by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
(Photo courtesy of Dream Stage Entertainment)

It’s been a long, winding road to the UFC for Dean Lister. From Abu Dhabi Champion, to King of the Cage staple, to a sometimes tumultuous tenure with Pride, Lister has been through just about every experience a combat athlete can go through.

Even after personal issues hampered his fighting career, Dean remained strong and refocused himself after many months spent abroad in Europe, and with a stint as a Jiu-Jitsu instructor on the third season of The Ultimate Fighter TV series.

Ready to make his return to action, Lister will step into the famed Octagon for the first time against Alessio Sakara at UFC 60, which will take place on May 27th at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.

During final preparations for his upcoming bout, Dean took time to speak to MMAWeekly about his recent activities, his fight with Sakara, and what the future holds for “The Boogeyman.”

MMAWeekly: First off, Dean, tell us what you’ve been up to these past few months.

Dean Lister: I’ve really been traveling a lot. I’ve been in Europe and Japan. I was over there training with, being trained by, and teaching Jerome LeBanner. My first two trips to Europe were very seminar-oriented. I was training, doing seminars, but [mainly] I was over there with the group Korn. I made friends with them and was traveling all around Europe on their tour bus. I know it sounds like I’m joking, but I was. Every city we stopped in, I’d do a seminar. I left and came back for two weeks, so I had in total a month of seminars I did in Europe. It was a real life experience. I enjoyed it a lot, and I’m real glad I did that.

Then I went back for three weeks in France, staying in the town Le Havre. That’s the town where Jerome LeBanner lives. [I] was training there with him… I was learning stand-up, but also teaching him the ground. We had really good training. We shared a lot of secrets, and it was real good training. That time it was real isolated just out in the countryside, training and getting into fight mode. I was going to have a fight in K-1 on the New Year’s show, but it fell through, so I was just there with Jerome in his corner. Since then, I came back and was gone again filming The Ultimate Fighter 3. I was in Las Vegas for six or seven weeks filming that. So I’ve been really, really busy, traveling a lot over the past six months, and now I’m back.

MMAWeekly: Sounds like a lot has been going on with you. What was it like being stuck on a bus doing the touring lifestyle of a musician?

Dean Lister: You know, it was a great time. It wasn’t really stuck on a bus. Traveling around Europe was just beautiful. Traveling around in a two-story bus… I had my own bunk and slept wherever I wanted. It was great, actually. It’s kind of like I didn’t do it because I was star-struck or anything, because one of my friends works for them and I met them through there, but it was just a great time. I saw so many countries, like 20 countries. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I wasn’t really stuck on the bus. I’d sleep on the bus until the next city, then walk around the city, do a seminar, and then go to a concert every night. Every single day, that was my life for that time period. During that time, I had a match with a European Champion, Andreas Schmidt, in Germany. It was a good match. It just helped me implement my dream. Traveling around Europe, hanging out with the guys in Korn… it was a great time.

MMAWeekly: Did you get a chance to show the guys in Korn a thing or two? Will we maybe see one of them in the cage in the future?

Dean Lister: [Laughs] In the cage… no, I don’t think so. They’re a good group of guys, though. A couple of their security guys are definitely into it. I don’t know about them fighting, but they did a good job learning. They’re good guys. They all know Tito, and they know about the sport. They definitely know what’s up with it, so it was a great time.

MMAWeekly: All right, let’s move on to training with Jerome LeBanner. He comes from a K-1 background, whereas you are a ground specialist. What was that experience like?

Dean Lister: He’s the kind of person that once you get to know him, once he opens up, he has a big heart. He has a compound out in the countryside like two hours from Paris. He’s kind of isolated out in the countryside, and it really helps you kind of focus on things. I was staying out in a guest house. It was really cold. We’d go for runs in the morning, go into town, and what was really good about it was that I had to get out of the “going out stage” and get more serious. He also knew I was going through some readjustment period in my life because of my ex-wife, and he helped me out a lot.

He’s a good guy, has a good heart, and also he’s technically great where striking is concerned. I come from a one-sided background the opposite of him, so we both kind of shared both of our secrets about what it takes to be a champion, and we kind of rubbed off on each other. I got in some good sparring out there with some top guys in France and learned some things. I learned enough French to where I’m picking up that language, too. It was a really good experience, and I guess just by luck I’ve been making some really good decisions lately.

MMAWeekly: And what was it like shooting the TV show, always having the camera around when you are trying to teach, train, and work with the fighters?

Dean Lister: For me, it wasn’t a big deal because I’m not an actor. I didn’t go away from what I normally do. I just did what came naturally and didn’t try to be a certain way in front of the camera. I think it’s coming out well on the show. I watch every single show and they seem to be getting better every single one. It definitely was a good experience. Being in Las Vegas was another big thing in my life. I’ve been going through an adjustment period in my life, so doing that was a good experience for me. It’s another facet of life, and just being there teaching in that environment was new. I’ve been teaching a long time, but with the show you have these eight new guys with their own personalities that you’ve never met before, and you have to adapt to their personalities and individual abilities. There was a lot of good training with Tito. We did a lot of wrestling, boxing, sparring… it was a really good experience, once again.

MMAWeekly: As you mentioned, you had a lot going on in your personal life leading up to the last couple months. Now that you’ve had a chance to grow as a person and as a fighter without distraction, how does the Dean Lister of today compare to the one of a year ago?

Dean Lister: I’m much, much happier. It’s kind of hard to describe the feeling. I’ve often said that when you fight, you can’t hide who you are. If you’re a dirty fighter, it shows. If you cheat, it shows. If you’re patient, have a temper, are lazy, if you’re smart, have strategy, it all shows. Also, from what I’ve found out now… who the person is at the moment, what they’re going through in life, really affects them in the fight. So I’ve not been able to express myself truly as a fighter the past couple of years. I’d been off in my own little world. Everyone told me that I wasn’t myself in my social life, either. I had totally changed. Fortunately, I had a lot of good friends around me, and I’m back to my same old self. I had to find myself again because I had lost a lot of my fighting spirit. It’s always funny when you say that because people don’t always understand it, but it’s something that happens. I’ve recovered from it, and I feel happier now and much truer to who I am now.

MMAWeekly: What changes will we see in your fighting now compared to then?

Dean Lister: I can’t really say. I can just say [you’ll see a] hard worker, and I’m just going to go out and get my job done. When I said I wasn’t really able to express myself before, that just means I wasn’t able to focus myself. If I get hit real hard— which will happen, of course— it will at least be me motivated, walking into a punch, instead of me off in la-la land not focusing on the fight. All I can say is that I got my motivation back just recently, and it’s a definitely a huge thing in my life to have it back. I can see everyone seeing an aggressive style, looking for me to finish the fight, and looking for me to please the fans.

MMAWeekly: Okay, let’s talk about your upcoming debut fight for the UFC against Alessio Sakara on May 27th. Have you had any opportunity to study him and prepare specifically for what he brings?

Dean Lister: I haven’t seen much footage on him. I’ve seen a little bit, and he seems like a very aggressive striker, like he wants to come straight forward and just hit you. I don’t know if he’s really going to do that with me. I think that’s what he usually does, and if he does that, it plays right into my style. If he’s more patient, we’ll see. I’m not sure what he’s going to do, but usually you cannot run away from what you truly are. He seems to be a very aggressive fighter… comes straight forward much of the time, so I’ll work on that strategy and do my best to find my own way to stop that.

MMAWeekly: Will we be seeing you trade more, or will you focus on your expert ground game?

Dean Lister: Him being a really good striker, I can still hit him, but no one is going to be fooled by me saying I’m going to stand up with this guy. Of course I’m going to try to take him down. Of course I’m going to get him down and see what I can do on the ground. There’s no hiding that… but I’ve been working the full game, both striking and grappling, trying to broaden my horizons. Ever since I started this sport, I’ve been learning and show that in the fight… that I’m a very educated fighter.

MMAWeekly: You began your career as a 185-pound fighter, then moved up to 205 pounds. I understand your future is going to be back at 185 pounds. Why make the move down in weight?

Dean Lister: In Pride before, they didn’t have a 183-pound division like they have now, so I would always bulk up and then cut down to 205 pounds. Right now, I’m not doing that. I’m trying to be a little leaner for this fight, so my opponent may have a slight size advantage on me in this one. One-hundred eighty-five pounds is getting really stacked… it’s very competitive. There’s a lot of great guys in the division, but I want to make a run at the top pretty soon at 185 pounds.

MMAWeekly: So Rich Franklin beware, huh?

Dean Lister: [Laughs] Beware… uh… yeah [laughs]. That’s a tough opponent right there. He’s definitely someone I have to work my way up to. I definitely look forward to challenging the top echelon of the division.

MMAWeekly: Good stuff, Dean. Thanks, as always, for your time. Is there anything you’d like to say as we head out?

Dean Lister: I’d like to thank my sponsors. Xyience… they’ve gotten on board and have really helped me a lot. I also want to thank Throwdown Fight Wear. They’re great people… have been with me for a really long time, and I’m glad I’m with them. I’d like to thank my gym, The Boxing Club. We’ve built a Lister Training Center at The Boxing Club here in San Diego. The address is 4198 Convoy Street, here in San Diego, and zip code is 92911. We have classes all day long, every day, and for more information people can come to my web site, DeanLister.com. That’s probably the best way to get information… visiting my web site.

Check out my DVD, Dean Lister’s Real World Submissions. No one has ever done really the same thing before. It’s half-documentary and half-instructional. It covers me going around Europe, doing seminars, doing this and that. It has a couple of goofy things on it, but it’s pretty much straight-forward. The technique half has real techniques that are going to better your game. They’re not recycled techniques that you’ll find on other DVDs. They’re very straight-forward, but advanced and very applicable to anyone’s game. So definitely I encourage people to look at my web site and wish me luck against my opponent, Alessio Sakara.