This is number thirty-three in Jack Brown’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature world class grappling coach, Ricky Lundell. You may have noticed him coaching for Team Jones on the current season of TUF, or you may have seen him in Frank Mir or Joe Lauzon’s corners recently, or this may be the very first time you are ever hearing his name. No matter, it will certainly not be the last you hear of Ricky Lundell. To call Lundell a “prodigy” is far from hyperbole, and we can prove it. Please enjoy the conversation below.
Jack Brown: #1 My understanding is that you're credited with being the youngest North American to receive the rank of black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (at age 19). How did you get involved with BJJ and what enabled you to achieve such a significant accomplishment?
Ricky Lundell: It took a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck to be honest. I got involved with BJJ as a young boy. Professor Pedro Sauer did a demonstration at my school in 1992, and his daughter choked me out. My father enrolled me that day, and I was lucky enough to be one of Professor Sauer's first students. Professor Sauer had six daughters, and he was kind enough to turn me into a project and mentor me by completely taking me under his wing. It felt as though I was another one of his children. With an incredible attention to detail, and the hours he spent with me, I was able to grow exponentially in the incredible art of Jiu-Jitsu and attain this significant accomplishment.
JB: It is also my understanding that you graduated college when you were 18-years-old. How exactly did you manage to do that?
RL: I was able to graduate college early. My parents sacrificed a great deal for my brothers and me. We grew up extremely poor and they managed to work and trade for tuition for us in a private school. I didn't take their work for granted and I worked as hard as I could to make them proud. Starting college at fifteen was a by-product of their sacrifice and my hard work. It also greatly helped me to be able to manage my classes around my Jiu-Jitsu training. It did hurt me later in life when the NCAA denied me competition eligibility after Cael Sanderson recruited me to wrestle for him at Iowa State University. However, that pushed me on to other things. Doors close, and if another doesn't open, then knock a hole through the wall.
JB: You were a world champion grappler. What were some of your most satisfying victories?
RL: I have to say my most satisfying victory was a submission when Mario Reis was at the top of the Jits’ world. I submitted him at the Pan Ams in the black belt division and was immediately DQ'ed by a referee who wouldn't even give me a reason as to why. You know you're doing something right when you submit the former champ and are DQ'ed by their Brazilian teammates. Other highlights would have to be several battles against Jeff Glover as a black belt. We were among the first Americans to really prove ourselves in the Jiu-Jitsu community and help the Brazilians to see that we are here to stay. Many feel that we were among the group that really pushed Americans to the next level of competition, and it's exciting to have been a part of that.
JB: At just 26-years old, you are now well-known for being a high level grappling coach. How did you make the transition from competitor to coach?
RL: Transitioning to a coach has been exciting. The most important decision I made was that I would not be a selfish coach. Whatever is best for the person I am working with is what I am going to do. If they need confidence, I will build it, even at the expense of other peoples’ ideas or opinions of what they're seeing or just saw. If they need to be put through the grind, I will do it. If they need to tap someone over and over, then I’ll make sure it happens as well. The biggest challenge for many to overcome is to realize it’s no longer about you. It was about you when you were the athlete, but now it's time to be selfless. Cael Sanderson taught me that it’s okay to let people beat you so they can grow and develop as an athlete, and I am thankful every day for his coaching lessons. I love competing against the other coaches and watching my athletes succeed in their dreams and goals.
JB: Who are some of the MMA fighters that you have enjoyed coaching and why?
RL: A few guys I really enjoy:
• Joe Lauzon is always a favorite because he loves to learn and he's so talented. I am able to open the entire book for him. He can control and do flash, and that's something that makes him very fun to work with.
• Dan Hardy is someone I've also loved coaching because his game is evolving so rapidly. To see his growth on a weekly basis over the last couple years has been so rewarding.
• Sean Sherk was a ton of fun to work with. He has so much work ethic, and his energy tank doesn't take away from his ability at any time.
• Jon Jones is always fun to work technique with because he always has a flavor he wants to throw on it. He's so athletic that it doesn't take long before he’s doing it to the very best guy in the room.
• Frank Mir because he’s such an analytical person, and what you coach him on will all come to fruition with the sounds of bones breaking in the cage.
JB: I saw you in Frank Mir's corner at UFC 140, in Toronto, the night he defeated Big Nog and broke his arm with a Kimura. What were you thinking about the rematch going into that fight and how did you react afterward?
RL: We were very excited about that victory. We drilled guillotine defense and Kimura finishes all week as well as right before walking out to the cage. Watching him finish Nog and receive submission of the century and comeback of the year was a very happy moment for our team. Frank Mir is very talented, and when he puts what is taught into effect in the cage, all you see is devastation.
JB: You were also in Joe Lauzon's corner recently at the UFC "fight of the year," his three round battle with Jim Miller at UFC 155. What was that night like and how did you feel about that fight?
RL: It was amazing. Rocky called me personally after the fight and asked for his "heart" back. Joe's a man who is highly intelligent in the cage. It's very rare to find an intelligent athlete with so much heart. He is a rare combination, and I know that he will have the UFC belt around his waist one day. He won't be deterred by anything. I feel honored to be coaching Lauzon!
JB: You're a coach for Team Jones on the current season of The Ultimate Fighter. How did you get involved with Jon Jones and what was the TUF 17 experience like for you?
RL: Jon Jones and I met before the Nog fight. He was kind enough to compliment what I was doing as a coach, and I was flattered when he asked me to become a serious member of his team. He's a prankster and jokester also which really helped our personalities mesh. I got to say that being on the TUF show was fun every single day!
JB: Beyond continuing to coach the fighters that you are currently working with, what other plans or goals do you have?
RL: I have big dreams. I want to one day enter the UFC Hall of Fame for making a difference in the sport, and I plan to continue working on personal improvement and making myself a better and better coach. Even with where I am lucky enough to stand in the coaching world now, I recognize that I learn a lot from every fighter that I work with and love the evolution and cutting edge wave that I get to continuously ride in our wonderful world of MMA.
JB: Last question, Ricky, and thank you for taking the time to do this. As an outsider looking in, it seems to me that you have been living your life at an accelerated pace that would crush most mere mortals. Who or what has helped you lay the foundation that has supported you thus far?
RL: Being kind to everyone and learning something from everyone I come into contact with is what I attribute my success to. Listening more than talking is key as well. So is putting what you are learning into action on a daily basis. My life's foundation of work ethic comes from inward motivation to compete in everything and against everyone. I am thankful for everyone that gave me those lessons and opportunities! I am also very thankful for my fighters who continuously spread their feelings about my coaching. Nothing has helped my career more than just simple word of mouth, and I'm really thankful for all those guys.
Thank you so much for reading and please follow @Rickylundell and @jackjohnbrown on Twitter.
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Thank you to @KirikJenness for @theUG.