Below is the full transcript of our conversation, including a couple of touch-ups by George via email afterwards.
Andrew: My research tells me that you had a history in amateur boxing in Australia before you decided to start travelling the world to learn other styles of fighting. I’m interesting to know what you found attractive about mixed martial arts (MMA) in the first place.
George: Boxing was the last type of amateur competition I did before fighting mixed martial arts. I already had an extensive background in Jiu-Jitsu, Submission Grappling, and Freestyle Wrestling before I started Boxing. Boxing was the last stop that I made to round off my skills in preparation for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). I started with Jiu-Jitsu to develop skills in ground fighting. Then I added wresting to learn takedowns. Finally, I implemented boxing to add striking to my skill set which got me ready for MMA.
Why did you decide to stick with MMA?
I decided to do MMA before I decided on anything else. I saw UFC back in ’97 at a friend’s place one night before heading out, and I basically decided then that’s what I wanted to do. So I set off on an expedition to get myself trained as a mixed martial artist. I had no formal training or skill in mixed martial arts. I was attracted to MMA by the display of Jiu-Jitsu by the Gracie family, and that’s basically what I wanted to learn. I started with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. MMA was evolving, and other styles were becoming effective, so I added wrestling.
It was the grapplers/Jiu-Jitsu artists that were the most effective in the beginning, then the wrestlers followed by the strikers. Therefore, I added the boxing last as the sport and I evolved.
I trained and competed in all the styles I practiced. My total experience in Jiu-Jitsu is about 130 grappling / Jiu-Jitsu bouts, 15-20 bouts in freestyle wrestling, 10 amateur boxing matches and one professional. My MMA record is now 13-2, plus the three exhibitions bouts I had when I was on The Ultimate Fighter. That totals 18 MMA fights.
I developed the skills and experience by training and competing in the individual sports. It would be very hard to go out there and become a mixed martial arts fighter without the specific experience. So I trained specifically to acquire those skills.
Congratulations on your 9-0 record so far in the UFC, by the way. I watched your last couple of fights in preparation for this. I’m interested to know where you think you’re strongest as a fighter.
I train Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, boxing and Muay Thai. But I’m mostly known for my Jiu-Jitsu skills because that’s where I have given the greatest display. However, I address and work on everything equally.
What does your average week of training look like?
It’s a very gruelling and intense training schedule. I train three times a day from Monday to Friday, and I usually train once or twice on the weekends.
Does that amount of training increase in the lead up to a fight or do you keep it steady, even up to the day before the fight?
Training is usually six to eight hours a day, which remains constant right up to fight week.
That seems to be working for you. You’ve been with guys like Eddie Bravo and Leonard Gabriel since November 2008. How important do you feel your team is to your success so far?
Very important. They believe in me and I have faith in them. They’re guiding the ship. They’re as much a part of it as I am.
I’ve seen you say that by the time you’re fighting, when you’re in the ring, you’re calm and there’s nothing frightening or surreal about it. Is there any difference between training in a gym with your team and fighting in front of 20,000 people? Is there a different kind of mindset required or do you feel it’s the same?
No, you train day in and day out for that moment. All scenarios, possibilities, techniques and strategies are covered in training that will be executed in the fight. On fight day the work has already been done – the training is harder than the fight because so much was done in preparation for the fight.
What happens after a UFC match, George? As the winner, do you now meet with the officials and they decide your next match, and who you’re fighting next?
I’ll be informed of who and when I will fight next. My team and I will study the opponent, run strategies, scenarios and address his strengths and weaknesses.
There’s some chatter about trying to get your next UFC fight to happen in Melbourne, but MMA events are currently banned in Victoria. Do you know why?
Not sure why they’re banned, but I have been present at several sanctioned MMA events in Melbourne which were held in a boxing ring, not a cage. So it might be a technicality.
There’s too many reasons why MMA and the UFC will be held in Melbourne. First, it is a legitimate, credible and regulated sport. Secondly, the boost which it will give the local economy is too substantial to be ignored; our economy needs everything it can get, along with the international exposure that comes from the events.
Why do you think that some people have a problem with mixed martial arts fighting?
There’s a misconception from some journalists, writers, politicians and other public groups. The sport has comes a long way since it started back in 1993. The sport now has weight classes, time limits and is strictly regulated, supervised and judged by professionals.
Rules have been introduced, there’s structured ways of competition, fighter safety is paramount, and it’s a professional sport. MMA combines all the elements of the Olympic stadium events; amateur boxing, taekwondo, freestyle wrestling, Greco roman wrestling and judo. These styles are the make up and blueprint of MMA.
MMA should be accepted and regulated because it is a bi-product of Olympic sports. Furthermore, MMA was in the ancient Olympics, originally named Pankration. There is a long history; we are witnessing the rebirth of true combat sports.
To me, it’s one of the purest forms of professional athletic endurance. It’s just two guys in a ring using their training to take the other one down. There’s not much more to it.
That is part of it. In a street fight, anything goes. People can utilise any object as a weapon; they can literally take a person’s life. MMA is a sport with technique. The only way you’re going to win is utilising real skills and technique, from boxing, taekwondo, muay thai, wrestling, judo, jiu jitsu and any other martial art style out there. Skill is effective, not brutality. There is no such martial art or style called ‘street fighting’, only the wild imaginations of thugs and misinformed politicians and writers.
That’s the big misconception; people don’t understand. It’s a new sport which only been around for 20 years. People are not fully informed about the facts, so that’s why people jump the gun. But that’s going to change. UFC is the fourth most viewed sport in the U.S.A. It’s huge. Pay-per-view’s in the millions, and up to 20,000 in attendance at events. It’s mainstream now. Australia follows the same trends as the western world whether it be sports or any other professional field.
Your Sydney fight in February at the Acer Arena (UFC 110) was huge. It set the merch record for the venue, beating out Iron Maiden. The fact that obviously it sold out quickly indicates that there’s obviously an audience for it, and it’s turned mainstream. Do you see yourself as an ambassador for MMA in Australia?
Definitely, I’m one of Australia’s leading competitors representing my country. It’s also my responsibility to educate the Australian community and provide insight about the sport. It’s a safe and regulated sport. Safer than the boxing, muay thai, or kick boxing which have been around for decades. MMA is safer because of the wrestling and grappling components. Consequently, resulting in less striking during bouts and training which means less head trauma.
Why do you think people are attracted to watching UFC, and MMA in general?
To quote Dana White, the president of the UFC: fighting is in our genes. People are naturally attracted to fighting. This is the ultimate form of fighting, so naturally people are going to be attracted to it. Fighting has been a part of human evolution; we evolved fighting, dating back to caveman. That’s why it’s in our instincts. Finally, it’s definitely the most exciting sport and it sells itself. The presence of striking, grappling, and wrestling makes for exciting action.
Can you describe the feeling once a fight begins?
You must prepare for all scenarios; standing, ground, the clinch, submissions, striking with your hands, elbows, knees and feet. You’ve got to be prepared for everything. All bases must be covered.
It’s exciting. The offense can come from just about anywhere. The only way I can describe mixed martial arts is navigating through an asteroid field, asteroids coming from any direction. You’ve got to be ready for everything.
Outside of fighting, George, do you have any vices? Do you drink, smoke, play video games?
I do not drink. But I will have a glass of wine after my fight. Mostly, I just like training and fighting, and not much else. It’s a full-time commitment. When I’m not training I’m preparing to train or getting ready for a week of training, which it leaves little time for anything else.
One last thing. There’s a bit of a misconception that anyone who pursues professional fighting generally isn’t an educated person, but when researching you I was interested to find that you had a business degree. You’re clearly very articulate and well spoken.
A lot of the fighters who are in this sport have college degrees. So you can’t stereotype people because of the misconception of fighting being done by the poorer or underprivileged classes in society.
In my case, I went to school, graduated, have a degree and associate diploma. I worked in finance, shipping and various other professions growing up. I chose MMA because it’s what I enjoy and love doing. It’s also my obligation and duty to represent it professionally since I am representing my country.
Congratulations on your success so far, George. I wish you more of it.
For more on George Sotiropoulos, visit his website.
The above transcript appeared in edited form for a story in the September 2010 issue of Australian Penthouse – read it here.
I’ve embedded a video of George’s UFC highlights below, but since UFC generally aren’t too keen on allowing their footage to appear on YouTube, I can’t guarantee it’ll stay up for long.