From the X Games to MMA X-Factor: A 411 MMA Exclusive Conversation with Mike Budnik
Posted by Todd Bergman on 02.28.2009
On Sunday night March 1st, Mike Budnik will make his third fighting appearance under the WEC banner. Mike recently took time out of his busy training schedule to sit down with 411 Mania’s Todd Bergman to discuss his X-Games career, being a scratch-level golfer, his obsession with Jiu-Jitsu, his previous fights and his upcoming fight at WEC 39, plus much more.
Todd Bergman: So before talking about your current career in MMA, let's go back to your previous career. You're an X-Games veteran along with being an X-Games medalist. What made you jump from the X-Games to MMA?
Mike Budnik: It wasn't something that I did consciously, like man MMA is cool, let me go do that. I actually jumped from the X-Games type stuff and me and my wife settled down and had kids. I've been in the gym business for awhile and I've ran a lot of gyms all over the country. One of my assistant managers was taking Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and I wrestled back in High School and I was like man that looks like fun let me give that a try. I had the itch to do something and I was getting kind of fat and just wanted to do something so I rolled with him one day and he was a skinny little 135lbs guy and I thought that I was just going to be able to throw him around and beat him up, but he just tooled me for about three hours and I was instantly hooked. I did Jiu-Jitsu for about two years before I took any fights or anything like that. I just kind of started there.
TB: Was learning Jiu-Jitsu something that came easily to you or was it a skill that you really acquired over time?
MB: I wouldn't say that it was easy because there's always that learning curve. I took to it pretty quickly. I had a wrestling background so I was comfortable grappling and I was far enough removed from wrestling that I really didn't have any bad habits like most of the guys who are wrestling currently who go straight into Jiu-Jitsu [and] make a lot of the same mistakes. I hadn't wrestled in fifteen years so it wasn't like I was wrestling everyday. And the next day, I tried Jiu-Jitsu. I had a great instructor who was a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu black belt, and I learned from day one. Once I got hooked on it, I was gung ho about it. I was going to class something like nine times a week. I was going during lunch breaks, I was going after work, plus I was taking like three private lessons a week. So I dove into the deep end right off the bat.
TB:Now while you were competing in the X-Games and rollerblading, did you ever watch MMA?
MB: Oh yeah. I graduated high school ages ago, back in 1992, which was right about when the original one started with Royce Gracie. Being a littler guy back in high school, I wrestled at 119lbs. I'm sitting there watching the show and there's this guy on TV who weights 160 something pounds fighting a guy that weights 260lbs. and it looks like he's in trouble. I didn't really understand what was going on and out of no where he freaking ends up choking the heavier guy out or breaking his arm or something crazy like that. I've be been a huge fan but there was little time in between the first couple of events to where things started gaining a little bit more popularity that I didn't really follow it, but I was a huge Royce Gracie fan back in the day.
TB: I was a huge Gracie fan myself. Moving on a little bit here, something that I've read about you is that you aspired to be a pro golfer? Did something stop you from obtaining that goal?
MB: No, I actually competed professionally in a few tournaments, not PGA tour level or anything. I played a few mini-tour events and I definitely had the skill, I guess you would say to make it as a professional, it's just so expensive. My first daughter was born in 2004 and that was (laughs) the last time that I ever played golf. I still play every now and then and I can still shoot and I can still compete at a scratch level. Even to enter a tournament, it just cost a fortune. I was spending something like $7,000 a month in expenses that had to do with golf. As soon as my gym came about I had to re-prioritize what I was doing and move on.
Budnik stops Ryan Robinson
TB: Do your kids and your wife watch you fight or is it something that you tell your kids after the fact?
MB: My wife has been at every one of my fights except for one because she was out of town. She's a huge fan of the sport, not just me. She watches all the Pay-Per views and she just really loves the sport. My kids have only been to one fight and it's the one fight that I lost. (Laughs) I'm not sure that I will be bringing them to anymore. They are still young and I have three kids now: two girls and a boy, and they are all under four years old, so they don't really understand what is going on.
TB: When your kids grown up is practicing BJJ, or boxing something that you want them to do, or are you like Matt Hughes and don't want your kids in the sport?
MB: Oh definitely. I'm hoping someday to run my own school and with my background in the gym business, I have hopes to open my own gym, not just an MMA or a Jiu-Jitsu gym but a full gym. Maybe not MMA for the kids because MMA is a little bit of a different angle, but I think that everybody in the world should at least spend some time and learn how to defend themselves. And I'm totally biased towards Jiu-Jitsu. I will have my son and even my girls go through Jiu-Jitsu just for the self-defense aspect of it.
TB: So this brings us up to your fight career. You signed with the WEC and you have a record of 1-1 under their banner. Your first fight in the WEC was a victory against Greg McIntyre. I'm not sure if you knew at the time but there was a lot of talk on message boards about how he was a Dean Lister Jiu-Jitsu guy and how supposedly he was going to school you. With that said, how did it feel to finish him by submission?
"It's definitely one of my prouder moments" (Budnik on choking out Greg McIntyre)
MB: It's definitely one of my prouder moments. That dude is a beast and I'm not going to lie to you. I've never been so overwhelmed with somebody on top of me before. I don't want to pat myself on the back but I consider myself one of the stronger guys out there at 155. I hold my own and my amateur fights were at 170 and I held my own there. Normally when I compete in Jiu-Jitsu, I compete at 170, and that dude is just a monster. If you watch in-between the second and third round, you could kind of see it in both of our eyes that he was kind of done. I really just relied on my cardio but I still don't think that I'm any better than him. The fact that I choked him out came down to cardio which is the point of the fight. The fight goes for three rounds and you have to be able to fight for three rounds. It's kind of ironic that I honestly think that he's (McIntyre) a more skilled fighter than me and I beat him, but then in my second WEC fight. I think that I'm a much more skilled fighter than the person that I lost to. That's just the nature of fighting. I mean anybody can win on any given day.
TB: That actually brings me to my next question. You lost your next bout with Shane Roller but from everyone that's in the fight game, they say that you learn a hell of a lot more from a defeat than an easy victory. Is that something that you agree with?
MB: That's 100% true, and it sounds so clique from me to say that but it's totally true. In order to take big steps forward in your fighting career you have to go through something like that. You have to know what that feels like and know what it's like to be in that situation. I mean I had my opportunities in that fight, I just didn't capitalize on it. Within 15 seconds into the fight, I had him in a pretty tight armbar and I didn't capitalize or finish it, it was my mistake. When you come out of something like that there's a three or four day period where you just want to find an excuse as to why you lost but you just have to sit back and suck it up and say that you made a mistake and he capitalized on it. Let's move forward and let's train harder and let's train to not make that mistake again. My training for this upcoming fight has been 10 times what it's ever been before. Now that I know what it feels like to go through that, it's not about just going in there to have a good time and throw down a little bit. Now that I know what defeat tastes like, it's motivated me just that much more, and I just don't want to go through that again.
TB: WEC 39 takes place in Texas; you're scheduled to take on unbeaten John Franchi. Is it true that you will be dropping to 145lbs for this fight?
TB: So this would be your first time cutting to that weight class?
MB: (Laughs) It will be my first time being under 150lbs in like 19 years.
TB: How's the weight cutting going and what are your thoughts on your opponent?
MB: Well the weight cutting hasn't been as bad as I thought that it would be because I have really stepped up the intensity of my training. I honestly got into this because I enjoy it and I love the training. I love getting in there and competing, I guess I'm just a natural-born competitor. In my opinion there is no truer form of competition than what we are doing. I've trained 10 times harder for this figh,t so the weight is just falling off. Before, and I will be honest, I was a little bit lazy with my training and I use to cut pretty hard to make 155, but the only reason the cut was hard was because I was lazy. Two weeks before the fight I would be something like 180lbs and I would have to cut my ass off just to make 155.
"I would love more then anything to redeem myself and possibly snap his arm in half."
TB: When you mention the 145lbs division in the WEC, names like Pulver, Garcia, Brown and Faber come up. Is there a little something extra for you to be fighting in this weight class with all the big names?
MB: That's my sole reason for wanting to make the cut. I actually talked about cutting to 145 before my last fight. When you look at [it], there are two divisions out there in my opinion that no other company can compete with. The UFC has the 205 which every fight is a super fight. I mean, you have something like 20 guys at 205 that are just monsters and superstars. For the WEC, the same thing could be said about the 145lbs division. To sit there and look at it who I want to compete against and I want to compete against the best. I don't to just sit there and fight another fight. At 145 in the WEC, everyone that you listed off is huge, big names in the sport with all kinds of recognition and then there are all the new guys that are just coming on. All the guys from the IFL, there's Jose Aldo, guys that are just super well-known in MMA. That's what has motivated me now more than anything. Just being able to compete against that caliber of fighters has me excited.
TB: I wanted to get your thoughts on greasing in MMA. I know that the MMA world is talking about GSP & Penn, but I wanted to know from a high caliber BJJ guy, would an opponent greasing affect your abilities on the ground?
MB: Absolutely it would without a doubt. That's specifically what I work on more than anything just because if you look at the list of fighters out there who are wrestlers it comes into play. I spend a huge portion of my time learning to not just defend myself on my back but fighting off of my back. You can defend yourself on your back, I think; you can intelligently defend yourself if the guy is a little bit greasy. To really be able to attack from your back, I mean there's really nothing that you can do because if you can't control their posture then you are going to be spending the whole time trying to defend yourself and not being able to mount an attack. I think that it's a huge problem if greasing is happening.
TB: What's your ideal finish for your upcoming fight?
MB: My ideal finish would be a quick KO, but I'm pretty sure that he isn't going to want to stand with me. He's another Division 1 wrestler, so he's probably going to take me down. And since I slipped on my armbar in my last fight, I would love more than anything to redeem myself and possibly snap his arm in half.
TB: Anyone that would like to thank?
MB: My Jiu-Jitsu coaches, Piet Wilhelm from Triton MMA and Mickey Swafford from Chattanooga Jiu-Jitsu, along with MMA Agents for all their support.