This Saturday at UFC 96, there’s a bout a lot of folks have been talking about ... and I’m not referring to the main event between Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Keith Jardine. I’m talking about the fight between Pete Sell and Matt Brown that recently snuck onto the main card.
In doing so, it pushed fights with Brandon "The Truth" Vera and The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 3 winner Kendall "Da Spyda" Grove onto the undercard. To its credit, the UFC seems to be banking on all the potential for a slugfest that Sell vs. Brown promises to hold.
Don’t let their deceiving records fool you. "Drago" (8-4) has seen his fair share of battles inside the Octagon. In fact, his name is somewhat synonymous with memorable brawls, although he’s just 2-4 in the UFC. Sell holds victories over Phil Baroni and Josh Burkman, and his TUF 4 Finale fight against Scott Smith had one of the most unique endings of any fight in history.
In the other corner, "The Immortal" (8-7) has gone 2-1 for the promotion, scoring a technical knockout over Matt Arroyo at the TUF 7 Finale last June, losing a very close split decision to Dong Hyun Kim at UFC 88 in September, and most recently submitting Ryan Thomas just two months later at UFC 91. At 8-7, Brown has been criticized for taking difficult fights for him early in his career.
But all that’s water under the bridge as far as the UFC is concerned. They’ve kept these guys around for a reason and are hoping that strategy pays dividends this Saturday night.
We caught up with "Drago" to ask him about his recent win over Burkman that snapped a three-fight skid, how difficult it was to keep hope alive during that rough patch of his career, and how important this upcoming fight is for him, now that he’s back to his winning ways.
Let’s get after it:
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You last faced Josh Burkman at UFC 90 in a "loser leaves town" fight. How important was that win for you?
Pete Sell: Let me tell ya, that one was crucial for me as far as what are you going to do in life. It was a breaking point for both me and Josh. We went in there, man. I’ve fought in the UFC, I’ve had some tough breaks in the UFC, so for me to get that win was very important to me to get back on top.
And plus, it was my new thing at 170, so I wanted to see how I was going to do. It was definitely a big win for me.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Well you’ve been fighting in the UFC for a while, but hadn’t had the best luck in the win/loss column inside the Octagon. Was that a trying time for you? I mean, did you ever find it difficult to keep hope alive and realize that those wins were going to come?
Pete Sell: I tell ya, man, it’s really a rough thing, because in the beginning of my career I went undefeated. I was 5-0 in the local circuit, in Ring of Combat and the local shows I was fighting in. And then I went into the UFC and fought Baroni. I won, and I was 6-0, man. I was partying, I was having a good time. Everything was going good for me, it was all positive.
And then things just … BOOM … all of a sudden one day I start getting some tough breaks. Ever since then, it just spiraled out of control in a couple years. Even if I had some close fights or whatever, but still a win’s a win, you know? A loss is a loss. Even though some guys I may have been beatin’ the crap out of anyway, and it could have been my fight, but … Imagine if Quarry and Smith, imagine if those fights ended up on my end, you know?
But you just gotta persevere past it. I’ve had a lot of positive people around me, like Matt Serra and Ray Longo and my girlfriend. I got a lot of good people around me to keep it all positive, and I just persevere past it all.
Going through that two years of being in that slump, you start to think that maybe something’s wrong with you. You start (thinking), "I’m a beast, man, I train hard, I know I’m a tough guy, I live to fight, so how come I can’t get a win?" You start almost questioning yourself, like what the hell’s the matter with me? Some crazy stuff. But going through that, I feel like it just built more character for me and just made me a tougher guy.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Well it’s definitely nice to have you back in the win column.
Pete Sell: It’s good to be back!
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): (Laughs) Let’s talk about the Burkman fight. The fight started a little slow for you, but you definitely made up for it by taking the last two rounds. How do you think the fight went?
Pete Sell: I think the fight went awesome! In the beginning, I was kind of stuck in his rhythm in the beginning. Things weren’t going well. And talk about perseverance — we were just talking about coming from the losses and dealing with that while going into the fight — and then, I’m actually in the fight, and I’m losing the first round!
When I got back to the corner, Matt (Serra)’s like, "Yeah you gotta do something. You gotta … you gotta pick it up, you gotta do something in the next round, or …"
And it’s like, all right. Well I made it to this fight, and I’ve already lost the first round, you know what I’m saying? (Laughs).
So I was like, "I’m going out there, but I don’t care if I die. I’m going out there this next round, and I’m taking what’s mine. I’m going for it. If he takes me out, he takes me out." But I put too much into it, too much time and effort. I dedicated a whole life to it, especially coming back. It was so much for me to overcome.
A lot of people even in my position — I spoke to a lot of fighters, and a lot of people told me, "Yo, honestly in your position, with all the close calls you’ve had, a lot of people aren’t coming back from that."
… A lot of people take the easy way out, but whatever. I stuck it out, I persevered and I got past it. Now it just makes me even more of a believer of if you put your mind to something you can do whatever you want.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Before the Burkman fight, you had a torn labrum in your right shoulder from 2007.
Pete Sell: Yep. I did it after the Quarry fight.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): That prevented you from competing for nearly a year. I read that you had something like 20 weeks of rehab on your shoulder.
Pete Sell: Yeah, I had over 20 weeks of rehab and a cortisone shot. It was a lot. My shoulder was beat up. Eventually, we were talking about surgery, but I did it without the surgery, which I was happy about. I got mixed things about that, because I told a few people about it, and some people said it helped, and a lot of people said it made their shoulder worse. At the time when it first happened, I couldn’t even lift my shoulder above my head. It hurt to do that.
So it was a brutal time for me. ‘Cause I fought a guy without fighting the bag, you know what I’m saying? I beat the crap out of Quarry for too long that fight. I thought I was doing good, and then the third round I got caught. I got careless a little bit. I shouldn’t have. I got excited, I got a little too overzealous.
(It was a lot of) on-the-job training, you know? All the on-the-job training that I’ve had, now I feel like I’m starting to come into my own and become the fighter that I should’ve been a while ago.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You’re due to face Matt Brown at UFC 96. Brown is known as a slugger, but half of his wins have come via armbar. You’ve never been submitted in your career. What kind of fight do you expect this to be? A brawl more than a grappling match?
Pete Sell: I tell ya, man, a lot of people are asking me, "You going to go, you going to stand up with him?" And there’s nothing to say to that. I remember when I landed Scott Smith, I was like, "Yo, you know what, I’m standing up with him" … And then I was stuck because I wanted to stick to my word.
I’m not going to sit here and say that. I’m keeping it my own and go wherever … I’ve learned to be an MMA fighter and mix it up. Mix it up on the ground, and then go back to the stand up. Go back and forth. That’s what MMA’s really all about at a high level. You gotta be able to mix it up.
By the same token, there’s a guy who’s getting ready to fight, and then I’m just like, "I came to battle, let’s put on a show." Either get into that swinging round or we do it like that. We’ll see how it goes. Either way, I hit hard, I got good submissions, and I think I’m a problem for anybody at 170.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You train with Matt Serra. Have you changed anything up, from a training perspective, for this fight? Have your brought in any new coaches or training partners?
Pete Sell: No. As far as that goes, we got a real good team coming up now. We got Costa Phillippou, he’s a pro boxer with 90 boxing matches. He’s fighting for us now. Coach (Chris) Weidman, he’s an Olympic-caliber wrestler. We got a lot of really good guys under our camp that are coming up. I have a lot of good people around me, I don’t need to … I’m a loyal guy, I stick with my team. We have guys come in, but as of right now, I have good training for this fight. I’m happy here.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): This fight will be on the main card, over other fights that feature Brandon Vera and the TUF 3 winner, Kendall Grove. That’s gotta be a good sign that the UFC likes having you around.
Pete Sell: It’s good to be back! I haven’t been on the main card in a while. It’s funny ‘cause they always show my fights if I get Fight of the Night or whatever, so I get the air time anyway. But it’s nice to be on a main card and get that recognition.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): UFC 96 will be held in Columbus, Ohio. Brown trains in Cincinnati and Columbus. You’re sort of being put up against the hometown hero, which I guess makes you into the bad guy. Does that have an effect on this fight for you at all?
Pete Sell: Let me tell you something, as far as dealing with that, I’ve been there, done that, as far as that goes.
When I first fought in the UFC, nobody knew who I was. It was against Baroni. At the time everybody thought I was going to get killed, especially because I took the fight on short notice. I remember being at the weigh-ins and someone yelled, "You’re a dead man." The whole crowd was laughing. You know what I’m saying, the whole weigh-ins crowd was laughing at ya. It was horrible.
And I was just like, "All right. All right." The crowd’s against me like that? It’s almost like I like playing that role, you know? It adds fuel to my fire. I like playing that role a little bit. I’m definitely not worried about it. If anything, I like it better.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Now that you’re back to your winning ways, as you look ahead to the rest of this year, and even beyond, what are your goals for your career?
Pete Sell: As far as goals go, I’m taking it one step at a time, of course. And just work to get to the top 10 at 170. I want to be a top contender in there. I’m not going to sit here and call people out. I’m just trying to get back to a winning streak. I gotta take it one step at a time and do my thing. I’m not going to sit here and run my mouth or do this and that.
For me, I’ve been so beaten down by this game. There’s nothing that can be done to me that hasn’t been done to me already. As far as (the physical), or living up to the people’s hype, or whatever. I’ve been there, done that. I know all that nonsense people talk, the fans … there’s nothing that can be done to me that hasn’t been done to me already. So I’m ready for it.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): UFC 96 features a main event fight between Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Keith Jardine. Who do you like in that fight?
Pete Sell: I gotta go with Jackson in that fight. He looked like he’s rebuilt himself after the title loss, and he came back and he looked awesome against Wanderlei. And he came in against a guy who’s knocked him out twice. That says a lot about a guy’s perseverance. So I gotta give it to Rampage.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): There’s been some back and forth in the New York legislature with respect to regulating MMA in the state. Now that Pennsylvania has agreed to regulate it, what do you think about the case for New York?
Pete Sell: It’s all over the place now. It’s just a matter of time before it happens. Everybody knows that they’re going to legalize it here, they just haven’t had the live events yet. But that’s pretty much it. Other than that, it’s all over the billboards, it’s all over everywhere in Times Square. I think once it gets here, it’s going to be all crazy, I think it’s going to just amp the sport up.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Well let’s hope we hear some good news soon.
Pete Sell: I would love to fight in the Garden.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): That’d be a dream come true, I bet.
Pete Sell: Yeah, for sure, man.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Well, Pete, I really thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Would you like to thank any sponsors, or do you have any parting words for your fans?
Pete Sell: I gotta let my fans know that I’m here to stay. I’m just happy to be here. I get a lot of support from my fans. I’d like to thank Sprawl, Gamma-O and whoever else is sponsoring me, I don’t even know yet.
And to my teammates, Ray, Matt, Nick Serra, all of them. I got a lot of guys around me. My team’s coming up. I’m happy to be part of the effort to legalize MMA in New York.