Even though it is routine at this point, Scott Holtzman was teary-eyed. Leaving his family for camp is never easy, especially with a newborn at home as he did in preparation for UFC 229. With a fight in Phoenix on tap, he had to go through the departure again.
“I’ve been out here for six weeks now training and focused and really just trying to do the best I can to provide for (his son and wife) back home,” Holtzman said. “And part of that is staying focused and giving myself the best chance to win possible. But it’s been a little tougher this time. Last time, he was 4-5 months, so he sat around. This time, he’s crawling around. He’s dancing.”
The move has been working for “Hot Sauce” Holtzman. He’s riding a three-fight winning streak and most recently won via knockout just four months ago. The former Xtreme Fighting Championships lightweight champion sits at 6-2 in the UFC and seems to beginning to gain some traction. After his most recent win, Holtzman called for a top-20 opponent. In Nik Lentz, he faces somebody who has been around the block, and Holtzman feels like this could catapault him into the next level of fights.
We talked with Holtzman about what it’s like to fight in the city where you train, trying to work smarter instead of harder and his experience as a guest fighter in China.
UFC: You train in Phoenix, so what differences are there than when you are travelling somewhere, staying in the hotel ahead of your fight?
SH: It’s been a little different. Normally, Sunday night or Monday, you’re trying to pack everything you need into one bag for the airport, and it’s been weird being in my own gym on Monday and Tuesday, in my own place. I’m like, ‘Man, is this fight week? This is just like another day.’ Comfort level is there, and really, you’re winding down this week, and I’m kind of doing hotel half (of the time), house half (of the time), so it’s been really comfortable, and feeling great, so no excuses. Just ready to get on that scale first.
UFC: You’re on a little bit of a winning streak lately. Where have you seen your game evolve whether that’s mentally or with your physical ability that has enabled you to have this level of success?
SH: I think stepping back from training, reevaluating what was kind of going right, what was going wrong. I’m a super athlete. I believe that, when it comes to pure athleticism in athletes, and well-rounded athletics, I’m the best in all of the UFC. I’m the most athletic. I could do any sport at a high level. So it was really stepping back, making some adjustments to training camp. Not overtraining. I stopped doing busy work. I stop grinding 24 hours a day. It was just too hard on my body, and I really upped my mental game too. I started with my visualization, with my walkthroughs, and then boosted up my recovery, so now it’s just about getting to the fight uninjured. I’ve fought injured most every fight in the UFC so far, so last fight, I probably felt the best I’ve ever felt, and then this fight too, so it’s really now about firing on all cylinders when I get to the fight and being healthy.
UFC: It seems like a trend with fighters that more of them are focusing on working smarter, and it might be a weird approach to not go 100 percent. How did you come to realizing that’s what you needed to do?
SH: That’s a tough call, man, because you see (on) Instagram now, and everybody is like, ‘Oh, I’m up at 4 a.m. I sleep two hours.’ And for me, I’m a blue-collar worker, right. I’m from Tennessee, and the only way I’ve ever gotten anything is just working really hard. Work harder than everybody else. So to not do that sometimes is hard. It’s more of an ego thing, but ‘work smarter, not harder,’ there’s some truth to it, man. And I really just focused on making my most important sessions really good, and then not doing all that other busywork. I’m a super athlete, and I’m always going to be in good shape, but it’s just about working smarter now.
UFC: What have you seen from your opponent that you’ll need to be smart about managing on fight night?
SH: I think he’s dangerous. He’s been around forever. He’s been in the UFC since I started training, maybe. He’s well-rounded now. He’s obviously with Henry Hoof(?) and he’s kind of hanging his hat on his striking ability. He still has that wrestling ability and that grappling ability that he’s always had, and he’ll go back to that. He’s not scared. He’s not going to standup the whole time, especially after I touch him a few times. He’s going to revert back to some old habits when he gets tired and things like that, so that’s what I’m prepared to deal with. He’s in love with his striking now, so I know he’s going to want to do that, but if you’ve seen me fight, I do a little bit of everything, and I’m expecting the fight to go everywhere, so I’m well-prepared everywhere. And if he wants to stand the whole time, that’s better for me.
UFC: What do you believe you need to show in this fight to get a ranked opponent next?
SH: I just have to prove that I’m ready for the next level of guy, and he’s that guy. He’s kind of been in the UFC forever. He was, if I’m not mistaken, he was in a title eliminator fight at one point, fought Chad Mendes. He’s been around in the top echelon of guys forever, so I need to beat him to prove that I belong in the top 15, top 20 at least, and that’s where I belong. Everybody around me believes it, so that’s what I need to do. I need to take this step to get up there.
UFC: Switching gears, you were a guest fighter for Fight Night Beijing. What was that experience like?
SH: That was amazing, man. I think when you’re a kid, and you’re in history class and you see Great Wall of China or something, that’s just kind of make believe, especially for me. I never thought I’d leave Tennessee. To be able to go there and obviously the highlight of the trip was the Great Wall. To see that, but to also to meet the Chinese fans and see how passionate they were, I sat down and talked with a ton of them and couldn’t really – there was quite a language barrier – but to see how appreciative they were, and how important MMA was to them, it was really cool. This sport is still brand new, man, so whatever I can do to give back is cool, but for me, a country boy, to over in China was amazing. It was something I never thought I’d do, and already this sport has given me some opportunities I would’ve never had otherwise.
UFC: Looking back to your fight, you wanted a top-20 guy. You have someone that can catapult you into that top-15 range. What are your goals in the immediate timeline and down the road as well?
SH: This is about the future of my family, my future and everything else, so you got to, as we say in Tennessee, get it while the gettin’ is good. I’m looking to get through this, and this is the opponent I needed to get up there. And then there’s a Nashville card five weeks from now, so I’ve got my feelers out there. If I can get through this one, I’m going to hop right on that card and I want a top-15 guy if anyone is available. If nobody is available, then I’ll fight whoever they want. It doesn’t matter, but I need to be back in Bridgestone Arena. I think if anybody was in that building the last two times I fought, I think they know the crowd is there to see me, so I’ll be looking forward to that.