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

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.