Eye of the Tiger: MMAmania interview exclusive with UFC 139's Nick Pace

Photo via ufc.tv

If there's a tough fight to be made, call Nick Pace.

The New York native eats, breathes and sleeps MMA, living in a room at the training facility of Tiger Schulmann Fight Team alongside top competitors like former Bellator welterweight champion Lyman Good and recent Ultimate Fighter season 14 competitors Louis Gaudinot and Jimmie Rivera.

Pace began training in martial arts at just 10 years old and he hasn't looked back since. In fact, he's never held another job other than being a professional fighter outside of occasionally instructing at the gym and holding weekend seminars.

A former Ring of Combat bantamweight champion, Pace has been in a trial by fire with his current run with Zuffa, drawing recent title challenger Demetrious Johnson in his WEC debut and then earning a bout with tough veteran Ivan Menjivar this past August. 

Continuing his string of scary opposition, Pace will take on former WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Torres this Saturday night (November 19, 2011) on the preliminary card of UFC 139 in San Jose.

Pace spoke with MMAmania.com during a recent guest appearance on The Verbal Submission where he discussed learning from his past mistakes, finding motivation and which cast member of The Jersey Shore he'd like to choke out.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've got a huge fight coming up with Miguel Torres. You go from Ivan Menjivar to Miguel Torres so they're definitely throwing you in there against some of the best guys. I saw about a year and a half ago you were listing your dream fights. You listed three fights, Dominick Cruz, Brian Bowles and Miguel Torres, so this is one of your dream fights. How does that feel?

Nick Pace: Yeah man, I want all hard fights. My last fight didn't go the way I wanted it to but with every loss, actually, when you win, when I won with the Pace choke, it was like, I won and all I really learned how to do from that was how to respond to people asking me, "Holy crap man, how'd you think of that?" or I learned how to write my name a little better because I was signing a lot of autographs from that but when you lose, you learn so much more. I learned a lot from that fight and I'm gonna be ready.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I didn't think it was a bad loss in your last fight. It looked like you had Menjivar on the ropes there in the third round after landing a nice knee. Did you just feel like you'd done enough to get the decision?

Nick Pace: Of course, I was disappointed with the result and I knew that I hurt him and I was going after him but it was just a lack of experience on my part and I definitely fixed up that part. I need to get in at it more. I need to go really hard after I knew I hurt him and I didn't. It's all good. I'll make sure that'll never happen again. When you lose, you learn so much more from when you win, it's all good.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): So what was something specific that you took out of the loss? I'd love to hear what you learned that you adapted to your game in preparation for this fight.

Nick Pace: Well, number one, my punch output has to be a lot more. That's one. Number two, when a kick is getting thrown at me, a low kick is getting thrown at me, regardless of if it's a bullshit slap or if it's hard especially, I should check it. When I was in the fight, the adrenaline's pumping and he kept throwing the low kicks at me. They were like slaps with his foot and I was like, "That's nothing. That's really not bothering me at all. I'll just walk right through it," and that's what happened and I knew the low kicks definitely accumulated after a couple of rounds. Not that it was bothering me or hurting me at all but the points, after a while those points accumulate and that's the decision of the round right there so I learned that.

Also just to have more of a killer instinct. When you see that you hurt somebody, instead of just chasing them around, learn to cut off the ring, take them down and what I learned the most from that fight was I was a little too headstrong on the fact that I had to stand up and bang with him because I don't know, there was something in my mind saying, usually in my fights I throw hands, go for the takedown and get the submission, that's usually my thing but what I really got out of my last fight is I need to learn how to adapt and go with what's working in the fight.

I was standing with him and we were going toe to toe with each other but when I took him down, a lot of respect to Ivan Menjivar but when I took him down and I think he's a BJJ black belt or something like that, I passed his guard, got to side mount, got on his back, I cinched in the choke and it wasn't in all the way but I had his back and I felt comfortable. What I should have done was stick to that gameplan and throw my hands, then shoot again, go for the takedown again and the result of the fight might have been a little different.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I want to get the word out on what makes Nick Pace tick a little bit, reading up on your history, you're one of the rare fighters in that, you're only job in your entire career has been involved with mixed martial arts. I've heard reports that you started training at 10 years old or eight years old. Maybe we can set the record straight.

Nick Pace: I was 10, yup. Basically I was 10 years old and I started karate and I took my first introductory class and I actually came home that night and I had my gi and I slept in my gi I loved it so much it was definitely what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Basically, I've been there my whole life. My parents split up and I was doing the wrong things for about a year and I didn't think the divorce was really effecting me but it did and I was doing a lot of bad stuff and then my instructor, sensei Delaney, he came back and he saw my father one day at the supermarket and he said, "You've got to get him back."

I started working there and it's been my life ever since. I'm living the dream right now. I'm loving life and all I do is literally eat, sleep and train. That's literally all I do. I live up at my training facility. They made a nice room for me and a couple of the boys that are up there, Louis Gaudinot and Jimmy Rivera, Lyman Good and we all stay up there when we have fights and that's it. It's what I love to do.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Also on that note, you actually teach martial arts to beginner students don't you? Does that help you refine your technique with your fundamentals, going over the basics like that?

Nick Pace: Well, for the past about a year and a half, I haven't been teaching at the school. I was teaching in Brooklyn for a while and when I got called in to fight in the WEC, I actually went on unemployment and I just started training full time. Now, on the weekends, like today I had to drive out to Pennsylvania and I did a seminar. I do seminars pretty much every Sunday or every other Sunday for the Tiger Schulmann's schools and stuff like that.

To answer your question, it definitely helped out when I was fighting in the other pro events like Ring of Combat over here on the east coast. I was training in the morning and then I would go teach and it definitely helps because when you're on the outside looking in and then you're going over moves slow like the jab or the cross, you're going over a guillotine or a triangle choke or whatever it is, it helped you learn. You're using your mind rather than using your body in that sense. It was definitely good. I love teaching the kids. That's like my favorite thing, seeing little kids. It's a very rewarding job and I loved it when I did it and after I'm done fighting, I'm looking to open up my own gym and go back to that.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Reading your twitter, it seems like you've got a fascination with the haters, the people that talk down to you. What's that all about? Do you just try to use that as fuel, motivation when you're training?

Nick Pace: Yeah, exactly. I was actually doing an interview last week and it was a video interview and I went down to the radio station and I was rocking my Tiger Schulmann's hoodie and I had my "I <3 Haters" hat and underneath it, it says "motivation" right underneath the brim of the hat and the guy was asking me about it. Basically, it is motivation. If you don't like the way I walk, if you don't like the way I talk, you don't my swagger, you don't like the way I fight, that's on you. You don't have to like me. You're a hater, you know what I mean? Keep hating on me. It's all good. That gives me motivation to keep fighting and train hard.

My friend Louis, with the green hair, he came into the school, I don't know if this is true or not but he said, "Yo, did you see that thing? I read up on Miguel Torres, he said something like he doesn't think I should be in the same cage as him and he doesn't think he should be fighting me," and look, I've got nothing bad to say about him, I'm not one to start any problems or talk shit. That's just not my thing. I try to stay humble and speak with my actions, my fighting, but if he's gonna try to hate on me or underestimate me, go ahead. It's all good. I don't care. I know when I go out to the west coast, he's gonna get more applause than I will but it don't matter. People are gonna like me for who I am, not for any other reason.

Ben Thapa: Are you one of those guys where you fight in a really calm state or do you get really pumped up? Where are you in terms of before you step in the cage, excited or trying to keep it level?

Nick Pace: Well, I like having fun when I'm out there. I know when I'm relaxed and I'm having fun, that's when I pull out great stuff like when I fought for Bellator, I pulled off a flying knee knockout and that was a highlight reel. I was just relaxed and having fun and then I pulled off that choke that people call "The Pace Choke" so I like to get pumped up, but not to where I'm mad at the person. I'm not mad at him. I know I've got to go in there and do my thing but I'll be bouncing around before the fight, I'll have a smile on my face and I'll be happy. My coach'll be like, "Yo, get your game face on!" and I'll have a smile on my face, "This is my game face, man! I'm good, I'm ready. Let's go, let's go!" It's just not me. Some of the guys say I'm too nice but when I get in there, I just need to be relaxed and I need to have fun.

Ben Thapa: I've got to ask you, what's with the back takes? In  your last few fights you've taken the back of your opponents rather easily but you can't seem to finish the choke. It's like there's something missing there. Are you working on that?

Nick Pace: Yeah, for sure. I definitely love getting the back and trying to get that submission in there and I've been working on that a lot but also, this is a game of mixed martial arts. It's not the game of jiu-jitsu so I'm still young in this sport and I've also learned from when I get someone's back, listen, when you have someone's back, you don't have to just go for the submission right away. I mean, if it's there, take it, but dude we've got gloves on and a mouthpiece for a reason, you're supposed to be using your hands. You're supposed to be punching, punching, punching and then looking for the submission so I've been working on my submission game and also working on ground and pound so that's what was missing a little bit too.

Ben Thapa: Who are the ones that you look up to, the fighters you aspire to be like?

Nick Pace: My favorite fighter is Nick Diaz. He's been  my favorite fighter. Even when he got kicked out of the UFC and he was in Strikeforce, I was still following him. If I watch the UFC, I was watching it last night and I see some really good stuff, like how tough Leben is, his heart, you can't really teach heart but if you see how tough he is and he keeps coming forward even when he gets hurt or you watch some of these guys like Renan Barao who fought Brad Pickett, how quick he jumped on his back and he stood toe to toe and he didn't really have respect for him, you try to take a little bit from each fighter to make yourself a great fighter and also trust in yourself that you're a great fighter too.

Ben Thapa: Do you feel like jiu-jitsu may not be as valuable in developing the rest of your game? Are you already okay with that and now feel that it's other things that should be improved?

Nick Pace: I think my jiu-jitsu game is very good. I never took a Brazilian jiu-jitsu class. I've never gotten a white belt in jiu-jitsu but I roll with jiu-jitsu black belts, brown belts all the time and I do very well. I don't really know. You can never be content with yourself. You've always got to be pushing and getting better at every single thing you're doing. I think I'm pretty well-rounded and you've got to keep getting better at everything you do. You can't just hold off. Everyone that's in the UFC is a really good fighter. This is the top level, the major leagues of mixed martial arts. Everyone has to keep getting better or you're gonna fall. Your opponents will capitalize that.

Gerry Rodriguez: Moving away from the whole MMA thing. This is out there, but are you a fan of The Jersey Shore?

Nick Pace: Oh dude, come on! No, not really a fan of The Jersey Shore. Everyone sees me, I'm "Shore" they're saying. There's dudes from Staten Island and I actually can't stand, Staten Island is home. I could go live out in Jersey for two months for my fight or have my own camp or stuff like that but Staten Island is home to me. On the other hand, there's a lot of kids out here, it's definitely not my scene. I'm not really big into clubs at all or anything like that. I like to watch Family Guy, Beavis and Butthead, I like Epic Meal Time. That's my shit right there. I love that stuff. I'm not a big Jersey Shore fan. It gives me a headache. I get stressed out watching that stuff.

Gerry Rodriguez: If you had to choke one of the guys out from The Jersey Shore, you can only pick one, which one would it be?

Nick Pace: First person that pops in my head is Mike, "The Situation" but on the other hand, it's Ronnie because, you know what bro? What are you doing with this girl. Ohh, it's terrible. You're getting me stressed out thinking about it man. I don't know, I guess I'll have to say Mike. The girls are all gross too, man. I guess Sammy's not but she ain't worth it. She is not worth it, dude.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I actually saw you were a fan of Epic Meal Time beforehand and I've got to ask you, is it hard being a fan of Epic Meal Time but also helping out fight childhood obesity with members of the New York State Assembly? Is that a difficult balance for you?

Nick Pace: Yes and no, and on the other hand I'm watching Epic Meal Time, I've got to cut 20 pounds, it's like it sucks. I don't know, I just love bacon, what can I say? I watch that, Man vs. Food or The Food Network, whatever it is.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): When you visualize success in your head, how do you see the fight playing out with you getting a win?

Nick Pace: How do I see it? I see it being awesome and I know that's not what you mean. You want me to say how I think I can get it but I don't know. I really don't even know. All I know is that's gonna be the best feeling ever and I can't say that I'm gonna knock him out or I'm gonna get him in a guillotine. What I can say is that it's about to go down. That's all I can say. 

Nick would like to thank his team, Tiger Schulmann's Mixed Martial Arts on the east coast, his sponsors, Hayabusa, Jakt, Lexani and lastly Epic Meal Time. Nick wants to get sponsored by Epic Meal Time. Get the fans to reach out to them and see if they can get something working together.

So what do you think Maniacs?

Pace is a pretty big underdog heading into Saturday's fight with Torres, but does he have what it takes to pull it off? Will he be able to relax like he wants to when he sees the former champion staring across from him in the Octagon?

Sound off!

For the complete audio of our interview with Nick Pace, click here.

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