TWAS: Wrestling is a martial art, MMA is kind of a knuckleheaded job
This is number fifty-eight in Jack Brown’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature UFC welterweight veteran, Brian Ebersole. Ebersole is a charismatic and entertaining man of the world who has fought on four continents. At the age of thirty-one, Ebersole got his fiftieth victory and fought for the sixty-seventh time in his professional MMA career. It’s been a while since Ebersole entertained us with his latest chest hair, but fear not. He shall return. 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?
Brian Ebersole: My first combat sport was wrestling. I began at five years old. I simply recall saying “No” the first time I was asked by my father, then I answered “Yes” a day or three later. I’d already had a few good wrestles with cousins, and I had seen my youngest uncle at a high school match (a memory that sticks with me even now), and I really enjoyed my first experiences. The social aspect and high level of activity/action really appealed to me and had me wanting to go to practice every afternoon.
My first fight was in June, 2000, as I was on summer break from University. And it became more than a hobby when I decided to move to California (American Kickboxing Academy) to pursue the sport seriously. Mind you, I’d had thirty-six fights during the three years that I still considered the sport a hobby.
I never defined wrestling as a martial art until I had nearly forty fights. I guess it took me that long to define myself as a martial artist. So my first real experience with the concept of martial arts was a mental one, not physical.
JB: What do you recall about your first professional MMA fight, now more than thirteen years ago, and how prepared do you feel you were at the time?
BE: I was on summer holiday, and still a member of the EIU wrestling team (offseason, obviously). My first foray into submission grappling training had begun in 1996. It was a hobby I took up alongside a group of friends who I played basketball with on a regular basis. Strange that a few of us were combat athletes (Kenpo, Karate, and wrestling) brought together through pickup games of basketball. But we ended up experimenting with the submission wrestling as introduced by the early UFCs.
I felt better prepared than my 0-0 opponent, as I’d already competed in over five hundred wrestling matches. I figured he had to be more nervous than I was. Plus, I’d had great success with implementing my strategy when sparring with my group of friends and a few other serious martial artists. My first fight was truly the one where I felt the least pressure.
JB: By the time you debuted in the UFC, in February 2011, you had more than sixty professional fights, and you had amassed a record of 46-14-1-1. During those first eleven years of your career, you fought in several weight classes, all over the world, and against a number of well-known fighters including Stephan Bonnar, Ed Herman, Matt Horwich, Hector Lombard, and Carlos Newton. What were the highlights of those years and those fights?
BE: Each of the names you mention are on my list of career highlights. Obviously, they were top competitors, but each bout had a unique situation and story behind it. They’re stories that’ll fill the pages of a book when I finally get around to writing one.
I truly thought about retiring after the Carlos Newton fight. I was not very optimistic about my chances of getting into the UFC. I’d begun carving out a niche in Australia as a grappling coach, and was unsure if I’d really want to move back to the USA to chase fights with other promotions such as Strikeforce and Bellator. So I was at a crossroads. And to say that my farewell fight was versus a former champion of the UFC would have made for a compelling final chapter in the story of my career. But alas, it was just the final chapter of my first book!
JB: You had a tremendous debut in the UFC, at UFC 127 in Australia, when, as a late replacement for Carlos Condit, you defeated the heavily-favored, Chris Lytle. In retrospect, what do you appreciate most about that entire experience?
BE: What I appreciate most? That’s hard to say, but two things come to mind.
1. Gratitude. I was thankful for the opportunity to share the grandest stage that MMA offers with a legend. And I was thankful that my family and friends were able to truly share that one moment in time with me. It was a heightened experience, and one that we shared together. Note that most of my fights had not allowed me the same experience. Phone calls and emails spread the word of those results, and if I was lucky, people may have accessed a video of the event months later (Sometimes years later).
2. Validation. I had chased “success” for quite a long time. My personality had changed. My skill-set had changed. My world-view had changed. But my goal in the sport had not, and with a big outing at UFC 127, I was finally able to justify my pursuit of knowledge, constant competition, and the time away from all that was familiar and comfortable (USA, family, friends, regular employment, etc.).
JB: After that initial victory against Lytle, you went on to win your next three fights in the UFC, including a very colorful and entertaining win against veteran, Dennis Hallman. Then, less than a month after defeating TJ Waldburger, you took another late replacement fight. However, you lost that fight, via split decision, to James Head at UFC 149. How did that, your first loss in the UFC and your first loss in four years, affect you?
BE: I’m a bit frustrated with myself. First, I’m frustrated for taking the fight. I pressed my luck, and was being greedy. I should have continued on my short, post-fight, USA holiday (I’d just fought Waldburger as you mentioned). But instead, I made the call to “let it ride.”
And second, I’m frustrated that I didn’t fight smart. I could have stood there and won the third round by committing to a striking game. But my insistence/stubbornness to wrestle clouded my judgment. In my mind, shooting in, and neither of us gaining a position, that doesn’t really put points on the board for anyone. But I allowed the story of that round to become about my inability to take him down.
And then, with an injury that needed some serious attention, I’ve been unable to get right back into competing. So sitting this long with a loss as my last result, burns at me quite a bit.
JB: Your last fight was nearly one year ago, in July, 2012. What have you been up to during this past year and what’s next for you in your fighting career?
BE: I had committed to a coaching job at Tiger Muay Thai, in Phuket, Thailand, in early 2012. The plan was to begin working there in 2013, and I did. I’ve had the pleasure of training, and training with, people from all over the world, and I have had the opportunity to learn from our topnotch staff. We have 4th Degree BJJ Black Belt, Fernando Maccachero, a product of Brazilian Top Team. He’s an encyclopedia of strategy and technique. Roger Huerta coaches the MMA and wrestling classes with me, and he’s been a pleasure to be around. And our Muay Thai Trainers are amazing!
Since I last fought, I’ve put a fair few frequent miles up on the board. I’ve been to Australia, the USA, and Thailand on multiple occasions, and I have made trips to Singapore, Malaysia, South Africa, and The Philippines. So my passport is becoming quite full.
And I’ve just gotten engaged to be married. My partner, Alecia, has been travelling with me for nearly two years. And we got engaged just before leaving her family’s home in Australia to return to Thailand.
So I’ve not exactly been bored, but as far as getting back into full-on training with an eye toward a fight, I still have a little more progress that needs to be made with my injury. I hope the next few weeks go well, as I’d like to look at scheduling my next bout. Whether in late 2013 or early 2014, I just want to be healthy and come back with the energy I’m used to having.
JB: Of all the active fighters out there, who are some of the ones that you would most like to fight or to rematch?
BE: I don’t really look at picking fights too much. I mean, before I got into the UFC, I would set my sights on the top guys in a division (and I dropped divisions and went up divisions in order to get such bouts). But now that I’m in the UFC, each fight offers a worthy opponent and each fight is important. But to amuse everyone, I’ll throw out a few.
I’ve not been shy about my views on the Diaz Brothers. They are talented kids with bad attitudes. I’ve run across so many of them in my lifetime (and I was one for many years, just minus the cursing), and I’ve always enjoyed pushing their buttons. So to go through a pre-fight buildup with one of those guys, I’d find that to be both annoying but fun all at the same time. It’s amazing what a bit of bother can bring out of me. So I’d embrace the opportunity to get bothered and let fly with some jabs and attempts at humor.
I’d rematch all of them. I’d love to fight every single person I’ve ever fought, one more time. I’d like to prove I can beat the people I’ve lost to. And I’d like to try and win other fights in a more beautiful manner.
JB: You are definitely one of the more entertaining fighters in the sport, with your cartwheel kicks, your unchokability, and your chest hair. Certainly, you are an original, but who are the fighters or entertainers who you admire or who have influenced you?
•Sakuraba – So fluid and skillful. Didn’t hold back very much, and was entertaining because of it.
•Matt Hughes – My former university wrestling coach and someone I saw progress through his own career, using a similar skill-set.
•Jon Jones – He’s done a few things that I had imagined and considered doing, but I haven’t due to some physical limitations. He’s gone and done them against top competition. Bravo!
•Renzo – He’s fearless and funny.
JB: What else do you enjoy outside of training and fighting, and who are the individuals who have supported you most in life?
BE: I have always enjoyed the outdoors. I’ve been caught up in the martial arts, and training indoors, for so long. But I enjoy a day outside, throwing a ball, running through a national park, climbing trees, etc. And I used to love camping, as my family had fairly regular summer trips when I was younger. Hopefully, as my career winds down, I’ll make time to get back to those simple pleasures.
Individuals who’ve supported me the most in life? Now that’s quite a list.
•My parents – Allowing me to be me. Just enough support and just enough criticism to make me think, to keep me motivated, and keep me progressing along my own pathway.
•My grandparents – Nurture, structure, character, and humor.
•Keith and Richard Wolford – I owe my wrestling career to them, as my first coaches. If they didn’t care, or weren’t such good-spirited people, myself and many teammates may not have returned season after season. The reason our team had such a high retention rate, and the reason many of us kept out of trouble, was the character-driven messages that these two delivered.
•Bernie Ruettiger – High school wrestling coach. An extension of what the Wolford’s had begun, Coach Ruettiger became that figure in my life, the role model, the coach, and the mentor. And though we speak less often than we did in the 90’s, he still plays that role. Still inspires me, even at the thought of him.
•Frank Shamrock – The first person to teach me that wrestling was a martial art, and further, that I was a martial artist. His words and influence are still teaching me to this very day, though they were spoken many years ago.
•Ed Bavelock – He’s been in my corner for each and every UFC fight, and was the first Australian gym owner to offer me a seminar. That seminar was a game-changer, as it allowed me to look at the sport differently. It allowed me the freedom of choice, regarding when/where/how to offer my services as an instructor (thus freeing up much more time for my own training and travel).
•Justin Lawrence – XFC (Australia) promoter. My first fight outside of North America was on his October, 2006, event. He’s been a friend and supporter of mine ever since, and had taken on a management role when I signed with the UFC. Hugely influential in helping me get a shot in the UFC, as he was able to keep me on Joe Silva’s radar and that was enough when UFC 127 needed a welterweight replacement.
•Fari Salievski – Owner of KMA in Liverpool, NSW (Australia). Another gym owner who’d offered me the opportunity to teach at his school, both as a seminar host and a live-in instructor (literally, I lived in the gym!). Forever assisting me with both the big and small things that come up, I don’t know where I’d be without this guy. He’s introduced me to so many people and always makes time to share his wisdom over a meal, or on the mat. And had I not had the contract to teach at his gym, I’d never have met my future bride.
•Taff Davies – Another Australian gym owner (The Arena in Rockingham, WA), he has hosted me for training camps (I lived in his home and he saw me through multiple sessions per day), changed the way I value strength and conditioning, and has travelled to corner me on multiple occasions. He was my primary cornerman for the Carlos Newton fight and also made the trip to my first UFC event in Sydney.
•My fiancée – Obviously! She had resigned from a well-paying job, sold her home, and left her country, all on the promises of love, travel, flowers, and rainbows. And she’s been a great supporter of my sporting efforts. Besides yelling at me, I mean inspiring me, to get out of bed to go train, she genuinely takes an interest in the sport and has found so many ways to assist me in this journey.
JB: Last question, Brian, 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?
BE: What it means to be a fighter? Well, I’m not overly proud of the fact that I fight people for a living. It’s a pretty knuckleheaded thing, actually. But being a sportsman and a martial artist, that has allowed me to use my gifts to both teach and inspire. The choice to pursue martial arts has allowed me the chance to be a seeker of knowledge. One of the greatest gifts the sport has given me is the introduction to Eastern Philosophies and a thirst for knowledge across all disciplines (math, history, science, philosophy, etc.). With that, I’ve been able to learn about the internal environment, to look within. And I’ve been able to detach, slightly, from the rat-race, the 9-5, and the “Keeping up with the Joneses” routine.
Being able to fight in front of a whole lot of drunk people is better than fighting in front of a few drunk people. But either way, it’s still fighting for the sake of entertaining drunk people. I could compete anywhere, and be happy. I enjoy the thrill of the game. The fact that I have to live in that very moment, that’s nice. It gives no opportunity to fall victim to ADD, that’s for certain. So yeah, the competition is fantastic. I feel alive, invigorated, and I love the mental battle that ensues. One fight, I enjoy it as much as I can, and then it’s gone. My career, I view much the same. I’ll enjoy it as much as I can, because when injury and age catch up to me, it’ll be gone.
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