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Born to fight: exclusive interview with Kurt Pellegrino

Kurt Pellegrino interview
Boogers, breakdancing, and biting a hole through your bottom lip. When it comes to the three B's, Batman's done ‘em all ... and on national television.

I caught up with Kurt Pellegrino to ask him his thoughts on his upcoming fight with Nate Diaz, how he got the "Batman" nickname in the first place, and all things Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Kurt says he's in better shape today than he has ever been in and looks to push the pace with Diaz, whether it's on the feet or on the ground. The fight takes place this Wednesday, April 2, at UFC Fight Night 13.

Until then, here are his thoughts about the fight.

Adam Wagner ( We most recently saw you against Alberto Crane, earning the TKO victory in the second round and pushing your UFC record to 3-2. How good did it feel to get that win?

Kurt Pellegrino: I think any win you get kinda feels the same, but...with my last fight, getting kicked in the face, almost being dead in the cage ... it was bitter, bitter sweet.

Adam Wagner ( We'll next see you at Fight Night 13, this Wednesday, April 2, against Nate Diaz. What are your thoughts going into this fight? How important is a win?

Kurt Pellegrino: Nate's a really tough kid. Really durable. This fight's really important to me because the last time I fought someone from The Ultimate Fighter (Joe Stevenson at UFC 74), I lost. So I need this win, I need this win for my family—not for me, not to get my hand raised—just to make life a little bit smoother for me and my family.

Every win to me is the same, but this is the one that's going to make the stars shine at night when I walk, so I really need this one.

Adam Wagner ( Nate is a brown belt, I believe, under Cesar Gracie. Clearly, he relies heavily on the submission game, of which you're no slouch. How do you see this fight going, and how have you been preparing for Diaz?

Kurt Pellegrino: Cardio. Cardio, cardio, cardio. When I got to the UFC, I fought Drew Fickett (at UFC 61), and I wasn't doing my cardio like normal. I just got married, I took that fight on a month's notice. Actually, three weeks, so I just worried about sparring and, you know, all the wrong things to do in MMA: sparring and grappling. Everyone does that, you know. (But if) you train with somebody and do a lot of cardio, cross-training, it's a lot different at that level.

So for this fight, I know he's good on the floor. I'm ranked in the world in grappling. I've beat world champions. I went to Abu Dhabi. So I don't mind. If this kid comes in here, and I take him down and he submits me, then he deserves that victory, he deserves his hand raised, I'll be the first one to raise his hand. But stuff like that I just don't see happening, you know. He's a very tough opponent, but I think I'm going to be a little too much for him.

Adam Wagner ( Do you plan to try to keep it standing?

Kurt Pellegrino: I actually plan to keep it standing. I don't mind keeping it standing at all, but to be honest with you, I'm pretty curious to see how good he is on the floor. So I don't mind, I kinda hope it goes to the floor, either he takes me down or I take him down.

Like I said, I've been Gracie training my whole life, so there's nothing that he's going to do that I haven't seen before in a jiu-jitsu match. So if this fight goes to the floor, it's going to be exciting, because I'm going to be punching and passing, and he's going to be looking for submissions and probably punching. So you know it's going to be a good fight either way, whether it's on the floor or on our feet.

Adam Wagner ( Well it's a fight that I'm really looking forward to, just to see how you guys match up. I heard that you have been training up in New Jersey, is that right?

Kurt Pellegrino: Yes.

Adam Wagner ( Were you previously training in Florida?

Kurt Pellegrino: Well I live in Florida, but I had to go to New Jersey for my cousin's 30th birthday party. And my daughter turned 1, so we brought her home to New Jersey so our families could celebrate her birthday, too.

Adam Wagner ( How did you first get into fighting?

Kurt Pellegrino: I've been wrestling since I was five years old, and I think I was born into fighting. I failed college and had nothing else to do, so I started training jiu-jitsu. I never went into this sport saying that I wanted to be a mixed martial arts fighter. I actually went into this sport saying I wanted to be a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. And that's what I did. I accomplished my goal ... and that's really all I wanted to do.

I wanted to be a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It's not a fake belt; it's a real belt. It's not a belt that was given out; it's a hard-earned belt. But then fighting just came: "You wanna fight today?" Sure, okay. And then I kinda had a dream like everyone else has — of hey, you know I want to fight in the UFC. I moved to Florida because I just wanted to pursue my dreams and some other people wouldn't let me pursue my dreams at their school. And I went for it. I took a shot and it worked.

Adam Wagner ( Not to put you in a spot where it sounds like you're looking past your next opponent, by any means, but with such a stacked lightweight division, where you have veterans of the UFC like Sean Sherk and B.J. Penn, as well as fighters who are newer to the Octagon, like Mac Danzig (who you hold a win over) ... besides if it were for a title shot, is there anyone who you would really like to fight in the division?

Kurt Pellegrino: That's a really good question, because the first thing is, I gotta beat Nate Diaz before I even think about it, because if I don't beat Nate Diaz, then I have to fight someone who lost. But if I do beat Nate Diaz, then I get to fight someone who won.

So if I could put my finger on anyone I'd like to fight, at this time in my career — you know, I'm turning 29 in May — if I could fight for a belt, if they think I'm ready for that, you know I definitely would jump at the opportunity. I'm turning 29 years old, and I don't want to do this sport for the rest of my life. If you could win the belt and hold it for a couple of years, that'd be pretty sick, you know?

But there are a lot of good guys out there. Roger Huerta, he's out there — I would jump all over that fight. And ... it doesn't matter to me. Whoever Joe Silva calls me up and says, "Kurt I want you to fight." You know, okay. I'm one of those guys: okay.

Adam Wagner ( How many fights do you have remaining on your contract?

Kurt Pellegrino: This is my third, so I have two after this fight.

Adam Wagner ( What's the story behind your nickname "Batman"?

Kurt Pellegrino: Short story, I was running late to a wrestling tournament. I always came in second place; I had never won one at this time. And I didn't pack my bag like my father told me to the night before. Like I said, we were running late, so I pulled a t-shirt out of the closet and a pair of sweatpants—not thinking, it was like four in the morning.

By the time we got to the tournament, I saw that it was a Batman shirt and a pair of sweatpants. So I said, Dad, I can't walk around here — I'm in like seventh grade — with a Batman t-shirt on and a pair of sweatpants at a wrestling tournament. He's like, well, we'll go buy you one thing, either a pair of shorts or a shirt. So I kept the shirt, turned it inside out, bought a pair of shorts, and that was the first tournament I ever won.

To this day, it's the same shirt I wear to every fight, every grappling match, the Abu Dhabi's, whatever. That's the shirt I wear.

Adam Wagner ( Immediately after your fights, you seem to be memorable for so many reasons. First it was the booger that you got called out for on national television...

Kurt Pellegrino: That was sweet.

Adam Wagner ( ... then it was the breakdancing, which I have to say, was impressive ...

Kurt Pellegrino: Thank you.

Adam Wagner ( ... and most recently with the Crane fight, you seemed to have bit through your bottom lip? Is that correct?

Kurt Pellegrino: Yeah.

Adam Wagner ( You had a nasty, nasty hole there. What exactly happened there? Did you lose a tooth during the fight?

Kurt Pellegrino: No, he actually kicked me in the face, and my bottom teeth went through my lower lip, creating a hole that took 16 stitches. So, it was pretty nasty. I stuck my pointer finger through it at the hospital. So, it was bad, it was bad. But it healed up in like eight days, took the stitches out and put Vaseline on it.

Two days after that, I got a phone call, "You wanna fight Nate Diaz?" I was like, no, not really, because I want to eat and be fat and be married like Santa Claus. So I kept training. I went from one thing right to another. Took two weeks off, that's about it.

So this is the best Kurt Pellegrino the UFC will ever see. I don't think I could ever get in this good of shape again, just because I've been training since December. It's crazy. I can't believe how much ... I've had a lot of time, so I'm very happy.

Adam Wagner ( Well I'm getting amped just talking about it. Fight Night 13 has some great matches scheduled. Who do you like in the main event, Kenny Florian or Joe Lauzon?

Kurt Pellegrino: I think it's going to be a good fight, man. Two Boston guys fighting each other. They probably run into each other almost everyday in their hometown. It's a good fight for the fans, I'm sure the fans want to see it. Kenny Florian's a friend of mine, so I wish him good luck, and so is Joe, so I wish him good luck as well. They're both my friends, or acquaintances at least, so either one who wins is the better man that night, so it will be good.

Adam Wagner ( Do you care to make any predictions?

Kurt Pellegrino: I think Kenny might be able to edge this one out, just because you know, the experience of fighting all the time on T.V. and bigger crowds, bigger venues, he fought for a title ... so he has a lot of experience walking into that cage. I think that's what's going to help him. His stand up is really really good. He works with (Mark) Dellagrotte. Kenny's a stud, so, we'll see what happens.

Adam Wagner ( Well Kurt, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us. Lastly, would you like to thank any sponsors, and do you have any parting words for your fans?

Kurt Pellegrino: Yeah. For all the fans, I just want to say thanks so much for sticking by my side, and Wednesday's going to be an awesome fight, so scream loud. For all my sponsors, like Ergophobia — I appreciate it guys, you guys rule. And MMAWarehouse , and my beautiful wife, Melissa Pellegrino, and Priscilla, my daughter, I love you girls, I'll be home soon.

Adam Wagner ( Kurt, thanks again, and I look forward to seeing some more breakdancing moves inside the Octagon.

Kurt Pellegrino: All right, I gotta get my arm raised first.

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