Clifford Starks is somewhat of an unknown fighter in the midst of a very famous camp. Training with Cain Velasquez, Ryan Bader, and C.B. Dollaway at Arizona Combat Sports, his relationship with these fighters stretches back to his college wrestling days at ASU.
Now he's getting ready to fight Olympic silver medalist Yoel Romero at UFC on Fox 7: Henderson vs. Melendez, this Saturday. He sat down recently with MMA Sentinel radio and Bloody elbow, to talk about his short UFC career, as well as his history with the Lally brothers' fight camp.
(Interview via MMA Sentinel. Transcription by Zane Simon)
Why the long layoff?
I was getting ready to fight last year, October, but I ended up hurting myself. I was on injury layoff for a little bit and that's why it took me a little bit of time to get back to the octagon.
Do you have any nagging injuries then, or are you pretty much healed?
It's healed up now. It was just a meniscus tear I had to get taken care of.
If you fight, ideally, 3 times a year do you find that you're never really injury free?
It becomes a part of the game unfortunately, it's the path we choose. Like you said, with us consistently beating up our bodies, part of the game is going to be injuries. You have to know when 'ok, I gotta suck this one up,' or 'you know, I'm not gonna be able to perform at all with this particular injury,' and kinda go from there.
Do you have any tricks of the trade, new age therapies, hyperbaric treatment, yoga?
I actually started doing yoga. Another trick, which I really don't like, is the basic ice bath. I'm not a fan of the cold at all, so it takes me a little bit of time to... I'll stare at the ice bath for a good 5, 10 minutes and mentally prepare myself, but it definitely helps your body recover much faster.
At some point you'll have to release a video, like Phil Baroni did.
I don't know if I want to release video, because then people are going to think they can take me. They see me trying to get into the ice bath, like 'oh this guy's not mentally tough at all.'
Let's talk a little about Ed Herman and vengeance. Is there a point down the road where you'd like a rematch?
I would love to fight Ed Herman again. I would definitely like to get that one back. Everyone saw what the first round looked like, and I just... I slipped up, made a mistake. I give him props, he's a warrior, he came through and he capitalized on a mistake that I made.
When you go into a fight undefeated, that first lost is the one that stings the most.
I don't like losing at all. So if I do lose, whether it's my first or my second or my third, I want to come back and avenge that lost. It's just the competitive nature. And I think a lot of fighters do have that competitive nature, but when you're consistently winning and you do get a loss, it stings quite a bit.
How do you change your game so you don't make that same mistake again?
It's really just part of the process. Sometimes you have to have failure to have success. He's been in the game much longer than I have and he capitalized on fence control. I just didn't have the fence control and I've always been incorporating and improving on my game, but it's going to be a never ending process and I've just got to have a better gameplan than my opponent. Everyone fighting in the UFC is high level athletes and fighters. So it can go either way on any given day, and you just have to incorporate your game plan as best as possible and see what happens, see where the chips fall.
The UFC is cutting the apron strings on fighters that aren't performing the way they want them too. Does that add a lot of pressure?
Really, only because... I kind of live in, 'you're never promised tomorrow.' I see myself as having a great opportunity. Some people go years and years without being in the UFC. I'm in the UFC, I'm just going to have fun with it. I might win and keep moving on, I might lose and people will say 'oh, he was a has been anyway.' I can't control what the exact outcome is going to be, I can just do the best that I can. And I think if I add too much pressure on myself I think it's going to hinder my performance.
There's a point where you just put a wall up, and say 'Look I'm not even going to think about this crap anymore, I'm just going to go out there and wreck the shop.'
Exactly, You've gotta do what you can do. There's no point in trying to control what's uncontrollable, 'cuz that's just going to create more anxiety and that's not going to help you.
Your opponent is a relative unknown in MMA. Does that make it harder to prepare, without a lot of footage?
From what I've seen he's a very great athlete, very athletic. He hasn't fought for two years, so he is definitely an unknown and it did make it a little more difficult to prepare because I don't know exactly what I'm preparing for. I guess I can, to an extent, go with any fight. But this one... yeah at a higher level he's definitely a little more difficult to prepare for.
You've got a fantastic camp down there in Arizona, does that give you a lot of confidence?
Yeah. I hate my coach when I'm training with him. But I know he needs to be done to get me where I need to go. I don't want to be in a gym full of yes men and that's why I train where I train.
As a general rule how much of your camp preperation do you base on fight footage?
Sometimes I'll watch some of it. I try not to over analyze it because that will actually get the nerves going, like 'oh man, you've got this, this.' I've just have to look at what he basically has and how I can basically capitalize on it. So I don't go into the intricate details of it, like 'oh he did this, oh he did this.' 'Cuz for MMA, I mean the fight can really go anywhere, so you don't know... like, each fight's going to be a different fight.
You're with the Lallys right. There's so much ego and alpha-maleness going on there, what's that like?
Oh you know them well, huh? It's fun to me, I enjoy it. We all have our own different personalities and it makes for a very interesting family. I like the dynamic of it and they don't let me get away with anything, which is good to have. I mean it's not fun when you're doing it, but when it's fight time you realize why you did do it.
You're a big dude, how's the cut for you?
The cut's relatively easy for me. It's a relatively easy cut.
Do you use a nutritionist, are you doing this on your own?
Having the background in kinesiology... I've also done a couple body building shows as well. I have a background in nutrition, so I just do my own.
You're 31 years old, not ancient, but coming up on your prime years. How long do you think you'll stay in competition?
I just... I really, as an MMA fighter, try to focus on the moment. And I would say if you mentally believe you can do it, then you can do it. No matter what your physical says, I'm a big believer in 'an old dog can beat a young dog, if they don't have the mentality for it.' And as long as I have the mental mentality for it I'm gonna go for it. But if I get to a point where I'm like 'you know what, I just don't like doing this anymore.' It doesn't matter how strong I am it doesn't matter how fast I am, I'm going to have to call it quits, 'cuz I'm going to hurt myself in there.
What motivates you?
I definitely want to win the title, but I believe every fighter wants to do that, I think that's kinda the cliche. The biggest part is, as a personal trainer, I really started off wanting to just help people and get them where they needed to go. And no offense to Kim Kardashian, I really don't think she knows anything about fitness. But the fact that she's a known person, all of a sudden 'oh, well Kim Kardashian has said so, so I should do it this way.' Well I need to get there. If I'm seen on the TV, then all of a sudden 'Cliff said this, and he's on the TV.' But it's still my main goal is to help people be successful. But sometimes the only way to see that through is, I don't know, the TV. I don't know what it does to people, but it does something.
Speaking of Kardashian, have you seen the latest stuff? She's gotten really big.
Oh really! That's the stuff that gets me sometimes. I'm not going to bag on her at all, I mean she's a smart business person. But I mean, I've gone to school for this. I took the direction that is the appropriate direction to take. But is it really the appropriate direction to take? 'Cuz they're listening to her and not me. It's kinda one of those things where you're like 'where do you wanna go?'
Ok, look. Cut a sex video, posthumously release it somehow, and then go and do your fitness thing.
I knew I was doing the steps wrong. I gotta go this way.
I don't mind Kardashian so much, but I mind that girls find her as a role model.
That's the thing that gets me a little bit. She's a good business person, but let's just be real. And I'd just leave it at that.
What or who was it that convinced you to give MMA a shot in the first place?
I saw a couple of our guys from ASU, that I used to wrestle with, they were just really successful in the sport. Ryan Bader, Cain Velasquez, I guess, and CB Dolloway; and I was just like 'that could be kinda interesting to get into.' And I still do have that... I still had that competitive nature, I just didn't know what to do with it. So that's the direction I ended up going with it.
You trained with Cain in College, has he always been as competitive as he is now?
Cain is a beast. Yeah, he is one of the most competitive guys I know. There was one time, we were wrestling and I got a takedown on him, and he got so upset he ran me through the double doors. Like he ran me through the door to the wrestling room. So he's had it, and i don't think it's going away anytime soon. And it's a good thing; that's why he's the UFC heavyweight champion now.
Speaking of champions, how do you fancy Chris Weidman's chances against Anderson Silva?
I honestly think he has the tools to beat Anderson, with his wrestling background, and he's tough, and he's not... most likely he's not going to get submitted. So I think he has the tools to beat him. But Anderson... obviously he's the greatest right now, and he's always going to be a tough fight for anybody right now, so that could go either way really. But I wouldn't put it past Weidman.
Everybody's got a story, whether it be in training or somebody in MMA that we already know. You told us about Cain, you got anything else?
If I have a story it's... when I first got into the gym, it was actually about two weeks into training, I realized why people from Arizona Combat do so well, 'cuz I got the crap beat out of me. I mean literally the crap beat out of me. It really humbles you to get hit in the stomach and drop to a knee. I never knew you could feel such intense pain off of four body shots, but I found out the hard way. As you know, you said the Lallys kind of have the ego of 'Get back up, get back up!' I was like 'I'm trying but my body won't.' That can be my little fun story of Clifford getting his ass kicked.
Follow Clifford Starks on Twitter: @cliffordstarks1