Clifford Starks to Fellow Wrestlers: Don’t Be Too Scared to Get Hit
Undefeated Middleweight Eyeing Title Contention in 2012
By Kelsey Mowatt
Any fighter who hopes to compete for the Ultimate Fighting Championship likely envisions making their Octagon debut, having completed a multi-week training camp that’s been specifically orientated to one opponent in particular. That would be the ideal way to break into the organization of course, but as so often is the case in MMA, the perfect scenario doesn’t come along very often. Just ask Clifford Starks.
“That was something I really couldn’t turn down,” said Starks, who made his UFC on October 29th against Dustin Jacoby, just two weeks after he fought and defeated Artenas Young at Shark Fights 20. “I felt as ready as I could be but I wish I would have had more time to prepare. You can’t say no to the UFC so I took the opportunity. It turned out well for me.”
Jacoby was originally scheduled to fight Brad Tavares at UFC 129, however, when the middleweight was forced to withdraw due to injury, Starks got the call just seven days before the fight.
“To know on a week’s notice, and to not really have a game-plan for a specific opponent was kind of a shocker,” the 30 year-old-fighter admitted. “But I did what I had to do. It’s part of the fight game.”
Despite the short notice, Starks worked his way to a unanimous decision win over Jacoby, giving the former NCAA Division 1 wrestler his eighth consecutive win since he transitioned into MMA just three years ago.
“That was the goal, but I didn’t know if it was going to happen; I had to take it day-by-day,” said Starks, while discussing the success he’s had to date in MMA and his rapid ascension in the sport. “Some people set their goals and then think about their goals too often, instead of taking the actions they need to take to actually attain them. So I just worked on doing what I had to do to improve my game every day…Fortunately things happened for me at the right time.”
Starks is just the latest, in a growing list of former Arizona State University wrestlers, who have transitioned into MMA and had success.
“I graduated from ASU with a degree in kinesiology and went into personal training,” Starks recalled. “I saw some of my old wrestling buddies, Cain Velasquez, CB Dollaway, and Ryan Bader doing really well in the sport. They were really excelling in the sport at a high level, but I wasn’t really thinking about it for myself, at first it was like “oh, good for them”. But I really was missing the competitiveness of it all, and seeing them fight as well, got me thinking why not give it a shot. So I started training in boxing and I really enjoyed it from then on. It was just a whole new level of competiveness for me.”
Although there is no shortage of top fighters now that came from wrestling backgrounds, Starks acknowledges that some wrestlers are able to incorporate their skills into MMA better than others.
“If you’re afraid to get hit your distance is going to be very predictable,” Starks told FCF. “If you’re trying to shoot a double leg, and you’re too scared to get hit, don’t want to hit your opponent to get your double leg in, they’re going to see your shot from a mile away; no matter how quick it is.”
“For a decent shot, you have to incorporate the games together,” the Arizona Combat Sports fighter added. “A decent set up needs boxing, and then you have to translate that into your wrestling…I think that’s what some wrestlers have difficulty with.”
Up next, Starks expects to return to the Octagon sometime next spring, when he hopes to continue building on a record that is garnering more attention each bout.
“Within contention of a title,” said Starks, when asked what his aspirations are for next year. “I know it’s kind of a cliché and everyone says it, but I just want to keep evolving, be the best mixed-martial-artist that I can be.”
Photo via Twitter / @cliffordstarks1