When talking about the top heavyweights in MMA it seems one man is often overlooked in the discussion though not for lack of accomplishment on his part. He is a former title-contender in the UFC who has gone 17-5 since parting ways with the organization in late 2006 including victories over a Strikeforce World Grand Prix semi-finalist and Ultimate Fighter winner during the span. He’s also only been finished once in the last nine years while submitting the last five opponents he’s faced.
The afore-mentioned individual, as indicated by the headline, is of course Jeff Monson.
Monson’s run since a less-than memorable loss to Tim Sylvia at UFC 65 has been one of the more successful of any heavyweight not currently calling a major organization home and features notable victories over individuals like Kazuyuki Fujita, Ricco Rodriguez, Sergei Kharitonov, and Roy Nelson.
The 40-year grappler will look to continue his winning ways Friday night in the Sunshine State at Fight Time 4 against Tony Lopez, a 23-5 King of the Cage champ who has avoided the judges’ scorecards en route to victory twenty of twenty-three times.
Five Ounces of Pain recently caught up with Monson who discussed his upcoming bout with Lopez, the reason he feels he isn’t signed to the UFC/Strikeforce, the likelihood of him fighting at 205-pounds later this year, and a handful of other topics in a conversation showing that underneath his muscular, inked-up exterior is an intelligent, humorous competitor ready to make another run at a significant belt.
“I like fighting for different organizations, travelling and that kind of thing, but I mean I think as this point it would be nice to settle down with an organization and fight for them,” the 40-year old explained of his decision to remain a free agent of sorts. “I have a good relationship with the UFC and am looking to get back at some point.”
Whether or not he would return to the organization as a heavyweight or drop a division remains up for debate according to Monson, a successful collegiate wrestler who expressed confidence in an ability to cut down if the opportunity was right.
“I’m definitely looking at the possibility of competing at 205. At this point I think you have to look at your career. I’m fighting and I want to be champion, I want to be the best. Is it going to happen at heavyweight? It’s gonna be tough. These guys are, like me, pretty quick and good except they’re like forty pounds heavier,” said the 5’9” American Top Teamer.
“So light heavyweight is definitely a thing I can make given my wrestling background and cutting weight, so making the weight isn’t a problem,” he continued. “It’s just finding the right opportunity. I’m not gonna just cut to 205, fight this guy here and this guy there and this guy here – I want to get established with an organization. That would go a long ways towards securing (the drop) in my head.”
One such possible match-up for Monson is a tie-breaking affair with Ricco Rodriguez who, interestingly enough, is actually working with him some in Florida at ATT.
“It’s funny because I’m training with Ricco at 3:00 today. We definitely want to have a rubber match. He’s kind of pissed about the last one, and we’re friends but in the ring it’s kind of one those bragging rights things. We had a fairly entertaining match – I mean I didn’t like the first one – but it was quite entertaining. It would definitely be at 205 if it happens (though).”
As far as whether or not fans will see him at light heavyweight in 2011 Monson said he would take that bet if he was a betting man.
When asked about Strikeforce’s World Grand Prix, both in terms of his absence from the overall field and his impressions on the tournament as someone with first-round submission over semi-finalist Kharitonov, Monson showed great respect to his peers while also stating he felt his exclusion from group was related to something personal on the part of Strikeforce’s brass.
“I saw clips of the fights. I mean out of the eight guys who started it probably six of them could win the tournament or could have won the tournament. So it’s pretty competitive and interesting. I mean there are favorites, but who is the favorite really,” Monson asked rhetorically while picking Josh Barnett as the Grand Prix’s eventual winner.
“I mean it’s frustrating. I’m not gonna lie about it – it’s political. I could have been on the undercard of the heavyweights so there’s some kind of personality conflict with someone with the Strikeforce organization office that I didn’t know about,” Monson explained of his confusion about the situation. “It could be style, it could be personality. I really don’t know. When you’re fighting, in a way, you’re fighting for position. Maybe early on in my career I wasn’t that exciting. Yeah, okay, but I’ve won a lot of matches by submission.”
“Maybe it’s something else,” he continued. “It’s not a lack of success. It’s not American Top Team because they have good relations with organizations so I don’t know to be honest with you. It might just be someone doesn’t like me. I apologize if I’m like this but, hey, this is how I am and that’s the way it is. I lose a lot of sponsors that way, I know that,” Monson concluded with a laugh.
However, Monson was quick to turn credit back over to the remaining men in the competition.
“That being said, the eight guys are all really good. There’s no like, ‘This guy doesn’t belong.’ I’m not gonna say I should have been there instead of this guy because there was no other guy of not being worthy of being in there. So I’m frustrated on my end but as a fan I can sit back and go, ‘Yeah there’s eight really good heavyweights and I’m interested in seeing how it happens.’”
Regardless of what his future may hold in terms of employment, opponents, or weight-class, Monson’s focus is clearly on his April 1 appearance in Fort Lauderdale against Lopez who fits the bill in terms of a larger foe given the Californian’s eight-inch height advantage.
“I think my grappling is really good and he’s got a reputation on the ground too so it’s exciting. He’s a tall guy and I’ve had some difficulty with tall guys in the past too so he obviously presents a few problems, he’s a tough guy,” Monson began. “But the motivation comes from the fact I like to win, I like to compete. You have a tough guy in front of you and you have to take the fight very seriously, and I’m training really hard for it. He presents a challenge and that makes it exciting for me.”
As far as Monson’s approach to dealing with Lopez’s size, “The Snowman” cited some improved Muay Thai skills enabling him to close the distance, saying, “There’s no secret about it – I’ve gotta get in. So (I’m) working on a lot of striking to get inside. I think I have an advantage inside, working my dirty boxing, so you could see a lot of that.”
In closing the 40-11 veteran with twenty-six submission victories gave thanks to his training partners at ATT, offering gratitude for the gym being there throughout his ups and downs.
“They’ve been there for a lot of hard times so especially them.”
Appreciation for his friends, family, and La Parilla, a local restaurant, was also offered up as was encouragement for fans to drop him a line on his website and Twitter account. Interested folks can learn more about his bout at Fight Time 4, and others, by visiting the promotion’s online.