In Part I of MMA Gospel’s in-depth interview with The Ultimate Fighter 13 Team Dos Santos wrestling coach Lew Polley (10-4), “The Titan” delved into his background in mixed martial arts, his perception of the TUF program as a whole, what he brought to the table as a coach, his training style, and who he thought would go the distance on the show. Now, in the second installment of his two-part interview, Lew gets into the nitty gritty of how – and why – his run on TUF 13 unraveled and came to an abrupt end. Here is Lew’s side of the story: no cameras, and no selective editing.
There were a few instances on the show where the fighters and coaches complained that you were pushing the fighters too hard. Looking back at it now, do you think you were being overbearing or asking too much of the fighters?
[Laughs] Do you think Lance Armstrong was on his bike and said, “I’m not going to climb this hill today, I’m just going to stay on the easy road”? No. These kids want to be in the biggest show for our sport. [The UFC] is like the NFL of our sport. I would hear, “Oh, that hurts, it’s too much. It’s too hard.” My response: “You’re fighting at welterweight. So imagine Thiago Alves pounding the shit out of your legs. Now what?” Dana White cuts people on a whim. You can lose your job like that. There are people who are 4-1 that got cut after that one loss. If you can’t take a training session that’s 45 minutes, how the hell are you going to deal with a UFC career, the pressure of being successful, and everything else? The ones that were complaining knew that they had a way out – that was the problem. When a kid wants a cookie and one parent says no, what does he do? Go ask the other parent for the cookie. The fighters complained to Junior that the workouts were too hard and he said, “Oh, I know, it’s too hard. We’re done. We’re going to finish now. Tomorrow we’re just going to drill a little bit”. It’s like they weren’t used to training a certain way, but why did they come on the show? Their personal coaches weren’t going to be on the show, so they weren’t going to be training as they were used to, anyway. They get paid to train hard and to fight, this is their job.
It seemed like there were a couple of kinda whiny guys on the cast this season.
There were a lot of whiny guys. There’s so much footage [Spike TV] didn’t even show. I would have the guys do visualization and stress-relieving drills. There are so many other things I had the guys do besides just the hard practice that they didn’t air. I cooked dinner for the guys – they sure as hell didn’t show that. We’re in the house cooking dinner for the guys, Junior and the guys are outside playing soccer, it was great. We were hanging out and talking with Brock’s team, who complained of Brock calling them chicken shit. I told them they had to get past Brock’s rough delivery and get to the core of what he was trying to tell them. Get past the delivery and get to the message. Brock admits that he’s not the greatest coach, but he knows how to compete. I told them if they can take pieces of how he competes and his demeanor and his mindset, they might be better off. Some people just couldn’t get past the delivery. I’m not saying I’m a huge Brock Lesnar fan, but I understand where he’s coming from as an athlete. If he talked to me like that, I would take it as a call to arms. I would say to myself, “I need to step it up. I need to start leading somebody to the promised land and I need to start right now. I’m gonna knock somebody out and go from there”.
Your tough love, no-bullshit style seems to reflect more that of Brock Lesnar than Junior Dos Santos. Do you think you would have been a better asset to Brock’s team than Junior’s? What do you think would have been different?
[Laughs] I actually get that question a lot. People see the way Brock says things and the way I say things – I’m a little bit nicer than him – but it’s the same underlying message. I’m cool with it. I talked to a few of Brock’s guys after the show and they’ve asked me to come train with them. I liked the guys we had and I liked some of Brock’s guys. I think the mood would have been better overall if I was with like-minded people. The more laid-back, casual approach to training like Junior’s wasn’t my style. I told Junior before, “We need to train these guys like American athletes, not Brazilian athletes”. I didn’t mean it in a derogatory way, there’s just a difference. The way you would train for wrestling versus the way you would train for Jits – it’s not the same. One is a little more in-your-face and aggressive and one is a little more laid back and casual. Not saying that Jiu-Jitsu isn’t effective, but you’ve got to go with the trends of the sport. Most of the champions now have a wrestling base and the guys who aren’t getting good at it are suffering. One of the former trends was to be a humungous dude for your weight class, then that changed into being fast, light, and not having to cut much weight. Now the trend is to be dominant in wrestling. You’ve gotta go where the trends tell you to go. That’s something Junior and I bumped heads about all the time.
When did you notice the tension was building between yourself and Junior Dos Santos? What do you think started the whole debacle?
When the cameras started asking me for more interviews. I have no control over the camera guys shoot. If you watch Episode 1, Junior explains what my role is. Even in training, he told the guys, “Lew is going to be running some of the practices, some of the workouts, some conditioning here and there, and helping formulate a gameplan”. [The footage] briefly skimmed over it. There was a point where the producers were asking me questions on camera and I could tell that Junior was wondering why they were asking me the questions. Then I could tell that things were getting a little worse between Junior and I when Shamar would ask me questions, or Mick [Bowman] would hang out with me and ask me stuff and we would play around and talk about life, and I joked around with Zach [Davis] a lot. Junior got to a point where he was like, “Why are they doing that with him?” It was like he felt as though because it was his picture on the billboard, and he is the one in the UFC that is fighting Brock next and possibly going for the title, that they should haven’t been asking me anything.
Like the focus should have been more on him?
Yeah, like placism: “Lew needs to know his place”. We don’t have places. I’m a grown man, too. I don’t need this show, I don’t need you. You asked me. Let’s not forget how the chain of events happened. He asked me to be on the show. I was fine doing my own thing. So this whole “Lew needs to know his place, he’s overstepping his bounds” – what kind of stuff is that? I’ve coached more athletes than he has and probably even more than most of the coaches on the show combined. Don’t try to undermine me because I’m not in the UFC or kissing your ass. I thanked Junior and Black House many times for the opportunity, in the media and all – that’s enough. Now it’s time to get to work. That’s like the defensive coordinator on an NFL team not being able to tell the head coach that things may need to be changed. If the goal is to win and one of the coaches is trying to tell you the best way to do so, then why wouldn’t it be something you consider? Because it didn’t come from your own mouth, but it came from mine? We were butting heads a lot over that. Eventually I told him that if he wanted to have control over everything to just stop asking me questions, but he continued asking me questions and I would do what he asked me, then he would get pissed off because things were happening and more people would ask me questions. Then he was getting pissed because everything he asked me to do I did and I did well. After that point, things changed. With every episode you could see his demeanor change: smiling less, become more aggressive and pissed off, and a lot of that was based on how he though the show was going. He thought it was turning too much into being about me.
Do you think he was more focused on the show itself rather than the premise of helping fighters possibly get a shot at being in the UFC?
It wasn’t like he was coaching – it was like they were all his teammates. “Lew’s that guy that’s just gonna come in a lay things down” – that’s how it was coming across. People were listening to Junior because he’s the face on the billboards and the guy in the UFC. Just because you’re a good fighter doesn’t mean you’re a good coach. Even some of the worst athletes make great coaches. Shawn Tompkins was like 0-4 in MMA but is one of the best coaches in MMA. Greg Jackson wasn’t that good of a fighter, but he’s one of the best coaches. It’s one of those things where you ask for something, you get what you asked for, then you realize that it was more than you wanted.
What was your manager’s reaction to you being ousted from the show?
He wasn’t happy about it. He wasn’t pissed at me, but he knew how things were going. I called him almost every night and gave him updates. He told me to keep a daily journal of what was going on because people’s memories are very selective; he wanted me to keep the journal so that when I had to recall something I could just go back to the date or the practice and see what happened. I did just that. I was telling my manager what was going on, and he couldn’t believe it. He asked if I was doing what I was being asked to do, and I told him yes and that I didn’t know what the problem was. Problems were coming up so often, and it was over the stupidest things. Then they got bigger and bigger. Midway through, I told my manager that I felt like I needed to leave but he told me to tough it out and finish the show. I was kind of insecure about what was going on because I didn’t know what people were really thinking. The guys would show you one thing to your face then run to the camera and say something else. Junior did that a few times. All the human emotions, being insecure, wondering if this and that are right, second-guessing yourself, and being around all the people – everything was weighing on me. I just kept thinking, “Always finish what you start. I started with these guys – I’m gonna see it through to the end and make sure I give them everything I can to put them in the best position”.
What seemed to be Junior’s primary complaint of you as a coach?
I think he just wanted to be the guy with the final say and the one making all the decisions. The only time he was ever really pissed was after losses – and he was making me the scapegoat for the losses. I told him, “Don’t blame me, you picked that fight”. Don’t go on camera and say it’s my fault or that the guys are confused. When Junior said that, they cut out the part where Mick and Ryan said, “No Junior, we weren’t confused. I just didn’t execute the gameplan”. English isn’t Junior’s first language. He would bitch that I said something conflicting what he just said. He’d say, “I understand English a little bit”. Then when it’s time for me to leave, he was “confused” and had selective English. But when I was yelling stuff to the guys and saying something different he understood what I was saying? Those kind of arguments would happen and it didn’t make sense to me. Junior’s big thing was that I needed to know my place. My place is helping the guys get better. That’s my place. And overstepping my boundaries? What boundaries? There were no boundaries outlined for me. If there were I wouldn’t have taken the job. Junior told me to coach these guys how I coach people. That’s what he asked me to do, that’s what I did.
Has anybody from your season come forward to either support or refute Junior’s claims?
Yeah. One guy [laughs] has been very vocal. It’s all BS. I have the discussion in my Facebook messages. One guy went on a rant saying that I was arrogant and a boring, sucky fighter, and that I would never be in the UFC. He never voiced it on the show, and the day they kicked me off he never said a word. So why didn’t he say a word then when people on the show were asking him what he thought? He didn’t have any type of argument or complaint when he was on the show. He just went on a rant because he was protecting Junior. Him and Junior are now close friends and he felt like I was hurting his friend, so he wanted to come to his rescue. Junior’s 26-years-old…I’m pretty sure he can take care of himself. Really I’ve just gotten one negative [response] and a bunch of positives, so I’m pretty happy about that.
Ramsey Nijem from Team Dos Santos recently was quoted as saying that you are an “arrogant jerk” and that JDS kicking you off the show was a “long time coming”. How do you respond to his claims? What kind of interaction did you have with Ramsey while filming the show?
Everything was cool on the show. I asked the guys all the time what they thought of training and what they thought we needed to work on. I always asked the guys questions, including Junior. Shamar, Mick, and Zach all got the same memo that Ramsey got – Junior told them that I was going to be running the practices and pushing the guys. They were cool with it. Mick said, “There’s no need for Lew to be kicked off because all he did was help and go above and beyond to make sure that we got better”. Zach said the same thing, and so did Shamar. So, somebody is lying. The four of us, or [Ramsey]? He tried to attack my record, saying I was boring. I’ve had nine finishes – a 90% finish rate – out of ten fights. Is that really boring? How much legitimacy can you put in the word of someone like that? He’s gonna learn how things really go in the long term. He’s gonna find out that he has to be really careful about what he says because he’s gonna look really stupid. It’s not like they weren’t recording everything. It’s not like it’s not on camera. It’s not like people weren’t there. My record speaks for itself. If I had known things would have gone this way just because I’m not the famous one and Junior is, I never would have helped that kid the same way I helped him.
Even for those who detected the building tension between you and Junior, your dismissal as a coach was rather shocking, especially since it’s the first time in TUF history that something like this has happened. Did you see it coming? What was your initial reaction?
I knew exactly why he was doing it, because I speak English and the guys were coming to me and they were doing well. He thought more people were giving me more credit than him. The other coaches didn’t speak English, except for Billy [Scheibe], but he hated to be on camera. Junior was pretty much the only other guy who could speak English. With me gone, now he’s the only one who can speak English, so he’s the center – he’s the focus and everybody has to listen to him. Also, it shows the other guys “I kicked him off. I can kick anyone else off anytime I want”. It’s more of an authoritative thing. The guys were 4-2; that’s not bad, especially since those two losses were close decision losses. All the guys were pretty happy. Right before that scene [of me getting kicked off the show] I’m joking around with some of the guys. What did Junior stop and say? “Don’t show any attention to him”. That told me what his main interest was. That one scene showed more than people realize.
There are different accounts of your dismissal, so let’s clear it up – you leaving the show was or was not voluntary?
It was not voluntary. Junior told the guys, “Lew just left. He wanted to leave”. No, he told me to leave. In that scene, he kicked me off the team and out of the coaches’ apartment. I didn’t want to leave. He and [Luiz] Dorea that was there for two days wanted me to leave. My manager even called and the producers said that it was Junior’s call. It was not voluntary whatsoever. Shamar called me and was pissed because he believed that I walked out on them. We all talked after the show, and I said, “Watch the show. I got booted off”. Even Charlie Rader and a few of the guys from Brock’s team said “That was BS. We wish you had been on our team”. And that’s coming from Brock’s team! Even Ramsey didn’t seem too excited. He didn’t say anything, right? That was the time. He agreed with everyone else.
If you could rewind the clock to several months ago as TUF 13 was just starting, would you have done things any differently?
Not really. I would have probably made my travel reservations only part-time. Once Anderson [Silva] finished his fight I would have asked to leave because once he was done, all 30 plus people that were with Anderson’s camp all needed something else to jump on, and the only thing left was Junior on the TUF show. When they came to the show and saw me running practice, they were like, “Woah, why is this guy running practice?”. They had to get me out of there. There were so many behind-the-scenes things you don’t even know. There were eight people staying in a two-bedroom place, and it came down to who was the non-Black House guy. Then there’s money involved. The arrangement was three of us [on Team Dos Santos] got paid and Junior would settle with everybody else. More people came and they wanted money, too. People wanted rooms. It was like I was expendable.
What do you think was your biggest contribution to the show and to the guys?
The guys saw somebody who really knew how to coach and wanted to help them. I’ll be the first to admit, and I said it on the show – I get overzealous sometimes but it’s all for the greater good of the guys. I could care less what other people say. If my guys are happy, then I’m happy. Have you seen GSP train for a fight and what Firas Zahabi says to him? Firas gets praised for making it life-or-death for GSP – that’s how he always presents it. GSP can push hard and Firas Zahabi can say those things but I can’t push guys that are gonna be in the UFC – other grown men that are paid – other men in his weight class? You wanna do what the top people are doing.
If the top guys are running ten miles, you’ve got to run 11. You’re in GSP’s weight class. That’s your striking point. You’re all trying to get to him. So if he’s doing that, what good am I making you do only half of that?
Like Firas Zahabi said, “If you train like everybody else, you’re going to be just like everybody else”. That’s why it’s called extraordinary.
Do you regret going on The Ultimate Fighter?
Sometimes. I get a lot of support but I also have a lot of people scrutinizing and judging me – those are the things I regret. Having my little sister call me from Japan, upset because someone’s dropping “N” bombs on a forum, or “Who’s this fat black dude that doesn’t know his place? We came to see Junior, not this fat black dude”. Come on, I have a family, too. My siblings read that. That’s the type of stuff I regret. Then I get messages saying, “Too bad you can’t fight in the UFC. You’ll never be in the UFC because you’re not good enough”. People start making it personal, and I just have to be the bigger person and deal with it. Now I’ve lost some friends in this whole process – I regret that. I regret Ramsey getting caught in the crossfire and having to say stuff about me to help his friend. It’s just…stupid. People don’t understand the human side to what’s going on. People say stuff but don’t understand the repercussions of the things they’re saying.
If Junior Dos Santos walked into the room right now, would you say anything to him?
I don’t hold grudges. I would just chalk it up to us having differences of opinion on a TV show, we butted heads, there’s the show. But outside of fighting and the show is real life. I don’t think Junior’s a bad dude, he just did bad things. That’s it. And if he said that we both got carried away and that we should just get over it, I’d get over it – shake his hand, give him a hug, and he doesn’t drink, so I’d buy him an acai smoothie and we’d call it a day.
Have you had any contact with Junior since the show?
No. I think we’re both thinking that one should call the other or that we’ll curse each other out. We’re both doing it, and we just need to get over it…I don’t think that this should carry on. Junior’s a good dude to know, he’s a lovable guy, it’s just the situation we were in brought out a fight. Fighting is easy – dealing with people is the hard part.
June 11. UFC 131: Brock Lesnar vs. Junior Dos Santos. What are your predictions?*
I’m not gonna pick either one. I know in my heart who I want to win but I don’t want to say it. I will say though that it’s better for Brock because it’s only three rounds.
Fair enough. Without naming a winner – how do you think the match might play out in terms of staying standing, hitting the ground, or Brock Lesnar coming out like a behemoth and throwing a flying knee once the first bell rings?
I think Brock’s gonna be more settled – he’s gonna take his time. It’ll be a mix of when Brock fought Randy [Couture] and Heath Herring, I think. That’s probably the best approach to fight Junior because Junior’s going to be so worried about his takedowns that in the first round he’s going to be ready to sprawl. Brock’s gonna have to take his time and push Junior against the cage.
Any bloopers or mishaps from TUF 13 that the fans at home didn’t get to see?
[Laughs] You missed Mick’s pale British ass being flashed at my head. Then, uh, [laughs] one of the guys felt the urge to put his penis on the back of my head while I was lying down. I told Mick, “Look, buddy. You’d better hope that they’re generous with that little fuzzy censor bar. You’d better hope it’s a humungous bar so they can exaggerate for you” [laughs].
Anything you would like to say in closing?
I would like to thank my sponsors. Performance MMA, Project Discipline, Dollamur Mats, Factory X, my striking coach Mohamed Ouali, Marc Montoya, Relson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, all my friends for helping me out, and everybody at The Armory in Florida including the owner, Joe Mullings.
*Note: Since this interview was conducted, Brock Lesnar has withdrawn from his scheduled June 11 fight against Junior Dos Santos due to another flare-up of his diverticulitis.