I love being an underdog. I love proving people wrong. Rocky, Rudy—I love that mentality. The underdog is definitely ingrained in American culture. I love when people are writing me off. It’s way less pressure (than being the favored), because you have to go out there and prove everybody wrong instead of proving everybody right.
Winning the world championship for the first time was the signature moment in my career. I beat Anderson Silva, who was known as the greatest of all time, no one could ever beat him. He looked untouchable. The world thought I had no chance against him. But I proved everybody wrong and proved myself right. I knocked him out. Then we had a rematch. I beat him again. That whole period was awesome because the hard work paid off. All the years of wrestling and putting that work in, I finally became world champion. It was the gratification of, “I knew I could do it and I did it.” All the people around you usually believe in you, you believe in yourself but the other guy you’re getting in the cage with probably feels the same way. Only one guy is going to be right.
Mixed martial arts is all about who ends up being the smarter fighter. If you think the other guy is going to throw a punch and you can anticipate it, you can counter it and you’re able to win. It’s all about out-thinking. Mixed martial arts started off as a sport where people were so focused on one element. There were guys who just focused on jiu-jitsu and there were guys that were wrestlers and boxers and kickboxers—each one thought that’s all he needed.
In mixed martial arts, you need everything. Everything is important. It created a very open-minded atmosphere of learning from all martial arts. I’m competitive so I always want to challenge myself to learn more. That’s what makes it beautiful: the learning. Every day is something to get excited about. It’s a game of chess. You need aerobic, cardio, you need to be able to wrestle on the floor, you need to be able to stand up, you need to be so balanced in so many areas. That’s why I feel it is the ultimate competition a man could put himself through.
The reason why I am successful is because of my great support system. I see how hard my parents work and that inspired me to work hard. There is so much adversity. You have to try and stick with it through that adversity. This is where a lot of people get held up—and maybe it starts changing their passion for the goals they set out for themselves. I stayed very focused. Every time that I got injured—I’ve had 20 surgeries—and after every setback, it wasn’t like, “I can’t fight the way I want to” or “I can’t compete.” I was always very positive no matter what came, I just kept moving forward. You have to work hard to feel like you’ve earned the opportunity. Confident is not something you can trick yourself into being. When I was wrestling and doing other sports, I wasn’t really the hardest worker and I wasn’t as confident in myself. But when I started training and building habits of working hard, I started to feel that no one deserves to beat me. At the end of the day confidence is everything.
I have three kids, a wife and a dog. I have known my wife forever. She runs me. I was an athlete and she always supported me growing up but it was never as intense as a fight career, she didn’t expect that—same deal with my parents. Fighting is one of those sports that’s really hard to watch someone you care about do because at the end of the day you don’t know what you’re going to see. But they all go to my fights. My wife usually puts her headphones on and puts her head down. She’s usually sitting in the best seat in the whole place too. It’s probably one of the most nerve-racking things you can imagine.
Right now, I am trying to get my kids involved in as many things as possible until they can find something they’re good at so they can focus on it and build their confidence from being successful at something.
My style is open-mined. If someone tells me I’ll look good in it, I’ll try it. I wear T-shirts and jeans. Going out, I like a button up and jeans—it’s really hard for me to find jeans that I like. Just recently, my wife did the Stitch Fix thing—you give your sizes and every month they send you an outfit and you pick what you like out of it and return what you don’t like. I got the Gucci shoes. I got my Rolex watch that I wear out. All my suits are Hugo Boss or they’re custom. The Cole Haan shoes I like. I like Burberry.
I don’t even think about the hometown hero status. I appreciate people saying it, but I don’t know how they could say, “hero.” Maybe, role model? I am very proud of where I am from and to have the support from the people from my area. I work as hard as I can every day to be the best I can be. I fear not doing the most with the abilities I have been given—wasting my talents, getting lazy. That’s all it is, you find something that you love and you work hard every day at it and you’re bound to be successful.
To make it on Long Island, to survive here, you have to be tough. You have to be able to push through and work very hard. There’s a lot of competition in every field. I respect anybody who lives here because it’s easier to live anywhere else. If you do live here, you’re a tough person, you’re successful and you can make it anywhere else. Work hard, play hard, reap the rewards.
I travel a lot for work. There really isn’t much time for hobbies. Every once in a while, I’ll play a video game. I’ll play some Madden. I like poker. I have spent more time in casinos the last couple of years than I thought I would. On Long Island, I like bagels, I like diners, I like delis, I like the Italian food. I like that things are open late, the people. During the summer, I feel like Long Island is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I love it. You have everything you could possibly want here.