2004 Olympian prepares for MMA career – Pro MMA Now exclusive interview with Rhadi Ferguson

He has a PhD in education, he is an Olympian Judoka,he is a BJJ black belt under Ricardo Liborio, he’s an Abu Dhabi veteran, he is a strength and conditioning coach for some of the world’s top athletes, and he’s the cousin of Kimbo Slice.

His name is Rhadi Ferguson, and he has decided to take the same talent, mentality and gifted athleticism that has taken him to the peak of excellence in so many other fields, and apply it to becoming a pro mixed martial arts fighter.

With ties to such schools as American Top Team, Team Lloyd Irvin, American Kickboxing Academy, and Nashville MMA, Rhadi has built a network of friends, athletes, training partners, and teachers that will help make his transition into MMA as smooth and as successful as possible. He knows it will take a lot of work, and that is something he is used to. Pro MMA Now (www.prommanow.com) spoke to Rhadi on Wednesday about his decision to enter the world of professional MMA.

PRO MMA NOW: Hi Rhadi, thank you for speaking with us at Pro MMA Now (www.prommanow.com). Could you tell us about your Judo background, how you got into Judo, and how you got to the level of representing the U.S. at the 2004 Summer Olympics?
RHADI FERGUSON:  I started Judo at the age of seven in Miami, Fla. in an elementary school program. Then I went on to train with a guy by the name of Jack Williams at Miami Day Community College until I was 13. And then my parents moved up north to Pennsylvania, then to Maryland, and I did not return to the sport of Judo until I was 22-years-of-age. At 22, I accepted a job at Texas Instruments that was located in Massachusetts, and I began to train with Jimmy Pedro, a four-time Olympian. From the age of 22 on, I ended up becoming an Olympic alternate in 2000, and then becoming an Olympian in 2004. After quitting my job at Texas Instruments, I ended up moving to the Olympic Training Center, and trained under 1984 Bronze Medalist Eddie Liddie. That’s where I really learned the importance of strategy and tactics in the areas of combat and judo. And due to hard work and dedication, studying, and becoming a student of the sport, I was able to excel.

PRO MMA NOW: Did you play any other sports growing up?
RHADI FERGUSON: In college I wrestled, I ran track, and I played football.

PRO MMA NOW: Now you have also competed at Abu Dhabi and are a BJJ black belt. When did you start getting involved with BJJ and who is your primary trainer?
RHADI FERGUSON: I started getting involved with jiu-jitsu in 1998, and my instructor at that time was Lloyd Irvin. Lloyd Irvin instructed me all the way from my white belt to brown belt. And I received my black belt from Ricardo Liborio. I ended up moving to south Florida after the Olympics, and I began training down at American Top Team.

PRO MMA NOW: You have competed in Judo and BJJ at the highest levels, what would you say are the main differences in the two martial arts?
RHADI FERGUSON: The differences in the two arts are the rules, basically. Both arts have some of the same stuff in them, but the evolution of the arts is so, based upon the rules. That’s it, that’s the difference. Both are difficult to do, both take a lot of practice, a lot of skill. Both take a lot of “stick-to-it-iveness.” And both require you to really study if you want to achieve the highest levels.

PRO MMA NOW: Talk to me a little bit about the influence Lloyd Irvin has had on you?
RHADI FERGUSON: Lloyd is an absolutely excellent competitor, was a great training partner. I would like to think I was a good student of his, because he was definitely a good student of mine. I was able to teach him judo and he taught me Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I think he’s the best person I ever taught judo to, ever, even won the national championships in judo.

PRO MMA NOW: You say he was the best you taught, because of his ability?
RHADI FERGUSON: No not because of his ability, because he studies. He studies like nobody else. And I really appreciate that because I do that on the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu side. The one thing about Lloyd I really learned from when I was training and practicing and being taught by him was that during practice you really got to have your game face on at all times. You know, if you bump your head, or hurt your elbow, or catch a cramp in your stomach, or a stitch in your side, or something like that, you don’t show it you don’t stop, you just keep rolling. Sometimes in the judo culture, every time somebody bumps their head, or bumps their arm, or bumps their elbow, they stop and they hold their boo boo, and they rub it out, know what I mean? Lloyd doesn’t do that. He’s balls to the wall, 100 percent. He’s one of the toughest dudes I ever rolled with, without a doubt. Not only one of the best, one of the toughest.

PRO MMA NOW: What separates his style of jiu-jitsu from some of the other teachers?
RHADI FERGUSON: It’s more systematic. It follows a distinct curriculum. Lloyd brings in professionals and hires professionals to help with his curriculum, and to help him with his training. He’s hired me and brought me in to help teach some of the grip fighting to his students, and the throws, and the takedowns, also some of the strength and conditioning stuff. He’s hired other professionals to teach what they know. He understands that he doesn’t know everything, but that his students need to be exposed to everything. And he makes sure he has the resources and all to expose them to the best training possible.

PRO MMA NOW: You are also a strength and conditioning coach, is that right?

PRO MMA NOW: Who are some of the fighters you’ve worked with?
RHADI FERGUSON: I’ve worked with Brandon Vera, I’ve worked with Jeff Monson. I had the opportunity to work with Taraje Williams-Murray, the two-time Olympian (Judo). I’ve worked with track and field athletes, NFL football players, I work with a lot of individuals.

PRO MMA NOW: I read where you did some work with Bobby Lashley, is that right?
RHADI FERGUSON: Yes. I helped him set up what I call “Team Bobby,” making sure he had a nutritionist in place, a good orthopedic surgeon in place, a good internal medicine doctor in place, a good strength and conditioning coach in place, basically making sure he had his whole team in place, so that he has the support system around him, so that he can do what he needs to do; training partners, etc.

PRO MMA NOW: Is that guy as strong as he looks?
RHADI FERGUSON: Without a doubt. Without a doubt.

PRO MMA NOW: Did you get to see his fight this past weekend?
RHADI FERGUSON: I was at Strikeforce.

PRO MMA NOW: Oh okay. What did you think?
RHADI FERGUSON: I thought it was an excellent show. It was an absolutely phenomenal show. They did a really good job promoting it. The place was jammed packed. People were excited. It was good to see Herschel Walker in the ring. After watching him on the field for so many years, it was good to see him in the ring, no matter who his opponent was, it was good to see him.

PRO MMA NOW: What did you think about Bobby’s performance?
RHADI FERGUSON: It was what I expected. I wasn’t surprised at all. I can’t say that Bobby surprised me with something, because he didn’t. I trained with Bobby – Wes Sims couldn’t beat Bobby if Bobby had both legs and both arms bandaged up. It’s just not going to happen.

PRO MMA NOW: Now, the rumor is you are getting ready to take that Olympic level athletic ability and apply it to mixed martial arts competition – is that right?
RHADI FERGUSON: Well, my Olympic athletic ability is gone. I mean I’m definitely looking to use my brain and my mind and my athletic prowess and jump into the ring without a doubt. I think a lot of people forget these guys like Yoshida or myself, 50 years from now I’ll still be an Olympian, but that does not mean I will be in the same type of shape I was when I went to the Olympics. That’s damn near impossible. But I am looking at stepping into the ring and the cage.

PRO MMA NOW: Where have you been, and where will you be training your MMA?
RHADI FERGUSON:  I’ll train a little bit everywhere. I’m a member at American Top Team, but I believe in getting the best training possible. And I say that, for the individual. I mean, I believe in getting the best training possible for me. That means I will spend time training at American Top Team for sure. My friend, Dave Camarillo is out at AKA, I’ll probably go out there for a week or two. I’ll go see Lloyd Irvin for a week or two. I may go see Ed Clay for a week or two. And I’ll pop my head into some judo clubs every now and then to stay sharp. My main training base will probably be American Top Team. I also train at a place called Fighters Alley. I believe in creating positive relationships and a great network so you can train anywhere. I’m not the type of guy who thinks you should only train at one place. I don’t believe that. I come up from Judo, where, if you travel, like when you are in France, in Paris, at the Paris Open, you will go and train at the camp with all the people you will fight the next weekend. So it’s not like you’re trying to hide something, or you can’t train with other people. It wouldn’t make any difference if I trained with someone for four weeks and then fought them at the end of four weeks. That doesn’t make any difference. You’re supposed to be able to do that.

PRO MMA NOW: Is MMA just the natural progression of yourself as a competitive athlete – what made you decide you wanted to compete in MMA?
RHADI FERGUSON: Well, I always wanted to do it. I had some health issues I had to get resolved, but once I was okay, I jumped in. But is MMA a natural progression? No, not at all. MMA is an option. No. MMA is an option that I’m blessed to have. I would like to try it out. I think it will be fun. I think I can do well at it. I believe I can do well, and that’s just what it is.

PRO MMA NOW: What would you like to accomplish in the sport?
RHADI FERGUSON: I would like to win.

PRO MMA NOW: Good enough. I’m told that Ed Clay is going to manage your MMA career, is that correct?

PRO MMA NOW: How did you get hooked up with Ed?
RHADI FERGUSON: Ed is one of Lloyd’s associates as well, and was one of his students at the time, that’s how I met Ed Clay. Then I met him when I was grappling because he had a Gi company that sponsored me for a while.

PRO MMA NOW: Gameness, right?
RHADI FERGUSON:  Gameness, correct.

PRO MMA NOW: You mentioned we might see you possibly coming to Nashville MMA and training some. Obviously, they have Dave Herman down there, a big heavyweight, that’s done very well. Are you familiar with Dave, have you seen any of his fights?
RHADI FERGUSON: Yes I have. I’m looking forward to training with him. I’m not really sure when. My wife is in her ninth month of pregnancy.

PRO MMA NOW: Oh wow, congratulations.

PRO MMA NOW: Is it a boy or girl, do you know yet?
RHADI FERGUSON: It’s a girl.

PRO MMA NOW: Is this your first?
RHADI FERGUSON: Nope, second one. Got a boy and a girl.

PRO MMA NOW: Now you are a pretty big guy from what I could tell. What weight do you walk around at?

PRO MMA NOW: Is Howard Davis helping you with your hands at ATT?
RHADI FERGUSON: No. Howard is working with Chuck Liddell on The Ultimate Fighter right now.

PRO MMA NOW: Oh yeah, okay.
RHADI FERGUSON: I’m working up at Fighters Alley in Melbourne, Florida with Cesar Baraza, and a guy named Juan Aruamo. They are helping me with my hands. Jab, cross, and a left hook, that’s it.

PRO MMA NOW: Can you give us a possible date or a time period when we might see you in the cage?
RHADI FERGUSON: Probably sometime after July. I need some time to get myself in shape… I’m pretty rusty to say the least. I’m real rusty. A lot of my game was based upon explosive movements. With Lloyd, I learned a whole jump passing system, a lot of jump passing, which I don’t do now, because I’m not in the same amount of shape. My new jiu-jitsu coach has been teaching me a new tight jiu-jitsu game which I’ve been learning, but it’s a little different for me, now that I’m 34-years-old, getting ready to be 35 soon, training, lifting, and practice is different. It’s not the same anymore. It’s not balls to the wall all the time. It’s more of a scientific approach.

PRO MMA NOW: Obviously, your last name is Ferguson. There is another famous Ferguson in the sport  who is your cousin. For the record you want to tell us who that is?

PRO MMA NOW: Are you guys close, or were you close growing up?
RHADI FERGUSON: No, as a matter of fact, we have a mutual cousin that we are both close to, but our paths never crossed when we were younger. As we got older and sat down and talked, he was always over at my aunt Ethel’s house every time I wasn’t over there and vice versa. We just ended up missing each other, that’s just how it went.

PRO MMA NOW: What’s your opinion of what he’s done with his career?
RHADI FERGUSON: Absolutely fantastic.

PRO MMA NOW: He’s come a long way from the Youtube days huh?
RHADI FERGUSON: Yeah, a long way. He’s very humble, very respectful, just a good all around guy, man. Mo Lawal was joking with me last weekend at Strikeforce calling me “little Kimbo,” and I was like, “you know what, that’s a compliment,” because if he wasn’t winning and just losing and he wasn’t any good, there would be no reason to say anything like that. He moved the sport forward. I remember when I watched him fight at one of the events in Miami, he brought a different demographic to the sport that didn’t come out to the UFC, that didn’t come out to watch MMA events, and that’s huge. All the sudden when Kimbo fights you see the rainbow of colors inside the arena, which you normally wouldn’t see, and that’s great for the sport, itt’s great for people, it’s great for society, it’s great man.

PRO MMA NOW: Just like Brock brought in people from a different demographic, so did Kimbo.
RHADI FERGUSON: That’s right, and I hope to bring in people from a different demographic. I’ll probably be the only PhD in the game.

PRO MMA NOW: Thank you so much Rhadi for taking the time to speak with us at Pro MMA Now (www.prommanow.com). I think you are going to bring something new and fresh to MMA’s heavyweight division, I can’t wait to see you in there, and I look forward to following your fight career. Is there anyone you would like to thank, or would you like to send any shout-outs?
RHADI FERGUSON: I’d like to thank my wife, Traci Ferguson, for giving me the opportunity to peruse this other option.