Turner: Smiling at the Beast

Apr 18, 2007
Gary "Smiler" Turner is the surprisingly calm man with the dubious honor of facing Bob Sapp (Pictures) at Cage Rage 21 this weekend.

A former K-1 fighter with an extensive background in judo, traditional jiu-jitsu and shootfighting, Turner has competed for numerous fighting organizations around the world, picking up competition experience in many forms of combat.

Stepping up on relatively late notice for such a daunting task, Turner kindly made time to speak with Sherdog.com about his theories on fighting, recent preparations for his encounter with "The Beast" and why he thinks it will be him smiling at the end of the day.

A lot of people will know you as a K-1 fighter and will be curious to see how your skills translate into the MMA arena … how do you feel about that?

Because I've been grappling since 1976, I've obviously got advanced grappling skills. Although I have had to do a lot of conversion work from the gi fighting to the no-gi fighting because there is a big difference between them, especially with the controls. With the kickboxing, I look at MMA sometimes and I'm disappointed in the peoples' striking ability. There seems to be, I feel, a belief that you can't punch or kick properly because you need a squarer base to stop the takedowns, but I'm not so sure. The striking from K-1 where you have to adapt to whatever style you're put against moves over quite nicely to MMA. If your footwork is good enough and your strikes are accurate enough then you'll be able to defend against a takedown attempt by adjusting your weight, shifting into the stance that's required for the balance.

Bob Sapp (Pictures) may not be a brilliant boxer, or known for his jiu-jitsu, but he is a huge, intimidating opponent. How has that affected your preparations?

Well, basically, I stopped grappling (laughs) … to be perfectly honest. Bob is expected to come in at 165-175kg. He's 6'5" -- and for anyone who's not seen him, you wouldn't believe how wide the guy is. He's the biggest person on the planet I reckon, by sheer volume. He's got his own gravitational force. So, I don't want to be going to the ground with Bob, because I'll be coming in at 102-, 103-kg and it's not good odds with the weight. So I stopped grappling and spent a lot of time working on handling his weight, rather than grappling.

There's various things that you can't train for unless you have a Bob Sapp (Pictures) to train with, because the volume of his legs and arms is so great that if you train putting armbars on all day with a normal person, it won't actually relate to what you've got hold of, when you've got hold of Bob. I put my concentration more on handling his size and the volume of the guy, irrespective of the grappling.

Fair play. So if you're hoping to keep the fight standing, have you noticed any holes in his game that you think you can capitalize on?

There's a psychological game, I mean people say that he's not a good fighter. But if you actually look at his K-1 record and see who he's fought from the word go -- right, literally from the word go -- without a preparatory fight or anything, he just went in at the highest level. He beat Hoost twice. I know Ernesto and he did not want that to happen. Now, he's also beaten some over very good guys -- even with the ground fighting, his fight with Nog [Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pictures)] was very impressive.

He can punch, he can kick he can knee and elbow, and he can grapple, so he's not to be taken lightly in that respect. But I look at the psychological side of the fighter. You put Bob against me on paper, basically, he should kill me. He's just too big, too strong, too forceful and I shouldn't be able to beat him -- but my skills lie in the psychology. We've got a psychological approach to it, how to take his whole game away from him. If I don't make a mistake and stick to the game plan, it should be a comfortable win.

When it comes to your strikes, is there any particular strike that you favor?

The one that hits! (laughs) I've trained to throw a shot from any angle as an opening appears, so I don't favor a left leg to the head, for example. I've got basic strikes, basic kicks and I've learned to throw them from many different angles, many different directions or applications. It's target-led, rather than any favorite technique-led, so I wouldn't say I had a favorite technique as such, because it depends on the opponent.

Where did your nickname "Smiler" come from?

That appeared in Fighters magazine and Martial Arts Illustrated in something like 2003, 2004. I'd won the sport jiu-jitsu title for the first time and the British jiu-jitsu coach decided to call me "The Smiling Assassin" and that got published in the magazines. That quickly got changed to "Smiler," which is a bit more apt, because basically, I tend to smile and enjoy fighting, which is quite funny when you'll see me smile against Big Bob while I'm fighting. It's not me saying, "Hey, yeah that was a good shot." I just enjoy what I do, so I smile while I fight.

How is it that you're able to smile through a dangerous encounter?

I think -- again -- it's down to the psychology. If I'm enjoying what I do, I start to party and when I start to party, I don't try to do anything; it just comes together. That's all part of my defense against the danger. For me to perform at my best, it's the best way for me to overcome that danger. So for me to enjoy what I'm doing, I'm more on top of my game, therefore, the opportunities for the danger get reduced.

I hear that you are also respected in a different profession, what is it that you get up to?

I'm a building surveyor by trade. I hold chartered status through the institute of building. Four years ago I left my employment to set my own business up, Turner Surveyors, and I work as a building surveyor, doing architectural design, surveys, dilapidations … the full range of work and I hand it on to freelance colleagues to handle larger jobs as we go and that gives me the freedom to actually do my training.

You're obviously well educated and a businessman. A lot of people away from the fight game have the impression that fighters are thugs. Do you think that impression is changing?

It's reaching the public and more of the public are getting to understand it. There's more press and there's more talk in the press. For example the Cage Fighter TV show on the Wrestling Channel, Sky 427 [for UK viewers], it's enabling people to see the faces behind the fighters, there's starting to be a bit more explanation. It's not just a couple of guys brawling; it's a highly technical, very, very advanced sport which doesn't just take the physical side it takes the high psychology as well -- people are starting to see that.

At Cage Rage you've got me, who's a chartered surveyor by trade; you've got Alex Reid (Pictures), who, of course, is an actor and model. You've got Jamie Zikic, who's well into his religion. You've got a complete cross section of people. They'll start to see that fighters aren't just ignorant thugs; they are actually intelligent people who take their sport very seriously, as professional athletes.

Is there anything you'd like to say to the fans?

Yeah, just like to say, come and watch Cage Rage, obviously, because I'm fighting on it! (laughs) Come and watch Cage Rage because it is the UK's premier event, although, people like the UFC have moved in. I think they've done quite a naughty ploy, trying to squash Cage Rage by putting UFC on the same day. There is more than enough room for them both to stand on their own two feet and Cage Rage is the one giving the UK talent the best fights for them. Come and watch Cage Rage, give your support and enjoy it.
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