Soa Palelei didn't have the best UFC debut when he fought Eddie Sanchez in 2007, but he's made quite the turnaround. Since then, Palelei has gone 12-1, his only loss coming to Daniel Cormier, and is currently riding a 10-fight win streak. As for his "re-debut" against Nikita Krylov, Palelei didn't have the easiest time in the world, but persevered and secured the stoppage win in the third round. "The Hulk" attributes the stamina issues that led to his difficulties in that fight to a fractured rib.
Since then, Palelei's added swimming to his conditioning regimen, saying that not only did time in the water help rehab his injury, but that it's a great exercise for heavyweights, whose joints can have difficulties with roadwork.
Swimming is the best thing I've ever done. Cardio-wise it's awesome. . . . I used that for rehab, as well. . . and it's worked wonders. . . . I hate running. I have been running for this fight, but running now is easier for me because of the swimming.
Palelei, a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, emphasized technique as being important, especially for larger fighters. Discussing his Jiu Jitsu background, he mentioned that, when he first began training, his instructor didn't even allow him to use his strength, but rather forced him to focus on developing the proper mechanics for submissions, sweeps, and positioning on the ground.
There's always an advantage to being heavier in Jiu Jitsu. . . [but] when we used to roll. . . back then, it was all technique. I wasn't allowed to use strength, I had to use technique. . . . That made me learn things. You know, I could out-strength anyone, but it's all about technique. . . Jiu Jitsu is a good base for anyone coming into mixed martial arts.
When asked what the biggest hurdle Jiu Jitsu practioners face coming into MMA is, Palelei had this to say:
A lot of [Jiu Jitsu] doesn't work in mixed martial arts. The fact that, you know, Jiu Jitsu is like a chess game. You're playing a chess game with your opponent. With mixed martial arts you can't do that because, all of a sudden you're playing a chess game and the guy gets up, grabs the game. . . and just starts smashing you with the board.
This is why fundamental BJJ is so important, said Palelei. "Everything in MMA is basic," he explained, which seems to match his mentality in the cage, where the Tongan is known for his heavy mount and devastating ground striking.
As for striking on the feet, Palelei expressed his fondness for light, technical sparring, something he believes is essential to the development of technique and comfort in the cage."You can't go in there trying to knock each other out," he told me emphatically. "Or less you're not going to learn anything." This mentality is one that a lot of fighters could learn from, especially in MMA where so many athletes seem determined to kill each other in training camp. It certainly doesn't seem to have hindered Palelei's ability to hurt his opponents when fight time comes.
Be sure to listen to the full interview below (Soa's interview starts at 26:49), and stay tuned to BE where you'll find all of the news, fighter interviews, and analysis you need heading into this weekend's event. For more interviews like this, check out Heavy Hands.
Special credit for this episode of Heavy Hands goes to Steph Daniels, aka Crooklyn, who made these excellent interviews possible.