As promised yesterday, here is the full interview with Joe Riggs, who opens up about his past painkiller addiction, his ongoing attempts to get Jake Shields into the cage with him, and of course, the possibly “pharmaceutically enhanced” Phil Baroni who he’ll meet in Strikeforce on Showtime this Saturday night.
Cage Potato: Thanks for talking with me, Joe. You’re fighting Phil Baroni this weekend, but I think we all know that’s not the fight you wanted. You were pretty adamant about trying to get a fight with Jake Shields.
Riggs: Yeah, that was a fight that I’ve been trying to get for a couple years now and he’s managed to squeak his way out of it every time we were supposed to fight. This time contracts were signed and everything was ready to go and he just wormed his way out of it. He’s the type of guy who just wants to fight the fights where the match-ups are stylistically in his favor. I think he also wants fights, like this one [against Robbie Lawler] where if things don’t go his way he has excuses.
You think he felt you were a bad match-up for him, stylistically?
Yeah, and if he loses to me it makes him look bad. If he loses to Lawler he can say he’s fighting out of his weight class and he has a bunch of excuses for it.
You seemed to take it pretty personally when he didn’t want to fight you.
I did because he keeps saying that the reason he won’t fight me is because he wants to fight the top guys in the world, acting like I’m not relevant in this sport. His last three fights, I’m ranked well above those opponents. It’s stupid, man. He’s acting like I’m Tank Abbott or something.
One of the things you said was that people forget you’re only 26. And you’re right, I know I thought you were older because you’ve been around in this sport for so long. You must run into that a lot.
Oh, for sure. I had a title shot in the UFC at a young age. I’ve had a lot of fights already in this sport, a lot of big fights early. Sometimes when that happens people don’t realize how young you are. They just think that since you’ve been fighting for a while you must be older. I’m not. I’m still a young guy and I’ve just done more and competed more than most fighters my age. People forget that.
So what do you think of a fight with Baroni at this point? Is there much for you to gain here?
It’s a fight where I’m going to be favored. It’s not going to put me back where I want to be, but a win is still a win. I do think more people are excited to watch me and Phil fight than they would be to watch me and Jake, because no one likes to watch Jake Shields fight. He’s a boring fighter. But hey, they told me to fight Phil so I’m going to fight him. That’s the kind of fighter I am, unlike Jake Shields, who won’t do that. But Phil’s my focus right now because he’s still a dangerous guy.
How, specifically, is he most dangerous?
You’ve got to watch out for the guy’s power, definitely. That’s really all you’ve got to watch out for. He’s got power and that’s it, but you have to be careful with that.
Do you think he can still go somewhere in this sport, or are his best days behind him?
Well he’s 34 or 35, so definitely his best days are behind him. But there’s been two or three times in his career before where people have counted him out and he’s come back and resurrected his career, first with Pride and then with EliteXC. That was back in the day though, when he was younger. He always shows up in shape, looking shredded and puffed up, but I think he’ll be pharmaceutically enhanced, too. Just because he doesn’t test positive for steroids doesn’t mean he’s not on them right now.
So you think he’s been using steroids to train for this fight?
I’m not sure, but he’s tested positive for it before. I don’t want to say that he’s on them for sure, because I don’t have any way of knowing that, but I do know that he’s done it in the past. I think he’s the kind of guy who relies on stuff like that because he doesn’t truly believe in himself.
How prevalent do you think performance-enhancing drugs, whether it’s steroids or HGH or whatever, are in MMA right now?
I think it’s very prevalent. A lot of people use that stuff. I’m ignorant about it. I’ve never been around it, and I think a lot of that depends on who you train with and who you’re around. I’ve never been a part of that scene, so I don’t know much about it. I know it’s pretty bad for your body over the long term. It ages you and makes you poop out in your career earlier than you would otherwise, but I know a lot of top guys use it.
Does that not give the other guy an edge? How do you approach a fight where you think the other guy has gotten this illegal advantage due to what he might be putting in his body?
I put it this way, nothing can do as much for you as good old-fashioned hard work and good nutrition. I think if he is, and I’m not saying for sure that he is, but the classic sign of a guy like that is he comes out hard and then poops out fast. That’s what he’s done historically if you look at his career. He’s real dangerous for the first couple minutes and then he fades away. That’s pretty much the tell-tale sign of a steroid user. Who knows, he might come out and do something he’s never done before, like push hard for all three rounds. I highly doubt it, but if that’s the case I’m more than ready for it.
On the subject of drugs, you had a problem with painkillers in the past. How prevalent do you think that is in MMA?
I think, like in any professional sport, a ton of people take painkillers. They have their place and they are needed on some level, but some people just can’t take it and use it the right way. I’m one of those guys. I was using them as a way to keep from really dealing with the problems I was having. I abused them.
I’m not saying some people can’t just take them when they need them and not abuse them, but I had to find out that that was just part of my personality. I’ve never been a drinker but I think now that if I started drinking I’d probably wind up being a drunk, too. I stay away from all that stuff. I don’t smoke or drink or do anything like that. I can’t touch it.
How do you deal with the normal amount of pain that comes from fighting and training and getting banged up now that you know you can’t take painkillers?
Well, it’s really my back that has been the main problem in the past. Now I do a lot more preventative maintenance on it. I do a lot of chiropractic work, acupuncture, massage therapy, and just stay on top of it when I’m not hurting. That’s the problem with painkillers is you just ignore this stuff and try and cover it up and then when it comes on full blast you wind up blowing yourself out.
When did you realize that you had a problem with painkillers?
I lied to myself for years. It was something that crept up on me. When I hurt myself and had to pull out of the fight with Matt Lindland, I had hurt my back and I was getting cortisone injections and stuff like that, and then the doctor started prescribing me the regular painkillers. I started out just taking them when I was in pain, and then I was taking them to go to sleep, and soon I couldn’t sleep without them.
I’d stop taking them a month before the fight, but then that became three weeks before the fight and then a week before the fight. By the time I fought Diego [Sanchez] I was taking them the day before and the day of the fight. That’s when I knew it was getting ridiculous. I’m chewing up eight Percocets before fighting in the main event of the UFC. That’s just pathetic. When you can’t control yourself at the peak, highest level of this sport, you know you have a problem.
Do you feel like your goal as a fighter is to get back into the UFC, or are you content to keep fighting for Strikeforce?
No, I’m fine where I am right now. I didn’t get dropped from the UFC. A lot of people don’t seem to realize that. I requested my contractual release and I got it. I wasn’t kicked out or anything. And there was a time after I left the UFC where people would come up to me and say, ‘Dude, do you still fight?’ That was upsetting because it’s like people think if you aren’t on TV you just disappeared. You kind of find yourself longing to get back in the spotlight. But now Strikeforce is on that big stage and I’m happy where I’m at.
Why did you request your release from the UFC?
Because after my surgery and after I got off the painkillers I wanted to kind of take a slow road back. I don’t know if you know this, but the UFC never did me any favors, man. They put me in tough fight after tough fight no matter what I was dealing with. Usually when someone loses a title shot they get a chance to build back up slowly. I fought Nick Diaz like six or eight weeks after fighting Matt Hughes.
After my back surgery I asked them to kind of work with me and help me get my feet back under me, and they wanted me to jump right back in and fight somebody like Nate Marquardt. You know, they’ve got guys in the UFC who are 5-0 or 6-0 and never fought anybody. And then the fight with Jake Shields seemed like a possibility to go and make more money, and that’s what enticed me to leave, but Jake pulled out of that fight too.
Do you find it ironic that the UFC was only giving you tough fights, and now in Strikeforce you want the bigger fight with Shields but instead a get a lower profile one with Baroni?
Yeah, but it’s not them that’s doing it. It’s Jake. Strikeforce, one thing they do is there are no walk-through fights. You don’t see guys who are 6-0 and never fought anybody. Scott Coker makes sure everybody fights tough fights whether they want to or not. That’s just the way he is. He gives the fans great fights. You look at this card and the last card, and in my opinion it’s better than what the UFC’s been putting on.
So you’re happy with Strikeforce overall?
I’m very happy. It’s a class act organization. Scott Coker’s a genius and he’s a good person and I’m happy to be fighting for him.