This is number forty-nine in Jack Brown’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature veteran MMA fighter and current Bellator light heavyweight, Seth Petruzelli. Petruzelli is best known for his stint on The Ultimate Fighter’s second season, pummeling Kimbo Slice in EliteXC, and being partners in crime with fellow fighter and colorful personality, Tom Lawlor. Petruzelli is hoping to add winning Bellator’s 2013 summer series, light heavyweight, tournament championship to his list of accomplishments. In order to do that, he’ll first have to defeat King Mo, Muhammed Lawal, when they fight in the semifinals on June 19th. Please enjoy the 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?
Seth Petruzelli: I started training when I was six years old in the art of Shito-Ryu karate. It was my life. I loved it and thought there was nothing better! So basically I was a nerd who loved TMA. While I was in high school, I started wrestling while still competing in karate. I guess that made me a little cooler. After high school, I put the two together, and had my first MMA fight, which definitely made me the bee’s knees!
JB: What do you recall about your first professional MMA fight, a knockout win back in 2000, and how prepared do you feel you were at the time?
SP: For my first MMA fight in 2000, I felt good. I only had about six months of BJJ training, but my wrestling and stand-up felt great. I had a good KO of a big guy who was 3-0 at the time. I knew then that I wanted to make a go at the sport! And it started a crazy cycle of KO'ing bigger black guys.
JB: Even before entering the UFC, you had some legendary opponents. You had an MMA fight with Dan Severn, at King of the Cage 32, in Miami, and then a few months later you fought Bob Sapp, in kickboxing, in the 2004 K-1 World Grand Prix, in Saitama, Japan. What were those experiences like for you and how did they prepare you for the next stage of your career?
SP: Fighting Dan Severn was a huge deal in my life. I had remembered watching him when the UFC first started, and I was still a kid. Now I was fighting him! After beating him, I felt a big sense of validation, validation that all my hard work was paying off and that I belonged in the sport. It also made me always check to make sure my shorts are tight when I fight. His shorts came down twice during the fight. He had a nice ass.
When I fought Bob Sapp in Japan, it was my first time in the country. My whole life as a kid, doing karate, it had been my dream to fight in Japan. It felt amazing when I actually got to do it in such a huge fashion!
JB: You entered the UFC, as a heavyweight, via season two of The Ultimate Fighter. What were the highlights of your time on that very early incarnation of the show?
SP: My highlights from the second season of The Ultimate Fighter had nothing to do with fighting. It had a lot to do with making friends and making great memories. Of course it was great to train with all the big UFC guys, but getting to know all the guys in the house and making lifelong friends far outweighed the rest. They did not do our season justice with all the pranks and crazy shit we did in that house, horrible editing in my opinion.
JB: Your three stints and four fights in the UFC did not yield a victory. Yet, prior to your last fight, you were undefeated outside the promotion since you first entered the octagon in 2006. Your most notable victories during this period of time were against the then undefeated, Kimbo Slice, and former UFC champion, Ricco Rodriguez. Of all the fights you've had, win or lose, what were the ones in which you feel that you performed your best?
SP: Yeah, it’s crazy that I was undefeated since 2001 in MMA with the exception of when it really counted, inside the UFC octagon! I’ve no clue what that’s about. I feel like I should have won every fight I had in the UFC, but just made poor mistakes. My two favorite fights were the Dan Severn and Ricco Rodriguez fights. Both were big fights in my career, and I felt like it all came together for them.
JB: For your next fight, you'll be taking on King Mo, on June 19th, at Bellator 96. This will be the opening round of Bellator's summer season four-man light heavyweight tournament. What do you think of the matchup, the tournament format, and Lawal as an opponent?
SP: I’m not an idiot. I know Bellator is trying to get Mo as their champ. I swear I’m gonna do everything in my power to f--- up their plans for that! That has been my driving force. I’m being overlooked and it pisses me off. No other comment. Next question!
JB: Who are the other fighters in the sport that you respect or admire the most, and who are some of the ones that you would love to have a chance to match up against?
SP: My all-time favorite was/is Sakuraba. I love his craziness and unorthodox style! I’d love to match up against the sloppiest, most nonathletic, pathetic person with a name that I can beat. That will make me feel good.
JB: What exactly is it about you and Tom Lawlor that makes your connection so "special" and what kind of a tag team would the two of you be if you both crossed over to professional wrestling together?
SP: Well “special” is a good word to use, and not the “special” in the good sense, more the “special” as in, "Hey, don’t stare at that kid, he is ‘special’ and his parents might get offended." The type of tag team we both would be involved in would be nothing of the pro wrestling sort. Well, it’s kind of wrestling, naked, as we tag team some random male/female/transgender victim.
JB: What else do you enjoy outside of training and fighting, and who are the individuals who have supported you most in life?
SP: I am a huge animal lover. I give a good amount once a year to my local SPCA. If I wasn’t fighting, and had lots of money, I’d love to have a sanctuary for abused dogs.
My whole family supports what I do. They give me the reassurance that no matter what happens, as long as I do what I want to do, it will work out.
JB: Last question, Seth, and thanks for taking the time to do this. What does it mean to you to be a fighter and how much do you enjoy it?
SP: To be honest, it means a lot, that for the past thirteen years, I was able to do this and support myself. It gave me the opportunity to open a great gym, The Jungle MMA and Fitness Gym in Orlando, FL. Enjoy it? Well I guess in some sort of sick way I enjoy getting punched, training ‘til I puke, injuring myself constantly, etc. But what I enjoy most is the art of it. The fame is cool too. And so is the money!
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