(Dude, I told you I was wearing the green shirt today.)
You may recall, Hughes asked Laimon if he was disappointed in seeing Royce beaten like he was. Almost on cue, when the words “It was great,” barely escaped Laimon’s lips, Matt Serra, a Renzo Gracie black belt coincidentally happens upon the conversation and asks, “What’s that?”
Sure, Laimon’s reply of “Matt Hughes’ utter decimation of Royce Gracie,” may have been a bit inflammatory to a guy who runs a Gracie affiliated school of his own, but for Serra to fly off the handle and tell Laimon that he had no right to his opinion of Royce’s performance or fighting in general because he wasn’t a fighter was a bit asinine, considering Laimon’s background as a renowned jiu-jitsu trainer, MMA coach and cornerman. That’s like saying a cancer specialist doesn’t know anything about the disease because he or she has never had it.
Interestingly, Laimon actually received his blue belt from Royce in 1996, only three months after he begun training at the fabled Gracie Academy in Torrance, CA. After attending the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation’s Pan-American Championships that year, he inquired about learning some of the techniques he had witnessed at the tournament, and was told he wasn’t ready for the advanced techniques. Although he accepted the call made by Rorian, he began to notice that a lot of things he was being told didn’t add up. When he began to question why they were bound by certain policies and techniques, he says that his inquiries were met with arrogance, and a “because I said so,” type of attitude from both of his teachers. The breakdown in communication began a downward spiral in the amount of trust and respect he had for Rorian and ultimately the Gracie way of doing business and jiu-jitsu and led to him leaving the academy and training under John Lewis and notably open-minded banner of Nova Uniao.
We spoke to Laimon, a self-proclaimed MMA nerd, who, because of his vast knowledge of MMA and its intricacies, was chosen to be the career mode coach in THQ’s UFC Undisputed 2010 game, that was released at midnight today.
Here’s what the Cobra Kai founder had to say about the Gracies, the evolution of MMA, the fighters he trains and a variety of related topics:
CP: So what was it that started this whole feud between you and the Gracies?
ML: I was training eight or nine hours a day, all day and I was starting to get pretty good. Then I went to the Pan-Ams and I saw guys there doing moves I had never seen before. I saw omoplatas and I saw [Vitor] “Shaolin” [Ribeiro] tap Robin Gracie when they were both brown belts and I was like, “WOW!” Shaolin had only trained something like three-and-a-half years. I went back to the academy and Rorian told me that I wasn’t ready for that kind of jiu-jitsu. I could understand. I had only been training like nine months at the time, and even though I had been training a lot, there’s a lot to adjust to techniques like that. The system takes a while to understand, but when you’ve got guys who are four-year blue belts and guys who have been training six or seven years and THEY’RE not ready, you start to wonder, “When are they ready?” Then you start wondering if it’s a cop out and they just don’t know this stuff or don’t want to learn it. By “they,” I’m talking about Rorian. Each Gracie is an individual and different. My main problem was with Rorian and how he did things. He’d say things like “Everybody who left the academy is bad – they’re bad apples.” Well, I started to think, “Maybe the apples aren’t bad; maybe you’re a bad farmer.”
There were all of these things going on. They wouldn’t let anyone compete in outside tournaments. If you just blindly followed everything they told you, everything was good, but if you ever questioned what was going on and used logic to see how things happened in the real world, you started to see that things were just a little bit different than what you were being told. I think that’s what happened. Even to this day I think that there are some shady sides to jiu-jitsu when guys are making a ton of money off of these tournaments, which is their goal – to make money off of Americans and every year you hear about guys getting screwed at the Pan-Ams, or screwed at the World [Jiu-Jitsu Championships] and they’re like “What are you going to do about it?” Guys threaten not to compete and they’re told, “This year it will be different,” and it never is. All these guys are making money off of their black belts and their video tapes and they charge these guys a lifetime’s worth of fees to compete even though people are coming to see them and they are giving back to the community. It’s just a whole lot of hoarding and greed going on in the sport. That’s not a positive environment to breed a sport in.
There are a few people making a lot of money and everyone else is struggling to make it. They do stuff like start a white belt championship, which is ridiculous, but it gives them 75 more divisions and put like twenty more grand in their pockets, so why not open it up to white belts? Vinny Magahalaes had a great post on the Underground. He said “I can’t cash in my medal and buy groceries and medicine. It’s about pride. If you want to make money grappling, you have to wait two years for the Abu Dhabi [Submission Wrestling World Championships] and there’s only a few people who win money in that. Jiu-jitsu is a hard racket to make a living in. I think if things were done differently in the organization and things came down from the top differently, it could be a very beneficial thing, but it would take a lot of restructuring and a lot of people wanting better the sport instead of wanting to better their pocketbooks.
CP: It’s funny though, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu has become the “brand name” for the sport, much like the UFC has with MMA.
CP: In a lot of ways you remind me of Eddie Bravo in that you started training under the Gracie jiu-jitsu system and basically branched off on your own to create your own system of grappling. You’re also big proponent at sharing new ideas with fighters and students and gleaning from different systems of grappling, which is something the Gracies aren’t known for. Eddie says that it was the Gracies who made him into this sort of outlaw because he began training exclusively no-gi among other reasons. What’s your relationship like with Eddie?
ML: Both of us have a stellar mixed martial arts record of 0-0…The thing about Eddie is he’s got his way of thinking, I’ve got my way of thinking and we agree on a lot of things and we disagree on other things and that’s fine. The cool thing about this sport, which is so weird because I was just thinking about it today, is that I’ve been watching some fights regularly for the past ten years of my life. I’ll go back and focus on something from a fight and I’ll notice something completely different that I didn’t notice any of the other times I watched it. It’s just amazing how much footage there is out there. Most people really don’t analyze tapes that much, they just assume that they know. I’m diligent in tape study. That’s kind of my canvas for creating what works in competition by taking what’s working at the highest levels of the sport and what’s worth putting time into exploring. Eddie’s got a lot of great things – he revolutionized a lot of things and there are a lot of things I steal from him He’s got his own system and he kind of makes people conform to his system, whereas I kind of look at what the guy I’m training brings to the table and I look at how I can maximize HIS potential. It’s a delicate balance for each guy. If you’re lacking in flexibility, then you aren’t going to be a great Rubber Guard player. We look at what the fighter does well and we look at how we can maximize it. Eddie and I have traded techniques on a lot of things and he’s changed the way I thought about a lot of things. I taught him a rudimentary version of the Darce choke back in like 2000. It kind of freaked him out. We were in a hotel room at the time and we were talking about technique and I was telling him about this move from inside the half-guard and he was like “This is awesome”. Later I thought of a different set-up to get to it and it was like “How did I not see that before?” It’s weird that it doesn’t strike a chord until you put things in the proper context and it changes the game. The Darce is one of those moves that does that for no-gi and MMA. You control the head and the arm and like with every living organism, if you control the head, you control it. If an animal attacks you, you grab that son of a bitch behind the head and now you have control of the animal. I feel that the Darce changed Eddie’s game a little bit, which is the constant evolution of the game you need to stay competitive.
I’m not saying I know it all, but I try to improve every aspect of my game. The sport is so young that it’s very tough to balance the proper amount of technique and physical training to constantly improve, especially with injuries. George from MMAJunkie puts it best when he says we’re still in the leather helmet football era of MMA right now. It’s true. I think that the coaching methods are very arcane because the sport hasn’t been around that long and we just haven’t had a lot of great minds collaborating. They all try to guard their secret techniques. They’re all out for themselves and everyone is biased towards the background that they come from. Eventually we’re going to see the generation of fighters who have trained MMA boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu and kickboxing since they were 5 years old. Fighters are just going to keep getting better and better. It’s so exciting for us as fans to see how rapidly the sport has evolved in such a short period of time. Rarely do we as fans get to see something evolve so rapidly, except maybe technology. Jiu-jitsu from the 90’s to where it is today was vastly inferior. We’re just heads and shoulders above the game now. I was a VHS tape hoarder and now I have YouTube and I have hard drives filled with information and footage that would have filled a whole room back then. I remember going to every UFC with my friend back when there were only five events a year. Now someone told me that if you average out every Zuffa show this year, it’s something like one every two weeks. That’s amazing. Throw in Bellator and Strikeforce and there’s almost never a week without fights. It’s FAN-tastic. I have enough footage now that I’ll never be able to watch in my lifetime. It’s a great time to be alive and to be a fan of the sport.
CP: With that technology, you also get the flipside of things, where people all think that because they watch The Ultimate Fighter and they “Trane UFC” they’re MMA experts and anyone with a URL can be an MMA reporter. Joe Rogan was on Tapout Radio last week and he was talking about the state of MMA commentary and he was talking about guys getting into the sport because it’s popular, not because they’re fans or because they are suited to do the job. You must notice it more than the average fan, given the amount of footage you watch. What do you think about these types of bandwagon jumpers?
ML: Fuck, man. Strikeforce’s commentary is just atrocious. It is so, so poor. I can’t stand to listen to it. Frank Shamrock is awful. Gus Johnson is terrible. What they were doing with the Jacare and Villasenor fight was so bad, it was embarrassing. When they said it was Villasenor’s fight to lose, I was like, “Really? I saw him get dominated the whole fight. He got out-struck, out-wrestled and out-jiu-jitsu’ed.” Did he survive? Yes. Did he do anything offensive? Not really. Call the fight like it is. Don’t call it like you want it to be. I like objectivity. I think Rogan brought up a lot of good points. I was listening to that Tapout Radio interview yesterday and he said a lot of things I agree with. I think one of the best guys I enjoy listening to the most is Pat Miletich. He does such a great job in breaking down the fights. Kenny Florian is another guy. I love listening to him on MMA Live. Franklin McNeil on the other hand. Someone please get rid of that guy. He should not be on that show. He doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about. He’s a fool. When you get guys like Florian, Rashad, Mir – guys who have been in there and give you a different take on things, I love listening to what they have to say. They get people excited and they know what they’re talking about. I don’t care if they fight. If you’ve got somebody who gets excited and they really know the sport, it makes all the difference. I liked hearing what Adam Schefter had to say on ESPN about all of the insider stuff that was going on in the NFL and I don’t think he played a down in the NFL. The same thing with Chris Mortensen and John Clayton. I love hearing Skip Bayless’ analysis. Everyone thinks he’s an asshole, but he tells it like he sees it. He’s definitely got an opinion and it’s not just some opinion that’s a consensus of what people are saying on the Internet. It’s usually a well thought out thing. You can’t hide genuine enthusiasm. Is this a job or is it a passion? That’s why I do what I’m doing. I love MMA, but I know I’m not an athlete and that’s the way the sport is going. I don’t think I have to prove anything to anybody. People say, “Fucking Laimon. What does he know? He’s never fought.”
CP: The fact that fighters are coming to you to train them proves them wrong, doesn’t it?
ML: Actually, if I see somebody I want to train, I don’t wait, I go after them. If I see talent I go after it. I think the sooner you get guys who have raw talent, the better you can build a firm base that you can work with. I pursued the Team Takedown guys because I saw the potential they had. I got in touch with their management and made it happen. They had a lot of positives and not a lot of negatives. I’ve seen a lot of negatives in my short time in MMA and the way they do thing, they’re built to succeed. There’s a lot of pressure on them to succeed and there’s a lot of pressure on me to help them succeed, but I love it. I stress out bad. I’m nervous, but I always remind myself that I have the best seat in the house to watch my guys fight. It’s so cool to be involved with this sport right now. It’s evolving so quickly. I may not be a fighter, but you look at guys like Red Auerbach, who until Phil Jackson passed him, held the record for and he never played basketball. Some people are meant to coach. A wise person knows their limitations and I know I’m limited athletically, so why would I try to compete with a guy like GSP? It’s the same reason why certain guys will never play in the NFL. You need to have certain attributes to play at that level. There’s a large percentage of the populous that doesn’t have those skills. MMA’s a bit different. It’s the only sport where guys can take a fight in a small organization against another inexperienced fighter and become a pro. Spencer Pratt, if he ever actually fights like he says he’s going to, could become a pro fighter if he wanted to. Someone will pay him – probably more than he’s worth because of his name and then he’ll be a professional athlete. There are no MMA regulatory body that allows only real fighters to compete as pros. I think that once you see more and more money in the sport, the better athletes will push guys like that out and we may see stricter policies that constitute what makes a fighter a pro. We’re going to see these younger, better fighters being brought up to fight since they were kids and it’s going to raise the bar for athletes. As a coach, that’s awesome and as a fan, it’s going to make for great fights. What more can you ask for?
CP: Totally. It’s something that is starting to happen already. Here in Canada, guys who want to fight can call up a smaller regional promotion and get a fight, whereas they couldn’t just call up a pro hockey team and get a spot on the roster. I agree that changes need to be made, and I can see it happening somewhere down the line. There are always going to be people out to make a quick buck at the detriment of the integrity of the sport, but I think overall, we’ll get there.
ML: We’re in the leather helmet area right now, man. As huge as the sport is now, I only see it getting bigger. It’s like Dana says, if you’re in an open field and it’s divided into four quadrants and in one section there’s a football game, in another there’s a soccer game, in another there’s a baseball game and in the other corner there’s a fight, everyone is going to go watch the fight. Fighting transcends cultures and the there’s no fancy equipment necessary. The goal is for you to stop the guy you’re fighting. That’s it. It’s such a simple thing that appeals to people at their most basic, natural instinctual level. I really believe that it’s going to eventually be the biggest sport in the world. Boxing has gotten so boring. Mayweather did what he needed to do [against Mosely] and what he does was amazing, but it was so fucking boring to watch. As a coach, I appreciate the technique involved, but as far as being entertained, I don’t ever want to watch boxing ever again as a fan. One of the best things about MMA is no matter if there are fights on a card that aren’t super entertaining, like the Penn-Edgar or Silva-Maia fights that a lot of people didn’t like, you always have a fight like Munoz versus Grove that makes up for it. That fight was sick. I was like,” Oh, my god. What a show this is turning out to be,” when that fight was over. At least you have fights like that to go back to. The main event might have sucked but at least we have fights like that we can rely on. When you get to the level Anderson’s at, you kind of want to protect your legacy, where guys like Munoz and Grove were trying to forge theirs. That shit is awesome.
CP: Speaking of Kendall, you have ties to him from having trained him in the past. Did you show him that Darce choke that he used so effectively against Alan Belcher?
ML: I did and he was a longtime student many, many years ago. He moved on and he’s doing his own thing. He’s out in Hawaii and he has a kid and stuff. He’s doing well and he’s got to keep doing what he’s doing.
CP: You mentioned about how a fight seems to attract more spectators and I just remembered something I read about a fight that happened in parliament in Europe a few weeks back. Apparently the web hits that the scrum garnered outnumbered the weekly television broadcast of the parliamentary proceedings by an astronomical amount. I’m not sure of the exact figure off of the top of my head, but it was a substantial number. That says a lot about the popularity of fighting.
ML: Exactly. It’s crazy when we get these politicians who say that say that MMA is a fringe sport and that people don’t want to see it in a normal society.
CP: I don’t think people who say you aren’t qualified know much about MMA coaching, otherwise they would know that a lot of coaches – guys like Greg Jackson and Shawn Tompkins who are considered some of the best coaches in the game, aren’t fighters.
ML: I know. I have the same amount of wins as Shawn Tompkins and less losses. Shawn’s like 0-3 in MMA and he’s a great coach. It makes no sense to me that type of reasoning.
CP: Now, for people unfamiliar with your gym, who are some of the guys you’re training now?
ML: I train a lot of guys – all of the Team Takedown guys – Jake Rosholt, Johny Hendricks and Shane Roller. Right now Joe Stevenson’s out here training with us for a little bit and we’re training some ideas. Evan Dunham is here. Vinny Magalhaes was down for a while, but he injured his knee and hopefully will be back soon. He had surgery and has rehab going now. Eric Schembari who fights for Bellator is here. We have guys who are in the UFC and some guys who are ready to break into amateur fights and then we’ve got all of the guys in between.
CP: Since I became an MMA journalist, I’ve found that people want to challenge me to see how much I know and to see if I’m qualified to write about the sport. Do you find that people try to test your knowledge or try to trip you up?
ML: I was training a lower level fighter a few years ago and I remember it was right after the iPhone came out. The iPhone has changed my life. I’m a big believer that you should be held accountable for what you say and if you don’t know something, you should admit it. Nobody in the sport knows every fact or statistic. People can disagree with me, but unless I’m just being mean, what I say is supported by facts. Anyway I’m with my fighter at the weigh-ins and somebody made the comment that boxing is more dangerous than MMA. This guys says, “Man, I hate when people say that shit. This is WAY more dangerous.” So I pull out my iPhone and I Google how many boxing deaths there were in the past ten years and I think it was like 75 deaths and in MMA it was one and it was at an unsanctioned event. He was like, “Where did you get that information from?” and I showed him. It goes back to what I said earlier about guys like Franklin McNeil and Gus Johnson. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re going to get found out. If you’re not knowledgeable or passionate about the sport, people are going to see through it and they aren’t going to stand for it. You can’t fake that stuff. Some people bag on Rogan’s commentary, but I love it. Sometimes he gets excited and that’s genuine. If I had to pick a commentary team, it would be him and Miletich or him and Florian, which would be a major step up in what we’re given as far as the majority of MMA commentary. I heard that Gus Johnson is a great college basketball commentator. If he wants to do that, fine, but stay out of MMA. Al Michaels, “Do you believe in miracles?” People still remember that shit to this day. Mike Goldberg likes to say, “It’s all over.” We’ve been hearing that for three years. It’s time to change it up. Hopefully there are guys out in MMA land who have been working on their commentary as much as the fighters have been working on rounding out their games.
*Edited to correct two quotes. Laimon did not say "against Hopkins." The author mistakenly wrote Hopkins instead of Mosely, which should have also been in parentheses. Also, because the audio on the call was muddled, one quote was partially un-transcribed. What Laimon actually said in the quote about Phil Jackson was that Red Auerbach was the winningest NBA coach until Phil Jackson surpassed him recently.
We apologize to Marc for any inconvenience (or incessant ribbing) the errors on our part have caused him.