â€œEvery single student I approach I try to invest myself in them and give them what other coaches never gave me.â€
Sam â€œThe Alaskan Assassin” Hoger
Interview and Photos by: Richard Burmaster
Sam Hoger smiles a lot. He smiles when his students walk into the room, He smiles when he pulls up to the front of his gym, he smiles when he seeâ€™s his students succeed, and when they fail he still is smiling As an opponent of Samâ€™s you get to see a slightly different version of the smile. When he hitâ€™s you he is still smiling but itâ€™s when you hit him that the smile is different. His eyes light up a little and you realize that this guy is enjoying the fight. Sam Hoger loves to fight. He has done it since he was a teenager and continues to push his body today to get in the cage, bang it out and entertain the crowds.
Many people have seen the entertainer side of Sam. He is the one who stood out as the guy people loved to hate from the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. You may have disliked him but you remembered him, and that was his goal. Sam Hoger is not the guy we watched on a reality show. He is a compassionate coach who gives his all to his fighters. As a friend of Samâ€™s there is nothing he will not do for you. As a student there is nothing he will not give to you to see you improve. Spend five minutes talking to Sam and you will realize you did not know him untill now.
As a fighter only 4 times has Sam Hoger been stopped in the cage. Three of those times came to former or current world champions. This Friday at the World Gladiator Challenge, Sam will once again return to what he loves to do. I was able to sit down with Sam to discuss his UFC tenure and his upcoming fight.
TCD.Net: How did you get started in MMA?
Sam: My mother started me in martial arts when I was a kid, she loves fighters, she married a soldier and they both got me started. I started in Karate at the age of 6, enrolled in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at the age of 13 and really started pursuing the martial arts.Â Itâ€™s been very insightful to say the least.
TCD.Net: At what point did it become apparent to you that this is what you wanted to do as a career?
Sam: When I was a kid I used to play with GI Joes and guns and have them fight each other, and as I grew up I wanted to do what Iâ€™d seen my heroâ€™s do like the Bruce Leeâ€™s of the world, Van Dams and the Jackie Chan’s.Â Naturally with me pursuing the martial arts it blended in nicely together.Â I was able to do it without it detracting from my school.Â A lot of other sports detract away from you studies.Â For instance football or soccer or baseball, but with martial arts it could be done at a specific time after school so I could still do my homework.Â So it became what I do everyday and it still is.
TCD.Net: How old were you at your first ring fight?
Sam: I was somewhere around seventeen, or eighteen.
TCD.Net: What brought you back to doing that?
Sam: I was doing Brazilian jujitsu.Â I had been taking down the tournaments in Louisiana, and my coach, Chris Seeferd, said, â€œSam, do you want to fight?â€.Â Of course my eyes lit up.Â I felt electric at the moment that he asked me. I have been doing this my whole life.Â Iâ€™ve been competing in karate tournaments, kickboxing tournaments, jujitsu tournaments, and wrestling tournaments.Â Iâ€™ve done all of this, so now I just have to put it together.Â So my first fight was against a guy named, Mike Kennedy.Â He was a big time knock out artist out of Mississippi Â His whole thing was either he knocked you out or you got submitted.Â I had been working on my jijtsu at the time, and it was at the Global Reality Fighting or something.Â We had a fight, and we went to a club in Metairie.Â They had blocked off everything in the parking lot and there was a cage in the middle.Â I remember my first pair of fight shorts because I couldnâ€™t afford to buy a regular pair of fight shorts.Â I was a college kid.Â I liked the bad boy shorts, so I went and bought some of those lycra spandex biker shorts and just to make them look like the bad boy shorts I cut them with scissors underneath.Â So then I get in there and they glove me up.Â They didnâ€™t do wraps at that time.Â I remember he was looking at me with a look of hunger and I was looking back like oh buddy youâ€™re dead.Â I may be a kid, but Iâ€™ve got your number.Â I had my hands up, and he came back with this huge right.Â I brought my hand up and he glanced off the side of my arm and hit me in the head.Â I came back and kicked him in the leg. Then I kicked him in the head.Â Thatâ€™s from my karate days. You know kick the leg, kick the head.Â I dove in on him and got the mount and side control.Â He tapped out and the crowd went nuts.Â Even though I am the Alaskan Assassin, I was born in Louisiana.Â The nickname comes from high school because I went to high school in Alaska.Â After that, me and my team were excited and went to hang out.
TCD.Net: How long did you stay an amateur before you became a pro?
Sam: Years.Â I was undefeated for a long time.Â I had a huge amateur record.Â I stayed amateur until I graduated from college.Â I went to Iowa to train with Pat Militech because he was the only guy who would actually return my phone call.Â I had called several numbers to see where I could get in.Â I found his number online on AOL at a Extreme Challenge card that said Fight Iowa at the bottom of the page, so I added it to my AOL list.Â I planned on attacking that name as soon as I could see someone online.Â I saw fight Iowa pop up one day and I immediately wrote my resume.Â Hi Iâ€™m Sam Hoger Iâ€™m training down at LSU right now, but Iâ€™m about to graduate.Â Iâ€™d like to come down and train with you and I think itâ€™d be a wonderful experience to be up there and Iâ€™ll do anything to get up there just to train so I can be champion of the world.Â Then Monte types back this is his son.Â Iâ€™ll tell my dad.Â (Laughs)Â Then, I get an e-mail from Monte with Patâ€™s phone number.Â He said if youâ€™re serious you come up to Iowa and train with us and Iâ€™ll tell you what I think.Â I went up to Iowa and for that entire week I proceeded to get knocked out.Â I had some okay stand-up, but when it finally came time to Spar, Tim Siliva and I had been at each otherâ€™s throats the whole time.Â Talking trash to each other.Â Then Tim knocks me out and I was sitting there in la la land.Â Pat poured water over me.Â I get up and I keep getting knocked out, and they had me sit out.
TCD.Net: So you were there in the hay day of all of these big guys, tell us what that was like?
Sam: At that time MMA was not popular like it is today.Â It was not sanctioned by the majority of the states.Â McCain was still on his human cock fighting and trying to defend boxing as a center combat sport because he has significant stock in Budweiser and obviously they are losing money.Â Now Budweiser is with the UFC.Â It was like whoâ€™s who in MMA.Â I was like â€œOh my goshâ€.Â So I started to train with these guys and I was doing pretty well, but I couldnâ€™t spare on their level because they were used to outrageously hard sparing compared to what I was used to.Â Then, I went back to Louisiana and used the Miletich fighting system name in my next fight.Â I promised to come back to Miletich after I graduated.Â The next I fought was Jason Brasma.Â He was defeating people left and right.Â He was taking me down, but no matter how hard he hit me he couldnâ€™t hit me as hard as the guys at Miletich. Then I proceeded to knock him out in the second round.Â I went back to school and finished my degree and went back to Iowa and from there it was just training with the best in the world.
TCD.Net: How did the opportunity to be on the Ultimate Fighter come about?
Sam: Pat told me the show was coming up.Â During that time, Pat was building a new gym.Â None of the fighters would help him, and there were very few of us helping to put that new gym together.Â Pat told me one time â€œhow is it that I teach these guys how to make all this money and they canâ€™t help me right now.â€Â I worked everyday on the gym day and night.Â Pat saw how dedicated I was and let me know that Dana White had contacted him about a TV show.Â He wanted to put me in contact with a manager because he wanted me to go pro soon because I had annihilated the competition in Iowa.Â I went pro and went to Montana and then went for tryouts for the show.Â I hit it off with Dana and all those guys.Â It was a good fit.Â None of us thought the show was going to go anywhere.Â We all thought it would only be a pilot, but we all worked hard.Â We had group meetings to try to make the show better with more action.Â I remember there was this lady Andre, we were all sitting there in the living room and she was telling us that they didnâ€™t think they had enough material to make things work and they wanted to change things up. There was another time that staph had gotten into the house and they had to isolate Bonnar and I over at this other hotel and we came back it was like the whole tempo had changed. They never showed that though. They had to take all of our clothes to an industrial cleaning place, cleaned all of our stuff up and then brought it back to us. They then completely disinfected this house, the house was a being rented from a guy in Vegas, and they completely changed the house to make it look like an ultimate fighter house. After the show I went on to the UFC and I got to fight the last three 205lb champions, Rashard, Forrest, and Machida. I earned some wins in the UFC as well, Bobby Southworth , Jeff Newton, I thought I beat Rashard (Laughs)Â Rashard is a good guy. I am really honored to have been able to fight those guys. Itâ€™s a real testament to the progress that I have made as a person, and to how the sport has progressed. Itâ€™s amazing to think that one thing we put together has made this sport the one thing that everyone wants to be a part of.
TCD.Net: The show has progressed from the most shocking moment being Chris Leben knocking a door down to now people peeing in fruit. Â Why do you think it has changed so much?
Sam: Itâ€™s missing that unknown factor. When Leben knocked that door down he didnâ€™t know if that was going to be seen by anyone. So if you do something and no one is looking do you really care?
TCD.Net: How do the other seasons stack up to the original as far as talent?
Sam: You tell me, how many of these other seasons fighters have been dropped from the UFC? Everyone from that first season fought in the UFC at least once. You canâ€™t say that for the rest of the seasons.
TCD.Net: The personality that many seen on that first season is a polar opposite of your real life personality. Was that personality just to be entertaining?
Sam: It was just for entertainment. I tried to keep propelling that personality for awhile; I have an interview on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWJV0M5p6no) where I am just going off. I created that in order to build a character. It was built for entertainment value. I still look back at that interview and laugh. If you Sam Hoger than you know thatâ€™s not me. I was being very makavelian with my approach because I was trying to continually put pieces of the puzzle together so more people would be drawn in to the entertainment side of things.
TCD.Net: After the UFC you came here to Houston and opened a gym. Why Houston?
Sam: I came here to be with my beautiful girlfriend Erica Dugger. When I came down here I had nothing going on. I decided I would get a job, save up some money, and open an extension of a gym. I was actually playing poker to make money, during the day I worked at both UPS and at a warehouse. It was a Honda warehouse. My buddy Scott Bentley got me on there and me and all the guys were in there moving boxes all day, then I was moving boxes at UPS at night, and then playing poker later at night to try and save money for the gym. Then I came across two guys who backed my idea for the gym and were willing to put up the money. Thank god I meet them because they believed in my ideal initially and it worked beautifully. Later I got Patâ€™s blessing and I went off and opened my own gym Hoger MMA.
TCD.Net: Your gym is already producing some well known fighters. How is the feeling different from wining in the cage and watching someone you trained win in the cage?
Sam: The difference is that a lot of coaches, coach from a distance. They donâ€™t involve themselves in the meticulous details of every single thing that is needed. Every single student I approach I try to invest myself in them and give them what other coaches never gave me. I am constantly giving my guys the keys to the kingdom.Â I try to think of it from what I want from a coach. I try to treat them all like Olympic athletes if I can. I try to give them every detail possible. Only being here for a year and a half we have taken down multiple title belts, multiple tournaments. I want my guys to get the goodness and spread the goodness. Itâ€™s a mindset.Â Many gyms have this who is the big dog mindset. Miletich was like that. Everyone knew Pat was the big dog but they then wanted to know where they fell in that pecking order. That attitude caused so many people to come and go. Brock Lesnar was training at MFS at one point. Look where he is now. Positivity builds more positivity.
TCD.Net: During your tenure in the UFC, you fought at 205lbs, now you are a HWY. Is HWY your more natural fighting weight?
Sam: Heavyweight is where I started my career at. When I was 18 I was a HWY. I have not been 205 since I was in high school. I had to cut a lot of weight to get down to 205lbs; it sucked a lot of my muscle and power out of me. 205lbs is not an easy weight to make.
TCD.Net: Tell us about your fight for the WGC on April 9th against Patrick Miller.
Sam: I am looking forward to it. Patrick Miller is an Armed Forces veteran; he has been overseas to fight in Iraq. He has seen real battle. He is the XFC champ. I am the URC champ. So we have two champions coming together to compete. I am really honored that he is giving me an opportunity to compete with him. He is a tough guy. Itâ€™s going to be a really good fight. I have a lot of respect for what he did for our country.
TCD.Net: Whatâ€™s next for you after this fight?
Sam: I have another fight in Indiana, and then look to move to a bigger show. Make one more major run at it. I have already accomplished what I wanted to in this sport. I remember being 12 watching UFC one with Royce Gracie and thinking I want to fight in the UFC. And I did that. I made a mark in the sport with TUF 1 and I won in the UFC. So I have done what I wanted to do. So I am going to enjoy the ride.
TCD.Net: Having the success you did at an unnatural weight, how do you think you stack up with the current HWYâ€™s in the UFC?
Sam: I stack up well. HWY is natural for me and I canâ€™t wait for the opportunity to get back in there and mix it up with the best in the world.
TCD.Net: Who are some of your favorite fighters?
Sam: Anderson Silva is one of my favorites.Â Hands down number one is BJ Penn. He is the only guy who has fought in every division from 155 to Hwy and won in every single one. He is the man. He is a buddy of mine but he knows I think he is the man.
TCD.Net: Do you have a favorite motto you try to live by?
Sam: Carpe Diem
TCD.Net: Is there anyone you would like to thank?
Sam: God, Family, Mom Dad, Erica Dugger, All my teammates at Hoger MMA, Clinch Gear for supporting me, Chris Seifort, Ted Stickel, Pat Miletich, All the guys from MFS, Brett Robinson, Leroy Franklin, Tim Mousel, Kenny Weldon, Marc Laimon, Floyd Mayweather Sr. Big thank you to Zulfi Amed, Eric Loveless and all the guys in the Bushi Ban family, Dana White and the Fertitas, My boy Joe Silva, and Joe Cavalara. And all the guys at the WGC.