Soa Palelei: 'The Hulk' ready for the UFC

Written by Boon Mark Souphanh

Fight fans love nothing more than a great comeback story, and Soa ‘The Hulk’ Palelei has one to tell. Following a disappointing first stint in the UFC in 2007, the West Australian fighter will again do battle in the Octagon on 31 August 2013 at UFC 164 after blasting his way to an impressive 10–1 record on the local MMA circuit. Fresh off signing his new UFC contract, Blitz caught up with ‘The Hulk’ to talk about training, his upcoming fight and how he engineered his grand re-entrance to MMA’s ultimate stage.

Soa-The-Hulk-Palelei
HULK SMASH!

Soa, congratulations on your new UFC contract. How did you feel when you got the call? Was it long overdue for you?

I’ve been pushing and working my tail off for the last three years. I just wanted to get as many fights as I could so I could get myself back in the UFC; that’s always been the goal. I had offers from other big organisations but I held out for this and I think I made the right decision.

I’d really like to thank both Dana White and Joe Silva for having me back on their roster.   

This is your second stint in the UFC. In your time away you’ve gone on to accrue 10 wins and just one loss. Have you done anything differently in training since your last UFC fight to get to this level? 

I worked a lot on my conditioning through training at Southern CrossFit. When I walked into that place, my conditioning was nowhere near where it is now. I give a lot of credit to those guys for getting me in shape and bringing me to that high level.

We do a lot of long endurance workouts mixed up with sprints, rowing, kettlebells, chin-ups and tyre flips so there’s a whole different variety of things. We do this separately to the strength training, which involves Olympic lifts — an aspect I feel is important for any elite athlete. You really need this in MMA, because you need to be super explosive so you can get off first. In my last eight fights I’ve felt fantastic and that I could take on the world.

In what areas of your MMA game do you think you’ve made the most progression since 2007?

Definitely my stand-up: my hands and feet are a lot better than they used to be. I’m better at keeping fights on the feet. One of my strong points has always been my ground game as I’m a Brazilian jiu-jitsu Black-belt, but the fact that we’ve got my stand-up game to the same level as my jiu-jitsu has really taken me to another level.  

What would a regular weekly training schedule for you look like?

I will train five-to-six days a week, two-to-three times a day, depending on how I feel. If my body feels like it needs a bit of rest, I’ll either take a day off or reduce it to one session that day. I’m getting to that age where I have to train smarter rather than longer. Diet is also a very important part of my training regime. If you’re a professional athlete, you have to eat like one.

Your last loss was to Daniel Cormier. Is that a fight you’d like to happen again in the future in the UFC?

Dan Cormier is a tough opponent for anyone out there. He’s improved his stand-up a lot, and he’s an elite level wrestler. He’s a machine… We’ll have to wait and see what happens. I respect the guy like I respect all my opponents. At the end of the day it’s my job and you have to come in prepared or you’re going to get hurt.    

You spent time fighting in other promotions such as the AFC and CFC. What is your impression of these Aussie events and how do they compare to the bright lights of the UFC?

The UFC is mainstream. Everyone knows it and recognises the name — even the people who aren’t fans of MMA. Other organisations like Bellator are big promotions but people still don’t know what they are. The UFC is a multi-billion-dollar company and they’ve got there for a reason. I’m just so excited to be able to showcase my skills there now.

You’re dabbling in acting now, too. Can you tell us about the film projects you’re involved with at the moment? Is it difficult to juggle this along with training for fights?

I’m shooting a movie at the moment but I can’t really reveal too much about it. Without giving too much away, it’s an action film with a bit of drama. After I’m done with this one, I’ll be heading to New Zealand to film another. The one in New Zealand is going to be a big blockbuster. After that, I’ll be heading to the US, and then Canada for my fight. When that’s done I will be filming another movie, which will go for six months.

I’m still training for fights while filming these movies. Sometimes there are 12-to-14-hour days on set so I’ve got to get up at 4am and hit the gym before I have breakfast and then go to the gym again after. I’m getting in two workouts before I actually go to my job on set! After I’m done with filming, I’m heading back to the gym and doing another workout. I just like keeping myself active and doing different things. Sometimes I only end up getting four hours’ sleep — people tell me it’s not enough but to get what you want, sometimes you have to sacrifice sleep.

I give big props to guys who work really hard. Dylan Andrews [current Aussie MMA fighter on The Ultimate Fighter] is one of those guys. No one hustles harder than that guy. He’s tried out for the show so many times, even the Australian series, but never managed to get in. No one deserves it more than that guy; it’s all belief and just following your dreams.

What are your goals for the time in the UFC?

My goal is not to get cut (laughs). I just want to get in there, do my best and show that I’m a different fighter to what I was before. It’s a different Hulk now, compared to the one that came out in 2007. I’ve got some good people behind me and it’s been a great journey so far. If it wasn’t for the fans and people like yourself getting me into the limelight, I wouldn’t be here.

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