Light heavyweight fighter Kalib Starnes will be fighting in two weeks time for the World Series of Fighting, his highest profile fight since leaving the UFC five years ago. His departure from that organization has left a negative impression in the minds of many fans. But for Starnes, that was just one fight; and he’s ready to write his story of redemption with a knockout against Dwayne Lewis at WSOF 7 on December 7.
By Christopher Murphy @MurphMMA
Kalib Starnes is a fighter many MMA fans will recognize. Unfortunately for both the fans and for Starnes, that memory will most likely regard his loss to Nate Quarry in 2008. It was a loss in which many thought Starnes was running from his opponent; and the result was not only a blemish on his record, but it led to the UFC releasing him from its roster.
Starnes spoke to BJPenn.com Radio, and he was gracious to answer questions about that fight and his time in the UFC with honesty and some deep reflection.
“That’s the nature of the beast,” Starnes said when asked about the response he received following the Quarry fight. “When you’re in the public eye and something goes wrong, that’s the way the press and the media works. And fighting draws a certain type of person, right? It’s not like I wrote a book or something… That’s just the way it is, like in your own life. You ever do something wrong? You ever have a bad situation? You ever make a mistake? You ever screw up a relationship or have a bad moment in your life? Then imagine if that just happened to be the time when you had a whole bunch of family over at your place; and then everybody just asks you about it the rest of your life!”
As for the fight itself, Starnes explained that his game plan for Nate Quarry fell apart pretty quickly, leaving himself unprepared for what his opponent was throwing at him.
“That particular one,” Starnes said, referring to the fight with Quarry, “had a lot to do with my camp; I trained to circle and stay on the outside and to work off the jab and to fight more like a counter-puncher, and I trained not to really let him in and to fight on the outside. And really, I couldn’t establish my jab; he faded really well. He really hit me with some heavy shots when he hit me with his combinations and kicks, and then he would back away again… He didn’t fight in the clinch much, and I wasn’t that successful, or trying very much, to take him down; and I think I tried maybe two or three times. I think I got him down once but I didn’t keep him down. And then I broke my foot early in the second round, I broke my metatarsal bone lengthwise, I split it… And then I felt like I couldn’t really kick him, I think it went to my head, what I was trying to do. I was just in a mental state where I had trained a game plan for three months, four months, every day; and when I got in there I tried to execute that game plan and it didn’t work.
“At the end, it’s just a fucking fight. I lost… Is it smarter to stand toe-to-toe with somebody and get knocked out? That’s kind of what I felt like at the time. Two rounds have gone by, I have a broken foot, my game plan hasn’t really worked, what do I do now? Do I take him down or stay on the outside? Do I go toe-to-toe and let him give me a fucking traumatic brain injury, a concussion, let him put me down on the ground and smash my head in? Or do I keep moving? I’m not the smartest guy in town, but I don’t really like the idea of getting a head injury on purpose. I generally avoid that.”
More importantly, at that time in his life, Starnes would go on to explain, he simply was not enjoying fighting. His head was just not in the right place.
“I think, up and down, all the way to the beginning was just something for me that wasn’t all that significant. There’s (sic) a lot more important issues out there in the world than two people fighting in a cage, you know? That was literally my perspective. As far as getting into the gym every day, I had periods where I was in good shape and I had good fights, and I enjoyed the fights… And then there were times when life gets in the way. I have an 11-year old daughter, I was doing other things, I was working a lot as a trainer. It’s hard to train people for six hours a day… and then train yourself on top of that and be a dad. Sometimes, I just felt like I really didn’t like it. Fighting in front of the crowd is different than training and fighting by itself. A lot of the times… the marketing stuff, you know, it’s all fake – you know those fake photos where they make you take your shirt off, you’re standing there all tanned up with a waxed chest doing a tough-guy pose… spritzing you down with water: it’s just so fake, man. I don’t really want to be there. A lot of the times I didn’t really have it in my heart to be there… But somehow, right now, I’m really enjoying managing the stress and dealing with the psychological stuff. I’ve got good guys I’m training with… I’m liking the sparring, the drilling, the kind of environment that I’m training in. I’m really going to push myself and see how far I can go right now. It’s fun, I’m having a lot of fun doing it.”
And that joy is something he has carried with him into the ring over the past few months – during which time Starnes has won three consecutive fights and earned himself an invitation to fight for the World Series of Fighting.
“I’ve had three fights in three months here, and I just – I’ve taken a lot more joy in the training, my mind is in a good place; for a while, I didn’t want to be in there. I love getting in there right now. I’ve been standing up a lot more, my hands feel really good, I’m stronger at this weight, walking around at this weight. I like fighting at light heavyweight and, you know, occasionally heavyweight if it’s the right guy; I’ll move up and fight at heavyweight. I fought Patrick Cote and I fought Joe Doerkson. I feel like, you know I got a round on each of those guys, I lost both fights like 29-28; but I feel like I can hang with those guys, you know, I train with big fighters in the gym all the time. I just feel good, I’m happy to be there, man. Sometimes with this sport, you gotta really want to be there. Every day in the gym, you got to want to be there; and then in the ring, you really have to have your head in the right place… You can’t go through it like any other job.”
Some of his more recent fights, amazingly enough, have been at heavyweight against opponents who had to cut weight to reach the division limit of 265 lbs.
“My body’s matured,” Starnes said in explanation of his more recent fights in the 205 and 265 lb. weight divisions, “it’s hard, I don’t like cutting to 185 pounds; I strength train a lot more than I used to, and I’m walking around at 225 [lbs.]. It’s too hard on my body, [so] I don’t like cutting down; and honestly, for the last fight I was trying to find a fight for about six months, and he was the only guy who said he would fight me around here, so I just kept my weight around there, felt good, and I actually weighed around 216 [lbs.] when I went in. He cut to [the heavyweight limit of] 265 [lbs.] – he’s like 270 or 280. I learned that my bone structure is different. When you hit somebody in the head who’s 280 pounds, they have a thick neck and thick shoulders and a big skull – I hit him with a lot, a lot of right hands – it’s hard to even move the head, it’s hard to get the concussion you need to put somebody down.”
In a couple weeks, however, Starnes will be facing an opponent at 205 lbs, a much more reasonable task. That fight will be on arguably one of the bigger stages in the MMA world today, as the World Series of Fighting has enjoyed rising success with each of its events. It also enjoys a live broadcast on national television. For Starnes, the risk of caving to mental pressure and stress is always present, but it’s something he has learned to deal with after years of fighting and coaching.
“A lot of times, man, people gas in the ring not because they’re not in shape and really not because of their skills,” Starnes explained, “it’s because of anxiety, stress, not being able to focus enough to make it into the gym enough so they’re not prepared… [so] on fight night they just don’t have it. I’ve fought guys who I just hit them back a couple times… hit them one or two times and they just cover their face and sit down on the ground, give up. And they’re tough guys. I’ve watched guys that are in great shape go in the ring – guys who are training like madmen, you know, oxygen masks on their face and high altitude running, they’re pulling sleds and pushing boxes – and then when they get in the ring they gas in five minutes.”
“I read a lot about it. I read a lot about it, talked to people about it, and a lot of it… came from watching other people go through it – that and going through it myself. You have the physical symptoms of stress. I’ve had guys tell me all about it, they get nervous right before the fight, they’re about to throw up all of a sudden. And they throw up and think it’s because they’re sick, because they caught the bug or ate something bad. They won’t even admit to themselves it’s because of their nerves, their stress. I’ve been walking out [to the cage] with guys who tell me their legs are weak, their legs are heavy, they can’t breath right, or they feel tired, they feel slow. They don’t understand that those are all the normal physical symptoms of stress. You play through those scenarios, understanding what is happening to you, what it is and having a plan to deal with it… It’s a lot different from the small stage to the big stage, from a smaller fight to a big fight. It gets even more intense.”
And on the big stage of the World Series of Fighting, Starnes will be looking to over come that pressure and put on one of his best performances yet. And if you ask him, it’s what most of us should be rooting for.
“Sometimes a redemption story is better than a story of failure,” he said. “So hopefully I can go in there and knockout Dwayne Lewis on the 7th of Decemeber.”
Listen to the full interview below: