“I don’t trash talk and I have too much respect for this guy. I know he’s good so I just want to put on a good fight.”
Interview by: Barry Laminack
There is a saying that goes, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” and there is a lot of truth to that when it comes to Ricardo Talavera. If looks could kill, Talavera would be serving life for murder. But get past that tuff guy exterior and you’ll find a family man with a petroleum engineering degree that loves giving back to the community. Talavera should probably be winding down his baseball career, but the former Fencer and West Virginia graduate chose the self describe “safe route” in life, and that route eventually lead him into MMA.
Born in Venezuela, he moved to Houston in 1994, but a job opportunity late in 2010 would see the Houston MMA fighter pack up his family and move to Pittsburgh. Now living in the Steel city, Talavera’s MMA heart still resides in Houston, where he’ll be squaring off against Jeff Rexroad at Legacy FC on January 29th, 2011 at the Houston Arena Theatre.
I was able to talk with Talavera via phone about his background in sports, how the move to Pittsburgh has affected his training for this fight and what he thinks about the matchup.
Ricardo: I haven’t been doing it that long. I started when I turned 30, which isn’t too long ago. I had always wanted to do martial arts and my girlfriend (now my wife) pushed me to do it. For me, I was thinking I was too old and I’m so competitive that I didn’t want to get my ass kicked. I’ve always been a pretty good athlete, so I didn’t want to be bad at this, especially since I felt like I was getting into it real late.
I started of doing kickboxing at American Martial Arts Academy. It was a kickboxing academy that taught some San Shou. I met Alex Cisne there, he used to come and train there some.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to grapple, or even if I was going to like it. I started off with a few classes at my kick boxing school. From there I went to Elite MMA (Elite Martial Arts back then) and started doing some Jiu-Jitsu.
TCD.net: You are not from Houston, is that right?
Ricardo: No, I was born in Venezuela.
TCD.net: How did you end up in Houston?
Ricardo: My dad worked for one of the biggest oil companies in Venezuela, so he used to go back and forth between there and Houston. One day I guessed he decided that he would send us to Houston to learn English and later go to college.
TCD.net: How old where you when you got here?
Ricardo: I was 19.
TCD.net: Talk a bit about your background in baseball.
Ricardo: For those that don’t know, baseball is HUGE in Venezuela. That was my passion. It’s one reason why I didn’t do martial arts, because I was focused on baseball (and fencing). I started playing when I was 6. Eventually I got some invitations to some minor league training camps like the Marlins, Expos and Astros.
Right before I went to college, I trained with the Expos.
TCD.net: Did you get drafted?
Ricardo: I wish. In Venezuela you choose either school or baseball. For me, I had to also choose. I wouldn’t say I regret my choice because I always play it safe. I was good in school and good in baseball so it was tough to choose. I wasn’t really fully committed to the sport, but right before I was heading to school, a scout with the Expos wanted to convert me from an outfielder to a second baseman. He said if I did that they would probably be able to sign me. I was 19 years old so I was like; no I’m going to college. I thought, “I’ll just see if I can get drafted and if I don’t make it at least I’ll have my degree.”
That turned out to be what happened. I ended up playing at West Virginia University and got hurt, but graduated with my degree.
TCD.net: How long did you play at West Virginia University?
Ricardo: I walked on my freshman year, but I was not eligible because of my ACT score. My math was great, but English kicked my ass. The second year came about and I was thinking I made it. Then I got cut. The following year, I walked on again but got injured. That’s when I said I would just stick with my books.
TCD.net: How tough was it choosing and do you regret the choices that you made?
Ricardo: I don’t regret it because I believe that one thing leads to another. I believe that by doing so, I’m here now talking to you. It was the path I was supposed to take in my life.
I mean, yeah it was a little hard to see some of the guys I used to play with in Venezuela who have mad it now. I don’t know if you know Freddie Garcia, but I used to play with him. He came from a small town and he didn’t have much to lose by choosing baseball.
It’s kind of one of those things…like the “what if “ factor. The way I deal with it now is that I want to be able to give my experiences to my children. When they have to make a tough choice about something they are passionate about, I want to tell them to go for it.
TCD.net: Is there any thing you got from baseball that helps you with MMA?
Ricardo: Man, that’s a good question Barry. I would have to say dedication and the training that goes on behind closed doors. For example, people see that fighting MMA is fun, but that’s not it. What is tough about it is not the fight, it’s the hours of training that you have to put in.
People see baseball and say, it’s a slow game, they don’t run 100%, etc. What they don’t see is the every day the players are waking up at 5 in the morning to go to the training room, to go to the weight room. They don’t see the diet. They don’t understand that if you want to be a good hitter, you have to have thousands of swings on a tee to perfect your swing. Just like in MMA, if you want to be a good fighter or a good Jiu-Jitsu practitioner you have to put in the work. If you want to have a good arm bar, you have to do thousands of arm bars so that it becomes automatic.
There’s a saying that goes something like, “don’t be afraid of the guy who knows 100 tricks, but be afraid of the guy who does one trick a hundred times.”
TCD.net: What is it about MMA that keeps you coming back? What do you love about it?
Ricardo: The competition. I love that I’m able to see what I can do outside of my normal daily life. To find out how good you are compared to other people, both inside and outside the gym.
TCD.net: How would you describe yourself as a fighter?
Ricardo: I think I’m a smart fighter and I’m patient too. I always try and look for that mistake or that opening that the other guy is going to give me. I try to keep my composure. Mostly, I would say that I’m a smart but aggressive fighter.
TCD.net: You mentioned earlier that you were in to fencing. Talk about that a little bit.
Ricardo: Yeah, when I was younger. My neighbors were a bunch of fencers. They went to the worlds and a bunch of other tournament. I don’t remember how I got started really. I just remember thinking, if they can do it, I can do it.
The exercise that’s involved in that sport was so great, that it really helped me with my baseball. I was in great condition. It helped me get faster and have quicker reflexes.
TCD.net: Was there any thing from fencing that has helped you with MMA?
Ricardo: Yeah, footwork for sure. It also improved my conditioning and reaction times.
TCD.net: OK, back on track. How long did you train at Elite?
Ricardo: 5 years.
TCD.net: You recently moved to Pittsburgh. How difficult has it been leaving Elite and moving to a new city, but still trying to maintain a professional fighting career in a new town with a new gym?
Ricardo: Great question. This is one of the things that has made this so hard. The gym and the people there at Elite were like my second family. At the gym, I knew so many people and I could train any specific skill or ask any question that I wanted too. They had an answer for everything. Now here, it’s a little bit different because I’m out of my comfort zone. It’s also really hard to hunt for a new place to train. Usually, you find a place, start to train and then realize that it’s not a good fit for you. Not because it sucks, but maybe it’s just no the gym for you.
Also, here in Pittsburgh MMA isn’t as big as it is in Houston. Houston man, it was big back in the day but with the help of you guys it’s huge now. There are a lot of promotions down there. Also there are fight teams are everywhere so you really can’t go wrong.
So, it’s been tough but I’m settling in. I have my Jiu-Jitsu coaches and my boxing instructors, but they are at different places and I’m not used to that. I was used to having it all in one location.
One other thing that’s hard is the comfort zone I had with Elite. If they told me something I didn’t think twice about it. Here, I’m like hmmm, why are they telling me that. It’s getting better.
TCD.net: So who’s doing your game planning for the fight? The guys up there you train with or the guys over at Elite?
Ricardo: Elite MMA baby.
TCD.net: So what do you know about your opponent, Jeff Rexroad? What are you planning for?
Ricardo: Man, it’s funny. For a long time, I always thought that I would eventually fight this guy. I always watch guys I think I would fight and I remember I saw his name so I was like, let me check him out. I did and I thought, man this guy is good. I just had a feeling that I would fight him one day.
What do I know about him? I know he trains with the Metro and Paradigm guys and they are pretty good, they have good training. Jeff is one of the most technical guys I’ve seen. He’s ground game looks solid and it’s something I have to watch out for. I didn’t see much of his striking against Gardner, but I think he’s a very well balanced fighter. I’m going to need to have a plan A and a plan B and C.
Oh, and he’s tall as hell! He’s like 6’3”.
TCD.net: How tall are you?
Ricardo: I’m 6 foot. It’s funny because back in the day I thought I would be fighting at 185, but then I realized if I can get to 170, I wouldn’t have to fight guys that are 6’2 and 6’3” at 185. Now I’m at 170 and look. [laughs]
TCD.net: Do you have a prediction for the fight?
Ricardo: Yeah, Talavera wins.
TCD.net: That’s it? No round, no way? How do you envision yourself winning?
Ricardo: OK, I’m going to be honest. My first fight was quick and I was disappointed that it went so fast. My fight against Danny Taylor went the distance and I hate fights that go the distance. I tell you what; I want this fight to be done before it gets to the judges. I don’t trust judges anyway, regardless of whom they might pick. I predict a win of course. I think it’s going to be an exciting fight.
I don’t trash talk and I have too much respect for this guy. I know he’s good so I just want to put on a good fight. I think it was you that originally predicted fight of the night, so I want to live up to that!
TCD.net: Yeah, you better not disappoint me or make me look bad!
Ricardo: I want to show Houston what’s up! This is a very good opportunity fighting Jeff, so I want to make the most of it.
TCD.net: What can the fans expect from you when they watch you in the cage.
Ricardo: They should expect a war. They are going to see some good MMA. Not just a striking match, not just a grappling match. They are going to see real MMA and see every part of the sport.
TCD.net: So, is this the last time we’ll ever see you here in Houston?
Ricardo: Dude, I thought Danny Taylor was going to be my last fight. Right now I’m just one step at a time.
TCD.net: Would you take a fight up there in Pittsburgh?
Ricardo: Well, I’m still new in the area, but I’ve been so focused on this fight that I’ve not really looked yet. What I’ve heard that the scene is not that big here.
Ricardo: Yeah. Thanks to my wife, I wouldn’t be able to do this if it wasn’t for her support; especially now that we are expecting our 3rd child.
Ricardo: Thanks. I also want to thank all the people at Elite MMA: Eric Williams, Hai Nguyen, Ed Liem, Romel Agra, Debbie Campbell and my teammate Raymond Blodgett and all my other teammates at Elite MMA.
To my team here in Pittsburgh: My instructor Rodrigo Junqueira from RJ Brazilian Jui-Jitsu, Jake Miclot, my boxing coach Rick.
Also thank you to B.O.N.A. fitness, Animal Fightwear and you guys at TheCageDoor.net.