by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
This past year was a year of positive change for Vernon “Tiger” White. After going winless and suffering a serious eye injury in 2004, White rebounded winning three of four fights this year and reestablished himself in the MMA community. Along with success in the ring, White was called upon by Ken Shamrock to join him in Susanville, California to help rebuild the famed Lion’s Den team.
Recently, after having helped sire four new members into the Lion’s Den in early December, White spoke to MMA Weekly to discuss his year, his upcoming fight in the WEC, and what his burning desire for 2006 is.
MMA Weekly: To start Vernon, let’s talk about your most recent fight against Alex Stiebling in the UFC this past October. Tell our readers about that fight.
Vernon White: First off I was nervous because he’s a pretty good practitioner and he’s a “Brazilian Killer” as they call him and he outweighed me by about 20lbs, so I was a little afraid going in. But after getting hit and elbowed so many times the feeling of being scared went away and the feeling of anger came in and I just did what I had to do in the second round, knock him out.
MMA Weekly: With that win you went 3-1 this past year. How would you categorize 2005 for yourself?
Vernon White: I would say that it could have gone better. A loss to Matt Horwich (at Sportfight 12) was bad. Not taking anything away from him because he was on his game, but I mentally went into that fight thinking I was going against, from what people telling me, someone mentally beneath me. He capitalized on me not doing what I should have been doing and won the fight. But no one is going to do that again because I’m going to be mentally ready next year.
MMA Weekly: Speaking of next year, tell us about your upcoming first fight of 2006.
Vernon White: I have a fight coming up with Jorge Oliveira (at WEC 18 on January 13th). I guess he had a tough loss against (Justin) Levens and got knocked out and hopefully I can make it happen again, there will be no dispute two times in a row.
MMA Weekly: While Jorge is a BJJ Black Belt, he loves to trade punches being a member of Chute Boxe America. How much would you enjoy it if he wants to trade bombs with you in your fight?
Vernon White: If Jorge wants to try to trade bombs with me that’s great if he wants to. I’m not opposed to standing up or going to the ground, everybody’s seen that. My last three fights, except my fight against Horwich in Oregon, I’ve beat those guys basically by pounding on them.
MMA Weekly: If all goes well for you at WEC, what goals would you have set for the rest of 2006?
Vernon White: I want a rematch with Chuck (Liddell) because I feel like I was slighted a win or at least a no contest because of what happened (at UFC 49). He’s all I’m looking forward to fighting now. I want to get all these other guys out of the way, and I’m not looking past anyone, but after I’m done beating these guys I want Chuck. Whatever happens from there I don’t care.
MMA Weekly: You’ve also done some kickboxing in the past, would you be interested in possibly going back to K-1 next year?
Vernon White: If they ask me, I most likely will, but next time I’ll do a little bit more background checking up on my opponent. I had no idea who he (Remy Bonjasky) was (heading into Battle at the Bellagio II). I had never seen any video on him, some people had told me what his record was, and it was a lie, so it’s kind of difficult to go in and have a fare shake and have an idea what you’re after if you don’t get the right information.
MMA Weekly: Speaking of which, MMA and K-1 have been around for ten years now, and you’ve been in the fray since the beginning. How frustrating is it that still 10 years in you can go into a fight completely oblivious to your opponent?
Vernon White: It’s very frustrating. I wouldn’t say this is a manager’s fault or anything like that, but if you ask a certain person to do something for you, like if my manager asks someone to do a favor for him and they never do that favor, it’s that person’s fault. Because they have the information or know how to get the information or videotape and if they don’t do it, it’s almost like they don’t really care. It’s been very frustrating to know that I’ve been in this sport since 1993 and people still don’t seem to care.
MMA Weekly: All right, let’s talk about the reformed Lion’s Den now. Firstly, what is it like having relocated from the beaches of the major city San Diego to the rural area of Susanville?
Vernon White: To be taken from San Diego where everything is so relaxed and you don’t want to do anything, and come up to Susanville where there’s nothing really to do but train, it forces you to slow your life down. San Diego is kind of hustle and bustle, here makes you slow down and see what you have to focus on. If I have to run, I go run, if I have to lift weights, I lift weights, instead of hanging out, going to friends’ houses, I’m in the gym or dojo and training my butt off. So it’s going to be a decent year this year.
MMA Weekly: Recently our readers have had a chance to watch and read about the last Lion’s Den tryouts that took place in early December where you added four new members to the team. What is it like having this opportunity to be a cornerstone of this rebuilding process?
Vernon White: It’s nice, I get to see all the new fighters coming in that are going to be taking my place in the future. It’s just great to know that I’m going to be one of the guys training them and when Ken takes off to The Ultimate Fighter that I’m going to be in charge of the new fighters. That means that I’m going to be the Head Negro in Charge [laughs]. So it’s going to be kind of nice to step in Ken’s place and be able to put my thoughts and ideas into the guys and teach them some things that they probably haven’t seen before because I’m very unorthodox, so that’s very exciting. But Ken is the Head Honcho in Charge, so whatever he says goes, but it’s going to be nice to put some of my artistic value and fighting value into these guys.
MMA Weekly: How does their tryout compare to yours many years ago?
Vernon White: My tryout was very different from theirs, their tryout is more mental. They have to push themselves so they can get to the fighting part after all the calisthenics and all that stuff. If they know for a fact that they can make it through their problems they can make the team. For the most part if you get a guy who sucks on one part or is good on another part he can actually win and end get into the Lion’s Den. Whereas some guys who are great athletes but they give up because their mind fails them because they go in and maybe fail one certain part, their mind just folds. Like I said some of the other guys aren’t great at this or that, but when it comes to heart that they were able to pass. So we have a lot of great guys who are willing to go out and make a name for themselves.
MMA Weekly: On the video, readers had an opportunity to see a different side of you. Normally you’re a very relaxed, well-spoken, and laid back kind of guy, but on the video you were like a drill sergeant.
Vernon White: Yeah, I wouldn’t say that I’m really laid back [laughs], because you have to be intense to do this kind of work, but I don’t let it come out of the gym. But for the most part when I get in these guys’ faces it’s because Ken sees something in them, I see something in them, we have to confront them with ourselves to make them dig down deep within themselves to find what they need to become a fighter. And if they never find that, we can’t use them. If I can get in guys face and tell them, “Please quit, I don’t want you on my team if you’re a quitter,” and they reach down deep inside and try to prove me wrong, then that’s the kind of people we want here. We want people that are going to turn themselves into who we believe they can be.
MMA Weekly: Before we go I wanted to bring up something I saw recently. Recently Pride debuted their Hardcore Submissions Vol. 1 show on PPV and on there was your fight with Kazushi Sakuraba from Pride 2. What I’m curious about is, what was up with those black wrestling tights?
Vernon White: [Laughs] Okay, the Japanese have their own style of shorts, but I couldn’t find them in my size, so I just went out to find whatever I could so I could come back and fight. It wasn’t like me trying to make any kind of show or anything, I just found the fastest thing I could find and I wore it. Even in Pancrase I wore it until some guys were like, “No Vern, you ought to get some new shorts,” [laughs] so they gave me new shorts. As far as that, guys have got to stop giving me a hard time about that, because I’m still catching flack about that [laughs].
MMA Weekly: All right, thanks for your time as always Vernon. Is there anything you’d like to say as we conclude the interview?
Vernon White: Yeah, something for sponsors, I had Warrior Wear for the last one and I’d like to get them again if possible. If anyone else wants to get in on what’s going to happen to some of my opponents [laughs], I’d be more than welcome to put your patch on me. As for the upcoming year, like I said we have some good fighters coming in and they’re pushing me. They’re making me work harder in kickboxing and grappling, and we’ve got guys from other schools training at our school and if I let up for one second they take advantage. It’s like, if you can picture this, it’s a wounded wildebeest in the water in the Amazon and piranhas coming up. You have to be faster than the piranhas or you’re going to be eaten alive. So I think with them pushing me, Ken pushing me, I’m going to do some incredible things this year. I plan on turning my whole life around and becoming the fighter that people say, “that guy really did change his life around and learned some stuff.” I want a lot of fighters saying that they don’t want to fight me.