Interview: Pete Sprajc

“I don’t really consider myself a karate guy anymore, more a budoka, a martial artist.”

(photo courtesy FighterPortraits.com)

Pete Sprajc

Interview by: Lance Edwards

When I go to interview a fighter, I rarely know what to expect. I met Pete and one of Westside MMA’s Head Coaches, Ted Stickel, and I was pleasantly surprised by both of them. Warm, charismatic and friendly isn’t something the masses think of when you think of fighters and coaches, but both Pete and Ted were exactly that. Pete is not short on words, he’s eloquent and intelligent and I could have interviewed him all day.

Pete Sprajc (right)

TCD.net: Thanks for the interview Pete

Pete: My pleasure. I don’t know if you know just how important TCD is for pulling the scene together. All the fighters are always on that page, it helps the scene so much.

TCD.net: Well thanks for that, that’s great to know. How did you get started?

Pete: I’m Croation and I was doing karate under a friend’s father. I actually was bugging my mother since the age of about 5 to start. My brother and sister both trained under Tokey Hill. He was one of the first American karatekas who won the world championship. At 16 I got jumped by about twenty kids, I came home covered in blood; I took a beating but went down swinging. I went home to my mom and said “You see, if I had karate I could have beaten all of them” [laughs] I know now that’s not quite true but that’s what I believed.

I was born in New York and we moved back to Croatia and finished high school. So I was there from eleven to eighteen. I moved back to New York when I was eighteen for college, I came back with a case and fifty dollars. I got a taxi from the airport and the driver scammed me out of my money, so I turned up at my apartment with just a suitcase. It was two weeks before September 11th, not the best time to come. Ten years later here I am.

After moving back I started karate up again. In the gym was a sombo teacher. I had been taught a leg lock, and thought “I wouldn’t mind having a go at that”. I tried it and got mauled [laughs]. It was funny the guy teaching was Russian and used to laugh at the karate.

TCD.net: So how did you end up in Texas?

Pete: I was tired of New York, it was too fast paced for me, I grew up in a small city, and New York was too much. A friend was moving to Houston so I came. We packed up my truck and drove down here. It was a brutal drive; I don’t recommend it to anyone. We decided to do it straight through. About two hundred miles in my friend opened a bag of jerky that stunk, I was like “hell no”, it stunk [laughs]. It was hellish.

TCD.net: So how did you find Westside?

Pete: Well when I got here I googled sombo in Houston, and it came up. I checked out a couple of other schools as well. When I came here the place just seemed right, and up on the wall was Cro Crop, my hero. I love Cro Cop. Croatia has a tiny population, only a few million people, and he’s a big hero of mine. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but when I came here I knew I’d found it.

I feel like this gym is up-and-coming. I sometimes wonder if places like The Black House knew what they were going to become later. There’s a bunch of really tough guys here, and we want to see how far we can take it, how far we can go.

TCD.net: So in your training do you have a preference like BJJ or muay Thai?

Pete: I don’t really focus on anything in particular. My goal when I decided to stop karate was to do everything. When I did sombo I wanted to be true to karate and martial arts. Sticking to just one style, one skill set just isn’t logical to be the best martial artist you can be. One style isn’t enough, people are learning and growing. I try to be well rounded and learn. Everything I learn is like an advanced extension of karate. I found it incomplete and I’m adding to it. I don’t really consider myself a karate guy anymore, more a budoka, a martial artist.

I train in complete mixed martial arts; muay thai, grappling, bjj the goal is to see how far I can go. I know I’m going to end up going pro it’s just when. I had that knockout, it was going well, and then I got knocked out. I’m not too worried about it, these things can happen, I don’t sweat it and just moved on. That’s what an amateur records for, you make your mistakes and learn from them.

TCD.net: You competed at Legacy muay thai as well.

Pete: That’s right; I have done a lot of BJJ competitions so I don’t get nervous when I compete now. It’s good to actively compete because then you learn to manage your nerves. By competing in the different aspects of MMA I have to maintain a well rounded game, I can’t rely on my striking in a grappling tournament for example.

Pete Sprajc (right)

TCD.net: So what’s your training schedule like?

Pete: At 6am I get up and do hot yoga at Yoga 1, they’ve been great to me there. I come here at 11am until 2.30 pm. From 3-4 I’m in my own studio training. I run MMA boot camps at 24 hour fitness. We do legit stuff like kettlebells, agility drills, the stuff we do here. That keeps my fitness up. I’ve had several fighters do my class actually. People coming in with those body bugs and they say it burns about 1500 calories. I run two classes of that and then from 9 to 10.30 I’m back here training

TCD.net: Wow that’s a serious training schedule.

Pete: Well that’s when I’m preparing for a fight, I wind down in the off season, don’t train as much or if I’m injured. Recently I had a torn hamstring, I was sparring with Ryan and throwing head kicks, I over extended and I felt the muscles lock and tear from the back of the knee to the glute. In the muay thai fight I broke my hand, it was a weird injury, it wasn’t the usual fracture on the side of the little finger, it was my main knuckle. Getting ready for this fight though, things have gone smooth.

TCD.net: Do you do a lot of fitness training at Westside?

Pete: I don’t really, at work I focus on fitness so cardio comes with that. I don’t like to run; I don’t think it’s a good workout for fighters. You want high intensity exercise followed by recovery. The best conditioning is sparring; it toughens you and makes you better at avoiding a hit.

TCD.net: You’re fighting at Lonestar Beatdown for the welterweight title.  How’s that fight going to go?

Pete: I know my opponent Alex Morono is no slouch. I heard they call him Baby Brock Lesnar, I assume because he’s powerful. That’s the only way to get better though, I’m not looking for an easy fight; I want to test myself, so I’m lucky to have a good opponent.

TCD.net: What’s he like?

Pete: He’s a strong BJJ player. I’ve seen his kickboxing and that’s good, the fight with Cody Phillips was a good fight.

TCD.net: So what’s next?

Pete: I’m taking one step at a time, so right now I’m just focused on this. I’ll go pro but have no idea when that will happen. The first fight I walked out of without a scratch but that’s a rarity.

TCD.net: So you said you admire Cro Cop…

Pete: I’m a big fan. I’m excited to see him against Frank Mir. That’s not a great fight for him. I don’t care if he wins or loses I’m still a big supporter of him. You know, I speak Croatian, and in interviews he’s extremely humble and level headed. That’s what he’s like as a person. He’s a professional and takes what he does seriously; he eats clean and works hard. There is a show on in Croatia where people trade jobs. He traded with a mailman, and at lunch the guy goes and drinks five whiskeys, he had one and was all over the place, it was funny. He doesn’t drink and it hit him hard. I work hard and I play hard.

Pete Sprajc (right)

TCD.net: Has Paul Thomas’ leaving affected your training for the fight?

Pete: Well when Paul left it affected training. Paul is still a friend, it was rough on everyone, we didn’t know what was going to happen. I’m a loyal person, I don’t behave dishonestly and I’m a terrible liar. [laughs] When Paul left I never got the full scoop, so I was in a state of insecurity. I knew I needed to stay with my training partners. We went to different gyms and that’s how we got close with Sam (Hoger) and that’s who suggested Ted. Paul told me the best thing for me was to stay at Westside and train here.

I don’t think he has any bad blood towards me. I wish him the best; I think his school may be more focused on BJJ and if it’s meant to be we’ll cross paths again. I learnt a lot from him and he does an excellent job. He trained me all out and I have nothing but gratitude.

TCD.net: Ted seems like quite a character, how do you like training with him so far?

Pete: He is; he’s amazing. He’s an incredible instructor and everything he does is for a reason. Everyone here loves him and he’s doing an excellent job. He has shown me lots of things I didn’t quite get; the way he teaches really opens your eyes.

TCD.net: Is his BJJ applicable to MMA?

Pete: Absolutely.  He’s super technical and breaks down moves really well. We’re lucky to have him.

TCD.net: Is there anyone you want to thank?

Pete: People I want to thank, I should have written this out. Everyone at Westside; Alex, Ted, Craig, Terence, Pat, and Ryan. I hope I don’t forget anyone. Yoga One, Nutrition depot who sponsor me, my roommate Mary whose like my mom, Raul, Joseph who’s helped with massages. There’s all my student at 24 hour fitness, friends, family and my mom who’s really supportive, when I’m in the ring it’s really a lot of people who get me there.

TCD.net: Anything you want to add?

Pete: Just an emphasis on the thank you’s and I’m sorry to anyone I left out. Good luck to my opponent, I hope we both get out of the fight unscathed and continue to grow.