The top of UFC lightweight division is loaded. There's no debating that. What is up for debate however, is what fighters deserve to be mentioned right below an Edgar, a Penn, or a Florian.
Kurt Pellegrino is making a strong case for that privilege.
Having won four fights in a row and with a chance to defeat another rising top contender in the 155-pound weight class in George Sotiropoulos, "Batman" is reaching his peak at just the right time.
Should he make it five consecutive victories on July 3, the lightweight cream of the crop might have to make some elbow room for everyone's favorite fighting superhero.
The New Jersey native took some time to talk with MMAmania.com about Twitter, training with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu legend Marcelo Garcia, his fight with George Sotiropoulos, where he gets his motivation to succeed, and much more.
Have a look:
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): Hard question right off the bat. Do you have Twitter man crushes on Miguel Torres and Kenny Florian, or does your wife hack your account?
Kurt Pellegrino: Um, no. I don't know what you're talking about, (said cleary knowing what I was talking about).
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): In all seriousness, talk about Twitter. You three guys are some of the most active fighters on Twitter. What makes you like to use it so much? Convince some of our readers to join Twitter.
Kurt Pellegrino: I absolutely think people should join Twitter. I got off Facebook and only use Twitter now. Twitter is for fans. You get to see what your favorite football player is doing; movie stars are on there, soccer players, and of course UFC fighters. We get to write whatever we want. My whole family is on Twitter. I really wish Dan Gable had a Twitter account. If he had a Twitter I'd be following him everywhere he went. You know, professional athletes and movie stars let you invade their life a little bit. I think Facebook and Myspace are too personal. You have pictures of my wife and child on Facebook and it just got to be too much. Plus, I like talking to fans and fooling around with people, which is what Twitter allows you to do. And fans that hate me can talk to me there too. If they tell me, ‘hey Kurt, you suck.' I write them back with, ‘yeah, I know. I'm terrible.' The hate mail is the best mail. Twitter is the best, man. I like being able to tell people I'm an idiot.
Kurt Pellegrino: It was actually a Ford commercial. My brother is one of the top salesmen in the area for Comcast. And after my fight with Fabricio Camoes at UFC 111, coincidentally enough, the guys at a local Ford dealership asked him if he knew this fighter named Kurt Pellegrino. He said, ‘yeah, matter of fact, that's my brother.' They didn't believe him at first. Then one thing led to another and they offered me my choice of whatever I wanted on the lot to do the commercial. They paid for the car and the insurance, everything. I started out driving a Ford Shelby Mustang, but I got rid of that and now I'm driving a Ford F-150 Platinum package, it's insane. The commercial doesn't even air in my county, but I've seen it, of course. It was great work.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): Let's move to fighting now. You've won four fights in row and seem to be on a mission. Has anything changed in your training, or are you just reaching your potential now? What's the reason for your recent success?
Kurt Pellegrino: My success right now is just because of the way I train. It's really been the same for almost four years. Moving back home to New Jersey from Florida was the big difference. At that point I just said that I have to train with people who are better than me. That's when I hooked up with the Florian brothers. It was great training with those guys. Then Kenny moved on and I moved on. Now I'm with who I believe is the best conditioning coach on the planet, Jonathan Chaimberg. Kenny just opened a lot of doors for me and showed me my true potential, and for about a year straight now, I've just really ramped up my training in all areas. I feel like my strength now is my cardio. The passion and intensity that I have when I'm training is incredible.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): Talk about your experience fighting near your hometown in New Jersey at UFC 111. What was that like?
Kurt Pellegrino: The week leading up to the fight was great. The weigh-ins, the media stuff, I knew I was in Jersey the whole time. But coming out of the locker room to fight, I didn't know where I was. All I knew was that I was getting ready to fight. And once the fight was over I was like, ‘Holy God. I just submitted a black belt in front of every single person here that came to see me.' That's when I realized it. It's funny; people asked me why did I run to the cage like I did after I won. It was because Jonathan Chaimberg kept me in my hotel room all day. I wasn't allowed to leave for breakfast. He brought me food. From breakfast on, I just stayed in my bed. I watched like four movies. I didn't move from my bed. He brought me lunch and dinner and told me I wasn't leaving. I even called him up at 6 p.m. and begged him to let me go to the top off the roof and run some wind sprints. I was so amped. And of course, he said no. By the time I got into the cage that night I could barely contain myself.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): What's it been like training with Marcelo Garcia for this fight? How's that been going?
Kurt Pellegrino: Well, about as good as it can possibly go. I mean, he's a world-class grappler. I brought him in to improve my game. He's the best in the world and he lives 45 minutes from me. It would be stupid to not train with him. There's nothing that George is gonna do, or B.J. Penn would do, that Marcelo can't do. If Marcelo grappled with them it'd be over in three minutes. To be able to have him look at video of my past fights and critique what I was doing wrong, or right, has been out of this world. I'm really grateful and fortunate to have that door open for me.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): Did you start working with Marcelo particularly because of George Sotiropoulos' ground game?
It was really just the right time and the right place. We didn't hook up for just this one fight. Actually, when I started this camp I was training just for George, but once I started training with Marcelo, he was like, ‘just train for me.' And I thought he was absolutely right. I have a new outlook on life. I don't train for anyone. I never trained for Josh Neer, Rob Emerson, Thiago Tavares, or Fabrico Cameos. I just train the way I want to train and force my opponent to train for me. And that's what I'm doing for this fight. I'm not bringing in anybody with rubber guard. Marcelo Garcia doesn't have rubber guard. I just train with the best people in the world who can push me to my limits and then go out there and fight.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): Size up the fight with George. Where do you think you hold an advantage and vice versa?
Kurt Pellegrino: Well, I've been reading some comments that George has said that Joe Stevenson is a better wrestler than me and more active than me. My last couple fights, I wasn't able to show anything on my feet because everyone was trying to take me down, which I don't understand. But right now, let me tell you this. I have a 3-year-old daughter at my house and my wife. I'm forced to separate my life from them, and I'm sure George does the same. But I actually, legitimately hate it. It pisses me off more than you can ever imagine. I hate not spending time with my daughter. It makes me insane. That's what I have over everyone I fight. I promised my little girl three years ago that I would never lose, and I tell here every day that I'm coming home a winner. I'm not fighting to not to lose. I'm fighting to perform well and with that will come a win. George has to understand this is not going to be an easy fight. I'm going to try to end the fight in the first 30 seconds. I'm not gonna back up and I'm not getting taken down. I think I hold the edge in being able to determine where the fight takes place. I almost feel invincible right now. I really do feel good. I respect George so much that I trained my ass off. When they offered me this fight I said, ‘absolutely.' I've had almost a 10-week camp. I feel fantastic. I'm really looking forward to it. I don't believe I can beat be beat. I hope he feels the same way, because if he does, that's gonna turn me on, and it's gonna make for one hell of a fight.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): Should you win this fight, where do you think you stand in the lightweight division? Do you think you're approaching the top five?
Kurt Pellegrino: I'm just happy that people are saying that to me to be honest. If it gets me one step closer to a title fight, awesome. If I have to fight the number one contender after this, awesome. Either way, it's fine. Realistically, I'm not going to know where I stand until the B.J. Penn vs. Frankie Edgar and the Kenny Florian vs. Gray Maynard fights are over. All I know, is that, God willingly, I'm gonna be 5-0 in my last five fights come July 3, and everyone will have to know that I'm that I'm here. Ultimately, it's up to Joe Silva and Dana White. I just gotta keep coming home with my hand raised. That's all I can do. I just want to keep winning. I'm 31 years old. I'm in no rush. I got a lot of time in this sport.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): Alright, lets close this up with some friendly predictions for the fight at UFC 116. What can fans expect to see on July 3?
Kurt Pellegrino: My fight with George is gonna be a heck of a fight. I know he believes he can beat me, and of course I know I can beat him. It's gonna come down to who wants it more. I'm not fighting for the title or the number one contender spot here. I'm fighting to beat George Sotiropoulos, and don't think that I'm not coming after him. If I win by knockout, awesome. If I win by submission, great. I do not want this to go three rounds. Don't get me wrong; I'm ready to go five rounds right now. I know I can do this. We'll see if he's up for it.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): I want to thank you for your time today Kurt. Do have any sponsors you'd like to plug? How can fans get at you on Twitter?
Kurt Pellegrino: Thank you. Everyone can follow me on Twitter at @kurtpellegrino. I want to thank Ecko. If you're not wearing Ecko clothes you're basically naked. And All-American Ford of Old Bridge. And to my wife and daughter, it's almost over; soon we can go back to living an awesome life.