Chris Clements took a long road to get to the UFC.
After competing and training for over 10 years and nearly retiring during a particularly rough stretch, "The Menace" finally caught fire with a nice streak of knockouts to earn an invite to the world's largest promotion.
Now that he's here, he's making sure to soak it all in.
The Canadian knockout artist trains out of Team Tompkins, but you wouldn't know it if you watched him fight as he's incredibly unpredictable on the feet, just as likely to throw a spinning back kick as he is a jab.
After his last fight against Keith Wisniewski, in which he won a split decision in his UFC debut, Clements called out Matt Riddle, a fighter he felt got the easy road to the UFC through The Ultimate Fighter as Riddle actually made his UFC debut in his first professional fight.
Clements got his wish and he'll be battling Riddle this Saturday night (July 21, 2012) in the opening bout of the UFC 149 main card. He recently spoke to MMAmania.com during a guest appearance on The Verbal Submission where he discussed getting some momentum back in Team Tompkins, his unique fighting style and finally having a home field advantage for what feels like the first time in his career in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How does it feel to be on the UFC 149 main card? After all the injuries to everyone, it couldn't have been any better working out for you. You get to open up a main card.
Chris Clements: Yeah, I'm pretty pumped about it. The injuries suck because I was really excited to be fighting on a card with guys like Nogueira, Shogun and people like that, fighters that I looked up to and were watching when I got my start. I'm just pumped. My whole career I've wanted to be in the UFC and especially on the main card of a pay-per-view.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): And here you are. This timing is so crazy. After your last fight against Keith Wisniewski, you actually called out Matt Riddle. You'd never met him before, but you called him out and now you're fighting him. Do you think that the call-out helped set this fight up?
Chris Clements: I think they went with whatever was available. I don't think it had anything to do with me calling him out. It was a timing thing. Matt was supposed to fight at the end of June but he had a small injury and he was all healed up and I think it worked out. Sean Pierson told me he got the phone call to take this fight as well but couldn't take it.
Chris Clements: It's good to get some momentum back in the gym. It was really hard for the guys like Mark Hominick, Sam Stout and Chris Horodecki because they were brought up their whole careers with Shawn. Me and Shawn were close but I was more self taught and I had been working with different people when Shawn went to Vegas so I was more on the trail of being able to work on my own without having Shawn on my side while those guys were so used to having him there it took a little bit to find their own pace.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Now you were originally slated to face Siyar Bahadurzada before an injury forced him off the card. Are you disappointed at all he had to drop out because that would have been a huge high profile fight or are you just happy to be still on there against Riddle?
Chris Clements: I was a little disappointed at first. Siyar is a really highly touted guy and I think he's a good match-up for me. We're both stand-up strikers. We're both around the same height. Both right-handed. Everything just kind of worked out good and we were a good match-up stylistically. He has a lot of power but so do I and I think I have more tools in my arsenal so I thought it was good match-up.
Now I'm going against a 6'1 lefty who's main background is wrestling. Riddle likes to bang too but I don't think he's gonna want to choose that road once he feels my power. I think he's gonna try to take me down. I'm expecting a huge fight night bonus here in Calgary especially because the UFC doesn't have to pay all that money to the big names like Nogueira and Shogun on the card so I can see the "Fight of the Night" bonus being pretty high to entice us to put on a good show to make it up to the fans since the big names aren't here. I wanted to prove to the fans that you don't have to have a big name to have a big fight.
Siyar would have been a definitely "Fight of the Night' candidate unless one of us got knocked out first.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Does the fact that all these other guys dropping off the card put any extra pressure on you to really put on a show for the fans?
Chris Clements: It doesn't put any extra pressure on me to put on a good show because that's the only way I know how to fight. I don't mess around and hold a guy down to squeak out a decision. I only know how to knock guys out, try to finish them or submit them. There's no extra pressure on me to do it because I naturally do it anyway.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've been on a bit of a career resurgence as of late. You had a rough stretch a while back against some UFC caliber competition and now you're on a five fight winning streak now. What do you think it was that sparked this? Did something click for you?
Chris Clements: A couple things came into play. A couple times I fought injured. Against Jesse Bongfeldt, I tore my ACL before the fight but it was a title fight and I really wanted that belt. I put him in an armbar and he flipped over and popped my knee out. I tried to move and get my knee back where it felt normal and as I did, he put me in a rear naked choke.
Against John Alessio, I fought him on Saturday and I had a surgery scheduled for the next Monday already. I didn't have much use of my left arm that fight and I was basically just fighting for money then instead of fighting because I like to fight. I was doing it for the wrong reasons. I had recently been laid off from my job and I didn't have the right training camps. I was just injured all the time.
I got pretty sad and I was almost ready to retire after the Alessio fight and a couple promoters ringside saw me a month later and I was about 220 and out of shape. They called me a week later and offered me a fight against Jonathan Goulet figuring he was a hometown guy and I was a well-known guy from Quebec who was out of shape and thinking he would run right through me.
They called me and I took the fight but I didn't really train for Goulet, I was training more to get back in shape, doing cardio because I was so out of shape. I knew they were bringing me in to lose and I thought, "If I win this fight, this is my last chance for a UFC run," because that was my whole goal since I started fighting.
Well I got in shape and I knocked Goulet out, but on the way to the cage that night, I had a striking coach that I was working with, the 1988 world champion and he saw him and he said, "Just be yourself." Usually your corner is barking orders like, "Step off, step off. One-two, one-two!" like Shawn used to. When I spar, I have fun and do all these different moves that you don't normally do and nobody can usually hit me in the gym. When he told me to be myself, I went in there with different mindset and started having more fun in there.
After I knocked out Goulet, I beat a guy with a spinning back kick to the body and I started throwing spinning back fists. When I beat Rich Clementi, I knocked him down with a Bruce Lee back fist. I threw one punch and turned hitting him with the same hand. I was having fun, doing weird things and ever since, I'm very happy in the fights and I don't put as much pressure on myself. That's been the biggest difference.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about your power. You're a guy who's finished all but one of his victories by knockout and you even have the fasted knockout in MMA history. Do you think Riddle has a chance if you can connect?
Chris Clements: I don't think there's too many guys in the world that pound-for-pound hit as hard as I do. Shawn even told me that pound-for-pound, I hit as hard as anyone he's ever trained and he's trained a lot of tough guys so that's a hell of a complement. If you look at my record, my first 10 wins were all by knockout or TKO. I just know how hard I hit.
I think it's because of my speed. For a guy that's a little stumpy, I move pretty fast. I think the guys I train with like Mark Hominick, Sam Stout and Chris Horodecki who are so much smaller than me have been some of my main training partners for years. I didn't want to slug with them so I learned how to be fast and to point with them. When you put the speed with my power, that makes it so much greater I think.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What's it going to mean for you, fighting in your home country of Canada. You're fight in your backyard and you're representing your country against an invading American wrestler.
Chris Clements: It's really cool because even though I spent a lot of my career fighting in Canada, most of it was in the French part of Canada like Quebec so I was fighting a French guy. Even though I was still fighting in my home country, I was getting booed. Then I fought in the States against an American and I was getting booed. I've never really had an opportunity to be in front of a big crowd and have them on my side. I've always been accustomed to blocking out the crowd and not paying much attention to it. I've heard guys say they can feed off the energy of the crowd and I'm interested in seeing if that works and I'm gonna try it. I'm looking forward to that situation.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): When you think about this upcoming fight against Matt Riddle and you're visualizing success in your head, what do you see?
Chris Clements: A knockout in the third round, less than two minutes left in the round so I can win both "Knockout of the Night" and "Fight of the Night." (laughs)
Chris would like to thank Venum, Affliction and Training Mask. You can follow Chris on Twitter @MenaceClements.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Will Clements follow through on his promise for a knockout against Matt Riddle? How do you like the 36 year old's chances now that he's accomplished his dream of fighting in the UFC?
To listen to the complete audio of my conversation with Chris Clements, click here (interview begins at the 1:41:00 mark)