Having seen his share of ups and downs in the UFC’s welterweight division, Jess “The Joker” Liaudin looks to get back to his winning ways by dropping to lightweight this Saturday at UFC 89. MMARated’s Jeffrey Lee recently caught up with the French fighter to get his thoughts on his opponent, his weight cut and a new documentary about his life.
Jeffrey Lee: First off Jess, you’re less than a week out from the fight. How is your conditioning at this point?
Jess Liaudin: Right now my conditioning feels great; I am in tip-top shape, even better than the last time. This time around I had a nine-week training camp and I was in shape way ahead of schedule. Now I just have to wait and see (if) the weight cutting is going to have any impact into my ability to go 100 percent for three rounds.
Jeffrey Lee: You’re making your debut as a lightweight, what are you currently weighing right now?
Jess Liaudin: I just arrived in London so my weight was up a little. I am back at 170 pounds but was around 165 pounds, 168 pounds last week. I should be around 168 pounds in a couple of days and wake up at 165 on weigh-in day as planned. I started my camp at 187, but had a great diet and didn't cheat once in nine weeks. It’s the last week now, so I should keep strong. It was very hard not to be able to eat what I want, when I want.
Jeffrey Lee: What ultimately made you choose to go down to 155 pounds?
Jess Liaudin: For the past year and a half (I’ve) been training in the US, everybody always told me that I was a 155-pound (fighter). I just felt good at 170 pounds and not weak, so I decided to stay at that weight. But after my last two losses I decided to drop to lightweight to start something new and fresh.
Jeffrey Lee: How was your training camp for this fight?
Jess Liaudin: I trained at Cobra-Kai down Victorville, Calif. again. My last camp was great and this one is even better. In my last camp I learned to deal with the way the team was working, training and doing things. So this time around I knew what to expect physically and mentally. It’s a very hard gym to train at, the sessions are very hard and not always easy to deal with. (Coach) Irvin Bounds really polished my boxing and finished what he started in my last camp. I feel that my boxing is 100 times better and stronger. Joe (Stevenson) really helped me on my wrestling and grappling and I am very strong in those areas now, too. Besides that, a lot of sparring and ass-kicking for over two months, so I am glad it’s over.
Jeffrey Lee: Many fighters have debuted in new weight classes and seemed to gas and tire-out quickly. Is this something you're concerned about?
Jess Liaudin: It does happen yes, because you never really know how your body is going to react. I am not thinking about it, really. I’ve been cutting lots of weight progressively in my camp so I only have less than 10 pounds to lose on the day of the weigh-in. I won’t come back very big on fight day but it won’t shock my body either, so it shouldn't have a big impact on my conditioning.
Jeffrey Lee: What area of your game do you think has improved the most since your last fight in June?
Jess Liaudin: My boxing and wrestling. It’s not that I didn't know how to box or wrestle but now it’s way, way better and so more technical. I can hide my punch better, I have better balance but also so much more power and my wrestling has been improving in so many areas too, from takedown defense, to cage control or even simple takedowns. For someone who never wrestled at school, I am pretty good now and I surprise a lot of people including good wrestlers, trust me.
Jeffrey Lee: Speaking of your fight this Saturday, what are your thoughts on your opponent, David Bielkheden?
Jess Liaudin: He’s pretty tough and well rounded. He likes to ground and pound and he’s pretty good at it. He’s got some good wrestling and stand up skills too, but not as technical as mine, he’s just more powerful. But you can’t use power for 15 minutes. He’s also a good grappler and a black belt in BJJ, but I am not planning to make this a grappling match. He’s a very good and dangerous opponent. I just think that I am more experienced and have better, more well-rounded skills
Jeffrey Lee: In his last bout, he was decisively stopped by Diego Sanchez in the first round. Did you see anything in that fight you’ll hope to key off and be successful with as well?
Jess Liaudin: I saw the fight the first time (it aired) but didn't watch it again. I think he was overwhelmed by all the things. He was fighting for the first time in the US and in front of someone very good who had something to prove, so it wasn't an easy task and we didn't see the best of his skills. So, for those reasons it wasn’t worth me watching the fight again. I know what he’s good at but most of all, what I am good at and how much better I am. So I just concentrate on myself and make sure I perform to the best of my abilities and just go through him.
Jeffrey Lee: In what areas do you think you have an advantage over him?
Jess Liaudin: My stand up is more technical and I think my wrestling too. I am not planning to stay on my back and play the grappling game. I just want to punch him from every angle I can, (during) stand up and on the ground.
Jeffrey Lee: How do you see this fight playing out?
Jess Liaudin: I don’t like prediction because afterwards, you feel like you have to live up to it and there is always something different that happens in a fight that you didn't expect. My only prediction is that I am going to win and show some great, new skills and surprise a lot of people.
Jeffrey Lee: Do you feel any added pressure to win this fight in order to stick around in the UFC?
Jess Liaudin: Nope. Every fighter always wants to win, you’re never gonna hear anybody say, "I've got five wins in a row so it’s OK if I lose.” As a competitor you want to win every single fight and this one isn't any different.
Jeffrey Lee: How many more fights do you have left on your UFC contract?
Jess Liaudin: Right now I have two fights left but after this win, we will renew my contract.
Jeffrey Lee: Switching topics a little, I heard you’re starring in a documentary based on your own life. Can you tell us about it?
Jess Liaudin: The documentary is about my background in the martial arts world but also explains my hard childhood, from being homeless at 14 to leaving France and traveling the world in the quest of learning new skills. We also explain what MMA is and why there is a problem with the sport in France. It’s a 60 minute documentary and it took two years to make. Those guys have been following me around for about a year and they got footage of me fighting as a teenager but also training in the US and many other things. The documentary was on TV in Belgium last week and it will be on primetime TV in France. Unfortunately the version on the French TV got edited because they didn't want to show certain parts, like the introduction of the UFC (with various fight footage) and the part when we talk about the ban in France on TV. They’re now working on the DVD release.
Jeffrey Lee: All of your fights in the UFC have been in the UK. Are you most comfortable fighting in front of your UK fans? Would you like to fight outside of the UK?
Jess Liaudin: I guess it’s because I’ve got a big following in the UK, but also in Europe. I am not saying that my name sells most of the tickets in the arena, but it does attract some MMA fans that are familiar with my name. So I guess that’s the reason why the UFC gets me to fight on the UK shows every time. It would be nice to fight in the US though, just for the simple fact that I train and live there most of the time now.
Jeffrey Lee: Finally, if you win on Saturday, what do you hope to prove in the minds of MMA fans?
Jess Liaudin: I don’t have to prove anything to anybody but myself. I don’t fight so people like me or think I am cool or get into the VIP area in the club. I fight because I’ve been doing it since I was 16 and I have a competitive personality. I don’t want to be the one that doesn’t do anything and just talks shit on forums or behind people’s back because of frustration. So I step up and test myself in a cage or ring, sometime successfully, other times not so much. But, at least I am happy with myself because I am doing it and give it 100 percent.