that you guys are both from the San Jose area. Who do you think the crowd will favor tomorrow night?
Josh Thomson: You know, I don't know. We'll find out tomorrow night. Honestly with it being in San Jose, he has a different last name than me, you know? The area is a little bit more predominately Mexican. I'm half Mexican, but I have a different last name, you know? So, you never know, you really never know until you show up and fight. But I don't really...it's good that the crowd is involved. From what I've read, from what I've understood, people have been telling me that I'm a pretty big underdog. I guess, what other way to get amped up, you know, and get excited about something like that. Things like that don't bother me. I've fought in Japan where the crowd doesn't make any noise. That's something that probably disturbs you a little bit more, you know (laughs). I don't really think the crowd should affect me all that much if it does happen.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): This is going to be your seventh fight with Strikeforce. Are you pretty much fighting exclusively for them, and do you see yourself staying with them for the long term?
Josh Thomson: Yeah, I signed another contract with them, but they allow us to, you know, I mean look at Gilbert, he fought in Japan, he's fighting in other places. I fought in Japan originally my first fight with them. I mean, it doesn't really bother me. They allow us to fight, you know, and like I said before, I'm willing to take on all comers. Anybody that wants to fight with another organization, you know, that doesn't really bother me. And I think after this fight, they're either going to want to avoid me or fight me. You never know.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): I know you and Gilbert normally help each other train for fights. Obviously that wasn't the case for this one. Your home gym is AKA. Does that mean guys like Jon Fitch, Josh Koshcheck, Mike Swick and others have been mainly helping you out for this fight?
Josh Thomson: Yeah, don't get me wrong, those guys are always there helping me out, but when Gilbert's there, it's nice to get the sparring in with someone your size, someone your weight, and somebody kind of your level. That’s the whole situation.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): What's it mean for your progression as a top fighter to be mixing it up with guys of that caliber on a daily basis?
Josh Thomson: You really can't, I mean, people sometimes don't understand why and it's goofy, but honestly sometimes it can ruin your mental and sometimes it can increase your mental. Each day is different. If you show up and you're having a bad day, it can wreck your mental. If you show up and you're having a good day, it can boost you up and make you feel good. It's a daily thing, you know, it's not a, oh I trained with that camp and I felt great, you know, it doesn't work like that. It changes on a daily basis. The other thing as well is that it can hinder you as well. If you're just getting stuck on bottom all the time, you're either used to being stuck on bottom trying to hit submissions off your back or you're used to trying to get up. So there's different ways you can look at it.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): I watched Gilbert's only loss against Ishida, and Ishida used a lot of takedowns and a strong wrestling attack in that fight to score the win. Did you take anything from that fight, meaning are you going to use a similar strategy, and have you been using some of the stronger wrestlers in your gym to help you implore that type of strategy?
Josh Thomson: I work with those guys everyday, you know? There's really nothing different. What did I take from the Ishida fight and the way he beat Gilbert? You know, I don't fight that way, so I didn't really get anything from it. I have good wrestling, but it's not like I'm just going to just go out there and shoot five or six times in a round and just try and hold somebody and squeak somebody, you know? That's just not my style. I don't fight that way. To be honest with you, I thought that fight was kind of boring. Gilbert kind of made that fight more exciting.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): I agree. In what areas do you think you hold the advantages in over Gilbert in this fight, and in what areas do you think Gilbert holds the advantages over you?
Josh Thomson: I think technically my stand up is better, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't be aware of his right hand, you know? I use more of my weapons. He's going to taste and he's going to see a lot of my knees and a lot of my push kicks and my elbows, along with my punching and kicking. He's going see a lot of that. I think he remembers also that my submission game is real tight, and he needs to respect that. Don't get me wrong, I know he grapples with Jake and a lot of the jiu-jitsu guys, you know, Nick Diaz and Nate Diaz, but if you grapple with the same people over and over you get used to their game. Don't get me wrong we've trained before and we know each other, but I think that I can catch him at any time, and he's got to be aware of that.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Do you want to make a prediction for the fight?
Josh Thomson: Naw, I don't really give predictions, but I can predict that it's going to be a good fight. No matter how you slice it, one of us is going to end up, you know, we're both going end up beat up and damaged.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Cool man. I know it's late and you want to get out of here. Is there anybody you want to thank?
Josh Thomson: Yeah, I always want to say thanks to Loaded Energy Drink, Tapout, KnoxxGear.com, and Cung Le Martial Arts.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Cool, thank you so much for your time bro. I know you've had a hectic day, we appreciate you taking the time out to talk with us. Good luck tomorrow night and in the future.
Josh Thomson: Alright, bye.