Written and photographed by Andre Frois
Mitch Chilson came back from a nine-month absence from the cage a different fighter. After losing to Eric Kelly at the inaugural ONE FC, Evolve Mixed Martial Arts’ Director of Strength and Conditioning’s hiatus to expand his skill set paid off with a recent submission victory over A.J.Vaa at ONE FC: Destiny of Warriors. He speaks his mind about facing Shannon Wiratchai at the impending ONE FC: Pride Of A Nation on 31st August,as well as about all things MMA.
What are your long-term goals as a mixed martial artist?
I think fighting in the UFC would be really cool, but I’m very happy in ONE FC right now. My main goal is definitely to capture the ONE FC Featherweight Championship. It felt awesome to win a Muay Thai title belt in Thailand. I am also working to earn my purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
What do you know about your next opponent Shannon Wiratchai?
He’s a Thai guy who surprises me! He did not start out in Muay Thai and has a background in Kung Fu and Judo instead, which is fascinating! He’s not your conventional fighter and is very unique, so this would be an interesting challenge.
How are you preparing for this fight?
He’s a southpaw, so guys I’ve been training with have been switching stance to help me get used to that. They have also been throwing different attacks at me, because he likes to do that too, but I am still going to impose my game plan on him and not let him control the fight. His Judo is definitely a concern, because I haven’t seen him use it. So we’ve been training with Judo-based movements – my coaches are completely prepared for this fight.
How did you train to come back to your winning ways after losing in the first ONE FC event?
Evolve MMA had a huge addition to the fight team, which was American wrestling coach Heath Sims. He’s helped me add elements to my game and has, most importantly, taught me lots of transitions. Before this, I think I was just a striker. Now, I’ve learned how to control my opponent and transition effortlessly from Heath.
How do you think you have evolved as a fighter?
I’m a completely different fighter. I feel like a complete mixed martial artist now. I’m improving every day, getting better in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, striking and all aspects of the game.
Do you think you were more of a Muay Thai fighter in the past?
I think I was more of a really bad wrestler!
But you made your name for yourself by knocking out a respected striking specialist.
That fight was really tough! I was smashing him (Zhang Jingxiong) for so many rounds. I was exhausted, but heard my coach saying, “right hand,” because he couldn’t see my right hands coming, and that’s how I got the victory. Yes, I won that fight, but training with Heath Sims has given me a new confidence.
Are you still most comfortable standing up?
I will always be most comfortable standing. I don’t think there will come a time when I am more comfortable in guard or in any other position.
What are your thoughts on ONE FC acquiring MMA icons Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski?
Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski are drawing a lot of attention to the ONE FC: Pride Of A Nation fight card that I am on! I don’t feel so much pressure. It doesn’t make me nervous, but excites me instead! Plus, it’s going to be in the Thrilla in Manila (Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier III, 1975) stadium!
Are big signings like Sylvia and Arlovski a sign of MMA’s growth in Asia?
Yes. When I first came to Singapore, there was nothing. Mixed martial arts was non-existent! Now, it’s a way for housewives to get fit, for business people to relieve stress and for kids to build confidence. The landscape of Asian MMA has changed so much over the past 12 years. It’s become a major sport, and Evolve and ONE FC have changed along with it.
What do you usually think of before stepping through the curtains and into the cage?
I’ve been spending a lot of time with sports psychologists to find out what goes on in the minds of elite athletes before a fight, which separates them from regular competitors. When I’m at the venue, I know that all the hard work’s been done – all the training and all the dieting. Leading up to a fight, I try to visualise all the things I will feel during the fight, at the arena and even when stepping off the plane. It makes me feel very relaxed, even in front of 16,000 people, when these events actually arrive. I know I’m fighting for my family; my mom, my sister and my girlfriend, and fighting for something more than yourself makes it hard to fail. I believe in my game plan and my coaches. All this mental preparation helps me feel very relaxed and very good during the fight, which I wasn’t during my loss to Eric Kelly, when I felt very nervous and uptight.
Do you think you will be able to one day beat José Aldo or whoever is the UFC featherweight champion then?
I would be in the wrong sport if I didn’t. I’m in my prime and I think I’ve taken better care of myself, for the past 15 years, than most people. MMA is a lifelong pursuit, but the ONE FC Featherweight Title is my first priority. I am taking things step by step. Right now, I’m not thinking about anything beyond August 31st (ONE FC: Pride Of A Nation).
Do you think beasts like Jon Jones, Junior Dos Santos and Anderson Silva will remain unbeatable for a long time to come?
MMA is such a new sport. Jones has great genes – he has two brothers playing in the NFL! But is he unbeatable? No. Someone out there will defeat him one day. I think Cain (Velasquez) has what it takes to beat Dos Santos. Silva? He’s shown his weaknesses and someone will beat him one day too.
What do you reckon of Alistair Overeem’s chances?
Nah, if you watch Overeem’s K-1 fights, he tends to absorb hits first before fighting back. I don’t think he could take Dos Santos’ strikes.
What was the last fight that you really enjoyed watching?
I really enjoyed the last UFC On Fox (UFC on Fox 4: Shogun vs. Vera). It had an amazing card, and I think Jamie Varner and Joe Lauzon put on a great fight. It was very fast-paced and high-action. I was very much behind (Brandon) Vera. I think (Lyoto) Machida looked good too.
What dream matchups would you love to see?
Everyone talks about Anderson Silva vs. Georges St-Pierre, but Silva is huge! He walks around at something like 220 pounds, while GSP is pretty small and walks around at 190. A realistic matchup would be Silva (UFC Middleweight Champion) vs. Jones (UFC Light Heavyweight Champion). Frankie Edgar (former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion) dropping down to fight Aldo (UFC Featherweight Champion) would be really interesting too. It would be great to see Edgar pit his wrestling and boxing against Aldo’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai.
Would you think of going up or dropping to challenge a different weight class?
No! Zorobabel (Moreira, his training partner) is huge, and he fights at lightweight! (laughs) I want to fight at the weight which I am most comfortable first. And I know I’d have to lose a leg to get down to bantamweight!
Who would you love to fight?
I’ve never really thought of that. The featherweight division right now is big, but could be bigger. Maybe I could fight Eric Kelly again one day to avenge my loss.
What if CEO Victor Cuy manages to acquire Urijah Faber to ONE FC, given Faber's recent streak of failed attempts to acquire the lighter UFC belts?
(Laughs) That would be a good fight! Maybe I could fight Tatsuya Kawajiri some day, although that would make a really tough fight. I want to entertain the crowd. I want to be the guy to bring MMA to Asia. You know how every little boy has that fantasy of being a superhero or martial arts expert who beats up bad guys?
Who in the MMA world talks too much and needs a superhero beatdown?
I actually have been very entertained by Chael Sonnen! Some of the things he says are hilarious! I wish Anderson Silva could be a champion like that, who draws that kind of attention to our sport. Ariel Helwani asks the difficult questions that we all want to. He pisses people off, but he has his role in the MMA universe. No, there’s no one around right now that I can’t stand. We need figures like that to win fans, because MMA is still building itself up.
How do you feel about your girlfriend watching you get beaten up?
She gets more into it than I do! She’s been with me for every fight, even at my first kickboxing tournament organised by Cung Le in San Jose (California). I’m sure she goes through a range of emotions during the match and it’s hard on her, but she gets a bigger kick out of it than I do. She is my biggest supporter and biggest cheerleader. She’s great about it even when I’m dieting and grumpy.
Rich Franklin is most probably coming back to Evolve again soon to prepare for his next UFC fight against aforementioned Cung Le. Was it like a dream to train alongside him?
It was absolutely surreal; I’ve never even dreamed of being on the same mat as him and having dinner with him, what more helping him with his strength and conditioning! I give advice to Shinya Aoki and I still find it mind-boggling! Every once in a while, someone like (Satoru) Kitaoka sits down beside me and they announce, “ok, he’s working with us today,” and I still get a little starstruck.
Who do you enjoy training and hanging out with the most?
I have two Brazilian buddies. Brodinho (Leandro Issa) is a complete comedian and a jokester. He has a great attitude no matter how beat up we are. Zorobabel is a kid. He has a heart of gold and is sincere. He punishes me and beats me up, but is nonetheless a nice guy and very considerate, always asking about my well-being. Brian Choi is one of my best friends and a great training partner. I’m glad to have him in my life.