The Conversation

The Travel Chronicles, Part 3

(Photo via Piper Sports Photography)

He was a two hundred and twenty five pound Canadian amateur MMA heavyweight champion. She was a buck and some change, blonde, twenty years old and from California. They would both knock me on my ass. I just didn’t know it yet.

A few days after my win in May I got a friend request from someone named Chad. I didn’t know him but for whatever reason I accepted. He was a young aspiring fighter out of La Ronge, Canada and recommended that I contact the matchmaker for Hard Knocks Fighting, Sarah, which put on pro/am MMA events in Northwestern Canada. Ronda Rousey had made her MMA debut at Hard Knocks and the organization was developing a strong reputation. Chad was going to make his MMA debut in July and had seen tape of my fight on CagePotato.

I didn’t feel ready to fight yet again — my knee hadn’t gotten more injured in my last fight, though it still wasn’t strong — but I thought I’d at least introduce myself to Sarah to put me on their radar. I’d never been out of the U.S. except for Mexico, and getting flown out and put up to fight in another country as a lowly amateur seemed like a prospect not to be missed. How many people other than high level professionals get that type of chance?

Sarah and I spoke, she looked at my May fight tape and said she was definitely interested in including me on a card at some point. Perhaps if they had an event in the fall I could jump on board after training during the summer to improve. Canada would come a lot sooner than I expected, and would become the first stop on my summer travels.

Shortly after speaking with the Hard Knocks Fighting matchmaker I happened to meet a girl at a concert my friend’s band was playing at. Turns out he was a mutual friend of ours. She was passing through Chicago quickly to see his concert and would soon be heading home to California from school.

I’d seen her behind me at the concert. I stared. She smiled.

When she came up to me afterwards outside the venue asking to be walked to the after party, I ditched the people I was with and we walked in the rain towards the party. I got us a little lost but she didn’t seem to mind. When we finally got to the party I sat back and listened to her chat away, charmed. She was nerdy, gorgeous, and could sing.

She had an early morning bus to catch out of Chicago and I left her with a hug and my number. She’d soon be back in Cali. I’d been toying with the idea of going to either the West or East coast that summer to mix up my training and conduct interviews. The West coast had just jumped into the lead in my mind.

I still had no tangible travel plans, though. Then I heard from Sarah and Canada. Hard Knocks Fighting’s heavyweight champion, Devon Smith, was set to fight at light heavyweight in less than two weeks but his opponent pulled out with injured ribs. Smith was a rising star in the organization. He’d won the heavyweight title the month prior by submission and had won other fights by vicious KO.

The July 23rd event was built around him but now, without an opponent, the Hard Knocks main event was in question. They’d fly me up to Canada a couple days before the fight and send me back afterwards. I told them to include a flight for a coach and make my return flight to LA or Vegas instead of Chicago and I’d be in.

I’d get to fight in a televised main event in another country and at least get my first flight out West paid for. I did a little research — for some reason rental cars were twice as expensive in LA as they were in Vegas, and so I decided to get flown from Canada after the fight to Vegas, get a car and drive to LA. I’d be able to stay with my buddy Dave Doyle, visit with my friend Sam Sheridan, train somewhere new and see about a girl. Then I’d drive back to Vegas to train with and interview folks in the fight capital of the world.

Read Part 3 in its entirety at

Episode 3: Keith Kizer

We’ve been out of action for a few weeks because of illness and apologize for the delay in episodes. Ordinarily we will have a new episode for you up each Monday all season long. This week, though, we are bringing you two special episodes of The Conversation to catch up. First up is an insightful and perhaps surprisingly fun conversation with MMA’s chief regulator, Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Keith Kizer. As the head of the most important fight commission in the world, Kizer is one of the very best people one can hope to speak to to discuss fight rules and controversies. We hope you enjoy and share this episode. - Elias

Episode #2: Sam Sheridan

(Photo courtesy of Sam Sheridan’s official website,

Few writers today can transport you with them to a time and space, with all the detailed vividness and richness, as well as Sam Sheridan can. And that’s a good thing because readers certainly want to go where he has during his thrilling life. 

Sheridan has authored two published books, A Fighter’s Heart and The Fighter’s Mind, and has written a third, The Disaster Diaries: How I learned to stop worrying and embrace the apocalypse, which will soon be published. In his books he details his adventures traveling the world, sailing, fighting fires, training and fighting, among other things, all while meeting and learning from some of the world’s best fighters, coaches, combat, competition and survival experts.

Shortly after Sam’s first book came out, he was kind enough to begin writing a column for my old fight site, InsideFighting. We were lucky to have his take on things and I was fortunate to get to talk with him many times over the years about the things he had experienced and written, as well as many other stories and topics that hadn’t made the final cut. 

This week’s episode features Sam talking just a bit about some of the most interesting people he’s met over the years - folks like the legendary wrestler and coach Dan Gable - and what he’s learned. We loved having him on and we know you’ll enjoy his take on the fight world, manhood, modernity and more. 

So, press play below, enjoy and tell your friends!

- Elias

The Travel Chronicles, Part 2

(Photo Courtesy of Chi-Town Mmaniacs)

"The fighter wrangler came to the locker room and said our fight was up. Our warm-up area was in a lofted portion of the huge Chicago South Suburban bar we were in, Bourbon Street, so we had to walk down a flight of stairs to enter the arena portion of the building where the crowd and cage were.

To our left was the event’s sound guy. I was told to bring a song that I wanted to have blaring as we walked out to the cage. I’d accidentally left it at home.

Lyndon always had music with him and that music is always reggaeton . Coach gave the sound guy his iPod and chose a club hit for me to come out crunking to, I suppose.

Lyndon was in front of me, coach Said to my immediate left. I had about a dozen teammates behind me. I could see my friend Cliff and his wife Vero about ten feet away giving me thumbs up. The crowd was right in front of us and then would surround us as we walked a straight line through them to the cage.

I didn’t look for anyone and fixed my gaze on the back of Lyndon’s head. Our opponent was already in the cage. The music began and Lyndon told me to wait for him to begin walking.

Some fighters will tell you that waiting is the hardest part of fighting. They spar, kick ass and get their asses kicked every day, so that is nothing new or particularly scary. But waiting weeks, days, minutes, and moments before the fight can be agonizing and emotional because you are not yet at the point where you can control things — the fight.

I’d resolved to go out and fight but my mood and feelings were far from static and resolute. From the time of that decision to the opening bell my emotions would soar, dip, and rise again several times.

Coach Said called to me in his distinctive Moroccan accent. “Elias!” he shouted to me over the music.

'Elias!' he said again. He wanted me to look at him. I did.

'Be mean.'…”

Read Part 2 in its entirety at

The Travel Chronicles, Part 1

(Photo courtesy of Chi-town MMAniacs)

I began working on The Conversation podcast last spring and taped episodes throughout the summer. Another adventure that intersected with this project was some traveling I did across the states and up into Canada. 

I combined fighting, training and interviewing fascinating people during my travels. For example, my interview with Episode 1 guest Renzo Gracie took place in late August in New York City, after my most recent fight. I also interviewed the Muay Thai coach for Georges St. Pierre, Frankie Edgar and Jon Jones, Phil Nurse, in NYC. 

Phil Nurse’s episode will debut before St. Pierre’s next fight, Nov 17th against Carlos Condit. Nurse is an interesting, calm and wise guy and I enjoyed the chance to talk with one of the world’s best fighting minds for the benefit of this podcast as well as my own edification. 

CagePotato has commissioned me to write about my summer in a weekly series titled, “The Travel Chronicles.” The series has kicked off and a new part appears at CagePotato each week. Check out part 1 after the jump here, and come back later this weekend for a link to part 2.

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The Conversation Premiers Today With Renzo Gracie

When we began recording episodes of The Conversation late last spring, the plan was to have the first ones up live on this site by mid summer. As you can see, that didn’t happen. 

The good news is, A. We’re finally kicking things off today, and with the charismatic legend Renzo Gracie, no less, and B. The Conversation should reach more people off the bat than it would have if we had begun posting episodes back in the summer. 

We’ve taken the past few months to travel around the U.S. getting interviews in person with the likes of Renzo Gracie, Randy Couture and more and we also were fortunate enough to work out an agreement with one of the largest MMA sites in the world, CagePotato for them to help distribute and promote The Conversation. 

So in addition to finding each episode up here on Tumblr, you’ll be able to find most episodes over at CagePotato every Monday as well. 

Some quick house keeping items are addressed below. Check em out before listening:

iTunes - We’re not there yet but should be in a few weeks. 

Sound quality - The first season’s episodes were recorded in a variety of settings with a variety of equipment. We spoke with people over the phone, in their offices and in their gyms. And sometimes often, I didn’t account for sound levels as I should have. I’m sorry and I’ll get better at that. 

My annoying self - Interviewing for written stories and interviewing for broadcast can be very different. For example, I have developed the habit over the years of filling air during conversations with people I’m writing about with things like “I see,” “wow,” “uh huh,” and other profundities. Sometimes those things are helpful in letting the person being interviewed that I’m paying attention but for broadcast, they are extremely annoying. 

So, same thing as with the sound quality issue - I’m sorry and I’ll get better with that.

What I hope is that, even with rudimentary production this first season, that you will enjoy the substance of what I found to be enthralling conversations with truly fascinating people who have led extraordinary lives in the fight world. 

Feedback is always welcome. Technical tips more so. But if you get too mean, Renzo Gracie might come and choke you out. Just saying.

- Elias

"The Conversation" With Elias Cepeda

(Heavyweight champion of the world Gene Tunney, circa 1927, reading | Underwood/Corbis)

I began covering boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA) back in 2005 and have been fortunate enough to meet and interview some incredible people. Fighters, coaches, promoters, refs, judges, commentators, etc. almost always have great stories that I don’t often get to include in the typical news and feature profiles I write.

Those types of stories usually revolve around the news cycle and whatever is going on currently. So the back stories, the deep reflections, the humor and natural banter that can occur when I speak with people can sometimes get left on the cutting room floor. No longer.

The Conversation podcast will be made up of retrospective one-on-one conversations with the most fascinating and influential people in the fight world.

Each episode of The Conversation podcast will have one guest and the discussion will look back on their life and career. I’m not a comedian or entertainer so I’ll always get right to the guest, ie. the person you really want to hear from.

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