by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
Since becoming one of the IFL’s original four teams, the Renzo Gracie-coached New York Pitbulls have had a mixed bag of success. Individually fighters have succeeded, but as a team, the Pitbulls have yet to quite fight the right chemistry to take them to the Finals of the IFL’s World Team Tournament.

This Friday in Atlanta, Georgia, the Pitbulls are looking to change their team fortunes, starting off with their 2007 IFL debut against the league’s newest team, the Chicago Red Bears, coached by UFC vet Igor Zinoviev.

A big key to the Pitbulls’ success could be the productivity of their lightweight leadoff man, Erik Owings.

Since making his MMA debut for the promotion last April, Owings has fought hard and won two of three fights, and now he hopes to continue his winning ways on Friday as he faces off against former chess prodigy Peter Kraljevic of the Red Bears.

Erik spoke to MMAWeekly as he made final preparations to travel to Georgia, to discuss his upcoming fight, his personal and team’s evolutions, and his thoughts on the controversial finish of the Renzo Gracie vs. Frank Shamrock fight earlier this month.

MMAWeekly: First off Erik, tell us about your thoughts on last year, both personally and for the New York Pitbulls.

Erik Owings: For me I really look at last year and this year as experience building. I come from a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu background, so I’m still kind of learning this sport as I go, like how the sport functions and I’m just figuring things out step-by-step.

I think, with the exception of a couple guys that fight on the team, a lot of us are doing the same thing, where there’s some other teams that have guys who have been training and fighting MMA for years. I think it’s a learning process every time, but it’s going to be a better year for us this year because last year I think was more of a feeling-it-out type year.

MMAWeekly: So are you happy with how you’ve progressed as a fighter?

Erik Owings: I feel good. I just do what I can. The academy can be a little difficult because it’s a BJJ academy, so I kind of go outside of there for training too. We do have some good Thai boxers that come in and train with us three times a week, and they’ve actually started doing [Thai] classes there.

I train at the NY Athletic Club now with some good wrestlers up there, so it’s a good, but not a perfect training situation, but I make the best of it. I want to keep improving in all the areas I need to step-by-step.

MMAWeekly: This Friday you and your team make their 2007 IFL debuts against the new Chicago Red Bears. Tell us how you feel heading into this new season.

Erik Owings: I’m pretty excited. There’s going to be some good fights, even though the team line-up may get switched up a little bit. My fight’s going to be against a well-established kickboxer [Peter Kraljevic] who’s had, I guess, around 100 professional fights in various rules. I’m real excited about the individual fights but I’m also excited to see how our team does.

MMAWeekly: What kind of strategy do you have going into this fight against Peter?

Erik Owings: I think the biggest mistake in MMA is that common saying that, “I can knock him out on the feet, or submit him on the ground,” everybody can do that, but you have to be a little more realistic. Like for me, I go in with five or six different strategies that cover things like being on the ropes, takedowns, striking, and each fight is going to represent a different way they’re going to fight you. Some guys defend, stall and run, or some will try to attack you or submit you.

I think that’s what makes the IFL exciting, a lot of these guys don’t know each other, and everybody is feeling like this is their chance to shine, so they fight extremely hard. I just try to train the way I always do, cover all the bases and then I go into each fight with different strategies.

MMAWeekly: What do you think about the Pitbulls chances overall against the Red Bears?

Erik Owings: I really believe we can win, we have the capability, but likewise a lot of other teams do too. There’s so many x-factors that can come into it, like replacement fighters, a bad decision in a match, a flash KO, anything can happen that could force us to lose a match to a team we could beat ten out of ten times. But that’s the interesting thing about fighting, it’s amazing that it’s alive in the moment and you never really know what’s going to happen until the fight actually takes place, that’s what’s cool about it.

MMAWeekly: You guys were one of the original four teams and have been the whole process of the IFL before. Do you think that will give you an advantage over a completely new team with first-time IFL fighters?

Erik Owings: I think it could, but you never know, because some people rise to the pressure and for some, it crushes them. There’s a common saying that people lose 70-80 of their gas just walking out to the ring, because the anxiety, adrenaline, and everything else can just chemically burn them out before they even get into the ring.

The guy that I’m fighting has been fighting his whole adult life, so I imagine for him this is going to be like any other show, but I imagine some of their other guys might be a little nervous. I don’t know if it makes that much of a difference, it might a tad bit, but I don’t think it’s going to be a huge deciding factor. It always comes down to the skills set of the person in the ring.

MMAWeekly: Of course it’s got to feel good knowing you have such an experienced fighter such as Renzo Gracie in your corner and as coach of your team.

Erik Owings: He’s great to have there. His mind for MMA is one of the best out there. He really is a wealth of knowledge and having him in the corner is very comforting, and you know if something does come up in a fight that you don’t see, Renzo’s going to see it and is going to be able to tell you to do it. It really makes you a lot more comfortable.

Renzo’s such a laid-back guy and has such a good personality. I always said that if I didn’t meet him through martial arts, like if I was a carpenter or something and just met him somewhere, I’d get along great with him, because he’s got such a good personality. He’s an amazing person and I never feel like you can let him down, because he always let you know you’re doing good just by being there and trying your hardest, he always gives you that positive energy.

MMAWeekly: Speaking of Renzo, we have to talk about what happened between he and Razorclaws coach Frank Shamrock at EliteXC a couple of weeks ago. What do you think about what happened in the fight, with Frank being DQ’d for illegal knees, and does what happened give you any motivation to face the Razorclaws this year?

Erik Owings: I thought about it a couple times, but the thing is, this is a show and I don’t take this stuff too serious. It was a dirty tactic he employed, but did he do it deliberately, who knows? I really don’t like what he did in the ring but accidents happen, like when Delson Heleno fought Dennis Hallman in the first IFL. He [Delson] basically stomped his [Hallman] face twice and knocked Dennis out, and I know him [Heleno], he has a good heart and expressed how sorry he was for what he did.

And that’s what I didn’t like about Frank, he kept saying this and that, instead of swallowing his ego for a minute and apologizing and offering up a rematch or something for what he did. That would be the way to handle it. Maybe that’s his style, but that’s how he sells himself short, it’s very short-sighted vision. I think maybe he was trying to secure his future fights or sell more tickets, but I really think it was a short-sighted view on his part.

As far as the team goes, I have nothing against the people he trains with or his team. It’s like, I represent Renzo, I’m on his team, the Razorclaws are Frank’s team, but I’m not Renzo and they’re not Frank. That’s Renzo and Frank’s quarrel in my mind, as far as the Razorclaws are concerned, I’d like to compete against them, just like any other team in the IFL.

MMAWeekly: Understandable Erik. Thanks for taking time out for the interview. Is there anything you’d like to say as we head out?

Erik Owings: I’d like to thank all the fans that are watching and supporting the sport. The more they do that, the better it is for us the fighters and the better it is for them, [because] the better fights we’ll put on. I’d like to thank Fairtex; they’ve been really cool to me and given me equipment whenever I needed it. Other than that, thanks to my friends, teammates, everyone I train with and my family that’s always supported me.

I hope they do come down on February 23rd and watch the fights or tune into FSN. There’s going to be some really great team fights and I think the Eduardo Pamplona [versus] Robbie Lawler fight is going to be really good too; it’ll be really exciting I think.

MMAWeekly: But not as exciting as your fight with Peter Kraljevic right?

Erik Owings: Uh…I hope mine will be more exciting. [Laughs] If it’s quick and efficient I’d be happy with that, exciting tends to be painful. [Laughs]