Former WWE superstar Bobby Lashley takes a big step up in competition tomorrow when he takes on Japan’s most famous fighter, Bob Sapp. The two main event the Ultimate Chaos PPV from the Gulfport Coliseum in Biloxi, Mississippi. Five Ounces of Pain’s Jonathan Snowden had a chance to talk to Lashley about his transition to MMA, why it was smart to take it slow, and what he would do if he was a betting man.
Five Ounces of Pain: Tell me about your time in the service. You had already finished college. How did you end up in the Army?
Bobby Lashley: Well, first I was recruited to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. Olympic coach Kevin Jackson offered me a residency. But I had already graduated from college and been out for a year. I had bills and just couldn’t afford to do that. But the Army World Class Athletes Coach called me and told me about that program. So I went in to MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) and picked my MOS (Military Occupational Speciality) which was 11- Bravo (Editor’s Note: Infantry Grunt) went to Fort Benning, Georgia, and went to Basic and AIT (Advanced Individual Training). My orders after that were to go to Fort Carson and report to the World Class Athlete Program.
5 OZ: And then it was all wrestling.
Lashley: Yeah. But at WCAP they always said ‘Soldier first.’ Even though I was an athlete we still had to report and had formations in the morning.
5 OZ: You did pretty well there, winning the Armed Forces Championships and doing well in the International meets. What made you decide to get out of the Army and give up on your Olympic dreams?
Lashley: That’s kind of a long story, but I’ll give you the short version. I was in for four years, but in my last year I was having some difficulty. My knee was bad and we weren’t sure I could finish out my last year with my knee the way it was. I tried to keep my knee in somewhat good shape and I was getting it drained, but my bursa sack was very inflamed. It would get better and then had to be drained again. It got to the point that it was going to have to be removed, but I just wanted to get through the year because it was the Olympic year. I went to team trials and placed third and was moving up the ladder at 211 pounds. I only lost one match in that tournament, in double overtime by criteria point. So I was real close to beating the top guy in the weight class. I was gearing towards having a big year in 2004 and making the team but that summer I was in a bank and the bank got robbed. I got shot at. I took a dive down to the ground and landed on that knee one last time. And that sparked surgery. Then they botched the first surgery and I had to get surgery number two. After surgery number two, the guy told me I was pretty much done for a year.
5 OZ: That’s crazy. How many fighters have been injured in a bank robbery?
Lashley: (Laughs). And after my second surgery I was laying on my couch with a leg brace on and I can’t do anything at all because they cut my knee up pretty bad. It was just a botched surgery. If it had been the civilian world I would have been able to sue for millions. But in the military you can’t really do anything but say ‘Oh well.’
5 OZ: I’ve been there. I had a botched wrist surgery in the Army. I haven’t been half the writer since.
Lashley: (Laughs) You’re right with me there.
5 OZ: This isn’t a good advertisement for military doctors.
Lashley: So, then they wanted to medical me out of the Army. At that point the WWE was calling and I thought ‘Man I can make this move.’ Amateur wrestling was out and I rehabbed hard for the WWE tryout. It just went from there. Went to WWE, and I had a great time there.
5 OZ: You put on a lot of muscle for professional wrestling.
Lashley: I trained for the WWE like I was training for the Olympic championship. If you saw any of my stuff in the WWE you know I was in amazing shape. Incredible shape all the way around.
5 OZ: How did you go from the Army to professional wrestling? Did they have scouts everywhere, even in the foxhole? What’s the process like? Do you just get a call one day from Vince McMahon saying ‘Son, we want you in the business.’
Lashley: Well, Kurt Angle was in the WWE at the time and he came to Colorado Springs to the Olympic Training Center. He was doing a little vignette, a promo, and they were talking about his amateur days. That was the first time I met Kurt. And Kurt said ‘Have you thought about it? You have a great look for the WWE.’ At the time I was still wrestling, but I had watched it as a kid. I enjoyed it, but I had never seen myself doing it. We exchanged numbers and talked from time to time. Then I got a call from (WWE Executive) Gerald Brisco because they were discussing me again. This time when they said ‘Come out and we’ll have a look at you’ I did.
5 OZ: How hard was it to go from amateur wrestling to what the WWE does? So much of it is personality and charisma and connecting with the audience. How did you go about creating a character?
Lashley: It was probably the most fun I’ve had in my whole life. Professional wrestlers aren’t actors, so we can’t really play a character. Very, very few are good enough actors to play a character. Vince would say ‘We just want you to be yourself, but with the volume turned up. Think about who you are, and then turn the volume up.’ It was actually a fun transition, because you get to find out who you are.
5 OZ: I talked to Ken Shamrock about this and he told me his time in professional wrestling was way harder on his body than fighting. Did you find it hard taking all those falls night after night?
Lashley: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. At first you’re in your honeymoon period. You don’t realize the toll you are putting on your body because you are just so happy to be there and are having so much fun. but as the years go on, man… We’re doing four shows a week. That’s every week, because there is no down time. Your body is going to suffer because of it, but when it breaks down you can’t quit. Because the show must go on. It’s extremely tough on the body. If there was some way they could regulate it a little bit more, so the guys got a little more time off, it would be great. Because it really is fun.
5 OZ: When you came into MMA you became a heavyweight. How has that transition been for you? In college you were 177 pounds and in the Army just over 200 pounds. Now you’ve got some big boys you are trying to toss around. And no one is bigger than Bob Sapp.
Lashley: I think it helps me. Because heavyweights are used to what we used to call dancing bears. They would just hug each other and you’d see one move or two moves. The lighter you go, the more action you see. Since I was a lower weight guy, I was accustomed to going fast. Moving quick. Now that I’m a heavyweight, I’m doing the same things I did when I was a smaller guy. And it’s going to give these heavyweights trouble. Because they can’t move the way I can move.
5 OZ: What’s been the hardest thing for you about MMA? Obviously, you have the wrestling down pretty well, but how are you progressing with your striking and submissions?
Lashley: I had kind of messed with a lot of it before. I had messed with a little bit of boxing. The biggest obstacle is just getting in there. Getting in there and applying what you learned in practice to a real world situation. I don’t think people realize, a lot of these guys like your Anderson Silvas and your GSP’s , your Rampages, and the list goes on and on, they’re at the top of their games now. But if you rewind the hands of time back to their first or second match, you won’t see those guys fighting then like they fight now. Because through the years of getting out there and doing it, they’ve learned their bodies and what they can and can’t do. And they’ve adapted their game accordingly. That’s what I’m still doing. I’m just trying to collect all the pieces so I can put it all together.
5 OZ: Is that why you’ve started in smaller promotions and have worked your way up, now to pay per view and Bob Sapp?
Lashley: A lot of people don’t realize how many tough fighters there are out there. You can’t just come in and say ‘I could beat the champ.’ People don’t understand MMA if they think they can just go out there and beat the champ. There are people who have never wrestled before who are high calibre wrestlers. People who have never boxed professionally who are high calibre boxers. There are so many tough fighters out there that I believe you have to start off the right way and build yourself up. Then, if you have the ability, you can become a super superstar. As opposed to trying to scratch that lucky lottery ticket and win it all. I think the way I’m doing it is the way most people do it. People come in and think you can bypass the developmental stages. You can’t bypass that.
5 OZ: It’s hard to learn when you are at the very pinnacle of the sport.
Lashley: Exactly. You can’t go to Strikeforce, or Affliction, or the UFC and learn there. Because the fighters there are masters of their game.
5 OZ: I see there being two Bob Sapps. There’s the Sapp that beat up Nogueira and Ernesto Hoost and the Bob Sapp that lost to Jan Nortje. Which Sapp are you ready for?
Lashley: I’m prepared for the best Bob Sapp that makes it out here. We trained for a Bob Sapp that is like Anderson Silva at 350 pounds.
5 OZ: How did you end up choosing Sapp as your opponent?
Lashley: I just train. I let my manager do all that stuff. He comes to me with the different offers and we decide together which ones work and which ones don’t.
5 OZ: Speaking of training, you changed camps and went up to Colorado to work with Nate Marquardt and some other guys up there. Di you just want to stick close to home?
Lashley: Right. I went there because I wanted to start training in Colorado. Nate’s a good friend of mine, but Nate was pretty busy doing his own thing at the time. But he introduced me to a lot of good guys up there and a good camp to train with. I didn’t so much switch camps as go up there and train with some different people.
5 OZ: Who in the world do you bring in to play the roll of Bob Sapp? There aren’t many human beings that large on the planet.
Lashley: I had a guy named Ron Sparks, a big guy out of Louisville. And when I went down to ATT, I had “Bigfoot” Silva there. And Bigfoot’s a way better athlete than Bob Sapp. I had Scott Anthony Johnson, who’s kind of a new fighter, but an extremely talented kid. He’s weighing in at about 340. I used them for weight, but used other people for different things. When I get down to the ground, it doesn’t matter what they weigh when we get there.
5 OZ: A lot of fighters get nervous in front of the big crowds and the pressure of Pay-Per-View. That’s just a day at the office for you though isn’t it?
Lashley: Oh yeah. I don’t worry about that stuff at all. The big crowd doesn’t bother me. I just breathe in the energy from the crowd.
5 OZ: I’m thinking about putting money on this fight. You’re going to beat the crap out of Sapp aren’t you?
Lashley: You can bet your house on it.
5 OZ: If you beat Sapp, where do you see yourself fighting next. There are several options out there to choose from now.
Lashley: I just see myself back in the gym next week. Japan might be next. Who knows? With Bob involved there will be plenty of attention there. We don’t have anything big lined up. We’re keeping our options open.
5 OZ: Everyone wants to know: will we see you in the UFC?
Lashley: You’ve got to have respect for the UFC, because they are kind of the pioneers of the business. If given a chance to go to the UFC down the road, I’d definitely like to get in there and display my skills with some of the best in the world. But you know, at heavyweight, you have some of the best fighters in Affliction or Strikeforce. So, there’s not one organization that is clearly in my sights. But whenever the right door opens, I’m going to step in.
You can find Bobby on the web at http://www.bobbylashley.net/
Five Ounces of Pain will be covering the Ultimate Chaos event live and will have updates all evening long, including a liveblog of both the undercard and Pay Per View portions of the card.