There is a short list of North Americans that have achieved great things in the grappling world and crossed over into mixed martial arts. Dean Lister is one of the best, as he won multiple Abu Dhabi Combat Club submission grappling titles and went 4-2 in the UFC over a two year run. In a recent interview with Kid Peligro, Lister opened up about his run to the ADCC 2011 -99 kg gold medal and a potential return to MMA.
Lister is famous for his half-guard game and nasty footlocks, yet has a surprisingly well-rounded game that comes from years and years of wrestling, sambo and Brazilian jiu jitsu all fused into a seemingly emotionless wrecking machine. All those skills made him a wunderkind in submission grappling and has led to many, many titles and medals. An Absolute title in ADCC 2003 put him on the map and he continued to pile up no-gi titles regularly, while building a mixed martial arts career as well.
However, Lister did not achieve the same levels of success within MMA and may have dropped out of the minds of most fans after his lackluster loss to Yushin Okami at UFC 92 in 2008. He was released upon request from the Zuffa promotion and chose to focus on submission grappling, his academy out in San Diego and seminars. That narrowed focus turned into a surprising September march to the -99 kg title at ADCC 2011 in Nottingham.
Hit the jump to see some quotes and a glimpse into why the match between BJJ phenomenon Rodolfo Vieira and Lister was a bit anti-climatic and why Lister chose not to do the Absolute, which was won by Andre Galvao, the double gold winner.
(For those of you going "Kid Peligro, that's kind of an awesome name," know that it's the nom de plume of Gerry Costa, a prolific grappling writer and black belt under Royler Gracie.)
The part relevant to MMA is as follows:
Kid Peligro - What are your plans for the near future?
Dean Lister - I am about ready to finish celebrating, but I'm not going to Disneyland lol. I will have to focus on some recovery for old injuries and I will stay busy doing seminars. I soon will return to MMA because my striking has FINALLY picked up and I believe I have found my way, my style and I want to show everyone my new skills. However, I will not be used by the system or anyone else. I will find the right opportunity and make myself and my team proud.
Now, sometimes MMA pundits get the idea of "Just stick 'im in Bellator/MFC/Jungle Fights and we'll see if he's ready for the big show," a bit too often. However, Lister is likely the best grappler not named Ronaldo Souza or Demian Maia at 185 lbs. His footlocks are nearly on a level with those of Rousimar Palhares. If Lister really has built up some striking and can avoid the "pull half-guard ineffectively" gameplan he stuck to against Okami and Thales Leites, this could be something.
Or maybe I'm just an eternally hopeful fool who wants to see more strong grapplers with decent striking added to the rising crop at 185.
Next up, the big part of the interview where the ADCC 2003 Absolute champion and 2005 Superfight champion talks about the Rodolfo Vieira battle that so many looked forwards to:
KP: You told me that you were hurt, but you were going to go for it. What was your injury? And how did you overcome it?
DL: It is ironic that I injured myself EXACTLY the same way that I injured Viera... I'll explain... When I heel hooked Viera on Sunday, he attempted to twist out of my attack and pulled a rib/muscle in the ribs. Haha - that is exactly, EXACTLY the same way that I hurt myself on Saturday twisting out of a heel hook aplied by Radek Turek (European Champion from Poland, very tough guy as well). I pulled a muscle in my rib and I knew it immediately right away. After I returned the favor to Radek and won by heelhook, I knew I had an injury because during the match my rib popped out and back in. I couldn't move and was difficult to breathe so I spent the superfight watching lying down on the ground in agony. I even waited for most of the people to leave the stadium before I got up and walked slowly back to the hotel, hoping no one had noticed how I was walking. I could hardly sleep cause of my rib, but in a strange way, this kind of adversity seems to focus me more than normal. The next day after icing it a lot, I had to warm it up slowly and I managed to fight and win against the best. This is the reason I didn't compete in the absolute division. But only this year.
What say you? Does Lister have a chance of making himself relevant again in the North American MMA scene? He did go 4-2 in the UFC before voluntarily dropping out...
As a bonus, Dean wrecking Nate Marquardt in the early rounds of the 2003 ADCC.