Photo by Wilson Fox via Sherdog
Coty Wheeler has the blood lines of two legendary tribal chiefs running through his veins.
The Native American fighter is proud of his heritage, so much so that he's got "The Reservation Sensation" tattooed across his collar.
Wheeler trains out of Greg Jackson's gym in Albuquerque, New Mexico and he's hoping to enjoy a nice home field advantage when he fights former UFC lightweight champion Jens "Little Evil" Pulver tonight (August 13, 2011) in the co-main event of MMA Fight Pit: Genesis.
"Ox" is also a veteran of the WEC, having competed against some strong fighters like Charlie Valencia and current top 125 pound fighter Ian McCall during his two stints in the promotion and he was more than happy to rise to the occasion of facing Pulver.
He discussed his troubled yet fascinating past, his future, and the implications of this tremendous opportunity in this exclusive interview with MMAmania.com.
Let's get to business:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've had almost all of your fights in the New Mexico area. How good does it feel to be having such an important fight in your backyard?
Coty Wheeler: Yes sir. I actually had some fights in my amateur career as well and counting all of those I've had 28 fights. I'm 24-4 and I've had fights in Florida, North Carolina and all over but the majority of them have been in New Mexico. I enjoy fighting in New Mexico. It's my hometown, I love it here and I'm very fortunate to have a camp like Jackson's here. I make use of it and I train there and I'm very excited about the fight.
Coty Wheeler: Oh yeah, he is a legend. I've got mad respect for the guy and I've been watching him since I was in high school way back in 1997 whenever I graduated and he started on the MMA scene. It's amazing that I'll be able to get it on with him and I know that the 15 minutes we are in the cage, we'll be in there trying to demolish each other, beat each other up. After the show, I'd love to sit down and just talk with the guy. He's very humble and I've always enjoyed watching him. I'm a fan and I'm so happy to be fighting him.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Jens has had some struggles in his past few fights if you look at everything cumulative, his last five losses have been by way of submission. You're more known as a submission fighter so do you feel like that's a huge advantage for you coming into this fight?
Coty Wheeler: Honestly, that is a plus on my behalf but he has a strong wrestling background and he's got that great fighting attitude. I'm not expecting it will be easy to submit him because the second I start thinking that, I'm gonna get caught with something because I let my guard down. I let my coaches worry about studying film of him and breaking down his weaknesses to find the gameplan.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you feel like this is the perfect timing for your career to take on a guy like Pulver?
Coty Wheeler: Oh yeah. I've fought Charlie Valencia, Del Hawkins, guys that are real tough. Down in the gym in Albuquerque, we take in all the young up and comers and we don't turn down any fights. That's one of the things we're taught. You never let the name beat you before you step into the cage against the name. The guy that showed me the way was Carlos Condit. He's been my friend for my whole fight career and we're still teammates to this day. Being around a guy like that rubs off and there's been numerous, numerous situations where the odds were against him and he prevailed.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Can you talk about relationship with Carlos a bit? I know you train together at Jackson's but it sounds like you've been working together since before then.
Coty Wheeler: Yes sir. We worked together downtown for a long time and he moved to Phoenix around the time I went to Jackson's. He came back from Phoenix and we met up again at Jackson's. He's a really good friend of mine, one of my best friends and he's always, if you watch my early fight career, it's been him in my corner and he was at my wedding and spoke at my wedding. I've got mad respect for the guy. Having a role model like that, if it wasn't for Carlos Condit, there would not be an "Ox" Wheeler. I got the spotlight on me and got to flap my wings so I always thank him for the path that he led me down.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I also saw you did some commentating recently at Evolution fights.
Coty Wheeler: Yeah, I did that earlier at the Evolution fight card, great fights and got some good up and coming stars there. There was another one, Global Fury Cagefighting. That was actually my first gig of being the "Joe Rogan," announcing, commentating and I went over to Evolution and I Joe Rogan'd it up over there too. It's pretty cool to be on the other side of the cage, have no pressure on you and just talking about what you love and getting paid for it. I really enjoyed it and I'd like to thank those guys for putting me on.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I'd like to talk about your heritage. I know, as a Native American, that's something very important to you and you've got "The Reservation Sensation" tattooed on your chest. Can you talk about your background a bit?
Coty Wheeler: Well my mother and father met over at an Indian college in Lawrence, Kansas. It's called Haskell. My mother's from the New Mexico Apache and my father's from Lapwei, Idaho. He's a Nez Perce so when they met at college, that's where it all began and there became five of us. That makes me a combination of Chief Joseph and Geronimo and that's where "Ox" came from. They were two big war chiefs on both sides of my family. Chief Joseph was known for that saying, "today is a good day to die," and Geronimo was known as leading the last tribe to give up and he fought 'til the end. I'm very proud to be Native American and for me to get out there and show them that you can get out of trouble and go do something with your life because I did have a troubled past and was in and out of jail. I turned my life around and MMA saved it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Can you talk about some of that trouble and how MMA saved it? I'm very interested.
Coty Wheeler: I was actually, around 2001-2002, I was in a lot of trouble. I caught some crazy charges and I'd been in and out of jail. I've got a lot of incarcerations in my past, rehabilitations and the last program I was in, they tagged me for Drug Court which was pretty much a 89-90% failure rate. It's a nine month program here in Albuquerque and I'd like to consider myself that 10 or 11% success rate but it took me 23 1/2 months despite it being a nine month program. I messed up a couple times but right when I got out of probation which had been basically my whole life.
I went to school while I was on probation, got my associates in liberal arts and I got into fighting just to lose weight and keep my lady around. I didn't expect to get this far with it but I was about 190 pounds, had man boobs and a big 'ol gut and I was pretty heavy set. I haven't touched a drink since 2002 and my father always told me, "son, if you put a cork in the bottle, all your problems go away. Maybe not all of 'em, but the majority of 'em," and he was right. Pretty much 95% of my problems went away, my self damaging stuff and financial stuff that I had to deal with and that's life for everybody. When I got out of court, I just started training, learned to grapple, Muay Thai box and wrestle all at once and I trained for a year and a half, got asked to fight and it's been an ongoing battle ever since.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): That's a fantastic story, Coty. I'm also interested in your future. You had two really nice stoppage victories in a row coming into this fight. What are your goals for your future now, especially with this big fight on the horizon.
Coty Wheeler: My goal right now, I'm getting ready to have my first child. I just got married. I've been with my beautiful wife for 20 years and we finally got married June 10th and we're getting ready to have our first child, a daughter so, you know, fighting is like my part-time job. I was actually in Barber college and they came and got me out of Barber college to fight. When they asked me, I wasn't even training. I was in school, I would have got done this November 10th, my graduation date and MMA Fight Pit came over and worked a deal with the owner of the Barber college and said, "hey, can we use this guy for three months and we'll take care of the rest of his school, whatever he needs to take cage of and put him back in school?" When I get done with my fight, I'll be back in school. Life goes on, I'll be worried about being a family man. When future fights come, I'll be excited to do 'em but I'm gonna focus more on my family and I've got a lot of stuff going on in my life. I'm juggling a couple flaming balls but I'm doing it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How would you like this fight with Pulver to finish?
Coty Wheeler: You know, submission, knockout, whatever, as long as my hand is raised at the end and I guarantee Jens would give the same answer. Fighting a guy like Jens, I guarantee the last ten guys that fought him said the same things I said. It's the fight of my life. He's such a Bad A and everyone that fights Jens considers it the fight of their life. The night, for me, would be getting my hand raised. Whether I knock him out or submit him, anything would be a good night for me right there.
Coty would like to thank his trainers, "Big Mike," "Uncle Frank," Jackson's and Winklejohn's gym, Chris Montoya, Chris Latrell, all his training partners and his friends and relatives who've passed away that he'll be fighting for.
So, Maniacs, can the WEC veteran Wheeler pull off the biggest win of his six year professional career? Or will he "let the name beat him" before he steps in the cage?