No one has earned their nickname more than Giva Santana.
"The Arm Collector" has one of the nastiest reputations around in mixed martial arts, having finished his opponents by armbar in 13 of his 17 career victories. This includes an incredible streak of 10 straight armbar finishes from 2005-2007 which brought him some major attention in EliteXC.
On top of being a tremendously successful mixed martial artist with a 17-1 pro record, Santana also teaches Brazilian jiu-jitsu at Team Oyama with notable students like UFC fighters Shane Del Rosario and Ian McCall.
He made his Bellator debut last October winning (of course) by armbar against Daryl Cobb in the first round. Santana will be competing this Friday night (March 16, 2012) at Bellator 61 in the quarterfinals of the Bellator season six middleweight tournament.
The submission ace spoke with MMAmania.com during a special guest appearance on The Verbal Submission this past Sunday night, talking everything from balancing coaching and competing, getting into the fight mentality and his thoughts on fellow armbar specialist Ronda Rousey in part one of this two-part interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You're facing Bruno Santos. He's a strong wrestler and he's more of a ground based guy that's about the top control. I know that you're really good with the armbar but do you prefer to go for the armbar from your back or from top position?
Giva Santana: I don't have a preference. An armbar is just an easy way, I can't get too into it but there's so many submissions in jiu-jitsu that I love to work on that I don't have a preference. If a submission is top or bottom, I like to go wherever it is. I feel my game, I feel like my opponent, of course he's pretty strong but size don't mean much because I come from jiu-jitsu and we use that against you. Adjust weight, adjust leverage and all those things I've been doing my whole life. It's not a big issue and I'm ready for the fight in bottom or top, whether we're standing, I'm prepared for all the situations.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I want to ask you about this upcoming tournament format. You've been fighting twice a year the past four years ever since 2008. Are you concerned at all about potentially fighting three times in three months?
Giva Santana: No. I fought two times a year but it's not my will. Unfortunately, until I got a shot in Bellator and I was pretty happy with them for the opportunity, it was hard to get fights and I was fighting in small leagues and I didn't even get excited when I had fights booked because I know like two or three weeks away, some guy is gonna pull out or someone don't want to fight me or they want double my money just to face me because of my record and everything and that's what happened. I dropped one fight last year because of an injury, I think it was my elbow or something like that. I dropped one but I got dropped in two shows because there was no opponent for me.
It's hard training like when you don't got nothing coming up. I fought last October in Bellator and they already told me I'm gonna be in the tournament. Since then, I've been training six months to get ready for it. My strength and conditioning coach is from Brazil and I explained to him how it would be in the tournament, three fights in three months and we started sharpening up and it's been pretty much maintaining and keeping the strength and keeping the cardio and just moving forward.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You're a terrific Brazilian jiu-jitsu coach as well. You've had several of your students have tremendous success. Shane Del Rosario is about to make his UFC debut and Ian McCall just made his UFC debut. Is it difficult balancing being a coach and training to fight as well?
Giva Santana: Yeah, it's pretty hard because some days I just want to train. Not with those guys of course, because we're all different weights but it's hard when you got someone in your own division and you're trying to work something and they stop to ask some questions, I'm like, "Come on, man, not now. Let's keep working and then I'll answer any question you want." It's hard but I love it because sometimes they bring the questions that make me think because sometimes you start getting used to one game, tapping everyone else from one position or you control that position really well and they come up with the question that make you think about it. You never stop. You never get too comfortable in one situation because they'll be like, "What if the guy do this?" or "What if the they do that?" If I don't have the answer, I've got to go to my lab and put someone in the position to start working on it to find the answers they need.
The good thing is guys like Shane, they put a lot of time in jiu-jitsu right now. When you start mixed martial arts, maybe you've got a background like a wrestler and you try to get by on your background, like beat everyone with your wrestling but when you start getting better in the game and facing stronger opponents, you know the wrestling isn't gonna be enough so that's when you start working on your striking, your jiu-jitsu and everything. In the beginning, I told them, "Hey right now, I help you guys to survive if you fight a jiu-jitsu guy but I want a commitment because when you go to the ground, I want you guys finishing fights. I want you to be able to submit people, surprise them, not only be like a counter guy. Be an offensive guy." Of course, it depends who you go against and they worked pretty hard and put up some submissions and positions and I'm pretty happy with them.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Now you're nickname is "The Arm Collector" because of your incredible ability with the armbars. I want to know, what's your opinion on Ronda Rousey? She's come out of nowhere and just taken over women's MMA and she's been crushing everyone with the armbar. I know it's different styles but I want to know what you think.
Giva Santana: She's doing pretty well. She's doing pretty good. I want to give my props to her. She's been able to capitalize on the positions, the submissions and put it on. She's doing pretty good. I'm pretty impressed. The only thing I think she works more striking and be ready for all the different situations because the big test is if you get someone that pushes you through the first round and you got frustrated that you didn't pull the submission and then we'll see what you're able to do. People were doing it with Jon Jones and, "Oh I want to see him after the second round," and we see what he's able to do. He's pretty talented. She's doing pretty well, man. I'm pretty excited. I look forward to seeing her fight more and proving that she's the one.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I want to ask you about finishing instinct. You've got this incredible finishing instinct when you're fighting. Is it something where you're capitalizing on an opponent's mistake or it's more from you're pushing the pace and trying to overwhelm your opponent?
Giva Santana: I try to push the pace. I try to make him go in the directions that I want him to go. It's a combination of a lot of stuff. All those years of experience in jiu-jitsu, pushing the pace, changing a little bit, going slow, going quick, change it up because that's the thing that makes a huge difference. If you go with someone that has a jiu-jitsu background and you use one position the whole time, it's gonna be pretty hard to tap him out. If you switch to one, two, three, four positions all the time, you make him get confused and that's when he opens up for the submission. It's just like with my experience, I've been in the position so many times, I know which way the body go and which way the arm go.
I think I didn't get to the big show before Bellator because people were like, "Oh, he don't strike. Good striker will hit him with a good punch and knock him out." That's the same feeling I have when I tap someone out. I stop them. Striker guys, they stop people by knocking them out and I stop people with submissions. It's the same feeling and that's what I'm always gonna try. You see me out there. The fight that I lost, people say, "He was just trying armbar," but I'm like, "No, I'll try anything. I'll try any submission. Whatever I can pull off in the fight, I'll go for. If I can get a good submission, a good punch, I want to do whatever it takes to get the win." If I have the chance to tap people out, that's what I'm gonna do.
Ben Thapa: What is your process of getting down to the fight mentality? Do you include your family? Do you try to isolate yourself? What's your mentality?
Giva Santana: I'm a guy that's pretty much family. Of course, working hard, it's been two years, I don't go back home to see my mom, see my brothers and everybody but we keep in touch like every other day. They support me. I'm pretty quiet and once I start getting close to the fight. I start to get, not much friends around, not much people around. It's not that I feel bad, but a lot of people talking about things, they want to talk about the fight. You already have your strategy set, your goals set and I don't want to get any distractions so I just keep watching my opponent's fights and I try to find little holes that I missed when i was watching with my coaches and everything and I try to add that on, categorize and try to make the game better. That's just pretty much what I do.
Stay tuned for part two tomorrow where Santana talks his training, his origins in MMA when he won four fights in one night and even golf. You can follow him on Twitter @GivaSantana.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Will see see Santana do more of the same this Friday night in Bellator with an armbar victory? Is he a legitimate threat to win this tournament?
To listen to the complete audio of our conversation with Giva Santana, click here (interview begins at 1:31:00 mark)