UFC veteran James Irvin will return to mixed martial arts (MMA) action tonight (Jan. 29, 2011) when he battles Mike Crisman at Gladiator Challenge: "Young Guns 4" in Elko, Nevada.
This won't be the first time Irvin stepped inside a Gladiator Challenge (GC) cage. In fact, Irvin started his (MMA) career with the promotion, going undefeated (5-0) throughout his tenure.
"The Sandman" tells MMAmania.com that his decision to revisit his roots was a no-brainer.
"[Gladiator Challenge promoter] Tedd Williams pretty much took me from nowhere and gave me an opportunity to prove myself and get to the UFC. So when I had the opportunity to go back to GC, and Tedd gave me an opportunity to get myself back to where I want to be, I jumped at it. Tedd has a great promotion, and everyone knows Gladiator Challenge. There are so many small shows popping up here and there that it's hard to keep track of them, but everyone knows GC fighters, so it was pretty much a no-brainer for me to go back there."
"It was definitely the Scott Smith fight. I was undefeated at that time, Scott was (my) first knockout, and he'd be one of the only people I'd want to fight again. He's such a good striker. The funny thing is that we've been training together ever since. It was one of the fights that I'll remember for the rest of my life. The crowd seemed to be made up of half my family and half his family. He had a knockout streak going, and at that point, I was pretty much just taking guys down and pounding them. I came out there and caught him, and put him to sleep with a big surprise. It's one of those fights I'll remember for the rest of my life."
If Irvin is able to bring that mean streak that he had when he was a GC competitor, Crisman may want to work on writing his will.
When "The Sandman" was an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweight, he set a record (now broken by Todd Duffee) for the fastest knockout in the promotion's history -- an eight-second knockout of Houston Alexander.
Fans and observers were shocked, but Irvin knew how it would end.
"To tell you the truth, it was something I was expecting to do. It was literally something my coaches had me do a thousand times. Even five minutes before the fight started, all I was doing backstage was that Superman punch. It was choreographed to go out there, touch his glove, take two steps to the right, and throw that Superman punch. My coach told me what to do, and I went out there and did it. I remember thinking that I wanted to punch him as fast as I could to get it over with. I didn't even know what the record was at that point, not until Joe Rogan told me in the cage. I was ecstatic to have it. I actually have the fastest second round knockout in UFC history, too. It was that flying knee against Terry Martin, so it was pretty cool to have both those records for awhile."
What was not cool for Irvin was the first round knockout loss he suffered at the hands and current UFC middleweight champion and pound-for-pound king, Anderson Silva. While the fight didn't go Irvin's way, he's glad he stepped up when other 205-pounders did not want to meet "The Spider."
"The way I practice is usually what comes out in the fight. I was working a lot with my Thai coach, which is a lot of kicking. I should have led with my hands. Both my striking coaches told me not to throw any kicks the first round, but he baited me into it. He switches his stance a lot, and when he switched back to conventional, my instincts caused me to kick him. He is someone with a lot more experience than me, and he drew me in, then blasted me right on the button. That was the end of that one. I was surprised that people had turned it down, because when they mentioned it to me, I was all over it. To fight a legend like that...that opportunity doesn't come along every day. So I wouldn't change that at all. I wouldn't change the outcome, either. I'm very proud of that fight."
For years, Irvin has been held back by injuries. His fights with Drew McFederies, Wilson Gouveia and former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans never happened because he was hurt in training. "The Sandman" says those setbacks were devastating.
"It was definitely devastating because I'd never had a knee injury before I fought Thiago Silva. It was a shame because I felt like I was dominating Silva the first couple minutes of our fight. Then he shoots in for a double, and I felt like someone shot me in the leg. I had never felt pain like that before, so I knew something was really wrong and I had to tap out immediately and it's a shame because Thiago Silva blew up after that fight. He won some more fights, and was top-five in that division. It could have easily been the other way around, which is very frustrating. Then I had the six-month layoff, and I've had more injuries since then. I kind of rushed it back. I'm just looking forward to move past that. It's not something I think about anymore. I use all of my weapons, including my knees. It was more devastating than frustrating."
Last month, Irvin suffered a submission loss to Jorge Oliveira. Irvin's aggression allowed the Brazilian to land an upkick and finish the fight with a triangle armbar. "The Sandman" realizes what went wrong and hopes to correct those mistakes in the near future.
"I've had a couple of fights now where I knocked my opponent to the ground and went after it when I should have stepped back. But being a fighter, that aggression, my first instinct when I see someone go down is to go right after them. I train with other black belts, and I can hang with them on the ground. He was trying for triangles and different stuff, and I was having no problem controlling him. He's a high-level black belt, and so when that upkick blasted me, I went from throwing a punch at him to opening my eyes and being in a triangle. So that upkick played a big part, as well as my over-aggression, so I definitely need to back off at times. The standup part, he wanted nothing to do with that, so I should have recognized that and responded accordingly.
Fans have been accustomed to seeing Irvin start and end his fights on the feet, but "The Sandman" says he has a few tricks up his sleeve.
"I'm just going to show a different side. People think I only have my standup, but my first four or five fights were pretty much all takedowns and ground and pound. I work on my ground game as much as my standup, even though people don't seem to see that. I can surprise people and take him down and probably submit him. I mean, he's lost most of his fights via submission, so that's definitely something I'll have in the back of my head. At the same time, he stepped up to fight me, and I know he's going to be hungry and get after it. And that's what I want. I don't want to fight anybody that's below par, so I think he's going to be ready, but don't be surprised if I take him down, and he ends up getting finished on his back."
Irvin thanked those who have helped him throughout his career.
"I just want to thank my teammates, as well as Fairtex, who always helps me. I want to thank Tedd Williams. I was kind of on my way down, and he's given me this chance, so I appreciate him for that."
Who says you never get a second chance to make a first impression?