by Mick Hammond
Recently Pride announced more fights for their first show of the year this coming February 26th and one of the more interesting matches features two fighters whom have set the standard for their teams, Japan’s Tsuyoshi “TK” Kosaka and Brazil’s Mario “Zen Machine” Sperry.
For Sperry it will be his first fight in a year after having spent much of his time preparing his Brazilian Top Team teammates and students for their various fights all over the world. Most recently Sperry could be seen cornering Murilo Bustamante and Ricardo Arona in their controversial decision losses at Pride’s Shockwave 2005 event this past New Year’s Eve.
Recently MMA Weekly caught up with Sperry at his home in Rio de Janeiro shortly after a training session to discuss the controversy at Shockwave, his upcoming fight with Kosaka, and his thoughts on a recent passing and retirement in the combat community.
MMA Weekly: First off Mario, since the last time we spoke you went to Pride Shockwave 2005 where both Arona and Bustamante lost highly disputed decisions to Wanderlei Silva and Dan Henderson respectively. What are your thoughts on those decisions?
Mario Sperry: It’s kind of hard to talk about that because who makes the decisions are the judges. So I think what we have to do is try to understand more of what they think and try to find a way to please them. That’s what we’re trying to do now. We’re kind of changing our game, our style, and be more aggressive. We’ll not so worry about just trying to submit people, we’ll worry about hitting people and getting some points. I think that’s the way.
MMA Weekly: A lot of people within the community and fanbase have been expressing their support of the BTT over those decisions. How does it feel to get that kind of support?
Mario Sperry: I think also that they won the fight and I really appreciate that people think the same way. But still they give the decision to the other fighters, so we can’t do much about it, so I prefer to forget about it and move on. Try to keep on and try to find a way to please the judges.
MMA Weekly: Are Ricardo and Murilo still unhappy about everything or have they moved on also?
Mario Sperry: They did what they could do, they trained hard, they gave their hearts in the ring, but the winning didn’t come. Of course they were upset, but they went on holiday, Murilo went on holiday for about 15 days, Arona just got back about two weeks ago. So Arona has already started training and we don’t talk much about it, we just prefer to move on.
MMA Weekly: All right, moving on, you have your first fight in a year coming up against Tsuyoshi Kosaka. How do you feel heading into the fight?
Mario Sperry: I’m very glad that I’m going to fight. I’m feeling, just to know that I’m going to fight, very well and pretty good. I need the feeling of obligation to train hard – I always train hard throughout the year – but when you get a fight things are totally different and I like that feeling. When the time comes to get in the ring and fight I’m going to be very glad and very happy.
MMA Weekly: Now TK is a veteran that has fought almost everywhere against almost every type of opponent. What do you think about matching up with him?
Mario Sperry: I’ve seen him fight many times, he’s kind of an all-around fighter, he’s pretty good in most of the concepts. His strongest point is the ground fighting, his guard, he knows how to submit people, he’s very strong, he can stand a lot of hits and he doesn’t mind to be hit. It’s going to be a nice test and I’m going to be ready.
MMA Weekly: A lot of the matches on the upcoming Pride 31 card look like qualifiers for the upcoming Open Weight Grand Prix. Do you what kind of involvement the BTT will have in this year’s Grand Prix?
Mario Sperry: Right now the only thing we are sure about is that (Antonio Rodrigo) Nogueira is going to participate. We’re still waiting for any other Pride decision on who will participate.
MMA Weekly: What kind of goals do the BTT have set for the coming year?
Mario Sperry: Basically we have many fighters and pretty good fighters in all divisions, so we’re going to train hard in order to get the highest points and belts from all the weight divisions, that’s our main goal. We respect other fighters and other teams and we know it’s very hard to get a belt in Pride, we are aware of that, but we’re going to train hard and hopefully get there. We’re going to try to get as many belts as we can.
MMA Weekly: I wanted to take a minute to get your thoughts on some recent happenings within the community. A couple of weeks ago Carlson Gracie passed away. I know you have a connection to him, so what are your thoughts on his passing?
Mario Sperry: He was my first teacher, he taught me a lot of things and we had a pretty strong relationship for many years. He was a great fighter; he was the one that really developed Jiu-Jitsu out of the Gracie family. In my opinion he was a great name in Jiu-Jitsu concerning the development of all time. He was a great example for us. He was very proud and when we were with him we were very proud to be with him. Unfortunately we didn’t work out, so we had to leave Carlson Gracie’s team and we had to leave with this bad feeling that we’ll never talk to him again, that’s pretty sad and a strange feeling.
MMA Weekly: But I’m sure you chose to focus on the good aspects of that relationship.
Mario Sperry: Yes, he was a great guy, he was very, very funny and a nice guy to be around and be with. We had some problems that we couldn’t work out so we had to split, but we always respect him. In all my interviews and the team’s interviews we speak with the highest respect we can give to him. No matter what happened, we will respect him the rest of our lives, we will respect him forever.
MMA Weekly: Okay, now on a separate issue, Randy Couture retired this past Saturday after his fight with Chuck Liddell at UFC 57. I know in speaking with many of the BTT fighters there is a great respect for Couture among the team. What are your thoughts on his retirement?
Mario Sperry: I like very much his style of fighting and our team likes it as well because it’s very much like our strategy, try to take the opponent to the ground. He was very good with takedowns and had very good hands on the ground. He was a great fighter and it’s a pity that he’s not going to be fighting anymore. I think that’s why all the BTT guys respect him, he’s a legend. He got two belts in two weight divisions, he fought at 42 years old and was still in great shape and fought very well with a style that pleased everyone at BTT.
MMA Weekly: You think you’d like to keep fighting until you’re 42?
Mario Sperry: I’m 39 now and I’m having some problems man [laughs]. It’s hard, you have to train and train and getting in shape is not so easy like it was before. But still I don’t see myself doing anything else, so that’s the good point about it.
MMA Weekly: So what kind of goals do you have set for yourself this year?
Mario Sperry: First of all I’d like to win the fight in Pride and continue to fight there and hopefully get the opportunities so I have to perform well this time, so I’m pretty concentrated on that. After that I want to continue to fight and train and I want to take care of my students. That’s my second home, the BTT gym, where I have great moments of happiness and satisfaction, training, talking about things, sport, the healthy way of life. Going to Japan with my students, America, Europe, traveling around and training and fighting, that’s what I enjoy most in life.
MMA Weekly: Thanks a lot for your time as always Mario, we appreciate it. Is there anything you’d like to say as we head out?
Mario Sperry: The BTT is growing fast and we have many other fights that are not famous now but pretty soon you’ll be hearing about them. We’re working hard to always put on a great show. I’d just like to also say to the fans that this year Mario Sperry is training hard, I have a fight coming up and I’m training hard to put on a good show. I won’t give up so soon, I’ll fight for a while still and thank you for your support.