By Jaime Feal
The former collegiate wrestling standout and WWE superstar has seen impressive heights in his career, and he has overcome plenty of obstacles to reach them. After winning three national college amateur wrestling championships, Lashley was training to represent the U.S. in the Olympics. While doing business at his local bank in 2003, those dreams abruptly ended. Lashley had the misfortune of sustaining a knee injury when a robbery broke out. Lashley went on to star as a pro wrestler in the WWE before making the transition to mixed martial arts and training with American Top Team (ATT). Now in his fourth year as a professional fighter, Lashley continues to progress. Last year he opened up ATT Altitude, a 20,000 square foot facility located in the Denver area in Aurora, CO. In an exclusive interview with BoxingInsider.com, Bobby Lashley discussed his MMA career. His latest fight with Shark Fights airs on FUEL TV on Dec 30th at 10 pm EST.
BoxingInsider.com: Talk to me about your amateur wrestling background.
Bobby Lashley: I started wrestling in Kansas, where I wrestled throughout high school. I won a silver medal my junior year, and the state championship there my senior year. I got a college scholarship, and I went to Missouri Valley College. I was a four-time All-American, and placed fourth in Nationals my freshman year. Then I won the Nationals the next three years.
BoxingInsider.com: What inspired you to first begin training in MMA?
Bobby Lashley: Well, my amateur wrestling career ended kind of short. I had a little bank robbery incident there where I hurt my knee. So I didn’t really get to accomplish everything I wanted to in amateur wrestling. So when I went to the WWE I just put all my efforts towards that, and that career was just fantastic. Then when I was leaving the WWE I needed something that would satisfy my competitive drive. So of course, fighting was the biggest thing out right now, so I went with that.
BoxingInsider.com: When did you realize you wanted to jump to the next level and not just train MMA, but compete professionally in the sport?
Bobby Lashley: That’s usually after the first fight. Because when you go into MMA you really can’t do it half-assed. If you do it half-assed, then you’re going to get annihilated. You’re going to get destroyed out there: there are some really good fighters out there. So when I decided to take my first fight, I decided to make it a career; to take it really seriously. It’s not like I just wanted to make it a hobby. [Lashley went on to win his first professional fight in 2008 against Josh Franklin. He stopped Franklin by TKO at 0:41 of the very first round.]
BoxingInsider.com: You train with one of the best camps in the world in American Top Team, can you talk about what you get from that?
Bobby Lashley: Well, at first I was always training with them, and going down to Florida. But after a time, it was becoming a strain going down there all the time, because I have kids and everything. You know, just traveling down there for weeks at a time, getting ready for a fight. So I kept thinking, ‘why not bring it to me?’ That’s the way to do it, so I decided to build a safe gym up here in Denver. I was really good friends with the guy who owns American Top Team, too. We were talking about it, and we made a great deal to bring an affiliate gym out here, and we did it.
BoxingInsider.com: Who are your best training partners at ATT who have really pushed you to get better?
Bobby Lashley: Hector Lombard is out there. You got “Big Foot” (Antonio Silva), Thiago Silva, Thiago Alves, there are so many people out there. Then you have coaches like Howard Davis, Ricardo Liborio, some of the best names in the business. So it wasn’t just one person, it was the whole atmosphere we had there.
BoxingInsider.com: Do you have a jiu-jitsu coach right now, and how is your ground game coming along?
Bobby Lashley: Yes I do. He actually just moved up here. He’s a Renato Tavares Black Belt. Really good Black Belt, very technical. He’s got a whole ground program. Three days a week we’re coming in and doing an hour of straight drilling. And it’s one hundred reps of whatever we’re working on at the time. Then two times a week we go in and just roll for competition. So I’m getting a lot of ground work in. Because I figure with the wrestling background, I’m pretty confident I can take down almost everyone, if not everyone. So I want to become a master of the ground.
BoxingInsider.com: What’s your favorite discipline in MMA other than wrestling?
Bobby Lashley: Well, you know everybody wants to have good hands. And I’ve been working with a boxing coach, so I think my hands are pretty decent. It remains to be seen because I haven’t had the chance to throw them in a fight yet. But I have been drilling them a lot in the gym, and I have the confidence to go out there and do it in a fight. I think I’m going to show people that I have really decent hands.
BoxingInsider.com: What do you feel is the highlight or most satisfying moment of your fighting career?
Bobby Lashley: I would say my last fight; winning the belt. It’s kind of the period of your career where as a fighter, you need some sort of validation from time to time. I mean, winning matches and going off to the next one, without really having any direction, it’s fun, but it’s good to have a period where you can say ‘Ok, I won a title. Ok, I got picked up by a big organization.’ So every step in there is important. I mean, when I signed a contract with Strikeforce, that was a big deal for me also. So I would say the Strikeforce deal, or just that last fight.
BoxingInsider.com: I know you probably don’t get much spare time, but what are your hobbies when you do get some free time?
Bobby Lashley: Well, whenever I do get some spare time I usually spend it with my kids. So I take them to the IMAX or over to the park.
BoxingInsider.com: What are some of your inspirations in life?
Bobby Lashley: Just giving back to my kids. I grew up kind of rough, without very much. So, I just want to work as hard as I can so my kids won’t have to go through what I did.
BoxingInsider.com: Can you talk a bit about your work with nonprofit organizations to help kids?
Bobby Lashley: Yeah, we’ve been working on that just of late. Like with my gym, we have a 20,000 square foot gym. We have plenty of room for all kinds of things. It’s a great looking gym. So we don’t want to push anyone away: We want to make it affordable for everyone. So we’ve been working with nonprofit organizations this way.
BoxingInsider.com: Anything else you’d like to add?
Bobby Lashley: Yeah, if anyone has any questions about what I’m doing they can always contact me on my Twitter, which is @fightbobby.