C.J. Keith has been waiting for over six months to make his UFC debut.
Granted, there's a pretty wild and crazy reason.
The day he signed his first ever UFC contract, his father's house burned to the ground, taking with it a huge majority of his childhood memories.
The undefeated lightweight is finally ready to go and has switched up his training camp as well, moving out to Buena Park at All-In MMA to prepare for his upcoming UFC on FX 4 bout next Friday night (June 22, 2012) against The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 13 finalist Ramsey Nijem.
The former member of the United States Army spoke with MMAmania.com about putting it all together, lessons learned from the loss of precious memories and making the most of his tremendous opportunity in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You spent about four years in the army and you've said that every decision you make today is influenced by your time in the army. What are some of the key lessons from the army that you use in every day life?
C.J. Keith: Honestly, just being honorable, having integrity and staying humble. There's a lot of things that I can attribute to the army that relate to my life. It taught me so much and helped me grow from a young teenager to a young man. I don't know how to truly explain it fully, but it really helped.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Your base as a mixed martial artist is your wrestling. Just how extensive does your wrestling experience go?
C.J. Keith: I wrestled since I was about eight or nine years old and all the way through high school. I was on JV in my freshman year but by sophomore, I was on varsity from then on. I was gonna go into college to wrestle but I decided to go to the army instead. I've been wrestling for pretty much the majority of my life.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Once you ended up switching to mixed martial arts, it seems like you've really taken a liking to Muay Thai and striking in general, especially lately. What drew you to Muay Thai specifically, or was it a coach that inspired you?
C.J. Keith: I was really into martial arts growing up. I did karate classes, kickboxing classes but it was never enough to really say I knew anything. When I got the opportunity to fight, my wrestling was my background and I knew I had to add some sort of stand-up and I already knew how to kick and move from my classes before and it felt like a natural progression to go to the Muay Thai with the kicks, knees and elbows. That's something I really like about Muay Thai. You learn to use a lot of weapons.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you think because of your wrestling background, that gives you a better balance and you can take a few more risks in the stand-up?
C.J. Keith: Well I wouldn't say I'm not concerned about being taken down. That's still a concern, but the wrestling is definitely something to fall back on. I am comfortable if someone does try to take a shot on me. I know what to do in comparison to someone without much wrestling. I can avoid being put on my back and flopping around like a fish.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Would you go as far as to say that you've really started to put it all together lately? Your first few fights were a lot of ground work and decisions and the last three were all stoppages via strikes whether they were a flying knee or ground and pound or whatever.
C.J. Keith: Yes and no. I've been putting it together for a while. I've never said this before, but in the gym, if you watch me train, I'll train my stand-up every day. When you fight, you stick to your guns usually because you don't want to give up position and you don't want to endanger yourself and put yourself in a situation you can't handle. You play it safe. Yes, I have been putting it all together in my last couple fights because I've been taking risks. It just happened to end that way and I've definitely been putting it together these last couple fights.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You recently switched up your training camp. Where did you end up moving to?
C.J. Keith: Right now I'm down here in Buena Park at All-In MMA. We've got a great group of guys down here and we're all gonna get it done. It's like a family.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I don't want to bring back bad memories but you had signed to make your UFC debut back at UFC on Fuel TV 1 and then you had the unfortunate thing with your father's house burning down. Can you tell me about that and how you've responded to it in the lead-up to this fight?
C.J. Keith: Honestly, I don't really know what to say about the fire other than it came out of nowhere. The morning I signed my UFC contract, my father's house burned down. It actually helped me mentally to know that you can come over something like that. That doesn't happen everyday to you, but it does happen to people. That helped me put things in a different perspective because one day you can be high and the next day you can be low. It just helped me mentally and spiritually actually.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Tell me a little bit about your upcoming opponent Ramsey Nijem. I'd say he's similar to you at least in terms of the wrestling background, but he seems to be a little more focused on the submission game. Is that what you expect out of him?
C.J. Keith: I expect him to just bring it. He's great on the ground and good at submissions but I wouldn't sell him short in the hands department for sure. He's looking to stand and get his punches in as well. He's a good opponent and he brings it every fight.
C.J. Keith: To tell you the truth, I haven't had the time to watch his last fight. I haven't watched any of his fights other than the Ultimate Fighter final. Everybody gets caught sometimes and he ended up getting caught. He ended up bouncing back, he got a win and he's right back in it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What goes through your head when the cage door shuts, there's no escape and you're staring across at your opponent.
C.J. Keith: When the cage door closes, I think, "It's go time!" That's the time where you really should be digging deep. Once that ref steps out the of the way, it's on and it's not gonna be off until you knock your opponent out, tap them out. That's it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): For the people who are uninitiated, can you tell our readers about your fighting style. What can they expect to see from you?
C.J. Keith: I'm a strong based wrestler and I've got decent striking. i'm decent at jiu-jitsu and really, I'm just an all-around pretty decent mixed martial artist. I'm a pretty laid back guy. I try to be as humble as I can. I'm smiling all the time, joking and laughing. That's me.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What would it mean for you to win your UFC debut?
C.J. Keith: It would mean the world for me to win my UFC debut. It would be a big step for our gym down here and for my family. My family doesn't get a lot of opportunities like this and I want to be the father that gives his child everything he or she needs. I want to bring happiness to my family. I'm the only person in my family that's had an opportunity like this and I want to make the most of it.
C.J. would like to thank All-In MMA, his training partners at CSW with Coach Paulson, Manny Martinez, Tom Stewert, his sponsors Lexani, HeadRush, Venom and Training Mask. He'd also like to thank his grandma, his daughter and his family for supporting him. You can follow C.J. Keith on Twitter @CJKeithUFC.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Does Keith have what it takes to defeat "Stripper" Ramsey Nijem next Friday night in his UFC debut? Will he make the most of his opportunity?