Chris Cariaso couldn't have picked a more controversial nickname to be making his debut in Japan.
"The Kamikaze" was given his nickname for his mean streak and competitiveness in other sports before even transitioning to MMA, and he's more than proven it in the cage by continuously taking on men much larger than himself night in and night out.
Cariaso hasn't been the most consistent fighter, having alternated wins and losses throughout his WEC and UFC career, but he's hoping to end that streak this Saturday night (February 25, 2012) when he takes on former WEC bantamweight title challenger Takeya Mizugaki on Mizugaki's home turf of Japan for UFC 144.
The 30 year old warrior spoke with MMAmania.com during a guest appearance on The Verbal Submission this past weekend and he talked about fighting overseas, how he matches up with Mizugaki and even dropping down to flyweight whether he wins or loses in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You're flying out to Japan, so do you have to do any special preparations? I know there's gonna be a time difference and they're actually gonna be fighting at like 9-10 a.m. there when you actually step into the cage. That's gotta be weird, right?
Chris Cariaso: Yeah, that's gonna be kind of weird, but I always train in the morning anyways so 9 o'clock in the morning for a fight isn't gonna be that big of a deal for me because that's when I'm always training. I pretty much train all day long, 9 o'clock, 5 o'clock, I don't care what time it is. It's all the same. (laughs)
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): That actually makes an interesting point. Most fights, the big fights are taking place at like midnight, but most fighters are usually sleeping by then when they're in training mode. This will be more into with what you deal with while actually training.
Chris Cariaso: Yeah, it's gonna be interesting. I was just talking to my coach this morning and he was all like, "Oh yeah, we're gonna be fighting in the morning," but I said, "Well what time are we actually training every single day?" and he goes, "You're right! We've been training at 9 in the morning every day," so it's pretty much just an every day thing.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Are you ready for this drastically different crowd type that they're gonna have in Japan? There could be complete silence even if you pull off something amazing.
Chris Cariaso: You know, it's definitely gonna be a great experience. Everything I've heard about fighting in Japan, the crowd is crazy and then when the fight starts everything in dead quiet. I'm excited to go out there and test my skills in Japan and see what it's like. I hear it's just an awesome experience.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've had some tough split decisions your last two times out. You won one and you lost one. Is there anything you have been doing to try to be a little more decisive in victory?
IChris Cariaso: 've actually been working on that a whole bunch. Like you said, my last couple fights have been decisions and while getting my feet wet in the UFC, I was like, "Oh, I've got to win, I've got to win!" kind of fighting more conservatively and then I don't end up fighting the way I like to fight. For this fight, I want to go out there, look for the finish and kind of go back to my old style of fighting and go out there instead of just winning, try to finish.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): And you're taking on a guy in Takeya Mizugaki who's a guy that's really durable, really aggressive and he puts on "Fight of the Night"-type performances all the time. Is that the kind of fight that you're expecting, two really aggressive stand-up fighters?
Chris Cariaso: Yeah, definitely. We both like to stand up and fight and I'm excited for that because finally, someone's gonna try to bring it and fight me. My last couple fights, because I'm shorter, my opponents have just been waiting for me to wade in and then they counter which is kind of annoying in a sense. Finally, I'm gonna fight a guy who's gonna come out there and bring the fight. You've got to have fun out there.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Another thing Mizugaki is known for is his experience against top level guys. Since he signed with Zuffa, he's fought Scott Jorgensen, Miguel Torres, Brian Bowles. He's always in there against these tough guys. Is that something you're ready for, the experience level he's faced?
Chris Cariaso: Oh yeah, definitely. I've had some tough opponents too with some of the biggest up and coming fighters. I fought Renan Barao and Michael McDonald, all these guys that are just as tough as some of the guys that Mizugaki has fought and I think that right there alone is gonna help bring my experience level up and I'm definitely gonna be expecting a great fight. I know he's gonna be experienced and well-prepared. We're both gonna be ready for that hard, drawn-out fight. We're both trained for five rounds all the time and even though this is only three rounds, it's just gonna be an awesome fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've described your stand-up as unique and I know you've got some good Muay Thai skills, but what do you feel makes your stand-up so unique?
Chris Cariaso: It's just because I'm such a small fighter. I've got this style where I can counter on guys really easy and I've got good kicks. I can kick high and down low and I can switch to right-handed or left-handed. I kind of pretty much, if he wants to box with me too, I can box with him. I can pretty much go anywhere as far as being unique. Me being the smaller fighter always and being able to implement my game on my opponents, I feel that makes me unique.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You're an expert on kicks and this has nothing to do with Mizugaki, I'm just interested in your opinion. I saw a really nice video of you demonstrating how to properly throw a good body kick. In your opinion, I don't know if you watched UFC 143 or not, did you think Carlos Condit's kick were really effective?
Chris Cariaso: I think they were effective kind of in a sense of keeping Nick Diaz off balance. I think that it was definitely disrupting him and not necessarily were they the most powerful kicks but he was definitely keeping him at bay and off balance and Nick wasn't able to cut the ring off and kind of get him to fight his game so I think Carlos did a good job of it. They weren't the most powerful kicks but sometimes you just have to kick to keep the guy off balance and he did a good job.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I know you trained at Tristar for your last fight, but for this one, you spent a lot of time in Tuscon, Arizona and you're looking to set up a new gym out there. You spent a lot of time at APEX MMA with George Roop and Ed West. Can you tell me about your time out there?
Chris Cariaso: Yeah, I actually moved to Tuscon because I'm in the process of opening another gym so when I'm out in Tuscon, I train with Ed West and George Roop and the APEX crew and kind of for this camp, I actually did a lot of training back home in San Francisco. I'm actually in San Francisco as we speak and I'm doing my camp up here training with some of my old coaches and working on my stand-up skills obviously because we're both gonna be banging so I'm definitely just kind of going to where the training is gonna be good.
It's been kind of a blessing to train with those guys at APEX when I'm in Tuscon. I'm just trying to get out and go to where the training is great. I wish I had made it up to Tristar this trip but unfortunately I had to do a lot of stuff with the new gym opening and taking care of business here back home. You've got to do what you've got to do and I've overall had an awesome camp coming into this fight.
Gerry Rodriguez: You're leaving tomorrow (Monday) for Japan. Do you think it will be enough time for your body to adjust to the time difference and is that something that you mapped out?
Chris Cariaso: Probably not but it's gonna have to be. I just kind of go when the UFC tells me to go and I think a week should be enough time. Everyone tells me that going there is not bad, it's coming home that's the hard part. I think that really for me, I'm really not that worried about it too much. I'm just gonna try to listen to my body and everything. We fight on Sunday morning there so I think that five days is gonna be enough time for me to be ready.
Gerry Rodriguez: Do you plan on staying there for a couple of days after your fight and taking in the city and the whole culture?
Chris Cariaso: I wish I was, but you know, I've been away from my kids for about a month already as it is so I miss them, my two sons and my wife so I'm gonna make sure the night after my fight I'm gonna come home and see those guys.
Gerry Rodriguez: Let's talk about the guy currently at the top of the bantamweight division, Dominick Cruz. Do you think Faber can improve enough to dethrone him or is Cruz going to be the guy to beat for everybody?
Chris Cariaso: I said it last time when Urijah fought him. I thought that Cruz definitely has a super-awkward style and it's just super-hard to deal with and it's kind of up there. The third time around, I might give a slight edge to Faber but I think it's gonna be a super tough fight.
Gerry Rodriguez: Has Urijah Faber peaked in the sport?
Chris Cariaso: It's hard to say whether Urijah's peaked or not. It's kind of a fight-by-fight basis. That's how it is in this sport, it's a "what have you done for me lately" kind of thing. We'll see how he does in this next fight. I think that definitely he could come back. He's still a young guy so I don't think he's peaked yet.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I know you don't like people referencing that you're smaller, so don't get offended, but you're 5'3 and the UFC is debuting the flyweight division this year. Is there any way that you could drop down to flyweight, win or lose against Mizugaki?
Chris Cariaso: Yeah, 100 percent I'm dropping down actually. The 135 pound cut has never ever been a problem for me and I could always make 125. I just try to stay bigger now to fight at 135 but now that they have the 125 division, that's my plan to be dropping to that division. My plan is to have a great win here in Japan and then let all the 125-ers know that I'm coming for 'em.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): When you're visualizing success against Mizugaki, what do you see?
I just see myself controlling the fight and I picture my hand being raised. I picture myself throwing a lot of combinations, kicking his legs, kicking his body and I'm visualizing myself controlling this fight and winning this fight.
Chris would like to thank Crispim BJJ, his gym Fighting Fitness and all the guys over there, the guys at APEX, his sponsors Lexani, RevGear, Venum and all the guys who support him. You can follow him on twitter @ChrisCariasoMMA.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Can the undersized Cariaso pull off a big win and spoil Mizugaki's homecoming? Win or lose, do you think he has what it takes to make his mark in the flyweight division afterwards?
To listen to the complete audio of our interview with Chris Cariaso, click here. (Interview starts at 7 minute mark).