Justin Eilers on the PGA, MMA role models and the UFC

By Traci Ratzloff Jun 3, 2005
With a chance at the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight interim title just a day away, Justin Eilers remained confident and casual in an interview this morning.

“When I’m 55, I plan on playing in the PGA senior tour,” he laughed. No doubt he is serious, as golf ranks high on his list of hobbies. That is, of course, next to playing computer and video games, not to mention his love for the great outdoors — hunting (big and small game), fishing and camping. “And,” he continued, “I’m a grill freak! I love steak and potatoes!”

Many cite Jens Pulver for bringing Eilers into MMA, but in reality, that’s how they met. “After high school, I missed a football scholarship because of my grades,” Eilers recalled. “My SAT score wasn't high enough. I started going to a karate school with a friend. I met a promoter and started fighting in small shows. Jens was fighting out of the same club.”

The difference between the two was Eilers went on to Butte College, a junior college near Chico, Calif., where he was soon recruited to play as a linebacker for Iowa State.

“I left the sport for four years to go to school, and Jens grew in the sport.”

When he took time off to heal after shoulder surgery between playing for Iowa State and heading to the NFL, Eilers made a connection with Pulver again. The rest was history.

“I was a punk fighting grown men, and I loved it,” he said. “I remember watching the early UFC's and thinking, ‘I could do that!’” And he definitely did. After only two and a half years since his pro debut against Dan Severn (Victory Fighting Championships 3, November 2002) where he lost a unanimous decision, the 6-foot-2 Eilers finds himself fighting in the Octagon for the third time.

However, this time he is fighting Andrei Arlovski for the heavyweight interim belt.

In his debut, the UFC pit Eilers against American Kickboxing Academy fighter Mike Kyle, who after an near high school brawl in the locker room became his friend. Eilers laughed as he recalled the incident.

“Mike was a sophomore when I was a senior, and we played football together. I was a big, bad senior, and he thought he was hot stuff. I wanted to put him in his place! We almost fought, but became friends after that. We even went to the same junior college.”

Nearly nine years later, they got their chance to fight, and the “big, bad senior” knocked Kyle out at 1:14 in the first round (UFC 49, August 2004), a bout that left both fighters on medical suspension. Six months later, Eilers stepped into the Octagon for round two with another AKA fighter, Paul Buentello. This time, however, things did not go as planned, and Buentello earned a first round KO when Eilers dropped at 3:34 into the fight.

Turning his attention to his upcoming battle Eilers revealed he has “a very specific game plan for his fight.”

Since his fight with Wesley “Cabbage” Correira two years ago (SuperBrawl 30, June 2003), he assessed “I turned to my stand-up,” which he has more or less relied on since, knocking out or stopping every opponent, save Buentello, who stepped in his way.

Looking back, Eilers recalled realizing “I am standing out here, trying to box. This is MMA, I need to get back to that.”

“I've only been doing this fight thing [professionally] for about two years,” he continued, “and every fight is like a new book of knowledge for me. Before this, I was only fighting off of heart and athletic ability. That’s why I took the time to train with [Jeremy] Horn.”

Eilers has spent the past few weeks in Utah with UFC veterans Travis Wiuff and Horn, who is one of Eilers‚ role models. “[Horn] is unbelievable,” Eilers professed. “The best fighter in the world at any weight class.”

Another role model is his buddy, Pulver. “Jens has had his ups and downs. He was on a winning streak, then got KO'd twice, once by (Duane “Bang”) Ludwig and then (Jason Maxwell). He was down in the dumps, but completely turned his life around.”

Though Eilers began wrestling in 6th grade and continued on throughout high school, it was another skill he wanted to improve on — that’s why I asked (Travis) Wiuff to come out to Utah,” he explained. “He is an excellent wrestler, super strong.”

Funny, because that’s what Wiuff had to say about him. “I have never worked out with anyone as strong as [Justin],” Wiuff said. “It’s unbelievable. The guy is just tough.

“He easily pushed me around; his hands and footwork are excellent. Justin is definitely ready, it‚s going to be a good fight, regardless.”

This training camp made an impression on the Idaho native, helping him realize he is ready to turn another chapter in his MMA book. “After this fight I have been thinking of moving to Utah with Wiuff,” Eilers admitted. (Wiuff is strongly considering a move from Minnesota to Utah at the beginning of July where he will train fulltime with Horn.) “I just want to get better, and I feel that changing up my program is what I need to do.”

One and one in the UFC, with just one day before game time, Eilers is loose and confident. “I try to hold my emotions in until fight day,” he said. “They do come in spurts — I mean, this is for the title, but [for the most part,] I put them away. I don’t want to waste my nerves.”

Weighing in at 231, the 27 year old is confident and ready for battle. “I hope [Arlovski] judges me off my Buentello fight because [this time] I want to grind out a win. It’s definitely going to be a war.”

It’s a war many fans thought premature when first announced, but bottom line, Eilers stepped up to the plate when the UFC came knocking. And now, the fight world eagerly awaits and hopes it to be just that: a war. With a card dubbed “Heavy Hitters,” could it be anything less?
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