When John Alessio got the call that he was back in the UFC on April 2nd, he wasn't quite sure if it was real or just a belated April Fool's joke.
Thankfully for the nearly 14 year MMA veteran, the call was very much real. Matt Wiman was injured and the UFC wanted him to step up on short notice and take on Mark Bocek.
For Alessio, this call means more than most because he's already had his shot, not once, not twice, but thrice, and he's come up short. He'll be the first to admit that he didn't properly utilize his natural talents in the early stages of his career, losing a 170 pound title shot to Pat Miletich back at UFC 26 and a title shot to Carlos Condit at WEC 26.
He hasn't fought in the UFC since a 2006 unanimous decision loss to Thiago Alves, but a strong two and a half year stretch winning 10 out of 11 fights has brought him back.
Alessio will take on Bocek on the main card of UFC 145 this Saturday night (April 21, 2012) and he spoke with MMAmania.com during a special guest appearance on The Verbal Submission about how much it would mean to finally get that first UFC victory, Mark Bocek being one-dimensional and what changes he's made to turn his career around.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've had your shot in the UFC before so this isn't entirely a new experience, but you've been working to get back into the UFC for about five and a half years now, so how did it feel when they told you that all this hard work has finally paid off and they want you back in the big show?
John Alessio: Man, it was almost unbelievable. Of course I found out the day after April Fool's so I thought it was an extended cruel joke (laughs) at first and basically the whole week I trained my butt off but I didn't sleep to much. As you said, I've been working very hard to get back here and it just kinda goes to show that if you really dedicate yourself, focus and are determined, anything can happen.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've been on a terrific run winning 10 of your last 11 fights and you haven't been facing chumps, you've got some good wins in there. You're only loss was to Siyar Bahurdazada which is nothing to be ashamed of. What do you attribute your recent success to?
John Alessio: It was a couple things really. It was a change in lifestyle and just a refocus in the gym. I was self-evaluating myself, "What was I doing wrong?" I'm at a good gym and I have good people around me, but what am I doing wrong? The fact is I wasn't focused enough and was messing around in between fights and just not living the athlete lifestyle really. Once I changed that and got my mind right and decided what my goals were gonna be. I set out and changed my personal life to just eat, sleep, train. I tried to be a good person, got married and I try to be a good husband as well and all those positives and that has really turned things around for me.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You also made the drop to lightweight. You spent the first 13-14 years of your career at welterweight or heavier, so what made you want to drop down to lightweight at 32 years old?
John Alessio: Well, as training has become more scientific in our sport, before it was just get in shape, hit the pads and go fight, but now there's a lot of science behind it with the dieting and the strength and conditioning has changed a lot. It's not just meat and potatoes plus bench pressing. With that, my body started to change a little bit and I started to get lighter and maintaining better shape in between fights started to help also.
I wasn't packing too much weight on in between and eventually I was starting to become a really small welterweight, not having to cut much weight between weigh-ins. I was eating breakfast and lunch and then getting on the scale at 170. It was a matter of time and I'd been thinking about it for a while but I was still winning at 170, and I was waiting for that moment. After the Siyar fight, I decided it was time to change. It's been good. I've been enjoying myself at lightweight and it's been more work to get down but I'm a professional and I'll always make 155. I'm not going to be one of those guys that misses weight. I think every time I do it it's going to be easier too.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You had a string of 14 straight stoppages at welterweight and you've had two straight decisions now that you've dropped to lightweight. Are you still adjusting to being able to really push yourself to the limit now that you've dropped down to 155?
John Alessio: Yeah, it's been a bit of an adjustment. It's harder on my body to make that weight but with the Healy fight, i dropped him with punches a couple times so I feel I've still got power. It's coming and I think it's going to be easier every time. My body's gonna react better each time I make the weight. It's definitely an adjustment for sure.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Can you tell me about how the fan support has been. It seems like there was quite a large continent that were happy you got your shot.
John Alessio: Yeah, the fan's reaction and support has been overwhelming and amazing. Truly, I'm just happy. I can't believe all the support I've been getting. It's just out of this world. People were campaigning for me to get back into the UFC and part me was like, "I wonder if this will ever happen? It's been almost six years, 21 fights" and I started to doubt but once it happened, everyone's reaction was just amazing and it makes me want to push that much better. I want to take everybody's energy and positive feelings and just absorb it all and use that for the fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You had three fights in the UFC, all against extremely tough competition, Thiago Alves, Diego Sanchez and your first fight against an in-his-prime Pat Miletich. You went 0-3 and that had to be frustrating, so what would it mean to you to get that first victory and really show what you can do down there?
John Alessio: It means more than anything. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I will not be able to rest my head and sleep a good night's sleep until the day I die unless I get that win inside the Octagon. I could get one win, retire and be happy. Of course I'm not gonna do that. I'm gonna keep going and strive for that title, but that's how important getting one win inside the Octagon means to me. Knowing that I won inside the UFC at least one time, I would be able to die a happy man.
It is very important for me but at the same time, I'm not trying to put that pressure on myself. I just really want to go out there on April 21st and impress the UFC, impress the fans. Win, lose, or draw, Mark Bocek is going to know that he was in a damn fight and he's gonna have to respect me because he's gonna be lumped up, bruised up. He's gonna bleed and I'm gonna bring it. I just want to put on a very exciting fight and I believe in doing that, the win will come.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Tell me a little bit about your thoughts on Mark Bocek. He's a terrific grappler and a top talent, but what do you think about him?
John Alessio: He's definitely a world class grappler. I have a lot of respect for his ground game. With that being said, i train with Robert Drysdale and I've been improving a lot on the ground and I have a lot of submission victories as well. I don't think he's gonna bring anything new to the table. He commented that I have all these fights but I haven't changed and I have stopped learning but if that's the case, then he's sadly mistaken and hasn't watched my recent fights to see how much I have improved.
He doesn't know how I lived before and how I live now. For him to say that, I think that's a bit ignorant but of course fighters are always gonna say stuff. He's probably gonna say that I was saying "this" about him. I've got respect for him, he's a great grappler. Do I think my striking's better than him? Absolutely. I think I can knock him and that's what I'm going in there to do. I would love to submit him and if I can rock him and get the submission that would be great.
I respect his grappling but I still think he's a fairly one-dimensional fighter. He wants that takedown. He wants to be on top of me. He doesn't want to stand and trade. He said it before that if you want to watch guys stand and punch each other, go watch boxing. He said that, I think he tweeted it about the Ben Askren fight. I believe that's what he was referring to. We all know what he wants to do. He wants to grapple and it's gonna be my job to negate that and take him out.
You can follow John Alessio on twitter @JohnAlessio79.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Will Alessio finally end his 12 year UFC drought on Saturday night? Or will stepping up to battle Mark Bocek on short notice be too much for the veteran?
To listen to the complete audio of our interview with John Alessio, click here. (Begins at the 1:05:30 mark)