“This is the sport I love, and if I die in the ring, then so be it. I am going to die doing what I love, but not before I am champion.”
It takes barely five minutes with Mike “The Greek” Bronzoulis to know what’s in his heart. The Bellator MMA Fight Master finalist has had his fair share of trials and tribulations trying to climb his mountain, but he’s finally near the top. On Saturday, November 2nd, Bronzoulis will take on Joe “Diesel” Riggs in the welterweight division in hopes of being crowned the Spike TV reality show’s first ever winner and earn the title of “Fight Master.”
In the final week leading up to his fight, the former Legacy champion sat down with me in our hometown of Houston, Texas, to discuss the show, his roots, Riggs’ injury, and his newfound relationship with mentor and coach, Randy Couture.
SJ Sports: Tell us how you got started training MMA.
Mike Bronzoulis: I got into mixed martial arts when I was about seven or eight. My dad had a restaurant here in Houston and there was a Shotokan karate place next door. Since my dad was Greek, he wanted us to train martial arts and be into the whole “Spartan,” “300” stuff. He was really proud of [his heritage.] I fell in love with [MMA.] I did Taekwondo, karate, Shotokan, Shito-Ryu, American freestyle, American kickboxing, Thai boxing. When I was 16, I moved to Chandler, Arizona, and went to Fairtex Thai boxing camp. I came back when I was 17 and met Saul Solis. I’ve been training with him ever since. About two years ago, my gym and I moved over to Paradigm Training Center. Now, I am also training with Randy Couture at Xtreme Couture in Vegas.
SJ Sports: How did the opportunity come up for “Fight Master?”
Mike Bronzoulis: It’s a funny story. I called my manager and I was like, “Hey, man. I need a fight. Is there anything on the table?” He said there wasn’t and to just keep training. I said, “What about that Bellator reality show I heard about?” He told me that he didn’t think I wanted to be on it and he had already sent two guys on there and that it was too short notice. I was upset; what does he mean he doesn’t think I wanted to be on it? I’m not really sure what he meant by that, but we hung up. I took it in and had faith; I asked God to help me through this. Later on that day, Drew Ratichek called me and said the producers were looking for me to see if I wanted to be on the show. They called me that same day and Skyped an interview with me and said they wanted me on the show.
SJ Sports: What was the experience like living with the other contestants?
Mike Bronzoulis: There are always going to be problems when you live in a house with a bunch of guys. Most of them that are married are used to having their wives do everything for them. When you take away their wives, they don’t know how to act. They don’t know how to cook for themselves, they don’t know how to clean; they’re pigs. It’s not fun.
There weren’t too many problems as far as altercations, except for that one incident with Chris Lozano and I. We were really good friends and hit it off big time. When it came down to it, he told me we weren’t going to pick each other and then he picks me. So, that’s what pissed me off, but there is nothing but respect and love now. I know, one day, he wants to work his way back up and get a chance to fight me, so if that happens, it happens, but I still love the guy and I’ve got no problems with him.
I think that people had the wrong impression of me when I first got there. I was ranked last the whole time. They see the tan skin, they see my hair, they think I’m this “Jersey Shore” guy fist-pumpin’ around… I can see why they wanted to pick me, but I already knew that they were looking at me like that. They had no idea what I was capable of. I wasn’t cocky about it; I was very confident and you can see in my interviews; I called it, like Babe Ruth. I said I was going to do this, this and this, just because that’s what I know I am capable of doing. I’ve fought the best fighters around, the best wrestlers, the best jiu-jitsu guys, the best stand-up guys and I know where I stand. I’m good everywhere.
SJ Sports: Going in to your first fight on the show, had you already picked out who you wanted as your coach?
Mike Bronzoulis: I knew exactly who I wanted. I was trying to find out any information related to the show. I saw Randy Couture’s name and it was a done deal; no brainer. This guy was world champion eight times in two different weight classes. He started when he was 36 and finished when he was 47 and captured another title. This is “the man.” In my eyes, he’s the best in the world, and no one will ever be able to do what he did. I wanted nothing more than to be on his team.
SJ Sports: Had you ever met him before?
Mike Bronzoulis: One time, when I was in Strikeforce… it was either me or Brian Melancon who was on the card… with his son, Ryan Couture, and Randy was backstage. I was like, “Oh my God, there’s Randy,” and I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth to say something!
SJ Sports: You’re now living with Randy in Las Vegas. How did that come about? Obviously, not everyone who Randy trains gets to have that opportunity. How did you become so close?
Mike Bronzoulis: Randy and I have a really strong bond. I think he admired my work ethic and my heart and determination. I think he sees something in me. He took me under his wing and moved me into his house, I train at his gym, he has mentored me, we spend time together, talk about stuff. I pick his brain, he tells me all kinds of inside information that he experienced as far as fighting goes and his experience and what made him so great. It was a dream-come-true. It gave me a lot of confidence on the show knowing he was in my corner and that he believed in me and it gives me even more confidence now that he took me in like that and has done so much for me. The man has been there for me like a brother, like a father and has shown nothing but love for me. That guy is a great guy. I just want to make him very proud.
SJ Sports: Regardless of the outcome this Saturday, are your plans to stay in Vegas at Xtreme Couture?
Mike Bronzoulis: I’m always going to stay here in Houston; I am going to keep my place here. I am always going to train here at Paradigm and with Saul Solis. I’m always going to train at Lou Savarese‘s Main Street Boxing Gym and with Bobby Benton. This is my team over here [at Paradigm,] but also, that’s my team over there now [at Xtreme Couture.] Randy is my coach, all the coaches over there are my coaches. I love Xtreme Couture with all my heart. I am going to finish out my career getting ready for my fights with them.
SJ Sports: When Riggs got injured, were you disappointed the finale had to be postponed?
Mike Bronzoulis: No. When Riggs got injured, I wasn’t disappointed at all, because actually my back went out and I was going to fight the way I was. I wasn’t going to tell Bellator. The whole team wanted me to pull me out, but I wasn’t going to do that. I wasn’t going to give the opportunity to somebody else. [Riggs’ injury] gave me time to get injections in my back and my neck and now I’m healthy.
Mike Bronzoulis: I think Rampage would have ended up knocking Tito out. It’s good that the fight fell through because now it’s live on Spike, which it should have been in first place. I’m happy about that.
SJ Sports: Tell me what you know about Riggs and what type of competitor he is.
Mike Bronzoulis: Riggs is a good dude; I like Riggs. He’s a very well rounded fighter; he’s been in the game. Everybody knows everything about him. He had an opportunity to become a UFC champion and Strikeforce champion. His mental strength isn’t that great and his heart’s not that great either and I am going to exploit both of them. Those are both my strong points and we are going to see what he’s made out of. We are going to test him.
SJ Sports: Has he been in camp at Jackson/Winklejohn’s?
Mike Bronzoulis: Greg Jackson was his coach on the show, but now he trains at The Lab in Arizona with Ben Henderson and his coaches. As far as I know, Greg was his coach just for the TV portion of the show. His stuff was fake and all for TV; mine was real.
SJ Sports: After this fight, will you be locked in with Bellator?
Mike Bronzoulis: I have a two-year contract with Bellator and Spike TV. Who knows what will happen after this fight; maybe they will renegotiate my contract. Hopefully I will win and they will lock me down for longer. I want to stay where I am going to get paid. I want to become champion and I want to get paid. This is a very hard life to live. You can’t do it for cheap.
SJ Sports: Tell us about your experience fighting for Legacy Fighting Championship.
Mike Bronzoulis: Legacy is an awesome organization, by far one of my favorites. Mick and Andrea Maynard are awesome people and good friends of mine. I love them to death. I am a former Legacy champion. They have a great show and have some of the best fighters in the world fighting for them. He’s right up there with the big dogs; Mick’s done great and I am very proud of him.
SJ Sports: Tell us about your dad and how he was such an integral part of your life and still remains to be even after his passing.
Mike Bronzoulis: My role models have always been my parents. My dad was this big Greek guy, this foreigner that could barely speak any English when he moved to America. He went from being a dishwasher to owning his own restaurant; he was a serious workhorse. I admired that my whole life. This man came from nothing. I always wanted to be like my dad and always wanted to impress him, but I had some big shoes to fill.
My dad passed from cancer six years ago. His last wish before he died was that I become champion and take care of my mom. That’s what I am trying to do right now; make good on my dad’s last wishes. This week, before the biggest fight of my life, my brother was moving into his new house and uncovered this letter that my dad had written for me that I hadn’t seen until just now because it was hidden amongst some things. It couldn’t have come at a more important time. It’s like he’s talking to me from the other side. I could have gotten that letter any time in the last six years, but the week before my fight? It’s unbelievable. The chances of that happening are one in every billion.
SJ Sports: You had a couple of really rough years…
Mike Bronzoulis: I was in an accident in 2004. A Ford Expedition hit me from behind. The last words out of my mouth were, “Mom, I think I need to get back into church,” and then, bam. God wanted in my life. You know how people ask for signs? My mom said to me that she has never seen God in anyone’s life more than me. I was hospitalized and couldn’t walk for six months. The doctors said I would have problems walking and would never fight again. I got better and believed in myself and believed in God to give me strength and here we are. I still have back and neck problems, but I am working through them. The doctors say if I get injured one more time, I will probably be paralyzed for the rest of my life. This is the sport I love, and if I die in the ring, then so be it. I am going to die doing what I love, but not before I am champion.
SJ Sports: Is there anyone you would like to thank?
Mike Bronzoulis: I want to thank everyone at Xtreme Couture and Randy Couture, Metro Fight Club and Saul Solis, Paradigm Training Center, Reed Shelger, Grant Johnson, Brian Melancon, Jeff Rexroad, Lester Batres, Angel Huerta, all my teammates, George Parker, Main Street Boxing Gym, Lou Savarese, Bobby Benton, all the guys over there. I want to thank my sponsors Innovative Pain Care Center, Lexani, KO Dynasty, XCAP Athletic Pharmaceuticals, Blu Medical, RBP, Trap Fighter, Formula Med, and International Garage. I also want to thank my neighbors, Tara and Damien Gaffney. They went and got me this beautiful St. Michael’s pendant from Italy that was blessed by Pope Francis. I want to thank my brother, my nephew Dylan and my mother, Barbara Bronzoulis. The woman has spilled nothing but encouraging words into my heart and into my mind since I was a child. I wake up and I see this encouraging signs that she leaves me. I see encouraging phrases about never giving on and staying strong. Believe. No Fear… She is my rock.
Tune in to Spike TV on Saturday, November 2nd to watch Mike Bronzoulis take on Joe Riggs at Bellator 108.