Soa Palelei (Pictures) will debut in the UFC on Saturday. The 30-year-old resident of Australia is 8-1 in MMA competition. At 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds, he will have a significant size advantage against UFC veteran Eddie Sanchez.
But before "The Hulk" walks into the Octagon for the first time, Sherdog.com spoke with him on his preparation.
Sherdog.com: How did this opportunity to fight in the UFC arise for you?
Palelei: Dr. Ryan Parsons, the coach and management of Team Quest, has been in talks with the UFC regarding myself.
Sherdog.com: Did you sign a deal with the UFC?
Palelei: Yeah, I signed a three-fight deal with the UFC. All signed up and now for the hard work with the training.
Sherdog.com: You aren't very well known in the United States despite your fights in Australia and your fight in PRIDE. How would you introduce yourself to the UFC fans who'll see you for the first time?
Palelei: I'm very pleased and honored to be fighting in the biggest organization in the world and I'll just go out there and do my best.
Sherdog.com: You fought last on Oct. 5 at King of the Cage in Australia. You knocked out your opponent in five seconds. What do you have to say about that fight?
Palelei: It was 14 seconds (laughs). There's really nothing to talk about in this fight, but KFC was closing at 10 p.m., so I had to make sure the fight was finished early.
Sherdog.com: Before this fight you kept away from MMA matches for three years. What was the reason?
Palelei: I had some legal issues that stopped me from traveling overseas, but all is good now. "The Hulk" is back.
Sherdog.com: Like we mentioned before, you fought in PRIDE and lost your untouchable résumé by losing via submission at the hands of South Korean Mu Bae Choi (Pictures). What happened in that fight? It seemed you were dominating.
Palelei: No excuses. At the end of the day, advice for all: Make sure you're 100-percent ready.
Sherdog.com: What did you learn from the experience in your first premier MMA event that you'll carry into your UFC debut?
Palelei: There will be no mistakes in this fight. I'm fitter. I'm hungry and angry cause Ryan Parsons makes me drink this greens juice everyday, not to mention the Light Force on top of it. I know it's good for you, but I like my junk food.
Sherdog.com: You have a lot of TKOs and KOs on your resume, but you also participated in the ADCC 2003 submission wrestling championships. What's your martial arts background?
Palelei: I trained in a bit of everything: BJJ, boxing, wrestling, kickboxing. I'm from Tonga, so I used to climb coconut trees and punch the coconuts to condition my fist (laughs). Now I'm in Australia, so I just wrestle the crocodiles.
Sherdog.com: What's your team and who are your main teammates?
Palelei: Team Quest is the team I'm with. There are a lot of guys here training for fights all year round. There's Dan Henderson (Pictures), Thierry Sokoudjou, Jason Miller, (Ryo) Chonan, Jess Liaudin (Pictures), Matt Lindland (Pictures), King Mo -- just to name a few that are training there. There are a good bunch of guys there. It's kind of like a family-orientated place. There are no egos -- just train hard or go home.
Sherdog.com: How popular is the UFC in Australia?
Palelei: It's growing in Australia, and there's a lot of good talent coming out of Australia, making it big. Guys like Hector Lombard (Pictures), Gordon Gaef, Ian Schaffa, Brad Morris, Anthony Perosh (Pictures), George Sotiropoulos (Pictures), Kyle Noke (Pictures). Can't forget "The King" Elvis Sinosic (Pictures), just to name a few.
Sherdog.com: Do you see many differences between MMA in America compared to Australia? Tell us the main similarities and differences.
Palelei: Well, America is where dreams come true (laughs). It's where the big league is, and if you want to make it in the big league, this is where you have to be -- among the best, training with the best. Australia is getting there slowly.
Sherdog.com: In your opinion, who are the best heavyweight fighters in the UFC nowadays?
Palelei: I think every single fighter fighting in the UFC is the best. They don't get to the UFC waiting at the bus stop. It's all about the money. To get the money, you have to win. To get the win, you have to train hard. And if you don't want to do any of that, you're best off going and working at Burger King.
Sherdog.com: Your opponent at UFC 79 is Eddie Sanchez. What do you know about him and what do you think about his game?
Palelei: I think he's a good fighter. I respect all my opponents. At the end of the day, this is our job. So when we have to work, we have to work.
Sherdog.com: How is your training going for this match? What did you focus on for this opportunity?
Palelei: Training is good. I'm feeling better than ever for this fight. I've been here before with this type of crowd. It's just another fight for me. I know what to do and how to handle things better.
Sherdog.com: The Internet fans expect you and Sanchez to trade strikes on the feet in a war. Do you think so?
Palelei: We'll see what happens.
Sherdog.com: You're 8-1 and Sanchez is 7-1 -- similar resumes. However, he has three fights in the UFC, and you're debuting. How do you overcome his Octagon experience?
Palelei: Everyone has a bad day. You win some, you lose some. I've been doing extra push-ups and sit-ups, so let's see if that helps (laughs). Like I said, I'm happy to be given the opportunity to be fighting in the UFC.
Sherdog.com: What's the importance of fighting in a pay-per-view match?
Palelei: That means all the people I owe money will see me and now know I'm getting paid and will start sending out reminders in the mail to pay the phone, electricity, water and gas bills.
Sherdog.com: The last guys from Oceania who fought in the UFC didn't get the nod (Elvis Sinosic (Pictures) and Anthony Perosh (Pictures)). Do you have any weight on your shoulders to give a good performance and get a victory?
Palelei: I'm going to go out there and fight. I've been training hard, and if you can hold your own with Sokoudjou, you're doing awesome. Thierry Sokoudjou is a machine. He'll be very hard to stop at 205. Did I mention Dan Henderson (Pictures)'s elbows? Let's not go there.
Sherdog.com: Last words?
Palelei: I would like to thank the Lord above, all my friends and family for the support and all the supporters out there also, Team Quest, Heath Sims (Pictures), Dan Henderson (Pictures) and Dr. Ryan Parsons for the opportunity.