Paul Lazenby brings MMA to Vancouver
PL: For the past nine years I've been a professional stuntman and actor in Vancouver. I'm currently working on The A-Team, and stunt doubling for former wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin on his movie. It's something I kind of fell over backward into after leaving a career in pro-wrestling and it's been a hell of a lot of fun. It's beat the hell out of me at times, but it's been a lot of fun.
tV: Could you tell us about your fighting background.
PL: I actually went into fighting with no intention whatsoever of being a fighter and I got into it extremely late. I originally wanted to be a professional wrestler.
When I was 23 I was a competitive power lifter and a strongman and I loved pro wrestling so I wanted to do that, so I kind of hammered away at that. I went to Calgary and learned how to be a pro wrestler at the Hart Brother's Pro Wrestling school and did that for a few years and got to travel around the world.
I always wanted to wrestle in Japan and a couple of times it almost happened but it fell through. Then I met an agent in Detroit in 1996 when I was wrestling on a show there and she said she wasn't booking wrestlers but she was booking real fighters.
I'd been watching bootlegs of mixed martial arts shows from Japan. MMA at the time was much more advanced over there than it was over here so I knew a lot of the names and faces and recognized the organization she was talking about. I lied to her and told her I was an experienced fighter and didn't really think much about it. I filled out the application form and thought that they'd look at it, laugh at it, and throw it in the garbage because they'd never accepted a Canadian before.
A month later I got a call from the same agent saying pack your bags you're going to Tokyo.
Without any prior experience in wrestling, martial arts or anything, at the age of 28 I had my very first fight in front of 10,000 people in Tokyo. And I guess I lost in an entertaining fashion because they immediately invited me back the next month to stay at their school in Yokohama for a six week training camp, contingent on me fighting the world champion four days after I got there. I kind of jumped in the deep end as a fighter.
tV: What was that experience like for you.
PL: I loved going to Japan. It was fantastic but at the same time it was frustrating because I developed physically a lot faster than I did mentally. I don't really have the same mind set as a lot of the other fighters. It takes a lot more for me to gear myself up mentally to go into a fight and I was fighting world class guys right out of the gate. As a result, I lost my first six fights in the process of learning how to be a fighter. I finally got into the right mind set just after moving to Vancouver from Ontario where I'm originally from. Then I got into kick boxing as a world mixed martial arts and started winning fights after that.
tV: How young were you when you first realized you wanted to be a wrestler.
PL: I was always a wrestling fan as a kid. I wasn't allowed to watch it so I'd sneak out of my parents' place to watch it. I always loved pro wrestling as a kid. I always say I had my mid-life crisis at an extremely early age because at 23 I remember I was working as an assistant manager in a department store and really hated my life. Aside from power lifting, from which you make no money, I didn't enjoy anything about what I was doing, and was thinking “I don't want to be here in ten years.”
Then I saw an ad for a pro wrestling school, The Hart Brothers' pro wrestling school, in the back of a wrestling magazine and a couple of very good friends of mine, Carlos Leal and Kristel Vines, actually lent me the money because I was completely flat broke. Carlos even drove me from Ontario to Calgary. That's how I got off the ground as a wrestler. That was all I wanted to do. I never wanted to fight for real.
tV: Can you describe some of the styles of fighting you do now.
PL: The two styles that I focus on now are pankration and muay thai kick boxing. Pankration is the original name for mixed martial arts, the name under which it was contested in the ancient Greek olympics. That's the style that my trainer Chris Franco teaches. I combine that with muay thai training, which I also do with Chris, and that's Thai style kick boxing which, in addition to punches and kicks, also involves the elbows, knees, and standing throws.
tV: What styles of fighting are within pankration?
PL: The word pankration loosely translates as all powers which basically means that you use every weapon at your body's disposal. Pankration fighters in the old days were allowed to do pretty much what we're allowed to do in MMA today: punch, kick, elbow, knee, take-downs, and grappling techniques on the ground.
MMA or pankration, has kind of become a style in and of itself. In the old days of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) one guy would stick to the rules of karate, one guy would stick to the rules of boxing, one guy would stick to the rules of wrestling, but that style versus style stuff has kind of fallen by the way side. Everybody is now a true mixed martial artist, they mix techniques from all of the martial arts together, to one style that's kind of a stand alone.
tV: Right now, who would you most like to fight... besides Aleks Paunovic?
PL: That wouldn't be a fight, that'd be an ass whooping! Aleks is a wimp (laughs).
Who'd I like to fight? That's easy. Shortly after I won the NFC (National Fighting Championship) mixed martial arts championship I found out that the knee pain that I'd been suffering from for the past few years was due to having no ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in the knee at all. I'd had no idea.
So I scheduled knee surgery, and about a month before the surgery I went to another NFC event and a guy named Dominic “the Nightmare” Richard knocked his opponent out in six seconds and then grabbed the microphone and called me out. It made me seethe.
I couldn't fight this guy because I had to get this surgery and it would be a year turn around time afterwards. I've been sitting on that for a few years and I'm getting to the point where I think my next fight will probably be my last, so if I've got to pick one guy to fight it would be Dominic. I want to put that one to bed. He might knock me out, I might knock him out, but we've got to settle that.
tV: What do you think of the bid to include the MMA in Vancouver?
PL: I've been at the forefront of that fight actually. I was one of the delegation who spoke to City Council when they were considering banning it in 2007. Unfortunately they'd made up their minds before we even got there. And ever since the ban was enacted I've been fighting to get it brought back.
I'm a huge proponent of having MMA brought back to Vancouver, especially considering the fact that the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) have displayed a strong interest in holding events here.
In Montreal they've set the precedent for what the UFC can do for a major Canadian city. They make roughly 50 million dollars long term, every time UFC comes to town. Nobody needs to tell them that Vancouver needs money, with all the money they're spending on the Olympics, so to turn down a cash cow like this with all the facts being in on how relatively safe MMA is as a combat sport, it would be unconscionable and I can't see city council under the mounting pressure doing anything but approving it, and doing that soon.
tV: Could you please elaborate on the safety of the sport in comparison to other contact sports.
PL: Absolutely. MMA gets a bad rap because when it was first introduced to North America it was marketed as a blood sport and it had far fewer rules than it does today. In it's current incarnation as a sport that's sanctioned by athletic commissions, and with a very ridged rule structure, it's safer than a lot of the other major sports out there.
A couple of years ago Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine held a study that concluded that it was more than twice as safe as professional boxing and that the injury rates, while roughly equivalent, showed that most of MMA injuries were hand injuries and most boxing injuries were brain injuries.
And the fatality rates speak for themselves. I'm a big fan of boxing, but the boxing fatality rates are astronomical, and in MMA sanctioned competitions I believe there have been two or three in the last decade. MMA is safer than horse racing, car racing, football, and boxing. As contact sports go, it's one of the safest sports out there.