MMA veteran Jeff “The Snowman” Monson is one of the most likable fighters in the sport, so it was an absolute pleasure for me to interview him prior to his fight on Apr. 1, 2011.
On that night, Monson will get another shot at holding MMA gold when he faces fellow veteran Tony Lopez for the brand new ISKA Heavyweight World Title. The big event will take place at the War Memorial Auditorium in Ft. Lauderdale, FL at Fight Time Promotions’ “Fight Time 4.”
It was very obvious, right off the bat, that Monson respects his opponent and knows his limitations against a fighter who stands seven inches taller than him.
“Obviously he’s got a big reach advantage, but I’m just going to have to get inside where I can strike,” Monson described. “If he keeps it on the outside and connects, he has an advantage. If I get inside and work the body and stuff like that on the inside, I have the advantage.”
Monson added that his game plan for this one will have to be different than in many of his other fights.
“He’s good at Jiu-Jitsu so I’m trying to concentrate on my standup more for this fight. It’s a five-round fight and that’s a long time.”
Five rounds is a long time. Your average MMA fight is three five-minute rounds. Even after fifteen minutes, we have seen countless fighters on the verge of collapsing from lack of energy. As a 13-plus year veteran of the sport, though, the Snowman has been in five-round fights before and will be prepared.
“I’m going to come in, in great shape, so I don’t think it’s going to make a difference. In practice, I go for more than five, five-minute rounds,” Monson offered. “So to me, it’s like a mental thing. If I can do it in practice, if I can go above and beyond that with my conditioning, then in a fight, I should be able to do it.”
Tony Lopez himself has experience in five-round fights, as he is a former King of the Cage light heavyweight and heavyweight champion.
“I know he’s had a bunch of five-round fights so I know he can go five fives,” Jeff continued. “I’m going to make sure that I can.”
As in most in mixed martial arts promotions, this title fight will indeed be five rounds. But there has also been discussion by some fans and even experts that certain high profile, non-title fights should also be five-round fights. Monson disagrees with the idea, as he believes that five-round bouts should be reserved only for title fights.
“You earned the shot to get that five-round fight. That’s the one thing that sets it apart from other fights,” he protested. “Earn a title shot if you want it to go five. That’s how it’s always been, it’s kind of tradition. It kind of rewards the fighters who’ve earned it. You’ve earned this five-round fight and obviously you’ve got to be in great shape for it.”
He brings up a good point and one that is often overlooked by fans, as we quickly forget how different the training, game plan and execution in five-round fights differ from that of three-round fights.
“The undercard fights are not title fights and are only three rounds,” Monson added, noting that it’d be too difficult to distinguish which non-title fights deserve to be five-round fights. “What decides if it’s a three or a five? Five-round fights are for title fights.”
The team getting him ready for this important title fight will be the newly restructured, refocused and reinvigorated American Top Team in Florida.
The team recently made top headlines at various MMA news websites when four major fighters left the facility. The news broke last week that JZ Cavalcante, Danillo Villefort, his brother Yuri Villefort and Jorge Santiago all left American Top Team due to contract issues. As a long-time ATT member himself, Monson had an interesting perspective on the situation.
“(ATT) was founded by guys who really had their arms open," Monson explained. “A lot of gyms weren’t accepting. They wanted their guys and they didn’t want anyone else coming there to train. A lot of these guys were stuck in Brazil. They had a visa to be here, but they didn’t have a place to train, they didn’t have the technique or the training partners, and they were just Jiu-Jitsu. American Top Team took a lot of them here, gave them a place to live, initially got them on their feet and got them big fights.”
Monson suggested that his former teammates may have believed they didn’t need American Top Team anymore.
“Some of the guys said, ‘Hey, I got big now and I want to explore other options,’ and they left. It’s bad because we’re friends, and they’re good fighters, good training partners,” he admitted. “It’s like a family here and if you’re not willing to give as well as take, then you know, it’s probably time to move on. So that’s kind of what they did. They left for conceptually greener pastures somewhere else. I think it’s unfortunate for everybody including them in the long run.”
Despite the turnover, Monson’s standing with the team is as solid as ever and he hinted that American Top Team may even be better off now than before.
“Sometimes you get addition by subtraction,” he suggested. “Sometimes when something big happens, it makes you go, ‘We can do this better, this better, this better.’ We’re not a perfect team or a perfect camp or perfect training. So if you kind of stand by and don’t improve and look at what you’re doing, then you’re going to fall behind. Maybe it’s one of those times where, hey, maybe we did get a little static in our training.”
ATT held a team meeting where they allowed any other fighter to leave without any hard feelings, but no one else took the offer.
“We had a good team meeting and everybody that was there said, ‘Hey, we want to be here and we’re committed.’” Monson confirmed. “We’re concentrated on making it better so maybe it’s a good thing.”
Our discussion switched over to the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament that is currently in progress. When asked about whether he believes he deserved a spot in the tournament, Monson responded as politely as possible.
“Honestly, I think it’s just purely political,” Jeff suggested. “You have a guy that won his first match and he’s probably one of the top three favorites to win the tournament, and I beat him in a couple minutes in a fight before this.”
Monson was speaking of Russian heavyweight Sergei Kharitonov, who knocked out Andrei Arlovski in the first round of the tournament. Just two fights before the Arlovski fight, Kharitonov was submitted in less than two minutes by Monson at Dream 8.
Though he admitted that he doesn’t watch much MMA outside of training for his opponents, Monson did say that he has been watching the Strikeforce tournament as it is filled with guys he has fought or could fight in the future.
After Monson left UFC, there was actually discussion that he could be a potential opponent for Fedor Emelianenko, who has now lost each of his last two fights in Strikeforce. Nevertheless, Monson still believes that Fedor should be considered one of the top fighters in the world.
“He’s lost two in a row, but he’s human. I don’t think you get to 31-2 and beat the long list of guys he has and not be considered one of the top guys in the sport,” Monson answered. “He’s still the best heavyweight ever. In his time, he was maybe the best pound-for-pound guy ever. I don’t know what else he has to prove.”
UFC President Dana White hammered Emelianenko’s fans on Twitter following his most recent loss, while many fans jumped on the bandwagon. But as a fighter, Monson doesn’t agree with the harsh criticism that Fedor received.
“The world is fickle, you can be a super hero one day, unbeatable, and you lose a fight and they’re like, ‘this is it.’ He’s a legend. He’s for sure the best heavyweight ever and probably the best fighter ever.”
When asked about the potential retirement of another heavyweight who also lost in the first round, Andrei Arlovski, Monson stopped short of suggesting retirement, but did express concern for his health.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that once boxers or fighters get knocked out, it’s easier to get knocked out (again),” he cautioned. “He’s 30-something years old and he’s got maybe 50, 60 years to live. You don’t want to live that punch drunk, either.”
While Fedor and Arlovski struggled in the first round, Monson still believes that it’s the Strikeforce heavyweight division that is deeper and is the best in the world right now.
“I think the UFC has more top guys,” Monson evaluated. “But I think the Top Four are kind of interchangeable as far as how good they are. Once you get down to five, six, seven, eight; I think Strikeforce is just deeper. They’ve got really good guys. The UFC has maybe four or five that are really good, but after that, they’re not maybe top tier, I guess, in my opinion.”
While Strikeforce has the best heavyweights, Monson admits that another UFC run in UFC is his ultimate goal.
“People see you on the street and they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re a UFC fighter’” and they don’t even necessarily mean, ‘UFC.’ It’s just synonymous with MMA,” he explained. “I want to work my way up to fight for a title whether it be in the UFC or Strikeforce, but this is the first step here as I’m fighting for a title on Apr. 1."
"I’m very grateful. I want to be on TV and fight for the title. A lot of guys have for a UFC title and kind of faded away, and I don’t want to be that guy. I want to try to be in that position again and make it count.”
Of course, Monson was speaking about his last fight in the UFC when he faced then-UFC Heavyweight Champion, Tim Sylvia. The fight may have been one of the biggest size discrepancies in MMA history from two guys at the same division..
At 5’9”, Jeff Monson is one of the shorter fighters in the heavyweight division. He’s used to fighting guys who are taller than him and he’s often able to bring the fight to an equal level on the ground.
But in his fight with the 6’8”, 265-plus pound Sylvia, the size difference was just too much to overcome and he dropped a unanimous decision.
Not only was the height advantage key for Sylvia, but just his general frame was important in the fight as well. Monson is a powerful fighter and in excellent physical condition at around 230 pounds, but suggested that he is considering a drop to the 205-pound light heavyweight division.
“I was a wrestler in high school and college so I can drop it. A lot will be water weight,” he assured. “I’ll get down and still be big. I’m not going to diet down 35 pounds. If it does happen, it’ll be permanent. It won’t be back and forth.”
But perhaps a move to 205 pounds isn’t the best option for Monson. There have been plenty of fans suggesting that a new weight class be created between the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions to make things a little more equal, particularly for the guys who are near the middle of the class naturally.
“Something like that, 215, 220, 230, would be great for me,” he exclaimed. “When you go from welterweight to middleweight, you’re talking about 15 pounds and people talk about how different that is. Well imagine 205 to 265.”
The 60-pound weight difference between the light heavyweight and heavyweight division is huge. But the concern is that the guys who weigh in around Monson’s size are actually at an even greater disadvantage when the fight starts than they are during weigh-ins. This is because the fighters at the top of the weight class are actually cutting weight to make the 265-pound limit.
“You’ve got a guy who weighs 225, maybe 230 at fight time, fighting against a guy who’s 280, 285,” he exclaimed. “That 50 or 60-pound weight difference is big. The heavyweights aren’t the lumbering guys anymore. They’re athletic, they’re fast. They sprawl, they take you down, they punch. It’s not like the back-in-the-day heavyweights.”
But given the nature of the MMA business, problems like this often go on for a long time before they are corrected. At 40 years old, Jeff Monson may not be fighting any longer by the time another weight class is added.
I asked him about his plans after fighting and while he doesn’t seem to be planning to be done anytime soon, he certainly has things he is looking forward to when he’s retired from punching people in the face for a living.
“I’ve got a family, so I’m going to be more involved there. I’ll be more involved with my political stuff,” he vowed.
By “political stuff,” Monson doesn’t just mean your standard Republican vs. Democrat battle, either.
Monson is widely known for his anarchist views and he lets the world know about it whenever he can. His body is covered in tattoos, some of which have political meaning behind them, but he wants to do more than just express his beliefs through art.
“I want to use some of the stuff I’ve learned and pass it onto people. I don’t want to teach the same guys over and over again so I’d like to travel and pass along what I’ve learned,” he revealed.
“It kind of breaks my heart when I see a lot of things that I want to do and I just literally don’t have the time. I have to train, I have to do things at certain times. When I can’t go to a meeting or I can’t go meet these people. It’s hard because I want to travel and be involved but I do a little bit. I don’t do as much as I’d like to but it’ll be nice to have more time for that.”
The Olympia, WA native has traveled the world since his MMA debut in 1997. During that time, he has had the opportunity to meet people in every type of economic situation imaginable—the very rich, the very poor and everything in-between.
“I’m in MMA and I get to travel and meet people living in poverty while we’re staying in five-star hotels,” he continued. “They’re asking for meals so they can bring something home for their kids to eat and we’re eating these buffets and I’m like, ‘What did they do wrong to be in this situation?’ That really opened my eyes. Most people don’t get to see that. It’s all around us, we just need to open our eyes.”
The conviction in his voice as he explained his displeasure for the capitalistic society that he claims is erasing the middle class is sincere. He truly wants to teach people across the globe to live in peace and contribute to society in ways that will not only help themselves, but help everyone around them.
Not only is Jeff Monson an excellent MMA fighter, he is an even better person. If the world was full of people like Jeff, it would truly be a better place.
But for now, we watch him fight for himself, his family and us fans. We cheer for him and we wish him luck in his fight on Apr. 1 against Tony Lopez for the ISKA Heavyweight World Title.
If you are interested in watching the fight live in attendance, please check out the Fight Time Promotions website where you can purchase tickets. For those who are not in the area that would still like to watch the event, GFL.tv will be streaming the pay-per-view for a low fee.