Grappling King: An MMAmania interview exclusive with M-1 champion Vinny Magalhaes

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Vinny Magalhaes has come a long way since a rough 0-2 stretch in the UFC.

The finalist for season eight of The Ultimate Fighter has gone 6-1 in the last two years since his release from the world's largest MMA promotion and has found a home teaching Brazilian jiu-jitsu at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas.

In 2011 alone, he's gone 3-0 with three finishes and then to top it all off, he took first place in the 99 kilogram division of the Abu Dhabi Combat Club submission grappling world championships, the most prestigious jiu-jitsu tournament in the world which is held every two years.

Just three weeks after winning the grappling title, Magalhaes is set to defend his M-1 light heavyweight title against scrappy Russian Combat Sambo practitioner Mikhail Zayats tomorrow night (October 15, 2011) at M-1 Challenge 27 in Phoenix, Arizona

Despite still in the process of cutting weight, Magalhaes spoke with MMAmania.com today about his ADCC experience, his upcoming fight against Zayats and he addressed rumors of him being asked to help train Fedor Emelianenko for his Jeff Monson fight.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Thanks for speaking to me on the day of your weight cut, that was very generous of you considering I know you had about 20 pounds to lose as of this past Monday.

Vinny Magalhaes: Yeah, I've still got about four pounds to go. It's not so bad. I'm just a bit thirsty, that's it.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You didn't train specifically for the ADCC this year, but you didn't do it for the last one either. Did that almost affect your confidence coming into this tournament. Were you just more relaxed, not having any pressure?

Vinny Magalhaes: I would train maybe the opposite way and not training specifically. It really took the pressure away from me. I'm sure the guys who only do jiu-jitsu, it's all the pressure on them, especially the guys who have placed highly before. It's like, "I won before, and I'm expected to win, this is all I do." That's not me. It's like, I go there and think, "Maybe I'll get a medal, make a little extra money," but it's not any pressure on myself that I have to win. I don't feel like that any more with grappling tournaments. It definitely took the pressure away from me because I'm working on a different sport.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Has your focus on training mainly MMA. Did that help at all for you in the ADCC? Are there any little things about the grappling for MMA that maybe gave you a boost for the tournament?

Vinny Magalhaes: Well when I train MMA, I still work my jiu-jitsu and while it's a little bit different in styles of grappling, it's still grappling. The cardio for MMA is a bit more intense so I felt like I was in better shape than some of the guys competing there mainly because that was from my focus on MMA. I think that's what helped me the most for Abu Dhabi.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I saw that you went out and worked with Eddie Bravo for a bit before the tournament and then you went and used some rubber guard in the tournament finals. Did that feel good to use something that you worked on and implement it?

Vinny Magalhaes: Actually I just went to work with Eddie for just a day. I was supposed to work with him for two days but I just went for a day. The move I've been using now, I've been doing since 2008 so when I went to train with Eddie, it was just to make little adjustments, it's a move I've been using for three years now so it's not like it's something completely new or something I haven't tried in fights before either.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you train often in a gi? I know you have your classes in Brazilian jiu-jitsu at Xtreme Couture. Are those all gi classes or no-gi?

Vinny Magalhaes: My classes are all gi but I don't really train in my classes. It's a little like higher level, maybe brown belt or black belt that I roll with but it's nothing like I'm training every day with gi. Actually this last couple years I haven't really been training with the gi so most of my training is just focused on no-gi and MMA. 

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I've noticed your stand-up has improved as well and I think it's from the work you've put in with Mark Beecher. He has a way of getting your striking to coordinate with your grappling better than other trainers. Can you talk about how working with him, it more combines the striking and grappling better than just working with a striking coach?

Vinny Magalhaes: That's the reason why, it's not like there was no choice. That's exactly the reason why because of the way Mark works with MMA fighters. Just from working with the guy, he really loves his job and he understands grappling too so he understands the whole MMA game and that's why I decided to work with him. My striking is definitely getting better. It's not the level that I'd want it to be yet but it gives me enough confidence to trade a couple punches before trying to get them in the clinch and get a takedown or get it to the ground somehow. I've just gotta keep working on it. Mark the guy who's been helping me out with it and I feel it's a very good change from before. 

I was working with just striking coaches and I worked with Shawn Tompkins. Shawn Tompkins was my first trainer in MMA and unfortunately, we were just not doing well together because he wanted me to be a striker and especially because I was coming from a jiu-jitsu background and just trying to turn me into a striker was not working. That's why I decided to make the change and start working with Mark.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you feel that coming into this fight with Mikhail Zayats, he's a well-rounded Sambo guy but all his fights seem to go to the ground. I think you've mentioned that a couple times. Do you feel that you could potentially have a striking advantage against hiim?

Vinny Magalhaes: You know, I don't feel like either one of us has a striking advantage over each other. To be honest with you, he got his first TKO win like his last fight and that was also a TKO on the ground. His last fight only spent like 30 seconds standing. He just took the guy down right away then he got the TKO on the ground. Neither one of are known for being a striker. Neither one of us ever have a history of knockouts and knockdowns on our record so I think this fight will eventually go to the ground and then he could attack me. I think I could get a TKO in my favor, a submission in my favor or a decision in my favor. Somehow it will end up in my favor. I don't think either one of us are going to turn this into a striking game. It's just not something I'd expect.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I noticed that you were really impressed with Chael Sonnen not only with his offensive grappling against Brian Stann but also when he got up and started talking and had that awesome post-fight speech. Is that something that you admire, that he's able to combine all the facets of not only MMA but also add in the entertainment factor?

Vinny Magalhaes: Well think about it. People want to watch WWE, they know it's fake but they like the whole like shit-talking. They like people getting mad at each other and I think Chael did a pretty good job. I think he went too far when he said he'd slap Anderson Silva's wife in the ass and I think it was crossing the line with that one but again, he's just being an entertainer. It's not like he really means it but whatever works for him, works for him.

I don't think I could do that myself, I think it's fun, I thought it was great some of the things he said in the last fight. I laughed pretty hard. It's not like I admire him but I think he's funny. I'll be honest with you, he does a great job of trash talking to get more attention. I think that should become a bigger part of our sport. You have to, you can be a great fighter but sometimes being a great fighter isn't enough if you don't have a personality. I think that's what Chael's doing. He's a great fighter but he's also doing things that most guys aren't doing. 

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): It seems like, reading your interviews, listening to your interviews, that you seem much more focused on just winning right now and just getting a nice streak. That's more important to you than defending your title. You'd rather just get a lot of fights and keep winning. Is it really important to you to kind of get that rough start to your career behind you and get that record turned around. Is that more important to you right now?

Vinny Magalhaes: It is man. I'll be honest with you, the belt was not part of my plans. When I first signed with M-1, it was all about the six fights they promised me and to go and get six wins. The belt came out sooner than I thought and I don't to sound rude to the promotion but it doesn't really mean anything to me. It doesn't mean more than the wins. I want to get wins on my record so having the belt, not so much. They could put me on the undercard fights and as long as I'm getting my wins and improving my record, that's what I care about most.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you almost feel like you had a bit too much, too fast in your career? Do you wish it had started a little slower so your record would indicate your skill level better?

Vinny Magalhaes: Some people blame the fact that I jumped to the UFC too soon but I don't think that was the reason I lost. I came from jiu-jitsu but always I should have focused on other areas of the game and I wasn't. I think that was my mistake. People can blame me for coming into the UFC too soon but look at Jon Jones. Jon Jones hadn't been training for long either and he jumped into the UFC and he's already the champion after just a few years. I'm sure he didn't go into the UFC just knowing wrestling. He went in knowing like everything, wanting to be great at everything and he got better, working on getting better in other areas and that's something I wasn't doing at first.

I was just taking fights because I thought people would just take me down and I thought I would have the advantage on the ground and would only submit people and it would work out that way. Most of the times, they wouldn't take the fight to the ground, they'd just jab and try to keep the fight standing or like Ryan Bader. He's a wrestler but all he wanted to do was stand and throw big punches, it was like a lottery game. He knew that if we went to the ground I would have probably submitted him. The big mistake I made was transitioning to the MMA game without working on the other areas. I didn't give myself a chance to become a good fighter. Other than that, I didn't have the right gameplan or the right mindset.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): There's a report that came out today and I've read rumors about this in the past as well that there's the possibility of you helping train Fedor for his fight with Jeff Monson. Is that something that you're planning on doing after your title defense? Are there plans in the works?

Vinny Magalhaes: I've been asked this question a couple times today, nothing actually came up to me yet, I've just heard rumors like the head of M-1 he talked about bringing me to Holland to train with Fedor. That happened before too. My manager tried to negotiate with them and at first they agreed to come, blah, blah, blah but then when it was time for me to go, they said, "A lot of guys will train with Fedor for free just because he's such a legend," but I was like, "I can't go three weeks, not working. I have to pay bills. My son was 2-3 months old at the time. I couldn't train there for free," so I ended up not going. 

So this time, it's gonna be the same way. If they're not gonna pay for me to be there, then I'm not going. It's not like I'm all about money, but if I'm not going to be working at Xtreme Couture, I'm not going to be holding my classes, I'm going to be leaving my family and my wife doesn't work so I want to support my family. I have to be compensated. You know, hopefully we can negotiate how that's gonna work. If they decide not to pay me, then I won't go.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. Who would want to put everything on hold to go offer your services for free when you have those responsibilities?

Vinny Magalhaes: Yeah, that's the thing. They say to train with him would help me and everybody out. It's not like I don't have a good training camp in Vegas. It's not like I'm doing something with Fedor because I need to. It's not for me, it's to help somebody out. Of course, I feel like he's a legend and a lot of people basically train with him but like, I'm gonna be just coming out of a fight so it's not like I'm going to need to be training. It's not for me, it's for him. I'll definitely need to be paid or I'm not going.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): One of my last questions, you've probably been thinking about this fight for a while now. Hell, you were training for this fight instead of the ADCC's this year so how would you like this fight to play out tomorrow night? 

Vinny Magalhaes: There's no secret, at least for now. Of course, once I feel that I'm training to be a good striker, not just decent, but once I am I could keep the fight standing for a couple minutes and see how it goes. But for now, there's no seeing how it goes. My goal is to take this fight to the ground as fast as I can and try to finish there either with a TKO or submission. I just want to get the fight there, hopefully end it in the first round.

Vinny would like to thank his sponsors Chipotle, Equalibryum, Xyience, OTM, X-Guard, Fasttrak Insurance, Hyena Muay Thai, Ethika and Hostility. Also, fans can check him out on twitter @VinnyMMA for daily updates on his training.

So what do you think Maniacs?

Can Magalhaes continue his momentum from earning ADCC gold and put a beating on Mikhail Zayats tomorrow night? Does he have what it takes to make a successful return to the UFC?

Sound off!

Ben Thapa contributed to this interview.
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