Welcome, Maniacs, to a new series that will introduce you to all 32 competitors in the upcoming fifth season of Bellator.
Our journey begins with Steve Carl, an Iraqi War veteran who began training in MMA about seven years ago while stationed at Fort Hood in Texas.
After compiling a 12-1 record, he was offered a spot in the Bellator season two welterweight tournament. Carl advanced to the semifinals before falling short to Dan Hornbuckle at Bellator 19.
On the quest for redemption, the Iowa native defeated Tyler Stinson in a thriller to earn a spot in the Bellator season four welterweight tournament but he would not be able to attend after suffering a horrible thumb injury less than three weeks before it began.
After multiple setbacks, Carl is finally ready to fight this Saturday night (September 10, 2011) at Bellator 49 in the promotion's season five welterweight tournament quarterfinals against "The Phenom" Douglas Lima. Carl spoke with MMAmania.com about his expectations, setbacks and how he's had to adapt.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I noticed through your social media that you were having quite a bit of trouble sleeping the other day. Is your upcoming quarterfinal bout contributing to your insomnia?
Steve Carl: I just couldn't get the fight out of my head and I couldn't stop going through positions in my head. Finally, at like 5 a.m. I was like, "I've got to get to sleep," so I put on a pair of shoes and I just went for like a marathon run but when I got done I was so amped up I couldn't get to sleep. I just wanted to do something. I finally crashed around 9 o'clock and after six hours of sleep it was time to work out and train again.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Hopefully you get it all sorted out come fight time.
Steve Carl: (laughs) I should be fine by then, no problem.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Speaking of that, how does it feel to finally be back in a Bellator tournament? It's been a while since your last fight.
Steve Carl: Yeah, it's been over a year and it's been a frustrating year. It's good to finally get back in there. It seems like unfamiliar because I haven't done it in so long on one hand, but on the other hand, it's all I've been thinking about so it's like, "Damn, finally, I'm here!"
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You mentioned the frustration of your injury. I'm trying to remember what type of injury it was, I know it was a finger or a toe and it was really bad. Can you talk about the severity of that injury and how long it kept you sidelined?
Steve Carl: It was my right thumb and honestly, it's not really healed. The injury is extremely bad especially for this sport. My thumb stuck in the mat and snapped backwards all the way to my wrist. It snapped my thumb in half and it ripped the tendons completely off. I had the tendons reattached and since then they've gotten ripped off a couple times. As far as use, I can use the thumb but I can't do a lot of things that I used to. I had to adapt to it. I changed my grip. I don't try to use that thumb a whole lot but I don't think it'll affect my whole game a lot because I can still make a fist and throw a punch. The break itself was frustrating more because it happened 19 days before the season four tournament and I was thinking, "It's been seven months, I can't wait to get back in the cage," and then my thumb breaks. I was like, "You've got to be kidding me!" It was a freak accident.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Does it help at all that you've been through this before? For the people that don't really know about you, you had the car accident with the badly broken leg and people were telling you that you were never going to fight again but you came back stronger than ever.
Steve Carl: It does, but at the same time, the thumb broke and I thought it just dislocated and popped out of place. I didn't even go to the hospital the day it happened. I just went home, iced it and thought it would be tender for a couple of days. I woke up the next day and I had a monkey paw on my right hand. I knew right away that this was extremely, extremely bad. It never occurred to me, it never sunk in. I thought, "It's just a thumb, it'll heal," and I came back trying to train and I came back too fast and I separated it and kept reinjuring it, making it worse. I think mentally it makes me stronger. Why worry about getting hurt in the cage when you're already fighting hurt? All I'm thinking about is winning with the tools that I have.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about how you're gonna win. You're facing a really tough prospect in Douglas Lima who's highly touted. He's the former MFC welterweight champion. What are your thoughts on this guy?
Steve Carl: I actually met Douglas Lima in the sauna in the locker room at his last fight in Canada because I was cornering another guy and I watched him fight. I remember thinking, "Wow, this guy is good! I hope I don't have to fight him anytime," and the very next fight, we're set up to fight each other so I just laugh about it. I got to hang out with him in New York a bit for the Bellator promo material. He's a really cool guy with a lot of potential. It's gonna be a tough and dangerous fight but we're out there to test each other. He's a really tough fighter that I have to get over but I'm also a really tough fighter that he has to get over. We're both out there trying to prove ourselves. I'm trying to prove that I'm still here and he's trying to prove that he's on the scene now too.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): He's a guy that's got really strong grappling credentials but he had a sick knockout in his last fight with Terry Martin. Where do you think he's most dangerous?
Steve Carl: I think he's dangerous everywhere. He's got really nice hands, his ground game is great and that's what he's supposed to be. He's a fighter. He's not supposed to have wholes. He's not supposed to be weak anywhere and at this level I shouldn't be able to walk in there and think, "I'm just gonna take this guy down because he's got amazing hands but his ground game sucks," or, "His ground game is amazing, but his hands suck." At this level, you've got to expect everybody to be able to do everything. You've got to turn it into a chess match and you've got to be a smarter fighter. It's not all about the physical abilities, it's about the mental game as well.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): With the injury to your thumb, with how it's changed your grip, does that change the way you plan on fighting? I know you're a guy that's been very good with getting your opponents down. Is this going to turn you into more of a stand-up fighter because you can still make a fist or are you still going to be focusing on the wrestling and the jiu-jitsu?
Steve Carl: I think it's definitely changed my game a little bit. A lot of the submissions are a lot different because I can't necessarily grab the same way and I don't hold the same way anymore. The submission and my transitions are different as well. I plan on throwing a lot of hands in this fight. I think that's the way you've got to fight Douglas Lima anyways. You can't get into a jiu-jitsu match with a highly technical guy like him anyways so I've got do a lot more standing up in this fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): There's a guy you've talked about before every tournament you've fought in, Dan Hornbuckle. You wanted to fight him before they announced your opponents in season two and then you wanted to fight him in season four to avenge the loss. Is there something that really draws you to want to fight Hornbuckle?
Steve Carl: Well, obviously now I've got the loss to Hornbuckle and my big thing is that I cheated everybody in that. I lost mentally in that fight and hit a funk. Even when I was in the fight on top of him hitting him and I was like, "Oh my God, I'm gonna lose. I can't win this fight." I bought into all the hype. I'm friends with Dan Hornbuckle. We're friends, we've exchanged numbers and as soon as this tournament is over we're going to hang out and train so there's no bad blood or nothing, it's more for myself and for everybody else. My fans deserved a better fight than what they saw and I deserve a second chance at a little redemption. The first tournament, he had all the hype behind him, kinda the same way with Douglas, he's coming in with all the hype. It can be a good thing or a bad thing. You can let it fuel you or you can let it tear you down.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Can you talk about your training a bit? I know you're in a bit of a unique situation heading into this fight.
Steve Carl: I normally work with Kevin Burns but he had an eye injury and nose surgery. I've been working on my own gym for a while and not to downplay any of my partners or anything, but I feel like a lone wolf going into this fight. I've been focusing on myself, getting myself ready and doing my own things. I don't have anybody setting my schedule telling me what I have to do. I can go to the gym and do whatever I want whenever I want. I'm just trying to make sure I'm ready for this and I've been doing it long enough that I don't need anyone to hold my hand.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I've been reading through your training blogs and you mention running through the Palisades and how hard it is. Can you explain what that is?
Steve Carl: The Palisades is actually a national park over here. It runs next to the Cedar River and it's a beautiful, beautiful view. Basically it's a really old school trail and the run is amazing because you're going up and down cliffs, with roots and rocks and all kinds of stuff with stairs and bridges and it's just a killer run. It also really works on your agility because with every step you could break your ankle so if you're running through there, it's almost like running through tires in football and you've got to focus on every single step which is great because you aren't thinking about how much longer you have left to run. I'm just thinking about attacking the next hill or obstacle instead of the big picture. You have a better mentality when you're out there.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Visualizing success, how would you like to see the fight with Douglas Lima play out on Saturday night?
Steve Carl: That fight has gone through my brain thousands and thousands of time and to give you an honest answer, I don't even have a way I want the fight to play out. I'm more concerned with me as a fight and I know it's a super tough fight for the both of us and I just want to get in there and perform. I want to get in there and do my thing and I don't want to shut down. I just want to react to fighting and just my thing and if I can do that, the fight will turn out great.
Steve would like to thank Complete Nutrition, his family, friends and the fans.
So Maniacs, do you think Carl will overcome his thumb injury to defeat Douglas Lima on Saturday night? Or will the Brazilian prospect be too much for the Iraq War veteran?
Be sure to check out these other interviews from our Bellator welterweight introductory series: