Kalib Starnes happy to return to big MMA stage

World Series of Fighting 7 takes place from beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia at the PNE Agrodome this Saturday night. A couple of months ago The WSOF announced that they have some serious expansion plans and at the top of their list was the Great White North. Obviously this card will showcase some great professional fighters from the Canadian West Coast. One warrior in particular is a 38-year-old veteran in Kalib Starnes (15-8-1) who will be facing off against Alberta’s Dwayne “D-Bomb” Lewis (13-8).

Kalib Starnes happy to return to big MMA stage

Some people remember Kalib from his time in the UFC and season three of The Ultimate Fighter reality show and probably haven’t kept tabs on the Canadian middleweight since he was “run out” of the promotion after UFC 83. It doesn’t seem to matter what Starnes does, most hardcore MMA fans will be cruel about what happened back in 2008, because the only fight they will ever participate in is when they are trying to achieve the highest score on Candy Crush…but I digress.

This column isn’t about the past it’s about the here and now. Starnes is on a three fight-winning steak which includes a crazy bout at heavyweight. Yes you read that correctly, Kalib went all BJ Penn and took a short notice fight with former UFC heavyweight Tim Hague (15-8). Why you ask? It’s what you do when you are a badass mofo that nobody wants to tangle with. Literally, nobody wants to fight him. We live in a weird time where young MMA fighters want to protect their records. The Surrey native can be considered a throw back or an MMA mercenary fighting for different promotions at any given time.

I’m comfortable fighting for different organizations. It’s nice to have your options open. The thing that has been difficult for me is to find fights or opponents. My last three fights that I got were fights that I took on short notice because someone else pulled out of the fight. I spent six months looking for a fight before I fought David Perron; I just ended up fighting him on short notice because his opponent dropped out. The same with Tim Hague I had to go up and fight him at heavyweight and he had to cut to 265lbs but it was the only fight I could find. I’m always looking; just ask any of the promoters, I have been looking for fights all over the place. I look for fights out east, I look for fights in the States, I look for fights in Japan, and I haven’t been able to find fights.

The WSOF did a good thing in signing Starnes and maybe they caught lighting in the bottle at the right time because he seems to be in a good place right now. A focused Kalib is a dangerous Kalib.

It’s been a change in attitude and a change in my mind. I really feel a lot more comfortable fighting right now. I feel like it’s what I want to do. I’m pushing myself all the time in the gym. I feel comfortable getting into the cage because I want to be there. I’m in a good place mentally and emotionally right now and it hasn’t always been like that for me.

Many people have tried to figure Starnes out. He is very private and sometimes misunderstood. At one point in June of 2011 he retired citing lack of quality training partners and no real motivation to continue the tough path of a professional fighter. Just when you thought you heard the last of him, a revamped Starnes re-appeared a year later with a renewed fire in his belly and an appetite to punch guys in the face. No more excuses Starnes went out and surrounded himself with quality, young training partners who could push him and at the same time he could offer them extensive coaching, experience and mentoring. It was his way of giving back and making some serious changes in his life.

I know right now I’m just with a few people that I really like that are good solid people. Guys I love to go in there and see everyday and I’m really happy that way. I have trained with Olympic boxers and Olympic wrestlers, top Jiu-Jitsu world champions, MMA world champions and I know what I need to work on in the gym. I just prefer to have a tight camp with really good people who I can trust and they trust me and we are working towards our goals, rather than a big gym where I’m a nobody.

Starnes has trained all over the place including American Top Team in Florida. He has the background and experience to show some of his younger athletes where the pitfalls are. More and more young fighters are making the move to larger big name gyms like Tristar here in Canada; Starnes believes that younger fighters should make sure they know what they are getting themselves into.

When you go to a gym like that and there are 10,20,30 professional fighters and maybe a dozen top guys, there is often not enough personal attention to go around. I remember one gym, I won’t say the name, but I was in a place where there was basically one really good pad guy for Muay Thai and only one good pad guy for boxing and twenty fighters and that just doesn’t work especially when they are traveling with them and cornering them and working with them throughout the day, it’s hard to get your time in. The sparring is great but the top guys generally get the attention, the people bringing in the most money will get most of the attention. Often guys coming in, the entry-level guys, they are just being used as practice dummies for sparring.

Kalib doesn’t shy away from speaking what is on his mind. He has an opinion on everything. It’s what makes him a fabulous interview. However, you get the sense he would rather not deal with the media. Instead he has been hunkering down preparing for what could be one of his biggest fights of his career. With the original Main Event of Mike Kyle and Anthony Johnson being scrapped due to an injury to Kyle, Starnes vs. Lewis was bumped to the main card and will be seen across America on NBC Sports. It is a chance for the former UFC veteran to show American MMA fans that he is still in the game and more dangerous than ever.

To me it’s more intriguing, more interesting and I’m happier to be on the Main Card. It allows me to get more sponsorship money, it provides me with more exposure and to fight a big athlete like that on live television it’s everything you want as a fighter. I’m there to entertain and try to finish Dwayne Lewis that’s why we go there. I’m very happy to be fighting on live television again.

Many people who have had the pleasure to meet Kalib know what kind of person he is. He is a proud and soft spoken and humble individual. A black belt in Jiu-Jitsu, a granite chin, and a solid stand up game is what has allowed him to survive in the ever changing MMA game, but there was always something missing from his tool box that he believes he has improved on.

Mental training is becoming more and more part of my routine or regime over the last year or so. I think a lot of people neglect that part of their training. Mental preparation is just as important as running or sparring and hitting pads. A lot of people neglect it or think they already got it under control but I have watched so many people like top athletes who are very experienced guys with dozens and dozens of fights, I have watched them just go out and get overwhelmed mentally and emotionally in the first few minutes of a fight and gas out.

The Canadian middleweight has been in this sport since its infancy and trust me it’s a brutal way to make a living. The life of a professional fighter can be full of stress and strife and when you are not making it in the UFC; a fighter needs to stay active. A win this Saturday at WSOF 7 in front of his friends and family, and millions watching across North America could provide Kalib a second chance to make another run on a bigger stage. If he had it his way he would be fighting once a month.

I had three fights in three months. I wanted to have a fight every month if I could if I wasn’t injured. I want to fight as often as  I can. After this fight in December I would love to fight in January and I would love to fight in February. I have talked to other promotions and kept my eyes open but if World Series of Fighting wants to offer me another fight or some kind of multi fight contract fine, but right now it’s a one fight deal so I have to look ahead and pay the bills. It’s not easy fighting in MMA for smaller promotions in BC and to try and make a living if you are not fighting every month. You can’t make a living fighting 2,3,4 times a year without having another job.

WSOF President Ray Sefo and WSOF Canada President Daren Owen would be crazy not to sign Starnes to a mulit-fight contract if he looks impressive. First things first, it’s Dwayne Lewis this Saturday night and the 38-year-old Starnes has his sights on finishing Lewis quick and early.

He is definitely not near the same caliber of opposition that I have had. I have fought a lot of the top guys in the world and I have been a lot more active than him recently. He has a heavy right hand as his nickname implies, I’ve been hit by a lot of big guys before and I’ve never been knocked out. I have had a TKO loss but that was not from being knocked out. I have never had a concussion in my life. So if he thinks he is going to come out and plant me with one punch he’s dreaming.

I box with a lot of great fighters all the time, and I think I’m a better technical boxer than him. I also think my kicking is better than his; I’ve watched him get devastated with leg kicks before. I also think I can out wrestle him and I have twenty years of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu on my side. I’m in excellent shape right now; I’ve been working every day, twice a day. I’m the strongest I have ever been and walking around at 220 lean. I don’t think he has an advantage over me anywhere.

We couldn’t finish this write up without asking the Canadian about his fellow countryman George St-Pierre. A lot has been made about George possibly walking away from the sport. Some of cited that GSP has been dealing with some head trauma and Kalib believes that it could be the result of old school thinking that needs to be removed from the sport.

If you watch his fights, he hasn’t been hit that much, that hard and that often. If he has been suffering from memory loss and dealing with traumatic head injuries, I wouldn’t doubt it’s coming from hard sparring with probably heavy-handed guys. That’s the real problem. It’s a problem in gyms all over the place. I’ve been in gyms all over the world and a lot of these places they have their guys working too hard too regularly. Guys are getting broken noses, getting cuts, getting knocked out just in training and sparring. They think that is how you prepare for a fight to slug it out. Well, that is not how you prepare for a fight.

If you know you can take a punch what more do you have to prove by sitting there and getting punched in the face? Do you just stand there getting punched hundred times just to prove you can take it? It’s ridiculous. These guys are getting concussions all the time while they train. When you get a good drilling partner who is skilled, quick, has good reflexes, good combinations and they know how to fight; you can get in there and drill with them not hurting each other and get way more work in. Your slipping more punches, your throwing more volume and getting a lot of work in.

A few hard rounds here and there to prepare you for the real thing is important but you don’t need to do that all the time. Unfortunately there is a lot of really poor coaching out there and old school guys who have guys getting knocked out left, right and center man. It’s not pretty and that is where most of the damage is done, it’s gym wars and not cage fights.

You can listen to the entire interview on MMASucka Radio.

This Saturday tune into WSOF 7. There is a great mix of Canadian fighters, veterans and young lions looking to make a name for themselves. A featherweight title fight between Lance Palmer (7-0) and Georgi Karakhanyan (22-3-1) will be the headliner with Jesse Taylor (26-9) and Elvis Mutapcic (13-2) battling it out in the middleweight tournament semifinal. Another guy to keep an eye on is the much hyped and talked about Nick Newell (10-0) who will be looking to keep his undefeated record intact when he is up against Vancouver’s Sabah Fadai (7-2).

If you live in Vancouver you can go to the WSOF website to purchase tickets or you can participate in the MMASucka.com contest for a chance to win your way into the PNE Agrodome to see all the action live.

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Trevor contributes to MMASucka.com and 24 Hours Vancouver (Sun Media) Follow him at @TrevDueck

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