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Exclusive: Dean Lister’s Next Challenge

by Ben Fowlkes

Dean Lister is in a tough spot. He’s a world class grappler, an Abu Dhabi champion, and depending on who you talk to, he may be the best pure jiu-jitsu fighter in the world. Trouble is, when you carry around a reputation like that it’s hard to surprise anyone.

Because Lister’s ground game is so advanced, most of his opponents will do anything to avoid it. They’d rather force him to stand and strike – which he admits he’s been less comfortable with – and rely on providing just enough offense to win.

“It’s frustrating,” Lister says. “Everyone so far has had pretty much the same strategy. My last opponent (Jordan Radev) was supposed to be an Olympic wrestler from Bulgaria. He didn’t want to go to the ground with me at all. I guess that’s how a lot of people approach it though, just trying to stay on their feet no matter what. I don’t look at it as a negative thing. It’s just how it is.”

The problem for Lister is that as good as his ground game is, when he can’t win with it he’s struggled to find other paths to victory. His recent losses to Nathan Marquardt in the UFC and to Ricardo Arona in Pride were both the result of decisions, as were all five of his career defeats.

The UFC recently announced that Lister will get a chance to avenge one of his early losses when he takes on Jeremy Horn at The Ultimate Fighter Finale show in June. The two first faced off in 2003, when Horn took Lister’s King of the Cage middleweight championship belt from him with a split decision victory.

“We’re both different now,” says Lister. “I’m about three times as experienced as I was back then. I only had like five fights back then, now I have fifteen. Then again, he’s probably fought way more than fifteen times since then, the way he goes.

“One thing Jeremy is known for is he’s not afraid to fight on the ground or on the feet. He’s very well-rounded. I just think that no matter what happens, it’s going to be an exciting fight. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the feet or on the ground – of course everyone knows that I have a preference.”

The bout with Horn may carry even more significance than a normal rematch, considering the UFC’s recent roster cuts. Lister has accomplished almost everything he can in the field of submission grappling and jiu-jitsu, and says his focus now is on becoming a great mixed martial artist – not just Tito Ortiz’s jiu-jitsu coach.

“Before I got into the UFC, even before I got into Pride, my grand goal was to become Abu Dhabi world champion. I’ve done that. Now that I’ve had that moment, I’ve changed my focus to the UFC. I was satisfied, but I’m not satisfied anymore. I think if you stop trying to grow, that’s it. You have to keep taking chances and putting yourself out there. That’s how you grow as a man, as well as a fighter.”

Lister’s recent growth has included a return from a very serious tendon injury that caused his biceps muscle to “roll up like a window shade.” The recovery was as tough mentally as it was physically, he says.

“It was a nightmare situation. Physically, it was a big problem. But psychologically it was an even bigger problem. I just had no confidence in my takedowns, no confidence in the strength in my arms, so it’s been tough getting over that, but I’ve been feeling better recently.”

After getting the offer to rematch Horn a little over a week ago, Lister has been splitting his training time between his new Throwdown Elite Training Center in San Diego and Tito Ortiz’s camp in the mountains of Big Bear, Calif. where he’s hoping the training will help him get to the next level in his career.

“I’ve been up in Big Bear with Tito and Sol Soliz. I’ve been trying to broaden my horizons like I used to, but also keeping my close friends around me. I want to become a complete fighter in the UFC, so I have to improve my striking, improve my takedowns. I don’t look at it as a big issue. I look at it as a challenge.”


Cagepotato Comments

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Hywel Teague- May 11, 2008 at 1:19 pm
Nice pic. Can I have a credit next time please?
offended blind monkey- April 29, 2008 at 12:02 am
fightfan take a blind zoo monkey out of his cage right now and he could probably whup you.
Kevin- April 28, 2008 at 11:52 pm
^ Dude, Just watch boxing. It's got plenty of striking.
fightfan- April 28, 2008 at 7:17 pm
Sorry for double post. But just like they do to the TUF winners. They feed them very, very winnable fights for a couple of years or so. They are doing the same to Lister. You could teach a blind zoo monkey to strike if you gave them 2 or 3 years to do so while building them up as a MMA fighter
fightfan- April 28, 2008 at 7:15 pm
Hey, all props to "the boogeyman". I am sure he is one of the BEST grapplers in the world, PERIOD. But this is mma fighting. He will get his ass handed to him again if he fights someone that can strike and has decent takedown defense. Dean can not fight, he can grapple. But this is mma FIGHTING, fighting being the key word. Dean is NOT a fighter, he is a grappler, and is as simple as that.

After Marquete beat the piss out of him for 3 rounds, why do you think the UFC is gave him Jordan who CANT STRIKE either(he is the one Drew McFedries nearly killed). They will continue to match him against ANYONE that is old and over the hill AND/OR is NOT a DECENT STRIKER!!!!! If I wanted to watch a submission grappling match, I would watch them. Therefore I have no interest in watching Lister unless he is fighting a striker that is going to give him a beatdown. I have no interest in watching a guy try to take the other's back for 15 minutes.
Anonymous- April 28, 2008 at 6:35 pm
Fair enough, mmacoach. He did handle Radev no problem, though.

And since he clearly did some sort of interview with this site, why wouldn't he read it?
mmacoach- April 28, 2008 at 6:08 pm
He wasn't crying. I meant the part about the wrestler not wanting to go to the ground with him. With all of his experience, he should be able to handle a pure wrestler on his feet no problem. I respect Dean Lister. I actually meant it as a motivator. He doesn't read this site anyway... I really wasn't meaning it derogatorily. I hope he works horn. I believe that jits has a legitimate (and very dominating) place in MMA even though most fans hate the fight once it hits the mat.
Anonymous- April 28, 2008 at 4:50 pm
When was he crying? Isn't he pretty much saying that he's working on improving his hands?
mmacoach- April 28, 2008 at 4:38 pm
Hey Dean, then stick to Jits... if you can't improve on your feet, hang up your MMA hat. It isn't that hard to get your hands pretty good if you are already athletic enough to excel to the top of the BJJ food chain. How would you fight you? You'd stand up too. Go train with Greco-Roman champs, Judo champs, whatever it takes. There's no crying in MMA bro, you know that!
Joe Son- April 28, 2008 at 4:36 pm
"Then train more on your feet, wtf?"

Wow, you should be an MMA trainer. Not only are you insightful, you're also a great motivator!
C-Bus Allstar- April 28, 2008 at 4:23 pm
Even as highly-decorated as he is, I don't think people take Dean Lister seriously. Mostly due to the fact that he's never been UFC champion. If he could upgrade his striking ability to even someone like Thiago Alves' skill level, then he could be a SERIOUS threat. His Jiu-Jitsu is legendary, but his striking is less than sub-par. He's got a long way to go, and just a couple months to do it.
Me- April 28, 2008 at 4:20 pm
Then train more on your feet, wtf?