Riley Kerestes, staff photographer
and writer recently sat down with BoDog vet and current
Total Fight Challenge 155 champion
Kyle Watson for an interview. You can
view photos from Kyle’s fights here.
Though he may not be known on the nationwide scene yet, anyone familiar with Mixed Martial Arts in the Midwest will tell you that Kyle Watson is one of the most talented 155lb fighters around. The current Total Fight Challenge 155-pound Champion sporting an impressive 11-6-1 record took time out from his preparations for his upcoming title defense on Feb 9th against Charles Wilson to give MMAStation.com the scoop on his recent activities.
MMAStation: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your fighting style for those that might not be familiar with you.
Kyle Watson: I am an aggressive fighter who is always looking for the finish. Of my eleven wins, ten are finishes (9 subs-all chokes, and 1 TKO). I am well rounded and have no problem throwing leather, but I feel my jiu-jitsu and my clinch are my strongest tools and help me to end my fights without leaving it in the judges’ hands.
MMAStation: Like most fighters you work a regular full-time job and then train at night after work. What drives you to be a Mixed Martial Artist and endure all the punishment that goes along with it?
Kyle Watson: I love the thrill of competition and I have garnered myself quite a bit of experience with 18 MMA fights and over 200 grappling matches. I have competed and trained around the world (Russia, Brazil, Costa Rica) and all across United States. I have also been able to fight some of the toughest lightweights out there including Spencer Fisher, Bart Palazewski, and Rob Roy and although this may not have helped me build up a spotless record, it has significantly contributed to my experience level and my confidence going into a fight.
MMAStation: How did you originally get into fighting?
Kyle Watson: I was always very competitive in high school, but being from a small town (Raymond, IL), there weren’t a lot of athletics opportunities. We did not have wrestling or football, so I had to settle for baseball and soccer. I was fascinated with martial arts growing up, but with no options to study in my community, my friends and I would resort to strapping on boxing gloves on my patio and knocking the crap out of each other while pretending we knew how to fight. It wasn’t until I began college at the University of Illinois that I sought out and began training in martial arts. Being a fan of the early UFC’s in high school, I was determined to find a school that taught the most realistic stuff and I happened upon a club called Goshin Jitsu. It taught me realistic and useful techniques with a little bit of everything; throws, submissions, kickboxing, etc. The part of class that really got me fired up was the submissions and when the instructor saw my interest he worked with me individually after almost every class. Then one day he suggested that if I liked the jiu-jitsu so much, I should go check out his instructor Jack McVicker’s class. Jack is a 1st degree black belt in BJJ under Megaton Dias and a Senior Instructor in Jeet Kune Do Concepts under Paul Vunak. I was very fortunate to have such an accomplished world-class caliber instructor in my own town. BJJ became my passion and I have been devoted to it ever since. I still train with Jack, and have been with him for almost eight years now. I am currently a three-stripe purple belt in BJJ.
MMAStation: You mentioned that you have had a lot of grappling matches at a high level of competition. Do you think this has helped with your confidence and preparations as a fighter?
Kyle Watson: Absolutely. This was probably most evident when I received the Most Technical Fight Award for Season 4 of Bodog Fight: Paradise Lost. I feel my jiu-jitsu allows me to compete with anyone on the mat.
MMAStation: What are some of your best moments in sport jiu-jitsu?
Kyle Watson: I recently placed 3rd in the No-Gi World Championships as a purple belt. I have also won several purple belt matches at the 2006 and 2007 Pan American Games, as well as the 2005 BJJ World Championships in Brazil. In 2006, I won the Extreme Grappling Open Professional Lightweight Invite Tournament defeating a purple, brown, and black belt consecutively.
MMAStation.com: Tell us about your first MMA bout and your feelings after the fight.
Kyle Watson: After I had trained for about a year and a half, I wanted to test myself in MMA so I found a small show in Fort Wayne, IN run by Dan “The Beast” Severn. To get on the card I actually had to pay THEM a $40 dollar entrance fee to fight. (laughs) I battled a pro boxer from Toronto, and submitted him with a triangle choke in the second round. It was such a rush that I was hooked and I wanted to do it more and more. I realized after that fight that I needed to be more well rounded and I couldn’t just rely on my submission skills alone so I began expanding my training at other gyms in different disciplines. I began doing Thai boxing at an excellent gym in Peoria, IL with Ryan Balckorby off and on for about six years to work on my striking. In the past year or two I have also been working wrestling with guys from the Eastern Illinois University wrestling team, which has helped a lot too. Most importantly though, I try to train and surround myself with other great fighters. I have trained with people like Miguel Torres, Derrick Noble, and Clay French, not to mention the great guys on my own team like Jeff Serafin and Dan Hornbuckle. I am constantly trying to evolve and become a versatile fighter, and this can only be done by working all aspects of mma with great coaches fighters.
MMAStation: Before a fight do you go in with a specific game plan of what you plan to do or do you just go with the flow as the fight progresses?
Kyle Watson: My coaches have always stressed the importance of having a strategy for each particular opponent, and I believe in this completely. You might have one fighter who is better in most aspects of the fight game, but the better fighter brings a game plan that allows him to use his strengths to exploit his opponent’s weaknesses and ultimately win the fight. I always have a game plan, and I try to watch video of my opponents to find the holes in their games. I am really impressed with fighters who can instantly change their game plan based on how the fight is playing out. They can make adjustments mid-fight that help sway the match in their favor. This is a difficult skill with all the pressure, adrenaline and the million other things running through your mind during a fight. I believe this is something that can only be acquired through experience and like most fighters, early in my career I feel that I sometimes got tunnel vision and focused on one or two things during a fight, and forgot some of the tools in my arsenal. With continued focus, training, and experience, I believe I will be able to adjust easier, but gamelans are always key to winning a fight.
MMAStation.com: What has been your most satisfying victory?
Kyle Watson: All of my wins have been very satisfying, but I would say this last one on in Sept of 2007 where I won the Total Fight Challenge 155 lb. Championship against Kevin English was up there. Not only was it nice to get the belt back, but also Kevin has a decent record and is a very talented athlete and wrestler. Other than this one of my losses was very rewarding personally too. When I fought Henry Matamoros, it was only my fifth fight, while Henry had over thirty. I stepped up to headline against him on Dave Strasser’s show in Wisconsin. Although I lost, it was very competitive and I was taking him down and pounding him for about a round and a half. Then, a combination nerves and being sick made me gas quickly in the second round. From there Henry had me in every bad position possible, but couldn’t finish me. They stopped the fight with about a minute to go because I had a broken nose, and wasn’t changing my position. However, I was very proud of myself to take the fight and hang with this caliber of an opponent so early in my career.
MMAStation.com: Who has been your toughest fight so far?
Kyle Watson: I have had a lot of tough fights so it is hard to pick which one was my toughest. My most frustrating fight was with Spencer Fisher. I was in fantastic shape and very prepared for the fight. I knew that if I got it to the ground, I had a good shot of beating him. But unfortunately, I probed a little too long with strikes, and he came in with a beautiful combo that sent me to dreamland. It was a short fight, and I feel that I really didn’t get to show people my true skill level against a top-level guy. My fight with Tom Kirk was a tough war also. He and I beat the shit out of each other for three rounds, and were both hard to recognize afterwards.
MMAStation.com: Take us through your Bodog fight that was a controversial decision that was eventually overturned? Undoubtedly this was a difficult time for you.
Kyle Watson: This was a very frustrating ordeal for me. Fighting for Bodog was an awesome opportunity and I definitely want to fight for them again, but hopefully with a different outcome. After cornering for Derrick Noble for a Bodog fight in St. Petersburg Russia, I got to see my opponent (Tyler Jackson) fight, so I knew I was fighting a tough boxer. My game plan was to take him down and submit him. However, just as any good mma fighter, I strive to be well rounded, so I continually work on my hands as well.The treatment and preparation for this fight in Costa Rica was excellent and I felt more prepared than any of my previous fights. Once the fight started, I tried to probe with light strikes to set up the clinch and then attempt a body lock takedown. It’s no surprise if you look at my record that jiu-jitsu is my strong point and you could tell my opponent did his homework. I saw him training before the fight, and you could tell he was working to stay on the feet. Once in the clinch he was very strong and able to stop my takedown attempts. As I continued to strike with him I realized that my reach advantage was a factor and I was able to land strikes more effectively. I quickly changed my game plan. I was worried with the heat and sweat (fighting on the beach) that I would tire more quickly if my takedown attempts continued to get stuffed, so I decided to continue striking with him since he really wasn’t putting me in danger and I was landing on him.
MMAStation.com: So you abandoned your strategy and started to beat him at his own game?
Kyle Watson: Exactly. The first two rounds went well for me. I peppered him with effective punches, knees and head kicks. In the third round, fatigue affected me a little and I feel that he was able to out strike me, but never put me in any danger. So, going to the judges’ decision, I felt I had clearly one the first two rounds with a close third round possibly going to him, and I expected my hand to be raised. Then when they announced him as the winner by split decision, it was a much more painful than any blow I received in the fight. I had worked my ass off for a couple months, flew half way around the world, only to feel that I was on the wrong end of an unfair decision. The first thing I said when I left the ring was “how did I lose that fight?” Dave Strasser, who was sitting next to my corner men during the fight said, “well the the announcing definitely couldn’t have helped, as is was very biased,” and one of the three judges sat in between the commentators, potentially skewing their perspective. As I left the fight area, two guys came up to me and said they were friends with Tyler, but still felt that I had won the fight. I did not think too much of it, but then over the course of the remaining few days that I was in Costa Rica while they filmed the remaining fights, I heard this continually. My corner men and I heard from around twenty-five different people who were there ringside watching the fight, all saying the same thing….that I got screwed. These were not just your average fans. These were all respected fighters who have fought in some of the biggest shows like Gilbert Melendez, Denis Kang, Jake Shields, Chael Sonnen. But out of everyone who sympathized with me, the one who made the biggest impact was Jose “Pele” Landi-Johns. He is one of Tyler’s teammates and corner men, and after the fight he came up to me, shook my hand and surprisingly repeated the same thing a couple times in broken English, “great Muay Thai….wrong decision.” Although these words did nothing to change the decision, they meant a lot to me. First, the fact that Tyler’s own corner man disagreed with the decision solidified in my mind that I really did win the fight. Second, at one time Pele was regarded as one of the best strikers in mma, knocking out the likes of Matt Hughes and Carlos Newton. So, for him to tell me that my kickboxing was good, really made me feel better. I have been working hard for a long time to be well rounded, and I wanted people to know that although I am good at BJJ, I can bang as well. As I mentioned in my pre-fight interview, “I think he will underestimate my striking.”
MMAStation.com: So it was at that point that you decided to appeal the decision?
Kyle Watson: Not exactly. I heard from a variety of fighters that the decision was wrong, but later on one of the judges approached me as well. He was rotated out during my fight, but still watched the fight and judged it unofficially. He came to me and said something is fishy here, and you really should appeal the fight. I asked him whom I should talk to and on the last day I approached the matchmaker to find out how to formally appeal the fight. He told me to write a letter and they would investigate, although they usually do not overturn decisions. So I had to travel home, deal with the decision mentally and emotionally, and at the same time keep quiet about the results with friends and family hounding me about the outcome of the fight, which was to air later. Within the next week, I wrote and sent my formal appeal letter. Then from February to May I continually checked for progress on the appeal, but nothing happened until a week before the fight was to air in July. The Bodog Commissioner and another ref rejudged the fight and independently scored it a 29-28 decision for me. I was disappointed that there was no time to change the outcome on video before the fight aired on cable at that point, but at least my record would be corrected and that was most important to me. I found out later that the main announcer knew Tyler personally, had visited his gym in Canada multiple times and talked about him the entire match. Although I was hitting him throughout the fight, they continually focused on the fact that I was a grappler and he was a striker, so I needed to get it to the ground as soon as possible. They totally neglected the fact that I have done Thai boxing for 6 of the 8 years I have been training so I am well rounded and can strike too. I was so angry…it was ridiculous how biased it was, and it was clear that this could have affected the judging. I had to continually explain to my family and friends about what happened. Either way, although they did not make it official on TV, they made it right, except that they said they couldn’t pay me the $2000 win bonus I should have gotten. I also got to speak my mind directly with the biased announcer on an online forum. He said he rewatched the fight and agreed with me. He proceeded to publicly apologize for being biased during my fight and admitted to being the same way in Pele’s fight as well. So, overall it was a stressful, frustrating situation, but I gained a lot from it. And as I said in the post-fight interview, if nothing else, I was proud that as a grappler I held my own against a decorated boxer at his own game. The fight is still viewable at the bodog website People can judge for themselves. You might have to turn the sound off to get an unbiased opinion though (laughs)
MMAStation.com: Discuss how your losses and how they effected you both in your training and mental preparation for a fight?
Kyle Watson: My losses have affected me in a variety of ways. A few times it has shaken my confidence, but with time I picked myself up knowing that is what it takes to be a champion at anything. But more often than not, my losses have motivated me to mend the holes in my game, and have helped me to evolve. I can see the things I need to work on and then seek the right training partners to help me with that. I feel that I have all the tools, but some of my losses have been from lack of proper nutrition and conditioning. So I have been taking many steps to prepare smarter for my fights. This has led to less injuries, better training sessions, and I believe soon will show better cardio in my fights. So, overall my losses have made me better in many ways, but that doesn’t mean I plan on getting any more of them anytime soon.
MMAStation.com: What is your training regimen starting about four to six weeks from the fight?
Kyle Watson: I usually like to prepare a month and a half to two months for a fight. Sometimes it is hard because my passion is still BJJ, so I like doing competitions in between my fights. This sometimes messes up my training schedule, and I risk injury, but I love competing and it keeps me in shape, sharp, and focused. When I can prepare properly, I usually have a pretty rigorous schedule. I usually do weight circuits twice a week, sprints twice a week, jiu-jitsu with the gi twice a week, and then two to three days a week I mix up MMA, kickboxing, and wrestling depending on who I am training with. So, as you can see some days I have to work out twice to get it all in. And I work a full time job in addition, so I am always coming and going, and I make a lot of sacrifices. Sleep and food becomes very important to me. Weight cutting is also very big for me. I have to do this very carefully because I am a very big 155′er. I usually walk around about 173 but have been as heavy as 180, and still made 155. It usually takes me about three weeks between the dieting and dehydration to get to that weight. It’s tough, but I have that in-between body type. I am too small to fight the guys in the 170 lb. class (many coming down from 190), and I am pretty big for 155. So for now I will stick with sacrificing pizza and ice cream to be bigger and stronger at lightweight.
MMAStation.com: What are your future plans as a fighter?
Kyle Watson: I am not currently under contract, but I will be defending my title for the TFC on 2/9, and I will also be fighting for Bodog again later this spring in 2008.
MMAStation.com: Any final words to your fans and the readers of MMAStation.com?
Kyle Watson: I want to say thanks to my sponsor “Sinister Brand Fight Wear.” I would also like to thank all my fans that come to watch my fights and support me. It’s hard to explain the feeling you get when you are entering the cage and you can here your fans, friends and loved ones chanting for you over the crowd. It is motivating and I appreciate everyone’s support. I look forward to seeing everyone at the Total Fight Challenge on 2/9 in Hammond, IN as I continue my reign as champ!!!