You’re coming off a big TKO of Mark Munoz. How’s life been since the fight?
I went out to Long Island a few days after I got home to celebrate with friends, and it all kinda struck me just how crazy everything has gotten. I’ve been coming to these clubs my whole life and nobody really recognized me. Now, all of a sudden, I’m taking photos and spending my whole night getting friends-of-friends past security. It’s a weird feeling, but everyone out here on Long Island takes pride in each other’s accomplishments, which is cool.
Remember that time you had to lose 32 pounds in 12 days before fighting one of the top five middleweights on the planet? Is it okay to say that every wrestler around the country did a silent fist pump when they heard you made weight?
You know what? That was something else. Demian Maia is so tough, but I knew that if I wanted to make a splash in MMA, I had to make sure I took every tough fight. First thing was having to lose all that weight. Honestly, it was the toughest thing I’ve ever done. No joke, toughest cut I’ve ever had.
You were a two-time NCAA Division I All-American at Hofstra University, which means you spent a hell of a lot of time winning wrestling matches for free. What does it feel like to get paid to win?
I’ll never forget the first time I was paid to win a competition. I entered a Grapplers Quest BJJ tournament a few years ago and submitted 13 guys to win the Absolute Division, and they handed me a check for $1000. I seriously thought I was the man. I can’t even tell you how excited I was. I started thinking, if I could win these more often, I could make a living.
How are the paychecks in the UFC?
Let me put it to you this way, my wife and I were living in my parent’s basement when I got called up for my first UFC fight against Alessio Sakara. Next fight, I won the Submission of the Night bonus for choking out Jesse Bongfeldt. My cousin and I went in together on a house, and that’s where I live with my wife and two kids. Don’t get me wrong, the house is great, but it’s actually the little stuff that I totally appreciate. Like, I just bought new underwear and matching socks—that I have matching socks kinda lets me know that I’ve made it.
Anything else that you’re planning to purchase with the bigger checks?
The next big purchase I’m going to make is buying my wife a new wedding ring. When we got engaged, I had no money, so her ring is really cheap, like too cheap. I want to go out and get her something more than a carat, you know? We’re going to take the other one and make it into a necklace, because it’s a symbol of where we were when we got engaged. But I’m a man, and I want my wife to have something she can be proud to wear.
She must be excited.
Trust me, she’s excited and that makes me a happy guy.
There aren’t too many married fighters in the UFC.
Not at all. I think that’s because fighting takes so much dedication and time at the gym that it can be too stressful for a relationship. To balance it, you have to have a wife and family that is super supportive and willing to pitch in all the time. My wife gave birth on June 7, one month before my Munoz fight. That’s tough, but it’s that type of stuff—like leaving your newborn boy at home to go grab a workout—that makes me train harder and stay focused.
How goes your lobbying effort for a title shot against Anderson Silva?
Like Chael Sonnen told me on-air after the fight, I have to get better at selling myself. Right now, I guess I’m just not as good at being really outspoken about what I want, but I’m totally confident I should be the guy. I’m telling you that I’m a terrible matchup for Anderson Silva. There’s no question in my mind that I’m going to take him down and submit him—no question at all. He’s never faced anyone like me before, and I’m going to submit him and take the belt.
That was a pretty good sales job.
[Laughing] Yeah well, I’ve been working on it.