Friday, March 30, 2007

After 366 days away, Imes is looking for a fight on April 7th

By Thomas Gerbasi

After elbow surgery, the correction of a deviated septum and the removal of a benign but tennis ball-sized tumor from his sinuses, the last thing Brad Imes needed in January for his first fight in nine months was the typical Imesian war he had been accustomed to in his short two year career.

So when he agreed to appear at a local show in Spirit Lake, Iowa to get his feet wet again in an actual combat situation, he figured he’d get a fight, but nothing that he was used to at the UFC-level.

“You can train for a while, but not being in the ring has an effect so I wanted to get back out there and compete again,” said Imes, and the fight was set. The 6 foot 7, 260 pound fighter took the trek from the MFS gym in Bettendorf to Spirit Lake and got ready to fight again. Then he saw his opponent, 6 foot 10, 290 pound Greg Hammer.

“Now I know how Rashad felt,” laughed Imes, referring to ‘The Ultimate Fighter 2’ heavyweight finale, where he faced the 5-11 Evans, who now campaigns in the light heavyweight division.

“He was built like me and had played college football and had done some boxing,” said Imes of Hammer. “That was more of a challenge than I had anticipated, but in hindsight I’m kinda glad that I took that fight because the guy was tough.”

Imes, not used to being the ‘small guy’, would go into the second round with Hammer before submitting him with a triangle choke, and less than a month later in a Florida show he put another victory on his record with an 18 second knockout of Christopher Adams. It was a big change from the bright lights of a UFC event, but a fight’s a fight, and a win’s a win.

“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a different atmosphere, but you’re still standing across from a guy who’s trying to take your head off,” said Imes. “Just being in the cage is close enough to be worth it. I was better off taking those fights than if I hadn’t.”

And in reality, those fights could have been even riskier for the Springfield, Missouri native because both Hammer and Adams had to know that a win over a UFC vet like Imes would have done wonders for their careers.

“Absolutely, as well they should,” said Imes. “I give them all the credit in the world; they stepped up and took a fight against a guy who has UFC experience and trains at the top gym, so they went out there and took their best shot.”

Imes wouldn’t be denied his victories though, and for fight fans, those two wins signified that “The Hillbilly Heartthrob” was back. But has his absence from the UFC, which will reach a year and a day when he steps into the Octagon against Heath Herring on April 7th’s UFC 69 card in Houston, killed the momentum he had built up as a thrill-a-minute fighter with his unforgettable wars against Evans and Dan Christison?

“Obviously it set me back a little bit and then with all the surgeries I’ve had, people are probably wondering where I’m at and what I’m doing, or if I’m still even fighting,” he admits. “But I can fix all that on April 7th. If I can go out there, have a good performance and walk away a winner, I’m right back in the mix.”

Against Herring, he will also be looking for his first post-TUF2 win, as the only UFC victories on his record (against Rob MacDonald and Seth Petruzelli) occurred when he was on the Spike TV reality show. In proper-UFC events, Imes is 0-2, with a razor-thin decision loss to Evans, and a submission defeat to Christison, a fight the 30-year old Imes is proud of, regardless of the end result.

“I really feel my fight against Dan was the best fight I ever had,” he said. “Even though I lost, I really controlled the fight and was winning the fight, but inexperience got the better of me. You can train ad all you want, but there’s only one way to learn experience and that’s by getting in the ring. That’s the one thing I was lacking, and Dan caught me. I’ve improved a lot since then. My footwork and balance with my boxing has gotten a lot better. I’ve been working a lot on my Muay Thai, and of course my grappling and my jiu-jitsu. It’s all improving.”

After a toe-to-toe slugfest with Christison for over two rounds, Imes was trapped in an armbar in the third, causing him to lose more than the fight.

“I started to feel it go,” said Imes of the elbow that was broken by Christison’s fight ending maneuver. “I was trying to pull it out and I started to feel it crack, so I tapped. I figured it was better to have a small break than a big one. It could have been worse.”

It did sideline him for a while though, and when a November return bout was scrapped as well due to a leg injury, Imes was getting antsy, especially when making the trip to UFC 65 to corner his teammate Sherman Pendergarst for his fight against Antoni Hardonk.

“When I went out to Sacramento, I was supposed to be on that card and got injured,” Imes recalls. “I cornered for Sherman and it was really hard for me to be out there. I was supposed to be fighting. You get mentally prepared to fight, and it was only like ten days before my fight that I got injured. It was hard to be out there because I really wanted to compete.”

He gets his chance a week from tomorrow against Herring, the toughest test of Imes’ young career, but also a fight that could propel him up the heavyweight ranks if he should win. And for all those counting Imes out against the well-traveled ‘Texas Crazy Horse’ due to his lack of experience against a fighter of Herring’s caliber, just remember that in mixed martial arts, especially when you’re a heavyweight, anything can happen. Just ask Herring, who was upset in his UFC debut in January by unheralded Jake O’Brien. Imes isn’t putting too much stock in that fight though.

“It would be a mistake for me to watch his fight with Jake and expect that to be the guy that I’m fighting on April 7th,” said Imes. “I think he had a bad night, and it happens to everybody. Not to take anything away from Jake, because he’s a phenomenal wrestler, and he had a gameplan and went in and took advantage of Heath’s weakness and his own strengths. The fight wasn’t real exciting, and I think that people know not to expect me to go out there and just take him down and lay and pray on Heath. I like to go out there and bang and make it exciting. Part of the reason I’m in this sport is because I like to fight. I was never a phenomenal wrestler, so I’ll leave the wrestling to people like Jake and I’ll just go out there and fight people.”

Imes laughs, knowing that when the bell rings on April 7th, he will deliver what fight fans have come to expect from him – and that’s a fight.

“I will cement my legend as one of the more exciting fighters ever in the UFC,” chuckles Imes. “It’s a great style matchup because both of us like to throw and I seem to have a head made out of concrete, so it should be quite exciting.”

That’s as good a guarantee as you’ll get in this unpredictable game.

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