Sarah: So Luke, you just got done cornering a fighter in the UFC. I know we’ve got the UFC fights coming up here in Atlanta, so I’d like to ask you a couple of questions about your experience if that’s ok.
Sarah: Describe the progression of the night. How early do you guys show up? What is the warm up process like? Were you nervous? Was he nervous? What were your experiences there?
Luke: To be honest, I think I was more nervous than Mike Graves, the fighter that we’re talking about in the welterweight division. The progression of the night – the bus ride over there was very quiet, the rest of the fighters on the card were all in the zone. First, we go to our individual locker rooms and we got our Reebok gear laid out – pants, shirt, all that. Then I meet his other corner man from ATT Coconut Creek, Dean Thomas, who’s a UFC veteran. Mark DeLaGrotti comes in and actually puts the mic on me, and that’s when things started to get real. We watched the earlier fights and then we walked out with Mike (Graves) and walking through that tunnel, it was really surreal. When the fight finally ended and Mike got his hand raised, it’s an experience I’ll never forget.
Sarah: Wow, that’s great. So describe to me, when do you pump him up? When do you calm him down? Is it hard to know how to balance those two and when to do each one?
Luke: It can be tough sometimes, this being my first time. Luckily I’ve known Mike on a personal level for a long time, I’ve known him since he was 19 years old, and first getting into a gym to get out of trouble. So I know his ins and outs pretty well. Mike is a guy who you just really have to keep him laughing, keep him relaxed, and set him up to let him do his thing. Just keep him comfortable. He’s not one of those guys that you have to psych up, he does that on his own.
Sarah: Ok, nice. Describe the energy in the building that night. You’ve been to lots of fights here locally in Atlanta, so how does it compare? What are the similarities and differences?
Luke: There really is no comparison, it’s completely different. All of the TV production behind the stage, you’re seeing in between fights, Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan taking bathroom breaks, and of course all the other fighters are there. All of the cameras, the lights, the huge venue where concerts and other pro sporting events take place. There’s always still that almost tangible fight atmosphere at any fight, local or on television, but the UFC is on another level.
Sarah: What suggestions did you make ringside? What were you shouting to him, and did he listen?
Luke: He did, and once again, it’s just a matter of keeping him calm. He got a little wild, and veered off of our original plan a little as far as setting up the takedown. He got a little haymaker-ish with his punches. So in between rounds we just relaxed, I told him to set up your shot, and when we get him to the ground, he’s done. We already saw him gassing out at the end of the first, so once we got Mike on top and adding more pressure, he turned his body down, gave us his back, and that was it.
Sarah: That’s great! I probably already know the answer to this, but what was the most exciting moment of the night?
Luke: For sure it was the win, and also the celebration with his family too. Getting to see the look on his dad’s face as he (Mike) walked back into the crowd. Those are the people, as a fighter, that you want to make proud more than anyone else.
Sarah: Definitely, I get that. What was the most impressive part of the UFC machine?
Luke: How we were taken care of. We were at a beach resort which was about 30 miles from the venue where he fought, so the whole week was paid and taken care of. I think we each got about $300 cash per diem, just for walking around money while we were staying at the resort that was already paid for. We also had a lot of food vouchers and stuff like that so (the money) was really for just frivolous spending and entertainment. For me, it was a little bit of padding for missing work to go out there and do that. So how they took care of us as fighters, that’s just another part of the production that doesn’t compare to the local level. Not because the local guys don’t want to take care of us, but because there’s just not the funds to do that.
Sarah: Right, exactly. What were your biggest takeaways from the experience?
Luke: The biggest takeaways were experiencing Mike’s win, but also meeting everybody there. Not just the fighters, but the other coaches. As a coach and a student of the different arts, Jiu Jitsu, stand up, wrestling, I was just as happy to meet the other famous coaches. Chuck Liddell, Rafael Cordeiro from King’s MMA and the old Chute Box Academy, that was just a few of them. Just meeting the people, that’s what’s important. The fighters and the people behind them. A lot of people don’t realize that there’s one guy getting in (the ring), but this is a team sport.
Sarah: Yes, I agree. Luke thanks so much, I appreciate your time today. I’m looking forward to catching up after the next UFC here in Atlanta, coming up next weekend.
Coach Luke Neyland teaches and coaches out of KnuckleUp Duluth and Sandy Springs – Buckhead. The next time you see him say hello or ask for some tips. He is always ready to help out.
Mike, Luke, see you at UFC 2017!!