This is number sixteen in Jack Brown’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature veteran UFC featherweight, Nik Lentz. Nik was already well-regarded as tough and talented when he was fighting at lightweight in the UFC. However, since dropping to featherweight and winning his first two fights in the division, his name has emerged in the discussion for championship contention. Please enjoy our conversation below.
Jack Brown: What was your first experience with martial arts/combat sports and how did it become more than just a hobby for you?
Nik Lentz: I had no plans on being a martial artist. I was wrestling in high school and decided that I wanted to pursue an international wrestling career. I was always looking for a way to evolve my wrestling game in a way that no one else was. I decided to try and learn Judo and Jiu-Jitsu and looked around at different types of Kung Fu and Chinese medicine. The original intention was to develop skills that would help my wrestling game, but when I got into college wrestling I started to realize that wrestling was not what I was suited for. I decided to try out an MMA fight and went from there. The training for MMA was so much different than wrestling and I was hooked after my first training camp (if you could call it that). I had a few more fights, and one thing lead to another, and it started to become a career.
JB: You were a successful high school and college wrestler. What was your most satisfying accomplishment during your wrestling days and how do you feel the sport prepared you for your MMA career?
NL: I was never really satisfied with my wrestling career. I always felt like something was missing. I never enjoyed any of the success. I started wrestling very late compared to most people and it always felt like I was behind the curve. Leading up to college, and until my wrestling career ended, it was never really a source of happiness. It became a job and it started to take up too much time in my life. Looking back, I could have been ten times more successful if I would have taken a few days off here and there or relaxed and just had fun. I placed too much pressure on myself, and if I learned anything from wrestling, it’s that regardless of how hard you work, how many hours you prepare, or how much you think you want to succeed, it really means nothing if you are not having fun and enjoying life. Wrestling taught me how to push myself past physical and mental limits, discipline, and many other important life lessons, but the most important thing it taught me was that working harder than everyone else is not the only thing necessary to be successful.
JB: Your first professional MMA fight was a win back in 2005. What do you recall about that victory?
NL: My first fight was decided by ground strikes. I got on top of the guy, hit him a few times, and he tapped. I remember I was warming up in the back room of a tiny bar and all the local “big shots” at the time were trying to take over the little room we had. I weighed in about two hours before we fought and the fight was at 175lbs. I never got to see if the dude I was fighting made weight, so I’m guessing he didn’t. That was a great day in my life. I reconnected with my father. He had always been my best friend, but we had grown apart while I was in college. It was also the first time that I got to flirt with, Elissa, who later became my wife.
JB: You won your first five fights before losing via split decision. What do you recall about that loss and how did it affect you?
NL: I had never been that tired. I remember times in the fight where I was against the cage and it felt better to get hit than put my hands up to defend. The fight was close, but most people thought that I should have won the fight. I got hit with a straight right ten seconds into the fight and it destroyed my nose. I lost the first round, it was close in the second, and I dominated the third. I was not training like I should have back then. In fact, I had not been training like a world-class athlete should have been until my drop to 145lbs, but that’s a different story.
JB: In your eleven fights in the UFC thus far, you are 7-2, with one no contest and one draw. What have been the highlights of your time in the UFC?
NL: My fights at 145lbs. I had not been training, cutting weight, or dieting correctly before that. Hell, I wonder sometimes how I was able to win the fights that I did. I have always trained harder than anyone else, but there is more to it. Until I decided to drop to 145, I never had a real strength trainer, I didn’t diet properly, and I didn’t have enough of the right coaches around me. I know people still don’t believe it when I tell them, but it is now easier for me to make 145 than it was to make 155. I’m twice as strong, as well as like three times as fast, thanks to Bill Welle. I’m a new person. All of my past fights are really irrelevant because that guy was not even close to the level I am at now. I still have a huge amount of growth to make as a fighter, and now I have all the tools to make that happen.
JB: Your last two fights, both victories, came at 145lbs. How did your decision to drop to featherweight come about and how was Mike Dolce involved in your dieting and weight cut?
NL: Mike Dolce is the reason I went to 145. I had always had a hard time making 155, and when I got into the cage, I was drained because of it. I knew I needed to make a change and stalked enough people until I got Dolce’s number. I then preceded to text him constantly until he had to reply. I’m sure he was like, “Who the #$%^ is this guy, and why won’t he leave me alone!” I got him on the phone and he asked me what I wanted to do with my career. I told him I wanted to be a world champion and I knew I had the talent to do it, but I was just missing the tools to make it happen. He said he would work with me as long as I went to 145. I was scared to death of the thought of dropping that much weight. Like I said, it was incredibly hard for me to make 155, and now this dude wanted to see me at 145. I decided what the hell, and said, “Let’s do it.” When I hung up, I felt like I was going to throw up. I pictured myself dying in the sauna, but I have not set foot in a sauna or put on a rubber suit since working with him. The dude is a nutritional genius. The diet also made it so I had more energy, so now I can work out twice as long.
JB: Over the seven plus years that you have been fighting professionally, who has been especially supportive of you and what has helped you to be so successful?
NL: My two best friends - my father and my wife. They are the two people who help me be the person I need to be. Being a professional fighter is a very stressful job. It requires long hours and many sacrifices. The things you put your body and mind through are extreme to say the least. Without the proper support structure, you can never reach your full potential. I was lucky enough to be born into the world with an amazing father, and by some crazy chance, I managed to get an equally special woman to marry me.
JB: I've noticed that you sometimes train with Eddie Bravo at 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu. What has training there added to your already impressive skill set as a grappler?
NL: Eddie is the philosopher of MMA. The dude thinks about things that no one else in the game does. My time with Eddie taught me a lot, and the most important things that he teaches are how to approach learning. He is one of the best teachers I have ever worked with in any field. I use the things I learned from him in all aspects of my life.
JB: What do you want to accomplish during the remainder of your fighting career and what are you plans for the future outside of fighting?
NL: World champ, nothing less. I have never planned too far into the future. I do not think about life after fighting. It’s like when I got into the game. I didn’t sit back and ask, “Is it a good idea to drop out of college and get a job that pays nothing for years? Where am I going to live and how am I going to pay my bills?” I just said, “Screw it. This is what I’m going to do and I will figure out the rest as it comes.” I’m sure I will do something like that after fighting. Life is too short to not focus on the now. I have major goals and plans for MMA, but all the plans are only for about five years out. After that, who knows where life will take me?
JB: Last question, Nik, and thank you for taking the time to do this. What does it mean to you to be a fighter and how much do you enjoy it?
NL: I don’t know if I can really answer that question. I have never thought about what it’s like to be a fighter. I just am one. I’m a sociopathic, video game playing, college dropout. What else could I be? LOL!
Thanks so much for reading and please follow @NikLentz and @jackjohnbrown on Twitter.
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Special thanks to @KirikJenness for @theUG
And keep checking the UG for the next Jack Brown Interview with WMMA fighter, the UFC’s Julie Kedzie.
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