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Exclusive Interview Part I: Matt Arroyo Talks behind the Scenes on TUF

Last week, I had the opportunity to sit down with UFC star Matt Arroyo and do an in-depth interview. Arroyo made it to the semifinals in The Ultimate Fighter Season 6 but had to withdraw due to a rib injury. Arroyo then won his first UFC fight against John Kolosci at the Ultimate Fighter 6 Finale in December 2007. Matt, I’d like to thank you for taking time out of your training to speak to me. Tell me about how you ended up at Gracie Tampa. You started training jiu-jitsu in 2003, right?

Arroyo: In March of 03, so we are coming on five years now. And Gracie Tampa opened in 04, so where did you train before you got here?

Arroyo: Yeah, 04, something like that. I started in New York under a blue belt named Gary Gobel. It was after I stopped playing baseball. I was able to focus on something else, and I always wanted to try jiu-jitsu from watching UFCs and stuff so I found the nearest Royce Gracie school and it was scary. March of 2003 was the first official day of jiu-jitsu — it was actually a Royce Gracie seminar, so I just fell in love with it after that and I’ve been doing it ever since. I trained with him all summer and then I had to go back to school.

I went to school at University of Tampa, and I needed a place to train so I found a black belt in Clearwater, Eduardo de Lima, but I didn’t have a car in college so I couldn’t get out there, and I’m glad I didn’t now. I found this purple belt named Craig who was right by my school and was teaching, so I trained under him for about a year. So I had about a year and a half of training before I met Rob Kahn. I got an email from Gary in New York who said there was a black belt coming to Tampa and that I should e-mail him because he is really good.

So I e-mailed Rob and visited him. He didn’t have a school yet. He was actually training out of like an office building. I just got destroyed — I just rolled with him and he was tapping me left and right and he had like 3 or 4 students there that were doing the same. So I was like, I’ve got to learn from these guys, you know. I have been training with him ever since then, so I guess since he opened, since even before he opened the school. That’s great. You said you graduated from University of Tampa. What was your major?

Arroyo: Business Management. I read in some other interviews that you were selling insurance for a while.

Arroyo: Yeah, I did. Well, it was the first job out of college. I was looking for jobs — I went on like 10 different interviews, and I always wanted to learn. I knew you have to learn how to sell if you’re going to open your own business some day, and I was sure that was what I wanted to do. I didn’t know what, but I didn’t want to work for someone my whole life. So my grandfather and my uncle were saying you have to learn how to sell. So I was like, all right, what is the hardest thing you can sell? Insurance.

Arroyo: Something you are never going to really truly benefit from while you are living. If I can get someone to buy that, then I must be a salesman. I did that for a year, and after 6 months they named me manager, and I had a team of like 10 different people and they were all like twice my age. It was really weird, and we did really well, but my head was not really there, and after a year of it I think I had learned how to sell. The only thing that was on my mind was training. Towards the end of that year, I had my first professional fight, and I won. I beat the guy in 56 seconds and I just got the bug, and that’s all I could think about. I was at work, but I wasn’t at work. My mind was just somewhere else, and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I was getting inefficient. I wasn’t going out and doing the things I was supposed to be doing to be successful at work. So I was like look, I can’t do this anymore. I’m not giving you guys 100%, so I had to quit and do this full time and just shortly after that, Allen Berube, got on TUF. Berube is saying: “Look, I met a bunch of people — I can introduce you to the right people — we can get you on.” So I was like all right, let me get a few more fights. So, I got 2 more fights. The tryouts were in Miami, right?

Arroyo: Allen’s were in Miami, the ones I had to go to were in Vegas. Vegas really, so you had to go out there?

Arroyo: Yes, so we flew out there. The auditions were pretty funny. I’m sure you are getting sick of TUF questions, but I’ve got to ask. During your down time in the house, what did you do? It seemed like a lot of people were getting on each other’s nerves.

Arroyo: Yeah, I tried to stay out of the drama. You saw some of that towards the end and a little bit in the beginning. I tried to stay away from all that. If I ever saw it going on, I would just go to my room. I don’t want to be associated with any of it. Our team had practice from 10:00–2:00. So we were up at 10:00 a.m. I’m sorry; we had practice from 10:00–12:00. So we were up around 9:30 a.m. We had to eat and get on to the bus by 10:00 or 9:30 or whatever, and we would get there, so that was 2 hours of the day. Then we would come back and eat. We had to go back to training 2 hours at night. So that was every day — 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours at night. So in between that, man, you just eat, you relax in your room (there’s no TV). What did I do? I swam — they had a big pool with a floatie — I was just trying to get a tan and just relax. Was there anybody in the house that just really got on your nerves?

Arroyo: No, not really. We never saw the other team, because while we were at practice, they were at home. When we were at home, they were at practice, and they had to go to bed really early because they had the early practice from 8:00 to 10:00. We had 10 – 12 so that was cool that we never saw them. None of them really got on my nerves, because they never really had a chance to get on my nerves. Guys on my team, I liked them all. You get camaraderie because you can’t talk to your family and you can’t talk to your friends, so these guys are the only people you have and you try to just treat them good. Do you stay in touch with any of those guys?

Arroyo: Yeah, actually, most of them. I talk to Ben all the time. He actually comes to Tampa and we hang out. Rude Boy, I talk to a lot. When I go to Vegas we are always hanging out. Yes, he was just over with Kendall Grove in Amsterdam.

Arroyo: Yes, he and Kendall are good friends. I don’t talk to War Machine that much. I don’t talk to Kolosci that much anymore. Ritchie, I never really got close with him because I had a room with 5 guys in it. It was me, Ben, Kolosci, Rude Boy and George. So, you know, Joe left so I didn’t really get too close with him. Ritchie was the only one that wasn’t in our room so I didn’t really get to close with him. And George, I talk to him all the time. When I go to train with Matt Serra, he is there now, so he is a very good training partner. But yes, I just tried to stay out of trouble. I had a journal that I kept — everybody had their own journal, that was our sanity, that was writing down everything that happened, and how you were feeling. It was like therapy really. What’s their justification for keeping you in the house? Why don’t they do it more like Real World-style where they follow you through Vegas?

Arroyo: Then we’d be too happy and there wouldn’t be enough drama. Everybody is going to break at some point. Some people break and go home. Some people just break and blow up on someone, but everybody breaks sometime within those 40 days because it is just like jail, and that makes for great TV. If we had the phones, the internet and we could do whatever we want it would be a real boring show. Your pivotal moment on the show was when you got a rib injury and had to drop out of the semifinals. During that episode you previously had said in interviews you were at the mercy of editors and it was pretty obvious that you had a bad rib injury. Do you think that the show adequately portrayed what was happening?

Arroyo: It was a weird situation because there were certain things that happened that not everybody knows, and they didn’t show certain things that happened. I went to one doctor. The doctor that I went to wasn’t the UFC doctor, Dr. Saunders — the guy that checks everybody that gets hurt. He checked Ben’s nose, Barrera’s hand, in the very beginning he was the guy that was checking Roman. He was out of town the weekend that I got hurt. So when I went to the doctor, it was a completely different doctor and nobody saw it because it wasn’t filmed.

Spike didn’t want to force anyone to sign a release to be on TV and for that reason it wasn’t filmed. When I went to him, the only other person that was with me was a Spike TV representative. So it was just us 2, and the doctor had no clue that I was fighter, and no clue that I was on a TV show — he just thought I was a regular guy going in with his friend and he checked it. He said, “Matt there is a small crack in the rib.” I knew it was hurting and there was something wrong. So then when we got back, I told my team, and I told Matt Serra and I think they filmed it and showed it. It shows me talking to Dana and then I guess they sent the X-rays over to Dana’s guy, Dr. Saunders, and he said the rib was fine. So that is the whole thing. So, Dr. Saunders never looked at your rib?

Arroyo: No, I’ve never even met the guy. I’ve never even seen him. I don’t know if he sent the X-rays over or what. I know they wanted that fight to happen. I know with Roman – he hadn’t even fought, so there was no loss telling him to go home with a broken elbow. Now, Roman in the semifinals – would that be any different? I don’t know. Dana made some controversial comments about you withdrawing from the fight. Do you think those comments were based on what Dr. Saunders was telling him about your injury?

Arroyo: That is exactly what it was based on. So they didn’t show any of that, but they do show it now on the repeats. They show a phone call from Dr. Saunders to Dana talking about the X-ray. Next time that they are going to air that is on April 2nd when TUF 7 debuts. They are going to have a marathon all day and in that episode they are going to show what happens or so I hear. Then it will make a lot more sense why Dana was being a jerk because I got a lot of e-mails saying: “I can’t believe Dana would say that about you when your rib was cracked. What are you supposed to do?” And I knew the whole story but they didn’t so I was like whatever. It’s just a weird thing; you never know what really is going on especially with the way they edit. Who knows? Maybe the first doctor saw something and the second doctor didn’t, but I know how I felt. You recently had your fight with John Kolosci at the Ultimate Fighter 6 Finale and you defeated him with a beautiful arm bar. Were you surprised that you were able to finish him off that quickly?

Arroyo: No. That is exactly what I predicted before the fight – first round submission, and I trained with him before. We had good sparring matches, and he is really good at ground and pound. Then, he gets half guard on you and he is really good at doing damage, so I knew to never let him get there. I know my guard, and my guard is pretty good, and I knew that is where I would be. I figured he would be a better wrestler than I was, and he got me down which I was expecting and I was working my guard the entire time. It didn’t surprise me that I caught him in first round, and to be honest, while I was in there, I thought: “I still had 30 seconds left, let me try a couple of things,” and in my head I was like it was probably going to go into the second round because I wasn’t getting him in anything. But I got him towards the end. The UFC recently cut a lot of the TUF 6 fighters. Were you surprised that they cut so many?

Arroyo: Yeah, 8 of them. No, I wasn’t surprised. If you take any one of those guys and put them against anyone in the UFC right now, I don’t think it would be much of a fight and they know it as well, everyone of those guys, not that they aren’t good fighters, they all have their strengths, but they all have one weakness that would put them out of the loop and they all know that. I have talked to all of them, and they are fine with it. They know what they need to work on to be successful. Do you think it is more difficult for fighters on the later seasons of TUF to remain in the UFC as compared to the fighters on lets say Season 1 or Season 2?

Arroyo: Yeah, totally. To tell you the truth, in the past 2 seasons, everybody is tough, but there are less-skilled guys in the last 2 seasons than there have been in the first 3 seasons. In the first 2 seasons, there are tons of guys that are still around, almost all of them. There are maybe 5 or 10 guys that aren’t around from the first 2 seasons. In the last 3 seasons, about half of each is gone. I think in the beginning, they were trying to find the actual toughest dudes around, and towards the middle to now, they are trying to get more theatrics to make the show more interesting, to get the ratings up, because it is all about the ratings. You can’t fake fighting. You can fake personality to get the ratings up, but if you can’t fight in there, you are not going to be in the UFC, and they will weed you out anyway. I think they will be happy if they can get 3 to 5 tough guys off of each season that will compete, so I don’t think they need 16 guys. There have been a lot of rumors going around about TUF 7 including unconfirmed rumors that Brandon “Murder” Sene from Gracie Tampa will be competing on the show. They also announced that this season they are going to start off with 32 contestants who will all fight each other before making it to the house with only the winners surviving. What do you think of that?

Arroyo: I think it is awesome. I think it will shut a lot of people up. A lot of people say that they are not picking the toughest guys out of the 50 because what they do is they get thousands of people trying out, and they narrow it down to 50 and then they invite those 50 out to Vegas for one last interview and a bunch of medicals but no more fighting. I’ve heard a lot of people say that: “Oh, that guy made it to the top 50, and he is tougher than all those guys, but didn’t get picked.” Now, they are picking almost three-fourths of them and letting them fight to get a slot to be in the house. I think it is awesome to shut the critics up and weed out any guys that aren’t as skilled. You’ve got 16 guys who you know have won at least 1 fight. What do you think about Rampage and Forrest as coaches?

Arroyo: That’s awesome. It is going to be a hilarious season. It has always been 2 coaches with one more charismatic than the other, like in our season, but never 2. These are the 2 craziest personalities in the sport. It’s not just TUF. I’ve never seen anybody as funny as Rampage or Forrest in the UFC. It’s going to be awesome. It’s going to be a funny season. It should be the highest rated one yet.

Stay-tuned to MMAFightline for Part II of Matt Arroyo’s Interview.