A near-lifelong grappler, Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou’s first foray into martial arts came in 1989, when, at the age of five, the Hom’la, Cameroon, native began training in Judo. Over 20 years later, Sokoudjou has yet to look back.
Boasting an impressive résumé as a Judo practitioner—including three successive junior national championships from 1997 to 1999 in his native Cameroon, Sokoudjou moved to the United States in 2001.
Although he never intended on pursuing a career in mixed martial arts, Sokoudjou was given the opportunity to help Dan Henderson prepare for a bout in 2004. After training for two years at Team Quest, Sokoudjou made his professional mixed martial arts debut in July 2006.
As a mixed martial artist, it didn’t take long for Sokoudjou to make a name for himself—in a major way—under the Pride FC banner. In what were only his fourth and fifth professional contests, Sokoudjou pulled off a pair of stunning upset victories over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Ricardo Arona at Pride 33 and Pride 34, respectively.
In late 2007, Sokoudjou made his Octagon debut against Lyoto Machida at UFC 79. Although he would fall short against “The Dragon”, Sokoudjou was given two more opportunities to compete in the Octagon.
After picking up a victory over Kazuhiro Nakamura at UFC 84 and dropping his bout against Luiz Cane at UFC 89, the UFC and Sokoudjou parted ways.
Since leaving the UFC in late 2008, Sokoudjou has competed in six different countries under the Affliction, DREAM, Strikeforce, Impact FC, Shark Fights, and KSW banners—racking up a six victories including, most recently, a win over Poland’s Jan Blachowicz to claim the KSW light-heavyweight championship.
Currently, Sokoudjou is slated to take on Roger Hollett, in a light-heavyweight contest, in Mississauga, Ontario on June 10 under the Score Fighting Series banner.
I recently had the opportunity to speak to Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou about, among other topics, his time in Poland, his upcoming bout, and his early days in both Judo and mixed martial arts.
You’ve won two straight bouts—how is life for you these days?
Well, it could be better. I’ve lost a bunch—I’ve just won two, like you said—but I should have a bunch more.
Could you tell me about your time in Poland?
To tell you the truth, it was too cold for me to go anywhere and I had to cut weight, so I spent most of the time in the hotel room. It was, basically, hotel to the training room, hotel to the training room the whole time. I didn’t have time to go anywhere.
Was that disappointing?
Yeah, I would’ve loved to stay there a couple extra days to see some things, but, unfortunately I just went there and came back. Next time, I’ll stay there a couple extra days and visit Poland.
So you plan on defending your title?
That’s what the title-holder is supposed to do. I wanted to fight in May—when they’re having another show—but they told me that the card was full and I’d have to wait. That’s what I’m doing right now.
How are you feeling going into your bout with the Score Fighting Championship in June?
Pretty good. Training has been hard and my body hurts, but it’s pretty much like any other fight; you train hard and you get ready for the fight.
Do you feel that you’re ready for it at this point?
Well, I’m ready for it, but I’ll be even more ready for it as I get closer to the fight. Like I said, it’s the usual stuff; training camp is going well—I get beat up and tortured in practice to get ready for the fight.
How confident are you heading into this fight?
[Laughs] I’m always confident, my friend. I’m not going to sit here and give you any kind of B.S. Going into every fight, I’m always confident and ready for the fight.
Where does that confidence come from?
It’s from all of the training that I go through. Like I said, good training and the more that I train, the more prepared I get, and the more confident I feel.
Do you feel that you’re still improving?
Absolutely. If I wasn’t, I would just stay at home and watch TV and then go fight, but, nowadays you’ve got to keep on re-inventing yourself; learning and adding more tools to your tool-box—otherwise you’ll be surprised.
How much better do you feel you are now than when you came into mixed martial arts a few years ago?
I feel like I’ve evolved a lot. Looking back, there are things that I wasn’t paying attention to and now I’m carefully looking at it and making sure I don’t make the same mistake twice—or multiple times.
Coming into the game, I didn’t know a lot about different aspects and I just had this one idea about how to train and what to do. After a few fights, I realized that it’s a lot more than getting into the training room and training.
What problems do you think Roger poses to you?
He’s a pretty tough guy, you know? He’s “The Hulk”, you know [Laughs]? He’s got strength and he’s got power, so I’ve got to make sure I don’t fall into his strong points.
What do you think his game-plan is going into this fight?
If I told you that, obviously, he would change his game-plan, because he’s probably reading. I don’t know what his game-plan is, but I know what I need to do to win the fight.
What do you need to do to win the fight?
Win the fight [laughs]! If I tell you, how good is it going to be for you to watch the fight? So wait and see; the day of the fight, you will see what I have to do to win the fight.
Fair enough. Do you think Roger has anything that you haven’t seen before?
[Long pause] Coming June 10, I will answer that question. I don’t want to sit here and sound smart and give you all kinds of crazy answers, so, the best way to deal with it is to come and watch the fight and you’ll get the answers you need.
Do you have a prediction for how it’s going to end?
It’s going to be a good fight. He’s got power, I’ve got power. It’s a good match-up and the more I think about it, the more I want to get in there and get started.
You told me you planned on sneaking another fight in before June. Is that something that you still plan on doing?
I’m looking, dang-it [laughs].
Is it hard to find fights?
Actually, it depends on the contracts. Organizations won’t let me fight because of the risk of injuries—that’s the only thing that’s holding me back from getting as many fights as I want. If promotions allowed me to fight before events, I would be fighting every weekend. I’ve just got to sit and wait and be patient about my next fight.
Have you ever been to Canada before?
No. It’s my first time and I’m excited about it! I’ve been in the U.S. for 10 years, but I’ve never been to Canada. Hopefully, I’ll have time to visit!
Hopefully it won’t be like Poland.
I hope it’s not cold. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t go anywhere in Poland—because it was freezing. There was also the language barrier—it was, kind of, difficult. In Canada—I know French and I know English—I should be good to go.
You speak French also?
Do you speak any other languages?
Yeah, I speak a few dialects from back home. You know, growing up you had to learn different dialects and slang and all kinds of different languages.
Is that something that you pick up easily?
I want to say ‘yes,’ but it all depends on where you live and your surroundings. When I moved to America, I had no one else to speak English for me, so I had to learn English right away. I’m lucky to be in a place where no one else spoke any language I knew but English. It was easy to learn English because of that fact.
Do you plan on learning any other languages?
I want to learn Spanish, because I live in Southern California and Mexico is only a few miles away from me, but I don’t know any Spanish.
Not yet, anyway. Could you please tell me a bit about your life growing up?
[Laughs] Sure. It wasn’t that exciting; it was just Judo and getting in trouble, you know [laughs]? My parents were really strict about going to school and I loved doing Judo. In my spare-time, I would get in trouble with my friends and wrestle.
Did you get in a lot of trouble growing up?
I want to say ‘no,’ but I guess I did.
Any memories come to mind?
Man, my poppa used to beat the piss out of me [laughs]! That’s all that comes to my mind, because I’d always be doing something stupid. That would be called child abuse here, but back home, it would be called getting things right [laughs].
Do you remember a lot of your life growing up?
Most of the memories are of me competing. As a kid, we would compete almost every single weekend, so my Saturdays would be at Judo competing, my Sundays would be at church, and then getting into trouble. It was a lot of Judo, homework, church, and trouble.
How important was Judo to you growing up?
I loved it, you know? My parents would punish me by hiding my gi—that would drive me crazy, because it was, like, the worst thing you could’ve done to me [laughs].
[Laughs] What is your earliest memory of Judo?
Man, I used to be thrown so many times, so I used to hate it. All I could think about was going back and getting even, so my earliest Judo-memories are of guys throwing me all over the place. It was really hard, stressful, and frustrating, but I kept coming back and wanting to get even.
Did you ever think about giving it up?
Not really. Back home, you can only do so much. Here, if you run into problems, you can just do something else. Judo was one of the few things that was available and giving it up would mean just not doing anything. I just loved it and it all came back to Judo, to keep trying.
Do you think Judo kept you out of a lot of trouble?
I would say ‘yes’ and ‘no’; it got me into trouble and it got me out of trouble. I would learn Judo moves and then go home and try them and... [laughs].
[Laughs] Have you ever thought about where you might be had you not gotten involved in Judo?
You know what? No. But, I would’ve probably done power-lifting because one of my brothers was power-lifting and I was too young to get involved in that—and that’s why I got into Judo. I think, had I not gotten into Judo, I would probably do Olympic weightlifting or power-lifting.
What do you think made you so fascinated with Judo?
I don’t know. I think it was something about the gi and something about getting into a competition with someone else. I think what really got me hooked was the fact that people would be throwing me and I didn’t like that, so I wanted to go back and get even.
That’s one of the things that made me love Judo even more; my beginning was very hard and everyone used to throw me because I was the new guy.
What inspired you to switch over into mixed martial arts?
Training with guys like Dan Henderson. When he was trying to get ready for a fight, I got a call from his manager to help him out; putting on some gloves and going out there and punching and throwing, you know? As a kid, I always wanted to get into boxing or kick-boxing, but my parents wouldn’t allow it, because they thought it was too violent. Once I had a chance to do that, I got hooked.
Were you surprised when you got the call?
They didn’t call to say, “Hey, come be a fighter.” The call was about coming to get Dan trained. I had no idea what I was getting myself involved in; I just thought I would show up. I had no clue. As soon as I put gloves on, I got excited.
What were your goals when you started in this sport?
My goal was to fight in Japan—believe it or not. As a Judo practitioner, I’ve always wanted to go to Japan to compete. Since the beginning, I’ve had my eyes on going to Japan to compete and to go where Judo was created. That’s one of the things that got me going.
Was Japan everything you thought it would be?
I loved it, you know? As a Judo practitioner, I always wanted to go to Japan, so I loved it.
Looking back, you achieved a lot of success very early. Did you think, in the beginning, that success would come that early in your career?
No. I had no clue that I would be that successful at that point. Also, something people don’t know, is that before my Pride fight, I had, at least, 10 fights cancel on me—people not wanting to fight me or for any type of reason. It was early, but I had to jump in there and fight some guys—some big-names.
Why do you think guys were cancelling out on you?
[Laughs] I wish I could tell you. They’ll give you reasons and I don’t know if they’re lying or not; all I can tell you is that I had a bunch of fights cancelled on me.
Were you at all apprehensive before you fought in Pride?
I was so new to the game that I didn’t even realize what I was doing. Going in there, I just thought, “Hey, I’m just going in there to compete.” At the time, I had no idea who Nogueira was or who Arona was—I just knew that those guys were fighters. It was after the fact that I realized that those guys were tough guys that I had beaten. I went in there with no pressure and no stress about who I’m fighting.
Do you think, had you known, it would’ve gotten into your head?
I’m sure it would have; the pressure and the names would’ve affected me differently.
Do you feel taking on such tough competition right away helped your career?
It a sense, yes. After that, I had more exposure and more opportunities to get bigger fights. It helped me out a little bit.
Did you have any role-models in the sport when you first started?
Why is that?
Because he’d beat the piss out of me in practice [laughs].
Still. Believe it or not—he’s fucking old—but he still beats us. I feel embarrassed saying it, but, yeah.
How does it feel to train with an elite mixed martial artist like Dan?
It’s interesting. You think, every time, that you’ve got something to beat him up, but, every time, he comes back with something.
How many fights do you think Dan has left in him?
Dan is one of the guys, where, the harder he trains, the longer he’ll last. He will outlast many people—despite his age. I don’t know what it is, but I can tell you—every time he trains, he’s always there doing his thing. He will outlast younger people.
Have you ever thought about where you might be, had you not gotten called to train at Team Quest?
I’d probably be a security guard or a bouncer. I’d probably be shot, because I was working at a club. I remember one night I was working and a fight broke out and the dude had a gun. In the scramble, the gun landed right at my feet. After that night I was like, “Man, I don’t think this is something that I want to do for a very long time.” If it wasn’t for MMA, I’m sure someone would’ve shot me.
Was that a dangerous job?
Yeah. Unlike in MMA where there’s a referee and it’s a fair fight, with bouncing, you don’t know what the guy has got in his pocket, what he’s got in his trunk, why he’s coming out—you don’t know anything about who’s going to be showing up that night. It’s always dangerous. There’s always that one dude that wants to start trouble.
How thankful are you that you don’t have to deal with that anymore?
Oh, man. I cannot be thankful enough for that. Like I said, I’d probably be in my coffin today because of one stupid dude pulling out a gun and doing something stupid.
What do you fight?
I like it and, for me, it’s like playing a chess match, you know? When I beat someone up, I feel like I’ve done something constructive. It’s like I had to put something together and I worked for it with all of the hard-work I’ve put in.
How does it feel to have your hand raised?
It feels rewarding, you know? You bust your butt every day; going through training and through the stress, going through hell. At the end of the day, that’s just a good feeling.
What about when you come up short?
It depends. If you give it your all and you come up short—that happens—you just need to go home and make sure it doesn’t happen again. But, if you come in there and you suck and you don’t do what you train for...For me, it’s all about going there, giving 110 per cent, and then going home.
When you go there and you lose—without even showing up—that sucks worse than going in there and fighting well with the wrong strategy—then you go back and re-assess.
Have you ever thought about retiring after a loss?
It’s actually the opposite. Why would you retire after being beat [laughs]? For me to retire—it’s not going to be on a loss, for sure.
Why do you have to go out on a win?
When you see someone for the last time, the last thing you remember is the last image you had of that person. When you fight for the last time, you can’t get your ass kicked [laughs]! That’s not a good way to end your career.
Do you think when it’s time to retire you’ll have a tough time hanging your gloves up?
I think so. Even staying home one day without training, I feel like I have to be training. There are little things pushing me; you’ve got to do this and you’ve got to do that. I think I’ll have a hard time retiring.
Have you given any thought as to how much longer you’d like to compete?
As long as I can still remember my name [laughs].
That’s all it will take?
Yeah. I don’t want to in there and say, “Hey, my name is Soko...?” [Laughs] If I can’t remember my name anymore then I’m out.
Have you thought about what you might like to do when you’re done fighting?
Yeah, I’ve been going to school to learn some computer skills. Also, I’ve been training other guys, helping other guys get ready for fights. There are tonnes of opportunities out there. It will all play out when the time comes.
You’re going to school?
Well, I kind of took a break because I just opened up a gym in California and it’s taking up a lot of my time. When I have the right people in place, then I’ll go back to school.
You own your own gym now?
Yeah, it’s a Team Quest in Encinitas.
How does that feel?
Was that something that you were always interested in?
Yeah, it’s always a good thing to have a place that you call home, that you own, so you can have guys come in and help you out—it’s always good and it’s always something that’s been in my mind.
Do you do any coaching?
Not right now, because I’m getting ready for a fight. When I’m free and have nothing coming up, I teach classes and do some personal training.
Do you feel that there are any misconceptions of you?
Well, it’s simple; people see what they want to see and people think what they want to think. I’m the same person, but different people have different ideas of who I am. I don’t think there are any misconceptions; I just think people have different ways of dealing with people. People like you and people hate you, but that doesn’t bother me.
That doesn’t bother you?
Do you feel that you have a lot of fans?
I hope I do [laughs].
[Laughs] Do you get a lot of feedback from you fans?
Yeah! I don’t have a way to compare myself to other people, but I get a bunch of responses from the fans and people that watch me fight.
How would you like to be remembered by the fans?
I want to be remembered as someone who puts on great fights. That’s what’s important to me; getting in there and putting on a great show.