Josh Gross described Javier Vazquez's attitude toward his opposition very well: he doesn't hate them, but he doesn't like them either. Once you read this interview, you'll certainly get an appreciation for his candor and opinions informed from years in the training room and competitive cage.
When we spoke on MMA Nation on 106.7 The Fan, we talked about his opposition at WEC 52, Chad Mendes, as well as whether the guard is dead in MMA and a host of other topics. Always thoughtful and a little brash, Vazquez has done an excellent job in creating interest not only in this fight, but what the complexion of the UFC featherweight division will look like when the transition is complete.
For those using mobile devices, you can click here to listen to the interview. Full transcript below. Audio player here:
Thomas: With us on the line right now, we have an esteemed guest with us tonight. He is fighting at WEC 52. A well-known face to the mixed martial arts community. First time on this show, I believe. Very excited to talk to him; gotta huge fight coming up. The one and only Javier Vazquez joins the show. Javier, how are you, sir?
Vazquez: Very good [inaudible]. It's funny you played that song, it's actually my ringtone.
Thomas: Is that right? [laughs] Great minds think alike, Javier.
Vazquez: That's right, that's right.
Thomas: Hey Javier, the readers of Bloody Elbow want to know: the pink shorts, what is the origin of them? Why do you wear them?
Vazquez: Uh, obviously, because I'm pretty.
Thomas: [laughs] Well, it can be that. What is the impetus for that?
Vazquez: No, actually, I got dared years and years ago. Like, "Who the heck would actually come out in pink shorts?" And like, "I would do it." And they're like, "No you wouldn't." And I'm like, "Yeah I would." So that's why- The first time did it was in 2000. And that's why it was so ridiculously over-the-top with the hat, the goofy robe, and everything else. It was way over-the-top. Originally, I was going to have different outfits at every fight, like Pokemon or whatever it was. I was gonna come out different at every fight. But the pink thing had such a crazy response, I stuck with it.
Thomas: Was it your own thing? Or was it a combination of that and were you a fan of Genki Sudo at all? What was the impetus for that?
Vazquez: No, not really. But I used to watch pro wrestling when I was a kid. So, cool entrances, I just liked them. I was actually a fan of Genki Sudo's- I think it was after that, though, that I started seeing his entrances. I always think cool ring entrances are fun.
Thomas: They certainly are. All right, well, you're doing the show here now. Before we get into your fight and the WEC-UFC merger, which I'm sure you have a lot to say about. Real quickly, just taking inventory, we have a lot of guests on the show today. We're asking 'em all the same question. There's no wrong answer. Just curious to see where you stand. Saturday night, are you watching UFC 122 or are you watching Manny Pacquiao's fight against Antonio Margarito?
Thomas: Are you not a boxing fan?
Vazquez: Yeah, but you can always watch that later. I'd rather watch the UFC live. It's more important to me, then just watch the boxing later
Thomas: Fair enough. So, WEC this weekend. If you don't mind me asking, what is your contract situation with the WEC? How many fights do you have left? Do you have any fights left? Where do things stand?
Vazquez: I actually resigned with them prior to the merger. But I was happy. They took care of me, so I was happy.
Thomas: All right, and your thoughts about the merger now? You're going to be a UFC employee and a UFC fighter. What does that mean to you?
Vazquez: For me, it's been a long time. I was supposed to fight in the UFC back in 2002, I believe, the first time. And again in 2003, so for me it's been a real long time. I'm happy the opportunity's finally here. I've been fighting the best guys for the past year-and-a-half while I've been in the WEC. The UFC brand name definitely helps things.
Thomas: There was a time when you took time off from the sport from '03-'07, and you're back now. When you took the time off, what was the impetus for that?
Vazquez: I think at the time, the main reason was part of it was coming off some injuries. The other part, too- The sport wasn't what it is today. It was much smaller. I just couldn't see myself working so hard, training all the time, and being able to sustain a living at the time. So I opened up a school, and I started doing that. Once that sport got big again, I definitely- And I started training with some guys who were fighting in the bigger shows. I was doing fairly well with them, and I wanted to do it again. I think my biggest thing was I didn't want to be 40, 50 years old and have any regrets that I should've, would've, could've fought.
Thomas: Showtime, Javier Vazquez from the WEC fights this Thursday, WEC 52, against Chad Mendes. We'll get to that in a moment. The competition you've faced in the WEC, you would say, incontestibly, the hardest you've ever faced?
Vazquez: I mean, yeah, definitely on a fight-to-fight basis it's pretty tough. Mentally coming in, I was ready for that. So, I think that has a lot to do with it. To be mentally prepared to step up, and little by little I feel I've improved and definitely gotten back up to par with everyone else if not more so.
Thomas: One of the cool things that I read about you before this interview is that you train with Antonio McKee. I want to get to that and I want to get to the Bodyshop. I'm curious about your affiliation. Are you still with Millenia Jiu-Jitsu? What is your affiliation situation?
Vazquez: I haven't been with Millenia for over a year now. I trained with Erik Paulson for the Pulver fight and the Mackens Semerzier fight. I'm still on very good terms with Erik. I like Erik a lot. I just felt training with Antonio for this fight was definitely a necessity. He's done a great job. He's on top of everything, constantly watching what I'm doing. He's been extremely helpful, and I learned a lot during this camp.
Thomas: All right, I was sort of researching the wrestling of Chad Mendes, a Team Alpha Male member. Contrast the wrestling styles, if you can, of Chad Mendes and Antonio McKee. How are they similar? How are they different?
Vazquez: Honestly, they're pretty different. Chad's is- He's not really too much of a technician, it seems like. He's an explosive and powerful guys. He blasts through. I mean, wrestling-wise, he definitely has technique. There's no question about it, but Antonio's just been doing it for so long. He's so experienced. Again, he keeps it very, very simple. I think there's definitely two different arrows of wrestling. Wrestling has evolved over the years. Antonio's definitely a little more old-school, but it's very, very effective. Chad's a little big younger. You gotta remember too, Antonio's forty. And Chad Mendes is 23 or something like that? So, when you're younger you can get away with a lot more things. You have different tools than you have when you're forty as well. As you get older, things change.
Thomas: What chance do you give of Antonio McKee, given his age, but considerable ability, to have success in the UFC lightweight division? How far can he realistically go in your mind?
Vazquez: He's tough. He's very, very tough. He's tough to beat. He's a lot more well-rounded than people think. His game is- I'm not gonna give anything out, but he's a lot more well-rounded than people think he is. They think he's just going to take you down and hold you down, and he can, but he's tried to get him to open up a little bit. Like I said, he's shown me things and I've tried to put my two cents in and help him out as well. I think he's going to do exceptionally well. Surprisingly well for most people.
Thomas: Let me ask you then. In your mind, has he fought the way's he fought, a very winning way, critic's would say a little bit boring a little bit single-minded in the sense of taking guys down and getting on top of them, in your mind, has he done that to preserve his body? To avoid injuries? Why has he chosen that way?
Vazquez: I think, I mean, he has the same mentality that most fighters do. I'm going to fight a certain way that's safe and wins fights, and until someone figures out a way to beat it or stop it, why am I going to change? You don't change something that's not broken. I was like that way for many, many years as well. If somebody can't figure out how to stop my takedowns and stop my jiu-jitsu, I won't have to change and fight any differently. Does that make sense? If I could script every fight, I would get my takedown and get on top and submit guys. Until somebody can stop him from doing what he's doing, he doesn't have to adapt. That doesn't mean he's not working it in the room.
Thomas: In your mind then, do you find the criticisms of Georges St-Pierre, particularly in his last fight with Hardy and also against Thiago Alves, that he is risk-averse. Do you find those criticisms to be hollow?
Vazquez: Georges St-Pierre is winning fights and that's what it comes down to. Twenty, thirty years from now, you're going to look at his record and it's going to show that he's winning fights. I don't take away anything from GSP. I think he's a great fighter. He can keep doing it, and once someone figures out how to stop him, then stop it. If you don't like it, then figure out how to beat it. I'm not gonna slag on someone just because they're winning fights. Especially GSP and the level of guys he's been fighting over the years. And as consistently as he's been winning and staying at the top. You won't hear me bad-mouthing him.
Thomas: All right. WEC featherweight Javier Vazquez joins the show here. All right, Javier, do me a favor. Relative to all the other divisions. So, from heavyweight, excluding super heavyweight, no one cares, but from heavyweight down to bantamweight. In terms of the most stacked divisions, where would you put featherweight in that list? How close to the top?
Vazquez: I definitely fell that- it's tough. Because everyone is so complete and everyone is so athletic. I think lightweight just because of the length of time, and welterweight. Those two divisions are very, very tough. I would probably put it, right now just because the division is so new, it's only been out a few years, and it hasn't been a UFC division, I would probably go lightweight, welterweight, and then I would probably go middleweight then featherweight, er, excuse me light heavyweight then featherweight, then heavyweight.
Thomas: That's a pretty fair list, actually. I've never asked anybody about that before. I will use that going forward. All right, let's get to your big fight. You're fighting Chad Mendes from Team Alpha Male. Let's just take a look at how things stack up. Have you ever fought a wrestler of this caliber?
Vazquez: I don't think I've fought 'em, but I've definitely trained with really good wrestlers at that caliber.
Thomas: And, in your mind, you have said that- It's fair to say that Mendes doesn't have the most advanced standup skills. You will likely look for the takedown. He certainly did that against Cub Swanson a few times that he got in trouble, although he wound up taking a decision. You are not afraid to work guard, is that correct?
Vazquez: Yeah, I'm petrified of working my guard against Chad Mendes.
Thomas: Just in the sense that if it's a guard playing game, it's just a matter of time before you submit.
Vazquez: There's no question. It's only a matter of time.
Thomas: In your mind, a guy from '08 to 2010, how good can a good athlete get in terms of submission defense in two years?
Vazquez: I don't care about what guys are doing submission defense wise because everybody's got great submission defense in my guard and I submit them. They're like, "What are you doing? How are you doing it? You're doing it differently." Having good submission defense, you can only drill the basics. You can't drill the in-betweens. You can't drill the setups. You can't drill the feel. You can't drill the timing. You're going to drill the basic, run-of-the-mill submission defense. That timing, that setup, those little things are what make the difference. He doesn't have a guy that has my tricks. That's just the bottom line. There's only one of me. You can have really good jiu-jitsu guys. The whole Alpha Male team is all "We eat jiu-jitsu guys, black belts for breakfast." Wonderful. I'm a very large dinner my friend.
Thomas: Let me ask you: Jon Fitch said the guard was dead in MMA. Then I talked to Ryan Hall who went to Abu Dhabi. He's not a big fan of guard play either. Is the guard dead or is good guard players dead?
Vazquez: I think a lot of guys don't know how to play guard for MMA. And that's a big difference. Isn't Ryan Hall the guy that does that 50/50 guard? What is that? Is that even a guard?
Thomas: I'm not sure, you have to ask him. I don't wanna speak for him.
Vazquez: Yeah, don't get me started on that. But, to me, that's not even jiu-jitsu. I think definitely it's better to be on top. It's definitely better. Gravity's on your side. There are a lot of different way to do things from the bottom. There's a lot of tricks. If you can't do it, there's a lot of ways to get up. So, it's tough. There's no question at the highest level, at the UFC level, submitting guys from the guard is not easy. There's no question about it. But there's definitely ways to do it, and there's definitely ways you can catch yourself from the bottom. And there's definitely ways to get out.
Thomas: All right, true or false, Javier, are a lot of MMA fighters in MMA fights, are they bad at sweeping their opponents off their back?
Vazquez: Are they bad?
Thomas: In other words, because everyone says guard play is about submitting, but you never really see guys who are hardcore at attempting sweeps. Why not?
Vazquez: It's tough. It's really tough to sweep guys because the strikes are neutralizing. If you can find ways to control guys' arms- 'Cause usually the problem isn't to get them off balance with your hooks, that's not the problem. The problem is being able to hold the guys, to tie their arms in to sweep them over. That's the problem. And because of the no-gi, no rash guard, the skin-to-skin, it's very difficult. But there's way to do it. There's ways around it. But definitely sweeping guys is very tough. It's just easier to just get up than it is to sweep them.
Thomas: All right, in your mind, who are the best guard players in MMA?
Vazquez: I actually thought Kenny Florian when he fought Clay Guida did a great job of not getting hit. Aoki's really good.
Thomas: Anybody in the WEC that stands out? Obviously besides yourself.
Vazquez: Not too much. I hear Josh Grispi is real good, but that's just from what I've heard. I haven't really seen it. Like I said, a lot of guys don't train it. There's a lot of things that I train that have been forgotten over time. There's a lot of guard tricks and defensive guard practices that I do that have been forgotten. Jiu-jitsu's gone in a completely other direction over time. Originally it was self-defense, and that's all they did is punch defense and defending yourself from the bottom and working submissions with strikes. And as the sport evolved, it when in one direction and the self-defense went another direction. I know the sport, and I know the self-defense. I'm a very rare breed. I grew up, when I first started training jiu-jitsu under Carlson Gracie team, and learned all the sport. And after I married my wife, I started the Gracie Academy and learned the self-defense. I'm a very rare breed that's learned both halves.
Thomas: Do you still train with the gi?
Thomas: And during an MMA camp or sort of in-between camps?
Vazquez: If I do train in the gi during the camp, it's just to break a sweat, have fun, not worry about getting punched in the face. Primarily, I do no-gi. I do enjoy the gi, it's a relaxing experience. It's a good mindset of figuring out how to choke someone with the gi and using the gi a little bit. Even though I don't rely on it a whole lot- Even my gi game where I don't rely on the kimono a whole lot, I do enjoy rolling in it.
Thomas: You've made one comment that I thought was rather interesting, and I guess I want for you to elaborate on it. You said, if I'm not mistaken, that Chad Mendes, despite being very talented which you did acknowledge, was being spoonfed. I'd like you to elaborate. What does it mean that he's been spoonfed?
Vazquez: Look at his opponents. He came into the WEC with a ton of hype. Sherdog.com did a big prospect watch on him. He's the next greatest thing since the inflatable bed, right? So, they give him Erik Koch. And Erik Koch is tough. He's a tough fighter. He's a very good opponent. He's very well-rounded. He barely beats Erik Koch. So the WEC is like, man, we thought Chad Mendes was gonna bull- Well, maybe it was the nerves. We'll give him Anthony Morrison. We'll give him a softball. He beats Morrison. OK, cool. Chad Mendes is back on track. That's a guy we expected. Thing are good. They give him Cub Swanson. He barely squeaks through Cub. Cub's good, Cub's real tough, but he should have blown him out. With all the hype, he should have blown Cub out. And he barely beat Cub. They definitely catered to his style. I'm not saying the kid's not good. He is good. For him to say that he hasn't been taken care of is crazy. To me, it's crazy. It's OK. I'm not hating on the guy, but don't be in denial. Don't be in denial and think that you haven't been taken care of because you have. If you have, it's OK. Maybe they've been taking care of me too. And that's OK. If that they me they have, that's great. That's a good thing. But I'm not going to be getting all butthurt because my opponent's saying I've been spoonfed. Give me a break; how old are you?
Thomas: Javy, before I let you go, it's been a great interview. I don't get a chance to pick people's brains like this, so give me your sense, if you could criticize, and not in a mean way, in a constructive, if you had to look at the landscape of today's MMA fighters and you evaluated their BJJ games top-to-bottom, obviously there's going to be a wide range of talent and differences, but if you could pinpoint things that guys simply don't do well in numbers that are alarming, what would they be?
Vazquez: Definitely punch defense from the bottom. A lot of guys don't do the fundamentals to hold guys in their guard and avoid damage from the bottom. The other thing, too, a lot of guys really don't pass and hold position well. They're happy to stay in guard and half-guard, pounding. A lot of guys don't position and hold a good side-mount of a good mount. Guys get rolled off or guys turn their backs. I think that top control in a lot of guys' games is relaxing a little bit. Instead of working to finish with a submission, they'll sit there and pound guys out. I think there's glaring holes in guys I see from the bottom. There's definitely some glaring holes in certain fighters, and most fighters, top control game.
Thomas: Actually, I lied. I do have one last question. Every fight in the WEC, every fight in the UFC, is of critical importance. That's no mystery to anybody. But did the WEC brass say anything about winning this one is important even moreso for placement on your first UFC card? Was there of that kind of discussion?
Vazquez: Uh, no. I think at my stage in my career, I think every fight's important to win. Nobody's ever said anything to me about that. They just basically tell you, "Have a good fight. Be exciting. Win." That's sort of what it comes down to. This is an important fight. Every fight's an important fight. The main thing is they want you to be exciting. They don't tell you so much to take unnecessary chances or anything. But I admit I'm an MMA fan too, and I know what I like to watch and what I don't like to watch.
Thomas: All right, Javier "Showtime" Vazquez. You can follow him at Twitter.com/JavierShowtime, I believe I didn't get that wrong. That's correct, isn't it?
Vazquez: Yes, JavierShowtime.
Thomas: He takes on Chad Mendes at WEC 52: Faber vs. Mizugaki. It's gonna be on Versus November 11th at 9 p.m. Best of luck to you, Javier Vazquez. Thank you very much for you time. We really appreciate it. And best of luck to you on Thursday.
Vazquez: Thanks a lot guys. If you guys want to visit my website, JavierVazquez.tv, come check it out. We have some cool stuff there.
Thomas: Awesome. Good luck, buddy. Thank you very much.