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Exclusive: James Irvin Talks Pills, Curses, the UFC, and Getting Robbed by Ken Shamrock

("When the first thing a doctor says to you is ‘Can I get an autograph?’ it’s pretty easy to get any drugs you want." Photo courtesy of

By CagePotato contributor Jason Moles

Coming off a loss to Jorge Oliveira in December, James Irvin returned to action last weekend at Gladiator Challenge: Young Guns 4 — and he would have gotten his much-needed rebound victory, if it wasn’t for the meddling of celebrity referee Ken Shamrock. (Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.) Freak occurrences have plagued Irvin’s career from the beginning, and that night was no different. "The Sandman" recently gave us on opportunity to chat with him about his anti-climactic match against Mike Crisman, his battle with painkiller addiction, and his plan to make another run in the UFC. 

CAGEPOTATO.COM: First and foremost, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to talk with us at CagePotato. Tell me a little about the physical toll your body has taken after fighting three times in the past four months.
JAMES IRVIN: It’s been good for me. It’s tough, but I’ve been doing this for ten years. In shape, out of shape, and back into shape again. Kinda like what Chris Leben said — it keeps me sharp. I fight again on February 20th and have two fights in March, one in May. I train best when it’s intense and there’s nothing more intense than training for a fight.

Speaking of fights, your last one ended after an inadvertent illegal knee to the head of your opponent. As a result, Ken Shamrock ruled the fight a No Contest. What really went down in the cage?
Honestly, three weeks ago Ken turned down a fight with me, so as soon as I saw that he was going to be the ref I had a bad feeling. He kept coming back to the locker room to give us his version of the rules like this was my first rodeo. As for Crisman, I beat the brakes off this fool. I KO’d the guy and walked away before Shamrock even got there, and two minutes later, he says I illegally kneed him and it’s a no contest. It’s cool. I don’t have a scratch on me, and [Gladiator Challenge promoter] Tedd Williams says I can rematch Crisman in May.

Dana White was complimentary of you after you were cut from the UFC. Have you been or are you still in contact with anyone from the Zuffa organization?
Yes. Gladiator Challenge got me into the UFC, so it was a no-brainer to go back. I’m a company man. I’ve been cut three times and Dana has always wanted to have me back. Right now I’m able to work on my wrestling and get everything tuned just right before I make another run to the top…I’m going to stay in Gladiator Challenge for the next year and fill stadiums. Everyone always says "This is my year." This year is not my year, it’s my time to get better. In 2012 I’ll have my breakout fight and go undefeated which will set me up for a return to the UFC in 2013. My goal is to be a contender in the title mix with top guys like Forrest and Shogun. In the end, I am going to crack the Top 10 in the UFC.

You’ve admitted to being addicted to prescription painkillers in the past. How did you win the battle over addiction?
Yes sir. Rehab. I went to rehab. I didn’t have to go, I took myself in. After the Thiago Silva fight I jacked my knee up and that’s when I got into the painkillers. My dad committed suicide when I was a kid and my mom couldn’t always stay clean, but I was an athlete and didn’t get into drugs…until I was in my twenties. When the first thing a doctor says to you is "Can I get an autograph?" it’s pretty easy to get any drugs you want. But now, anytime I need pain pills to train or fight, then I just don’t train or fight. I just thank God for a second chance. Rehab was the best thirty days of my life.

Here at CagePotato, you’re known as the most cursed fighter in MMA history. You’ve had some bizarre stuff happen in your career from falling out of the cage to freak injuries. What are you thoughts on that assessment?
(Laughing) Yeah, I heard about that. I think it’s pretty funny actually. At this [Strikeforce] fight against Bobby Southworth, I can talk about this now, we got in the clinch and headed straight for the cage. It just so happened we hit the only unlocked door and tumbled out of the cage. That’s really where the knee injury originated. I’ve just always had that popping back up when I’m about to fight.

Back in 2008 Anderson Silva was set to make his light-heavyweight debut. Four professional UFC fighters turned down the fight. What made you so unafraid to fight him?
I was literally running to go fax the papers, I thought someone would have snatched it up. I wanted to fight a top-ten guy. I really couldn’t understand why the others didn’t want to fight Anderson. It was a win-win fight for me fighting the best fighter on the planet. I’ve got twenty-three stitches on my right cheek that I’m proud of.

Is there anything you’d like to tell the readers or your fans?
Anyone who is athletic and playing football or baseball in Smalltown, USA can do this. You don’t need to be Brazilian or have a wrestling pedigree or been in martial arts since you were little. If you have the heart you can succeed! Just go after it.

Alright, one last question before you go. UFC 126 is this weekend. Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort for the middleweight title. Who ya got?
No one has come close to Silva other than Chael. But runs of luck only last so long. Everyone has to lose at some point. I’ve seen it happen to Chuck. I’ve seen it happened to Randy. I’m taking Vitor; it’ll be nice to see him win. I can’t wait to see the rubber match between [Silva] and Sonnen. He’s a friend of mine and still a top guy, but I think he matches up better against Silva.

Cagepotato Comments

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rozeskullz- February 11, 2011 at 12:08 am
not only does james fight in a cage but he has had to fight some personal demons & he has won. cant wait to se him back in UFC. good luck in 2011
J-Dog- February 3, 2011 at 10:24 pm
Definitely not the first time a cage door has opened when it shouldn't have. I got leveled at UFC 119 when Mitrione jumped into an unlocked cage door. It sucked.
Mir please break Brocks neck- February 3, 2011 at 2:22 pm
I used to work at the same employer as James @ Cache Creek (he knows where that is)...... And I met him once. Super nice guy. I hope to see him return to the UFC.

He should have elected NOT to have Ken ref the fight if he thought there was going to be an issue.

I am not against K. Shamrock.....I think he's a founding father of MMA.... But seriously..... has there been ONE positive thing about this guy since fighting Kimo in 2004? And for those of you who didnt know.....

Ken is fighting Tank next.

Good lorrrrrd. First....the fight will suck. Second.... Im sorry Ken.....but I think Tank will kick your ass. Better catch that big tittied mofo quick before he drops one of those right fists on ya!

That'll be as exciting as buying popcorn and peanuts from Coleman and Baroni at the concessions stand.

Frank Mir for President!!!!!
joemilla- February 3, 2011 at 11:10 am
i wonder if the sandman realizes that Vitor has also been fighting for a very long time. since the early days of the UFC and before. i wonder why his main reason for taking Vitor is that Anderson's time has expired.
Negativecreep0- February 3, 2011 at 10:29 am
You know he lost his hair young due to hapitual steroid use.......
LET IT RAIN- February 3, 2011 at 10:25 am
The Houston fight punch was awesome!
Arianny Sylvia- February 3, 2011 at 9:49 am
Re: the cage door--it can't be blocked by a KOd fighter if it opens outward.

Re: Irvin--always an exciting fighter. Good luck in 2011, dood.
Zee German- February 3, 2011 at 9:45 am
Great interview. I keep rooting for Irvin and wish him the best. He's just a great fighter to watch and brings it every time. Kudos.
Turd Furgeson- February 3, 2011 at 9:37 am

Too bad it's not more like Pride. Nobody had to worry about falling through the cage door in it Pride.
LOKI- February 3, 2011 at 9:25 am
Yet another confirmation that Ken Shamrock is a huge douche.
ccman- February 3, 2011 at 9:01 am
If they opened in the crease is more likily to be exposed whish is more dangerous. Look at your fence gate for a reference.
NomadRip- February 3, 2011 at 8:50 am
I always wondered why the cage doors open out instead of into the cage. That isn't the only time that's happened.

Does anyone know why that is?
Yazloz18- February 3, 2011 at 8:42 am
James is one of those guys Dana loves because he always brings it, but because of that he won't ever be much more than a gatekeeper. He doesn't have the natural skill of a guy like Rampage or Forrest to go out and throw leather every fight and still win consistently. It still sucks that he has suffered through a shitstorm of bad luck in his career. I hope he can pick a weight class and not look like a skeleton when he fought Sakara, because he puts on a decent fight, especially when he KOs dudes in ten seconds
Jugger- February 3, 2011 at 8:39 am
Love watching Irvin fight. His KO of Terry Martin (flying knee) in one of my all time faves.

Wish he'd fight smarter so he could stay in the Big Leagues. Of course, if he fought smarter, he might not have so many fans. A balls-to-the-wall fighting style is a double-edges sword.
The Fresh One- February 3, 2011 at 8:38 am
There is a guy on mmamania claiming to be Crisman, as well as a guy claiming to be in attendance, who say the knee was illegal and Crisman flattened Irvin in the first ten seconds. Seems somewhat legit.
Smitty- February 3, 2011 at 8:21 am
With all due respect, I think this guy is like the new Evan Tanner. He's still got heart and talent to beat a few guys, but if he ever gets back in the UFC, those guys are just 1 step above him competition wise. It's too late for him to make a run for a title there. He's better off in the Gladiator Challenge promotion. Maybe even Strikeforce.
kellyman- February 3, 2011 at 8:17 am
Excellent read! That caption quote could make tabloid headlines.
portland mma- February 3, 2011 at 8:15 am
Great article. I always liked Irvin, the Alexander knock out is awesome.

I hadn't even heard about that stuff with Shamrock, if that was about anyone else I would give them the benefit of the doubt but Ken seems like a vindictive mother fucker.
C-Bus Allstar- February 3, 2011 at 8:14 am
Yea.. He's got 23 stitches in his right cheek that Anderson Silva is pretty proud of too..

KarmaAteMyCat- February 3, 2011 at 8:10 am
NIce article Good read. Easy on the eyes.
RwilsonR- February 3, 2011 at 8:07 am
Poor James Irvin. He's always seemed like a good guy, but he really is cursed. I'll always love him for that Terry Martin fight. And the Houston Alexander one.
the chef- February 3, 2011 at 7:58 am
Yeah I can't wait for Silva and Sonnen to fight one more time, then fight again so I can see the rubber match either.