Yesterday I had the pleasure to sit down with Strikeforce Light Heavyweight contender Antwain "The Juggernaut" Britt at his Virginia Beach, Va., gym, Hybrid Training Center.
Antwain is currently preparing for his main card debut with Strikeforce on May 15 at Strikeforce: Heavy Artillery which will be held in St. Louis, Mo.
B/R: How do you feel about your upcoming fight with Rafael Cavalcante?
Antwain: I feel really good. I think it’s a good match-up for me. He’s really good on the ground, good striker too with Muay Thai.
And of course, I come from a Muay Thai discipline, and with my wrestling background, I think it will allow both of us to be pretty comfortable on our feet, so I think it’s going to be a pretty good fight.
B/R: So what kind of wrestling background do you come from?
Antwain: I wrestled in High School and college at (Old Dominion University). So I’m pretty well rounded.
Actually, my first few fights I think I maybe threw a combination of three punches. I just took guys down and pounded them.
I definitely look to revisit some of that with this fight coming up. I look to get back to my wrestling roots.
B/R: And what’s your game plan looking like?
Antwain: Take him down and beat the hell out of him. Every time I go in there and I’m aggressive I just take guys down and just beat them up.
If they want, I’ll keep them standing and beat them up on the feet a little bit before I take them down. I want to finish the fight. We don’t get paid by the hour.
B/R: Have you sought any outside help or spent time training with anyone else?
Antwain: I’ve done some training up at Yamasaki Academy in northern Virginia working on my Jiu-Jitsu. Brian Colett, a K-1 kick boxer, and Mackens Semerzier from WEC came in to help me out, so I’m getting a lot of different looks.
Also the guys we have here are studs. I’ve also been doing some boxing training at the gym across town because they have a lot of pro boxers in the room, and then going back over to ODU to brush up on my wrestling and get my wrestling back to feeling comfortable.
I’ve never lost it, it’s just from doing other disciplines you never feel quite as comfortable, so I’m just revisiting my wrestling and getting comfortable with it again.
B/R: This is the first time you are on the main card of a major event. What’s that feel like right now?
Antwain: It feels good. It feels like I am finally getting the notoriety that I deserve. Compared to other guys, I’m still a baby in that I’ve only been going at it for five years and I’ve only been pro for three and a half.
On one side of the coin, I feel like I’m a baby and I still have a long way to go and have some dues to pay, but on the other side of the coin I feel like its definitely time, especially with the guys that I have beaten, that it's my time to shine and bring some attention to myself and my brand.
B/R: So is this overdue, or are you right where you need to be right now?
Antwain: I think it’s maybe a little bit overdue. I feel like that with a good win here that it puts me right in line for the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight title. That’s definitely where I want to be.
B/R: Does a nice clean finish against Rafael Cavalcante put you right on track for the title?
Antwain: Well the talk is that the winner of this fight has a title shot, so that’s been the talk ever since they signed this fight. I mean this fight has supposed to have been going on for years.
Actually, when EliteXC was around, I was contacted about having this fight and for whatever reason it didn’t go through.
So for hardcore MMA fans this is a fight that people have really wanted to see, and I definitely think that with a win it puts me right in line for a title shot.
The 205 weight class in Strikeforce is deeper than it was a year and a half ago, but I really believe I am the most dangerous striker in the division right now. The title shot is in the near future for the winner of this fight.
B/R: A lot of guys right at that point in your career make that move to one of the major training camps in places like Quad Cities, Portland, Vegas, or Albuquerque. As your career progresses, do you feel the need to change camps in the future, or do you have everything you need right here?
Antwain: I think for the majority I have everything I need right here. Chuck Liddell said something that was really interesting to me a couple of years ago that was like, “if you’re successful in what you’re doing, why change anything?”
I’m really successful in what I do. I have a really good training camp here at Hybrid Training Center. I’ve also made really good connections and relationships to where I can go to a lot of different schools and those guys feels comfortable about coming here and training with me too.
Brian Colett helped me get ready for Scott Lighty. So I feel like anything I am lacking that I can outsource and get people here to help me, and I can go to other camps and train.
B/R: So no real need to change?
Antwain: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I really feel that way. My coaches here do a great job with me and get me ready for my fights. I feel comfortable with this camp.
B/R: So let’s talk about Strikeforce on CBS. How do you feel the incident between Shields and Miller impacted the sport as a whole?
Antwain: As a whole, I don’t think it impacted the sport as big as people would like to think it did. I think it was an isolated incident. It was an unfortunate incident, but you have to expect that with those guys.
B/R: Do you feel more pressure to maintain your professionalism because of that going into this next fight?
Antwain: No, not at all. I’ve always been a fan favorite. I’ve always been a down to earth guy and never had a problem controlling my anger, or temper, or being overly emotional in situations like that. So I don’t feel like it’s an issue for to me to maintain that level of professionalism.
B/R: Do you think this will have any impact on future Strikeforce on CBS events, if at all?
Antwain: I think it’s hard to tell. The ratings that the show does are ridiculous. Anytime you have free TV it's definitely not a relationship you want to mess up as far as Strikeforce goes, but things like this happen.
They have a really good track record up to this point, so I don’t think it will be too much of a hindrance for them to get on that network card. I mean, that’s where the money is, man.
B/R: So we should see you on a future Strikeforce on CBS card then?
Antwain: Well we were actually lobbying to get on that last card. But we couldn’t get the fight to come together quick enough, which is fine, as long as I get to display my skills and I get to do it on a national stage, which is just icing on the cake. The biggest thing is just me going in there and destroying this guy. That’s pretty much what I want to do. I don’t care if we did it in a back alley on Virginia Beach Boulevard.
B/R: So the last interview you gave to B/R, you said you could lay a whooping to Gegard Mousasi, but you also said you thought he was a well rounded fighter, and a pretty good champion. Do those same statements apply to Muhammed Lawal?
Antwain: Oh yeah! I think I match-up well with anyone and not just the Strikeforce 205 pound division, but anybody in the bigger organizations. Of course a lot of people know that I was on the 8th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” and I was supposed to be one of the favorites. I actually beat one of the favorites, Ryan Jimmo, to get into the house. But I broke my hand on his big head. But I think Mo is definitely a good champ. I don’t think people realize how well rounded he really is. I think a fight between me and him would be a much better fight than it was between him and Mousasi. Two strikers whose wrestling has translated over well. I think it would be a great fight.
B/R: So who’s got the better takedown, you or Muhammed Lawal?
Antwain: Well the dude is a two-time All American. With that being said my takedown defense has been the cornerstone of my game for years now, and I think my striking is parallel (to anyone) in the division in Strikeforce. I think it would be a really good fight. I will take him down. What a lot of people don’t realize about wrestling is it’s a huge curriculum. I don’t think as much wrestling translates over to MMA as people think. I think if you have strong takedowns, really good base, and really good muscle memory, stuff like that translates over but there’s not a whole lot of wrestling you can use for MMA. Takedown defense and really strong takedowns are going to be the biggest aspects. I think in those fields I don’t care if you’re a two-time All American or a guy that just did it in junior high, if you can imbed that and ingrain that into your game it can be beneficial to you.
B/R: It’s been said that takedowns and takedown defense can dictate the pace of a fight, and that strong takedowns can neutralize grappling. Is that how you feel about going against Cavalcante who may have better grappling?
Antwain: I feel confident on the ground. I’ve got really good Jiu-Jitsu coaches here and I’ve been working on it a lot. I can honestly say my Jiu-Jitsu is the most improved aspect of my game right now. Now that I feel comfortable with my Jiu-Jitsu I can use my wrestling more to stay on top and just pound the guy.
B/R: With Tito Ortiz and Jenna Jameson, does the saying “there’s no such thing as bad press” apply to this situation, or does something like this with this kind of sport set it backwards in public perception?
Antwain: There’s no such thing as bad press. A couple of years ago it was almost unheard of for a mixed martial artist to be in the headlines, and this is not just MMA media, this is Fox News. A couple years ago that was unheard of so it’s going to bring negative attention to him unfortunately. I was looking forward to the fight between him and Chuck again, but there’s no bad press. I don’t think that bad press is good for you, but there’s a lot of different ways for you to become famous and become popular other than drawing bad attention to yourself. As far as his career, I don’t think it’s going to hurt his career. It just goes back to the old, altered, saying, everyone’s not housewife material.
B/R: You mentioned Season 8 of TUF. You won your first fight, and then you had to leave because you broke your hand on Ryan Jimmo’s head. Even though it was short lived, how did your experience change your perception about the show and what it does for the sport?
Antwain: I think it’s a really good launching pad for fighters. Everybody in that room, or that house, was virtually unknown to the fans, and then they get in the house and they bring this attention to themselves so it’s a pretty good situation as far as that’s concerned. On the other side I think it has become more of who’s the most popular, who draws the most viewers in comparison to who’s the best fighter. I mean, you see guys on there now that aren’t really that great, but if you have personality then it gets you over (to the UFC). I think it’s opening a window into the UFC to where it might not be the best fighter but it’s going to bring viewers. That’s one thing I can say about UFC is they do a really good job of making really obscure fighters virtually household names. Houston Alexander had three fights in the UFC and now everyone knows who this guy is. Sean Sherk for example had over 40 fights he was on the main card in the UFC. He was on the under card for a long time before anyone ever knew who he was. I think the more exposure you can bring to the fighters the better. Ultimate Fighter has allowed people to do that. It’s a good launching pad as long as you don’t let it go to your head.
B/R: The front man of Strikeforce, CEO Scott Coker, what kind of relationship do you have with him?
Antwain: I love that guy. I think Scott Coker is a really down to earth guy. I like him and his family a lot. They do a really good job of making fighters feel like they are part of something bigger than just signing your name on the dotted line type of thing. Scott Coker is a visionary. I think he’s doing a lot of really good thing with Strikeforce, especially in the last couple of years. Every card is like a super-fight card like Overeem vs Rogers, possibly Rogers vs Fedor, Fedor vs Werdum, even throwing myself in the mix. You’re putting on super-fight cards and I don’t think a lot of people realize how deep the Strikeforce roster is because every fight you see the card is like a bunch of super fights.
B/R: So you feel it’s a quality over quantity mentality?
Antwain: Exactly. I’m just happy to be apart of it.
B/R: At this next phase of your career, you do feel like you have more cards in your hands at the negotiating table, or is it still more on their side of the table, with any promotion?
Antwain: I definitely think that the more you perform and bring good quality fights to the table then you have a couple more cards in your deck to negotiate with. That’s any fighter. The more value you can put on your name, then the more negotiating power you have. I look to have more negotiating power after this fight. With that being said I would love to be able to fight on DREAM cards or M-1 and whoever else Strikeforce has good relationships with. I would love to do stuff like that, and I think with a good win in this upcoming fight it will give me a little bit more negotiating power. Especially if there’s a title shot involved in the near future.
B/R: From what I understand weight problems got you motivated to get into MMA. What motivates you to keep fighting today?
Antwain: I just want to be as huge as possible. Anybody that’s competitive is not going to want to do anything half assed. I feel like now I’m just on the cusp. I definitely think that I’m a top-ten light heavyweight. I think that within the next few fights people are going to realize that I’m one of the guys that is one of the front runners for being one of the best 205ers ever to do it. I don’t want too much, I just want it all. I want people 10 or 15 years from now to have me be mixed in somewhere with who the best was.
B/R: What role does your upbringing play into the decisions you make with regard to your fighting career?
Antwain: I think more realistically. I’m not a rare story. My upbringing wasn’t hard. It wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t the worst either. I found outlets through sports and athletics and I’ve been around the block a lot. I’ve had numerous matches and I think can be realistic and really put myself in the moment, which I think a lot of fighters have a hard time doing. I put myself in the moment, visualize what I need to do, and do it because I’ve done it so many times be it at wrestling, be it fighting, be it football.
B/R: How does fighting impact your personal life?
Antwain: I don’t see my mom as much as I would like to. I train a lot and I’m newly engaged, but fortunately my fiancé is a competitor. She’s actually a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion. So she knows what it’s like to devote a lot of your time to training. She really understands and really works with me a lot and I appreciate it. It’s hard, but you just have to find time for family. That’s why after my fights I take full advantage of my rest time and kind of enjoy myself a little bit.
B/R: So you have a strong support network from your family?
Antwain: Yeah, definitely, from my family and coaches. They understand when I need to get out of the gym for a little while they don’t have a problem telling me that or making it possible for me to take a step back a little bit.
B/R: So did you grow up in Hampton Roads?
Antwain: Yeah, born and raised. I went to Indian River High School. I’ve lived in Virginia pretty much most my life. I lived in Baltimore when I was younger but mostly Hampton Roads area.
B/R: So what was it like growing up in a Navy town like Hampton Roads?
Antwain: I met a lot of girls. Of course my school was filled with kids of military. That part was fun, but other than that I don’t see much difference in growing up here compared to anywhere else.
B/R: So is Virginia Beach your home for the long haul?
Antwain: Yeah, but I would like to buy a home abroad just to vacation in the near future, but this is my home.
B/R: Most of fighters talk bout their gyms as a second home, or second family. You’ve already said you have a great training camp here, and you’ve done well for yourself here at Hybrid. How would you describe the relationship you have with the training team here?
Antwain: I wouldn’t change anything. I walked in when I was a pretty overweight, pretty big guy, and I just wanted to get in shape. I walked into door and it was like the old Karate Kid, all the lights were off, and I walk in and there’s nobody here. My coach, Buck Grant, comes and leans over behind his desk and is like, for a guy to be over 300 pounds to tell you he wants to fight, you can be skeptical. I worked really hard, and me and Buck have become great friends over the past five years. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be half as good as I am if I had gone to any other gym in the area. So I was really fortunate that I came to Hybrid.
B/R: How does the gym act like a second home for you?
Antwain: I’m always here. When it’s time for me to get ready for fights, the guys all jump onboard, and they really help me out. There are really unselfish attitudes here. We really help each other get ready for fights. As a matter of fact the same night I’m fighting we have four guys fighting in DC. We all help each other get ready for fights. We have an open door policy so if anybody from any other gym wants to come in and train then we invite them with open arms. We are just the best school in the area. We have the best strength and conditioning program, the best Muay Thai, the best MMA program, so we just produce a lot of really good athletes here.
B/R: Glad you brought up strength and conditioning. When Hybrid Academy merged with Beach CrossFit, how did that improve your conditioning?
Antwain: Wow, I don’t even want to talk about it! I mean, it was definitely a good relationship because Jeannie Bassi, she owns Beach CrossFit, she came over here and she is really passionate about training fighters, and training every body in general because she can find the smallest weakness you have and she can sense it, like she smells it in the water, and she just builds that weakness and my conditioning is through the roof. I’ve never, never gotten tired in a fight. My gas tank is never in question. With the Scott Lighty fight, I beat on Scott Lighty for five minutes non-stop. He just couldn’t maintain the pace that I was at. That really helped me out a lot.
B/R: So we’ll lighten it up here a bit as we wrap it up. Propane or Charcoal?
Antwain: Charcoal. Charcoal definitely.
B/R: Wal-Mart or Target?
Antwain: Wal-Mart. I’m a Wal-Mart type of guy.
B/R: Manual or Automatic?
Antwain: Automatic. It’s funny because my dream car is an Aston Martin Vantage, and this is the car I want. Everybody’s always like why do you want an automatic? Because I want it to be fast but I don’t want to shift.
B/R: Miller, Coors, or Budweiser?
Antwain: Other. I’m not a big beer drinker.
B/R: Final words?
Antwain: I just want to say thank you to my gym, Hybrid Training Center, definitely. We are actually in the midst of starting a new organization called Axex, which is for government contracting to train military, law enforcement, and private companies. We're really passionate about training and helping these guys get home. It’s a little bit different situation because if they lose a fight they die so if we can help train those guys and bring another 1% home safely then it’s worth it. We’re looking to do a lot of big things in the near future. I would also like to thank my sponsors The Green Gi, Untamed Industries, and TRX.