As the hours tick away to UFC 118—the promotion’s Boston debut, scheduled for Saturday night at TD Garden—Mark Dellagrotte is among those most anticipating the card.
Of course, Dellagrotte’s primary concern on Saturday night will be Marcus Davis, as the “Irish Hand Grenade” will open the main card when he faces fellow Ultimate Fighter alum Nate Diaz. However, as the owner and operator of Sityodtong USA, a mainstay on the MMA scene in Boston and home to New England’s most recognizable fight team, a sold-out card at the home of the NBA’s Boston Celtics and NHL’s Boston Bruins is a long-awaited event.
The veteran trainer took time this week to talk to UltimateFighter.com and Bleacher Report
Just for starters, what’s the atmosphere been like as the fights have gotten closer?
The atmosphere here in Boston is just buzzing, and Sityodtong has been on another level with Marcus Davis in full training camp. Boston’s a fight town, and a lot of great events have happened at the Boston Garden, and this is going to be another one of epic proportions. This is the first time the UFC’s coming to Boston, Boston’s a fight town, and the mixed martial arts community is huge in Boston and the New England area, so there’s a huge buzz going on, and we’re really excited to have the event come to town.
Which New England native has the best chance of victory at UFC 118?
The fact that such a community has blossomed in Boston without a real UFC presence, any major events, what do you think this card is going to do for MMA in Boston?
You know, mixed martial arts in Boston has been prevalent for a long time. I like to consider New England a hub of mixed martial arts. Back in the day, when the sport was in tough times, it was still prevalent, the underground, guys that lived in the New England area in grappling tournaments and things like that.
I like to consider New Englanders hard working people in general, and that’s why we make great fighters and great fight fans, and for the UFC to come—a show on that scale, compared to what the local shows have been doing—is just a true testament to the growth and prosperity of the sport, and I’m proud of it as a practicioner, as a coach, and as a former fighter, just to be in the movement itself.
Obviously, the big part of this weekend for you is going to be Marcus’ fight. How’s he looking?
Marcus Davis looks great. I think originally, when we got the call, we were blessed by Joe Silva with this fight. We knew it would be an exciting fight. I thought about it initially, it scared me a little bit stylistically. I know Marcus is an older fighter and everybody knows him to cut easily, and we don’t want to be at the end of Nate’s jab all night.
At first, the fight seemed like it would be a tough fight, but as the weeks went on in training camp, the more we watched him, the more we put a game plan together, the more confident we became, and we’re going to be able to take care of business on Saturday.
We’re honored to fight someone like Nate Diaz. This guy’s a true warrior. That’s one thing I’ve always respected about him and his brother: they genuinely like to fight. That’s something with Marcus, too: he genuinely likes to fight. I think there’s going to be a lot of respect shown, I think there’s going to be a lot of punches thrown, and I think at the end of the day, they’re going to raise Marcus’s hand and everybody’s going to be friends.
And even for the guys who aren’t part of your team anymore—a guy like Jorge Rivera, he was supposed to have a fight on this card before he got injured—how disappointing was that to see?
That’s obviously unfortunate for anyone to be injured and out of a fight, but especially somebody like Jorge, who is obviously is a dear friend of mine. I like to think we kind of grew up together in the sport—I as a trainer, him as a fighter—and after his recent departure from Sityodtong to open up his own gym, I was all for it, and he had done well up until the injury.
That was really unfortunate, because Jorge, it seems like a lot of times in his life, has had struggles. He sees a lot of hardships, and I don’t think he needed to face another one. It’s unfortunate that this happened, but he’s a survivor. He’ll move on, and you can’t keep Jorge down. He’s a survivor, and he’ll be back, bigger and stronger and better. I’m proud of him.
He’s done well since his break from us, and I like to consider myself a key element in his success, and I’m sure he’d consider that the same. We did big things together, and it’s unfortunate that he’s injured, but he’ll be back.
It’s got to be an interesting spot as a trainer. Eventually, sometimes, not because of any fault, guys are going to have different opportunities or need a change for their own reasons. What is it like to see a guy leave your team to either train someplace else or open his own gym?
It’s all part of the cycle. It’s very natural, happens all the time. There’s very few fighters in the sport that stay with a camp for a long time, a guy like Chuck Liddell who stayed with a kempo karate master, John Hackleman, was successful, and is still with him to this day. That’s one path you can take.
Another path is to pick up different things from different trainers, and try to kind of find your own flow. A lot of new generation fighters seem to be doing that. It seems to be the new trend, people moving around to different camps, and at the end of the day, these guys know they’re not going to be able to be fighters forever, so they want to open gyms and explore other opportunities. I’m all for that.
I’m very proud of any student that I’ve helped develop and left to open up their own gym, or perhaps been successful with another trainer. It’s all good for the sport. It seems to be natural progression. I trained with a guy for years, and I moved on from him—left on good terms, and that was key—but sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn’t. Overall, it’s part of the game.
It seems to be a common trend among the new generation, where back in the day, traditional martial artists, you had stronger qualities in the arts, such as respect, honor, loyalty, trust, things of that nature. A lot of this new generation, it seems to be like Burger King, “Have it your way.” It’s a fast food society we live in. A lot of these guys travel around, and want to open their own gyms. At the end of the day, it’s natural and it’s good, and the sport’s growing and everybody’s doing well and I’m all for it.
So it won’t be awkward at all when you see Kenny Florian in the backstage area.
No. I like to consider me and Kenny still friends. I truly believe that deep down inside, we’re still friends. I’m always a big Kenny Florian fan. I’m proud of what I’ve helped him with, and what he’s continued to work with his new trainers and how successful he’s been. That makes me feel good, to know that I’ve played a role in the development of his career, and I’m proud of that, and he should be proud of that, too.
At the end of the day, I like to consider us friends still, and I always want to see him win. It still makes me look good and feel good to see him doing well. That’s true with every teacher. As tough as Gray [Maynard] is, and as good a wrestler as he is—I obviously think he poses a lot of threats to Kenny—but I truly believe Kenny’s going to be able to handle business.
Now, after the fight happens with Marcus and Nate, what other fight on the card are you looking forward to most?
I’m really looking forward to the main event with BJ Penn and Frankie Edgar. I think BJ fought a fight that he didn’t fight or didn’t need to fight the last time. I think we’re going to see a different BJ.
I’m still, obviously, a fan of any champion, and Frankie Edgar deserves that belt. He beat BJ, and BJ knows that, but I’m not sure he can do that twice. If he can, then it’s a true testament to Frankie Edgar and his ability to keep that belt, and I think he’s going to have it for a while, but BJ, I think, had a bad night, and that’s the fight I’m looking forward to seeing, BJ against Frankie for that belt.
I remember hearing on the conference call last week, they got Frankie to come out and say that he’s a Yankee fan. Obviously, Phil Baroni is another person who was supposed to be on this card and had to drop out due to injury. With Boston being out ahead of New York to a certain degree, not only in terms of that MMA’s sanctioned in Massachusetts, but even in terms of places to train—although obviously, Phil Nurse is here, and Matt Serra’s place out on Long Island, and Renzo Gracie—do you think we can get to a point where we can see some real New York-Boston rivalry in MMA?
Elliot, you know as well as I do that if there’s anything Boston and New York can fight about, we’re going to do it. I’m sure that’s where it’s going. I remember my very first fight in New York as a Thai boxer, when I was young. There were 12 bouts that night, one kid was from Boston and everyone else was from New York, and oddly enough, the guy I fought was a Phil Nurse student.
We laugh about it to this day, because me and Kru Phil are good friends. If there’s anything that Boston and New York can fight about or argue about, I’m sure we’re going to do it. I look forward to the challenge. I was kind of looking forward to guys like Baroni fighting in Boston. I couldn’t wait to see his entrance and the reaction from the fans. It’s always a lot of energy between Boston and New York, and any way we can spill it into a fight, we’re going to do that.