Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Sokoudjou "AFRICAN ASSASSIN" Special Interview

At PRIDE.33 "THE SECOND COMING," Sokoudjou shocked everybody with a KO victory over top middleweight contender Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in a bout that lasted merely 23 seconds. The young judo expert from Cameroon will next do battle with Ricardo Arona on April 8th at PRIDE.34 "KAMIKAZE." Sokoudjou took time from his busy training schedule to speak with us about his PRIDE debut and his upcoming match.

PRIDE: You made an impressive and memorable PRIDE debut with your first round knockout someone whom many would consider to be one of the top 205-pounders in the world. What are your feelings and impressions?
Sokoudjou: Every time I watch the fight, I'm like "wow, did I do that?" Before the fight I knew what I supposed to do. To look back on it is amazing.

PRIDE: Were you nervous?
Sokoudjou: I was more excited than nervous, because my dream as a fighter was to fight for PRIDE. I didn't get to fight for PRIDE in Japan, but it was PRIDE in America, and that's still PRIDE.

PRIDE: You are going to achieve your goal in few weeks, when you square off in Japan against Ricardo Arona. What are your thoughts about that?
Sokoudjou: Oh man, I think that will be a good fight because I'm fighting in Japan and for PRIDE there's nothing else I want to do. So it will be a good one.

PRIDE: You're only 22 years old. Isn't it too early for you to reach the peak of your career? What is going to be your next goal?
Sokoudjou: I don't know. All I'm going to do is show up to practice, train, and fight. Dr. Parsons decides what I have to do. They're [Team Quest] the brain. I'm just the fighter, doing what I need to do right now.

PRIDE: What was going through your head as you walked down the aisle and got in the ring at PRIDE.33?
Sokoudjou: I was so excited to see all the people. There was a bunch of guys who I recognized and heard them calling my name. That was overwhelming. So I was like "man, there's no way I can lose this fight." That was pretty intense.

PRIDE: Do you feel extra pressure now for this fight in Japan, compared with your previous match?
Sokoudjou: I don't feel any pressure even though it's Arona. He's a big name. I beat Nogueira, and people still think that was just a fluke. But hey, I'm a fighter, and in a fight, anything can happen. So there is no pressure whatsoever.

PRIDE: Let's talk about growing up in Cameroon. When did you first start training in Judo?
Sokoudjou: I think I was about five. I remember when I would play with my friends, I would always come home and all my clothes would be all messed up and my mouth would be bloody. [We] used to beat the crap out of each other all the time. My brother had a friend who did judo, which is how I got into it. Because back home, karate and boxing aren't really big, my mom didn't want me to do any of that. So ever since then, I've been doing judo.

PRIDE: Did you take to it right away?
Sokoudjou: Oh no, it was hard. I thought I was tough, but I got thrown on my neck and my back and for a long time, I would go home with headaches and a sore back. It took me some time before I could throw a bunch of people and liked it. At first it was horrible.

PRIDE: What was your competitive record in Judo? What were your accomplishments?
Sokoudjou: In Cameroon, I won a bunch of tournaments. Back home, there's a season that starts in December and goes through the summer, and you're competing at least every weekend. The only ones that I can remember are the ones that I lost, because I hate losing and it stays in my mind. But I won several national titles and some international titles back home. Out here, I won California State, San Jose State, and the U.S. Open.

PRIDE: How has the training been different for judo here in America vs. back in Cameroon.
Sokoudjou: Back in Cameroon, judo is more about competition. We train because we want to be part of the national team, travel, and compete. But out here, I was surprised because to be on the national team, you have to compete overseas. So when I moved out here, some of the top competitors were competing overseas while I was competing here. I've beaten some of them, but I wish I could have competed against them on a more regular basis.

PRIDE: There's another PRIDE fighter, Hidehiko Yoshida, who also has a strong judo background. What are your thoughts on him?
Sokoudjou: When I came to America, my goal was to go to the Olympics. Somehow, I didn't make it. So when I look up at Yoshida. . .He's a great fighter, and back home, whenever you hear his name, you want to hide because he's Yoshida. But as a fighter, I would love to fight him because he's a big name and beating him would compensate for the fact that I didn't go to the Olympics. At least I'd have a chance to fight someone who went to the Olympics and was good.

PRIDE: How did you get connected to Team Quest?
Sokoudjou: Dan was trying to get ready for Nakamura and he was looking for a judo guy. I was bouncing at this club and my boss knew Dan. I had just received the bad news that I didn't make the Olympics. [Ryan Parsons] He was also a big part of us training Rulon [Gardner] for Yoshida.

PRIDE: What was it like working with Rulon?
Sokoudjou: It was pretty impressive, because Rulon is big, and he doesn't look in shape, but he'd go forever. I thought "I hope one day I'm like him." There would be five of us against Rulon, but at the end [of practice], he would be standing there looking at us all lying down and dying. That was pretty much my first exposure to MMA.

PRIDE: What was the toughest part of making the switch to MMA?
Sokoudjou: The stand-up part. As a judo guy, I stand with my right foot forward, which is southpaw. But in MMA, you gotta switch up and have your left foot forward. So from there, I had to switch everything - my judo, my boxing, my kickboxing, and my takedowns. It was a big transition.

PRIDE: What was your favorite technique when you used to do Judo?
Sokoudjou: Judo throws. Shoulder throws.

PRIDE: In your match against Nogueira, you seemd to focus more on striking than judo techniques.
Sokoudjou: That's jungle fighting, man. You do what you gotta do to finish a match. Whatever needs to be done [laughs]. I think we worked on everything. I didn't have a chance to get to the judo part, to go for takedowns or to the ground, because the match ended early, but that was part of the strategy � start somewhere and finish at a different place.

PRIDE: How do you see yourself now as a fighter in comparison to the fighter you want to become?
Sokoudjou: I'm still miles away from the fighter I want to become. I would like to improve a lot in different aspects of my game, but now I still have a lot of learning, a lot of pain, and a lot of sacrifice ahead of me.

PRIDE: Your next opponent, Ricardo Arona, owns a win over your teammate, Dan Henderson. What are your thoughts on fighting Arona?
Sokoudjou: He might think he's coming to avenge his teammate [Nogueira], but he doesn't know I'm coming to avenge my master, my Godfather in MMA. He thinks he's coming for revenge; I got news for him: I'm coming for a bigger revenge.

PRIDE: What are you going to be most cautious of?
Sokoudjou: He's a pretty big, strong guy. He's also a good fighter. I know he's won Abu Dhabi; he's a jiu-jitsu expert. I used to watch him on PRIDE on TV, but now I have a chance to fight him on the ring. So going from being in front of the TV to behind the TV is pretty exciting. He hasn't fought for some time, so maybe he's working on some things. All I know is I gotta bring my game up that day. I'm just excited about the fight.

PRIDE: What's your message to your Japanese fans?
Sokoudjou: It'll be a good show, and a good fight. I can't wait to fight Arona, so you better show up and show some love.

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