We caught up with Eric at his new gym in Fullerton California to talk about his new school and perhaps a return to the ring. Mention the name Erik Paulson to any die-hard mixed martial arts fan and I bet they will all say the same thing: An old school fighter with wicked submissions that has made the transition along with fighters like Bas Rutten, Matt Hume and Pat Militech to a world class trainer. With an impressive over all record of 10-4-1, he fought in the most primitive and challenging era of MMA when there was no time limits and no gloves and sometimes no weight classes. He was ahead of his time in his skill level, coming from a Shoot wrestling background he was able to do it all box, kick box, wrestle and had an array of submissions. We caught up with Eric at his new gym in Fullerton California to talk about his new school and perhaps a return to the ring.
OTM: For the new fans tell us a little about your background?
Paulson: I’m from Minnesota; I have been training in martial arts since 1974. I have been living in California for about 25 years and I have trained under Dan Inosanto, Uri Nakamora, the Gracie as well as the Machados. I have had a total of over 40 coaches and trainers that have really help me change and develop my overall game.
OTM: Looking back at your at your fight career from the 1990’s, for that time you seemed to be one of the more well rounded fighters in a time where it was style vs. style. What do you attribute that to?
Paulson: Shoot Wrestling, my Shoot Coach was Uri Nakamora and he really pressed the fact that we possessed striking, throwing and submission techniques. That what Shooto was known for, it’s called Da Tou and Kioku. Which were the three characters, Da was striking element. Tou was throwing and takedowns and Kioku was the submission element. We did tons and tons of pad drills, takedown drills and submission drills. It was all a lot of conditioning, a lot of stand up and a lot of technical submission. We didn’t quite roll as much as in jujitsu class though however we did do a lot of sparring.
OTM: You stated that you have trained with the Machado Bros. How was it making the transition from Shooto to Brazilian Jujitsu?
Paulson: At first I was having a hard time putting the two together due to the submissions. It was difficult making some of them work and adding them to my game, Possible because I had not drilled them enough. There were so many submissions that Shooto teaches, it has 10 combinations and each combo has anywhere from eight to thirty locks in them. This gives an approximate total of 150 locks that you have to know to become a Shooter. Out of those 150 locks, it is hard to prefect and get really good at most of them but it’s actually not the accumulation it’s actually getting good at a few of them. One saying we have that we got from Greg Nelson, its actually funny. The saying “Jack of all master at none”, he says “Master a few and jack everyone”.
OTM: Looking back at your career you seemed to be really adept at leg lock submission, what do you attribute that to?
Paulson: My trainer Uki Nakamora, he was one of the most knowledgeable guys on legs. I started to train under him in 1988 and starting fighting professional in 1993, but he made sure that you knew all the leg submissions and then really mastered a few and put them in your game. Yes you had to learn them as part of the curriculum but it was not really knowledge of all the locks. You just had to prefect a few for yourself.
OTM: We have seen you make that transition from fighter to coach, in seeing you corner the likes of Ken Shamrock. How was the move for you?
Paulson: Considering that I teach seminars all the time, the information is there. It is just actually formulating a schedule that is appropriate for a fighter, you kind of have to find his weaknesses and find out what their strong points are. Ken was so accomplished as a fighter that he had his things that he did and didn’t like to do. What he asked me to do was teach him again, because he felt that there was a lot he had forgotten. The game has changed a lot so we worked a ton of submission stuff with him. Tons of Takedown drills, which included offensive and defensive skills. We worked on his striking; I mean he was knocking guys out with his hands. I got his striking crisp and clean; his right hand was like a ball of dynamite. He was doing really great; he was always on time and ready to work and never complained. Even when he had an injury you would only see his face grimace and then I would find out later that he’s had 5 surgeries on his shoulder. Through all of that he never said anything until his wife said you need to show this to Eric. Ken brought me guy Mezger and I trained him as well, he too had a great work ethic. You could tell that he was trained by Ken; I really admire their training because they were athletes. They understood what the business was, which was being at the gym and working hard and not complaining about anything. Vernon White had the same work ethic when he would drive out to train with me. As a coach I have helped several fighters like Sean Sherk, Vladimir Matyushenko, and Frank Trigg and assisted Rico Chiapparelli. I have also worked with Randy Couture and Dan Henderson before they ever fought in MMA. Currently I am training Josh Barnett which I have been with for awhile now, along with Renato Babalu Sobral and Justin Levens. Fighters like Jay Martinez, Danny Suarez, Cub Swanson, Val Leddy, and Ben Jones all train with us. We have a lot of guys that are coming along really well. I am really happy to have a team now because now my energy can go into training guys and that gives you back 10 fold what it would if you were fighting yourself.
OTM: Now tell us about your new gym, I know that you opened up in Fullerton California. Can you let our readers know what kind of classes you are offering there?
Paulson: We looked for a new location because the location we had before was only 2200 square feet. We painted it camo and the energy was bouncing off the walls, but it just was not presentable for just the average Joe who is the bill payer to come in and train. It was great for fight training we had 30 guys packed in there a day and we used to beat the crap out of the gym. So what we did was we found a really nice location, 7000 square feet. We offer boxing, Muay Thai, submission wrestling (CSW) and we offer MMA/Vale Tudo classes as well. We integrate the Shoot boxing into some of our classes and also offer a catch wrestling class. We plan to also start a gi Jiu-jitsu class that offers a mix of Judo and Sambo techniques along with a Jiu-jitsu base.
OTM: Are you teaching all the classes, or do you have other instructors at the gym as well?
Paulson: I have Bruce Wilkerson; I have known and trained with Bruce now for some 25 years. His son Craig wrestled at Cal State Fullerton. Ben Jones, he is one of my pro fighters. Freddy George, he is my partner and a nutritionist that helps a lot of the fighters and body builders with their nutritional needs.
OTM: So Eric would you ever consider fighting again?
Paulson: Yes I’ve actually had some offers, well the thing is and this is thanks to Randy a lot more organizations know that 40 is the new 30. I said if I would ever get a good offer to fight that I would come out of retirement and I have gotten a few good offers. The thing is that I have been training with Josh Barnett and Ken Shamrock and other guys. Since I have been training with them I figured if I am going to take the lumps and the burses I might as well get back in shape and step up to the plate and fight again. I would like to see if I still have it in me.
OTM: Is there any particular organization that you would like to fight for?
Paulson: There are many new organizations out there now and a lot of them have some pretty decent backers, so it just depends on the offer I get. Obviously I’m interested in something that is not 5 years down the road but I’d like an offer with 3 to 5 fights with a possible commentary position for the organization right after that.
OTM: If you do make a comeback, is there anyone out there that you would like to fight?
Paulson: Anybody in general really, my biggest goal was to get back down to 205lbs. Then make sure my body was completely healthy and strong. I think I am a lot stronger now then I was when I first retired from fighting at 34 years old. Now I have a lot more experience and had time for things to set in and when you fight you have to have a driving ambition. At the end of my fight career, financially the fights got so bad it was depressing. That is why I walked away from the sport; one of my last fights was also one of my lowest paid fights ever. You would think at the highlight of your career where you have two titles and are at the top of an organization, you would get paid generally more then less but my last fight was just too low.
OTM: Seeing the sport change from the early 1990’s to know, what do you think has changed with the new breed of fighters?
Paulson: They are smarter and their ability is a lot higher, their complete understanding of the game is a lot better. Their submission and ground game are a lot better and now the guys are able to get their striking a lot better. The overall conditioning of the athletes and overall knowledge of sport as a whole has improved a lot.
OTM: The sport since going mainstream has changed a lot but 5 to 10 years from now where do you see it going? Paulson: I see it becoming huge; I travel a lot since I have been doing seminars for about 15 years now. When the sport first came about it was very hard to find a fighter while traveling but now there is a MMA fighter in every gym. Regardless if it’s a Boxing gym, Karate, judo or Jiu-jitsu School, You will find one. Everyone wants to fight now, and I think that has a lot to do with Dana getting that Ultimate Fighter show on TV. He made it very popular and showing every normal person in every household that everyone can do it if they set their heart on it.
OTM: In the sport today we do see some fighters witch have the Jack of all trades style, but we see more of the fighters that have that one strength and then add on to it. For instance a strong wrestling back round and add the submission and striking to their game as they grow in the sport. Do you think in an another generation from now we will see guys start up from scratch and learn the sport more as a Pankratation style in that learning it all from the beginning with all the tools?
Paulson: I do believe so; a lot of guys kind of get turboed into it because they were a pretty glorified wresters. With a lot of guys if they were not going to go to the Olympics the best thing for them to do is MMA. In MMA you are able to make 6 figures a year fighting once you start to get really good. I know Greg Nelson really promotes that, he tells them Hey guys where’s your future? If you are going to coach wrestling you know there is really little money and of course you get to love your passion and that is great but the money not there. He tells them Guys are you going to go to the Olympics or try and get on a world team? No your not, then the next step would be to start fighting. A lot of guys look at it like Oh my gosh I actually get paid to fight. So when I was fighting, the thing is a lot of fighters out of the mid west were getting paid $500.00 a fight so when you built yourself up to a certain level. The Promoters would say why we would want you when we could get 10 of you for the same price. A lot of guys were taking 500 bucks and I was getting what ever I was getting paid. The thing is a lot of guys were ok with getting underpaid because they wanted to go to Japan.
OTM: The UFC is of coarse the Biggest MMA organization out there. How do you feel about them acquiring Pride and now having the capabilities to put on some Mega fights like Liddell vs. Silva?
Paulson: I think it would be wonderful, I think they have to have the money for the fighter purses though. I know they own the contracts for a lot of the pride fighters, what I don’t like to see is them shelving a lot of fighters. They bought an organization and shelft it in America and we don’t even know if they are going to have it again and maybe the bought them out just to control everybody. As far as a business stand point it is understandable but that is why there are other organizations coming up with a lot money that could have some really good shows as well. It does kind of suck for a fighter that had a pride contract and then now is unable to fight because the organization has been bought out. The thing I would like to see is the mega fights where all the best fighters from every organization would fight each other. Like we will see in Dan Henderson fighting Rampage Jackson and little by little they are crossing. I know that was Dana’s plan in trying to make a big super bowl of fighters.
OTM: Well thank you Eric for your time is there anything you would like to say to your Fans?
Paulson: Come by and check out the new gym and get the info on EricPaulson.com, also just remember the body is a submission just waiting to happen.