MMAmania's Brian Hemminger speaks to Bellator heavyweight tournament quarterfinalist Richard Hale about the move upwards in divisions, how he feels his size and speed will give him natural advantages and potentially becoming the next heavyweight champion in this exclusive interview.
It affected him negatively in the inaugural Bellator light heavyweight tournament back in 2011 and it all came to a head earlier this summer when his body stopped cutting before the Summer Series tournament. His shot at avenging his last loss to champion Christian M'Pumbu may have gone down the drain, but when one door closes, another one opens.
His wish was granted.
Now, the incredibly athletic combatant will be testing himself against a plethora of gigantic heavyweights, but it's not likely they've faced anyone who's pulled off an inverted triangle before.
Hale will be competing this Friday night (Oct. 5, 2012) at Bellator 75 in the Bellator season seven heavyweight tournament quarterfinals against Mike Wessel and he spoke to MMAmania.com about the move upwards in divisions, how he feels his size and speed will give him natural advantages and potentially becoming the next heavyweight champion in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You were in the original light heavyweight tournament and you were supposed to be in the last Summer Series light heavyweight tournament but had to back out due to the medical issue. How does it feel not having to cut weight and to just go in there and do your thing in the heavyweight tournament this time around?
Richard Hale: With the tournament style for Bellator, it's definitely a more difficult task for the bigger guys like myself cutting down to make the light heavyweight division. Coming in not having to cut weight, I naturally walk around at heavyweight and get to display my skills there means it'll be a great opportunity to not only show my skills there but prove how well I can hang with the heavyweights as well.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I don't know if it's a really bad experience to talk about or not but with the last Summer Series as I mentioned, you were scheduled to fight but on the day of the weigh-ins, you were notably absent due to the weight-cutting issues. How bad was it for you?
Richard Hale: It's not a sore subject. It was just the first time I'd ever not made weight for a fight in my entire career. I believe in being a professional and it's part of your job not only to agree to a fight and show up to a fight but to make that weight. To be perfectly honest, with that tournament style, I felt like just because I'd done it in the previous tournament I could come back around again and fight. I'd fought twice before the tournament and while it was a great opportunity to showcase my skill, it was also detrimental. This weight-missing could have happened in the first round of the tournament and could have happened in the second. I could have advanced and then lost to someone that I shouldn't have because of the weight-cut issues. As a professional, you don't like to see that.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You definitely are one of the bigger guys out there that was cutting down to light heavyweight, so do you feel that having to potentially make weight three times in three months like you did in the first tournament was negatively affecting your performance by the time you got to the end?
Ricahrd Hale: Absolutely 110 percent. If you look at my performances in Bellator, I've had five fights with them so far. I went into the first fight with an inverted triangle, had a hellacious time cutting weight for the second fight, having to sweat out 19 pounds on the day of the weigh-ins and I put on a performance that was enough to win the fight but it went to a decision which is not something I like to do. Coming into the finals against Christian M'Pumbu, somebody I think I should not have lost to personally, but you live and you learn with the weight cuts. I made the step up to heavyweights as soon as I was not able to do it and I had a talk with Bjorn [Rebney] and told him I'd love to be in the heavyweight tournament.
If you look at it realistically, I fought two heavyweights in Bellator since losing to M'Pumbu in the finals. I came back and fought Carlos Flores who missed weight and I fought him at a catchweight of 211 which is technically at heavyweight. I came back around and fought Josh Barnes who was a two-time competitor in the heavyweight division for Bellator and had fought a couple qualifiers for their tournament and I knocked him out in 38 seconds. He had fought Eric Prindle for two rounds and it had been stopped due to a cut. After my fight with him, he turned around and tells me that he'd never been hit that hard in his entire life. I think that's a testament to my abilities. I have the striking and I think I stack up against the heavyweights. A lot of those guys are coming in and thinking it's all about size having to cut down to 265. I'm gonna show them that athleticism means more than anything else.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you feel like you'll have a significant speed advantage over these guys who are probably gonna be lumbering around a bit in there?
Richard Hale: I do. I think that's one of the things that's gonna be my biggest advantages. These guys aren't gonna be used to seeing a quicker heavyweight. I used to fight at heavyweight too. Every heavyweight I've ever went against, it's the same thing. They never expect the athleticism I possess. The footspeed, the handspeed and everything else too. There's a lot of questions about movement but what I just tell people is, "Stay tuned. Watch Bellator and see what's gonna happen. I'm not guy who lays down for anybody and I'm gonna go out there and put on some very entertaining fights and I expect high things of myself in this tournament, getting that championship belt around my waist.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've mentioned that you are usually up to about 225 after hydrating yourself for your light heavyweight fights. How much are you expecting to weight when you enter the cage now that you aren't expected to have the burden of weight-cutting?
Richard Hale: To be perfectly honest with you, I'm probably not gonna come in super heavy. I kept my weight low for the light heavyweight which started back in July so I wasn't gonna stack on a bunch of muscle. I see no reason to just put on sloppy weight or stuff myself with food. I want to be light and be able to move around. For this fight fight in the tournament, I'm probably gonna weigh-in about 230.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): With Josh Burns telling you he'd never been hit as hard as when you hit him, do you feel that despite being smaller in there against the bigger heavyweights, that you could potentially be the hardest hitter in this tournament?
Richard Hale: Yes, being smaller could be to some a disadvantage but I think it's definitely an advantage. You're going to see a lot of knockouts at the heavier weights and some of these guys probably think they're invincible but I'm gonna go out there and show them that ability means more than bulk. I feel I match up very well against everybody in this tournament and I'm gonna focus on my upcoming fight against Mike Wessel, take him out, make a statement and let these guys know that I'm a whole different kind of monster and I'm coming for them.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): One of the biggest storylines heading into this tournament is the undefeated Bellator Heavyweight champion Cole Konrad announcing his retirement from mixed martial arts, stunning the MMA world. What do you think about that and the opening it leaves for you to potentially become the champion from winning the tournament alone?
Richard Hale: It's got the potential to set up what I feel like I missed out on with the light heavyweight tournament, the inaugural one. I think it's sort of sad to see Konrad go to be perfectly honest with you but he did the decision that was best for himself and his family. At the end of the day, a lot of people think it's just about fighting but it's your livelihood and it's a business and that's how it goes. I take my hat off to him but the thing I don't like about potentially becoming champion is the questions people will ask like, "Could he have taken Konrad?" Things like that. The doubt. The only problem I see is those questions. I wish him the best of luck.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about your upcoming opponent Mike Wessel. He's a UFC veteran but a lot of people thought he wasn't gonna beat Ryan Martinez in his last fight. Instead he hung in there, was scrappy and gutted out a decision. What did you think of his last performance?
Richard Hale: I think, hats off to anyone who steps into the cage. It takes balls to get in there. I think both men were very short for heavyweights. I saw him trading a lot. I don't think it's great to trade punches because you take too much damage. That was the first opponent he's beat since losing to Dan Christison that had an actual winning record so that's definitely a step up for him.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How confident are you heading into this bout? Do sound like you feel you can beat Wessel pretty handily.
Richard Hale: Yes, sir. I feel very confident going into this fight. I've done a lot of my fight homework and I believe very much in my abilities. I've been fighting now for six years. I train very hard and I believe I'm a very well-rounded fighter. By no means am I looking past Mike Wessel but I think it's a very good match-up in the first round of this tournament for myself.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Even if you have really good success in this tournament, do you ever see yourself going back and competing in another light heavyweight tournament or is that in the past now?
Richard Hale: Anything is possible. I'll tell you right now. In the tournament style, it's very difficult for me to cut weight especially with myself getting older. I'm by no means an old man but at 27, you feel the weight coming on more naturally. You're walking around heavier and heavier. The last tournament I tried to keep my weight down at 230 and we'll see what happens. I think I'll always be able to cut down to light heavyweight for one single fight and put on a great performance and everything else but with the respect I have for Bellator and the light heavyweight tournament, we'll see.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): If everything goes perfect for you on Friday night, how would you like to see the fight play out?
Richard Hale: I'm hoping to see it play out just like my last two [which were both first minute knockouts]. I believe in going in there, win, lose or draw, and wanting to make it pretty. I want to do it in a fashion that definitely makes a statement to all the other competitors in the tournament. Not necessarily to make them afraid of me, but definitely to make them respect me. I want to win over some fans, put on a great performance, be entertaining and have people talking about me on Friday.
Richard would like to thank his gym, Crossfit, Edward Sanchez BJJ, his sponsors Future Legend, Gamma Labs, MMA Overload and Alliance Sports Apparel. He'd also like you check out his friend Frank Edge on twitter @Frank_Edge, who's battling testicular cancer and give him some support. You can follow Richard on twitter @RichRareBreed.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Without the burden of cutting weight, will Hale be able to fight to his full potential this Friday night against the big boys? How much of a factor could his speed and athleticism play in this upcoming heavyweight tournament?