â€œIâ€™m going to bang him in the cage till he submits!â€
Craig “The Gentleman Mauler” Gardner
Interview and Photos by: Richard Burmaster
We all know a guy like Craig Gardner. They like to dabble in different things, always seeming to excel in whatever they choose to do. Go to law school? Check. Train and fight in Thailand? Check. Put trash talkers in their place? Check. Grow a moustache and take on the persona of “The Gentleman Mauler”? Check.
Craig is the guy who we all like to have around. Sharp witted and easy going, he does not come across as the guy who could also kick your ass, but donâ€™t let the gentle personality fool you. Inside lurks “The Gentleman Mauler”; A guy who gets a feeling of accomplishment shutting down trash talkers with his overwhelming arsenal of attacks. With two title belts in 3 tries Craig would seem to be the favorite to win his upcoming title fight with Hossan Walker at the Lonestar Beatdown January 30th in Houston Texas, but you would never think that from watching his training regimen at Westside MMA.
From the time I arrived to the moment I left, Craig did not stop moving. Craig never stopped sparring, rolling, or running with his teammates. With his cardio at such a high level, I would expect nothing less than the best from The Gentleman Mauler. I was able to pull him away from his training for just a few minutes to sit down with me.
TCD.net: How did you get started in MMA?
Craig: I had moved back to Houston, and I wanted to get back into shape. I started taking Jiu Jitsu with Paul Thomas back when Westside MMA had just opened up. I trained Jui Jitsu for about 6 months then started doing Kickboxing. Terrance Ferguson had a fight coming up, and he got hurt. They said they needed a 185lber, and we always try to have Westside represented, and not have the promoter have to go to another gym to find a fighter. I decided to fight for him, and I won.Â I just started fighting from there.
TCD.net: What made you choose Westside MMA?
Craig: I was looking around on the internet and found them. They were actually over at another school named Jade Mountain at that time. I went there once, and it was kind of like a Kung Fooey type school.Â I was not to sure about it. Then, they told me they were opening a new place that was going to be Jiu Jitsu, and it was just a much better feeling. Iâ€™ve been here going on 3 years now.
TCD.net: You spent a summer in Thailand in 2008. What was that experience like?
Craig: I was getting ready to start school again, and I just wanted to for the summer. My younger brother who also trains and I decided to go to Thailand for the experience. We both had 3 fights over there. We basically just showed up, and we told them we wanted to train and fight.Â After about a month they started getting us fights.
TCD.net: How open were they to having an American training and fighting there?
Craig: Some were and some were not. They have real fighting gyms, and then there are the tourist style gyms there. The smaller gyms would let you train with their real fighters. Over there, itâ€™s a much different mentality.Â Kids start fighting at 8 years old, and they are pro fighters. Basically the gyms own them. They stay at their stables, and the gyms pay them, and take care of everything. By the time they are 20 years old they are burnt out. They will already have 300 fights, and they will be beat up and trashed. Itâ€™s really kind of sad actually.
TCD.net: Have you attended any of the Muay Tai schools here in town?
Craig: I havenâ€™t. We do San Shoo here. The intensity over there is much higher. I was training 6 hours a day there. You would run a 5k in the morning, then jump rope, and hit the bags. I was already in shape when I went there, and I still dropped to around 170lbs. There is no protein in the food, and there is not a lot to eat, so youâ€™re just walking around shredded. Combine the weather which is like Houston at all times with high humidity and the intensity. Â It is an amazing experience.
TCD.net: What was your first fight like?
Craig: It was up in Huntsville against a guy from 4oz who I am actually friends with now. Thatâ€™s my attitude.Â Â I donâ€™t like talking trash, and I generally like the guys I have fought. Â I have never really fought a real jerk or anything. We have cross trained with 4oz a couple of times, so I knew that his school was more of a stand up school.Â He was a bigger guy than me. I walked in there after eating lunch and dinner, and I was about 182lbs.Â This guy looked drained. I guess about 6 months before he was around 230 lbs, and he had come way down. You know how when you shake someoneâ€™s hands, and they have huge wrists.Â I just thought this was going to be bad. [Laughs]. I clinched with him, and I have this outside trip I use.Â Â I was able to take him down with it, and then he hit me with this hammer fist.Â It just surprised me how much power he got with it in that small space. I had broken my nose before, and it bleeds sometimes and sure enough it started bleeding.Â That woke me up enough that I knew I Â needed to control his pace because he was just swinging at me. In the second round, I took him down, took his back and choked him out.
TCD.net: What was your first fight like in Thailand?
Craig: Over there they fight in whatâ€™s basically a bar, and they cater towards the tourist because they have the money. I was fighting this Thai guy, and I was weighing around 170lbs.Â This guy was a lot closer to 180lbs. The first round youâ€™re supposed to start out slow as a show of respect, but this guy just started swinging at me. I was a lot taller, so I just grabbed him and started kneeing him. I kneed him in the head, and he fell down. We reset, and he started swinging again, so I just grabbed him; I landed some clean kneeâ€™s, and it was over. It wasnâ€™t a KO more of a TKO.
TCD.net: How did the locals feel about you winning?
Craig: Yeah they even have this little Thai section where they are betting on the fights, and every time you land something they are all cheering. (laughs) They try to influence the judges. You will be in the ring getting rubbed down, and they are talking to you telling you to KO him this round.Â If they get the KO in the round they bet on, they pay out like 10 to 1 or something. Theyâ€™re always gambling and shouting off in the corner. Itâ€™s pretty cool.
TCD.net: Who are your favorite fighters?
Craig: I like Machida because I really like seeing the traditional real world style being applied. I like the respect he shows. He kind of moves it away from the meathead mentality. I like the older guys. Itâ€™s encouraging to see them in there still competing. I like Thiago Alves; I like how he incorporates it in to his style. There is really no one I donâ€™t like. I just donâ€™t like trash talkers.
TCD.net: Any plans on going pro after this fight?
Craig: There are two more guys I want to fight in the amateurs. The guy who has the TAMMA belt up in Dallas out of Team Gladiators. I think it would be cool to consolidate the belts. My other belt is getting kind of lonely. I’m in school now, and I really need to start pushing more school. I would also like to fight Brandon Ferris out of Submission Boxing. He kind of comes off as having this attitude, and I donâ€™t like people with attitudes.Â I like to humble people with attitudes.
TCD.net: Have you seen any footage of Hossan?
Craig: We actually shared a locker room at the last Young Guns fight.Â I think he fought first on that card, and I fought last. Â His trainers have been over here a few times, and theyâ€™re all nice guys. I kind of know their style, so maybe they will have something new for me.
TCD.net: Any words for Hossan?
Craig: Good luck. I hope you make me earn it.
TCD.net: How will this fight end?
Craig: I know I have better cardio, what I lack in technique and speed I make up for in cardio. [laughs] And not talking bad about him, but it looked like in his last fight that he gassed some. Iâ€™m going to push the pace, and 2nd or 3rd round I look for it to end.
TCD.net: This will be your 3rd title fight in 5 total fights. You only taking the big fights now?
Craig: [laughs]. I think itâ€™s because Iâ€™m just a nice guy. I am nice to the promoters.Â I show up on weight every time. They know they can call me couple weeks out, and Iâ€™ll still be ready to fight. Iâ€™m no Prima Donna about stuff.Â Â I just want to fight. I wanted to fight once a month last year, but itâ€™s hard. Especially, at 185lb where I used to fight, so I cut down to 170lbs because there is just more fights there. There are a lot of people who say they want to fight then they get there and pull out.Â One of the guys on the Legacy FC card pulled out on me twice; BrianÂ Daricek from Gracie Barra was one of them.
TCD.net: You just won the Young Guns 170lb title back in October. How did it feel to win the belt?
Craig: It felt good. I had fought for the belt before, but it was declared a 4 round unanimous draw. I am a little biased, but I think it should have went 5 rounds. Going into this fight, I felt like it was already my belt, so it was nice to officially get it. I think it legitimizes me being in the title fight, my background before I came to MMA was that I played soccer and ran track, and I hadnâ€™t really done any martial arts as a kid. To go from nothing to winning the belt is a testament to the training I received here at Westside MMA.
TCD.net: Any motto you live by?
Craig: Try to have fun and have a bunch of stories for when I am an old man.
TCD.net: Anyone you would like to thank?
Craig: Everyone here at Westside MMA, Paul Thomas, Chris Mango, Brandon Mullins, Alex Cisne, Kenny Burke, and my training partners they are all the best.