"Everyone has a Dream, but not everyone has a grind." What is your grind?
There are many fighters in the ring, but rare are the ones with a warrior spirit who capture your attention with their raw enthusiasm and determination. Nicknamed “The Blue King” in the Octagon, 23 year old Robert is from Columbus, GA and ready to make a name for himself in the sport of mixed martial arts. He has only three amateur fights remaining until he turns professional. He is currently ranked the #3 Amateur Welterweight in Georgia, and #13 of 437 in the Southeast Amateur Middleweights and is ready to grind his way to the top.
Follow along with this month's Success Story as we interview Robert about his most recent TKO win in 29 seconds at NFC 83, how Brazilian Jiu Jitsu helped him lose weight and how Mixed Martial Arts saved his life.
HOW DID YOU DISCOVER X3 SPORTS?
“I was sitting at home one day…I had no job, I was in school. I just finished watching “The Ultimate Fighter” with my dad and brother, Clint Hester was on the show, so I googled "X3 Sports" where he trained. He inspired me to join and become a fighter. The first time I stepped into X3 Sports, I was like ‘WOW.’ I didn’t have any money to pay for the X3 at first. Then I got a job, my first paycheck went straight to X3 Sports. It was my first job of my life, but then my cousin gave me a better job with better hours so that I could be in the gym every day and take my fight career more seriously.
“MMA wasn’t a first sport for me. My first sport was football. That’s why I came into the gym at 250 lbs, cheeks fat, pretty bloated.In high school, I was 190 lbs., small but very fat. My coaches wanted me to get bigger to play linebacker. So all I did was eat, drink protein shakes and lift weights, and then I got fat. In college, I prepared for spring training, and I got huge. My arms and face were big, but I was athletic. I didn’t know I wanted to fight until football ended.
"I started off with Kickboxing for a month and was losing weight. The instructor said I could learn better striking by upgrading to Muay Thai. So I did Muay Thai, then Jiu-Jitsu afterwards – I loved doing everything and I kept doing them twice a day. I did awful my first go-around in BJJ and I went in there and got beat up on a lot, but I kept losing weight. In three weeks, I had dropped to 215. I kept coming after a few more weeks passed, lost 20 more lbs. When I reached 199 lbs., I said ‘Wow’ to myself. I hadn’t seen that weight in two years. This is really working! My BJJ coaches mentored me, and I met my best friend Nathan Williams in BJJ class. Nate really pushed me into it, after that it was just amazing.
“I’m just really happy I found this gym. X3’s a family to me now. Everything that I’ve gotten, that I’ve achieved, X3’s helped me so much. You can talk to anybody here, everybody’s pretty cool. You meet new people every day, so I really love this gym, it’s really home to me.”
WHAT DOES BJJ MEAN TO YOU?
“BJJ means life, discipline, control and focus. I learned all of that in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The movement in BJJ is very much like chess, you have to be a step ahead of your opponent every time. That’s a challenge, and I love challenges. I think that the person who pushes me and challenges me the most in BJJ is Nathan Williams. I’m always in a chess match with him, even though he beats me. Constantly figuring out what to do, how to get out of this position quick, either I’m tapping or they already passing my guard.
“BJJ is very special to me, because it is another way I lost all my weight. Constantly doing it with my GI on, it’s a grind and most people give up because of the grind. A lot of fighters will come in and say they don’t need to worry about BJJ, those are the guys that aren’t taking this sport seriously. You have to know all aspects of this game just to become a fighter. You can’t just know one thing. You have to know jiu-jitsu, how to do judo, how to grapple and wrestle.”
YOU SAID BJJ IS LIKE A CHESS MATCH. DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE MOVE?
“Yes, I love the Oma Plata (a shoulder-lock submission when you trap your opponent’s arm on one side of your hip). If I could set it up perfectly, I would love doing it standing up. The opportunity has yet to present itself to me where I get to showcase my BJJ in the cage."
WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO TAKE BJJ?
“Get a GI. Get ready to be tapped. Get ready to learn great lessons and advice from a lot of cool people. When you first start out in BJJ, you are going to get tapped, it just happens, you don’t know what’s going on, it’s like you’re trying to swim. You got to know how to float in the water, but if you don’t know how to float, you’ll drown. It’s like that in BJJ, you have to just let things happen, and then you have to open your mind. If you really study BJJ, anybody can be good at it. You give it one month, two months with great coaches, and if you actually study and practice with people, then everything will start getting better. Don’t just go and stop, you have to keep going.”
WHAT ARE SOME GOALS YOU HAVE ACHIEVED? AND WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE GOALS?
“I plan on holding a belt and fight for a belt in the UFC. My dream is not just a dream for me, it’s a life, a reality. I plan on being on the billboard, that’s a big step. I come into the gym and work my butt off. A good day to me in the gym is not getting submitted, not getting taken down, not getting out-struck…It’s like my coach says: 'You get 1% better every day.'
“I have big plans for X3 Sports. I’m not going anywhere. I want to be a Black Belt in BJJ. I want people to know that I don’t just do one thing, but that I can do many things. I want to leave my legacy as 'Robert, the Top Pound for Pound.' After MMA is over, I plan on coaching and BJJ competitions.”
TELL US ABOUT BEING AN MMA FIGHTER.
“MMA saved my life because I feel if I wasn’t doing this, there would be nothing to go to. I would rather be in the gym, than in the streets. Being an MMA fighter to me is a way out because I didn’t have anything else to go to. I went to Georgia State, but I feel like if I didn’t find this sport, I would just be working. And that’s not what I want in my life.
"The sport altogether is very challenging, very fun. I never expected it to be such an adrenaline rush. After the first time doing it, I fell in love just like that. I watch MMA on TV all the time now, so much so my girlfriend asks why, and I responded 'I want to get better. To be the best, I watch the best. So one day when I am the best, they can watch me.'
“Nate and I talk about our dream to reach to UFC a lot. I always remind him about how we will look at each other, and say, 'We made it.' I have a lot of dreams. Dream matchups. Once I get my name up there, I want to test myself with my first three pro fights. While I want my record to be great, I don’t want to pitty-patty there. I want tough fights.
“Right now, I believe nobody that I’ve fought yet can withstand my punches. I believe I can fight anybody, at any time. I believe I’m on another level, 170-185, doesn’t matter. They are not on my level. They are not on my team. My team pushes me. I believe I’m better than all the 170 in Georgia. I can’t wait to bring the 170 belt to X3. Once I get the title, then I’ll defend it once or twice. Then I’m going pro.
“I’m just really happy I found this gym. X3’s a family to me now. Everything that I’ve gotten...that I’ve achieved...X3’s helped me so much. You can talk to anybody here, everybody’s pretty cool. You meet new people every day, so I really love this gym. It’s really home to me. I’m very thankful and happy that I got caught up in here (at X3 Sports), rather than being out there (on the streets). I think fighting is what the Lord wanted me to do. I wanted to be a football star, but with MMA, I have a better opportunity to showcase my skill.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR FIRST MMA LAST JUNE.
“My debut fight was June 27, 2015 against Clay Archer. I was super nervous, I didn’t know where or how this was going to go. My dad and brother was there. It wasn’t my first time being in the spotlight but it was the first time where people were actually looking at me, not me in a uniform. I didn’t know what happened, but I stepped into the cage and felt like I was home. I won by 54 second knockout.”
AMAZING! AND YOU HAD A 29 SECOND KNOCKOUT IN YOUR MOST RECENT FIGHT THIS MARCH AT NFC 83 (watch the fight here). HOW DID YOU FEEL?
“There was a lot of emotion in the air. The gameplan was simple. Stay on the outside and move in when I had the chance. When he kicked me in my leg, the objective was to catch it and throw my right hand, that’s how the knockout happened! I got the opportunity to show everybody my strength.”
NFC 83 March 2016 - Robert wins with a 29 second TKO in the 1st Round with TeamX3
YOUR FIGHT NAME IS "THE BLUE KING". WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
“My fight name hasn’t really shown itself yet, but how I persuade myself is as the “Blue King”. I use it as motivation. Blue is a cold color, I love the color blue. Blue is Jazz, all the sad music. King is a ruler rules over a lot of stuff. I believe I am a ruler, but I am never satisfied and always pushing forward, wanting to be better no matter what. I may be happy for that day, that week. I am always hungry. Anybody will tell you that my success, my drive is from pushing myself. If I relax a little bit, I feel like someone will be better than me. That’s where I get my drive and motivation from and, of course, from my coaches and teammates. At the end of the day, what do you see of yourself in the mirror: Do you think of yourself as a successful person? I do, when I step into the ring, I separate myself from the Blue King. That’s where all that aggressiveness, power and raw emotion come from. As long as I can separate myself from the Blue King and reality, I’m fine.”
HOW IS TRAINING WITH THE X3 FIGHT TEAM AND THE COACHES?
“Training with the X3 Sports Fight Team is amazing! We are not just fighters, we are brothers. We share that bond. We would do anything for each other and our coaches. They trust us enough to train us with their time, and we trust them enough to believe in their wisdom. Gabriel is a great coach, he’s emotionally invested and has a plan for everyone filled out for everyone on the team. He corners us and is always there. The four main cornerman at our fights are Coach Tony, Gabriel, Bruno and Mike. Stylistically, Bruno is a great fit for the team. We don’t take anything for granted. Everybody on the fight team will be great pros. We have several fighters looking to make big numbers, big names.
X3 Sports Fight Team
“I lift every Tuesday and Thursday with the Fight Team. I love every bit of it: getting trained, getting coached, having teammates and brothers push you beyond limits you thought you could go, coaches will too. All that is fun, the grind, the blood, the sweat – that’s real! That’s why you always see us dominate, try to knock the opponent’s head off. Everybody in here is tough. We never ever have a dull fight.
“We set a standard, and now everyone wants to meet that standard. I don’t believe this team is credited enough. Nate’s fight was just on TV (NFC 83), Stephen is a title holder 155lb, Xavier Crenshow up and coming fighter, Shawn Gallagher, and on June 11th, I’m fighting for the 170 lbs against Eli Wynters."
WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE FIGHTER?
“Mohammad Ali of course. MMA-wise, I love Rampage Jackson because of the fire he brings to the stage. He’s probably still known as one of the most feared striker in MMA. I want to be a great striker, but I also want to be known as you have to make a game plan to fight me because I’m vicious, got great take-downs, great BJJ background and well-rounded.”
WHAT DO YOU DO TO MAKE SURE YOU ARE A WELL-rounded fighter?
“I’m currently a Blue Belt, I know it will be tough but I want to be a Black Belt in five years. Kickboxing and boxing, but Muay Thai is always my first go-to since it’s where I first started. I want to do karate and tae kwon do."
AS A FIGHTER, WE KNOW IT IS NOT ONLY A PHYSICAL CHALLENGE, BUT A MENTAL ONE AS WELL. HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH LOSSES?
“My first loss was a huge learning experience. First time, I lost by split-decision. I felt like I could’ve done more, gave more, pushed more. So I gave myself a goal: Leave everything in the cage. If I’m not trying to knock your head off, I’m trying to put you through a lot of pain. This year there will be no judges involved in my fights. I am always trying to finish you. I love to fight someone and finish them in the most worst way possible. I go in there and bang, but my main goal is to finish you.”
WHAT IS YOUR WALKOUT song AND WHY?
"First is Big Shawn’s “Blessings” – that’s probably one of my favorite songs. I listen to the song 3 times a day, meaning of it is living for not just you, but your family. On the the opening lyrics, “I live the life I deserve, blessed”, meaning I earned this life. That’s my favorite line, without living, of course you aren’t going to meet your goals. The lyrics really open up my eyes even more.
"Also, Edwin Starr’s “War”, this song is the song my mother asked me to play for her for my last fight. I feel energetic when I play this song. It brings a lot of life out of me, it makes me feel better knowing my mother was also listening to it."
TELL US SOMETHING WE DO NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU.
(“NOOOO!” yells our X3 Sports Marketing Manager Tammi. ”When God blesses you with a gift, you have to take care of it. Getting on a motorcycle is not taking care of it. Pick something else.” Laughter ensues.)
“My teammates will tell you I'm a prankster. I’m really goofy. I love my brothers here. I always joke around with them. Especially if I know you, I’m goofy. I used to be very shy. I handled stuff differently than everybody else. But now, I’m goofy, I love everybody. You’ll always see me smile, you’ll never see me mad. That’s one thing people don’t know about me.”
IF SOMEONE WERE TO ASK YOU WHAT IS X3, WHAT ARE THREE WORDS YOU WOULD SAY?
“Fun, Amazing & Exciting – all those put together is extravagant. To me, X3 is everything. I love this gym. I love the people who work here. I love my team. I love the coaches, without them, there would be no me. Of course, I have my family. When I’m not with my family, I’m with X3. I love every aspect of that, it pushes and motivates me to be better.
"If I could do this over again, the pain, the struggle to get to where I am today, I would do it all over again. There’s no better feeling than to wake up in the morning and know you will be successful. Just keep going. This is long-lasting, this is my dream."
With a current record of 5-2-0 (two wins in a row) and an upcoming fight for the 170 lb Middleweight belt, Robert is on top of his game, knows where he is going and where he wants to be. His daily grind is becoming a successful professional MMA fighter in the UFC. What is your daily grind?
UPCOMING FIGHT: Watch Robert fight June 11, 2016 @ NFC 84 CenterStage Atlanta | Follow Robert (The Blue King) on Instagram