Joe Riggs has experienced a lot in his life and in his fighting career. He originally got involved in MMA as a 290-pound heavyweight and eventually fought all the way down at 170 pounds; he’s dealt with an addiction to pain killers and his wife’s miscarriage; and he’s fought in high-profile bouts against notable names such as Matt Hughes, Nick Diaz, Kendall Grove, and Diego Sanchez.
Riggs found himself at a crossroads after requesting and being granted his release from Zuffa almost two years ago. In that time he and his wife experienced the birth of their first child and Riggs found a new home with the San Jose-based Strikeforce promotion.
However, nothing is ever easy when it comes to the life of Joe Riggs. While competing for Strikeforce in June and matched up against a relative unknown in Cory Devela, Riggs’ troublesome back gave out and he was forced to submit just 1:22 into the first round. Then in June, he was slated to fight Luke Stewart on the Strikeforce show that was headlined by Josh Thomson winning the lightweight title from Gilbert Melendez.
However, the match with Stewart never happened because Riggs disclosed on his licensing form with the California State Athletic Commission that he had taken a non-narcotic pain-killer in order to cope with back soreness. After taking a tuneup fight in July for the Rage in the Cage promotion, Riggs is set to return to the spotlight on Sept. 20 during Strikeforce’s second-annual event at the Playboy Mansion, where he will meet top-ten middleweight Kazuo Misaki.
Riggs took time out of his training scheduled to speak exclusively with FiveOuncesOfPain.com to address reports he has his sights set on returning to the UFC; how his camp reacted to those reports; whether he still plans to drop to 170 if he’s able to beat Misaki; his thoughts on the California State Athletic Commission’s decision to deny him a license to fight Stewart in June; whether fighters should be allowed to use pain-killers prior to fights; and more.
Sam Caplan: You’re a guy that has experienced a lot of highs and lows in your career and in your life. How are things going for you these days?
Joe Riggs: They are going good. My family is wonderful. My son is one years old now and getting older. Things are going good. If my family life is good, then everything goes good with it.
Sam Caplan: The last time you were supposed to fight for Strikeforce was in June but you were denied a license by CSAC because you disclosed you took a painkiller for your back. I know you could get yourself in trouble if you speak out, but nothing is going to change if people keep quiet. What is your overall assessment of how CSAC operates?
Joe Riggs: They denied me because I took a medication called Tramadol; that’s a non-narcotic pain medication. I used to have problems with pain medicine so my doctor prescribed me Tramadol. And it doesn’t cloud your mind and it’s not addictive. When you’re cutting weight and you’re banged up for a fight, it’s the same thing as taking Ibprofien. So I took that instead of Ibprofien, because it’s a blood thinner. So I took that and it was actually four days before that I disclosed it and told them what the deal was and they cut the stream on my fight. It was bulls—. They like having that power and they use it.
Sam Caplan: I wanted to ask you about painkillers. In the NFL, guys are getting shot up in the locker room right before a game and nobody cares. It’s accepted because their sport is their livelihood. But it’s no different in fighting because a professional fighter doesn’t get paid if he doesn’t fight. If a guy trains for three months and gets injured the last week, do you feel he should be allowed to receive pain relief under a doctor’s supervision?
Joe Riggs: Some people can. The only problem with it is that it is highly addictive and some people ignore that and just go along for the ride. The fact of the matter is that is that it is highly addictive. If you can take it and have it doctor-prescribed then more power to you, but some people can’t handle that.
Sam Caplan: But do you feel the commission should be more lenient if a fighter is under doctor supervision?
Joe Riggs: You shouldn’t be allowed to take a bunch of Oxycontin and go out there and fight. That’s just not allowed. That’s for the fighters and everyone understands where they’re coming from with that. But when a person takes Tramadol, they’ve got to understand — like they said to me, “You’ve got to make a decision; you have to either be a professional fighter or take your pain pills.” That’s what [a commission official] said to me and I was like “Holy crap, I can’t believe you said that.” Because it goes hand-in-hand. You can’t abuse your body and not be in a lot of pain. It’s hard enough as it is because I don’t take narcotics when a lot of times I do need it. I’m the kind of person with an addictive personality and I don’t want to get addicted to it. It’s a hard thing.
Sam Caplan: This is the second consecutive year you’ll be fighting on the Playboy show. You beat Eugene Jackson, so obviously is wasn’t a bad experience. But was fighting in that environment a good or bad experience for you?
Joe Riggs: Ah, you know, it’s cool being somewhere not too many people get access to; that part is cool. But it’s not an ideal fighting environment. The people there are not knowledgeable fans. They’re just there to be at the Playboy Mansion to drink and see the girls. They’re not really watching the fights, to be honest with you. It’s just people talking and drinking alcohol. So it’s weird. They’re not really respectful of the beauty of the sport. There are some fans there like Joe Rogan but there are some people there that just don’t give a s— about the sport. They’re just there to be at the Mansion.
Sam Caplan: You recently said in an interview with TAGG Radio with George Garcia and Frank Trigg that your goal is to get back into the UFC. Are you unhappy with Strikeforce?
Joe Riggs: I was mis-quoted there. It’s not my goal. I was not fired from the UFC; I asked for my release and they gave it to me. I left on my own regard. And the whole point is that I am not unhappy with Strikeforce. They do very well and they’ve treat me good. The whole point is that the UFC is the big show and you do get the bigger sponsor dollars and that’s probably where I’ll end up. But you never know. If I’m coming off two big wins with one over Misaki and what not and I just want to make sure I am carrying as much weight as possible when it comes time to negotiate my next contract.
Sam Caplan: When that quote went public, did Strikeforce contact you about it?
Joe Riggs: Yeah, they did. My agent, Ken Pavia, contacted me and said “Dude, you’re killing me!? What’s wrong!? Why are you doing that!?” And I was mis-quoted and I am sure (Strikeforce President) Scott Coker got mad because that is a disrespectful thing to say but the fact of the matter is that I didn’t mean for it to come off like that. My goal is to be the best in world and fight to my utmost potential. And wherever that may be, I just want to fight on the biggest stage possible.
Sam Caplan: How many fights do you have left on your Strikeforce deal?
Joe Riggs: Two more. I have one with this fight (vs. Misaki) and one more after this.
Sam Caplan: Did they give you any idea who your opponent might be on the last fight of your contract?
Joe Riggs: They did mention Cung Le, but who knows?
Sam Caplan: I believe you mentioned in that same TAGG Radio interview that you are thinking of cutting back to 170 after this fight. Is that still the plan, and why the change in weight again?
Joe Riggs: This is definitely my last fight at 185. But you know, I just remembered that they were talking about Cung Le as a fight at 185 but that’s probably not going to happen. But I would like to fight Luke Stewart. We were going to fight and that kind of got cut short but I’d still like to fight Luke Stewart.
Sam Caplan: And you’d fight Stewart at 170 lbs.?
Joe Riggs: Yeah.
Sam Caplan: In talking about the UFC and your agent, Ken Pavia, has he gotten in touch with the UFC? Has he put any feelers out to see if the interest in a return is mutual in you possibly fighting for them in the future?
Joe Riggs: Yeah, sure. You know, every fight I had in the UFC was an exciting fight so I’m sure they’d want me back.
Sam Caplan: The UFC is where most fighters want to go. But doesn’t there need to be multiple viable fight companies in this sport as opposed to just one in order to make sure that fighters have leverage when it comes to negotiating contracts?
Joe Riggs: That’s a big thing. And that’s why I am hoping Affliction does well and Strikeforce does and EliteXC; it creates a bidding war for the fighters. The UFC can’t have a monopoly. It just can’t happen.
Sam Caplan: If an offer does come in from the UFC and it’s a decent offer but not a great offer, does it ever factor into a fighter’s mind that they might be better off fighting for another organization in order to bring some balance to the sport?
Joe Riggs: Yeah, you know it does. But you at the end of the day you have to support you and your family. That’s the whole reason why I am in this. And the thing with the UFC is that you can take a couple dollars less but they offer the bonuses. When I fought for them a couple of times I had submission of the night and the bonus was over $20,000 grand. And now they’re getting like $75,000. That’s a huge plus.
Sam Caplan: Styles wise, how do you feel you match up with Kazuo Misaki?
Joe Riggs: Good. He has a style where he likes to counter-fight and he likes to rely on his speed but he’s not faster than me. I think he’s a great fighter; he’s very athletic and a good counter-defense. It’s a good fight and I can’t wait.
Sam Caplan: You mentioned you’d like to go back to 170 and fight Luke Stewart. But Misaki is considered a top ten middleweight by a lot of people. If you beat him, why not try to parlay that at 185?
Joe Riggs: I think that beating Misaki and dropping down to 170 brings more weight with me. It used to be a hard cut for me to 170 when I first started doing it but over the years I stopped lifting weights and my body just naturally dropped down and it just makes the most sense for me to fight at 170. It’s actually not going to be that hard of a cut.
Sam Caplan: What do you think of Cung Le? Is he the real deal?
Joe Riggs: Yeah, he’s tough. Cung Le has got really good wrestling and his standup is really good. I’m not sure about his jiu-jitsu game but nobody has really been able to take him down so he’s been doing a great job. I think Cung Le is an amazing fighter. He beat Frank Shamrock and Frank is a tough guy so he’s a star.
Sam Caplan: If you you get past Misaki and they put a strong offer on the table for you to fight Cung Le on a big show would you do one more fight at 185 and fight Cung Le?
Joe Riggs: Yeah, if the money was right and it was a big show, I definitely would.