This is number eighty-nine in Jack’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature UFC welterweight veteran, TUF 4 competitor, and world-traveler, “Mr. International,” Shonie Carter. Jack had the good fortune to speak with the entertaining and personable MMA pioneer, and now you can have that same opportunity! Shonie insisted that his personal phone number be included in this interview. So there’s that, Shonie’s thoughts about MMA, his opinion of Ronda Rousey’s Judo, his lingering resentment toward Carlos Newton, and much, much more. 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?
Shonie Carter: I was a wrestler in high school and college, and I did the 1996 Olympic trials and two world teams. That was my first martial art, if you will. My second one was Judo. Then I tiptoed into Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. Then my fourth one was American Jiu-Jitsu. My fifth one was American kickboxing. My sixth one was Olympic Pankration fighting. My seventh one was Shidokan Karate. And my eighth one was American boxing.
JB: You were a U.S. Marine before you were a professional fighter. What did being in the military do for you as an individual and how did it lead to you transitioning into a fighting career?
SC: The Marines just instilled that “never say die” attitude. My wrestling had given me the hustle to go out there and get it. But, honestly, fighting was all about the competition and the risk. It was about being able to take what was given to me and then finding out whether or not it was just theoretical.
JB: What do you recall about your first professional MMA fight and how prepared do you feel you were at the time?
SC: My first fight was when I was in college in 1996. That’s when I did a street wrestling tournament in Morristown, Tennessee. I did it because my friends didn’t think that I could fight. But my girlfriend will tell you, I’m a tough nerd. And back in those days, I was walking around campus in collared shirts with cufflinks. In college, no one walked around with cufflinks on their shirts, not even the professors. I was wearing suspenders and carrying a gun because I was in the Marines.
The promoter of the fight, Monte Cox, told me that my opponent would just be “a boxer” and that I’d be “fine.” I later found out that he was like a state champion in wrestling and “a boxer.” But he wasn’t like a beginning boxer. He was an amateur champion boxer. I think I have the footage. I’m on a video safari for footage from all my fights. That’s a major undertaking for 187 fights. Literally, he threw just one right cross and then missed on the second one. Thank God that he missed on the second one because the first one put me down. I thought I was ready, but apparently not.
JB: You rebounded from early losses and had a very solid record when you made your UFC debut at UFC 24 against Brad Gumm. What was it like fighting in the SEG era UFC?
SC: Even before I got into the UFC at whatever one it was, 24, 22, whatever it was, I was doing well. I had actually been on a killing spree, if you will. In MMA then there weren’t websites to post records on and everything. By the time I fought Brad, I had over thirty or forty fights. I’m the only one with the footage and most websites won’t honor it unless they have the whole fight card, but I’m like, “What fighter knows the whole fight card?” Even today, unless the fighter goes on the internet and looks at the UFC or Bellator or whoever’s website, fighters don’t know who else is on their card. You don’t care because you can only worry about one person.
In the SEG era, it was the dark ages. I tell people all the time that fighting then was for peanuts. I made $500 to show and $500 to win. I didn’t think much of it. As a preliminary bout, it was the first fight of the night, but it was also the first televised fight on that particular show. Years later, I saw Brad at The Ultimate Fighter auditions. He looked the same. He is one of those Peter Pan dudes that even though you know he’s older, you would card him to go to a high school dance. I would be checking his ID to buy a can of Coca Cola.
JB: What was it like having that fight with Dan Severn as the third man in the cage? I think he refereed that fight.
SC: He did, and it was surreal because who doesn’t know Dan Severn? It was so corny cool because he had a referee’s striped jersey on. I was laughing. When you look back at it, you laugh because he had on these hot little wrestling shoes and a football referee’s jersey. And he had his shirt tucked in. I was like, “Oh my God! He tucked his shirt in!” I still tuck in T-shirts, but that’s a military habit.
JB: I don’t think it could have been a more perfect UFC debut for you than to have Dan Severn in there. Once the fight started, were you able to tune Dan out and not think about the fact that Dan Severn was refereeing your fight?
SC: I don’t have ADHD and I don’t need Adderall to zone in. I’ve heard undercurrents of how people are starting to use it to zone in fighting, but I dare you to throw a punch, kick me, or grab me and think that you don’t have my attention. I’m going to focus all my attention on you.
JB: During your first stint in the UFC, you went 3-2, and then you had an opportunity to return to the promotion via the fourth season of TUF. You were absolutely one of the stars of that “comeback” season. How was that experience from your perspective?
SC: I actually really enjoyed it. It didn’t wear on me at all. For most of the guys there, it wore them down fast, but for me, it was like a vacation of fun. I would honestly tell you that, other than being away from my kids and worrying about catching conjuncta-funkta-vitis from one of the wrestlers… I was just like, “Oh, don’t touch me. Don’t touch me. You nasty.” We men are nasty as hell man. We don’t want to do dishes. We rarely do laundry. I guess it was because it was a strange scenario, and people weren’t caring since it was not their house. I was doing dishes at three in the morning. I was meticulous. I was in the Marines and I have a sleep disorder.
My sleep patterns are horrible. My girlfriend will tell you that I will literally get up in the middle of the night to start drawing. I’ll go back to sleep, and then I’ll wake up twenty minutes later and start drawing again. I’ll go back to sleep, and then three hours later I’ll be back up drawing. It’s just something that happens.
But I’d do TUF again and I often have thought of auditioning. They wouldn’t want me, but I’ve thought about it. I thought that I’d probably be sequestered to coaching even though it would be hard for me to coach this new generation of mixed martial artists. They believe that they know more than I do. Well I can throw you sixty-five different ways or take you down sixty-five different ways just in my Judo repertoire alone. I don’t know if they would even want me to be around them, but I would do it. It was fun.
JB: Looking at your long career, you’ve fought a few generations of the welterweight division’s toughest guys. You had fights with Laverne Clark, Dave Menne, Chris Lytle, Matt Serra, Pat Miletich, Karo Parisyan, Carlos Newton. And you also had fights with guys still fighting today like Nate Marquardt, Mike Pyle, Jon Fitch, and Rick Hawn. Who were a few of the opponents that you respected the most?
SC: I really respected Dave Menne because we fought twice. I beat him in a twenty-five minute fight. I think it was a fifteen and ten or a twenty and five fight. Then we fought again for a straight twenty and that was a draw. I also always thought about having a rematch with LaVerne Clark. He was like 4-1 or 5-1 in the UFC.
I lost respect for Carlos Newton. I really did. I fought him in the W-1 up in Canada. The reason why I took the fight wasn’t about the money. This was one of the truest moments in modern MMA where someone didn’t really care about the money. It was supposed to be for a world title. If you’re training for a regular bout, it’s three five-minute rounds. This was supposed to be a five five-minute round fight. The training for that goes from training for a hundred yard dash to training for a marathon. And literally, I trained to do a really hard marathon.
Not only was he late to the weigh-ins, but the night before he and the promoter came knocking on my door. They told me that he wasn’t going to make weight. I said, “Okay. I’ll give him a pound or five. I’ll give him a catchweight fight. But I still want it to be a f---ing title fight.” Please forgive my profanity. I wanted the title fight.
So I had already made weight and I was sitting there with abdominal cramps. My girlfriend laughs, but I always tell her that I know what you go through. Women are like, “How the hell are you going to say that?” Well, I’ve had abdominal cramps before. They say, “That’s different.” I say, “Shut your pie-hole. I’ve had abdominal cramps and I’ve had testicular cramps on top of abdominal cramps.”
So I was sitting in the fetal position all night. Then we get to the weigh-ins, and I was there first. Now the rule is, if you don’t know, if I beat you out of the locker room, getting dressed for training, to the weigh-ins, going to the car, if I beat you in any form or fashion, if Shonie Carter is waiting on you, you are on some bullshit. I am the most not on time individual of all time. If I beat you, you are on that BS. Carlos Newton was two or three hours late to the weigh-ins. This was in Montreal. This was his hometown.
He gets there. All the other fighters have weighed in except for me because I can’t weigh in until his camp is there. He came in like he was struggling or whatever. He stepped on the scale. I gave him five pounds and he showed up eleven pounds overweight. So he was over five for seventy and he came in at 181.6 for a welterweight world title fight. I was like, “Are you kidding me? Seriously?” So then the commission stepped in and they stripped the title fight. I was like, “Wow. This isn’t even about the money. The fact is that I’m going to lose this fight because it’s designed to go the distance.” Stylistically, I wasn’t going to knock him out and he sure as hell wasn’t going to submit me.
Post-fight he said that I was greasing after he got his hand raised. They gave me his twenty percent, but this wasn’t about the twenty percent. I wanted the belt. I was going to spend the money on bills or whatever I spent it on, but I wouldn’t spend the belt. So he said I greased and he said I tapped. You can see the interview on Sherdog or YouTube or whatever research format. I was like, “How are you going to complain after you got your hand raised and say that I tapped and I greased? You showed up 11.6 pounds overweight!”
JB: So you think that if it had been a title fight, and it went five rounds, that you would have outlasted him?
SC: Oh, hell yeah! Hell yeah. Oh, hell yeah. What it was, people, at times, get caught up in the spectacle of my persona vs. the attributes of my athletic and martial arts capacity/ability. People know me for a few things. One is the spinning backfist. Two is that they recognize me for my attire. What people don’t realize is that I am more than a two-trick pony. It’s okay when you see Shoney in a suit and you know about the spinning backfist, but then you step foot in that cage and then you realize, “Oh shit!” I’m throwing you. You try to submit me, and then all of a sudden I’m getting out of your submission holds. You wonder if I know Jiu-jitsu, and then I’m like, “Apparently I do because I know what you’re doing and I’m able to escape it. I know how to escape it so therefore I should know how to do it.”
There is a pseudo-highlight reel of me throwing people. I laugh because, I’m not knocking Ronda Rousey or Karo Parisyan, but people think so much of them as Judo players. As a non-Olympic level wrestler, but an Olympic level Judo player, in just that one fight against Brad Gumm, I threw him eight times. It was eight different throws, mind you. People talk about how Ronda is 8-0 and she ain’t spent no time in the cage. I’m like, “She’s using Ne Waza with a little bit of Judo. She’s only using low level Judo.” They talk about Karo Parisyan, when he fought Dave Strasser, and he used Yoko Tomoe Nage to Ude Garami. It was a downward facing bent armlock and that was a higher level of Judo than what Ronda is doing. She’s doing Koshi Guruma or a headlock to a Juji Gatame, a cross-body armbar. That’s the old ways of Judo and most people don’t realize that’s the reason why she’s beating people. Women in MMA don’t know Judo. They don’t know Ne Waza. If you don’t know it, it’s like Sun Tzu’s book, “The Art of War” – “If you do not know your enemy as well as you know yourself, you shall surely be vanquished by your opponent.” I’ve told Miesha Tate and I’ve told other women fighters, “If you want to learn what she’s doing, I can teach you in ten minutes. Or I can teach you in ten days. Either way, I can teach you how to stop it and recognize when you are in danger.” But in this era of modern MMA, a lot of people think that because they’re in the UFC, they know everything and that they’re the alpha male or female of MMA. I’m like, “No. They’re young athletes with a big budget behind them. They get sponsored while training.” I never had that. I never once had full sponsorship while training as an athlete. It was just my dedication and love of the sport that kept me working hard.
JB: During your career, you had an amazing number of fights and you have been all over the world, Mr. International. As a veteran of the UFC, Pancrase, Shooto, WEC and so many others, what were a couple of stops along the way that stood out? And that’s besides the time you were stranded in Turkey.
SC: Ha-ha. The things that stood out in my career: getting lost in Russia while hanging out with the Russian mafia, teaching a Jiu-Jitsu seminar in Japan, climbing the Pyramid of Giza in Egypt while wearing a kilt, running up the Great Wall of China after I cut in front of 15,000 people because I didn’t want to wait in line, swimming in the Aegean Sea off the shores of Greece, getting into a bar-fight in Belfast, Ireland, and drinking real Guinness because what we drink here is cat piss, collecting seashells off the seashore of the Mediterranean, praying at the Wailing Wall in Israel and Bethlehem, walking the Via Dolorosa - the path that Jesus took on the way to his crucifixion, resting my hand where Jesus rested his head and left an imprint as the Roman soldiers beat him, drinking from the well from which Baby Jesus, Mary, and Joseph drank from, rowing a boat on the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary, going to Dracula’s Castle in Romania, shaking hands with Alexander Karelin. The list goes on and on.
But I actually got scared once. I chickened out of something. I got offered a chance to go surfing in Australia. I was like, “Yuck fou, buddy!” They were like, “Come on.” I said, “F--- you, there are sharks out there!” It was Surfers Paradise, and I was like, “No. I’m going to go look at these Ugg boots.” I found out how Ugg-ly they were and how much they cost.
I look back upon the past and the journey I’ve been engaged on, and I just love the idea of seeing the world and doing stuff that other fighters haven’t done or going where promotions haven’t been. If they been there, I’ve been there and done that, just like them, or I did it before them.
JB: Your last fight was a year ago this month, last September. Are there going to be any more fights for you?
SC: You know what? Actually, I’ve been so busy with the training of the fighters. I’m not saying, “No,” because Randy Couture fought until he was forty-seven and I’m only forty-one. But I have way more miles on my body than Randy. I look at it like this. I’ve been offered fights in Bellator. I lost that fight in King of the Cage because I took the fight on four days’ notice. My last few fight you would say, “Shonie, you’re losing.” I’m like, “I know. They keep calling me on short notice.” I would never do that anymore because I’m a man of a certain age and I need the time to train. Right now I’m walking around at a buff, svelte, 201 pounds. Is it fight shape? No. I’m in daddy shape. You know that tough dad that you see walking around in a tank top and Timberland boots on the beach or walking down the street? I’m buff dad right now. To get back in that type of shape, I would have to find some younger training partners because all my training partners are fat, old, and married with children. And that’s the truth.
I’ll be in Las Vegas next week with a heavyweight that I’ve got fighting in a title fight for Tuff-N-Uff, and people will be like, “How big are you now?” I’ll be like, “Jesus, why?” “Why weren’t you like this when you were fighting?” they’ll ask. At one time, I was 217, and I thought about doing a bodybuilding show. It would be fun because I’d get to wear Speedos voluntarily and people would have to look at me and take photos. But dude, their diet is ridiculous. It is way too much. Plus my girlfriend was getting mad because I would roll over in bed and crush her. She made me cut weight.
JB: As a true veteran of the sport, what do you think of what is going on with MMA right now and what it has become, and where do you think it’s headed?
SC: It’s a commercial money-making entity. When pioneers like myself did it, we did it for the love of it. Nowadays it’s about the love of money and entertainment. I did it for entertainment as well, yes, and stress management, and I love getting paid, but it was the journey, not the destination of making it to the UFC. I tripped and fell into the UFC, but nowadays there have been so many jobs created with mixed martial arts – the performance coaches, the dietary specialists, the reporters, the websites, the clothing lines, all the way down to the custodians who pick up the garbage after the graphic designers and bosses sign checks and contracts and throw them off into the garbage. With all these clothing stores that have opened up and the dojos, MMA is almost like an MMA McDonald’s. You got so many dojos and people offering MMA when they don’t know what fifteen and twenty-nine minutes are. I find that amusing.
The athletic commissions are involved, and they have these controversial criteria for decisions on what’s legal and what’s not. Instead of referring to the true experts of mixed martial arts, they come up with their own digital format of what they think is right, a virtual, theoretical format. A person, like myself, would have a hard time getting a job with an athletic commission or any particular promotion. You would think that you’d want a guy like me. If you decided that you wanted to learn how to competitively swim, you’d go to Michael Phelps. You don’t go to a guy that read a book on learning how to swim. Michael is going to tell you about all the strokes, the breathing techniques, everything. If I want to learn how to dive, I go to Greg Louganis. If I want to learn how to shoot, I go to a sniper, not the candlestick maker. If I want to learn to cut meat, I go to the butcher. If I want to learn to make a pie, I go to the baker. Well a lot of people don’t know how to go to the butcher, the baker, or the candlestick maker. I look at it like this. If you want to make money in a business, learn your craft and experience your craft. Don’t just sit there and think because you watched 5,000 matches that you know MMA. Because if you do not know what that twenty-ninth minute is, how do you expect to make money and say that you’re experienced enough to teach what MMA is? My professional opinion is that MMA is now MMAE, for entertainment. It’s a business.
They talk about drug testing and performance enhancing drugs. Well if you look at anything that you have to go buy and put it in your mouth or stick in your ass to help you get better, yes that’s a PED. If you didn’t kill it or grow it, if you bought it off a shelf, it’s a performance enhancing drug. The business of mixed martial arts is a money-making entity and I’m not knocking it. It’s great that fighters can make more money doing what they think they love. But for them, it’s just a destination point. One day the destination point ends. It’s Never Never Land. Just like in Peter Pan when they had to leave Never Never Land and go back home, the destination goes away. It’s the journey of it. That’s what people fail to realize. The destination looks “E-Z.” I call it “5-26.” I call it 5-26 because it’s the fifth and twenty-sixth letter of the alphabet, E and Z. But then they experience it and they go, “Mother, father, sister, brother, I did not realize what they’re doing is that difficult.”
A young lady that I’m training now, she used to hate grappling. She’s now training to be on my dual meet team and she’s like “Oh my God. This is so hard.” But she’s learning and she’s understanding it now. In mixed martial arts, we’ve got the cute shorts, Vale Tudo shorts for the ladies and you’ve got GSP wearing his little spandex. They sell the equipment with GSP on the cover, and then you buy it and find out it is a piece of s—-. Do you think that GSP really uses it? Ha-ha. In front of the cameras, he does because he deposits a check from that company. When the cameras ain’t rolling, he ain’t always using that equipment.
JB: Last question, Shonie, and thanks so much for doing this. What are your plans or goals for the future?
SC: That is a fully loaded question, probably the most loaded of this interview. First, I’m hoping my book will be out by the end of the year. And I will have pictures to prove everything. Second, right now I’m training young amateur fighters to get ready for an amateur IFL-like league. There will be a dual meet against Dan Severn’s team. We’re the Chicago Hitmen vs. his Detroit Ignition. It’s going to be a season of teams. I’ll be holding auditions for my team all the way up until October 9th. Ha! The dual meet is October 12th in Detroit. I’m filming a TV show too. You can see still photos of me on set on my page. It’s called “The Armbar.
JB: “So you’ve got a TV show, you’ve got a book, you’re coaching in a league, and you are doing a safari to find video for all of your old fights?”
SC: Yeah, I’m hunting and there is a reward for any fight footage that I don’t have. I’m giving away autographed UFC posters if anybody can get me fight footage of mine that I don’t have. If people want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook about it. But the biggest one is that we just got asked to do a pilot for Comcast SportsNet because they for some odd reason are interested in me and my co-host, Joel Radwanski. It will be off the wall. My show is not going to be me sitting there reading stats with a shirt and tie on. Sometimes you’re going to see me in a kilt. Sometimes you’ll see me in a kimono and a top hat. And you know that I know what I’m talking about. We’ll be talking about what grinds my gears about MMA. We’re going to have a crazy format. I don’t want to spill all the beans, but it’s going to be something way different than what you’re expecting from the typical MMA show. Most of the guys sit in two chairs with one camera pointed at them while they spew off fight stats and their opinions. I’m going to give it to you red, rugged, and raw, and I’m probably going to have to be edited for all the four-letter word expletives that seem to be prevalent in my vernacular. People are like, “What did he just say?” I went to college, damn it.
Also, I just got hired by one Mr. Thomas Atencio. If you don’t know who he is, he is the former president and co-founder of Affliction Clothing. He has started another company called “Grips Athletics.” He has products in a few different countries, and I’m going to be his Midwest sales rep. So you all can get in touch with me about getting the rash guards, fight gear and clothing, and kimonos. His gis are very unique because they have less than a 1% shrinkage rate and he is having stuff female cut, traditional cut, and tailored cut. It’s going to be something that I really, truly endorse. I’m going to be doing grappling tournaments exclusively in Grips kimonos.
I’m also going to do something that is not unprecedented, but crazy nevertheless. For you all out there, no prank calls because I will prank call you back – 312-256-5079 for you dojo owners, you Senseis, Sifus, Shihans, team leaders, customer service reps, people that are interested in buying kimonos and rash guards, give me a call. Shoot me a text first.
JB: You want me to put your number on the UG in this interview?
SC: Yes. Entirely. Yes, I don’t mind at all.
Thank you so much for reading and please follow Shonie Carter and Jack Brown on Twitter.
Visit JackJohnBrownMMA on Facebook for links to all of Jack’s past interviews. Previous interviews include: Dan Hardy, Rose Namajunas, Joe Lauzon, War Machine, Tom Lawlor, Bas Rutten, Chris Leben, Phil Baroni, Julie Kedzie, Michael Bisping, Duane Ludwig, Sara McMann, Matt Lindland, Duke Roufus, Pat Miletich, Jens Pulver, Dan Severn, Nate Quarry, Ken Shamrock, Matt Serra, Jeremy Horn, Ray Longo, Kevin Randleman, Dennis Hallman, Daniel Cormier, and dozens more.
Thank you to @KirikJenness for @theUG.
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