Legacy Fighting Championship 22 – Paul Buentello
There are a few names that should be synonymous with the word, “heavyweight.” These days, “Cain Velasquez” and “Junior Dos Santos” easily tumble off the lips of studied or casual MMA fans alike; but what of the long-term contenders in this division?
Sixteen-year veteran Paul Buentello possesses such a name. The Amarillo, Texas native [32-15] has gone to battle with some of the elite on the UFC’s current heavyweight roster. On August 23rd, Buentello will leave this aforementioned weight class behind in favor of a main event bout at 205 against fellow UFC veteran James McSweeney [11-10] at Legacy FC 22. With three straight wins behind him (two by way of knockout) the 39-year-old has no plans to slow down just yet. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
Legacy: How did you react to the news that Marcus Sursa was out and James McSweeney was in to face you at Legacy FC 22?
Paul Buentello: It was discouraging. You focus so much on one opponent. I’m just into my camp, but it kind of threw me for a loop for about a half a day. We’re working on the same stuff, but it’s a little different for McSweeney. He has a little more experience and brings a little bit more to the table than Sursa. He’s been in the big show, and it brings more pressure to the fight.
Legacy: Have you tweaked anything in your camp since he “brings more to the table,” or will you proceed as planned?
Paul Buentello: I have a conditioning and Crossfit coach, Jarrod Jones. Instead of going to him once a week, I’m going to him twice a week. Crossfit is all about explosion and endurance. Next month, it will be three times a week.
Legacy: McSweeney’s got some great cardio and, to top it off, we know that he’s been working with Robert Drysdale. What do you think he is going to put in front of you? What do you think his game plan will be?
Paul Buentello: Just like every striker that’s faced me in the past: he’s going to come out and try to push the pace on the striking. They all shoot for the takedown, so we are definitely ready for that. We knew that Sursa was going to try and go for the takedown. [McSweeney] being with Drysdale, I didn’t know that when I took the fight. He might try to take it to the ground. We are totally ready for that. That’s why I came to train with Bruno Bastos[also fighting at Legacy FC 22] at Bastos Jiu-Jitsu here in Midland. He’s world-class jiu-jitsu, so he knows all the tricks of the trade. That’s working out really good. I’ve always had good success here in Midland. It’s a good fit right now, especially fighting in Lubbock; it’s not far. The big news is I’m making the move to 205, so being in Midland with Brad Barnes, he’s got a couple of people that are nutritionists, so I have all my meals pre-made. It’s going to be a really easy walk down to 205. I started at 260 two weeks ago and I’ve dropped tons of weight already. It shouldn’t be a problem at all. I’ll probably have an eight-pound cut, or maybe no weight cut at all.
Legacy: Why did you decide to make the switch to light heavyweight?
Paul Buentello: To show the world and the MMA community that I’m serious about training. I want to make a splash in the 205 division. I’ve been a heavyweight for so long and I want to show the guys at Legacy and UFC that I’m serious. Everyone’s seen me at heavyweight; if I come in at 205, it’s an eye-opener. It’s a “wow.” It’s a sensation. When you’re at a lower weight, it’s faster-paced and I’m going to be a lot stronger. Being a heavyweight for 16-plus years and coming in at 205, I’m going to have that strength and that fight in me.
Legacy: It’s got to be quite the task to change your diet plan completely after so many years at heavyweight…
Paul Buentello: What’s funny is I’m just thirsty all the time. I’m from Texas so I love iced tea. I love sweet tea, but I’ve got to cut out the sugar. I crave water and I crave the heck out of cucumber salad or seaweed salad. I take cucumbers and I put some lemon juice on it and eat the heck out of them. Last time when I was on a crazy diet, I craved chocolate cake every night. A little different! I’m always looking for something to drink. It’s not the sodas; it’s the iced tea, or an Arnold Palmer…something to quench my thirst.
Legacy: You’re coming off three straight wins, with two of them by knockout. If you could dictate this next fight, how would you have it?
Paul Buentello: It would be nice to walk in there, counterpunch, counterpunch, do a spinning heel kick and knock him out, do a back flip and get my hand raised. That’s what everybody wants, but with McSweeney, he’s not going to make mistakes. I already know it. He’s slow-paced; I’ve got to come with the pressure. Going to the judges’ decision, they never go my way. I’m looking for a finish, either submission or KO. I can’t afford to go to judges’ decision.
Legacy: Do you plan on making another go of competing in the UFC? What are your plans if all goes well?
Paul Buentello: Of course. That’s what is motivating me is that my last stint in the UFC; everything around me was not right. A lot of outside troubles and dramas really affected my mental state, but now everything around me is put together well and I have the right people around me. If the UFC does come calling, great. I’ve set another dream, another goal, another quest in my life and I want to make it back to the show. Right now, I’m in good hands with Legacy and they’re going to keep me busy. That’s the whole thing right now, is just to stay busy and keep fighting hard. If the door opens or the phone rings, I’m going to go. But, the main thing is just focus on this fight, get the “W” and get ready for the next one.
Legacy: You mentioned that you went through a rough patch; how did you pull yourself out of that?
Paul Buentello: Just talking to people. I went and talked with a psychiatrist; a sports psychiatrist really helps. He puts things in perspective. I actually went and talked to the family doctor and I got on depression pills. It’s a chemical imbalance and that’s one thing you have to recognize. It’s not that you’re bad, but if you understand that there’s an imbalance going on in your body, just get something and talk to a doctor and say, “Hey, I don’t feel right.” Get on it and help yourself out. That’s what I did: I swallowed my pride and my ego and went and talked to the doctor and said, “Hey, this is how I feel every morning, this is how I feel when I train, this is how I feel when I walk around,” and he goes, “It’s just a chemical imbalance” and gave me a prescription. I was on the prescription probably about a month. Talking to a sports psychiatrist, you have to be able to have your life and your career as two different things and you’ve got to understand how to separate them. That’s what I was doing; I was intertwining everything and everything was getting mixed up. Being in my profession and having a bad day is not good because someone is going to punch you in the mouth. You make a bad mistake or you get choked out on something so stupid. Then you start dwelling on it and get yourself in a 10-foot hole, looking up and you think you just shouldn’t train again. There you go; you just dig yourself deeper.
Legacy: Tell me a little about your family.
Paul Buentello: I’m not married, but I do have my daughter; she’s here with me in Midland. Her name is Samantha. She’s the greatest kid ever. She’s 13 and will be 14 tomorrow. She’s been traveling the world and just got back from London. Her mom and me sent her there for a month. She’s doing volleyball camp in Midland and she’ll be with me all the way until fight time.
Legacy: What does Samantha think of her dad fighting for a living?
Paul Buentello: Oh, she thinks it’s really cool. She wants me to fight till I’m 58, so she’ll be out of high school and out of college.
Legacy: 58 specifically! Well, you don’t seem like you’re slowing down at all. You’ve been in this business for so long; I’m interested to hear how your body has changed with age and how it reacts differently to your workouts over the years.
Paul Buentello: Not really much with me being a heavyweight, training the pace I want to train. I think my whole career, I never trained really crazy and never pushed the issue. I never walked into a gym with pride on my shoulder or a chip on my shoulder. If I get caught in a submission, I tap out. If something hurts, I take a break. Most guys now, there’s so much ego and so much pride that they don’t want to tap out at the gym and they don’t want to get submitted and, before you know it, they’re getting injury after injury. My knees, my back, my hands, my eyes… everything is in perfect condition and is like when I first started fighting. I feel healthy. If my body told me, “Hey, I hurt,” I would take the day off, or maybe two days off. Most people frowned on that because I wasn’t in the gym 24-7, but that’s why I’m 49-years-old and I’m still moving around like I’m 25. Well, that’s the reason why: I listened to my body 100% of the time instead of pushing my body to the end of its limits.
Arthritis is probably going to set in with my hands, but you know, I feel comfortable. I don’t ache. I still wake up the same. Most guys at 26, 27 years old are jacked; they’re not going to have a long career in this sport. There are some top contenders in the UFC that have already had three or four surgeries on their knees and shoulders and elbows. I don’t understand how they’re going to keep moving. When your body says, “Woah, hold on,” take the time off. Just like today. Today was a hard day. I had Crossfit, sprints and swimming and we started grappling. I started transitioning and I felt my hamstrings give a little pop, like almost cramping up. I said, “Let’s don’t push it; let’s hydrate with some water and we’ll come back tonight instead of pushing the issue.”
Legacy: Many of your former opponents, such as Cheick Kongo, Stefan Struve and Alistair Overeem, are still widely popular and very active in the UFC today. What made their careers successful in the promotion over yours?
Paul Buentello: My head was so far up my ass. With Congo, I just quit during that fight. Stefan Struve, I switched managers at the wrong time and it was a big mess. Overeem, it was just one of those things and you can’t back out. I had a huge injury and I still took the fight. I didn’t back out and I was trying to make ends meet. I needed to take a step back and didn’t listen to myself.
Legacy: I saw an interview that you did with Ariel Helwani in 2009 where you mentioned you would like to re-match Overeem. Is that still the case today?
Paul Buentello: Oh, in a heartbeat! Oh, my gosh. Yes! Definitely! Andrei Arlovski, in a heart beat! Man, nothing was going right. Those fights right there, nothing went right.
Legacy: How did you get in touch with Legacy FC?
Paul Buentello: Actually, Brad Barnes. He’s a good friend; I’ve known him for 12 years. He’s always handling stuff for me, and he’s always been talking to Legacy every now and then. They finally said, “Okay.” I was back from Russia with three wins and Brad said, “Let’s pull the trigger at 205.” I said, “Let’s do it!” Legacy was finding the right fit and getting the right ducks in a row, and this Lubbock show is the perfect fit.
Legacy: Is there anyone you would like to thank?
Paul Buentello: Oil Field Soldier and JD Tires & Wheels in Amarillo, Extreme Window Tint, Bruno Bastos, “The Ringleader,” Brad Barnes and my striking coach Andy Fong.