by Stuart Tonkin (Photos courtesy of Jerome LeBanner)
STUART TONKIN: How has everything gone with your preparation?

JEROME LEBANNER: All is going well. I feel really good! And I feel a lot better when I am lighter. I used to fight between 116 and 124kg. My new diet is better!

ST: What’s your new diet?

JL: While I was shooting for the movie Asterix, I read a book about eating according to your blood type. I tried it, and it works really well. For me red meat is bad, so now my protein source is soy and a little bit of chicken, fish…I also eat a lot of vegetables, salad etc.

ST; How do you train?

JL: I decided to go back to basics. I trained alone at home. I have my gym in the garden! In the morning I run, and in the afternoon I train kickboxing.

Two weeks ago I asked Brice Guidon to be my sparring partner. We trained together. He is tall and has very good skills…especially kicks and knees like Schilt. Brice is very young and talented. I am sure he could become a huge champ soon!

Carl Emery, who will be my coach at the GP, came too and we worked on tactics etc.

ST: Why did you choose Semmy Schilt for the first opponent? You had the choice to take an easier opponent.

JL: Schilt is the current champion. I always want to fight the best. I am a man of challenge…that’s it.

I also prefer to fight in the first fight of the GP, so I have more time to recover.

ST: What do you think about the Golden Glory (GG) fighters? It is possible you will have to face three of them.

JL: Yeah, it would be funny if that happened. GG is one of the best teams. They have proven it…three guys in the GP. That’s great. But you know, I don’t care that much, I am very different. I am a mercenary. I train alone. I have no team. I think the spirit to do so is special.

ST: Are you going to fight under MMA rules at the next K-1 Dynamite?

JL: Right now I am focused on the GP, but they didn’t contact me yet so I guess they don’t plan to have me fight. And I also want to rest. I had very busy year.

ST: Do you plan to fight more often under MMA rules?

JL: Many people have asked if I will stop kickboxing for MMA. I don’t think I will do it. At least, not right now. For me MMA is only fun and a challenge. I never took it seriously. If you want to be the best you need to be serious about it. Maybe later. It will depend on injuries and motivation. I think that MMA is less traumatic that K-1.

ST: Could you tell us more about this incredible story surrounding your last fight? Why did arrive in Japan the day of the fight?

JL: (laughs) Yeah, it was funny. I was shooting for the movie Asterix 3. K-1 knew that I could not fight at the Osaka Eliminations. I talked to them in May at Amsterdam, and also contacted them two months before the event to confirm that the movie insurance would not let me fight. This movie is a super-production, and I have a big roll. It was almost 5 months of shooting. It wasn’t possible to postpone the movie if I got injured. I was sad, but it was like that. A contract needs to be respected, and cinema is a new world for me. If you act like a fool you will not get respect….

However K-1 were contacting me again and again; they said that Japanese FujiTV will cancel the contract if I don’t fight… I was the main event! Even though they knew for ages that I was not available.

Alain Delon saw I was in a difficult position. He saved me… “Good friend. You are born to fight. I will cover you if something goes wrong”. I have much respect and admiration for him. He is a big (important) man. Somebody really special. I made my decision; I was going to fight. It was two days before the event. I was not trained, not ready…but whatever. I am often better when I almost don’t train, that’s a fact. We arrived in Japan 5 hours before the event. I fought, it was close, but I got the win over Choi Hong-man. That guy is a giant and his bones are like rock. Soon he will be unbeatable.

ST: It seems that cinema is important for you now. Do you plan to make more movies?

JL: I have some projects, but I don’t want to talk about them now. I don’t think I will make a 100% transition to movies now, maybe later. The cinema opens its doors to you. You cannot open the door only by your wish.

By the way, I had parts in two nice movies this year; it was a great experience. I meet some fantastic people. Alain Delon, Gerard Depardieu, Clovis Cornillac and Benoit Poolevorde. All those guys are real artists. They live on another planet. But that is necessary. You can’t make people’s dreams if you are a down to earth person. Asterix 3 will be available early 2008. And Scorpion will be available in March 2007.

ST: What are you roles in these movies?

JL: In Scorpion I play my own role. The big bad fighter. (laughs) In Asterix at the Olympic games, I play the roll of the fastest athlete of the Roman Empire.

ST: So it seems you have a talent for acting?

JL: I would not say that. The judges are the spectators and the people that work in the cinema world. All I can say is that I enjoyed playing the roles. I discovered a pleasure to play with words, to give them life and emotion.

I will have attained my goal if people don’t think about kickboxing when they are watching me in the movies.

ST: Let’s come back to the combat sports world. Why did you challenge Tim Sylvia a few months ago?

JL: First of all I am a man of challenge. Then I heard several times and I also read on MMA forums that Sylvia was a “deadly striker”. I was also amazed by him wearing big and ugly sunglasses after one of his fights. So, this challenge was true, but also a joke, I was teasing him a little bit about those horrible sunglasses! (laughs) But yes, I definitely want to fight him under MMA rules. I respect him like I respect other fighters.

I was also surprised to see him get two victories over Arlovski. Congrats to him. My guys said too that he won against Monson. They said it was a boring fight. He was keeping the distance with his “deadly jab”. (laughs)

He is tall, but he doesn’t have half of Choi Hong-man’s skills. (laughs)

Sylvia is a joke. I don’t like to talk trash, but I honestly believe I will beat his ass. I will crush him. I laugh at people thinking Sylvia has good stand up! I would love to show that he is a bad champion.

ST: As has been rumored, are you going to lead an IFL French team for the 2008 Championship?

JL: Nothing is signed, but maybe! We have been in discussion for several months, and we have to agree on some important points of the contract about my image in the USA etc. I like the project, and the concept is simply awesome! They look like they are serious and respect the fighters. That’s important for me.

I also would love to be the coach for French fighters. We have very good warriors here. And it is difficult to find fights because MMA is illegal in France. Our team could be very competitive.

ST: Would you fight for IFL?

JL: First of all, I am a K-1 fighter. But if the conditions are good and K-1 allows me, why not?! A rematch vs. Don Frye under MMA rules would be fair and probably an exciting fight. I also think that K-1 and IFL could have interest to work together, to cooperate. It could be a good idea…Newton and Frye are also K-1 fighters!

But I must repeat myself; nothing is signed yet and after all, that is the main point. It is possible that you will see me in the USA on December 29 at the IFL final. It will depend on my schedule and my schedule depends on the GP results….

ST: If IFL sign you, do you have any team member names in mind?

JL: Yeah, if it gets signed. I think that guys like Kristof Midoux at heavyweight, Brian Rafiq at middleweight, and Semmy Schiavo at lightweight could possibly be in this team. I want mercenaries like me! However, in one year, fighters’ conditions could change and new faces could appear.

ST: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. And good luck with the Grand Prix. Do you have anybody you would like to thank?

JL: I would like to thank my sponsors: Bad Boy Japan, Spris, Bullrot, Fairtex and the French magazine Karate Bushido. I would like to thank my fans. I will do my best to put on a good show. And all my congratulations to Georges St. Pierre for his impressive victory at UFC. I heard that some fighters said French and French-Canadians were not warriors. I guess that they were wrong (laughs) and Georges proved it.