Nik Lentz understands that he doesn't have the best of reputations among UFC fighters.
All it took was one lousy fight.
His UFC 118 clinch-fest was featured on the Spike TV preliminaries and it did not provide the desired results of getting people amped up to buy a pay-per-view. He's never been featured on a televised portion since, although that's not for lack of trying.
Lentz has made an effort to shed that reputation, putting on an exciting show in a dramatic come-from-behind effort against Waylon Lowe at UFC Fight Night 24 and then following it up with a "Fight of the Night'-winning performance versus Charles Oliveira earlier this summer which resulted in a 'no contest' from an illegal knee.
Now, after over two months of recovery from a broken orbital, Lentz is ready to get back on the horse. He'll be battling Mark Bocek on the UFC 140 preliminary card this Saturday night (December 10, 2011) in Toronto, Ontario.
"The Carny" spoke with MMAmania.com during a guest appearance on The Verbal Submission last night. You may have already read about his Brock Lesnar story, but he had much more to share including the consequences of being more aggressive, separating MMA from real life and his stance on fighting teammates.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): It seems like you flipped a switch in your fighting style. At first, it was more where you were primarily using your wrestling, the clinch to win fights and some people got outspoken about it but all of a sudden, you turned into this aggressive, always moving forward taking it to guys-type of fighter. You put on a terrific performance against Waylon Lowe where you took quite a bit of damage but it was one of the best fights of the whole night with the third round comeback and against Charles Oliveira, you took Fight of the Night honors despite him landing the illegal blow and everything. Those last two fights were a lot different than your first five or so. What was it that kind of changed for you?
Nik Lentz: Well, I think first that it's not the first five fights that were like the grappling kind because a lot of them weren't seen. When I first got into the UFC, the Facebook fights didn't exist so it was a lot harder to see the undercard fights. That was always my style but I had the two fights that turned into the more grappling matches and I think people kind of based all my fighting style out of fighting one and a half fights pretty much because they were the only ones they had access to and they didn't take time to look at the other ones so I've always been that kind of fighter, very aggressive and straightforward, I just had the one time where I wasn't. So now, you're getting a chance to see what my fighting style has always been like and the other fight was more like an outlier to how I used to fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Going in against Mark Bocek now, he's a guy that can be very patient and he's got this nasty jiu-jitsu game. Do you feel like this style that you've used, or as you say the style that you've always used, that this would be to your advantage to be the aggressor kind of like what Ben Henderson did against him?
Nik Lentz: Yeah, definitely. I feel like being aggressive in the fight is definitely gonna have a huge advantage for me and like you said, he's got a slow, methodical game and he's not gonna be able to switch that around right away where I've been working really hard on being the aggressor my whole career so yeah, I think he's gonna have his hands full when we come down to it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You posted something on twitter that I've got to ask you about. You said you were getting your packing done and you bring a crazy amount of stuff for the week when you're in the hotel. Do you bring different things that the typical fighters in the UFC wouldn't bring?
Nik Lentz: I probably do bring the most stuff out of any UFC fighter. I bring like a whole, I bring a laptop, I bring DVD players, I bring game systems, I bring like 10 times more clothes than I would ever need. I pack all my food that I'm gonna eat for the week. I bring a blender. I bring food scales and regular scales. I pretty much just bring everything to where living in the hotel is almost like being at home.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): It sounds like you really want to try to make it as comfortable as possible so it's not a distraction
Nik Lentz: Well yeah, I get there on Tuesday and I don't fight until Saturday and it's not like you can go out on the town too much because I can't eat any of the food, I can't really do anything that's considered fun when you go and travel places. I'm pretty much stuck in the hotel so I just make sure to bring as many things as possible to keep myself entertained, make the week go by a little faster so the fight can come up a little sooner. I've been a ton of places when it comes to fighting but I've done very little sightseeing or going out.
Even the night after the fight, I probably get back to the hotel about 1 or 2 in the morning so there's not much time to do anything that night and then on Sunday, I'm usually pretty sore and I leave. I don't really get to see too much of the places I travel. It would be nice if I could stay a few days after or something but usually I just want to get home. Get home, get back to normal and if I want to go somewhere, I'll just go on vacation after the fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): In a similar light, I know you do a lot of other things to keep your mind occupied. You play a lot of video games and other things. Is it really important to you to have an escape from MMA because I know some fighters, they're whole life is nothing but MMA. Is it really important for you to be able to separate MMA and real life?
Nik Lentz: Yeah, definitely. When I'm done training for the day, let's say I train from 8 in the morning to 2 in the afternoon, after 2 in the afternoon, I don't think about MMA at all. I mean I think about it, but I try to eliminate all the rest of the thinking. When I get there, I'm very focused, it's like a 100 percent job, but once I leave, I've done all the work at the gym and it stays there. I use video games, anime, things to keep me distracted from thinking about it all the time because if you think about it too much, it's gonna be a distraction, it's gonna hurt you and it's not gonna be fun anymore so you definitely need those built-in distractions and I think the people who don't have them get really burnt out.
Ben Thapa: What was going through your mind in that third round against Waylon Lowe, and after how many times you'd attempted the guillotine before, what made you think it would work that last time?
Nik Lentz: Well, right at the end of the second period, I hit him and I got a takedown right at the end and I could just feel him that he was ready to quit. I could just tell that I had finally gotten to him and I was starting to wear on him and going into the third round, my coach knew the same thing. He was like, "Go out there and take this fight because he's gonna break," so I went out there, I traded with him, I got into the brawl because I knew he was tired and I knew he didn't want to fight anymore and then once you shoot in there, if I get the guillotine tight, it's over. You can't get away.
The reason a lot of people get out of the guillotines is because I know very well that I don't have it but the fact is number one, I have a guillotine so they can't hit me and number two, while i have the guillotine, they can't breathe, it's sucking the life out of 'em. It's like a snake, I'm slowly killing them over time so every time I have a guillotine, it always does damage. It's not like going for an armbar and missing it and nothing happens. If you go for a guillotine or any kind of choke and you hold it for any significant amount of time, the damage is done. You've taken the air away from them, you've killed their conditioning and so that's why I just love to get chokes on them no matter what time it is.
Ben Thapa: With your aggressive style you've been implementing lately, you're open to taking more damage because you're open to counter strikes. You got hit quite a bit in those last two fights. Is that a trade-off you're okay with?
Nik Lentz: Yeah, if you're aggressive, there's always the chance you'll be open, but that's what training is for. You can always look at the fights, see what you did wrong and fix it. That's one of the things I'm good at and it's one of the reasons why I've been able to win so much. Every time I step into the ring I'm new, I'm improved and I took all that time to study. I saw all the tapes, I saw what went wrong and I got different coaches or I worked on certain things. I'm never against just completely reworking part of my game if it needs to be fixed.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Between Sean Sherk, Jacob Volkmann and yourself, you guys have quite a few successful UFC lightweights at your gym, The Minnesota Martial Arts Academy. Does that help, the competition between you guys when you're training?
Nik Lentz: Well it's nice to see that not only is Volkmann successful but Sherk was a former UFC champ. It's nice to know that when you're going with someone like that you can really judge your level of fighting. So now when I go with Sherk and I do really well against him, I can see the progression of how good I'm getting and then I know that if Sean Sherk says, "Hey, you're ready to beat anyone in the world," that means something. It's not just some random guy that's never been tested. When I go with him and he says, "Wow, you feel really strong, you feel really good and I don't think anyone can beat you," that really means something so it definitely adds to my confidence.
Gerry Rodriguez: I know there's a lot of different camps and guys have a lot of different stances on things, like they'll never fight their training partners. Is that something that you're solid on or if the opportunity presented itself where you two would have to face each other, would that be something that you would do?
Nik Lentz: If we had to face each other, we would do it. We would make sure that it was important, not just a random fight but if it meant something like a number one contendership or something like that but when it comes down to it, if we're both coming up the ladder and we both hit that point to where we have to fight, yeah, of course we'll fight and we're fine with it.
Gerry Rodriguez: What's your thoughts on the guys that say they'll never fight their training partners? What do you think about that.
Nik Lentz: Well, it just depends who you are. I definitely don't want to fight any of my training partners. I hope it never happens because that's kind of a really crappy position to be in because number one, the fight is going to be insanely difficult because they know everything about you and it's gonna turn into this weird match-up of trying to do stuff that you don't normally do or trying to go at it but I guess I have no opinion on the other people I guess. It does take a really close relationship with your friends to know that you could go into the ring and try to beat the crap out of each other and afterwards, you'd be fine.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Going back to your Mark Bocek fight. He's a really solid submission guy. Would you be confident taking him down and going to the ground with him?
Nik Lentz: Yeah, definitely. He's actually more of a top jiu-jitsu guy so he likes to be on top. I'm not saying he's bad off his back or anything but he's definitely not your average jiu-jitsu black belt when it comes to being on the ground or on his back but he's better than your average black belt in jiu-jitsu when he's on top. I definitely will take him down if the opportunity is there. As far as just really good jiu-jitsu people just in the UFC, I think I've fought four or five high level black belts so Mark Bocek isn't the first guy that's been a very tough jiu-jitsu opponent for me.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): When you're visualizing success against Mark Bocek, when you close your eyes and think about this fight, what do you see?
Nik Lentz: I see me winning within two rounds. I see me with my hand raised.
The only thing Nik asked was that you check him out on twitter @NikLentz. He responds to his fans very actively.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Has your opinion on Nik Lentz changed after learning a little bit more about him? Does he have what it takes to put away Mark Bocek on Saturday night within two rounds like he's visualizing?
To listen to the complete audio of our interview (which includes extra nerd stuff), click here.