MMA interview guru Mike Straka switches seats
By John Silver firstname.lastname@example.org July 14, 2011 6:52PM
Mike Straka (right) interviews UFC president Dana White. Straka, who has covered mixed martial arts since 2001, has interviewed White more than any other figure in MMA. | HDNet
Updated: October 27, 2011 12:32AM
From stories of Cain Velasquez’s marriage proposal and Ken Shamrock’s admission of steroid use, it seems Mike Straka can get everyone to talk.
Straka has an uncanny ability to get fighters to reveal personal stories and details beyond locker-room clichés on his weekly HDNet interview show. Now he has compiled 15 of his interviews into a new book, Fighting Words ($16.95, Triumph), out this week. It’s a great, easy read that’s perfect for a newcomer or hard-core MMA fan.
Earlier in the week, the Sun-Times turned the tables and asked Straka the questions. Here’s an excerpt of our talk:
Q: Did you enjoy the process of writing the book?A:
When you’re on TV and you only have 30 minutes, it’s easier to explain to the viewer about something when you actually can see the video over the interview. But in the book, you can’t really show that. So it was much better for me to be able to illustrate that in words. I really enjoyed that process.
Q: Was it difficult deciding which interviews were included?A:
It was very difficult. I did a great interview with Zuffa CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, and he does very few interviews. He did it so late in the process of when the book was due that the book was already written. I have enough for another Fighting Words, part two. I’ve done about 34 interviews, and this book only has 15 of them.
Q: Who have you interviewed most?A:
I think I’ve interviewed UFC president Dana White the most. He was the first MMA interview that I ever did [in 2001]. The first thing he said to me was, ‘‘I don’t know if we’re going to f---ing make it, but I love this sport more than anything.’’ I fell in love with the guy’s passion and his honesty.
If you were to ask me which fighter, it would be Randy Couture. He’s another guy I met way back when. He actually wrote the forward to the book. He’s a guy I’ve probably interviewed 30 or 40 times. Dana, I’ve interviewed at least 55 or 60 times in the last 10 years.
Q: One of your favorite questions plays off your show’s title, “Fighting Words.” I’ll ask it of you. What [ticks] you off?A:
(laughing) Fighters that try to be funny during their interviews. Some guys can get away with it. Forrest Griffin and Kenny Florian can get away with it. It takes a very special type of personality to always be on. But there are other fighters who . . . Don’t try to be funny guys. Just answer the question. Be yourself and don’t try to be someone else.
Q: The Ken Shamrock interview where he revealed using steroids received plenty of headlines last year. Did you expect that?A:
Not at all. I didn’t want to ask him the question about steroids. Here’s why: Royce Gracie was busted for steroids, and I asked him point blank, ‘‘Tell me about the time you got busted for steroids.” Royce’s eyes changed. He became the Royce Gracie you see in the Octagon. Literally, I thought he was going to kill me right now.
So [with] Ken Shamrock, I wasn’t going to even ask him about steroids. I thought, there is enough material about Ken Shamrock not to go there. We stopped taping at one point, and my producer said, ‘‘Mike, you want to ask Ken about the steroids?’’ I was like, ‘‘Yeah, yeah.’’ I was shocked he was so honest. I kept asking him follow-up questions, and he kept digging himself deeper and deeper. It definitely wasn’t my intention to make him uncomfortable or to get him to admit to taking steroids.
Q: What do you think the key is for MMA to fully work its way into the mainstream?A:
I think what they need to do is exactly what Dana White and Jon Jones did in a recent Bud Light commercial. It’s one thing for Bud Light to sponsor the UFC and have their logo inside the Octagon. But for Madison Avenue and mainstream America to really get to know the fighters, they have to be in commercials that are seen during sporting events, not just fights.
Hooks and jabs
The DUB Show Tour at McCormick Place offers opportunities to meet two fighters this weekend. Stop by the UFC booth to meet bantamweight Miguel Angel Torres, and visit the Toyo Tires booth to meet lightweight Anthony Pettis. The show runs from 3 to 9 p.m.
◆ Strikeforce has finalized the main card for its July 30 card at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates. Added to the Fedor Emelianenko-Dan Henderson main event is a women’s welterweight title match between champion Marloes Coenen and Miesha Tate. Also on the card are Robbie Lawler vs. Tim Kennedy, Paul Daley vs. Tyron Woodley and Scott Smith vs. Tarec Saffiedine. Tickets are on sale through Ticketmaster.