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April 24, 2013

Kin's Corner: An Interview With Lewis Corapi

[Interview by Kin Moy]

Lewis Corapi is an undefeated professional Mixed Martial Artist, fighting out of the esteemed Sityodtong Muay Thai Academy in Somerville, MA. This weekend, at AFO’s annual Night of Champions, he is staking his 4-0 record against Fighting Arts Academy’s Leon Davis (3-1) in a bid for the 155 lbs title belt.
Lewis was kind enough to sit down with me (so to speak) and discuss his thoughts on the fight, his opponent, and his 2-year absence from the local scene. Lewis is a very well-spoken individual and wasn't shy about disclosing his thoughts, so pull up a seat and enjoy!

Kin “Kong:  Before we get into the meat of things -- that being your upcoming title fight with Leon Davis -- I had a question that's been on my mind for a while.  In late 2010, you had your MMA debut. Your tore through three opponents in under 5 months, the last one being a dangerous BJJ stylist in Aniss Alhajjajy, only to fall off the map for almost two years. What took you away from the cage?

Lewis Corapi: This is a question I get all the time. The fight with Aniss was my 4th in 6th months(I had my last amateur fight in that time too), and my body was just tired of cutting weight, so I decided I was going to give myself 3-4 months before my next fight. Well, that 3-4 months off turned into me deciding to go spend the summer with my then long distance girlfriend in St. Louis, where I was training with Finney's MMA team. That summer turned into a full move to that area. 

I continued training with Finney's MMA and had a number of fights fall through for me - one of them because the Nebraska Athletic Commission wouldn't approve me to fight 16-4 James Kraus. With no fights happening, I had to go and get myself a big boy job to pay the bills, and was working 50+ hours a week, and was unable to make any more of the pro training classes. I eventually found a new gym that worked a little bit better for my schedule -- St Charles MMA -- which had a great crop of guys to work with, but I was still working too much to be able to find the appropriate time to get in 2-3 sessions a day to be fight-ready. 

This past July, the girl and I split ways and I decided I was moving back to Boston. I spent the summer getting back on my feet and was back in fight shape and gunning for a fight by November. Again, fights were falling through left and right. I would accept a fight to hear 3 days later that the opponent would fall through. This happened over and over until I got a text from my manager January 30th asking if I wanted to fight in two weeks. After 2 or 3 opponent switches, I finally made it to the cage on February 15th!

Kin “Kong” :Thankfully, that dry spell seems to have ended. You returned to the cage with a dominant, first round stoppage over Kevin Tjaden back in February, and now you're in line for a belt! You've been in the game for a while, but this (I believe) will be your first time fighting for the belt. What does that mean for you, and have you changed your training in any way to prepare for this?

Lewis Corapi: You are correct, this will be my first time fighting for a belt and it is very exciting. As far as what it means, it means that everyone that I see on a daily basis is going to be very aggravated that I'm wearing a championship belt on and out to the bar, and it means I'm probably going to be sitting down with HR while they tell me that an MMA championship belt is not appropriate workplace attire!

In all seriousness, I'm looking at this like any other fight I have ever had: this guy I'm fighting is dangerous and can knock me out, submit me, or take me down the entire fight. It's that whole 'prepare for the worst' mentality so that there is never a surprise. Every fight I have ever had, my coaches have had me training for 5, 5 minutes rounds. It doesn't matter if it is 3, 3 minutes rounds in amateur, or this title fight -- I'm always training to go for a full 25 minutes.

With this being a title fight the only actual difference I can speak of is that I am trying to be a few pounds lighter than usual so that I don't have as much weight to cut. My thinking is that if this does go into rounds 4 and 5, I don't want a rough weight cut to have an adverse effect on my conditioning. Besides that, I have been going over some things to prepare specifically for the tools that Leon Davis brings to the table. But that's top secret!

Kin “Kong”:  Well, I respect that some things must be kept under wraps. Sityodtong coaches are great game-planners, so I have no doubt that there are particular things you guys are working on that would be better left unsaid at the moment. But something that I've got to bring up -- you both have been seen rocking Thai shorts in your MMA fights. Who do you think has the better Thai boxing going into this match?

Lewis Corapi:  Oh the Thai shorts are all just a front. I just like wearing the short shorts so I can show off my legs to the crowd.

I don't think there is any illusion of what this fight is: a wrestler vs. striker matchup. Of course I have confidence in my stand-up abilities and believe myself to be the better kickboxer. But, that does not mean that I don't expect him to hang out on the feet for a little while and exchange with me, or to use his wrestling to get me to drop my hands and throw some bombs.

Kin “Kong”:  On that note, your sole defeat was by decision at the hands of a wrestler. While you have overcome some strong grapplers since then in Alhajjajy and Sam Nadeau, trying to drag you to the mat might seem like the most appealing course of action. What do you think of Leon's wrestling ability and how does it stack against that of your past opponents'?

Lewis Corapi:  Absolutely, dragging me to the mat is definitely what people have in mind when facing me. I did have that loss to a wrestler, but I used that as motivation to work on my wrestling and pick up a weak point of my game.

While I take it as a compliment that my standup abilities are regarded that high, that thinking definitely doesn't take into account the other areas of my game. While most people consider my striking, people seem to forget that I am an MMA fighter, not a kickboxer. They don't take into account that when I fought Joe Powers, I ended up slamming him and then finishing him with ground and pound, or that the only time Aniss was able to take me down I popped right back up and ended up taking him down 3 or 4 times. My Jiu-jitsu's good, my wrestling is good, my striking is good. This is an MMA fight, not a wrestling match.

That being said, Leon is definitely the highest level wrestler I have faced. He has been wrestling his entire life. I have no illusions that I'm going to go out there and outwrestle him. There's probably going to be some time I spend on my back in this fight, and I'm ok with that. But like I said, this isn't a wrestling match, this is an MMA fight, and he is probably going to be spending some time on his back as well.

Kin “Kong”:  Those are great points! During the chaos of an MMA fight -- where almost anything goes -- it's not uncommon to see dominant strikers get out-struck, superior wrestlers get taken down, and Jiu Jitsu wizards get submitted. Now someone reading this could definitely infer an answer to this question from your responses, but I want you to tell me outright: why does Lewis Corapi win this fight?

Lewis Corapi:  Excellent point. If you look at a guy like GSP, what he does really well is blend all of the different aspects of MMA together. Granted, he is exceptionally gifted physically and is great in the separate arts. But what he does so well is to get you thinking striking and you're taken down, get you thinking take down and he's punching you, or get you thinking ground and pound and he latches on to an armbar. Those are things that I work on every day. Like I said, I'm not going to go out there and outwrestle Leon Davis. But, I might throw some shots to get him to cover up and double leg him. It's that whole Bruce Lee idea of misdirection.

Lewis Corapi (excuse me for speaking in the third person) wins this fight because of his well-roundedness. My ability in all of the different aspects of MMA are going to give me options wherever the fight goes, and I am absolutely going to exploit those options. I know everyone is going to want me to say that I'm going to go out and knock him out, but I'm not going to say that. Because if I see an arm hanging out, I'm taking that arm home; and if I see his jaw, I'm going for that too.

Kin “Kong”: That is a compelling argument, though I'm sure that Leon disagrees. Myself and many others are certainly looking forward to seeing the two of you hash that out in the cage April 27th!

Before I let you go, I have one final question. You told us earlier about some of the difficulties and setbacks, which had kept you away from the mats (and consequently) the cage. Obviously, you have overcome them and have made your triumphant return and may even be crowned The AFO Lightweight Champion this weekend. Tell me, Lewis, what advice would you give to aspiring and active MMA fighters who are also grappling with the task of balancing the fight game with their real-world responsibilities?

I know many people who are in the same boat as you had been, and know many more who have walked away from competing because of it. I'm hoping that you might have some insight for anyone reading this, who might sympathize with that struggle.

Lewis Corapi:  My answer, very simply, is regret. I love MMA. It does something to me that nothing else in my life is able to do. It eases stress, makes me forget about anything else going on in my life, and makes me happy. It also drives you through an emotional roller coaster. It gives you anxiety, ruins your social life, affects relationships, and controls your life. 

A grown man worrying about the amount of water he has consumed in a day, or feeling guilty about only training 2 times a day instead of 3, is not a healthy or typical train of thought. Some days I wake up at 5 to train for 2 hours before I work all day, and then have to study for an hour or two. 
The last thing I want to do when I'm exhausted from not sleeping and being carb-depleted is go to the gym and get punched in the face and choked out while everyone else is home watching tv and eating potato chips. But you know what I want to do even less than that? Look back when I'm older and wonder what I could have done with this MMA thing if I didn't give up on it when it got really tough.