(This article first appeared on August 29, 2011 at BJJ-Asia.com)
L: Hi Ole, thanks for taking the time to speak with me. Congratulations on signing to the new and ambitious One FC promotion in Singapore. I’m very sorry to hear that you sustained an injury in training that has kept you from fighting as the co-main event in the inaugural show. Can you tell me about the injury and what’s your recovery time?
OL: I messed up in training while doing takedowns. During a really hot session, I slid in sweat and popped my knee. However, it’s not as bad as I first thought. I need a month’s rest though before can start training again. So that’s why I couldn’t do the fight.
L: That’s a disappointment to your fans, but I’m sure they will be more than happy to wait and see a healthy Ole back in the ring for the next One FC. You don’t need much of an introduction to fight fans, so I’ll just give a short background for them. You’re fighting out of your own gym, Legacy in Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand. In the world of kickboxing and Muay Thai, you are a household name; you’ve fought in K-1, Shoot Boxing and the King’s Cup. You’ve fought the biggest names in your division, including Buakaw, Andy Souwer, Masato. Then you transitioned into MMA with your first fight in Hero’s in 2006. Is that about the time you opened Legacy?
OL: Actually, no, I had already opened my MMA gym in Thailand when I got the call asking if I wanted to fight Genki Sudo [at K-1’s “Hero’s” promotion branching into MMA]. I trained my ass off and did OK but lost. K-1 signed me, but they wanted me to fight in K-1 Max kickboxing not MMA, so I ended up doing a few Max fights.
L: You did more than “OK”! You got thrown right into the deep end of the pool with Genki Sudo. That was an extremely fun fight to watch! Every time I see a Genki highlight video with him jumping on you, I scream “But Ole did it first – three times!” You took everyone by surprise and you took Genki to a draw after two rounds. After the third, the decision went to Genki – you are one of only two fighters to take him to a decision. After that first amazing fight, what was going on in your head?
OL: I was high on happy vibe. I wanted more!
L: Right on! But long before that fight, you already wanted to fight MMA. In 2002 you trained with BJ Penn in Hawaii.
OL: I actually had my first amateur MMA fight when I was just 18 or 19 years old. The fight was in Sweden. It was open palm strikes and rope escapes. I lost by armbar.
L: What were your initial feelings when you started training BJJ and adding it to your stand-up game?
OL: I’ve loved ‘groundskillz’ from day one. I’ve always been a fan and supporter of MMA and was always enlightened by my brother who was always aware of it. Back then, he was already a good fighter and an MMA nerd. He got me started.
L: That’s interesting. You’ve had a great career as a stand up fighter yet you’ve liked MMA from the beginning. Let’s talk more about how your career in combat sports has evolved to now. You’re an active fighter, but your primary role is running your own gym. Tell me about Legacy and some of the coaches you have there to train with.
OL: My Thai coaches are local heroes; they all have had a million fights. I try to learn from them always. They know I fight MMA and by now they understand it. At the moment, my MMA coach is Vaughn “Mr Blud” Anderson from the Art Of War organization in China.
L: Can you tell me about the guys on your fight team who are representing Legacy at the MMA events? I know some of them have amazing backgrounds.
OL: Anyone passing through my gym can end up fighting if that’s what they want. I usually take the guys who are willing to fight all around Asia to fight. Besides that, I do have my own small team. One of my Muay Thai fighters is notorious, Hampus Larsson from Sweden. And there’s Malik Mawlayi from Afghanistan, and of course my MMA coach Vaughn Anderson.
L: Malik definitely has the heart of a fighter, having grown up in war-ravaged Kabul until his family was able to resettle in Sweden. And I think if you live anywhere in Asia and you don’t know Vaughn, you don’t know MMA. Art of War in China was one of the first MMA promotions outside of Japan, and Vaughn was there training in China full time. In 2007 you joined AOW also. In two fights with them, you finished your opponents in the first round. You’ve fought all over the world, but MMA was still in it’s infancy in China. What was your opinion of the level of fighters in China at that time?
OL: The level of the Chinese fighters back then was excellent standing, but on the ground they were green. However, these days they are not!
L: That’s great to hear about their progression. Has MMA in all of Asia experienced this rapid progression?
OL: China, and all of Asia, is on a rise in this sport. MMA fighters are getting better and new fighters are coming up and raising the bar in Asia. New fans have been gained to our sport, and because of that, new world-class promotions are coming up. MMA is on the rise in Asia.
L: This is very good to hear. In 2010 you joined another Asia-based promotion, Martial Combat in Singapore. You won the Superfight Lightweight title with a rear naked choke. You have proven to be a very complete fighter - you’re on a 5-straight win streak and you’ve finished those fights with both subs and KO’s. However, it seems you really like to ground and pound! Your next match was set with Eduard Folayang, who is a champion in URCC and Martial Combat. I think it would have been a great fight since Eduard has shown that he’s well-rounded and likes the ground and pound as well. A Sol Kwon has stepped up to take your place. He’s 17-6-0 with 9 KOs and on a 5 win streak. I’m sure you’ve studied Folayang, but do you know the Korean? How do you see this fight going?
OL: I don’t really know much about the Korean fighter, but may the best man win.
L: That’s a very sporting attitude. Do you still want to fight Folayang, or is there anyone else you’d like a go at on the next One card?
OL: I never actually ‘wanted’ to fight Folayang. I’m a fighter. I fight who is in the cage with me.
L: Yes, there’s been a lot of press up to this event about the two of you fighting – Filipino versus Filipino – and Folayang has also taken the high road and expressed the same sentiments as you. Now he’s facing a Korean, bringing our circle of international competitors closer. Do you think the One FC card will accurately represent the level of Asian MMA fighters when it’s broadcast to the west?
OL: I would like to think so. We’re doing our best to be the best and show ourselves to the world.
L: Who do you see as some of the best Asian fighters to watch?
OL: Of course there are already Asian MMA legends, but I like to watch all the new generation: the Chinese fighters, Thai fighters, Filipino fighters, Indonesians. There is a lot of new talent coming up.
L: Are there any improvements that can be made in the promotions happening around Asia now?
OL: I think they’re doing it right, growing it with the audience.
L: Well since you have a huge international following already, I am sure that you and Legacy Gym will make a great contribution to the sport of MMA in Asia. Thank you for giving me your time, and I hope you heal up quickly and get back in the ring soon so all of your fans can see a great fighter in action!
OL: Thank you so much, and thanks to my guys in camp at www.legacygym.com and thanks to my sponsor for always giving me best fight shorts in the industry, www.groundskillz.com.