The “punishment time” has come again. Xavier Foupa-Pokam’s favourite phrase will echo once more. This time, it’s going to be in Grozny, in Chechnya, for the « World Fighting Championship Akhmat Grand-Prix » (WFCA), On Saturday, June 11th.
The French fighter, after a remarkable getaway to Sanda (French national champion, 3rd at the World’s last November), is going to match for the 54th time of his career against Russian Alexey Efremov (29 years old, 16 victories for 12 KO and 3 submissions, 5 defeats).
The stake ? a place in the final. The issue ? a return to UFC. At 33 years old (34 in July), Xavier Foupa-Pokam (32 victories for 18 KO and 9 submissions, 21 defeats) is, in a way, at a crossroads. In 2009, for his 1st experience in the Octogon (2 defeats), he was too inexperienced. Nowadays, he is mature. And he has the best age to do shine. The time comes. Tomorrow, it might be too late.
To turn on the UFC « highlights » again, the defeat is hardly allowed. Each fight is a bet, a pivotal moment, an exam… He could choose easy fights. He’d rather choose daring challenges and risky fights.
In the Grand-Prix ¼ finals, last December, his gamble has paid off. He beat by KO 3rd round the local star Viktor Korneev. On his side, Alexey Efremov won by TKO 1st round against Brazilian Sergio Souza. This ½ finale smells the sulphur…
What are the stakes of your fight against Efremov ?
I am registered on a tournament called Akhmat Grand-Prix, which gathers some very high level fighters. Most of them are UFC or Bellator veterans. This fight’s stake is to get to the final and then win the tournament.
« The UFC… I work on it »
Is it a step to something else?
I think your question implies something… (he laughs). Many people have only one thing in mind : UFC, UFC, UFC. As far as I am concerned, it’s a medium, even a short term goal. We work on it. We take time to do things correctly.
I already fought at the UFC in the past (2 fights in 2009). The idea this time is, once I would have entered the UFC, to be legitimate to do so, to be considered as a safe bet. It means that we have to do things in the right order : keep beautifying my records against good fighters.
How did you get prepared for this fight ?
Usually, we scheduled my preparation for a 5 weeks’ period. I work with Karim Falah, who plans my physical training’s program : stamina, cardio, speed…. With Cyrille (Diabate, his coach), we work specifically on the fight’s aspects, technically and tactically speaking. We decide of a strategy according to my opponent’s profile which we study by watching his previous fights.
On the whole, in order to simplify, we start by working on my stamina in order to get a foundation. Then, we work more specifically on the fight itself. The idea is that I would be able to speed up several times while remaining clear-minded.
« All athletes have their rites”
What is your schedule for the 3 days leading up to the fight ?
I try to use them to relax and get some rest, to get ready for the competition. Usually, I also have to do promotion’s works : pictures, interviews… I also have to take medical exams to be sure that I am able to fight. The weigh-in also takes place, which entails a sort of preparation.
Do you have some specific habits on the D day?
All athletes have their rites, even if some don’t want to say it. Personally, on the fight’s day, I cut all communications, besides my coach and my staff. In this order, I can totally be concentrated on what I have to do. Everything is switched off. Even my family cannot reach me.
Then, in a more trivial or ritual way, I remove my chain from my neck at the last moment, when I walk into the cloakroom.
« Being put under stress is useful »
And during the day, do you act as usual ?
I eat as usual. I take a breakfast and, then, a lunch. I take something to eat with me in the cloakroom because I usually fight late. And we must eat.
In fact, I rest all day. I do take a nap. I hate sleeping in cloakrooms. I have always been afraid that my body is not enough woken for the fight, that I would be a little bit soft and a little bit slow. It happened. To avoid it, before each competition, when I come in cloakrooms, I stay awake. 1h30 before the scheduled fight time, I make a muscular awakening, a progressive warm-up.
When do you start getting adrenaline ?
As far as I am concerned, I am not put at all under stress the week leading to the fight. It comes from my experience. After the weigh-in, which always occurs less than 24 hours before the fight, I have a renewed vitality. It’s partly due to the fact that I take sugar again, after having cut them fort a while.
It’s when I come in the cloakroom that I am put under stress, which is useful, according to me. The “good” stress allows you to store a form of energy that you will need later on.
I still need to be under stress to fight because my style is really aggressive. And I am only efficient when I am aggressive. I cannot be careless or soft when the fight is coming.
« The defeat : one of my mistake »
Who is your main opponent, yourself or the guys in front of you ?
We often say it’s yourself. Most of the fights I lost, I blamed myself because the defeat was due to one of my mistake. So, my main opponent maybe myself, even if I do everything to win.
What is the core of your relation with Cyrille Diabate ? What role does he play with you ?
Cyrille is first my coach. But he is, of course, more than that. We know each other for a very long time (they met in 2000). We have shared so many things together. He has become like an older brother in a sense that he also leads me for many things in my personal life. I am not saying that he gives me orders, I am an adult (he laughs). But, thanks to his experience, it often happens that he advises me.
Concerning fighting, we do not only have a coach-student relation. At this level, stakes are numerous and important… Records, notoriety, money, glory… are not the only important things. For instance, our health is also very important. Cyrille is very careful to us. He tends to give priority to our health rather than economical stakes. I am used to trust him because I know that he full of good intentions concerning me.
« I love the challenge »
What makes you go ahead ? Or, should I say : « what makes still go ahead » because you are not 20 years old anymore (he is 33)… ?
(He laughs) My body is not a 20 years old one anymore but my mind still is… What is my motivation to get ahead ? I love to compete ! I am a fighter, I am a competitor. I have been competing since I am 12. My life has always been given rhythm by it.
I love the challenge, I like the idea of working in order to succeed in a goal, to concretely show my improvements. It’s very important. It’s even the most important of all stakes.
When you come in the Cage, do you always look for KO ?
In fact, yes. My style doesn’t give any opportunity to go to the decision. On the whole, Cyrille told me to never wait for a referee’s decision. Waiting for it, even if you had entirely dominated the fight, always means you hand back a part of your fate in some people’s hands, namely the referee’s ones.
And, in some countries, you may suppose that referees would always be disadvantageous to you, whatever happens. We saw some obvious theft in the past… And you cannot do anything. So, in order to avoid that kind of situation, I got used to try to finish my fights before the limit.
How is it in Grozny? A cool place, isn’t it ?
As a fighter, yes, like all Eastern Europe. It’s cool. People like fighters a lot. We are considered as real athletes. They give us respect and regard. It’s an appreciative audience. They don’t come to see a show as another one. They know and understand what is going on. Then, from a purely tourist point of view… (He laughs), I have seen much better !
Born on July 3rd, 1982 in Paris (33 years old)
Height : 6’1 feet
Category : -185 lbs
Weight : 200 lbs
Club : Snake Team
Coach : Cyrille Diabate
2013 : Super Fight League (SFL) Middleweight champion
2008 : WAFC World Tournament Winner (Russia)
2003 : XFC European Champion
100% Fight Middleweight Champion
2015 : 3rd at the World Championships (IWUF). French national champion.
By Ludovic Mauchien