Strikeforce welterweight and lightweight competitor K.J. Noons raised eyebrows recently when he openly admitted he was looking past Jorge Masvidal, his opponent this weekend at Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum. Masvidal is regarding as not only a legitmate contender in the Strikeforce , but a very credible challenger to virtually any elite lightweight irrespective of promotion. How could it be he was looking past this sturdy of a challenge?
As he explained to me, it isn't that he doesn't recognize Masvidal's skills or pedigree. And it isn't that he believes he's automatically going to move past him. Noons is open that he's got a fight on his hands. The answer to is myopia is that he is close to a title shot he can taste it. He wants a chance at glory, he's not far from reaching that opportunity and points to the belt as his raison d'etre.
In this exclusive interview with SB Nation, Noons opens up about wanting a shot at Melendez, being 200 pounds at Christmas, Nick Diaz's decision to vacate his belt, how his striking skills compare to those of Gilbert Melendez and much more.
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Luke Thomas: KJ how are you, sir?
K.J. Noons: Hey, how's it going?
Luke Thomas: Good, KJ. Since you were an a recent opponent of Nick Diaz and now he's vacated his title. Do you think that's horrible for the Strikeforce brand? Do you not care? What is your assessment of what Nick Diaz did?
K.J. Noons: I think it's really up to the guys that own the company you know? I think they're going to build Strikeforce but at the same time there's things that the fans are asking for and they need to give fans what they want. So we'll see.
Luke Thomas: Would you prefer to see the titles unified where the Strikeforce champion fights the UFC champion and the winner keeps the title or do you think that's too complicated?
K.J. Noons: I think it's possible. I think it's definitely possible. I think you gotta think two titles and fight a non title fight, it's up to them and it makes for an interesting fight.
Luke Thomas: Let's talk about your fight, you have Jorge Masvidal who has kinda what you have. He has excellent striking. Characterize for me if you can how you view Jorge Masvidal as an opponent.
K.J. Noons: As an opponent, tough guy, lots of fights. Comes from a background of fighting. He's good all around just because he's not gonna ignore every other aspect. We went to this camp for the past couple of fights and we got better. I trained my butt off and now I'm ready.
Luke Thomas: I don't want you to divulge any game plans because I know you can't, but can you speak to me about some of the things you saw that you needed to correct for this bout?
K.J. Noons: I got a hair cut, got a different weight class, a different pair of shorts...Nah man, just getting better all around. Changing it up, I did a lot of different things. It was an interesting camp and it's probably the best shape I've ever been in.
Luke Thomas: When you say interesting camp, I'm kind of curious, what is different about it? Who directs your camp? Are you the director of your camp? Do you hire guys to run the camp for you and you show up and get better? Who is the man in charge of your camp?
K.J. Noons: I'll tell you what, kind of what I do is I run it myself so I travel from gym to gym and I have my main trainer which is Kimo (Need Last Name) out of Houston, Texas. He flies out and we pretty much run the camp together. We look at an opponent, we look at different styles. We look at the area and different gyms in Southern California. If we can't find the correct guy inside the country, we may ask for somebody to come in. We get the correct sparring and I honestly work every aspect of the game but sparring to me is the most important so we go to different gyms and find different sparring.
Luke Thomas: Do you prioritize strength and conditioning? Is that equal to the other dimensions of the game with wrestling and submissions? What kind of component is that to the camp?
K.J. Noons: Most definitely it's just as important. You can be the most skilled person in the world but if you don't have the conditioning to execute it then anybody can beat you.
Luke Thomas: I saw a comment recently where you said pretty matter of factly that I am looking past and I am looking for that title shot. For the folks that may that's too dangerous to look past someone, what would your response be?
K.J. Noons: I would say I'm looking at a goal. I'm looking to attain a goal to be the best and win a world title. It's not like I'm looking past like I already won, I'm looking past as a goal as in that's what I want. So I use that as motivation to train hard for this fight and to be the best.
Luke Thomas: Where would you personally rank Gilbert Melendez, the Strikeforce Lightweight Champion? In your mind, where does he rank amongst all MMA lightweights?
K.J. Noons: Personally, I think that he's number one. I think that's why he's trying to jump ship to the UFC so hard. I think there's a lot of competition for him right here in his back yard but he probably wants the bigger stage, the bigger belt but he's gotta fight the contenders over here first before he can do that but I think he's definitely up there. He's beaten Kawajiri and Aoki and I think he's fare very well against the UFC guys.
Luke Thomas: Would you say that you're the superior striker when compared to Gilbert Melendez?
K.J. Noons: I would say I come from a background of striking and I practiced a lot in it but the game can go anywhere which is what no one understands. It's not so much that you're so good in one area that it can compensate for other areas. You gotta be good all around. Just because you're a good striker doesn't mean you're going to strike the whole time and ignore all these other things. That's something that people don't really get. It's not like I'm such a great striker and can keep striking and not have to worry about all these other things...takedowns, submissions, kicks, knees, elbows...it definitely changes what's going on in the fight.
Luke Thomas: Then would you agree then that to the extent that fights do stay standing and to the extent that you have the ability to mix it up, that it would be your fight to lose if it were to stay in that position?
K.J. Noons: If it was standing, I'd have the clear advantage.
Luke Thomas: Do you believe this card was impacted from the loss of Gina Carano or doesn't quite matter because she was gone so long. Or do you really even think about that? To what extent does that impact this card in your mind?
K.J. Noons: I'm excited to be on the main card to tell you the truth. I know this was for the Heavyweight Tournament so I was kind of put on last minute on the undercard and it was going to be televised anyways so I wasn't too disappointed about it but it would out for the better for me being on the main card on Showtime so I'm just really excited. Hopefully she'll be back, I don't know why she's not on there but I've gotten a pretty positive response and I'm really excited to be fighting in Texas on the main card.
Luke Thomas: So let's get your predictions, I know you're focused on your fight but I'm curious to hear what you have to say about the Heavyweight Tournament playing out. Who do you like in the Overeem vs Werdum fight, who in your mind has the advantage going in?
K.J. Noons: Overeem does. It's hard to submit a guy who's just so big and has so much muscle and has great stand up.
Luke Thomas: And Josh Barnett vs Brett Rogers, is there somehow you see that Brett wins?
K.J. Noons: Well Rogers I think just has more power. Josh is very technical on his feet. But they're both heavyweight so it doesn't even matter. One shot and you're done.
Luke Thomas: Alright so I guess the next question is more towards the mind of MMA fans but you're a professional fighter so you're opinion matters. How do you think Overeem would fare, if he won the tournament, against the UFC Champion Cain Velasquez or Junior Dos Santos should he take the title?
K.J. Noons: I think that Junior Dos Santos versus Overeem would be very interesting because they're both great strikers. I've seen Junior at the gym and he's got really good hands. Cain, I don't know. He's just so dominant and I haven't really seen anywhere to really beat that guy because he's just so good all around. If it was Junior Dos Santos, I'd pick Overeem. And if it was Cain, I'd pick Cain.
Luke Thomas: Do you believe that unmistakably that Cain is the top heavyweight in the world? Do you think Overeem has the wrestling to deal with some of the more wrestling capable guys in the UFC?
K.J. Noons: I think he's at the top. Cain's very good.
Luke Thomas: Talk to me about this fight Saturday night against Masvidal. Best case scenario how do you see it playing out? I'm assuming you see it by knockout, correct?
K.J. Noons: That's what I go for every time.
Luke Thomas: Do you ever think, "I want to demonstrate different aspects of my game" or do you say "I'm going to use what got me there"?
K.J. Noons: No, I'm definitely going to use what got me there. There's really no secret to my game and what I want to do, I want to knock people out. And I think that's why people want to watch me.
Luke Thomas: Do you think Masvidal has any chin issues?
K.J. Noons: No, I don't think so.
Luke Thomas: Do you think he's better at welterweight or better at lightweight?
K.J. Noons: I saw him that one time at Welterweight, he's a pretty big guy. Some people like to bounce between classes and they do well and so we'll see if he comes in strong or not for this fight.
Luke Thomas: How much do you cut to make that 155lbs limit?
K.J. Noons: Are you kidding me? I was 200 pounds around Christmas.
Luke Thomas: Were you really?
K.J. Noons: Yeah.
Luke Thomas: You were 200? That's gigantic. So this has been a real struggle for you to get down to this weight?
K.J. Noons: Nah, it hasn't been that much trouble. Christmas was a long time ago and I wasn't doing anything with a cast on my hand. To get in shape I just diet right and have the right timing, but it's definitely hard.
Luke Thomas: Are you one of those guys that can lose weight and gain weight easily?
K.J. Noons: No, I gain weight very easily.
Luke Thomas: I guess everyone does that. We just saw Kenny Florian, he lost 40 pounds to get down to 145 after he had a similar circumstance. Did you go to a nutritionist? How do you program your diet to get to the point where you can kind of meter the amount that you're going to have to cut?
K.J. Noons: You definitely need some type of person telling you what to do. But even if they're telling you what to do, it's still hard mentally and physically. It just grinds. But you have a goal and you have to get there.
Luke Thomas: Before I let you go, what's your rehydration process? Are you one of those guys who just IV after the scales?
K.J. Noons: I'm not, I try not to but I have if I've lost too much weight. If you don't do the proper weight loss and on the right diet then you gotta cut more pounds than you're supposed to and you gotta get that but no, I prefer not to.
Luke Thomas: Do you think that's too common a practice?
KJ: No, I think it's more a safety precaution because you drained so much liquid out of your body and your brain. It can cause it to bump against your skull which is how you get brain injuries, so it's preventative.