I had the opportunity to sit down with Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Bobby Southworth at the world class American Kickboxing Academy to discuss his upcoming title defense with Renato “Babalu” Sobral.
The Strikeforce champ became a household name after participating on the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter. It was Bobby, not Matt Serra, who was the first TUF veteran to obtain championship gold in a major promotion.
Even though Southworth has faced such great fighters as Vitor Belfort, James Irvin and others, on Friday he will have the toughest fight of his nine year career when he steps into the cage with “Babalu”.
Just two days before the big night, the Champ looked nothing short of confident and determined while rolling up his hand wraps in the back of the gym.
There was no trash talk from Southworth, no big ego, for him it’s just business and respect.
He carries himself in the gym with the integrity of a champion. No matter what the outcome may be at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California this Friday night; no one will ever take that away from Bobby Southworth.
PRO MMA: Bobby thank you for sitting down with us today.
Bobby Southworth: Thank you for having me it’s a pleasure.
PRO MMA: Did the injury that kept you from fighting Babalu back in September affect your training camp?
Bobby Southworth: No, I went through a lot of rehab and exercise to strengthen and stabilize my knee. It needs surgery, unfortunately I’m not able to have it at this time and I’m just making the best of it.
PRO MMA: It has been said that this will be the biggest challenge in your career. What is it about this fight that makes it the the toughest test in your career?
Bobby Southworth: Babalu is a well-rounded fighter. He has excellent striking, wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu. He has also faced a lot of the top competition. He’s fought Fedor, Big Nog and Liddell twice. I’ve got 17 fights and he’s got forty something fights…he’s got more experience against better competition. It’s the toughest fight of my career, no doubt. Babalu was fighting before I was and I’ve always been a fan of his. It’s going to be an honor to fight him.
PRO MMA: How has your training and career prepared you for this fight?
Bobby Southworth: We have a great stable of fighters here at AKA and a lot of world class trainers. They work really hard on putting together a really good game plan for me to implement during the fight. I went out and hired a strength and conditioning coach and nutritionist to make sure that I have the best strength to body mass ratio that I can and getting the best nutrients in me. That stuff and nine years of fighting and preparing to fight have gotten me to this point. It is something I am ready for and anticipating. I’m looking forward to it.
PRO MMA: How do you think your ground game stacks up against his?
Bobby Southworth: It’s hard to say. I’ve been doing Jiu-Jitsu for thirteen years now. I’ve taught and trained some of the best Jiu-Jitsu practitioners to come out of Northern California. I actually happened to be one of the first guys to teach BJ Penn, Dave Camarillo and Cameron Earl. Even though BJ and Dave have surpassed me and become my instructors, I have a lot of experience and have seen a lot of the games out there. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I know Babalu trains with Josh Barnett and I imagine if he throws something new at me it’s gonna be more catch wrestling then Jiu-Jitsu. He’s coming out of Gracie Barra, that’s an academy where they have fifteen to twenty black belts on the mat…obviously I haven’t had that advantage but we have two or three black belts training in our gym and several guys that have won No-Gi world titles at blue and purple belt. Some high division one wrestlers too. Those guys have been working with him and I feel prepared for wherever the fight is going to go.
PRO MMA: What advantages do you think you will have in this fight?
Bobby Southworth: That is hard to say with Babalu being the more experienced fighter and having faced the better competition. This is going to be my sixth or seventh five rounder…(laughs) I don’t really want to fight five rounds again, fighting five rounds seems like an eternity. If the fight goes into the later rounds I have a lot of experience with pacing and little tricks to squeak rounds out while conserving my energy.
PRO MMA: Your last bout with Anothny Ruiz went five rounds. Did you learn anything about yourself in that fight?
Bobby Southworth: (laughs) The only thing I learned is that five rounds is something that I don’t want to go through again. It’s hard to say…Anthony is a tough fighter and I was very durable, trying to put him away. I caught him with some pretty good shots and put some submission holds on him. I heard his joints cracking on some of the things I had him in and he’s just iron-willed and tough as nails and refused to tap or go down. I learned that no matter what, if the guy keeps coming that I am going to be prepared to put it on him for five rounds.
PRO MMA: A lot of fans and critics consider Sobral to be the heavy favorite and some have gone as far to say that it’s a guaranteed win for him. Does that affect your mindset at all leading up to the fight?
Bobby Southworth: Reading and doing interviews like these isn’t something that I really concern myself with, so I haven’t read or heard anything that Babalu said….and I’m not really concerned with that. I’m just concerned with what I am going to do and how I am going to perform while I’m in the cage with him.
PRO MMA: You stated in a recent interview that you continue to keep maturing in your career. At nearly 39 years old how are you able to do that?
Bobby Southworth: I think it is the consistency of the training that is offered here at American Kickboxing Academy. I think one of the benefits of being an MMA athlete is that there is no season. I think that is one of those things that hurts athletes in a lot of the mainstream sports is that they have a season. When their season is done they’re done and they don’t do anything until it’s time to come back and get ready for the season. So they’re sitting around for four, five or six months out of the year…then get ready, prepare for three months and have a three month season. In MMA there is no season, you’re training year round. I own a Martial Arts academy and I have one hundred and eighty students. So I’m always on the mat rolling and teaching. Even in my down time when I don’t have a fight scheduled I’m always in the gym training with these young, up and coming, exceptional fighters. I don’t take a lot of time off and I think that is one thing that has helped me to grow. It doesn’t mean that I’m getting faster or stronger, but I’m learning new skills and technique. My conditioning is getting better and being pushed by these young up and coming guys is always a benefit to me.
PRO MMA: How is the fight going to play out on Friday?
Bobby Southworth: Everybody always ask you to make a prediction and I don’t like to make predictions. I’m not really a big talker. A lot of people don’t understand that I’m a guy who is a big fan of the sport just like everyone else who is watching. I’m a guy who did Jiu-Jitsu and had some success in competition and was offered an opportunity to compete in MMA and at the time it was NHB (no-holds-barred). I had some success early on and it snowballed from there. I’m just a fan who’s had several opportunities presented to him and I’ve taken advantage of them. I’m just enjoying the ride, I have no predictions. I take it fight to fight. My goal is to keep this belt, it’s Babalu’s goal to obtain it and who ever comes in with more will, more skill and determination is the guy who’s gonna come out on top Friday.
PRO MMA: Bobby is there anything you’d like to say to your fans?
Bobby Southworth: I’d like to thank everyone out there that’s a Bobby Southworth fan who’s supported me and sent me that positive energy. I’d like to thank my sponsors. I’d like to thank Cage Fighter, MMA Authentic. Sherdog.com, Shocker Nutrition. Score Clinic for patching me up and keeping this old bag of bones going. I’d like to thank my trainer J.A. at Optimum Results Fitness. If there’s anyone else that I forgot to mention I apologize and I’ll try to get you in when I get the chance.
PRO MMA: Bobby thank you for joining us today!
Bobby Southworth: My pleasure, thank you for having me!