It doesn’t seem like long ago that Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou (11-8) had beaten two of the best light heavyweights in the world, working his way into the top ten and becoming arguably the hottest prospect in mixed martial arts.
Times have changed for the Team Quest fighter, but after stints in the UFC and Strikeforce, Sokoudjou’s working his way back up and showing that the talent we all saw in 2007 is still there.
Sokoudjou is fresh off of a title-winning performance at KSW 15 in Warsaw, Poland on March 19, where he stopped Jan Blachowicz (12-3) courtesy of some nasty leg kicks. He’s always had good striking to go along with his strong Judo background, but Sokoudjou told ProMMAnow.com that he wasn’t planning to have so much success with his leg strikes.
“I was a little surprised when I kicked him and he didn’t check them the first few times,” Sokoudjou said. “Reading his bio, he claimed to be a Muay Thai multiple world title holder. I was a little surprised he wasn’t able to block or do anything on those.”
Gradually wearing down an opponent over two rounds, Sokoudjou showed the strategic, more relaxed approach he’s adopted.
At PRIDE 33 in February 2007, Sokoudjou stepped in to face established contender Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. With only a 2-1 record at the time, Sokoudjou was a huge underdog, with money lines starting at +1200 and higher for those willing to bet cash on the newcomer. To put that in perspective, the odds on Sokoudjou were higher than the odds for Matt Serra to beat Georges St. Pierre at UFC 69.
In only 23 seconds, Sokoudjou knocked Nogueira out cold. He did the same thing six weeks later to former PRIDE standout Ricardo Arona in 1 minute and 59 seconds. Winning so easily against top-level competition, Sokoudjou said that he often over-exerted himself in fights, emptying his gas tank and faltering down the stretch.
“Yeah, because in the past, for me, MMA was get in there, go balls out and kill the other guy,” he said. “But I’ve learned that when you do that, you’re not going last too long. So I’ve trained myself to relax and take my time.”
Sokoudjou added, “I guess I got overconfident and thought I could hit anybody and knock them out in a second. So coming back, I was just trying to do the same thing. I figured if I did it once, twice, why can’t I do it three times or the rest of my fights?”
Since 2010, Sokoudjou has won four of his last six.
“Obviously my game has improved, but I think my problem is more about making sure I do what I need to do and not being stupid and trying to knock people out so quickly.”
Asked whether he’s motivated to get back into the UFC, Sokoudjou said that he keeps his goals much more simple.
“I don’t want to be the kind of guy who wants to be in the big show, and then once you’re in the big show, then goes, I’m here so screw it,” he said. “My goal is to win every single fight, whether it’s in the UFC or anywhere else.
“I enjoy what I’m doing; I want to go in there, put up a good show, beat up some people, and go home.”
Besides Sokoudjou’s cardio, some critics have also wondered whether he’s properly utilized his impressive Judo skills in his MMA fights. He said that he doesn’t ignore his Judo game, but he does think about where he’ll have an advantage over his opponents.
While one could argue that he should employ more trips and throws, when you’re fighting the likes of Arona, Nogueira, Lyoto Machida, and Renato “Babalu” Sobral — all Jiu Jitsu black belts — taking the fight to the mat isn’t always the smartest idea.
“You got to look at the guys I’ve fought,” he said. “Fighting Nogueira, Arona, why the hell do I need to take them to the ground? That’s asking for suicide. It all depends on the opponent. If I get a guy I know I can throw to the ground without putting myself in danger, I’ll use my Judo. I don’t go there to show people I know Judo. I go there to win the fight. I’ve heard all of that, but it’s about making sure I have the proper strategy.”
As for what’s next, Sokoudjou said he could defend his KSW title at KSW 16 on May 21, though nothing is set yet.
“Hopefully I can get in there before I get bored here at home,” he said. “My goal is to fight as many times as I can.”
Of course, the UFC’s recent purchase of Strikeforce has raised the question of whether fighters outside of the major promotion will have fewer options. Sokoudjou gave his thoughts on the news, adding that he wouldn’t be surprised if another major promotion surfaces down the road.
After fighting for PRIDE before the Japanese organization sold its assets to UFC-parent company Zuffa and dissolved, Sokoudjou made three appearances in the Octagon. Then he moved on to fight for Affliction, which didn’t last long but made a lot of noise.
Following the end of Affliction, Sokoudjou appeared in Strikeforce shortly after it established itself as the number two North American promotion. So there are plenty of precedents for new major competitors to enter a rapidly growing sport.
“One goes away, there’s another one that comes up; there’s always room for other people to come in,” Sokoudjou said. “What are you going to do? All I can say is I got to keep fighting and see what comes my way.”
Sokoudjou has a new Team Quest gym located in Encinitas, Calif. Sokoudjou said that you can stop by and get a free week of training to check things out and work with the MMA veteran himself.