(I understand having to run in the cold, but why do I have to wear these thrift store clothes to do it?)
At only 31-years of age, it isn’t like Pellegrino’s best years were behind him — in fact, some might argue that he is better than he ever was, which made his vow even more newsworthy.
Following the fight, Pellegrino, who held his own in the bout and nearly finished Sotiropoulos at the final bell, revealed that he had torn his meniscus and ACL in the first round of the fight and that he wasn’t goin’ out on a loss that just didn’t sit well.
We spoke to Kurt yesterday to discuss the fight, the injury and the surgery he has to undergo as well as his roles as a fighter and family man and his future in the sport.
The interview is after the jump.
CP: So how are things, man? I hear you just had surgery this week and are suffering a bit from it. Between training and running your gym, you’re a pretty active guy; has it been hard for you to sit on the couch?
KP: Yeah. I’m not even on the couch, because we’re getting a new kitchen. I’ve been in my bed. I’ve gotta go back under the knife and get my ACL repaired.
CP: So what was the surgery that you had the other day?
KP: My meniscus.
CP: Meniscus? So did they reconstruct it or use a cadaver?
KP No they just fixed the scar tissue and fixed my meniscus, and now I’m going to get a cadaver for my ACL.
CP: So when do you go back to do that?
KP: I find out on Monday when my appointment is.
CP: So you’re going to be out for what, four to six months?
CP: That’s got to be tough. You’re pretty active – even in the gym you’re a hands-on kind of trainer and teacher, so it’s got to be pretty hard to just sit around.
KP: Yeah, I am. 12 weeks and the doctor says I’ll be able to start rolling jiu-jitsu again. I’m just going to be working with Jon Chaimberg and I’m probably going to go to Canada and hang out with Jon for a week and do some cardio stuff and just to pick up some new ideas to bring it back home to Sharon Wentworth, my cardio coach in the States.
CP: Have you been to Montreal before?
KP: Yeah, I’ve been there once and worked with Jon, but I was just trying to heal my leg the first time so I didn’t really get the full effect with him in Canada, but I’ve been doing his workouts for a year now. I tore my meniscus in my fight [with George Stavropoulos], and I wasn’t tired or in pain. I credit all that to Jon Chaimberg.
CP: You’ve grappled a lot and you’ve done a lot of jiu-jitsu. Is this the worst injury you’ve ever had?
KP: No. I shattered my hand against Joe Stevenson.
CP: Do you think the outcome would have been different, had you not been injured?
KP: I wasn’t able to fight the way I wanted to fight. George definitely beat me, and I credit him very much for that. It was my own fault that, when he hit me I fell, so it was part of the fight, but whether or not my ACL had’ve went, I don’t think he would’ve won, but I think that he definitely won. I don’t want a re-match, but if I was given one I think there would be a different outcome.
CP: You went down kind of awkwardly on it during a takedown in the first round. Was that when you injured your knee?
KP: In round one he hit me and I fell and when I tried to stand back up he kind of pushed me back down and I screamed in the cage – I screamed. I knew something bad had happened and if it hadn’t been for preparing with Kenny and especially with Jon Chaimberg with the cardio, I don’t think I would’ve been able to continue. If this was like four years ago I don’t think I would have continued. I’ll never quit. I’ll never tap. You have to take me seriously now. I had a torn meniscus and a torn ACL in one fight and I still fought.
CP: Not only did you fight, you moved forward and engaged. It’s not like you hung back and tried to ride out the clock and just survive.
KP: People ask me why I wasn’t sticking and moving my head when he was jabbing me, and I said, “Because the more he jabbed me in the face, the closer he got for me to spear-double [leg] him when I was shooting,” and that’s what you guys saw. I never shot on my knees I just kind of ran him over. So I was letting him punch me so he would close the distance so that I could take him down.
CP: It’s got to be tough trying to shoot for a double with your knee the way it was. Did that totally take you out of your game plan, or did you kind of push the pain out and modify your plan of attack?
KP: Yeah, 100 percent it took me out of my game plan. I didn’t feel the pain. I felt it immediately in round one and then it kind of went away when I got back up. I was rocked, but I couldn’t really stand on my leg. Then in round two when he grabbed my leg – all my All-American (wrestler) friends called me afterwards and they were like, “How could he take you down?” because they can’t do it when they’re just holding my leg. It’s very hard to do. I was like, “Man, my left leg was on the floor, and he just pushed me to the left, and I had no stability and there was nothing I could do.” It actually felt great to be on my back in round two. Even then, my guard wasn’t being passed, you know, he definitely beat me up in round two, but I mean I had one leg. I literally had one leg. I don’t even have a leg. Meniscus and ACL torn in one fight; that’s damage.
CP: I’ve torn my ACL and it’s hard to even walk on, let alone fight or even train on.
KP: Here’s how I look at fighting now: I fight for my wife and daughter and I’ll never tap again. If I tap, it means I give up on them. When I fight, it’s like there’s a guy outside my house trying to get in and take what’s mine, and if I tap, that’s like me laying down and letting him do it. And I have a little girl, and a beautiful wife at home, and I’m not going to lay down for anyone.
CP: You had mentioned before the fight, that the next time you lose you were going to retire, but you’ve since decided against following through with the vow. Was it your wife who talked you out of retiring or did you simply have a moment of clarity after the fight with George?
KP: I wasn’t happy with my performance, to be honest with you. I wasn’t happy with my performance before I got knocked down, so would I have retired? If George had beaten me up without the torn leg, that might’ve been the last time the UFC or anyone ever saw me fight again. I don’t’ want to retire off of a loss; I want to retire off of a beating – off of a, “You got your ass kicked so bad, Kurt, why are you fighting? You’re just getting hurt.” If I was in Chuck Liddell’s spot right now, I’d be done. I’m somewhat of a handsome young man, and you know, I had my hand broken, I had my back destroyed. Now my leg is destroyed. I don’t want to retire losing the way I lost; I want to retire on my own terms. I want to retire and say, “You know what? I’m happy with my performance that I had against George. And you know what? I have nothing more to prove. “ I’m fighting for Kurt Pellegrino. I’m fighting literally for myself. I’m trying to make myself happy, and would anyone want to retire off of that performance? You know, everyone’s on Twitter, and my wife and my friends are like, “Oh, you had a great fight, Kurt. You did a great job.” I don’t think I did a great job. I think that I could’ve done better and I could retire off a win. I could do so much more, and that wasn’t the best performance and I’m going to retire off a good win.
CP: There are probably a lot of “what ifs” you’re wondering about, too, like, “What if the knee injury hadn’t occurred?” and “What if you had had another 30 seconds?” You had him hurt at the end there…
KP: You know what’s upsetting ? I looked at the fight and I said, “I lost the fight.” I think I lost the fight. I go home and I see I got knocked down in round one, understandable, I came back with two takedowns and I ended the round on top. I lost round one. Okay. Wow! That’s pretty close… Normally two takedowns would beat a knock down, and I ended up grounding and pounding him in round one. Round two he bet me up, 100 percent. George, that’s your round. Round three…You won round three when I knocked you down, almost ended the fight, took you down two times and beat the crap out of you on top of it? That’s the part I don’t like. That’s why I’m not going anywhere. That’s why a guy with a torn meniscus and a torn ACL isn’t going anywhere. I’m not leaving after that performance; I’m not going anywhere, I’m getting what’s mine. And the UFC belt is mine and I’m going to get it. I’m going to wait until it’s my turn, and I’m going to climb back up that ladder and now that I’m hurt a little bit and I’m going to have to wait until probably February or March to fight again, whoever they put me with – believe me, I’m not going to be sitting here in my bed for six months, I’m going to be training, and I’m going to be getting ready, and there’ll be no ring rust for me. I’m going to go in there, I’m going to take you down and I’m going to submit you in round on and I can’t wait to see who it is that I do it to.
CP: With no injuries, there’ll be no excuses and no lingering doubts about how things could have gone differently.
KP: I’ll have a brand new leg.
CP: You’ve said that you go from being a terrible husband and father while you’re in camp to super dad and husband of the year when your fight’s over. When you put so much emotionally and mentally into a fight and you detach yourself from your personal and family life, it must be even tougher when you take a loss like you just had.
KP: I feel like a loser in front of my wife and my daughter now, especially because I’m hurt. I feel like a failure and all that. They try their best. I can’t be the dad I want to be right now, and it hurts inside, but you know once I’m better… I’m no good to them being down and hurt, I’ve got to get better somehow, and when I get better… I can’t even talk about it, I get a little emotional about it. I just want to be the best father I can be to them, I don’t know if I’m the best dad I can be right now, because I’m hurt, but I know that I’m going to get better and be a better husband. You know, I’m buying my wife flowers as much as I can right now to let her know I’m still here.
CP: There’s no shame in the loss. You put on a really great performance, especially considering you had a serious injury to contend with. You came out afterwards and explained that you were hurt and some people have misconstrued that as you making excuses for the loss. I see it as you wanting to explain your performance and not make excuses.
KP: There are no excuses here. I lost the fight and the reason why I lost the fight is because he knocked me down and because he knocked me down he tore my meniscus and my ACL. The only thing I’m saying is that I had a bad fight performance, and I’m not leaving this game until I have a good one, whether it’s a win or a loss. The reason why I lost that fight is because I allowed him to get close to me to knock me down. And the only thing I want now is a healed leg and another shot at redemption, and whoever they put me against is in a lot of trouble, because I’m pissed off, and I’m changing my whole entire game. I’m going to live with Kenny Florian. He’s already invited me to his house to live there for my whole entire training camp. We’re going to go back and forth to Canada, so good luck whoever I’m fighting, because I’m completely sequestering myself away from my wife and my daughter and my two dogs and my friends and my family, and I’m staying with Kenny, and all we do there is train, eat well, get stronger and that’s it. I’m doing that for two months. A two-month training camp. Good luck.
CP: That’s tough, being away from your family for that long. You’re going to be hungry to fight when it’s done.
KP: It’s going to be super hard. I don’t even know how I’m going to do it…I don’t even know if I can do it, but I mean, I already told my wife we’re going out and we’re buying the iPad for me. I’m doing everything I can think of to try to see her at night. You know what I mean? It’s going to be tough, we’ll figure it out. I told her when I was in Vegas, I think I fell in love with her all over again. I don’t know how, but I did.
CP: That’s good to hear, man. You guys have been together a long time.
KP: Yeah, I’ve been trying to get my wife since she was a freshman in high school. She turned me down freshman and sophomore year, and then I finally told her I was the coolest guy in town….
CP: And she believed you…
KP: I got her my senior year.
CP: So you’ve been together what, 14 years?
KP: (yelling to wife) Melissa. How long has it been, 13 years? Yeah, 13 years. She’s been lucky enough to have me. Nah, she’s my everything. I’d be nothing without her.
CP: It’s going to be tough on the family when you go to Canada Rocky 4-style, like Rocky going to Russia.
KP: Yeah, going Rocky 4 style, man. Two months. I asked Kenny if he was sure about it and he was like, “Yeah, let’s go.” I’m like, “Ok.” He knows I’m going to do it, and I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for Kenny. I mean this guy really helped me out, my career.
CP: When did you hook up with him?
KP: About 3 or 4 years ago.
CP: After your Stevenson fight, or right before?
KP: Uh, Nate Diaz.
CP: Nate Diaz? So, it was a little over two years ago.
KP: I’m sure it’s been three years, because this is my fourth summer back in New Jersey.
CP: Nate Diaz was in 2008.
KP: Really? It feels like a lifetime ago.
CP: Time flies. Are you going to be training with the guys from TriStar and Zahabi MMA this time around since you’re going to Montreal?
KP: Yep, all the guys…everyone.
CP: You can’t help but improve training with a camp like they have there.
KP: Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.
CP: Suffering an injury in a fight is almost like being told midway through the bout that you’ll have to fight the rest of the match with one hand behind your back. It’s not like you came into the fight knowing you were hurt. You had to adapt everything to that injury on the fly; people don’t understand that.
KP: I didn’t know it was torn. It’s not like I knew I had a torn meniscus, or a torn ACL. But what I did know was that I had a lot of pain, and I had to fix it, you know what I mean? And how do you fix it when you’re fighting? I remember telling Kenny [Florian] in between the rounds, “I’m hurt. My leg hurts.” He asked me, “What do you want to do?” I was like “What do you mean, what do I want to do? Let’s do it.” I’m not going to quit. I think that’s one thing that Kenny commends me on. I always call Kenny up and tell him I’m his best student, and he and Keith always laugh, Kenny and Keith Florian, they’re my coaches and if they tell me jumping off a bridge will fix my leg, well, find me the tallest bridge, and I’ll jump off it. Whatever I have to do to get better. Whatever he tells me to do to get me better I’ll do. I’ll never quit, and I’ll never give up on Kenny. I’ll do whatever it takes for him to say, “I’m proud of you.”
CP: I bet you wish you had more students of your own who were like you.
KP: Me? I have a lot of great students. I’ve got Greg Soto who is fighting at UFC 118 in Boston. I’m very fortunate to have a UFC fighter I train. I have another fighter who just got off [The Ultimate Fighter] show. I can’t say his name because it’s not released yet. I’ve got a lot of great fighters, and a lot of guys who are coming up, like Dave Church, George Sullivan and Lester Caslow. I believe that Lester is the next fighter out of my school that will be in the WEC or the UFC. You know, he’s a fight away, he’s beating everyone, and he hasn’t lost since he’s been with me. This kid is a stud. I use him for all my fights. He’s my stand up guy. I used him to get ready for Rob Emerson. I’ve got students who are not really students – they’re like perfect training partners, so I’m very fortunate. I’m very fortunate to be where I am, and my school and all my students – my jiu-jitsu students and these guys are studs, man. I’m very lucky to be where I am, to have these types of guys around me. I’m very lucky; I have a bunch of warriors. It’s kind of annoying at times, but it’s good to have.
CP: Is that the next stage of your life after retirement, then, bringing along the next generation of fighters?
KP: Yep. I want to give everyone the same opportunity that was given to me and the only way for these kids to get the opportunity that I had is, my wife says it all the time, my heart and my training regimen. I don’t go to birthday parties. I don’t even go to my wife’s birthday party when I’m training for a fight. I don’t go to weddings…I train for my fight and I become a different person. If these kids have the ability to do that, the sky is the limit. If they don’t, then that means that they don’t have my heart, and I won’t waste my time on them. But a lot of these kids, like Greg Soto, he sacrifices his life. I tell them that all the time. I don’t go, “You have a girlfriend, she’s awesome, cool.” I’m like, “I don’t care if it’s her birthday. Don’t go to it. It’s your fight. You’re three weeks away.” I was seven weeks away from my fight and I didn’t go to my brother’s first child’s birthday. I just didn’t go. He was like, “Well, why won’t you go?” I was like, “Imagine I’m in Hawaii…imagine I’m in Boston…imagine I’m in Russia. I’m training for my fight. Even though I’m in New Jersey, in my mind, I’m not here. I’m somewhere else. I just can’t break training camp to go to the Medieval Times and watch people fake fight. I don’t even like cake or sweets or sugar, so I wouldn’t eat it anyway. I could be 3 hours away from a weigh-in, and you could come into my room with a birthday cake, and it won’t do anything for me. I hate it; it actually repulses me. I’ve never eaten it in my whole life. I just don’t like sweets, and I just won’t go to these things, because I feel like I’m cheating myself. I’m like, why would I do this? I would never do this. I’ve got to walk that line. That’s why I got “Walk Tall” tattooed on my knuckles. It’s a fine line, and it’s he who wants to be the best, who will make the ultimate sacrifice in life. I feel like I’ve made the sacrifice my whole life, so when it’s time for me to say goodbye, I’ll be happy.
CP: Owning a gym, you probably get a lot of guys wanting to come in and “train UFC,” or maybe some Jersey Shore types who think they’re fighters. Got any funny stories?
KP: Yeah, I get guys who are like “I want to be in the UFC. Where do I sign up for the UFC?” and I just give him Dana White and Joe Silva’s numbers.
KP: No, but I should’ve. No, these people have no idea. You want to fight? I just tell them, “Put your stuff on, sign a waiver and I’ll be there in two minutes and you’ll find out exactly what it’s like to fight in the UFC.”
CP: Do they ever come back?
CP: Having grown up in Jersey, what do you think about Jersey Shore?
KP: I love it. I love them.
CP: You love them?
KP: Yeah, I love those guys. That’s exactly what the Jersey Shore is. The Jersey Shore is a resort town, that in the summer time you get a bunch of Bennys, who are all out-of-towners, and they all come in and they ruin our shore with their steroids, their tans, their Dbol pimples all over their backs and their New York accents. If anyone wants to visit the Jersey Shore, come here around May or in the winter time and then you’ll see what the real Jersey Shore is. They’re in Seaside, which is probably the armpit of the Jersey Shore. Come to my boardwalk in my town, Point Pleasant, you’ll see what it’s like. We don’t let trash on my boardwalk. The Police will call me and I’ll smash them with my crutches.
CP: Kurt, I appreciate you taking the time. I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of machine comes out of the sequestering here in Canada.
KP: Alright. I’ll be back. Believe it.