by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
At this weekend’s upcoming WEC show in Lemoore, California, one of the feature bouts is a 155lb Championship showdown between title holder Gabe “Godzilla” Ruediger and Hermes Franca in a battle of future and current superstars.

Not only is a title on the line but an inside track on possibly heading to the UFC or Pride to be a part of either company’s growing lightweight divisions. Recently MMA Weekly caught up with Ruediger as he finalized preparations for the biggest fight of his career against Franca.

“It’s definitely a step up and I’m excited to fight somebody of that caliber,” exclaimed Gabe of his impending title defense against Hermes. “It’s going to make me step up my game and I’m fortunate to be fighting someone like that.”

For Ruediger this will be his first fight of the year after having a breakthrough year in 2005 where he went undefeated, raising his overall record to 9-1, taking the WEC Lightweight Championship in the process. As Gabe explained, last year was productive and one to build on.

“I thought it was a good year. As long as I’m moving forward with my career and fighting to the potential that I know that I can have it’s good,” explained Ruediger. “I fought three times and they went really well. I had one decision and even though it was a decision I felt it was a good showing for me and a learning experience. I’m looking forward to having another year like last year, moving forward and garnishing more attention and opportunities.”

Gabe continued, “Of course after losing my first fight (in 2002) and winning every one after that is a good thing. I kind of look at just as every time I fight it’s a progression. Every time you lose you have to rally from that, fight harder and learn from your mistakes. As far as that’s concerned I think things have worked out well for me. I’ve made the right steps, fighting for the right shows and proper promotions and garnered the experience necessary and feel out the fight game. Now I’m prepared for whatever’s coming.”

One of the keys to Ruediger’s success has been his training at Millennia Jiu-Jitsu. Spearheaded by BJJ standout Romie Aram and former KOTC Champ Javier Vazquez, the team has produced some of the best young talent around.

“We have a great set of guys and training partners,” said Gabe. “Although excluding a couple names, we don’t have a lot of guys in the spotlight, but we have a lot of guys that are constantly fighting. In an environment like that it’s going to make everyone improve. We’re fortunate to have the guys we have and I’m happy to be representative of that.”

Turning his attention back to Franca for this weekend’s fight, Ruediger knows it’s not going to be a cakewalk as Hermes is always one of the most dangerous fighters in the division. But Gabe feels he is prepared and far from overmatched in this very important fight.

“Everybody has gameplans when a fight happens, but if you get too stuck in it and something happens outside of that element you tend to get lost. For me wherever the fight is held I feel comfortable,” commented Gabe. “I feel my stand-up is crisper than his, my takedowns and takedown defense is on par, if not better than his. If it hits the ground, I’m not that concerned with that because that’s where my training started. I don’t feel that he’s going to put me in any area where I’m not prepared.”

Even though he has a very bright future ahead of him with many opportunities presenting themselves lately, Ruediger is very focused on the task at hand. “I want to keep fighting and fighting top level people. Here I am fighting Hermes and I want to keep progressing in that manner. I don’t want to be thinking too beyond my task at hand – which is pretty big – so I don’t want to think about it too much. As long as I’m fighting top level competition and working with good promoters I’m going to feel blessed.”

Gabe continued, “I’m open to any opportunities that arise and I think any fighter wants to fight in the top promotions. I’m definitely wouldn’t decline offers from any top promotions. I think we’ll find a proper fit once the fight is over, but my biggest concern is Hermes. He’s not the kind of fighter that I can say, ‘oh I’m going to go right through him and then the big shows are going to be calling.’ All my concentration has to be on Hermes, but like I said any fighter wants to fight on the big shows against the best competition possible.”

Ruediger closed out the conversation by wanting to get a word in for the people that have supported him and by wanting to send a message to fans about what they can expect from him in his battle against Hermes in the WEC this weekend.

“First and foremost I want to thank Dr. Scott Hohulin for helping me out immensely with my strength and conditioning among other things, Sinister brand, Tapout, Gamma-O, On The Mat, and Chin Chek. I feel grateful for the amount of recognition I’m getting and if people are going to watch this fight on HD Net or come out in person they’re going to see an action-packed match. I’m holding anything back and I’m leaving my heart in the cage and hopefully when people watch that they’ll recognize that’s the kind of fighter I am,” concluded Gabe.