I talk to Brian Ebersole, a veteran of over 70 MMA fights, including a memorable run in the UFC. We discuss his early beginnings in the American scholastic wrestling system and the competitive mindset that helped to produce. The start of his fight career which includes training with American Kickboxing Academy, Frank Shamrock and leading all the way to the UFC and finally, how chaos theory, math and abstract thinking, including fish that getaway, has helped to inform his training and coaching methods
Podcast Transcript – Episode 014
Sonny Brown: Welcome to Episode 14 of the Sonny Brown Breakdown, a podcast where we discuss the training, teaching, health, and education of mixed martial arts to help you find the difference that makes the difference. I’m your host, Sonny Brown. In this episode, I talk to Brian Ebersole. Brian is a veteran of over 70 MMA fights, including a memorable run in the UFC. We discuss his early beginnings in the American scholastic wrestling system and the competitive mindset that it helped produce. Also starting his career training with American Kickboxing Academy and Frank Shamrock, all the way to the UFC, and how abstract thinking, including fish that getaway, has helped to inform his training and coaching methods. Now let’s go to the podcast. Good morning, Brian. How are you today, man?
Brian Ebersole: Hey, not too bad. I just got a bit of a workout done. Onto the easy part of my day now.
Sonny: Beautiful. That’s what we like, kick back, have a chat, reminisce with some good martial arts tales, and make plans for the martial arts future. Beautiful. [laughs] Now, I’ve been aware of you for-
Brian: You have a visitor.
Sonny: Nice. nothing wrong with a nice cat on-screen.
Brian: He just climbed the back of my chair, I couldn’t help it.
Sonny: The Internet loves cats, so we’re all good.
Brian: [laughs] I’ve noticed.
Sonny: The internet and ancient Egyptians. We’re on to something. [laughter]
Sonny: Now, I’ve been aware of you since you came to Australia and started fighting with the CFC, which, at the time, it was the biggest promotion in Australia, for sure.
Sonny: That was probably maybe your 50 fights, 60 fights deep into your career at that stage, I would have guessed.
Brian: Yes, the 50s.
Sonny: In the 50s. You were well-experienced and established veteran. It was interesting to have someone like that come on into the Australian scene because there was really no one else like that around. I know you’d grown-up wrestling and got into fighting through that. I wonder if we can start just exactly how you got into wrestling over into America. What’s the story behind that?
Brian: There’s a big difference in sport in America and in Australia. Everything in Australia is through the club, like club sports, where everything in America is scholastic, it’s through the school itself. Schools actually fund most of the athletic endeavors for kids. They do all the scheduling, they take care of the buses and uniforms. Everything’s covered, and there’s minimal expense. It’s a lot easier, like is a barrier of entry. There’s no big financial barrier of entry. Logistically, you’re done with school, you just go to the gym. You just have another PE class at the end of the day, where, here you’ve got to get picked up and brought maybe even to another town, to an oval or a certain aquatic center or whatever the case may be. Well, all of our schools have those aquatic centers built-in. What do you call them, leisure centers here?
Brian: All those separate pieces of a leisure center would be in our high school. My high school, for example, had three gymnasiums, a main gymnasium, a women’s, and a boy’s. The varsity teams always played in the main gym most of the time. It was the big, nice one with all the bleachers. A lot of the JV and freshman squads could play their games in a smaller gym if sports were booked over the top of each other. It was very interesting being able to go through that process and have it very organized. Our schedule, from the time I was five until the time I was in eighth grade, looked very much the same. We were wrestling the same schools, we had very much the same dates on the calendar and things like that. When I got to high school, those four years were almost exactly the same in high school. Freshmen, sophomore, and varsity would have the same schedule. We’d go play one school and all three teams would drop, which is very regimented and very easy, or I find here it’s very different. My grandfather started the wrestling club in my hometown. I co-founded it because there was a gap. All the people in my town, they never got to wrestle until they were in grade nine, which we call high school, secondary education. We had some athletic, tough kids, and they were always getting beat because they always ran into more experienced guys. They founded the youth program, which is just coping and pasting what other communities have done, but all these other communities that kids wrestling since they were six, seven, eight, nine years old. What’s happening at the high school, they were seasoned veterans as far as competition and skill and things like that. It just made for a bit of a lopsided affair sometimes. My dad asked me to wrestle. I remember one night when I was five, and I told him no. I remember the first day told him no. The next day, or a couple of days later, I can’t remember, but soon after, he asked me again, and I said yes. The next day I went, and then I just never stopped going. I hated the offseason. I was like, “I’m bored now. Can I go wrestle?” [laughs]
Sonny: It was a family tradition. The grandfather, your father wrestled as well.
Brian: No, I don’t think my dad wrestled. I know I saw my uncle wrestle in high school, my youngest uncle, but my dad’s one of the older– Sorry, dad. He’s one of the older brothers and sisters out of the 10.
Brian: I’ve got nine aunts and uncles, and I only saw my youngest uncle wrestle live. Now, I know my second-youngest uncle wrestled because his name is on a plaque in my high school, hanging up as well, next to my youngest uncle. Those two had won MVP, like the team captain-type awards in the late ’70s, early ’80s. When I grew up and I got to school, I knew those names are on the plaque, but I’d already started wrestling. I was five years old, I was already well and truly hooked. It wasn’t one of these things I looked back and went, “Oh, I’ve got to do what they’ve done.”
Sonny: You just started doing it, I guess, from a young age.
Brian: Yes, and it was social. My coaches made it fun. Could it have been more regimented and more [mimic] ? Yes, it could have been, but then we’d had lost a lot of kids. I had coaches when I was really young, that did a great job of keeping a large group together through all the bad grades and getting in trouble and being a ratbag little poor kids from a socioeconomically depressed part of town. Dealing with all that. Going as far as coming to pick us up to go to practice, or coming to pick us up to go to a tournament at 4:30 in the morning. We’re all supposed to meet at the school at 4:30 and drive an hour and a half. Well, we’d all meet at the school at 4:30 and half of the caravan would go and one or two of the coaches would swing by houses and just knock on the door and say, “Hey.” With the best of intentions, there were just parents that didn’t get up that early and get their kid there. Not that they didn’t want them to go, the permission was there and the $10 to enter the tournament was there, it’s just they can’t be bothered to get up at 4:00 AM and drive across town. They did a really good job keeping the whole group involved. When I got to high school, it got a bit more serious. I had a really, really full-on coach, but he did it with love. He was a really, really good guy. A Catholic guy, eight or nine kids himself. He’s actually just retired this year. COVID came and he just went all out, “I retire, I’m done.” [chuckles]
Sonny: Good play.
Brian: Now he retired, he had that decision well and truly made well before. No, wrestling back in the US, it’s just part of the school thing. A small, small percentage of boys wrestle, but still, that small percentage lends to a fairly large raw number. Because it’s built like a pyramid, you’ve got to win to get to the finals, we really do find who is the best of the best, at least in the statewide region.
Sonny: That is such a different culture from here in Australia. Just to be able to have that martial arts format baked into just regular life in your schooling system, so different from what we have here. The importance, I guess, of being able to do it for lifelong pursuit and making it fun for those kids, it’s something that I’ve been talking about a bit lately, is just how fun really Trump’s being able to focus on techniques or anything like that. I went through a stage of, okay, I imagine every person in America wrestles.
Sonny: It’s actually been like, “Oh, no, not everyone actually wrestles.” It’s still people don’t like doing it. People will drop out of it.
Sonny: That’s been a bit of a learning curve. What do you think kept you keeping going? To keep going through into college, what was the driving force? Was it just that sheer enjoyment?
Brian: I was good at it.
Sonny: That helps.
Brian: When you start getting good, you start setting goals. I was taught to set goals early. Whether or not I was a great goal setter, I did things, I kept my schedule on my refrigerator for wrestling. Every time win, loss, two wins, one loss, whatever it was, first place, fourth place, I’d write that down. I’d just sit and look at it and I’d have a goal by the end of the year, and toward the end of the year. It’s got to be, but slightly out of reach. For me, it was always, “If I can beat someone that I’m not supposed to beat, if I’m like the fifth best wrestler in my weight class, I want to take third, hit that final tournament.” I’ve got to beat someone that I’m not supposed to. That has to be the goal. Not, “I’m the fifth best wrestler. As long as I beat everyone I’m supposed to beat I take fifth, I’ll be happy.” You’ve got to push yourself just a little higher. I’m not going to beat Robert Whittaker tomorrow, but if I go to a tournament, there’s going to be a couple of guys that are pretty good, and I’m going to say, “Well, I’m going to beat these guys.” I run into Rob and we give him a go, but I wouldn’t rest my whole happiness on beating him tomorrow. Things like that. Trying to keep it realistic, but also still pushing past what you know, or knowing that you’re going to run into a kid again. If it was a close match, I got to beat him this time. Split decisions in fighting are no fun. No one likes that. In wrestling, it instills– Because we have to wrestle that guy again, I tell myself, “I’m going to beat him. I’m going to pin him, I’m going to whoop him this time.” Or here you get guys that will win a pro-fight by split decision, and then they’ll act like they’re entitled to a title shot or, “I need a UFC contract.” or da da da. It’s almost offensive to offer him the same fight a year later. “Well, I’ve already beat the guy.” Well, one, did you really beat him, and two, what’s this, “I’m going to clear out the division kind of thing.”? Maybe go in and fight even a lesser guy just because he’s different, how does that make you a better martial artist, or how does that solidify your spot as the top whatever weight in the country? It breeds a different mentality. As a matchmaker over here, I’m finding it interesting. I don’t judge. I just find it very interesting that I’m putting kids through a system and helping a system with attitudes that are much different than what I came up with, because of the system, I guess. Over here it’s very free and open and everyone has an opinion, whereas in the US, your opinion doesn’t matter in sport. You just show up and play the game, and then results speak, and then you just show up and play the next game. I find it so awkward. AFL, they play the same team a couple of times in a year, you don’t get to choose.
Sonny: Yes, I’d be very interested, maybe we will get into it, just with your experience as a matchmaker and just your opinion on people seeking out maybe easier fights in an attempt to pad their record up to get a better win loss ratio, because clearly, that’s something that you haven’t done with 70 odd fights, isn’t it? You’ve–
Brian: Yes. I just didn’t pick and choose. Would it have been smart? Maybe, but in the end, we didn’t grow up looking to avoid people. We wanted the toughest match. Even in practice those days, you have to go in and go, “I’m going to go beat up on someone 15 pounds heavier than me today.” because that’s the challenge, or, “I’m going to try to wrestle with the lighter guys, but I’m going to wrestle like a lighter guy. I’m going to try to beat him with speed not just–” Like playing basketball, when your shooting with your brother, you can post him up and back him down and hit layups all day. “Can I put a few jumpers on, can I outrun him, can I do a few other things.” would be the challenge. You’ve got to make everything a challenge to get better.
Sonny: I’m with you on that. I don’t understand it as well where, yes, people will take the easier fight in a sport where especially they might present the image that they’re tough and hardcore and scary individuals, but yet, you know that they’re going easy on themselves by picking and choosing certain matchups. I don’t get it. It’s a sport where you can really test yourself, and you can really show legitimately you are a tough guy, no doubt about it. You can get out there and leave no mistakes, but yet there are people who will give that impression to people who don’t know any better. You can go back to work and say, “I smashed this person.” and everyone will believe you and think that’s pretty gnarly, and it’s really only the people who can look at two records and go, “Oh, hang on, something’s not right here. Why are you fighting this guy when you’re [crosstalk] “
Brian: This is a little bit in the US too. I found like, amateur sport-wise, people were willing just to go and try to beat the best guy. Then once you turn pro– Boxing is like this, once you go pro in boxing, you have to go 20 in a row to ever get a shot at anything, blah, blah, blah, blah blah. Our sport’s not really like that. If you really look at the guys that are, and have been in the UFC and have been successful, their early pro-career, there are plenty of losses for a lot of these guys, but they were against tough people. I don’t understand sometimes coming across people that just think, “Well, if I can get to 10, I’ll know I deserve to be in the UFC.” Sometimes they look to see if you beat someone, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they don’t care about you, they’re just going in there because they need a hole filled, but in the end as an individual or as a coach, you’ve got to trust that you’ve put yourself in enough situations where you can handle a tough spot under pressure. I’ve had guys tell me, that I’ve coached, “I want to be in the UFC, da da da. I should be in the UFC.” or, “I take a shot tomorrow. I’ve won this.” and I look at them and I say, “You don’t want to be in the UFC tomorrow. You don’t. You don’t.”
Sonny: It’s going to be tough.
Brian: Like, “Do you want me go sawn off 20 pounds real quick and then beat you up tomorrow? You don’t want to be in the UFC tomorrow. Can we give it a couple of years? Can we give it a couple of test runs against tougher people?” You don’t really want to go on national TV or Pay-per-view and get beat up that bad. There’s a lot of dudes on that roster that would beat up a lot of dudes that I know that bad.
Sonny: I look at the guys, especially from Australia, Volkanovski and Robert Whittaker, who, champions, done their best. From an early stage, you could tell their goal was to fight the best and be the best. You know what? I think that’s worked out better for them.
Brian: Yes, neither of them padded a record. Volkanovski fought some tough dudes, and Robert really fought some of the best to the best as well. Even taking on international challenges, I think that was Robert’s first loss, but he learned a lot. He wrestled a [inaudible 00:16:36] wrestler in CFC.
Sonny: Yes, Jesse Martinez, I think maybe it was.
Brian: Jesse Juarez.
Sonny: Juarez. That’s it. Yes. I’m sure he grew and improved from that.
Sonny: I look at them as our models for– If people want to be good in the sport, those are the guys in this local area that you should look to. They would have had that goal and been able to follow through with it, embedded to find out here, what you have to work on then probably get, as you say, get into the big show, the tomorrow and maybe it doesn’t go so well.
Brian: You don’t always get a second chance. You might go lose a fight or two in the UFC and get booted out, and then that springboards you athletically. You get that brain-body connection, you put a few things together, you come win a few fights, and you feel like you’re unstoppable now. You might be, but you might not get back in.
Sonny: Yes. I know that there’s some people I can think of that’s happened.
Brian: Then you get relegated to protecting your record domestically, and you get into that weird middle ground like, “Well, then what?”
Sonny: Yes, I’ve always felt like some of the local guys who have been in the UFC and come out, kind of owe it to some of the other local guys to put that on the line, to be like, “Okay, you had your chance. Now you’ve got that Rep. Can you help take on some of the other local guys here so they can have the opportunity? Prove yourself.”
Brian: That’s it. Be a gatekeeper, at least. Go be the national champion. If that’s the next best thing, go do it. Go clear out the division. I don’t know. Just competition has a different flavor coming from that system. The two guys you mentioned were very happy to go out of their comfort zone and do boxing exhibitions or kickboxing, and Robert Whittaker is a national champion wrestler. He was going to wrestle in the Commonwealth Games a year or two ago. Alex had wrestled, done a few other things. Go jump into grappling industries. I think Robert got healed up by Tito Carlo. Not all that long ago. Just for the challenge.
Sonny: After his fight with Israel Adesanya, nearly every grappling– Probably less than a month afterwards. If you can’t be inspired by that and take something away from that looking at the guy who’s just been in tens of thousands of people in front of Melbourne and now just he was at the local gym taking on the local, grappling-
Brian: Just that want to compete, just put yourself in that– It’s not always like, “I need to win, win, win, win.” everything is just, “I want to have a good go.” You can’t always do it in the gym with your mates. It’s not always an honest, fair fight with your mates.
Sonny: There is that extra level of competition that just breeds that little bit of extra intensity.
Brian: It’s the unknown.
Sonny: The unknown.
Brian: The unknown. The uncertainly. I’ve seen some really unassuming looking people in all different avenues, whether it’s an ESCO or a Waco, or a wrestling tournament or Jiu Jitsu cup, that don’t look like they should even be in the room, and then they go out whip people. Imagine a chubby old guy grabbing Robert, you’re having his way with him, Dean Listering him or something. Can you imagine? Just that unknown, you just never know if someone’s got a good game here, a good game there and a nice trick move that works every now and again. Maybe someone is just super fit and you can’t wear him down, things like that. There’s all sorts of challenges in those tournaments and those uncertain matches where in your room you know, you can go and pick and choose your opponents and your teammates and everyone knows each other’s game and everyone has that little brotherly, well, that’s our agreed intensity.
Sonny: Which you need as well for training, but–
Sonny: Longevity, you need that. Speaking of the unknown and uncertainty, when you would have started competing yourself and would have set that goal, I guess at some stage, you said you’re big on goal, I’m sure you would have set that goal to compete and there would have been no way that you could have known where the sport was going or what you were maybe getting yourself into for the long run. What first prompted you to take that first fight, maybe, and how did you go about dealing with those unknowns of competition in those early days for you?
Brian: When I was 12, 13, my parents actually ordered the first UFC, and we watched it. It wasn’t something that was all that interesting to me, it was cool to watch for martial arts, I didn’t even consider wrestling martial art until way later, but it was me just watching it and having a go. Then a couple of years later, I started playing basketball with a group of guys through the summer, and they were kenpo and Taekwondo and did some point fighting tournaments. One of the other ones was really into the whole, “This wrestling thing is really cool.” We’d always wrestle and play and try to figure out how to do some of the moves, kind of like what the guys do now with YouTube, the blue belt YouTube thing. We were doing very much the same thing, but as subpar white belts back then. Eventually, that morphed into, could you, because I’d wrestle, I was only one that wrestled in the group. Well, you couldn’t take me down to submit me because I did okay on the ground with them and some of the guys weren’t very good and didn’t get it, so I was always on their back, pinning them, and even if I couldn’t sub them, just wearing them out and sitting in mount. That whole ego thing turned into, well, you couldn’t take me down before, so we could get out on the grass and put some gloves on and take them down and da da da da da. Then it turned into, I’ll teach you to wrestle, you teach you me how to strike. Then they tried to take me down while I was boxing. We just mixed up all these games, and some of that’s still with my coaching style now, just mixing up games, you play one character, you play the other character, you got to be this way, he’s got to be that way. I went off to college, wrestled my first year. Matt Hughes had fought earlier in that year. I actually went with one of my teammates to watch him up in Chicago. That was the promoter I first ended up fighting for, funny enough, in that same gym. A year or so later, after my second wrestling season, I had four fights that summer, then I came back from my third season, gotten a scuffle with a college kid from another school that was down visiting, and got arrested for it, charged, set through most of the wrestling season awaiting trial and going through court procedures so I couldn’t play sport. The charges got dropped toward the end of the year, I’d missed most of my school year, definitely missed all the wrestling season and wasn’t invited to come back to the team the next year. During that time, while I couldn’t go on campus, I couldn’t do this, I couldn’t do that, had a few more fights. Once I knew I couldn’t wrestle, that was going to be my only way to stay active, so I ended up getting a key to a local dojo to be able to train after they were done training in a matted area, and had a couple guys that were interested. One of them, big heavyweight fella, ended up fighting two or three UFC guys; fought Tim Sylvia, fought Jason Riley and did okay, considering where we’re coming from. Had Tim Sylvia at a bit of trouble, to be honest, and then Tim went on to be a UFC champion less than two years later. It was a bit of an interesting one. Had another kid that got into Bellator and did a few good things, young fella. Funny enough, my school, the wrestling team itself, produced about nine or eight UFC guys, and then some of just the offside, random kids that I trained with ended up getting into, like I said, Bellator, some other big fights. The whole goal thing, I think, started after my wrestling was gone because wrestling was always primary, that was first. Then I decided, well, I’m going to make a go with this. I ended up moving to California to go train at AKA in 2003. I was out there until 2006, ’07 because 2006 I visited Australia the first time for a couple of months. I went back for four months and left in April of 2007 to come back, and I’ve stayed most of those 12 years in Australia since.
Sonny: Did you move to California then with the intention of, I’m going to make this my career, my profession?
Brian: Yes, I went to AKA. Jon Fitch and I had taken a Thanksgiving break, we met through the local Midwest meet grinding fight every weekend kind of scene, and we took a couple of trips together. We ended up going out to AKA and staying with Crazy Bob Cook and Josh Thompson, sleeping on their couch and floor for a little while. Then we moved back separately not too far apart from each other, but after that school year was over. He got his degree and moved on out, I just stopped mine. I was 20 credits short, I should have stayed for another year and finished, but I just went, I’m going to go do this. I just followed it. I went out there, and by the time we’re out there, you’ve invested a lot to move to California. I think both of us looked at it like, this is what we’re going to do. In different ways, it work out for both of us.
Sonny: Yes, that burned the boats mentality, I guess.
Brian: I know. I definitely did, but he didn’t tell his parents he was fighting for a long time. His parents didn’t know until he was in the UFC. He went a long time without mom knowing that he was punching on for a living.
Sonny: That’s funny.
Brian: ‘Jon, does your mom know that you just spent a weekend in Mexico drinking Corona and punching people?” “No, Brian, she doesn’t.” “Well, I won’t tell her, Jon.” [laughs]
Sonny: That’s good.
Brian: I moved out there and trained at AKA for a good two years, and then Frank Shamrock left to open his own academy and I went with him. In my first fight out of his own academy was a [unintelligible 00:27:05] against Cung Le. I’d never kickboxed in my life, and I went and fought Cung Le in his sport.
Sonny: Correct me if I’m wrong, but that seemed to be what Cung Le was doing with his Sanshou. No one in that area actually did Sanshou, so he was getting some people who he could– His highlight really looks amazing. I’ll just say that.
Brian: Oh, it does, but it’s a couple of rungs up from Steven Seagal highlight. The guy could throw some punches and kicks, but he’s scissor takedowning people that can barely stand on their own two feet in the stiff wind anyway.
Sonny: It seems like that. I love what Cung Le’s done, I love enjoying watching his fights ….
Brian: He’s amazing.
Sonny: But those Sanshou fights he had in California just looks like–
Brian: He was not on the grind in those fights.
Sonny: [laughs] Just things like that, but there wasn’t much Sanshou background in his opponents, but that’s a big step in to keep going into your first fight.
Brian: Definitely into the deep end, but it ramped up my training, I was really excited for that fight. That was the one reason I went with Frank instead of staying at AKA because I thought Frank would get me into those kind of fights. I looked at the situation at AKA, which was still very fledgling. When I left with Frank and signed this fight, the other boys just got on to the Ultimate Fighter. Four of my teammates, Jon Fitch was the fifth and he got pulled off the plane with his luggage at the last minute. Four of the teammates went off to Ultimate Fighter, and then soon after, I was fighting Cung. I ended up getting one opportunity while they got another, but that’s the one that really set AKA’s MMA team off, and it turned into a big recruiting machine and sinking entertainment as far as the management started to get big and they recruited a Josh Koscheck as a couple of time national champion wrestler and the Daniel Comier’s of the world and Cain Velasquez’s followed soon after. I went off looking for those fights, and was super excited to get it. I had a feeling that he wouldn’t try to wrestle much, and in the end, he didn’t. I took a fair few leg kicks to my lead leg, and it turned nice and purple over the next few days as I rested and hung out, but it was a fairly close fight, and I was pretty excited to get in there and actually not get beat up against someone dangerous, because that, again, just showed me I was on the right path. That fight, and probably the M-1 fight where it was USA versus Russia, Chael Sonnen was on the card, Justin Eilers was on the card. We had a pretty good group of American guys fighting a stack of Russians. I fought a Russian whose record ended up being, it was 27 and 3, coming out of that red double team. It was at 93 kilos, and I usually fought 84, and later on I fought 77 and 70. He was a very large gentleman, so to be able to TKO him in round three, after trying to stand with him, because I was, “Hey, I’m trying to get American Kickboxing Academy. I’m going to show off my striking.” I stood with this guy for two rounds, and didn’t get beat up too bad. To be able to go do that again, with no choice really. If I wrestled with Cung, they just stood us back up anyway. To be able to get through that next bottle saying okay, I don’t want to fight Wanderlei Silva yet, but I’m on the right path.
Sonny: In part of that early formation of your style then, when you’re training at AKA, leaving to go with Frank. Frank is one of the all-time legends of the sport, no doubt, with his early mix of styles. How much did his influence translate on to your eventual fighting style? What was training under him like?
Brian: Training with him was– I wasn’t starstruck. I had met the Tito Ortiz’s and all these people, and I realized, Tito wrestled in a division in college that wasn’t as competitive as the one I was in. That said, he had some accolades. He won some medals. Had I went to that division, I don’t know if I had won those same metals, but I was wrestling the best of the best in competition in my room for the two years I wrestled. I didn’t look at it like it was out of reach. Matt Hughes, who was my wrestling coach used to pound me and pick on me and beat me up, so I looked at him like he was on another level. He was a three, four-time all American, and then you get to a Matt Hughes, and I looked at Matt very much– Oh sorry. You get out to Frank and I looked at Frank the same way. Complete physical specimen, you might be in a good position, but you still feel like you’re in danger with him. He was a pretty generous guy. It just took me to get over that hump to actually ask him for some help, because he ran like his own programs. He wasn’t part of the fight team, really at the time. He was just doing his own thing. He wasn’t really actively seeking fights at the time for himself. There was just that little bit of when I ran into him asking him for some of his time, like, “Hey, can I come in before one of your classes or stay after one of your classes?” First thing I remember asking him was about leg locks, because I didn’t know a thing about them.
Brian: He spent some time with me there. Then when I decided to leave with him, he was very much in that early 30s, trying to make the most of his brand, because he’d already done all the hard yards and the fighting and didn’t make all that much money doing it. By all that much money, I’m not even going to throw a ballpark figure out, I have no idea how well off he was from it, but he’s not making what they’re making today, and that’s for sure. You could see he wanted to make the most of the Shamrock name. He’s trying to set up a gym and set up other corporate stuff. He got in the gym a fair bit, but he wasn’t always on the mat, on the mat, on the mat. He was definitely more like a coach or a team manager at that stage. Which was okay because he did leave us with a pretty good knowledge base and he brought in some pretty good people to teach them the classes and play. It wasn’t like every day it was I got to wrestle with Frank, which would have been a dream. Getting over there and have him kind of lead the ship, like I said, was a bit of an interesting look into the other side. Maybe a bit late for me and maybe not my style, but he was putting us in front of cameras, and having us do mock interviews and all that stuff and said, if you’re ever going to make money in this game, it’s going to be as much doing this as it would be fighting. With the group of guys he had, he was giving us amazing knowledge. I’m the only one that got out to the UFC out of that group that trained there. It wasn’t my style to kind of be like a McGregor, but he very much gave us those tools and that insight if we wanted to. That would be the path to travel to try to increase your social media footprint. Social media wasn’t really a thing back then. He knew it was in the pipeline and coming, obviously knowing people in the Silicon Valley and the tech world. He had that insight and knowledge that it was all coming. Very interesting. Had he had a group of UFC based athletes 6, 7, 8, 10 guys, and did what he did with the group that I had, which was just a rough and tumble group, like a ragtag group of guys, I think he’d created a few superstars, to be honest.
Sonny: Yes, that’s fascinating that he got you guys in front of the camera to do mock interviews, because that’s the first time I’ve ever heard of anyone in MMA doing that. My understanding is that they do that in pro wrestling as like a form to get their interview skills better, but it certainly makes sense if you’re going to do it professionally to practice that for MMA. Very interesting. I remember him, his fight versus Phil Baroni actually. He did the full video packages beforehand that he produced himself and put on YouTube. Maybe he was one of the first person to do something like that. I remember at the time that seemed like a pretty big deal.
Brian: It’s one of the ones, he’s a bit of a visionary in that regard. Unfortunately, at every step of the way, it’s like he was just born too early. He was doing the stuff before, but it didn’t pay off until a couple of years later for other kids that were coming up. He did a great job for Strikeforce, and I know they had good buy rates and things like that. Again, to be able to leverage his name, his resume, and things like that, to be able to do that maybe five years later, would have been a whole different story. Could you imagine how many Instagram followers Frank Shamrock would have if he was 31 right now, 32 years old?
Sonny: For sure. That Phil Baroni fight would be gone viral. Making that hand gesture of him being on the pillow and things like that, in the middle of the fight, that would be a viral clip. 100% that will get around–
Brian: He’s not shy. He does the 10 second clips and does the really good hard sound bites that are going to get attention. That’s what he was telling us. It doesn’t matter how much you talk, it’s kind of how hard you hit with your words in those short bursts. When I got to the UFC and they wanted to do all these interviews backstage, there were times, I remember doing one in a dark room and they’re asking me these questions. I’m kind of going very long form with it, and finally one of the guys goes, “We’re just really looking for short, sharp clips.” He basically told me what they were going to do with it. You know when you come out and they’re doing the announcement of the fight and they put, for example, they put Chris Lytle up talking for sevens seconds and then they switch over to me for like seven or eight seconds, and then back to Chris. He goes, “That’s what we’re doing this for.” I’m like, “Why didn’t you say that? I thought you were interviewing me.” I was treating it like a podcast. As soon as he told me that, and that was my first fight, it got a lot easier to just go through those interviews and just say what they sort of needed. If I hit him with my left hand, he’s going to fall down. He’s going to go to sleep. If I get his back, I will choke him. That’s all they want to hear. They don’t want to hear about, how do you think your styles match up? Well, that’s what they ask you, but it’s not what they want to hear. [laughs] It was very interesting. I look at someone like Frank, I think he would have definitely thrived in a different era because he understood it, and he understood it early, and it didn’t have to be forced or pressed upon him. It was a very, very interesting time with Frank, and I left Frank’s and came to Australia and fought for Justin Lawrence twice before going back for a couple of months having one more fight, and then I moved back to Australia, and ended with a coaching job in Perth. I had a short-timer on Frank, and his influence besides being in the gym then, like all the stuff he taught me, most of it didn’t come out and come to fruition for me until I was coaching in Perth, leading another group of young men like 18, 19, 20, 21 year olds, and having a lot of time to do solo training and bag work and kettlebells and mat drills and just getting better at my own movement. That’s really where a lot of the lessons he gave me sunk in, and probably because I have that quiet time to reflect with no distractions as well. Frank’s knowledge has kind of been the gift that keeps on giving for me.
Sonny: Taking that knowledge and building on it, how did you manage to actually get through your fights until you get to Australia with, I believe, never knocked out, never knocked down? How does a wrestler manage to strike with people, even getting a cartwheel kick knock out, which I think there was some controversy about? Maybe you can explain that. Take those risks over and over again and then managed to come out relatively unscathed. Do you think that’s fair to say?
Brian: Yes, I came out pretty unscathed. There’s a little bit there. I don’t try to create train crashes very often. Even my striking style, not really trying to strike to kill people most of the time. Even the big stuff I throw, I’m expecting you to cover and I can take you down off of that or clinch you off for that. I expect to get that high hardcover, and I use that high hardcover to my advantage as well. Most people, and I never ran into like a body shot master or anything like that, most people have very big toes before they swing with something powerful. I learned to read people through wrestling. You could see when people are loading up to wrestle, and the same thing came with striking. I never really came across like a Vasyl Lomachenko that could faint and make you really jump and then slick out to one side or the other or change levels so well. I never really got hit with a big body shop, which I always thought it was just because someone’s going to hit me in the liver, someone’s going to slick me and make me scared one place and get me somewhere else. Fighting Hector Lombard is pretty straightforward. He’s going to swing with his left and then his right and then his left and then his right, then his left, then his right until he doesn’t want to swing anymore, or until I break distance or make him clench, or hit him back and make him think. Super easy for me just to use a high guard. Sometimes I look a bit silly doing it, but nothing really got past my forearms. It was a bit of pattern recognition, and then just a little bit of smarts. I don’t need to try to beat people to a punch. I didn’t have that pride where you throw 10 punches, I had to throw a couple back. I would let you throw a 10 and I’d throw a zero and that’d be fine, and I will just go to the next engagement. It was all about competing and winning. If you want to take 10 bad shots with a basketball, that’s fine, but I’m not going to rush into mine.
Sonny: That makes sense. Now you say you didn’t take too much of the showmanship stuff from Frank Shamrock, but then you did have the arrow. I believe, the arrow shaved into your chest pointing at the chin, goading people to come and try and knock you out. Was that just a part of gamesmanship?
Brian: Yes, eventually, like I said, Frank’s lesson started to sink in a little bit. I realized I’ve got to go out and show. It can’t just be head down, hoodie up, EarPods in, warm-up, compete, leave. I started to have a little bit more fun at the way so that whole arrow thing was a weigh-in thing. I told the guy at the weigh-in that he’s going to have to hit me to beat me. You’re not cow wrestling, you better bring your hands tomorrow. Then when I showed up, I left a goatee and an arrow on the chin. It was a longer story than just shaving the arrow. That was a bit set up, a bit of verbal sparring at the way in. Then I kept it from there because people loved it and had a laugh and I was like, “Well, even getting out of UFC–” While I was in the UFC I said, “Nobody knows my name, and that’s okay. They just know the guy with the arrow. Even after, I still get people who are like, “Oh, you’re the arrow guy.” Nobody knows my name. I had a few more fights without a change maybe, but in the end, I left an impression, and like I said, it started to sink in that you got to do something different. I wanted to get out of Australia into the UFC. I’m like, “Listen, I’ve got that many fights. I can compare myself to these many guys that have fought similar opponents or some of the guys I had beaten, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I’ve got to get in.” When I came over here, I decided if I’m going to go and be the best guy, it might not be enough just to be the best guy. I’ve got to have a bit of fun with it and show that I can play the entertainment side of the sport a little bit.
Sonny: The first time I think I saw you fight was with the CFC. The first fight was with Dylan Andrews, I think.
Sonny: My recollection was you’re walking out to the cage on your mobile phone, and [chuckles] you went and sat down in the corner having a chat with someone.
Brian: Yes, I told everyone I was talking to my mom.
Sonny: Were you really? What was going on there?
Brian: I may or may not have been, but that’s what I told everyone.
Sonny: We’ll leave that to a bit of [crosstalk] secret.
Brian: Because I’ve done it a few times. I walked out with my phone at Strikeforce in the US. I don’t remember how many of those were real phone calls and how many of them weren’t, but I’ve done it a few times.
Sonny: The most important thing is that you left an impression that when I think about it, I can’t probably tell you what happened in the fight. I remember that walk out very vividly. There’s that to take away.
Brian: I didn’t realize, but they gave me the nickname bad boy without me knowing. I just showed up on the poster. It was Brian the bad boy. That was all. I was like, “Well, okay, I’m the American guy. I’m from out of town. That’s fair.” Then it stuck.
Sonny: Then speaking of the weigh-ins then that led to the arrow, I’ve got to ask you about what happened at the Hector Lombard weigh-in. What was it like fighting him? Because at the time, I guess he was kind of unknown, or he wasn’t what he came to be known as. I remember there was this scuffle at the weigh-in. You were wearing, it was like a Buddhist flag around your neck or something like that. What was that flag? What were you wearing? Then what actually went down there?
Brian: When I fought Hector, he was at 84 kilos, and I was already weighing 76 waking up on a day, and I knew I was going to 70, but I couldn’t get a fight at 70. Without naming names, there were just people in that division that wouldn’t sign to fight me at 70. I looked at Hector and I went, “Well, okay, I wasn’t that weight class. I’m not really weighing in that weight class now, but that’s something only I know. Everyone else thinks I’m a middleweight.” I couldn’t exactly duck him after beating a couple of guys at middleweight and then going on the lightweight or on the welterweight now. Everyone’s going to say, “Well, you’re ducking Hector.” Even though I’d went vegetarian, I’d leaned out a ton for the first time in my life properly without doing weight cutting. I actually had a glass of wine and a liter of water at the weigh-in just to get up to 77.5. Hector would have weighed in 83.9. I had a scroll around my neck, obviously, that got me up to maybe 78 kilos, but it said something about power doesn’t come from something, it comes from an indomitable spirit. Hector is walking around. Obviously we all theorize he’s used some substances in his day. He doesn’t pass the sniff test on that.
Sonny: Didn’t he get positive for a test?
Brian: Yes, there’s that. We made that up.
Brian: You never know. It’s like you can do it when you’re 18 but those gains stay with you. It’s not–
Sonny: That’s not big things with that.
Brian: That’s what people don’t get. Is you don’t need to be on it all the time. It’s just when you make gains like that, your body holds that knowledge and that gain. I’ve talked to some people that know a bit about it on other podcasts, and they’ve given me the science behind all that and very interesting, the way the body lays down muscle and it lays down neural pathways and things like that. I was given a bit of a hard time in that regard, but not so subtle. I asked for drug tests for that fight, and CFC said, “Okay.” My drug test came out of my purse. I don’t know if they actually properly drug tested Hector or not. I remember peeing in a cup and that was really it and I don’t know who read it, who tested that. There wasn’t much said other than I lost 500 marks and I got to pee in a cup later that day. In the end, I was– Because I wasn’t given privy to the process, but I was asking Hector, “Are you going to be able to pee anytime soon? Because I don’t want to wait around for two and a half, three hours while you rehydrate to pee.” He didn’t probably even know what I said, and he just flew off the handle. I looked over at Luke, I said, “Hey, do we have to wait around? You know he’s 83.9 right now. He’s cut six kilos. How long do I got to wait tonight? I just want to go home and rest or go back to the hotel,” whatever it was. Just have a laugh. Hector flew off the handle. He came up to me and threw a combo, and then I stood behind my shortest coach so my Chin’s resting over top of his head and I’m still talking to Hector having a laugh. I’m like, ” Hold me back, Taff . Hold me back.” [laughs] He wasn’t really holding me back, obviously, but just having a big laugh. Well, Hector tried to pick up a barstool and chase me with it after that. I got to block my first four punches from Hector at the weigh-in, and then the barstool stuff and then the, “I’ll kill you in the streets,” and all sorts of crazy stuff coming out of his mouth. It seemed like a Scarface kind of speech that he gave me. The Cuban accent and everything. That left a little bit of a fun start to the whole charade and fight weekend. Then obviously we get in the fight and I cut him with an elbow in round one. I ended up getting cut myself in round three, and I blew my knee out a bit in round four. While in full guard, I just case gave the ref a bit of a wave and said, “Hey, that’s me for the day. I’m not going to go and ruin my knee on this guy.” Subsequent to the fight, Hector’s freaking out saying I headbutted him, [laughs] and that’s how I cut him. I had someone slow the video down and send it off on Twitter or something like that. He’s telling me he bet me $5,000 that it was a headbutt. I’m like, “Well, give me your $5,000 because here’s a video. There’s my elbow.” Having a laugh and flew off the handle. We had a few funny run-ins over the years since then. Obviously, he and I were in the UFC at the same time. He’s always been an interesting one for me.
Sonny: Yes, he’s definitely, definitely a character, who will say that. Then going from those fights, those local fights in the CFC, getting the call-up, finally, to get into the UFC while you’ve been training out here. I think the first one it was a replacement fight.
Brian: It was, yes. I replaced Carlos Condit against Chris Lytle. They were going to fight to see who was going to fight at GSP. The winner was going to get the title shot.
Sonny: Wow. At the time, Condit and Chris Lytle, it certainly wasn’t an easy fight to go into the UFC on. How prepared were you for that? Was that the moment you’d always been waiting for? How did that go down?
Brian: I had fought the June before, like six, seven months before I’d fought Carlos Newton in Brisbane. I practiced a few nasty movements and a few things that are just mean. He was one of the first guys I knew when I got in there that I could do a few things with, and I had to hold back the tiniest bit. I would hate to rip the leg off of a legend. I’m not the meanest guy. Then, I go fight Chris Lytle and it was the same thing. It’s like, “I need to beat him up, but I can’t heel hook him and I can’t do this and I can’t do that.” I could choke him and maybe hit him a few times [chuckles] . I beat Carlos Newton, and after round two, I knew I was up two rounds to zero, so round three, just played the same game, clinch, strike, throw a few kicks, and mostly coast. I didn’t go to the ground with him at all because I didn’t really want to give him any comfort and any shot. Then, the same thing, calling UFC like I want to get into UFC 127, it’s six, seven months away, da, da, da, da, da. “Well, we don’t need an American with 12 losses. You didn’t beat Carlos all that impressively,” when I said, “I’ve just been a UFC champ.” “It wasn’t that impressive. You didn’t finish him.” I’m like, “I have to go kill people to get a shot in UFC?” It was frustrating. Then, obviously, two weeks out or 10 days out, 11 days out, there’s an injury, so I do get a call-up. Luckily, I was training for a fight on the Gold Coast that was going to happen a week before the UFC. They pulled me out of a fight like five days before I was going to fight, maybe seven. Luckily, I was in training, but I was at a point where after the Carlos Newton fight, I was ready to be done. I was ready to just coach and be done. Then, I took a fight in Tasmania that was against someone I know, and I knew he wasn’t going to be able to beat me. That was one of those safe record padding fights but wasn’t really for the record, it was just for a couple of dollars so I could continue feeding myself. Then, I got the call for the UFC. Super happy to get in there, compete really well, get a Fight of the Night bonus which really saved everything because, without those bonuses, my pay would have been so paltry. It would have been tough to continue. I had a really bad injury pop up right after that fight. Two weeks later, I was in Melbourne doing a seminar and I was talking on one knee while holding onto a single leg not bearing any weight or anything from that single leg. I was just about to transition through a double. Before I even went into the move while I was talking, my back seized up. It was a slow little process, but over the course of 10 minutes, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do anything with myself for the rest of the day. I talked to a couple of students that I was familiar with through the rest of the seminar and they did all the demos. That night, I couldn’t even get out of the bed. I couldn’t get up to go to the toilet. I was crawling, excruciating pain. It was a bit of a tough one. Had I not got that bonus, I probably wouldn’t even have fought the next fight. I probably would have called it right there, but because they had that bonus money, I was able to really spend some money on myself and go chiro, osteo, physio, PT, pilates, and get myself core strength and strong to where I was confident enough not to rip my back again. The second fight was Dennis Hallman, I got another bonus. I was able to spend that money again.
Sonny: That’s got to be a good story.
Brian: Oh, that was amazing.
Sonny: Maybe that you were just on the receiving end of–
Brian: He made my day [laughs] .
Sonny: Yes, I guess the story was pretty much, “He’s won.” It’s definitely the most unique bonus probably given in UFC history, which is basically for beating Dennis Hallman after you came out wearing a pair of speedos for the fight.
Brian: I mean, go figure, I let the guy on my back to start.
Brian: The last place you want a guy in speedos, but also the last place you want Dennis Hallman. Shocking, shocking start to the fight but it worked out.
Sonny: Did you flinch at all when he came out in the speedos? Because it was seen as such an egregious act at then.
Brian: I’ve wrestled my whole life, that’s normal stuff. That’s normal.
Sonny: At one stage in the sport, that was par for the course.
Brian: The pro wrestling, just wrestling.
Sonny: Yes, but he certainly coped at that night [laughs] .
Brian: You have Sakuraba. Even Frank Shamrock wore a pair of tights in one of his fights. Dan Severn. Ken Shamrock. It didn’t throw me off. It was so different than what you see in that era because everyone was wearing boardshorts, or maybe the Bad Boy spats closer to your knee. No, because, again, I’m old. As far as data goes, it’s like, yes, that data was collected a while ago seeing all those tiny, tiny, tiny shorts. Hulk Hogan even, Ultimate Warrior, all that stuff. Pro wrestling ravishing Rick Rude. That was all normal to me just because the recent data has drifted away and towards boardshorts and all that, it didn’t quite get me. Had I not had 50 fights and been a pro wrestling fan, then it might have been different. Everyone else freaked out. I had a good chuckle to myself. The only time I flinched in that whole fight was when he threw a head kick a bit unexpected. I caught it off my form and I turned and I went to square back up but he followed me on a path I didn’t expect, and he was jumped on my back pretty early. I was watching the video. I was so upset with myself. I said, “What am I doing?” I acted like he was a Cro Cop. I acted like he was Cro Cop kicking me in the head.
Sonny: That’s classic.
Brian: Yes. It made for good fun. Those bonuses really helped. In one way, I’ve got a lot of knowledge now that I wouldn’t have had I not hurt myself, so that’s cool, but not cool because I had to hurt myself to get that knowledge. Just about core strength and mobility and just different modes of exercise. It’s just not all about just bench, squat, deadlift, pick people up, throw them down if you want to be a real martial artist. Interesting days.
Sonny: You had some more fights in the UFC, but now, you’ve moved on now into a coaching role. I’m wondering, you mentioned there being a real martial artist, what do you expect from the guys that you’re coaching now with getting that– You even mentioned getting the old data and the new data from life experience. Taking that part of being a real martial artist that way that you’re collecting data, how do you translate that onto the guys that you’re coaching now? What do you expect them to grow into?
Brian: More of an expectation of an individual, for me, it’s like once people show me that they actually want to compete because, again, half the people I’m in contact with don’t want to compete, and I love that. I love the fact that MMA and whatnot is a sport where average Joes get to come in and help push competitive athletes a bit. It almost renders that at least team environment that’s missing from this individual type of sport where you get dads and whatnot that come in and can wrestle with Alex Volkanovski, three or four dads or trading rounds with them and giving them a push. When someone tells me they want to compete, it’s my job to find out what their normal life looks like, and then for us both to figure out what their best effort toward becoming a competitive martial artist would look like. All my guys will have a different schedule, and that’s not predicated on like, “To be a fighter, you have to do this, this, this, and this, and spend this much time,” it’s, “This is what your life looks like, so to be the best martial artist you can be, this has got to be what we do,” if that makes sense. If I get someone working four 12-hour shifts, their training routine has to look different than someone that works five eight-hour shifts. It has to be different. The rest, recovery, the time expectancy, all that has to be different. I get guys that– some guys are bucket listers, want to have one or two. It’s like, “Let’s be smart about the one or two we do and when we do them, it doesn’t have to be tomorrow, or do you want to have one now and then take a year to ruminate on those lessons and get good and then have the other one? How do you want to do it?” Some guys want to go back to back to back to back to back. It’s my job more to manage people because if just left to their own devices, some people would just try to run through the brick wall over and over and over and over and over, and that’s not always the best way to get a result. It’s very interesting because it’s not a sport environment. I don’t have people all coming from eight hours of sitting in desks and walking hallways and then training for two hours. I don’t have it to where I can call them in at 6:00 AM to do a run and a conditioned session before classes or go to school all day and then train after. Everyone’s coming from different areas. Some of my best athletes don’t even train together because they have different work schedules. One guy is in my 5:30 class, one guy is in my 7:30 every day. The only day they get together is on a Saturday. It’s such a different story dealing with the amateur guys. Everyone has a different end goal or outlook. Some guys know that they’re going to have four or five amateur fights, and that’s probably going to be it. Then, you get other guys that have that little bit of, “If I catch–” That’s what I did. if I threw mud at the wall and it stuck, and that’s why I kept going. I’m like, “I’m pretty good at this. I’m going to keep going. I’m going to move to California. I’m still winning most of my fights, I’m going to keep going.” At any point, one fighter, one incident could have changed everything. Trying to look at people and stay sustainable and that little bit of longevity and let them fall in love with the sport is one aspect. Then, the other aspect is, “How do we get you as well prepared as possible?” but again, knowing that you have a life outside of the gym. Because, again, we’re not in school all day.
Sonny: With maybe not as many people doing it for the competitive side and it’s not being as regimented for sport, then what would you say the main benefit of training martial arts, of being a martial artist can be for people to apply outside of that sporting context? What life lessons can they take from that training that you think are possible?
Brian: Martial arts is a really, really good– I don’t know if platform is the right word, but in the sense that you can start as a complete beginner and not know anything and feel uncoordinated, and you can truly see your progression with the same effort like weightlifting. If you can lift 10, then 20, then 30, then 40, then 50, you can see it go up, but this is more of a feeling of coordination of whole-body awareness. It’s very interesting for someone to be able to come in knowing nothing, and then the power of, “I can defend myself, I can move people at will, I can sustain being attacked and defend, defend, defend and still turn the tide to where, eventually, I become the attacker in a grappling situation or a striking situation.” Being able to set goals and see progress, again, inside the gym, is very easy where sometimes, in your work environment, you don’t really have a tangible plateau to get to and a hill to climb. For me, with my students, it’s very, very important for them to realize where they were two months ago and give themselves the credit for the work they’ve done to get there, and then to look at themselves in other avenues and go, “Yes, I can get better at everything in my life. I don’t have to stay stagnant.” You can get better as a parent. You can get better as a husband. You can get better as a friend. You can get better just with different bits of awareness in different modes.
Sonny: When you’re talking about getting as a better friend, sometimes, it’s hard to get the tangible feedback on what that actually would involve that you can get with something like martial arts, which I guess makes it more like an art. You can probably tell if you’re getting better at painting, if you’re getting better at playing an instrument, and that puts it into that art field. Would you think that’s reasonable to say?
Brian: Yes. With any drawing, you could draw anything, like a bowl of fruit and do it 20, 30, 40 times, you’re going to notice a difference. That same thing, if you’re going to get on a pads or a mitt routine, you’re going to notice the difference. You can get on a wrestling set of drills from touch to take down, to guard pass, to submission, you’re going to notice that you’re smoother and it’s flowing better and you’re not freezing up or thinking or getting in your own way. It’s interesting that it’s not just one training modality that’s going to get you the big picture of improvement. Sometimes, you hit the bag, trying to be light as a feather and retract really well. Other times, you’re trying to punch all the way through the bag. Sometimes, you’re trying to be as fast as you can. Sometimes, you have to slow it all the way down and try to draw the perfect pathway. With those even just four or five little modalities there, think about going into any other avenue of your life to get a response from a friend or to get a response from your child or your pet, to train my cat how to shake hands. I had to try a few different ways to get my daughter to want to dress her self [laughs] . You’ve got to try a few different ways and a few different things. Yes, it does translate very, very well if people are willing to be a bit abstract with their thinking.
Sonny: Okay. Talk about abstract thinking, in my mind, teaching your cat to shake hands is pretty abstract. Am I wrong? I don’t own a cat, but that doesn’t seem like everyone’s thought that one.
Brian: The first time trying to get him to shake hands was like I’d touch his paw to try to make him give it to me, and he didn’t quite get it. He was just looking at me like I’m trying to start a fight so he bites me, which he’s doing right now. Obviously, trying to get food involved, but then you’ve got to make sure he’s properly hungry. It’s like, “Do I do it during the day? Do I do it at night? Do I do it in the middle of the day?” Funny enough, the one that got it with our cat was my daughter. My daughter actually taught him how to shake hands. I’m sitting here racking my brain trying to figure it out how to get through to him, and then I just handed the treats to my daughter and say, “You try,” and then she does it [chuckles] .
Brian: Very interesting.
Sonny: Would you say a little bit of abstract thinking has influenced your martial arts career or was it the martial arts that maybe made you see the benefit of abstract thinking?
Brian: I think I was always like that. When I wrestled, I had different ticks and different internal processes than my teammates, and because I had teammates, the same teammates, a couple of them from the time I was 8-years-old all the way until 18, we would actually talk about how we trained, not just, “Oh, I took you down today,” and, “Oh, you got me a good one.” It was like, “When you’re hitting 20 double A’s, what are you thinking about?” We all had a little bit of a different answer to that question, so it made me realize there’s different ways to skin a cat kind of thing. Getting our brain and body to connect is different for everyone, but it has to be done for everyone if they’re going to get efficient and proficient at things.
Sonny: Okay. It was your way of just chatting to people about what happened in training and noticing that everyone took away something a little different or saw things a little differently that opened you up to the idea that that’s occurring and there’s maybe a way to use that to your advantage?
Brian: Yes, and that’s why I look at everyone as unique. I don’t train everyone exactly the same. I don’t speak to everyone exactly the same, which is the one nice thing. In the scholastic sports, it’s a lot of teams speeches or team talks, which is good in one way because you can say something that might only be about one or two players but you’re saying it to the whole team, and it’s up to the individual to figure out whether that’s a general speech, whether it’s actually talking about you in particular [chuckles] or your mindset in particular because there’s some speech where you’re like, “He’s not talking about me. The coach is razzing on someone, I don’t know who it is, but this isn’t about me, but I’ll just sit here and suffer anyway.” Whereas, the martial arts thing, I get a lot more one-on-one time with my athletes. I do have to take into account how they’re motivated, what view they take because you can really push someone the wrong way and get a completely different result and put them off. Like I said about my early, early wrestling coaches, they made everything fun. Even the challenges have to have some semblance of the dangling carrot or a bit of fun to get people to respond.
Sonny: Okay, that makes sense. I hear that. Is there anything that you would say outside of your martial arts experience that has given you different perspectives that you found useful when going back into martial arts, things that you’ve taken outside? Maybe a different form of art that hasn’t been able to translate over for you?
Brian: Can you rephrase that one time, sorry?
Sonny: Sure. There’s the benefit of seeing different perspectives within martial arts training and knowing that each individual needs to be treated as an individual, and you’ve taken that from abstract thinking. Is there anything abstracting from that? Is there anything outside of martial arts practice that people wouldn’t necessarily associate with martial arts that maybe has helped inform your journey in martial arts? Maybe, maybe not.
Brian: I was a history major in college. Not that I got all deep and I didn’t have a major specialty, I just wanted to be a history teacher in high school. I basically just had to know– I didn’t have to specialize in English history or this or that, I just had to know how historians operate, how they do their research. All the reading and all the stuff, you come across history repeating itself over and over and over, but it always has different little wrinkles. Wars were waged for the same reasons over and over and over, but it always seemed like it was a different emotional trigger that would get a leader or a warlord to decide they wanted to take someone over. Whether it was a slight or whether it was they have that resource that I really like, the shiny sparkly thing over there, I’m going to go attack them and take that from them. I always find that very interesting. Then, having a bit of a mathematical mind and taking finite math was probably one of the weirdest, most interesting classes I ever took. It talked about like chaos theory and we used to do stuff like drops of ink and how they splatter, and how somehow mathematically, it makes sense, and trying to get my mind around stuff like that. I found it very odd, but statistics and order have always resonated an interesting way with me. Everyone thinks they’re unique, but if you take a bigger sampling, they’re not, but then again, you can’t– If I try to judge what you’re going to do next, I couldn’t. You’d be unpredictable. On a larger set of a million, it would be predictable. There’s going to be a certain percentage that this, this, this, and this. I know I’m getting a bit out there with it.
Sonny: I know but keep going.
Brian: It’s hard to explain exactly.
Sonny: It’s funny, actually, you say you’re getting out of it, but it’s one thing that keeps coming up in different avenues with conversations with different martial artists is the idea of chaos and order and informing different training practices. It’s like a little test tube where, obviously, things we know for sure can get very chaotic in the training room.
Brian: I see it all the time. Yes, it gets a bit ugly, it gets a bit chaotic. We try to make things look pretty on the mitts all the time. We try to make things look pretty with a grappling drill, and you see some of these flow drills that people do that are amazing. The mitts one is easy for me. I’ll get guys on the mitts that look good when I stand still, and then as soon as they throw their jab, I back up half a step and then their cross and their hook fall short, and they don’t know why and I’m like, “Because I moved and you didn’t.” Then, they start moving and they follow me, they follow me, and then I stand still after three or four reps, and they run into me and they’re too close. They’re like, “How do I fix that?” I’m like, “What do you mean? It’s just up to you to fix it.” If you’re trying to maintain a certain distance, it doesn’t matter what I do, you got to maintain that distance or you just got to call it quits. The first thing I’ll start doing is drifting back, then I’ll start drifting left and I’ll start drifting right and make them finish their combo. It’s very interesting how some guys can shift their stance without thinking about it and how other people have to break it down, the way each individual process that problem. For me, as a coach, it’s just introducing a bit of order, get them on 10, 15 good reps, and then do something slightly different where they need to make an adjustment, and then problem solved like, “How are we going to do that? Are you going to stop and think about it? Are you going to be hard on yourself or are you just going to get on with it, see if it works and go?” Then, there’s times I’ll have someone on the same combo for a while, and I’ll throw a different strike at him in the middle just to see if they pause or hesitate or play. You’re going to throw a jab-cross-hook, I’m going to catch jab-cross, and I’m going to throw an inside leg kick while you throw the hook. Then, the next time, I’ll throw an outside leg kick, and then the next time, I’ll lift up a knee, and then the next time, I’ll try to keep you on your jab, things like that. It’s very interesting to see the different responses that they have, but in the end, they all start to realize that I’m just trying to put them off of their path, and it’s their job to find a way to stay on their path because when it comes to sparring, it’s going to get even worse. That’s one of the few ways I try to mix sparring-type pressure and just shaking things up into mitts. As we were talking about before, it’s just me introducing a little bit of chaos to what had been perfect order in the previous reps.
Sonny: Is that somewhat influenced then by your– you just mentioned that study of chaos theory, eavesdropping on the–?
Brian: Yes, a little bit. When we used to wrestle, we’d hit like 20, 30, 40 double legs. At the time, again, was when I was taking some of these interesting math classes and I had some really cool teachers. If no variable changes, then nothing should change but then nothing can improve. If you’re going to hit 20 double legs on me in 2 minutes and I just stand there, that’s easy, but then if I sprawl 100% all the way, that’s one response, fair enough, and it might be difficult, but it’s not the only response you’re going to see in a live match. If I can break down my sprawl into like a quarter and a half, three quarter and full, and then I can add a bit of left and right, and then even instead of sprawling, sometimes, actually hitting in and walking into you, now, I’ve got six responses I can give you over your 20 reps. Now, you don’t know which one’s coming, but you have to shoot on as double legs every single time.
Sonny: Wow. I really like that.
Brian: If I just stood there you, don’t even to shoot on double legs at me. I’ve stood there for 10 reps and on rep number 11, I’ve taken one tiny step back and I’ve completely thrown people off and they were like, “What are you doing?” “Look at what are you doing? You’re shooting the double leg, and now you’re up here talking to me. I’m supposed to be laying on the mat underneath you right now.” “Yes, but you moved.” “Isn’t your opponent going to move?” “Yes, that makes sense.” Then, they understand what I’m doing, but then to get someone else to do that as a partner is actually hard because they might not have the same outlook as you. I find it super frustrating when I’m with a partner and I get no other feedback other than the one thing, and sometimes, that one thing is true stillness. Sometimes, it’s, “I’m going to stop you at all cost from shooting this shot,” and it’s like we’re drilling. I’m supposed to be hitting 15 or 20 of these before we do the next thing, but you’re just trying to spar right now. There’s got to be a lot of stuff in the middle that we can play with that’s not completely taking away your opportunity to finish your drill, but it’s also making your drill a unique journey to the finish. Imagine, you go for a [unintelligible 01:14:01] from north-south and you sit me up on my side, and I just shake the arm that you’re trying to [unintelligible 01:14:06] , that’s going to be a bit more difficult than if I just hold my hand with my other hand and wait for you to separate my hands.
Sonny: That added benefit then of just each drill giving people some defensive feedback, not just being– but a different kind of defensive feedback every time.
Brian: Yes. Even if you’re going to go mount armbar, if I just bump and shake and play consistent, not hard, not intense, but just consistently just move my torso, have fun. You got to find your spot to hit that arm marks. It’s going to be a lot different than from stillness. Imagine picking up a fish that doesn’t really want to be in your boat. Some of them go really hard, really consistent. Other ones are really smart and they play possum. They go still in your hands and they hang out, and they hang out, and as soon as they feel you’re relaxed, bop, bop, bop, bop, and they’re going. I have lost a lot of fish like that where they play still and then they go. That’s influenced some of my game as well, especially submission escapes. I’m dead to rights, you’ve got me, you’ve got me, I’m in a bad spot, but I’m going to surprise you with my one last ditch attempt as best as I can to make it hard for you to hold though.
Sonny: Right. Your submission escapes which you’re notoriously hard to submit, even saying that guillotine chokes are a miss-
Brian: They are.
Sonny: -your submission escapes were actually influenced by fish. Did I hear that right?
Brian: True story, absolutely.
Sonny: That’s fascinating.
Brian: Absolutely. When you hold onto a wet fish that doesn’t want to be in your arms, it’s not easy.
Sonny: When you’re escaping submissions, you’re trying to emulate that. I understand it. It makes sense.
Brian: Look how hard they change directions too. They’re not going to one direction and running from you. They don’t have feet. It’s just small direction changes. They undulate and they play and it’s just short, sharp movement, and it creates space. Like a jackhammer, you can’t really play tug-of-war with a jackhammer, ta, ta, ta, ta, ta. You can’t even keep the grip, which changes directions too fast. All these little odd things out in the world definitely can be related back to human movement and a methodology.
Sonny: Okay, I like it. It’s surprising, it’s not even the only time we’ve talked about fish and grappling this week. [laughter]
Sonny: I’m always surprised by how the things do always interconnect and relate to each other. It’s fascinating. I have to ask about the guillotine is a myth thing because I put it to you, Mr. Ebersole, the guillotine is not a myth. How about that? [chuckles] Convince me.
Brian: Here’s where it comes from. I know it works sometimes, but it was so frustrating going back and listening to commentators of my flights or even friends or whoever say, “He had you in a guillotine, he had you in a guillotine.” Listen, and not to use a curse word, but I want to like, “Listen, butthead, I double legged him and I took him down to side control. Where was this guillotine at? The guy was holding my head, it doesn’t mean it was a guillotine. I picked him up, I slammed him on the mat. He held my head so I didn’t get up and punch him.” That’s not a guillotine. There’s a big difference between someone controlling a front headlock and slipping in for an attempt to choke you versus some guy putting his armpit on the back of your neck while you lift him up over your head or drive him to the cage or take him down to side guard half control or half guard. It was just more of a frustration of most of the time my head’s ever been under someone’s arm, it’s because I put it there.
Sonny: I got you.
Brian: He wasn’t guillotining me, he was grabbing my head on his way down to his back. I was taking him down. Now, every now and again, were they able to regain guard? Yes, they were, but most of the time, I would tripod, straighten my neck, and they couldn’t apply much pressure. It came out of a frustration of listening to people like, “Oh, he’s in a guillotine.” I’m like, “I’m in a deep double leg. What are you talking about? I don’t care if you’re Joe Rogan or not, that’s not a guillotine, Joe.” Yes, we had a bit of a laugh with it.
Sonny: Okay, I get you. That makes sense. I’ve started doing a bit of commentary myself, and I’ll give him some empathy because I’ve found that I’m constantly now worried about doing something that I’m pissing off some dangerous fighter and he’ll come back and say, “You said what?” I’ll go easy on him.
Sonny: It’s been a great conversation, Brian. I’ll just finish with just one last question. I’ve had you for a while and it’s been really good getting into some of those topics. Just one last question would be if there was any advice you could give yourself back when you first got into martial arts. Let’s say when you first started fighting professionally, you go back to your first professional fight, you’re the ghost of professional fighting past. What’s the advice you would give yourself?
Brian: Probably to diversify my training a little bit in the sense that I was obviously very wrestler-centric. I would have loved to have had more time around a black belt at a younger age and learn some of those skills, but also diversifying out of the blokey bloke tough guy thing. Not that that was my personality, but that’s what the culture was like, so that’s what I was given. I didn’t have social media to look up like kettlebell, core, pilates, yoga stuff, and that would have been cool. I wish I would have drifted more to those diverse avenues of training because I did meet some really good people along the way, I just didn’t gravitate toward them because I didn’t think that that was an assist to my martial arts endeavor. I’m a guy that I can barely get into a parallel squat, let alone put my butt to the floor, and I would love to be able to go to China or India and have a cup of tea on my own two feet but being a foot and a half tall. I would love to be able to squat and hang out like that. I would love to be able to open up my hips. I would love to be able to bend over and put my socks on every day with no struggle. Yes, diversifying my training and not just looking at it like, “If I do all the hard stuff, the hard stuff will be easier.” Well, sometimes, doing the soft stuff makes the hard stuff easier.
Sonny: I hear you. Probably, I’ll say the same thing. That’s something that I’m focusing on now more especially, just trying to get flexible for the longevity side of things because it seems like in early days, you can get away with so much more.
Brian: Yes, you can get out of bed without being sore every day, but even then, I knew my hips were tight and I knew I wasn’t flexible back then. I just didn’t know what to do about them. I just didn’t see that pathway of like, “Oh, if I just embrace knowledge from hippies, I’ll be all right.” [chuckles] I’m like, “What are hippies going to teach me that is going to help me with fighting?”
Sonny: Surprisingly, it may be a little bit, I think.
Brian: A little bit a lot, I think. Look at Jonathan Brookings, he went all the way to India for a couple of years, didn’t he?
Sonny: He’s a fascinating guy.
Brian: He’d be an interesting podcast, hey.
Sonny: I would love to talk to him, yes. [laughter]
Sonny: Hey, this has been a great show. I’d love to do it again. Maybe next time, we can just go straight into hippie talk and get down to that. [laughter]
Sonny: Thank you so much for your time, Brian. I appreciate it so much.
Brian: It was a pleasure.
Sonny: Absolute pleasure. I really appreciate it. If people want to get in touch with you, they want to look you up, what’s the best way that they can go about doing that?
Brian: I’m on Facebook at Brian Ebersole. That’s just a big sports page I’ve had for quite a while. Direct messages through there will come to me. I don’t have a secretary going through all that at this stage, and Instagram, same, @bryanebersole.
Sonny: Beautiful. I’ll make sure to put those links in the show notes for people who want to look it up. Thank you so much, Brian. I’ll be in touch, and hopefully, we can talk again in the future.
Brian: Hopefully, we can get on the damn mats in the future.
Sonny: I hear that mate. I hear that.
Brian: That would be a pleasure. We could just do this off of one device.
Sonny: Let’s do that. Let’s do that. Hopefully, in the next six months.
Sign up to my mailing list and receive updates on my articles, podcasts and videos. You will also get a download of my guide "The Morning Routine for Martial Artists" which details the top five routine habits to start a martial artists day.