Friday, June 6, 2014

Jason Lambert interview

Interview with Jason "The Punisher" Lambert
May 2014
by Evan South

Me:  How did you get your nickname “The Punisher”?

Jason:  The first instructor I had was Mike Markanson, and he was driving down to Torrance to train with Royce.  We were training in his (Mike’s) garage, I had trained with him for 2 years.  It was all just garage.  He had the Punisher comic book posters in his garage, and some of the training partners, one of my good friends Nick Moritas said “That’s you, you’re the Punisher”.  Because of just the way that I would roll was kind of relentless.  So, that’s what they ended up calling me.  I tried to shake it and it stuck.  That’s how that came about, was just way back in the early, early days of me taking jiu-jitsu in the garage of my first instructor.

Me:  So you had that nickname all along?

Jason:  Yeah, before I even fought, before I had even entertained MMA it was just jiu-jitsu and that was what they would jokingly call me.

Me:  Are you currently with Alliance fight team?

Jason:  No, I am with Blackline.  That is in Carlsbad, we had our old team, which was NCFC, North County Fight Club, and that kind of disbanded, like several other teams have over the history of MMA.  We’re trying to rebuild a new one, and Blackline’s been there for 5 years, but it’s mainly been jiu-jitsu and MMA, but not so much pro guys.  I’ve trained there since they opened but it was never a lot of high caliber guys there, it was more like the public classes and things like that.

Me:  Diving right into the beginning of your pro career, your fifth pro fight was Marco Ruas.
What was the timing like when you’re entering your fifth pro fight and you’re like “Marco Ruas, what the hell, I’ll give it a try.”  To jump into a name like that very, very early, what was the thought process with a name like that that early on?

Jason:  There wasn’t much back then, there were managers that weren’t looking out for the best interests of so called careers in fighting, and it just came up and it was a good opportunity, and obviously every fighter thinks they can beat any other fighter, so of course I took the fight.
It didn’t go well, but it wasn’t about that, it was a great opportunity at the time and so we took it.

Me:  So, much like this interview it was “I’ll probably bomb miserably but I’ll go down swinging”…

Jason: Exactly.


Me:  Something I think was a very pivotal moment in your career which was after you were working your way up in Gladiator Challenge and King of the Cage was Superbrawl.  The big 2 day tournament, all heavyweights.  If you remember that huge heavyweight tournament around 1999 that produced all those big names like Barnett, Rodriguez, Marsh, Hoffman, etc, all these huge names in that tournament and the winner, even the runner-ups, were already in the sky.  So to get, at that point in your career, to Superbrawl…  First I want to ask how did you get involved in that tournament?  Were you invited, did Terry (Trebilcock of KOTC) or someone have connections and say “hey let’s try and get you in this Superbrawl tournament?” How did you get there to begin with?

Jason:  I just remember my manager saying “we got you in, we’re going to Hawaii, 16-man tournament”, and I said “all right, let’s go”.  Tournament format is rough, really rough.

Me:  Especially with 2 days…

Jason: Yeah.

Me:  On a lighter side, it must have been nice to say “First of all, I’m getting an all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii”.  Is that one good thing?

Jason:  Yeah, when you’re young, a trip to Hawaii doesn’t sound bad at all, no matter what you’re doing.  We beat each other up in the gym, so why not go to Hawaii for free and get paid to go fight some guys.

Me:  How was the overall experience?  Again, it was 2 days, you came out of it 2-1.  Was it really instrumental at that point for your career, was it a big turning point being part of that tournament?

Jason:  Yeah, it felt good.  It’s a point where, it’s like ok, I fought really tough guys… Like you said, the tournament before, there were tons of names.  The one that I was in had Travis Wiuff, Cabbage, Tim Sylvia who I fought, and there were some other really tough guys, Brian Stromberg who I fought… They didn’t really end up going on with their career so to speak, but they were really tough guys at the time.

Me:  And again you had Rothwell, Whitehead…

Jason: Exactly.  Those guys are monsters.  It was a really tough tournament.  And to go and do, I think from my personal point of view I did pretty well.  Sylvia blew through everybody, and I was the only one… they stopped the fight because my ear was bleeding so bad.  But I would have been the only one that went the distance with Sylvia in the tournament, but they stopped it with like 15 seconds left in the fight or something.  But, like you said, to me it was a good turning point because it was like I can compete with these high level guys and fight 3 fights in a matter of a day and a half and still feel solid about my abilities.

Me:  So you continued on the Gladiator Challenge/King of the Cage circuit and I want to go to the Gladiator Challenge fight with Chael Sonnen.  Did you only find out you were fighting him the same day? (info from old Full Contact Fighter interview with Jason from 2006)

Jason:  It wasn’t that, but it was like a few days, it wasn’t much.  I was supposed to be fighting Allan Goes, which is obviously the complete opposite of a Chael Sonnen.

Me: Pure BJJ versus pure wrestler.

Jason:  Yeah, exactly.  And what I was told was he was a wrestler, but to me a wrestler and an Olympic alternate caliber wrestler is obviously 2 different animals.  To get an opponent change like that, that short notice, it is what it is.

Me:  And it still went to a decision.

Jason:  Yeah.

Me:  Another guy I wanted to bring up, the only gentleman you’ve fought twice, Matt Horwich.
One win, one defeat.  Matt’s a really unorthodox fighter, and being the only guy you fought twice, I don’t know if you were interested in doing a rubber match.  The first fight you won by TKO, second fight was a decision loss.  Tell me about fighting a guy like Matt.

Jason:  Matt is a really cool guy, we’ve hung out several times.  No ill will against him.  When I fought him the second time it was more of I was having a harder time finding fights because of where I was at in my career.  No one really wanted to fight me… Not that no one really wanted to fight me, but it was “where do I go, what’s going to be a good step for me opponent wise”.
They threw that fight my way, and I had no business being at 185.  We fought originally at 205 and then the second fight was my flirting with 185 which was a really foolish move, I actually didn’t even make weight when I fought Horwich, I was a pound over.  I should never have even agreed to that fight.  I thought that I could make a run at 185, but it was not for me.

Me:  When did you originally drop to 205?  Once again, I wonder if the Superbrawl HW tournament was a good gauge…You could clearly hang with some of the big guys, but at the same time they were huge!  There’s big, and then there’s huge, the new breed of heavyweight.

Jason:  Yeah, that was definitely… it was like that was a good run, I fought some monsters, literally monsters, in that tournament.  Build-wise, I was fighting at 235, so I definitely wasn’t the slimmest trimmest, so I could definitely cut back and get down to 205 and we just thought that was a much better move. I don’t remember the year or when that was, but it just felt a lot better to get down, I was a lot faster and a lot meaner.

Me: Style-wise how were your 2 fights with Horwich?

Jason:  The first fight I completely dominated him, he didn’t have any answers, he was trying to take me down and I stuffed them all.

Me:  That was at 205?

Jason:  That was at 205, that was for WEC.  I just felt really dominant in that fight.  The second fight I really struggled to make weight and I gassed.  I dominated him I believe in the first round, the second was a tossup, and the third I was spent, because I didn’t have anything left.

Me:  And it was a split decision, too, so he just eked it out either way.  So you continue on, you have a couple high profile fights, Marvin Eastman in King of the Cage and Travis Wiuff in FFC, and as you probably thought you were getting to the entry point of the UFC and those 2 big names/wins pretty much put you over the top.  What was it like when you got that call from the UFC?  Not necessarily emotion wise, but were you expecting it, were you ready to roll, where were you at (mentally) at that time?

Jason:  I had already had quite a few fights and I was kind of wondering if it ever was going to happen.  And then I finally did get that call and parlaying all those wins I was on a pretty good tear.  I felt the Marvin Eastman fight was a grind, and then I stopped Wiuff early, so I just had a ton of momentum and so it was perfect timing for me to roll right into my first UFC fight.  It just felt right, it felt good, and we just went for it.

Me:  You were probably the most unknown, undefeated fighter in the UFC after your first 3 fights.  Your first 3 UFC fights were pretty straightforward.  Your first fight against Rob Macdonald was total domination, once you got him down…

Jason: Yeah, big tough guy, he obviously posed his own threats, but I think game plan wise we executed well and he didn’t have the answers jiu-jitsu wise.  It was a good night, ended it quick in the first round.

Me: I think a quote you had from that fight was something like you had that Kimura so tight you could have broken it off and taken it home with you, something like that, it was funny…

Jason:  I had never taken anybody’s shoulder that far, I actually thought his shoulder was going to tear, because obviously my first UFC fight so I’m not going to just let him go, but at the same time I kept going, he wasn’t tapping, and I was kind like “is this guy gonna let me rip his shoulder out”?  And then he finally tapped, but it had gone pretty far, and most big guys don’t have too much shoulder flexibility anyway, I had taken it pretty far and I was expecting it to tear.

Me:  On to the second fight with Terry Martin, which you joked you were finally fighting someone shorter than you… Again, once you got past the first round, it was pretty much total domination in the second.

Jason:  Yeah, that’s what we… we just wanted to make the work rate really high, because he does have such heavy hands, just make him work really hard in the first round and see where the fight went.  And obviously in the second round he just didn’t have any answers because I made him work so hard in the first.

Me:  Third fight, next to Chael, possibly the best wrestler you faced with Brandon Lee Hinkle.  Coming out of Hammer House, with training partners like Mark Coleman and Kevin Randleman, someone like that is probably going through a pretty rigorous or hard pace.  But again, like the Martin fight, he couldn’t handle the pace again.

Jason:  Yeah.  That is what I like to do is just make people work at a really high rate and see if they could hang.  If they couldn’t hang, then obviously the fight would end.  If they could, then we’d go to the second or possibly the third.  But usually a lot of the guys I would go really heavy on their arms with the cage work, and they couldn’t hang.

Me:  Again you go from 3-0 with somewhat low visibility fights to a high profile fight with Rashad Evans, did that transition affect anything at all or your performance?

Jason:  No, there was some training issues right before the fight, everything went well up until 2 weeks and then I ended up hurting something but I still chose to fight. I’m not a big excuse guy, we chose to fight and the fight went the way it went. 

Me:  I’m wondering another thing that might have contributed, and this isn’t for excuse wise, but those first 4 fights all occurred within 6 months.  That is a furious pace for very high-level fights like that.  Most guys now can get 4 fights in 18 months if they’re lucky.  How was that pace for you?

Jason:  It was good.  That’s how I started, way back.  That’s what we did, we lived in the gym, we fought, we trained, we fought…  There was a lot more work ethic, not that the newer guys don’t work hard, but it was just get your butt in the gym.  Every day isn’t a great stroll in the park, you just get in the gym and work.  It was a perfect fit for me, I was just used to it. So it was just go, go, go, we were on a good run, and of course let’s just keep fighting.

Me:  Referring back to the Superbrawl HW tournament you were fighting 3 times in 2 days…

Jason:  Exactly.

Me:  It would have almost like another day in the gym.  So after the Rashad fight there is a small break and you are then matched up with Babalu, another long time veteran.  He’s hungry like you are because he was coming off that second Liddell loss.  So you have two really hungry guys in there in a fairly high profile fight.  What were your thoughts on that situation of being matched up with Babalu with both of you coming off losses, what was your mindset at that time?

Jason:  I was upset that I had lost to Rashad.  Like you said, I was on a good tear, 3-0, then I lose to Rashad.  I just wanted to get back in there and make a statement that I wasn’t just going to be pushed around.  I was in great shape and I came to fight hard!  Obviously I knew I was a huge underdog because Babalu had just fought for the belt, and so I’m basically a tune up fight for Babalu to get back in the running to go back for another title shot.  So I didn’t obviously like that storyline.  I was training my ass off and I wanted to get back in there and make a statement.

Me:  Which you did in the second round with a left hook.  I couldn’t tell what he (Babalu) was doing, if he was trying a front push kick or…

Jason:  He threw a knee, I think he was expecting me to change levels, which the knee would have been a huge success if I shot, but I didn’t, he just came out with a huge knee and I just hit him with the left hook and he wasn’t ready for it.

Me:  That fight also got you fight of the night and knockout of the night.  Without going into specifics, was that your best one night payday ever?

Jason:  Yeah, it was great.

Me:  Not only do you make a comeback after a loss, but you also get the bonuses.

Jason:  Bonuses, biggest win of my career…

Me:  Another highlight…

Jason:  Huge highlight.  And especially if you look back at the timing of it, like I said he had just fought for the belt, Babalu was on a tear destroying everybody, which got him the title shot.  So he had just destroyed everybody up until he fought Chuck.  He was just pretty much owning everybody that he fought.  He loses to Chuck, then he fights me, and like I said I was basically served up to him to be a tough guy, a tune up fight to get him back in the running and it didn’t work out that way.

Me:  After Babalu, you had a couple more light heavyweight fights, both were losses, what was going on at that point?

Jason:  Like I said, I’m not an excuse guy, Gouveia was a hell of a fight.  I felt like I was owning him and he caught me with a good punch.  Cane, really tough guy, I didn’t press my game plan like I should have.  The light heavyweight class you can’t mess around.  If you make a couple bad movements, whether they’re grappling or striking or whatever they are, a lot of times that’s it, you don’t get a chance to have a do over or come back from those mistakes, so you make a couple adjustment mistakes and that’s it.

Me:  After that you attempted to drop to 185 against Jason Macdonald.

Jason:  It was just… I felt like crap.  I should have known that it was a bad call to even go to 185.  I felt like crap, it was a terrible cut and that fight didn’t go well either.

(Jason later clarified by email that even though his first attempt to cut to 185 went badly, he did it again for the second Horwich fight because there weren’t a lot of offers on the table at that time for decent money.)

Me:  Did you realize that your first and last fights in the UFC were against Macdonalds (Rob and Jason)?  I don’t know if it was a Canadian conspiracy…


Jason:  Yeah, I did know that.

Me:  After the Macdonald loss, you were let go?  You were actually cut at that point?

Jason:  Yes.

Me:  What is the process when the UFC does that?  How formal or informal is it?

Jason:  They just let your manager know that you’ve been released.  Manager comes as the bearer of bad news.  You just pick up and go from there.

Me:  After the 3 losses in the UFC you had 2 more fights outside the UFC, both decision losses to Matyushenko and Horwich.  Together that was 5 losses in a row.  For some fighters, 2, 3, or 4 losses in a row can mean the end.  What was your mindset with a 5 fight skid?

Jason:  It wasn’t good.  To be quite frank, it was pretty devastating.  It was a lot of depression.  It was terrible, because you have super highs and super lows, and then when you have a lot of lows strung all together, it gets really tough to even show up to the gym.  It’s just working through it, and that’s what kind of makes or breaks people.

Me:  You continued in a couple small promotions… Also in later 2009 you attended The Ultimate Fighter 11 tryouts.  What was the experience like of trying out for a job you’d already had?  How was the whole experience and how/when did you know they weren’t going to bring you back?

Jason:  They didn’t really let me know, that kind of process, they just don’t call you.  It was just me trying to ignite a fire, trying to pursue any avenue, obviously I’m looking for work.  I was a pro fighter, you’re trying to find work, which are fights.  So if I could be on a tv show that’s going to let me fight, that’s just more work, so that’s what I was trying to do, just get myself back out there.

Me:  Did it feel odd that you’re auditioning for a position you’d already had?

Jason:  I think that a lot of people wouldn’t do it because they let their pride or their ego get in the way of that, and to me that’s why I just simplify it as work, like I’m just trying to get back out there and work.  If I don’t try, if I don’t ever apply for a job how could I ever get it?
So that’s the way I saw it.  And obviously it was humbling, you got these guys that have fought 4 times, and they’re trying out for this show, and I’ve fought 20 something time… I don’t even know how many times I’ve fought, I don’t even remember…

Me: Did you have an idea why you weren’t selected?

Jason:  Yeah, to me it wasn’t anything personal, they were trying to find new talent, not guys that had been there, done that.  So I was pretty sure that it was a longshot that I’d be picked, but I still wanted to try, what does it hurt to try?

Me:  You had 3 fights in 2010, you went 2-1.  After your last fight in War on the Mainland…

Jason:  Yeah, it was a one-off show.

Me:  At that point after that fight you had about a two and half year break before you went to Bellator.  What was going on in that two and a half year gap?

Jason:  A lot of it was just getting back to being me. It had gotten to a point where the gym wasn’t fun anymore, training wasn’t fun anymore, there was just so much pressure and so much “what are you gonna do with your career”, that I just kind of put it on hold.  More inadvertently, just kind of got back…  It took a while, but it slowly got back to having fun, to where it used to be way back in the early days, when you enjoyed showing up to the gym.
Because it does get to a point where it is work, and just like any job it gets tough.  So it took a long time to get back to where I felt comfortable, I felt motivated and hungry again.

Me:  Was there any particular trigger?  Or do you just think after all those years and all those fights you just needed some physical or mental break?

Jason:  A lot of it was just personal things that I had to work through.  A lot of hurt and a lot of disappointment.  Like you said, you go on a huge skid, that still lingers, it doesn’t just go away.
So those things, when you have such limelight in being in the UFC and having these high profile fights to going back and fighting on smaller shows is very humbling.  So it’s a long time to process that and heal yourself emotionally and physically and just kind of get back to where you have more of a peace about yourself.

Me:  Do you have a mindset between the bigger and smaller shows?  There is always that question of do you want to be the big fish in a small pond or small fish in a big pond?  How has that been over the years with all the different promotions you’ve fought in?

Jason:  The small shows I think are a little bit more dangerous, because some of the small shows some of the guys aren’t as known, so you don’t have a ton of tape or you don’t really know everything that they bring to the table.  So some of those smaller shows, those guys are super hungry, they want to get to where you’ve been, and so they just want to walk all over your name.  So the smaller shows I think are just as dangerous as a big show.
Me:  Feels like you have a big target painted on you…

Jason:  Oh definitely…

Me:  Just like you were when you were young and hungry…

Jason:  Exactly.

Me:  So after this break you get into Bellator.  You had a very impressive debut with a submission you pulled off from your back when you were scrambling with Hector (Ramirez).
Transitioned from a triangle choke to an inverted or straight…not a typical kind of armbar.

Jason:  Yeah, reverse armlock.  It’s a reverse straight armlock.

Me:  Not something we normally see from you, a very rare submission off of your back.  How did that feel?  You have a two and a half year break, you’re fighting another UFC vet, so I’m sure both of you guys are hungry, so what was your mindset?

Jason:  I was just happy to be back in the cage.  I was just happy to be back competing.  To me it was… there was no way I could lose.  Whatever the decision was in the fight… win, loss, draw, I had a completely different mindset that I’m getting back to doing what I love to do.  Obviously somebody has to win and somebody has to lose but the fact that I can actually even get in there and still compete at a high level was a win for me.  I just had a really good mindset and I just came out and had fun.  I just fought hard and obviously it showed that I had been working on my jiu-jitsu in that time and I just got him in a dangerous spot and he didn’t have an answer for it, so he got put in that submission that you normally don’t see.

Me:  Is it because he’s trying to fend off the triangle and he’s not paying attention to that arm being trapped?

Jason:  The minute details of that, I actually had him in a shoulder lock.  And the only way out of that shoulder lock is to straighten your arm.  So when you set up very tightly from that position, you set up that very tight shoulder lock, the only way out is to straighten your arm.  So it’s a bent arm lock, but it’s actually by grabbing the elbow, and as you pull up and attack the shoulder, they have to straighten their arm to get out of it, which puts them in the reverse straight armlock.

Me: Let me back up, did you approach Bellator or did they approach you once you got your name out that you were ready to fight again?

Jason:  A little bit of both.  It was me kind of putting the feelers out there to see if they would even be interested in me fighting for them, and then when I did they said “yes”.  Next thing you know they were going to be throwing some west coast shows and I actually fought not far from the house, it was up in Irvine so it was perfect.

Me:  Then you go into your second Bellator fight, another UFC vet, Tom (Deblass) fought twice in the UFC, he didn’t have a ton of fights.  Again, you could sense it was two hungry guys in there, and it turned into pretty much a standup scrap for the most part, and he had those vicious left hooks.  Tell me about that fight.

Jason:  Just that.  Just two hungry guys.  He’s a black belt, I just recently got my black belt.  We just had a hell of a fight and he just ended up throwing a little bit more, faster than I did, and caught me with that hook.  Just a tough guy.  I was a little too relaxed, I think, and he took advantage of it.

Me:  Did you have a specific game plan for that fight?  Did you want to put pressure on him, did you think maybe I didn’t try to get this guy down enough…?

Jason: No, that’s what we wanted to do, we wanted to stand and bang with him, and that’s what happens, you know?

Me:  You’re 1-1 with Bellator.  It’s been several months, do you have another fight left with Bellator?

Jason:  Yes.  Hopefully…Nothings set. So very soon.

Me:  They’re ending this current season, then they have their summer series…

Jason:  Yeah, so I might be on one of the summer series shows.

Me:  But might fight in the fall, depending…

Jason:  Yeah.

Me:  Do you know if it would be a “regular” fight or if you might be in one of the tournaments?

Jason:  I don’t know what their plans are with the light heavyweight tournament.  It’ll probably be a one-off, not a tournament slot fight is what I’m thinking, just because I’m coming off a loss so I think they usually have their winners go into the tournament format.  So I don’t know if I’m even eligible with their criteria.

Me:  They always have a ton of reserves, people drop out…

Jason: Yeah, exactly.

Me:  Your career, you’ve mostly been pretty healthy and injury free?

Jason:  Yeah, obviously fighting is a lot of abuse on the body, but I have been very fortunate to not have a lot of the surgeries and a lot of the really big injuries that a lot of other people have faced.

Me:  You’re about 36, almost 37.  How are you feeling at this point in your career?

Jason:  I feel good.  Going back to what I said about the Hector fight, at this point I just feel really fortunate to be able to do what I love. From a work standpoint, there’s tons of people that drive themselves to a job that they hate, they have a lifestyle that they hate, just so they can get to the weekends and pretend like they don’t have the life that they hate.  So I’ve really kind of enjoyed the fact that I actually get to do what I love.  And I’ve worked my butt off for so many years that it just feels good to still be able to be in an industry and compete at a pretty high level and do what I love for this long.  I just feel really fortunate.

Me:  How has Bellator been?

Jason:  Bellator’s been great.  And I have no ill will… the UFC treated me great.  I never had one problem with them.  They treated me great, and it’s a business.  I wasn’t winning fights so they had to let me go.  They treated me great, and Bellator’s treated me like a Prince.

Me:  Do you have an idea what will happen after your third fight?  Do you start over with a brand new contract and look at your options at that point?

Jason:  If I entered the tournament there were tons of options for them to re-sign.  Obviously I want to win, and if they’re looking to re-sign me that would be great.

Me:  Over the years, any generally funny, weird, crazy stories?

Jason:  I was in Newcastle (England), and I’ve never seen that many drunk people in my life.  There were soccer games going on, and we come outside, and the streets were just littered with stumbly drunk people… That was the scene that’s just stuck in my head.  I’ve never seen that many drunk people that could barely even walk, there were women holding their shoes, and we’re talking 50 or 45 degree weather, and these girls in dresses walking around barefoot just drunk!  Yeah, Newcastle was a trip.