For several Strikeforce veterans transitioning to the UFC, last month’s “Aldo vs. Edgar” event was their opportunity to sink or swim. Hard-charging lightweight Isaac Vallie-Flagg — who had scored wins over Brian Melancon and Gesias Cavalcante during his Strikeforce stint — was given a stiff test against Yves Edwards during the UFC 156 FX prelims broadcast. And though most casual fans probably weren’t familiar with him before the match started, they certainly took notice after Vallie-Flagg’s gritty performance netted him a split-decision victory. Not bad for a 2-1 underdog.
With his spot on the UFC roster somewhat more secure, we called the Jackson’s MMA product last week to learn a little more about his Octagon debut, and his path from teenage troublemaker to new factor in the UFC lightweight division. Enjoy, and please follow Isaac on twitter @IKEVF.
CAGEPOTATO.COM: Let’s talk about your most recent fight, against Yves Edwards. I heard afterwards that you had the flu or something. Did that start coming on before the fight?
ISAAC VALLIE-FLAGG: Yeah, it was actually really funny. Joe Stevenson is a good friend of mine, and he was coming to help me cut weight. And he shows up and gives me this gigantic hug because I haven’t seen him in a little while, and then he goes, “I’m really sick dude, I’ve got the flu.” And I say, “Joe, why did you touch me?” I was hoping that I could fight it off, but I already had kind of a bigger weight cut getting down, because I was really heavy when I got the call, and my body just couldn’t take it. I started to cough Wednesday, and by Thursday and Friday I knew I was sick. I was just trying not to let it get in my head. And afterwards, as soon as I stepped out of the cage, it’s like my body told me to chill out and get some rest.
How much did that affect you during the fight? You still looked strong in the third round — if anything, it looked like Yves was fading, not you. Do you think you could have pushed harder and gotten a finish if you weren’t sick?
I don’t know if I would have finished Yves, but I would have punched a lot more. I’ve watched the fight a few times and I wasn’t happy with how upright I was, and I wasn’t throwing all the combinations that I wanted to.
Did you find yourself affected by the so-called “Octagon jitters,” where the adrenaline dump wears you out when you’re fighting in the UFC for the first time?
It’s funny, because everybody was like, “Oh man, this is the big show, and you’re gonna freak out,” but I felt more comfortable fighting in the UFC than I have any time before. I really felt like I was fighting where I should have been fighting the whole time.
Has the UFC talked to you yet about who or when you might be fighting next?
No, but I’m looking forward to fighting as soon as possible. I’m there to fight whoever Joe Silva tells me to fight.
It was cool to learn that you’re from Ann Arbor, Michigan. I’ve spent a good chunk of my life here, and I love the town. What high school did you go to?
I went to Community High.
Were you always an athletic kid growing up, involved in sports and things like that?
No, I was kind of an idiot. I was more into punk rock and getting in trouble than I was into sports.
How did you first become aware of mixed martial arts, and when did you start training?
I saw the very first UFC and I was like, “Man, that’s really cool.” And then several years later I actually had the opportunity to start doing some jiu-jitsu, and things kind of progressed from there. When I started competing, I was training at a school that was pure jiu-jitsu — we didn’t have any striking or wrestling — and that’s why the first bit of my career was kind of a 50-50 deal. [Ed. note: Isaac went 3-3 in his first six fights, but hasn't lost a fight since — an unbeaten streak that has lasted over five years.]
Why did you decide to move to the Jackson’s camp?
They had the best guys in the world coming down there. Diego Sanchez was down there, Mike Van Arsdale was down there, Keith Jardine was there, and [Greg Jackson] just had Rashad Evans come out, and I was lucky enough to get down there right around that time. Joe Stevenson and Donald Cerrone lived with me, both of them, and I saw how hard those guys worked, and I saw what it took to be a professional fighter, and that’s what I did, and it’s paid off ever since then. I’ve never wanted to go anywhere else. I’ve traveled and trained other places, but I’ve never found another place that has what they have in Albuquerque.
You’ve probably heard about this wave of cuts that the UFC is doing to trim their roster down. How concerned are you about that? Would it ever affect the way you fight?
I just like to fight. I like to stand-up and fight, and I feel like I put on exciting fights. If you watched my last few matches, I don’t do anything but go forward and punch people. That’s what people want to see. That being said, at some point I’m sure I’m going to need to use my ground game and fight on the ground, but even on the ground I don’t feel like I fight in a boring fashion. And as far as people getting cut, that’s always in the back in your mind — I guess that’s the reason why you work hard and keep putting on exciting fights, right?
Before your move to the UFC, you scored a win over Gesias Cavalcante in Strikeforce — which should have been a big deal, but not a lot of people got to see it. Did that bother you in any way?
Yeah, that bothered me because that was a heck of a fight. I really hope they show it sometime. It’s weird because I’ve gotten three split-decisions in a row, but if you watch the JZ Cavalcante fight, there should be no doubt in your mind that I should have won that fight by unanimous decision. I don’t know how I got a split-decision on that one. [Cavalcante] may have gotten the first round, but I beat him up the second and third round. And I don’t mean that in an insulting way, but I [should have] won that fight unanimously, and I’d really like people to see it.
What do you like to do when you’re not training and fighting?
I watch bad science fiction movies and hang out with my girlfriend. Donald Cerrone does all that super-exciting, dangerous stuff where he rides bulls and all that shit, but I’m a homebody. I like to watch movies and relax and not get beat up.
— Ben Goldstein