Sandman Back To UFC

20 Dec

by Armando Alvarez for UFC.com (2007-12-20)

For the first minute of his fight against Thiago Silva on May 26th of this year, James Irvin was fighting the way he had trained to fight. Everything was going according to plan, and then “pop”. The “pop” wasn’t a punch landed on his chin, or a kick to the head, or his arm breaking as a result of an arm bar. The “pop” was his knee, which gave out when Silva was attempting a takedown.
The result of the injury was not only a loss, but a torn ACL and MCL. Irvin had reconstructive surgery on his knee, but just seven months after the devastating injury he returns to the Octagon to take on unbeaten Brazilian Luiz Cane December 29th at UFC 79: Nemesis.
The 29 year-old Irvin, who fights in the 205 pound light heavyweight division, was coming off an impressive win against Hector Ramirez when he took on Silva at UFC 71. It’s the same undefeated Silva that just destroyed Houston Alexander in November. Irvin was confident and doing good work when the injury occurred.
“I was fighting a guy who had won all his fights by knockout, and I was happy with the way it was going until my knee popped,” Irvin said. “I had never had a knee injury before. It felt like I had been shot. As a fighter I depend on my arms and legs, so when one is taken away from you there’s not much you can do.”
Irvin, who fights out of Sacramento, California, did his rehab at U.C. Davis, in the same facility Mike Bibby and other members of the Sacramento Kings NBA basketball team go to rehab when they suffer injuries. Although the surgery was a complete success and the rehabilitation went smoothly (he started rehabbing one hour after the surgery), one thing Irvin had to overcome was mental anxiety about his career.
“I was depressed,” Irvin said. “I was guessing and wondering if my knee would ever be good again. The first month after the surgery was the hardest. I kept thinking that if I can’t move my legs like I used to, or kick like I used to, that would wrap up my UFC career. It would’ve been over. That mental part of the injury, the not knowing whether I’d be back or not was tough. I never realized how hard it was mentally to get through an injury like that. It was very devastating.”
Once he got past that anxiety, one question mark remained, and that was whether the UFC would want to bring him back, even if fully healed.
“I was holding my breath because a loss is a loss. Whether it’s by knockout, tap out, or injury, it’s still a loss,” Irvin said.
“After a loss you question if the UFC will even bring you back, but they called me and fortunately they’re having me fight on what I think is the biggest UFC event of the year. It doesn’t get any bigger than Matt Hughes versus Georges St-Pierre and Chuck Liddell against Wanderlei Silva. For them to bring me back on that card, especially coming back from an injury, shows they have a lot of faith in my work. Dana White and Joe Silva are putting a lot of faith in me.”
Irvin says he’s training harder than ever for his fight on December 29th. He knows the UFC world is waiting for him to break out. Irvin won his first seven fights as a Mixed Martial Arts fighter, six of them by knockout, and one by submission. He’s trying to get back in the win column, so to help better prepare him for this bout he traveled two weeks to Thailand where he trained with Jaket Fairtex and Ganyao Fairtex and the rest of the Fairtex team.
“Those two weeks helped me regain my confidence,” Irvin said. “They pushed me hard. I would do double days, there were no doctors there, and my knee held up perfectly.
There were no cricks, no cracks, so hopefully this knee injury is behind me. It was a really big confidence booster.”
Even though he’s only 29 years old, he says preparing for a fight isn’t the same as it was when he was younger.
“I just turned 29 and I feel like I’m getting older with each fight,” Irvin said. “Every single fight is harder and harder to get prepared to fight and go through these five minute rounds. Imagine now with the knee injury, but I promised myself never to be in bad shape. I always have to get fully prepared.”
Now he takes on Cane, a Brazilian fighter who’s never lost in his MMA career. His last fight was a first round knockout win over James Stelly in September. He’s never fought in the UFC and is fairly unknown in the sport, but Irvin knows he can’t take him lightly.
“I have a lot of respect for Cane,” Irvin said. “I expect him to be in the best shape of his career. He comes from a very good team, and has never lost. I know he’s a southpaw, which works a lot to my advantage, and I’m very excited about that.”
Irvin hopes to get into light heavyweight championship contention. He says a win over Cane still won’t be enough, since he fights in what is the sport’s premier division.
“I’m still a couple of fights away before I even get mentioned with the Chuck Liddells, the Quinton Jacksons, Dan Hendersons, or Wanderlei Silvas of the world,” Irvin said. “They’re above us right now. Everyone else is scattered in the division. It’s wide open for someone to break through. Houston Alexander just got exposed by Thiago Silva, but I don’t think he’s even up there yet. I don’t talk, or lie to myself. I’m only 29 and I know I’m a couple of fights away before I’m up there with those guys.”

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