Sunday, October 10, 2010
Eric Pele interview
by Evan South
Me: I know you quietly retired, it’s been almost two and a half years since your
last fight. When did you officially retire and how did you come to that decision?
Eric: I think after that Chase Gormley fight, it was hard for me because I broke
my hand for the fourth time in my career. I was reaching 40. I just felt at that
time I had a pretty good run, my priorities were changing. I think that’s what it
came down to, it was really hard. The hand break, actually, took a lot of time
because I broke my left hand, and the tip of my finger on my right side was
cracked, so I could not get back to work for almost 3 months. It really hurt us in
the pocketbook. I think all those factors kinda ended up there. I always had
issues with my weight and a lot of people didn’t think I was serious, even though
I was. I just had a lot of distractions. I gave it a good run, and when I fought
Chase with the injuries I thought maybe this time go ahead and step out.
Me: You figured you were pretty satisfied because you had retired on your own terms?
Eric: Sure, I would have loved to have been on the Ultimate Fighter show, that happened a little bit after, but at that time mentally, I think I did great. You know what’s a trip, people give me a lot of props from my King of the Cage days, those are really wild. I think it’s great. I just thought that was probably the end of the road for me.
Me: Your last two fights were only decision losses, and you seemed to be in the best shape of your life with the dramatic weight loss, but like you pointed out, injuries were piling up. 40 these days, is ALMOST young...
Eric: Yeah, but in sports it’s rough. There are only special cases like Randy (Couture) and maybe other guys. I haven’t even been fighting that many fights as the other guys. For me, I think it just took a toll on me. To be honest with you, my issue was always mental, my mental capacity. I always look back at my career, and I always thought, I didn’t have that mental capacity. Just that grit... Don’t get me wrong, I fought through some adversities and they’re good fights...when I say that (about the mental capacity) I think of people like Josh Barnett. That dude is just mentally nasty, and on top of that, a really great athlete. But I just don’t think... if you don’t have the mentality, you’re really cutting yourself short, you really are. I think in my career that played a big part. That’s what I come to think about...That’s what it came down to, just really analyzing everything that I had going on. But I’ll tell you what, my first decision loss, when I was in great shape, I thought I was robbed in Russia, after the Emelianenko fight.
Me: Against Ahkmed Sultanov...
Eric: I thought maybe I did enough damage. He got off on me a little bit. I was tearing his legs up. I don’t know if you’ve seen that fight, but like I said, like most of my fights, mentally, I never had that “go get ‘em”, I don’t know what I’m trying to say (laughs). I just thought I might have edged him out on that fight. Didn’t you see that fight? What did you think, your honest opinion?
Me: It’s tough, but I would probably, and you said honestly, I’d maybe say 2 rounds to 1, Sultanov.
Eric: Oh, OK. I haven’t seen it (the fight) afterwards, but I thought I was coming on strong.
Me: That’s probably why I lean towards the third round for you, but still maybe the first couple rounds for him (Sultanov).
Eric: Right, and like I said, mentality wise, I was letting him get off on me. In my clinches, there were perfect opportunities to go for take downs, I never did. Like my Chase Gormley fight, there were perfect judo throws, but like I said I didn’t go for it. I’m just one of those cats I guess I was just too conservative and I never really went for it. It just happens that way..don’t mean to ramble about that (laughs).
Me: No, I understand completely, it makes sense, and that’s how some fighters are.
Eric: Recognizing it is the best thing that made me give myself closure to my game. I definitely think I had the talent to compete, but I just don’t think I had the mentality to compete, if that makes sense. I had just enough mentality to get me in there and do my thing, but not enough to be as nasty as the upper tier. I’m good with that, because I could admit that. I can’t sit there and say “Oh well, fuckin’ this and that, and anybody else...” it’s all me. It was always me and I always knew that. As much as I love the sport, that’s why I pushed on. I love the sport so much, that’s why I put myself in those kind of positions where mentally I wasn’t the strongest person competing but I still went through with it.
(At this point I let Eric know of a site that has the Sultanov fight, the site of a promotion that used to co-promote with Bodog)
Eric: Like I said, I appreciate the honesty, because you don’t know when you’re fighting, and I never got to see it, and I just felt like...what I remember when I was in the fight. But like I said, I just let him get off too much.
Me: Again, I had to watch the fight multiple times, and it’s tough to score, it was pretty close... It was an enjoyable fight too, both you guys were swinging for the fences.
Eric: You know what’s funny, and I forgot the promoter for Bodog, the Russian cat, I forget his name, but he’s like (Eric does his best Russian accent) “C’mon Eric, just hurry up, let’s go home.” (Laughs) Like there’s not enough pressure, but they’re expecting me to win already. So I’m like “great”.
Me: And that was the Russian promoter for Bodogfight?
Eric: I think Vadim...or something like that.
Me: So he’s telling you that during the fight or before...?
Eric: Yeah, in the beginning of the fight he’s like “Oh, c’mon Eric, just hurry...”
Eric: And a couple of the Russian guys, and this is the funniest shit ever, in the back, like I said my nerves get kind of crazy...In the back this Russian guy, I think it was Amar Suloev. I’m not sure it was him, but one of the guys walked up and goes “He’s just a farmer from the country” (Sultanov), you know? (Laughs) “Don’t worry, he’s just a farmer from the country, what kind of training can they have out there?” I was like “OK, whatever”. And when I got in there I was like, whatever. But I just thought some funny shit like that was...
Me: That does sound funny, because you were probably talking to the Red Devil fight team and Sultanov was with Legion fight team and they might not have gotten along...
Eric: Right, right. I don’t know man, those Russian cats... I’ll tell you one thing about my fight there, it was so fun to travel. It was really nice to take me places. And I travel a lot for tattooing now, but fighting took me around. That was great, I loved it. It introduced me to Canada. Now I go back there and I tattoo all the time there. But I wouldn’t have if I didn’t fight there.
Me: Which leads me into the next subject, which was Bodogfight in general. How did you get recruited from Bodogfight? Your last fight before Bodog was X-1, and I wondered if they recruited you from there, or if they knew you from your King of the Cage days?
Eric: It’s funny, because I remember what they were doing. Antonio (Silva) was ripping through everybody. They just needed somebody (to fight Silva). I had been out of the game for a little bit, but I was still training, and my weight was getting down. We’d been hearing rumors about them interested in me fighting Antonio. I fought X-1, it was a HORRIBLE fight with Vince Lucero. I could not pull the trigger on that guy! I just could not pull the trigger, for whatever reason. And the saddest thing to boot , they were only 3x3 minute rounds, and I was fucking tired! And then the call comes (from Bodog), and Skip...man I’ll tell you what. To be honest, I was like “Fuck that! That dude is murdering people!” After what he did to Tom Erikson... And I was like, I don’t know about that. And so we were watching his tapes, and Skip (Eric’s trainer)...I swear to God, a lot of people think (I took the fight) because they offered me nice money. But I’ll tell this right here and now, and I stand by it, Skip was like “Eric, you’re a southpaw, there’s a hole in his game where we can put him down.” So after a little bit of coercion, we talked about it, watched the fights and Skip’s like “I think a southpaw would give him fits.” And I just finally said “fuck it”. And to be honest with you, that solidified my decision, but it did help that was the first time I ever made a good amount of money. But the main factor was Skip really believing in me. He said “You have everything to gain and nothing to lose, just imagine if you upset him.”
Me: So again it’s one of those situations of being in the right place at the right time...
Eric: Right, and having somebody...truly...you have to have everybody believe in you, but he (Skip) was like “I think as a southpaw you can give him fits, we don’t have to worry about his jits or rolling” because I’ve rolled with lots of guys, so that was never the issue. I’d just seen how he was just murdering people (laughs), and I was like “I don’t know if I want any of that.”
Me: On that note, Eric, and this is not an insult to you, were they (Bodog) reaching out to you because they probably had a lot of people decline fighting Antonio Silva?
Eric: I think so. He (Silva) pretty much took out Tom Erikson, right? That really bumped him up and he’s way up there. To be honest with you, I think I was a stepping stone for him to go to Aleksander (Emelianenko). And then I changed that. When you see that fight (with Silva), I was fighting scared. Which is good, everybody should fight scared. I was just, like, on my pedals. But, I shit you not, when he was tagging me, every time we would fight and hit each other, I was like “whoa, he’s not hitting me hard,” It didn’t feel as hard as I thought it would. So my confidence kind of got a little bit better and better. And after he started tagging me, I was like OK, he’s not the juggernaut everyone says he is. A lot of people say it was a lucky punch (the one that put Silva down), but I say it was where it was supposed to be at that time. (Laughs)
Me: (Laughs) Exactly!
Eric: I don’t think Antonio’s stock fell at all, because that dude is living a dream right now, he’s at the top of his game, fighting the studs of the world. Everybody has a setback, and that setback was my glory. It was fun, a night to remember.
Me: How did that feel going from King of the Cage and X-1 and all of a sudden you’re featured with Antonio Silva in a superfight on Bodogfight’s first big pay-per-view?
Eric: It was great! Like I said my nerves were off the hook, and I was like “Aaaaah!” I really trained hard, like nobody’s business, on that fight. I tell you what, I really trained hard, and it just happened to go my way. For the rest of my life, that’s the kind of feeling that... I’ll never have the feeling to win a UFC title, that fight right there I think was my UFC title, that was my glory. It felt great, it felt awesome.
Me: I remember at the end of the Silva fight, and they announce the winner, they gave you this really beautiful ring...
Eric: Yeah...I ended up pawning it because of the economy...
Me: (Awkward silence)
Eric: (Laughs) No, I’m just kidding. I have it put up in my little case. I love it, that’s one thing that every time my nephews and nieces come, and they always ask me about it. I get a little giggly and tell them about it.
Me: Because I saw that and thought ‘I bet that’s really cool, I’ve got to ask him about that’...
Eric: Yeah, it’s awesome. I wanted to wear it when I went to Russia, to fight Aleksander, but I didn’t wear it for whatever reason. I think I just wanted to keep it in a safe place, I didn’t want to lose it. But after Aleksander beat me, he was wearing his (ring), and I was like “Man, I should have worn mine...” (Laughs) Not that it made any difference, I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking...but it was really great, that organization treated me great. And sure, they were over budget, they were over spending, but they asked me, I didn’t ask them.
Me: Tell me about your thoughts and experiences with the Aleksander Emelianenko fight...
Eric: I tell you what, and I’d tell anybody this, I think I had the tools to beat him, but mentally I wasn’t there. I watched him, and it was so easy to clinch him up and trip him. I had so many...I don’t know, and he got off on me, and like I said, mentally at that time, you have to be... that’s what I mean about upper tier mentality, either you’re on that level or you’re not there, and it was obvious I wasn’t there. I was in great shape, my cardio was awesome, I just felt like I gave it to him. I wanted to hit him so he’d stop hitting me, but I never wanted to hit him to fucking really win. It’s hard for me to say that, because who doesn’t want to win? And I put in all that time and effort to win. But when it came down to it, I kinda came short.
Me: Well, it was one of two trips to Russia for you, so that’s always good.
Eric: Yeah, and you know what, my picture was on a big ass billboard, it was pretty cool. Yeah, around town, and the guys from the states were like “oh, Mr. bigtime guy...” (Laughs) and I was like “Yeah, you know..”, and everybody knew I was going to get my ass kicked, so they were giving me shit. (Laughs)
Me: How do you look at your entire Bodogfight experience?
Eric: It was great. And you know the owner (Calvin Ayre), this is the first time I ever talked to a fucking billionaire. And that dude was so approachable and so nice, a sweetheart of a guy. Always saying “Hey man, you guys are doing great”. And after my Aleksander fight he walked up to me, and kind of put his arm around me and goes “Man, I was rooting for you.” He was just a really nice guy, that’s my impression. He didn’t pull any punches on treating us good. Definitely it was a great, great experience.
Me: With the Emelianenko fight, you also fought in front of diplomats like Vladimir Putin, Berlusconi from Italy, and possibly the most powerful man in the world, Jean Claude Van Damme!
Eric: You know what’s the truth man, we were there, and I got a little anxiety the night before so I want to watch movies, and all they had were Jean Claude Van Damme movies to order! And I’m like “What?!” (Laughs) I guess he’s the shit out there. Oh, this is a funny story.So we go to the embassy to have dinner with Putin, right? Which is awesome, this is a trip, they gave us a Russian plate, a big ass book about Russia, just pretty amazing stuff. And I’m just taking it all in, so I’m sitting and there’s Van Damme...and it’s kind of awkward because we’re all in one room with Aleksander, we’re all there, and there’s of course a language barrier. And what happened, happened, I’m just having fun. And Van Damme, he was leaning into me pretty hard and he’s like “So how’s it feel to come all this way to get beat like that?” And I’m like, ‘I’ll beat the fucking...’ you know I’m thinking in my head ‘you motherfucker, what an asshole.’ Maybe that’s a European thing. But he was like “How’s it feel to train like that and come here and lose like that?” And I was like “It doesn’t feel too good” but in the back of my mind ‘I might not have beat Aleksander but I’ll beat your ass.’ (Laughs)
Me: Maybe that’s the European sense of humor.
Eric: Yeah, they’re pretty direct. It stung, but if you put yourself out there you got to be willing to take what’s coming. And I’m sure he meant it in a nice way, he wasn’t saying it sarcastically, but the way he asked... And my feelings are hurt anyways...
Me: You met a billionaire in Calvin, you hung out with Putin and Van Damme. You got diplomats, billionaires, and movie stars all in one place.
Eric: Yeah, and afterwards we had this INSANE party on this freaking pirate boat-looking thing. Insane. I don’t want to get myself in trouble, but I’m telling you, there were some things going on in there...pretty off the hook. Let’s say with naked chicks and other stuff. It was pretty wild.
Me: Kind of like what happens in Russia stays in Russia?
Eric: Yeah, pretty wild. And then when Aleksander and Fedor showed up, it was just unbelievable, the crowd went crazy. It was awesome. Everybody was around me, like Peter Aerts, and a lot of other fighters that were there. And they were all fucked up, everybody was torn up. It was pretty wild.
Me: What do you think was one of the most important or pivotal moments in your fight career?
Eric: To be honest with you, my fight with Bobby Hoffman, the second time, always stands out to me, because that’s one of the few fights...inside my head..and a lot of people don’t know this, this is funny, you know I always have issues with nerves. I was walking by and Quinton “Rampage” gets up and he whispers in my ear “Go out there and do your thing, fuck it.”
Just like that... and I swear to God I was like, I don’t know why he said that, I just went in there, and my head was so on for that fight, my physicalness probably wasn’t, but my head, mentally, was on. And I think I persevered through that fight. If I had to pick one fight I would say I had to push through and grow from, I would say that second fight with Bobby Hoffman.
Me: That was pretty pivotal, because after that win, you just had that fight in X-1 and then you were in Bodogfight. So if you hadn’t won that second fight with Hoffman, Bodogfight may never have happened.
Eric: Right, I think it all links up. Plus, it was pretty cool too with the dramatics because that was the one on the Inked (tv) series. And it was so funny, Terry Trebilcock comes in to the store, and we’re about to film, and he goes “Oh, you know ‘Big E’ Pele?” to the producers, and they’re saying “Maybe we can get him to fight!” I didn’t want to fight at all, and they’re like they’ll put it on tv. They kind of talked me into it for the tv show. And then they told me it was Bobby Hoffman, and I was like “I don’t know about that, I’m not in shape.” It was pretty wild.
Me: Didn’t they call you into work the day after the fight?
Eric: Oh yeah, that was one of the reasons why I ended up getting fired, because I threw a bitch about that. I was like, I’m with my family and friends, I get out and I had a concussion. I’m with my son and my wife, and just trying to take it slow, and they pull a bitch move on me like that. And I don’t want to lose my job...And a lot of the arguments that happened, they edited them all out. I came in there and was like “Fuck this and that”, and the manager at the time, even Carey (Hart), they were just really insensitive to what went down, and I represented their shop. I just felt like...what they showed was nothing compared to what really went down. I was pissed! I was like “There’s no reason I should be tattooing on anybody.” I had it covered, but the person that covered didn’t...All these things. And I just spoke my mind on that particular thing, it was one part of many parts that ended up with my demise because I spoke up on it. A lot of people don’t realize what really went down. I would never work on anybody in that kind of condition.
Me: What was the shop at the time?
Eric: Hart & Huntington. It’s just Huntington Ink now. Carey went somewhere else.
Me: Same place, different ownership.
Eric: Half of the owner, the original owner Huntington. He couldn’t use the name Hart, but he could use his own name of Huntington.
(At this point, Kurt Angle walks by the shop, Eric and crew get distracted.)
Eric: Kurt Angle just walked by. Oh that’s pretty cool. Sorry about that...
Me: I’d stop for him too.
Eric: He looks like he’s kinda on the good stuff, a little loopy. But any ways... From all his injuries, I’m sure looking at him, he’s all fucked up right now. Anyway, yeah, he (Huntington) can’t use the Hart & Huntington banner, but he can use Huntington.
Me: So you work for them and yourself at the same time?
Eric: Yup. I travel a lot. I have a personal studio too, that I work out of a couple of times a week. Those guys are really cool, where I work at, and they’re for the bigger pieces, bigger projects, and here is for the novelty tattoos, which is cool, I still do a lot of cool pieces.
Me: People who had seen you at King of the Cage and then seen you at Bodogfight, because of your dramatic weight loss, would almost think you were two different people. At what point did the surgery and weight loss occur?
Eric: It occurred a year before the second fight with Bobby Hoffman. One of the reasons why I ended up getting lap band surgery, it had nothing to do with fighting...to be honest with you I kind of let myself go. Back in the day I used to power lift. After I stopped power lifting, I always had that extreme appetite, I just loved to eat. When I first started fighting, that was a good way to help me keep my weight down. After a while, I just kept ballooning. I was never a consistent fighter. As I was fighting, I’d fight here and there, but man, I would eat like crazy, and I started ballooning up really bad. When I had my son Eric, it was more of an epiphany, where I wanted to be around my son and enjoy being a father. I don’t want to check out too soon just because I can’t control my eating. And it’s a battle with a lot of Samoans, that’s our battle. If you look up obesity rates in races, Samoans are #1. It’s a bad affliction we have to deal with. I’m glad I live in a time and day where I can deal with it and I can do something about it.
Me: So you said you’re about 255 lbs. now?
Eric: Yeah, I’m about 255, walking around.
Me: Is that about your lightest weight ever?
Eric: Yeah, since I was a teenager, I guess. (laughs) Let me reiterate, in my 20's I stayed around 255, in my late 20's, by 30 was the first time I hit 300, and it went all downhill from there.
Me: You’re still semi-regularly working out?
Eric: I’m a PX90 guy, but I ended up fucking that off, but I try. I’m not as committed as I used to be. I like to go by the gym, but when I do go by the gym it’s mostly just to talk to the guys (laughs). I wish I could sit here and say that...I would say honestly about one day a week, I give a good...do a little kettle bells and some rubber band work, and I have a nice treadmill at home.
But other than that, if I ever do anything out of the gym, I just go to talk to the boys and watch them spar, that’s about it.
Me: So when you retired you didn’t have any interest in continuing any type of training, or even grappling?
Eric: Yeah, I kind of left it all for art. I figured art would be my name and pay. That’s what pays me, that’s what always pays me. I think as I was getting older, I need to really focus on that and put all my time and effort in to that. And that’s where I am... I love the fights, I love watching it, to make a real living I just stayed with the tattoing and all the art stuff I do.
Me: What were your overall impressions and experiences with the older fight organizations like King of the Cage and RINGS USA?
Eric: I’ll tell you what, I started on the low totem pole, and it progressed and it never went back. I got to a show that was a little better than the last show, better than the last show, and then ultimately got to the big show. And then I went to Maximum fighting (MFC), and it was a good show too. I never got up to a high place and then started way back down to like Gladiator Challenge, you know what I mean? I started low and ended on a high...
Me: How was your experience in the original RINGS USA, and most notably that first fight with Bobby Hoffman?
Eric: My (first)fight with Bobby Hoffman, I think was one of the defining moments of my fighting career. The young, fresh, crazy, just stud that Hoffman was on our first fight when he was coming up. We got the call to fight Hoffman. We fly down there...it’s a trip, that dude’s a stud. I was kind of amazed, he just fought Maurice Smith for 15 minutes, and Maurice split his tongue. This dude was battle worn. So I go in there, we start the fight, and he clips me in the first 30 seconds! He clips me really hard, I just see white and I’m just dizzy as fuck. The round ends, and I come over...and I think this is the pinnacle part of my career where I wanted to quit. And John Lewis, God bless him, tells me “You’re not quitting.” I told John “I’m done”.
And John goes “You know what, if you’re done, you say you’re done, you quit, I’m not going to quit for you.” And all this time...we’re not arguing, he’s just telling me “You can’t quit...”
And just before I’m debating on it, the bell rings! (Laughs) So I turn around, and take a deep breath, and I’m just like “fuck it!” And I tell people, that moment right there was really a defining moment, because John was like “If you quit, you will never forgive yourself. I’d rather have you go out there and get submitted, get knocked out, go out on your honor, than quit!”
The saying is everybody is great when they’re winning, but when they’re losing, that’s when their true heart comes out. So I just sucked it up. So I took the second round, we had to go to the third round, so we go in there and we’re battling it out. In RINGS it’s kind of funky, because when you do a takedown, you can only punch the body, can’t punch the head. So I took him down a couple times, and he didn’t even care...he got taken down so he could rest. One time when we were really neck and neck on points, I took his ass down. And I know Monte Cox will deny this forever, but I have a tape of Monte Cox looking at the ref, and when I got him (Hoffman) down, the ref kind of looked at Monte, and Monte gave him the thumbs up, like stand them up...
So if Monte ever reads this...I still remember!!! (laughs) So afterwards, when we’re done, we’re dog tired, we went at it. I think that pep talk gave me a second wind, and I gave him everything I had. I remember going down to the hallway, so we split up, so he goes one direction, I go the next direction, to go to our lockers...so we come around, I see him (Hoffman) he’s sitting there, the ice pack comes out, he’s throwing up blood. I think before we started he had 15 stitches in his tongue, because his tongue got ripped from Maurice’s fight. He looks at me and he’s like “Good fight, Pele.” And I’m thinking to myself, this mother fucker just threw down with Maurice Smith the week before. I was just so impressed by that. Unfortunately, his career kind of went downhill.
There was a time when Bobby Hoffman was pretty nasty. He was kind of one-dimensional, but by no means no one could ever take him for granted. And I think that fight was a really defining moment for me, because like I said, John Lewis... if anybody else was in there, it would have been like “OK, whatever”. John was like “You’ll never forgive yourself”. And I always, always remembered that when I fought. And it turns on even outside of the ring. It’s really a telling moment when you tell a person that when they’re at their weakest state. I’ve never been clipped like that before, that was like my first time in competition where I was full-on blasted, but I stayed up. You know how a boxer holds on to somebody when they get hit? Honestly I don’t remember the rest of the round, second round I came back strong, third round, I think they...I had the takedown.
Me: Lastly, how did you make your way from where you grew up in San Francisco to having Las Vegas as your home?
Eric: I came out here for work. To be honest with you I was in a bad relationship and a job opportunity came up. I was like ‘I gotta get the fuck outta here, this chick is driving me crazy’. And when I hit Vegas, I hit Vegas running hard. That was right in the beginning of the boom, and I ended up making it my home. Even now, even though Vegas is hurting bad, Vegas has been good to me. It’s really provided me with a good life here, so I always end up staying here.
Eric: I just want to touch on one more thing. I really don’t talk about my fighting too much in the shop, because I don’t want to be that guy like ‘oh, I used to fight’. If someone knows that I fight that’s cool, but I would never bring it up. But the thing that’s really cool, I think that is awesome, I’m working and I’ll see one of the fighters! Because even though I’m not fighting, but I stayed at a gym... For example, one of the guys never knew I fought, but Forrest Griffin walks by and says “What’s up, Big E?” and shook my hand, and we laugh for a little bit. But a lot of the fighters that I used to see a lot, a lot of people don’t think I know, but I see them all the time in the gym anyway. I really get a kick when the fighters come by to say hi to me, and the people who don’t know I used to fight say “Wow, how do you know them?” So it’s pretty cool. A lot of guys think that they’re just on tv and they’re so far away, but I used to see them
all the time when they were coming up...