George Roop has been here before.
In fact, he was in nearly an identical situation this past January when he took on occasional training partner and top contender Mark Hominick at UFC Fight for the Troops 2. Hominick's victory over the lanky Arizona-native secured a title shot against featherweight champion Jose Aldo.
Roop does not want a repeat performance.
The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season eight veteran bounced back from his loss to "The Machine" and thrashed former divisional number one contender Josh Grispi this past June, finishing "The Fluke" with a third round TKO via a body punch.
Always willing to take on the best available opposition, Roop answered the call when the UFC was looking for someone to greet promotional newcomer and current consensus number two ranked featherweight in the world Hatsu Hioki. He'll get his shot next Saturday night (October 29, 2011) on the UFC 137 main card.
Roop spoke with MMAmania.com about his upcoming fight with Hioki, building off his victory against Grispi, and why he trains for grueling three round wars in this exclusive interview.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I've got to start with your last fight against Josh Grispi. That was, in my opinion, one of the best performances of your career, going out there and withstanding a guy who was originally a number one contender in the beginning of 2011 and then finishing him in the third round. Can you talk about how your performance against him has given you confidence for this fight?
George Roop: Yeah, it was definitely a good showing for me. I was able to showcase a lot of my skills and everything. Josh Grispi also made me look good because he gassed out. He probably planned on finishing me in the first round but it was a good win for me man. I was definitely happy with that win and I'll take it any day.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Against Grispi, he was on top of you in the first round and it looked like you could have been in trouble for a bit. Is that something you're concerned about for this fight? Hioki's got that crazy-good top game so what have you been working on to prepare for that?
George Roop: Hioki's best position is his top position and everybody knows that it's his best position. All these great athletes that have faced him, they know his triangle is dangerous, they were expecting his triangle but yet they still got caught in it because Hioki is that good and he's a wizard on the ground especially if he gets on top of you. I'm definitely worried if he gets me down on the ground and gets on top of me but I'm very confident in my skills. I've been training very hard and what's really nice is I trained for almost the same thing when I fought Josh Grispi so it's kind of like back to back where I can sharpen my tools even a little more. When Grispi got me down, he did throw his best submission attempts at me and he did have me in some danger at some points and times but I defended well and I think I'll be ready to go. After the first round, my cornerman Ed West told me that he just threw everything he had at me so it wasn't a problem on the ground against him and it wouldn't be a problem wherever I took the fight from then on so that's what I did. I'm not afraid to take this fight with Hioki to the ground. I think my top position is gonna be too much Hioki if I take him down and I think if he takes me down then I can change that position around and either get back to my feet or get a sweep in and get on top.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Yeah and Ed West is a really talented Bellator fighter who's competing this weekend. Did you do your training camp in Arizona with him? That's something I'm interested in because I know you've also spent time with the Shawn Tompkins team in the past. Where did you train for this fight?
George Roop: I trained for this whole fight down down in Tucson, Arizona with Ed West over at Apex Mixed Martial Arts and at Boxing Inc. out in Tucson. I have a good camp out there. Unfortunately we don't have Shawn Tompkins around anymore, that's a real unfortunate thing but I've been in Tucson and I've put together a great camp here. I'm feeling really good and I'm confident heading into this fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you think that Hioki, he's a guy, 5'11, he's a pretty rangy featherweight, but at 6'1, you're one of the biggest featherweights in the world. Do you feel like your range could be enough to stifle his attack?
George Roop: Yeah, I definitely think my range is gonna throw him off. I'm the tallest he's ever fight but vise versa, he's the tallest guy I've ever fought besides Rolando Delgado on TUF at 155. I think his range is also gonna give me some problems but I've put together a good gameplan, a good strategy to take care of that and I think the advantage standing up definitely goes to me.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This is a guy, people talk about Japanese fighters, that they're not as good as advertized, they come over to the UFC and they don't do as well, but Hioki, he's literally faced some of the best fighters out there. Do you feel like this will be different, that this isn't just some guy who's overrated, he's legitimately earned his spot up there in the rankings?
George Roop: He is the real deal. He's definitely legit. He's not gonna be another Japanese fighter that comes over here and doesn't do well. He's gonna do well in the UFC, he's just not gonna do well against me. He has fought some tough guys as far as the rankings go. I do think he should be ranked in the top 10, maybe even the top five but he's definitely not number two and he's definitely not number three in the world. I think Chad Mendes is the number two fighter and I think Erik Koch should be ahead of him as well, maybe a couple other fighters. I think his ranking is higher than he should be but he's still the real deal. He's definitely top ranked and he's a seasoned fighter. I don't think being in the UFC is gonna rattle him. I think he's gonna, we're gonna see the best Hatsu Hioki that you've ever seen but we'll be ready for that.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): People talk about the guys that Hioki's faced, but you've been in there against some really talented fighters as well, George Sotiropoulos, Eddie Wineland, Mark Hominick, all those guys. Do you feel like your level of competition for your opponents is equal to or even better than what Hioki's faced throughout his career?
George Roop: Yeah I've definitely faced better opponents than he has faced. There's no doubt about that in my mind. You named 'em all and at the time when I fought every one of those guys, Sotiropoulos, Eddie Wineland, Leonard Garcia, Chan Sung Jung, Hominick, Grispi, at that time that I fought them, they were all ranked in the top 10. I don't fight turds, man. I don't ask to fight turds and I only fight the best competition that there is out there so I do believe I've fought better competition than Hioki. I believe that with big risk comes big opportunity and great reward. I want to test myself to the best of my ability. I don't want to get a couple easy wins, no cupcakes. I want to fight the best guys and you can see that on my record.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): It seems like every time you go out there it's either a Fight of the Night, Knockout of the Night, something crazy is gonna happen. Do you see yourself as one of the best representatives of the featherweight division, that you're a guy that the UFC can count on to go out there and put on a show?
George Roop: They can definitely count on me when I go out there. There's one thing I do and I do well and that's I show up to the fight. I'm not one of the guys that's really good in the gym and pumps myself up. When I get in that cage, I'm ready to fight and I bring it every time.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You're good buddies with Ed West. How do you see him performing on Saturday night? I know he's got a really tough fight as well against a really highly ranked prospect in Eduardo Dantas
George Roop: Well if Dantas is a great prospect then Ed West is gonna become the best prospect because he's ready to go. I'm actually out here in the room with him right now and he'll be flying out to Vegas next week with me to return to the favor to be my corner. We're main training partners, we're always in each other's corner no matter what so he's ready to go man. He's on point and I think he's gonna take it to Dantas.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Ok George, you've had this fight booked for a while now. How do you visualize yourself winning this fight against Hioki?
George Roop: I don't train to knock the guy out in the first round. I don't train to submit the guy in the first round because if you train for something like that, that would just be ridiculous. I train to win a three round grueling war, a decision and that's what I train for. If the finish comes then that's great and it'll come in spectacular fashion if it's from me. I see myself winning a three round war whether it's a split decision or a unanimous decision, that's the way I see myself winning the fight so I'm mentally prepared for that long battle.
George would like to thank Apex Mixed Martial Arts, Boxing Inc. in Tucson, Team Tompkins, Ed West, his family and last but not least, himself.
So what do you think Maniacs?
Can Roop pull off the upset and put a halt to Hatsu Hioki's UFC featherweight title dreams before they even get started? How do you like his chances against the Japanese grappling ace?