New Jersey’s Kurt “Batman” Pellegrino undeservingly goes under many casual fight fans’ radar for a mixed martial artist that has spent more than half of his career in the UFC—boasting an impressive 7-3 record in the organization.
Needless to say, his popularity is still in its infancy, lacking the fame and spotlight of fellow Zuffa employees headlining Saturday’s UFC 116 in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
He doesn’t command the fair-weather fans’ attention spans like heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar, maybe simply due to poor tattoo choices. Had Kurt decided to get an anatomically shaped Viking sword on his chest, things could have been different for him.
With his clear cut Italian surname, Pellegrino doesn’t have a whole country of celebrity-obsessed followers and a “hit” single to his credit like Japan’s Yoshihiro Akiyama, or more commonly known as “Sexyama.”
Would Kurt be in the forefront of fly-by-night fans’ minds had he seductively posed as a male centerfold in The Star-Ledger’s entertainment section?
It would appear he is being unjustly undersold, but it is quite the opposite case for this diamond in the rough. UFC 116 could be Pellegrino’s launch pad, an invitation to his coming out party as a high profile fighter if he comes out of the octagon unscathed against fellow lightweight gem, George Sotiropoulos.
Getting a place at the 155lb feasting table alongside the likes of BJ Penn, Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard and Kenny Florian requires the exact type of raw potential Pellegrino and Sotiropoulos possess respectively. That’s what makes their bout the sleeper fight of the card and the most important fight of Pellegrino’s career—a win propelling him right into the top shelves of the division.
“I really think a win puts me in the top-five mix at lightweight. I will have five wins in a row, so I know I’m right there,” Pellegrino recently told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview.
With much to gain from a victory over his Australian opponent, Pellegrino realizes Sotiropoulos is no walk in the park after watching him dismantle a former No. 1 lightweight contender in Joe Stevenson, a fighter stylistically similar to himself.
“I’ve trained really smart for this fight. We have a game plan and we plan on sticking to it. George is a tough guy, he is really strong everywhere and really well-rounded. I watched his fight with Joe and I’ve spoken to Joe personally. I feel we’ve made the necessary adjustments to come out on top,” assured Pellegrino.
Like his preparation for Fabricio Camoes, who was face-planted and submitted at UFC 111, the 31-year-old Pellegrino has pulled out all the big guns, old and new, for his second consecutive injury-free training camp.
“This is the second camp in a row where I have been 100 percent healthy, no injuries for nine weeks straight. I’m feeling great.” When asked if fans would see the, now infamous, Batman face-plant Saturday, the Jersey native had his doubts.
“If George is dumb enough to put himself in that position, you may see it. I never purposely meant to hurt Camoes at UFC 111, but he left me no other option. I’m glad he was okay,” Pellegrino light-heartedly explained.
The biggest addition to Pellegrino’s camp, which includes notable names like boxing great Miguel Cotto and Kenny Florian, was Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion Marcelo Garcia to help further his ground success; something Kurt would not be in desperate need of considering his recent “Submission of the Night” award after defeating Camoes.
Against a fighter with Sotiropoulus’ BJJ skill set, having Garcia around makes plenty of sense.
“I worked with Marcelo a lot and he really taught me some great stuff that will really apply in the fight. He is just on a whole other level. He studied film for me and showed me great things that I can use in the fight. He was a huge help and I’m really grateful for his help,” Pellegrino said.
He went on to explain the importance of his reoccurring coaches and training partners, including Cotto and strength and conditioning coach Jon Chaimberg.
“Jon has been a major factor in this camp. This is the second camp I’ve had Jon and I’ve seen a huge difference. Miguel Cotto was awesome too. We trained some basic stuff, but you just learn so much, even on that level, from a world champ like Miguel. I’ve been eager to test my boxing skills for awhile now—I still don’t think people have seen how much I’ve improved,” Pellegrino mentioned.
When asked what would be a worse punishment between bare-knuckle boxing with Cotto and playing mercy with Brock Lesnar, Pellegrino’s answer was a testament the world-class boxer’s punching power.
“I think it’d be worse bare-knuckle boxing with Cotto because I felt how hard his punches were with 16 oz. gloves and it wasn’t pretty!” Pellegrino mused.
On the subject of hypothetical contests between himself and training partners, Pellegrino was firm about never meeting close friend and premiere lightweight, Kenny Florian, in the octagon.
“I know it’s not what everyone wants to hear, but it’s not worth it to me. Kenny and I are not only training partners, but really close friends. It would be impossible to fight Kenny—it would never happen.”
Being on arguably one of the summer’s biggest cards and awaiting the title conclusion between the top two in his division, Pellegrino has a lot on his mind, but more entertainingly, he offered up his predictions for Lesnar vs. Carwin and Edgar vs. Penn II later next month at UFC 118 in Boston.
“I’m picking Carwin for the win. I think he has more experience and he’s one heavyweight that won’t be intimidated or overpowered by Brock’s size because he’s just as freakin’ huge. I also think Frankie takes it—he’s got BJ’s number,” expressed Pellegrino, who also disagrees with a lot of immediate title rematches, except for in Penn’s case.
“I’m not sure champions deserve an automatic rematch, but in that case, I think it was fair. The fight was extremely close and BJ has been such a great champion. I just don’t think he was 100 percent that night. I believe he deserves the rematch.”
The harsh reality of losing is always a possibility in such a competitive sport as MMA, especially when it is performed at the highest level on the biggest stage. A lot of times getting to the top can be overshadowed by how resilient a fighters is when he falls—part of what makes fighters great is losing—and how he returns to the fray, if he does at all.
Pellegrino has speculated in past interviews on his future, if he were to lose his winning streak, coming to the conclusion that it would be time for retirement. For a fighter only 31 years old—your peak age mentally and physically—showing his potential, Pellegrino’s confusing words sent out mixed signals.
Regardless, he has set the record straight.
“I might have spoken out of emotion. I do tell my wife that if I lose, I’m done, but I think this is just a motivator for me. I don’t want to be done, so I won’t lose, that’s how I see it. I would never retire on a loss, for one. At this point in my career, I finally feel like I’m so close to really making it to the top. I’m not done yet—not even close.”
Oh yeah, like everybody on the MMA planet minus Dana White, he was shocked that Fedor lost too.
“I think everybody was a little shocked. But at the same time, I wasn’t surprised. It seems like Fedor isn’t evolving as much as he should be. I’m not sure if he’ll be in the octagon ever—seems like he needs the UFC more now than the UFC needs him,” proclaimed New Jersey’s favorite superhero.