Lightweight competitor Dave Kaplan was front and center during this past Wednesday’s episode of The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV and despite being eliminated from competition at the end of the show, he made a lasting impression.
Kaplan was seen on being on the receiving end of a vicious prank that could go down as one of the most infamous moments in reality television. But was it all that it was portrayed as being? Not so, according to Kaplan, who denied in a recent interview with FiveOuncesOfPain.com of ever having eaten the tainted sushi.
During our extensive conversation with Kaplan, we not only discussed the sushi incident but also more serious matters such as his fight at the end of the show with Phillipe Nover, how he sees Frank Mir’s UFC 92 fight vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in December going down, what the future holds for him as a fighter, and more.
The transcript of the interview is now available below.
Sam Caplan: After the fight, you really held back in giving any sort of credit to your opponent, Phillipe Nover. Do you believe your feelings were portrayed accurately?
Dave Kaplan: I would say yeah. The way I was feeling at the time and the way they showed it, I would say it was pretty accurate.
Sam Caplan: Having had some separation between the outcome of the fight, do you feel Phillipe might deserve more credit than you were willing to give him?
Dave Kaplan: To answer that question, yes. Phillipe is a phenomenal fighter. He’s very well-rounded. I hope he ends up making it to the final. I hope he wins the thing. If I have to lose to somebody, I’d like it to be to the best person.
I don’t feel like I neglected to give him credit on purpose. I was more in the moment thinking about the mistake I had made. I can say even now, the outcome of the fight was directly contributable to a stupid mistake I had made and not something Phillipe had done necessarily.
Had I taken him serious as an opponent, I think the fight would have been a lot different. Now with that being said, I don’t want that to sound like sour grapes. He beat me. It happened. He was the first person in history that’s been able to knock me down so I have to give credit for that.
Sam Caplan: So you didn’t take him seriously going into the fight?
Dave Kaplan: Yeah. Sadly, when you look back on it and how good of a fighter he is, people are going to be like, “Well, Kaplan is an idiot.” But let me explain. The reason I did what I did in the Octagon was because I was so grossly over-confident in — and not just in my skills, I’m always confident in my skills — but I thought that there was not one thing that Phillipe could do to hurt me (and) to beat me. That’s part of the reason why I dropped my hands and let him hit me because I wanted him to know there wasn’t anything he could do.
Now, why did I feel that way? I felt that way because I am confident in my skills, number one, and I still think that I am one of the best combination of fighters there. Were there lightweights that were there that were better in one aspect? For sure. Shane Nelson for instance has an edge in jiu-jitsu. I never got to see Rolando’s jiu-jitsu but he’s a black belt so I would say he probably has an advantage on the ground. But the guys that have advantages in one spot, such as the ground, were guys that couldn’t take me down or stand with me. I felt I was (the most well-rounded mixed martial artist). Of the guys that were also good combination fighters such as Junie, I would say I had an edge in conditioning because his conditioning wasn’t very good.
That was part of it and the other part of it was that I didn’t know anything about Phillipe. I didn’t talk to him hardly ever. He really kept to himself on the show, as was shown. And I didn’t get to see his fight with Joe Duarte to get into the house so I was basically told what happened by different people and they didn’t paint a good picture for him. I mean, obviously he won but Duarte was basically supposed to be a pure striker and they told me he was able to take Phillipe down and that he was basically dominating Phillipe and had gassed out. I didn’t think a whole lot about Phillipe because I didn’t know a lot about him. But at the same time maybe I should have given him a lot more respect because Frank told me he wanted me to fight him because he thought he was the best guy on their team. Hindsight is 20/20 but at the time, that’s how I felt.
Sam Caplan: You mentioned Junie Browning and Junie continued to be involved with controversy, as he was shown passing on trade secrets to Phillipe Nover behind Team Mir’s back. Was last night the first time you became aware he did that?
Dave Kaplan: Yes, but to a certain extent the week before when they teased it, I talked to Tom Lawlor from the show, he’s one of my best buddies, and Vinny, they called me up and told me a little bit about it but it didn’t surprise me at all.
Sam Caplan: It didn’t surprise you? Because a few weeks prior you were shown as the guy going out of his way to help Junie make weight. You appeared to be one of the few guys in his corner.
Dave Kaplan: Here’s the thing about that: I will give you two aspects of that. Number one, it doesn’t bother me if someone tells someone else how I am going to fight. Let’s say you and I are going to fight and I’ll tell you to your face: I throw a lot of low kicks, as you can see in the first fight that I did. And I’ll tell you what I do. It’s not going to change how I fight. And it really doesn’t help you out that much for someone to just tell you what I do, so it really doesn’t bother me that much. The way that we train, I train now with Frank here in Vegas, and when I’m sparring guys, he’ll yell out that I’m going to throw something and I’m still going to land it. So I’m not really worried about it.
Number two, Junie was there 100 percent for himself so there was any loyalty to me or to the team. You’re talking about a guy that more than one occasion told the coaches that they weren’t his real coaches and that he couldn’t learn anything from them. We’re talking Frank Mir, UFC champion. We’re talking about Demian Maia and Robert Drysdale, many times BJJ world champions.
The fact that he wasn’t loyal to anyone but himself didn’t surprise me. Everybody is there for themselves. The reason why I helped him cut weight is because I want to see the guy get into the ring and have to fight. I don’t want to see him get out of it by not making weight or the other guy winning by a forfeit. Nobody wants to win by forfeit — well, maybe Rolando would have liked to. You know what? He’s going to fight in the semis and I can tell you there is a good chance I will have to help him cut weight again.
The stuff that he said on the show, it’s very interesting how they portray certain things with the way the editors put stuff together, such as how he says nobody wants to train with him. Well, that’s because both Shane Nelson and I — and I don’t know if you notice by watching that specific scene, but I have a shaved head, so it’s obviously after I’ve fought. So I’ve just lost. Shane Nelson lost in the first or second week. So we’re basically to help him. We don’t need to be there. I could have been hanging out at the house during the last six days after my fight. But we were there because Frank wanted us to help him get ready for his semifinal fight.
Both Shane and I had submitted him a number of times. Shane consistently was getting him with the same guillotine and I was consistently getting him with the same Kimura-like armbars. And every time that happens, he doesn’t stop to ask us how we got it. He just gets more and more frustrated and emotional and makes more mistakes and starts to try to hit you harder. So I don’t need to sit there and get cut because the guy is having a tantrum. That’s why you see me say after the grappling that we did, “Let’s take a break, you’re getting emotional.” If you watch the rest of that, I tell him he’s just going to make the same mistake over and over. And he stands up and throws his stuff down and the rest of us just laugh. Because what can you do if the guy doesn’t want your help?
Sam Cpalan: So you’re out in Vegas now working with Frank Mir?
Dave Kaplan: I am. It’s also funny because I also train at Xtreme Couture a couple of times a week and Junie is out here now so I’m actually probably going to spar with him today. But I train with Frank every day at Striking Unlimited, which is the predominant gym I train at, but I do train at both places.
Sam Caplan: How is Frank’s training camp going so far?
Dave Kaplan: It’s going very well. He had a small injury to his back, to one of his disks. He was out for about a week, or not even a week. He’s just getting back today from commentating at the WEC. He’s looking really good and a lot of people on the Internet or casual fights fans, they look at the four guys that are fighting for the title and the interim title and at some point the combined title — which I still don’t understand how you can have an interim title with only one organization — but at the same time, of those four guys I think people give Frank the least chance (of winning). But people are going to be very surprised.
Sam Caplan: Talk about the Nogueira fight. How do you see that going?
Dave Kaplan: I can tell you that Frank’s jiu-jitsu is really on point. The same with Nogueira. A lot of people might say that Nogueira has the edge there, but I wouldn’t say that. Both guys are very good grapplers for MMA. I mean, we’re not talking about the Gi. You take the Gi off and people can punch you. The black belt doesn’t make as much of a difference.
Frank’s striking… I don’t want to say it has improved, because he was already a good striker. But we’re working certain things that I’ve been able to help him with coming from my background, and Ken, the owner of Striking Unlimited and Frank’s striking coach, has really been able to really help him with.
If you think about Nogueira, he doesn’t do a lot of things. He’s a very competent striker (and) it’s very difficult to knock the guy out. I don’t think he’s ever been knocked out. He’s got a really good chin and he’s been through a bunch of wars. But he doesn’t kick a lot, for instance, and I don’t think I’ve ever see him kick. So it’s basically just boxing and there are a lot of things that we’re working on with Frank that I think he’s going to do well and it’s going to take Nogueira to places and positions that maybe he doesn’t train a lot.
Plus, Frank is very strong. He’s going to come in at a good weight and he’s going to be in shape.
Sam Caplan: During the show, it appeared that you and Frank have a pretty good rapport. Did the two of you know each other prior to filming?
Dave Kaplan: No, I had never met him. And the funny thing about that is the first day when he picked me on the team, he’s actually fought two of the guys I’ve trained with. In Holland, I trained with Antoni Hardonk at the same gym. And in D.C., where I lived, I was training with Team Lloyd Irvin, which is where Brandon Vera was training.
Brandon was actually the first guy I was training with when I had gotten into MMA. I had just graduated college in Norfolk, Virginia and he was living there. Then he moved to San Diego and I ended up moving to Holland before moving back to D.C. Frank had actually gotten beaten up pretty bad by one of my teammates and then had beaten one of my other teammates so it was interesting the first day and talking about that.
We respect each other a lot. I think he sees in me my specialty as something that isn’t his specialty and his specialty, grappling, isn’t mine. So there is a lot I can learn from him, and maybe even one or two things he can learn from me.
Sam Caplan: So you had been living in the D.C.-area? How’d you end up in Vegas?
Dave Kaplan: After the show, or, actually while we were on the show, a lot of us — Tom for instance — decided to make the move. Frank said that after the show he would love for us to come out and help him get ready for the fight. And consequently, Nogueira told me I should come down to Miami to train. I had a good relationship with all of the coaches. I liked all of the coaches.
Nogueira came up to me the last week and said he really, really liked me but that at the beginning of the show he thought that I was a punk and that disrespectful. And that’s part of the reason why he didn’t pick me for his team, he told me. (He told me he partially felt that way) because I had made a little fun of their coach, Al Stankie. But of course, as the show goes on, Nogueira realizes that the guy is nuts. They could have made an entire show about Al Stankie and the stuff that would come out of his month.
I had a good relationship with both guys. Frank asked me about coming out to Vegas and it’s always been a place that I had liked. If I had never even been on the show, I was still planning to move out to LA anyway this year. It just kind of fell in and I like being out here.
Sam Caplan: I wanted to ask you about Al Stankie. It seems like he’s playing the Burgess Meredith role on the show. Was he able to bring any insight or help to the fighters?
Dave Kaplan: That’s something you’ve got to ask Phillipe and the red team guys. I never got a chance to train with him. A lot of us wanted during the last two days of training to cross-train and I would have loved to go train with Team Nogueira after I had already lost. But that guy, I’m sure he has a wealth of knowledge in his head about boxing. And I think he obviously helped a number of guys and motivated them. But the Al Stankie that I saw was just a crazy guy. The things that he would say were hilarious.
Sam Caplan: Can you give me an example?
Dave Kaplan: We’re sitting there and the executive producer comes out and we’re all sitting in the back. I think this is before one of the fight announcements and she’s about to get us lined up and get the cameras in position. And she’s just telling us something about staph infection and if anyone has staph infection let her know because she can get us medicine for it. Al Stankie is sitting next to the bench on the wall and out of nowhere he says to her, “I wouldn’t want to have to box you, but I would love to wrestle you.” Just out of nowhere and everybody is just like, “What the hell is this guy saying?”
I don’t know. He’s a funny guy. He’s constantly trying to tell crazy stories and he’ll put his hands on your collar so that you can’t walk away. But I think he liked me because he’d say something and I’d give it right back to him. He would say something, “Blah, blah, blah” and I would just be like, “Stankie, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”
Later in the season, like during the last week, somebody told me he basically just drinks. One of the Nogueira coaches told me, because they all had to stay in the same apartment, that he basically drinks all the time. So he was basically drunk most of the time. So it makes a lot more sense to me now because I had thought that he was just kooky. I wish they had put more about him on the show because he was really funny.
Sam Caplan: Given the circumstances, you remained relatively calm after eating the tainted sushi. Were you holding back at all? I know a lot of people that would have gone berserk in that situation.
Dave Kaplan: Yes and no. You know, I’ll tell you — I was keeping this a secret. But I didn’t actually eat the sushi, to be perfectly honest with you. What is also funny is what they show. They show me eating the sushi; that wasn’t the tainted sushi, number one. If it had been and if I was stealing Nover’s food, I wouldn’t be eating it at the kitchen table with everyone sitting there. That was my own sushi that I got every day.
The tainted sushi, what happened was I was in the downstairs where there was a refrigerator and there was one package left of sushi. And we got sushi every day and most of the time it had our name’s (on it) but a lot of time it didn’t have any body’s name (on it), which meant that anyone could have it. Novers’ sushi had his name on it and I realized it had been in there for three days. I opened it because I was thinking about having some because I thought that if he hadn’t eaten it by now, he’s probably not going to eat it. A lot of food went to waste because people decided one day they wanted it and that they didn’t the next. We had a list where we could pick different stuff and people occasionally got too much.
But I picked up the piece of sushi and I had realized it was spicy eel, which I didn’t like, and it was on a roll, which I don’t like. So I just through it on the ground but then I think to myself that Tom probably wants one, because he was standing outside by the pool table. So I went and gave him one and he ate it on camera. But nobody knew it had been tainted. So then later while I am sitting at the kitchen table and Kyle Kingsbury does that thing, I said that I ate it too because Tom is my best buddy in the house and at that point Kingsbury was really getting on my nerves and I wanted to have a reason to be able to retaliate because I didn’t have anything to do with any of the pranks. So I really didn’t have a reason when they pranked us to do anything.
But I could tell you that had I actually eaten it, I probably would have done something right then. I mean, I don’t want to say violence, because I didn’t want to get kicked out of the house, but I would have done something sufficiently bad right then.
Sam Caplan: After it took place, you promised an act of revenge. I’m sure you can’t talk about exactly what you did, but is it safe to assume we’ll see you get even in future episodes?
Dave Kaplan: Well, yes and no. I’m fairly confident you won’t see it. I don’t know if they’ll show it, but after that conversation I had told (Kyle Kingsbury) that I was going to take a dump and that it was going to be on him. Let me just say that had I actually eaten the sushi, that night when he was sleeping I would have taken a dump on a paper plate and would have pushed it in his pace. I wouldn’t have cared if he was going to try and fight me because I would have been grossed out. Drinking pee is one thing and it doesn’t bother me. But eating somebody’s… yeah, it’s pretty gross. I feel worse about Tom because I basically gave it to him… but strange enough, Tom wasn’t even that mad. But to answer your question, I don’t think that you’ll see relatiation because what I did, I didn’t tell Kingsbury about until the last day of taping at the party Dana took us to.
Sam Caplan: Alright, I’m dying to know. What did you do?
Dave Kaplan: I put, maybe some of my bodily fluids that was the same bodily fluid that he put on the sushi, maybe into his face wash, soap, that kind of thing. You have to remember, and maybe you don’t see this on the show, but their room was attached to a bathroom and the bathroom had a shower and the showed was also a steam room. And a lot of us spent time in there cutting weight so I had access to their cleaning and soap products on a daily basis. After that happened, Tom and I, you know… I’ll say we took matters into our own hands, literally.
But I didn’t want to say anything on the show because the best prank or the best retaliation that I could do to Kingsbury, which, I’ll also say I really like Kingsbury now… But the best part of what I could do is I told him that day after the sushi incident that I was going to get him back. So if I had just done something and he had found out about it right then, it would kind of been over. The best part of the prank was that for the last seven days in the house, he was constantly looking over his shoulder. When I would go into the steam room, he would be sitting on his bed and he wouldn’t leave his room because he thought we were going to do something to his bed or this and that. So the fact that I got him so paranoid for the last six or seven days, that was actually worth more than what Tom or I did.
Sam Caplan: What’s next for you?
Dave Kaplan: I’m still training. My opportunity with the UFC is obviously not over. I’ve also had a lot of opportunities come my way because of the show so if it doesn’t work out with the UFC, I’ll still have some fantastic opportunities outside of this country — and here also — to fight. But I’m just training every day and my focus right now is on helping Frank get ready for his fight vs. Nogueira. We’re training with Vinny and George Roop, who has moved up here. And I’m teaching classes at Striking Unlimited and doing stuff like doing interviews, writing the blog, and interested to see the rest of the show. I can tell you that the next episode is going to be really awesome. There’s something that happens in the next episode that’s going to be really good.