by Lee Whitehead – MMAWeekly.com
MMAWeekly: So Jess, you’re up in Manchester, what’s your take on the UFC so far?
Jess Llaudin: Honestly, I am blown away by how well everything is organized. Let me tell you there is no waiting for anything, it’s all organized and looked after from the moment we arrived here. We’re really treated like professionals from the start. They exceed our expectations as fighters, but they also expect a lot more from us. For example, we’re to do blood tests, eye tests – which cost me £170, an MRI scan, again this cost me £400, but that said, you gain more in the States with visa applications and so on. That is why guys like Kampmann stay out there.
You expect certain things from a big organization and these guys do everything by the book. It is regulation at the highest standard even with the most simple of things such as HIV tests – that is something that not a lot of shows even do.
MMA: So you up there in the lap of luxury then?
JL: Oh totally, I am really surprised at the treatment we have received. You hear fighters moan about getting $3,000 plus $3,000 to fight, but you don’t hear of the treatment during the event. The UFC books everything, the flights, the pickups, and hotels. There are envelopes floating around all over the place with contracts, schedules, times and to do lists. We’re staying in £265 hotel rooms for 5 nights straight, and let me tell you, they gave me a large amount of cash for food. Also, there is a huge workout room that is available to all fighters 24-hours a day, with bags and mats everywhere – it’s all very impressive.
MMA: So what is your schedule like for the 5 days you are there?
JL: Not that heavy; not much really.
MMA: So who have you been training with for this fight?
JL: Just my usual crew at Pancrase London, Dean Jones, Ashleigh Grimshaw and Harry.
MMA: How do you expect Siver to come out?
JL: I have seen loads of his fights and I think he will fight like he always does with a big left hook, punch combo and a high-kick. He will want to clinch and throw me over his head – but I am prepared for him.
MMA: So, any nerves now you’re on the big stage?
JL: Initially on Monday there was, but now I am settling down. I have spoken to a number of people and I look at this as the realization of a dream. It is a unique opportunity so I just need to relax and enjoy the experience at the top level and go and have some fun. Since I adopted that mentality I have had no nerves whatsoever.
MMA: So what impression do you think the UFC will have on the UK scene?
JL: Well my first impression is that it’s a very closed circle. I notice not a lot of media have access, yourselves, Full Contact Fighter and so on are not allowed. It appears to be very exclusive and that is a shame as not everyone will realize the full picture and appreciate the standards that they bring. I don’t think it’s the most important thing for a fighter, but I think other people such as the press will really appreciate the behind the scenes stuff, organization and so on.
Not only that but also how clean things are, and I am not talking about the blood tests and stuff, but also from the promoting side of things. You really see the difference between shows that are professional and those that are not.
MMA: Are you talking about Fight First?
JL: I tell you that show was like being back in 1996… no contracts, fighters confirmed over text – information like, oh he’s a wrestler, now he’s a kickboxer. He’s only just turned pro and it turns out he’s a Shooto veteran!
MMA: Obviously, you are on a 3-fight, 14-month buyout with the UFC. Have they spoken to you about competing on other cards in future?
JL: At the moment, no, I understand that contracts don’t really mean a guarantee for the future, more of an indication. It’s all about if you win and how you fight. If you throw it all down and fight hard, that impresses them and you come back even if you lose. I don’t have any other options. My focus is on this fight pure and simple. I have heard rumors of multiple shows… UFC shows in Monaco, Germany, Holland, Dublin, London, Belfast and back to Manchester – they basically are going for the whole of Europe, and I would love in particular to fight in Monaco.
MMA: With MMA banned in France, Monaco will be your closest to a fight on home soil; I can see how that appeals…
JL: The problem with MMA in France is that it is banned. I have always had good support from the fans there, but the big difference is that MMA in the UK is mainstream. People in the street recognize you more than you would think. I mean, the other day a 60-year-old man came to change a window in my house and recognized me as a fighter. Right from the beginning here we’ve been showed respect. In France it’s frowned upon more by the traditional martial arts.
MMA: Do you ever foresee a change in the French approach to MMA?
JL: In the long term? Maybe. At the moment it’s both good and bad. Although MMA is banned in France, we have solid fighters coming from a striking background who are competing more and more in submission grappling contests and the skill level on the ground is increasing rapidly. We are seeing more and more grappling super-fights here. The elite of French MMA fighters are competing in grappling and that makes them bigger and better. We are seeing this with guys like Cassis Mannan, Bouchelaghem and so on.
The Federation of Traditional Martial Arts is stronger over there and that makes things a lot more limited. There are fewer organizations, fewer champions and it’s a very tight-knit community. Judo and Karate supporters don’t like anything new. For example, you have a 2-time Olympic medalist who is friends with President Chirac slating MMA; the guy was even at his wedding.
MMA: So the support from those in the know is good in France, how are expectations in the UK towards you?
JL: It’s funny how things are changing, especially on the Internet. I usually don’t tend to go onto the Internet before I fight as they usually expect me to lose, but checking around for this one I have noticed a change. For the first time ever, Kakatougi has realized that I am actually good at what I do and have a chance on the big shows. I have always been respected by people in the MMA industry. I don’t care much for Internet warriors. Fighting is my dream and I am following it, respect in the industry is worth it.
MMA: How is Pancrase London going so far?
JL: To be honest it is slowing down a lot of late because I have been preparing for my fight and haven’t had as much time to dedicate to the classes. I have lost maybe 20% of my students, well, mainly beginners, but I really do work with a lot of beginners. But obviously my focus is on fighting. I didn’t start the club to make money; I started it to be able to train people. It smells, it gets sweaty, people get tapped out and called gay and people have funny noses, but we are all there for each other. If I would have done it for the money I would still be doing Gymbox for £60 an hour with housewives who found me cute because of the French accent.
MMA: And finally, what are you doing after this event? Holidays or anything?
JL: No, just to help my guys get ready for their fights. Ash (Ashleigh Grimshaw) wants back on track – he [messed] up in his last fight and he knows it. He wasn’t into it psychologically. That’s not to take anything away from Ronnie Mann who did his job perfectly, but he knows he [messed up]. Dean Jones also wants to get back in there and will be doing so at 70kg. He’s 3-0 and ready to come back. He has an Italian challenge coming up on the 2nd of June at UWC (Ultimate Warrior Challenge). I also have a bunch of new guys who want to come out this year… so straight back into training – I go mad if I don’t spar for more than 2 days.