The 29 year old Californian had his shot, and it slipped away. "Savage" had made it to the WEC, the pinnacle of promotions for all bantamweights, but after winning his debut, he dropped consecutive fights and found himself on the outside looking in when the promotion merged with the UFC.
While it was painful seeing his dream taken away from him, it was only compounded by the fact that a documentary crew was following him around, recording every emotion for the film "Occupation: Fighter" at the time.
Undeterred, the PKG product set forth to better himself and he's garnered some impressive results of late, winning both of his fights since his WEC stint ended via first round stoppage. George will get an opportunity to make it three straight tonight (March 16, 2012) when he hops up a weight class and steps into the cage against Shad Smith at BAMMA USA: Badbeat 5.
The part-time artist spoke with MMAmania.com about his documentary, changing his fighting mentality and getting his confidence back in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I was watching your documentary "Occupation: Fighter" before talking to you. What was it like having a camera following you around and filming every little thing that you were up to?
Chad George: It's actually pretty interesting. I've heard people say in the past, reality TV shows they talk about the camera and how they forget it's there and that's why a lot of ridiculous things they capture on camera because they forget about it. I never experienced that. It was always kind of a nuisance having the camera there. Realistically, it was eight months of being asked to do things a second time, it was almost like time travel being asked to repeat myself on numerous occasions. The process itself was pretty amazing though.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Yeah, the end result was pretty spectacular. Viewers got an opportunity to see what makes you, you in a very personal way.
Chad George: Yeah, Andre is a very good director. He had a pretty amazing vision of what he wanted to do and it was very pure in respect to the fact that he knew nothing of the sport so he was coming into it with complete virgin eyes, not knowing anything about what the sport was about, anything about my background, not really knowing anything or really the complete direction of where he wanted to go with the film. The project really kind of turned into itself as it started growing and Andre's knowledge of me and the sport started growing. He really got to tell a true story of him learning about somebody as the viewers were learning and all that stuff so it was pretty amazing that it translated exactly like that.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): One of the facets of your life that the film focused on was your love for art. Now this took place in 2010, do you still whip out the sketching pad whenever you need to escape for a bit or take a break?
Chad George: You know, I do. My whole house is actually covered in my art and it's fun to me now. It's not like it was before when I had deadlines and I had all these people that I was doing artwork for. Now, I do it for myself when I've got an idea or if I want to clear my mind with it, like it's meditative. It's been a lot of fun. I still get to sit down and enjoy it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Your style, it's almost like it's graffiti with a pencil and paper.
Chad George: Yeah, that's where I started. I grew up heavily in the hip-hop culture growing up with skateboarding and all that so graffiti was very important and prominent for me. It started with a sketchbook and a sketchpad and then it went to the next level of going out and getting your work seen and it came full circle back to the pad years later.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's roll right into your upcoming fight. First thing's first, you're fighting at 145 pounds. Normally you're a 135 pounder but I heard you had a couple opponents drop out and you ended up taking this fight. Do you have to change your diet, be less disciplined? Is that a concern at all heading into this bout?
Chad George: You know, I thought it might have been but I actually walk around at 160 pounds so I still need to cut and I need to diet. Like today, I'm no carbs, no sodium, drinking distilled water and things like that. I'm still cutting. I'm just not needing to do as much of a cut so it's been kinda nice not needing to monitor the food intake that I have to do during my training camp which is something I normally have to do to minimalize the muscle mass that I have to make 135. This time around, it was actually nice to be able to keep that extra portion.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You were really excited for The Ultimate Fighter this season because one of your teammates, Jarad Carlsten was gonna have a chance to get on the show. He ran into a really experienced veteran in Cristiano Marcello. Did that put a damper on your mood heading into this fight or have you remained positive?
Chad George: It really didn't. I feel bad for Jarad. He's a great training partner and a great friend and he's a great fighter. He just had a rough night so now it's up to me to get on the wheel and do what I do. Everybody's got their own experiences. They've got to deal with what they're dealing with so right now, I've got to deal with what I've got coming up which is this fight on Friday.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You're facing Shad Smith. In the preparation for this fight, you've been training with smaller fighters this time around. Did you normally train with bigger guys? Was that an issue?
Chad George: It's not an issue, but my camp is pretty much guys that are 155 pounds and below and we have a handful of 170 pounders. But for this camp, I only trained with 125, 135 and 145-ers so I really wasn't training with guys too much bigger than me. To be honest, this was the first training camp I've been through where I've been completely injury free. People can say that I suffer from the same thing that a lot of little guys do, the Napoleon complex where we forget how small we are and I like training with the bigger guys but now I'm seeing that it's not very conducive to getting better. I'm always run down and beat up when I'm training with those guys and for this training camp, I was excited for every training session and it was pretty awesome.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): That makes a ton of sense actually. You say how you're having fun again. Was there ever a moment where there was just a lot of doubt for you, where you weren't having fun?
Chad George: Actually yeah. The last two fights in my WEC career, it stopped becoming fun. It became that job you were just grinding on and everything was the same rinse and repeat process. There was nothing fun about it and I was fighting a tough guy and I had to focus complete on that which I still do, but there was no enjoyment in the training. It was harm yourself as much as possible and then get back up and do it again. It was almost like I was trying to prove to myself that I was tough enough for it which is ridiculous. There should be no reason why I have to prove that to myself when I already know that I'm that tough.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How much did it sting when you weren't brought into the UFC when they merged the companies?
Chad George: It was rough. It was one of those things where you worked so hard to finally get the position and the job and they take it away from you. It really, definitely left a bitterness. It kind of made me sit back and go, "What the fuck am I doing this for then? I don't want to go back to the drawing board and have to do it again and work my way back up." I was really kind of down and out about it and I'm like, that's the most retarded thing I could ever think of because now it gives me a chance to come back not only as a smarter fighter but a more confident fighter with myself, coming back into the show and I think as far as competition-wise, that's a dangerous thing for the bantamweights in the top of the division.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you feel like you're well on your way? Your two most recent fights were two first round stoppages. Do you feel like you're getting noticed?
Chad George: I would like to think so. It speaks for itself. You can see that I'm on a mission. Before, I was always questioning, "Am I ready for the jump? Am I ready for the big show? Am I ready for this?" and now, I'm at a point where in my own mind, I'm making the cut. I'm now thinking, "Those guys aren't on my level." Instead of asking if I'm on theirs, now it's no longer about that. Now I'm questioning if they're on my level.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): That's a great mindset to have. I've noticed that in your interviews, that you feel like you're one of the best again. Was that just something that clicked in your head?
Chad George: It really did and I think it did when I changed over the way I'd been training. When you're training with bigger guys, it can really tear down your confidence a bit. You're in there with guys who are top in the world and are heavier weightclasses and they're beating on you every day. You take two steps forward but then you feel like you're taking three steps back. You never really get the confidence to say, "Hey, I'm destroying people in the gym. I know where I belong" I do things differently now. I still get my ass kicked on a daily basis in the gym but it matters when you do it now and that's a huge change that I did in my camp and it changed my mentality completely.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've mentioned that you really want to focus on your striking. You're last fight was a pure knockout in the stand-up, your first clean knockout in your career and you've mentioned that you just want to stand and bang with Shad Smith in this fight. You weren't really a striking-based fighter before, do you feel like you've got something to prove in the stand-up right now?
Chad George: I think I do. People in the gym when I spar with them, everybody knows that I have good striking. In fact, I think I've got some of the best striking in the division. It's just that I didn't have enough confidence in the actual fight to let my hands go because I'm very confident in my wrestling, I'm very confident in my submission game. I know I hit hard, but if I don't have the confidence to put together three, four or five punches, then it doesn't really matter. Now, I know where my striking level is at. I went to New Zealand to fight their best striker there and I knocked him out so the proof is in the pudding. I know I can strike. I know I can grapple and I know I can wrestle and now I'm on a mission to start chopping down trees.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What would be the perfect scenario for you this Friday night when you step into the cage against Shad Smith? What would you ideally like to happen when in your fight?
Chad George: In a perfect world, I'd like to go out there, move around, show that I can't be hit and then get a knockout.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you feel like you've still got a nice window to showcase that you're at an elite level with some of the best in the world?
Chad George: Absolutely. I'm 29 years old. I'm gonna be 30 next month and I feel like mentally, I am at the peak of where I could possibly be and it's actually exciting now for me to have the confidence in that and to actually say that and to go out there and say, "Hey, I'm coming after these guys now. It's time for me to show what I can do."
Chad would like to thank his boxing coach Seb Zewdie, his jiu-jitsu coach Tahi Burns, all of his training partners and students at the PKG Training Center plus his friends and family. He'd also like to thank his sponsors Zevia, Advance2Health Chiropractic, APA Restoration, IPC Insurance and you can't forget his clothing company Soul Expression Attire. You can follow him on twitter @Savage135.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
While George is likely most remembered for his guillotine defeat at the hands of Scott Jorgensen, can he earn a UFC invite with his new mentality and training regimen? Do you like his chances