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MMA4Real Exclusive: Carolina Fight Promotions Bantamweight Champion Brandon Garner

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 28 year old Brandon Garner(7-1-1) is currently one of the best bantamweight fighters in the world.  Brandon first made himself known as a contestant on season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter, fighting two weight classes above his natural weight class.  Brandon has won his last seven fights in a row and looks to be on the verge of big things.  I recently caught up with Brandon to get his thoughts on a variety of things from his appearance on TUF, training with Tim Kennedy, and what's next for the bantamweight champion.  Let's get it:

Kelvin Hunt: Brandon, tell us a little about yourself and how you got into MMA?

Brandon Garner: I started training in Jiu-Jitsu under Greg Thompson in 1999. Greg opened a jiu-jitsu school out of my father's fitness center and shortly after got affiliated with Royce Gracie. Being a smaller guy I always admired Royce's ability to use jiu-jitsu to beat larger opponents. When I started practicing jiu-jitsu I never saw bjj tournaments as a true test of the art. I wanted to test my progress in a more realistic setting. After practicing bjj for two years I entered my first mma fight in Danville, VA. I won the fight using only jiu-jitsu but I realized that to be a complete fighter I was going to have to diversify my training. Immediately I began studying Wrestling, Judo, and Muay Thai. I feel that too many people have a hard time dropping their ego and training outside of their comfort zone. After all, it's much easier to manage the weight disparity in bjj than boxing and wrestling and when you don't have a lot of small guys in the gym you get beat up a lot. I feel very comfortable at all aspects of mma now but it's been a long journey.

Kelvin Hunt: I bet, as you've been in the game for a while.  You were a participant on TUF 8, but your first fight ended in a DQ resulting in you having to leave the house. Give us your thoughts on the experience of being on the show and would you entertain the thought of going back on the show again?

Brandon Garner: The Ultimate Fighter was an interesting experience to say the least. After years of getting crap from my friends about trying out for the show I finally gave in. I figured all I would do is make a silly video, send it in, and get turned down. I really just did it to shut everyone up. I never expected to actually make it onto the show. I found out I had been selected to be on the show and I was given about a one month notice. The next day I tore my hamstring. The next month was spent rehabilitating my hamstring, trying to get it healthy enough to fight. I wasn't able to train once for the show and I was going to have to fight at 155 instead of 135. It was a pretty stressful experience. I would have loved to be able to train and fight healthy but that wasn't the case. Considering the obstacles I feel like I performed quite well. They made it seem like I got my butt kicked but I didn't have a single mark on me after the fight. If I had waited half a second longer I would have won the fight instead of it being ruled a No Contest. I don't have any regrets about doing the show and I would do it again. I've heard rumors about the WEC doing a reality show like TUF and would love to participate in that.

Kelvin Hunt: I wish they would do a WEC version of TUF!  We last saw you in action back in June defending your Carolina Fight Promotions bantamweight title. You won that fight via KO, but most of your fights have ended with you submitting your opponent. What was it like to get that first KO of your professional career?

Brandon Garner: Getting my first KO was incredible. I went into that fight injured as well. I had torn some cartilage in my ribs two weeks before the fight. I couldn't grapple so I wanted to finish the fight on my feet. My opponent kept going for the takedown every time I threw my rear hand. Between rounds my corner reminded me of this. Early in the second round I fainted a right cross and instead threw a flying knee that connected legally, thank god. It felt great but I was pretty concerned for my opponent at the time. I'm glad to finally see my hours of Muay Thai training pay off. It's easier to implement my striking game fighting at bantamweight because I don't have such a reach disadvantage. I just don't won't to get into the bad habit of looking for the one punch/kick knockout.

Kelvin Hunt: Right.  As I mentioned most of your wins have come via submission, the triangle choke in particular. Do you favor chokes over joint based submissions? If so, why?

Brandon Garner: I used to be terrible at triangle chokes because of my short, stocky build. Being the stubborn person that I am I was convinced that I could triangle people too. After months of practice, I made the triangle work for me and it stuck. I love attacking arm locks but someone who is full of adrenaline can fight through the pain. No matter how mentally tough someone might be, when the blood to the brain is shut off, they're going to sleep.

Kelvin Hunt: Yep, Ben Henderson reinforced this this past weekend at WEC 43!  You were scheduled to compete on the upcoming Carolina Crown II event later this month, but had to pull out of the fight with a knee injury. Tell us about that and how did the injury occur?

Brandon Garner: I was trading leg locks with a training partner a couple of months ago and while attacking a calf-cutter I tore my PCL. My knee feels stronger every day but unfortunately it didn't heal in time to defend my title on the 24th.

Kelvin Hunt: Good stuff, when can expect you back in the cage?

Brandon GarnerI hope to be back in the cage in January. I'm keeping my conditioning up and my weight down.

Kelvin Hunt: I don’t know if you are aware, but you were ranked #25 by the USAT/SBN Consensus Bantamweight Rankings after your last win in June. How does it feel to be recognized as one of the top bantamweights in the world, or do rankings have little value to you?

Brandon Garner: I'm not aware of that particular ranking but I have seen one ranking site that has had me as low as 16. I don't spend too much time thinking about rankings but it is nice to get recognized.

Kelvin Hunt: You actually have a submission win over current UFC/TUF veteran Jason Dent. Would you ever consider moving up in weight, or are you comfortable at bantamweight?

Brandon Garner: I fought 9 times at 155, 4 times at 145, once at 150, 140, and 135. I feel the best between 135 and 140. You'll only see me at bantamweight from now on unless some other great opportunity presents itself at a higher weight class.

Kelvin Hunt: This has been a hot topic this past week with DREAM 11 taking place. Shinya Aoki has repeatedly stated that he’d like to fight guys like BJ Penn and Kenny Florian. How do you think Aoki would fare in the UFC LW shark tank, or should he be fighting at a lighter weight?

Brandon Garner: I don't think Aoki can make 145. I think he is fighting at the weight that best suits him. I think Aoki would do well in the UFC but I think he might have a little more trouble because of the quicker standups by the referees. He has great takedowns but I think he might have more trouble getting the fight to the ground here than he does in Japan.

Kelvin Hunt: Ok, let's talk about your fight camp.  I know you train with Team ROC, one of the most respected fight camps in North Carolina. What’s the best thing about training there?

Brandon Garner: The best thing about Team ROC is the atmosphere. Everyone is easy going and we are alway having fun. I have great training partners in BJJ, Muay Thai, and Wrestling. We don't have a huge stable of fighters but what he have is quality.

Kelvin Hunt: I know Tim Kennedy represents Team ROC and has looked really impressive as of late in Strikeforce. What’s it like training with someone like Tim, and is there anything in particular you’ve learned by training with him?

Brandon Garner: Training with Tim has given me a new understanding of what it means to fully prepare for a fight. Tim trains harder than anyone I know. Every time he comes in the gym he has the look on his face that he hasn't been able to train for a month and he can't wait to scrap, even if it's his third session of the day at the end of a long week. He's definitely an inspiration and it's unfortunate that he is moving to Dallas. I've been able to corner him in most of his fights and I was also fortunate enough to spend a week with him at the Pit. He's a great training partner and a great friend as well. He's going to be collecting belts soon.

Kelvin Hunt: So what’s the ultimate goal for Brandon Garner? Can we expect you to arrive on the big stage soon, have you had any talks with any major promotions?

Brandon Garner: I would really like a shot at the WEC. I got an offer to fight in DEEP but it was a week after I injured my knee. That was discouraging because it has always been my dream to fight in Japan. There is a chance I might fight in DREAM as well but the economy is playing a major role in Japanese promotions bringing in American fighters.

Kelvin Hunt: Ahh, that would be great and you'll have to keep us posted.  Lastly, any words of wisdom or people you’d like to thank in closing?

Brandon Garner: I'd like to thank my family, friends, training partners, coaches and sponsors (Cageside, Champ Inc., Dive Bar, FUBAR), CrossfitNC, Forged Fitness, CFP and Athlete's Performance Center for making it possible for me train and fight and pursue my dream. Their support and confidence gives me the ambition to keep trying to be the best fighter in the world.

Good stuff Brandon, good luck with rehabbing that knee injury and we look forward to seeing you back in the cage real soon.