Last November at this time, Pat Runez was making the final preparations with his teammates and coaches at Arizona Combat Sports before making his professional MMA debut at PFC 11 - All In, which took place on November 20th of last year in Lemoore, California. This was a unique pro debut for a fighter, as he was one of four participants in the PFC flyweight tournament that was put together to crown the first PFC flyweight champion. That night, he defeated Luis Gonzalez with a dominant Unanimous Decision and moved on to the finals to fight Rambaa "M-16" Somdet on January 22nd of this year. Unfortunately, Somdet would drop out of that fight only a few hours before the event, but Runez never lost his focus.
A little over 3 months later, Runez was scheduled to face the always entertaining Ulysses "Useless" Gomez on May 8th for the PFC flyweight title, until Gomez was injured a month before the bout. Runez would instead fight Anthony Perales for the title. Runez went on to dominate the fight and submit Perales in the second round via Rear Naked Choke, making him the PFC flyweight champion. Shortly after Runez won the PFC flyweight title, the promotion underwent structural changes, which involved the promotion ceasing all operations under that name. This made Runez the first and only PFC flyweight champion.
This in turn opened up an even bigger opportunity for Runez. He would soon sign on with the UWC to fight TapouT show veteran John Dodson, who is a student of Greg Jackson in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This bout would be for the vacant UWC flyweight title, which many insiders considered the most significant flyweight bout ever to be held on American soil. The two premier flyweights would engage in a 5-round war that is a serious candidate for "Fight of the Year". In the end, Runez would again have his hand raised and another belt wrapped around his waist, after earning the victory over Dodson via Split Decision. Now that the first 12 months of Runez's impressive MMA journey is complete, OTM sat down with him to discuss everything from the growth of the flyweight division, his training camp and teammates at Arizona Combat Sports, and what the future has in store for America's top-ranked flyweight fighter.
Bevois: First off, congrats on winning the UWC flyweight title on October 3rd. It was a back and forth five-round war with John Dodson in what many consider the most significant flyweight bout ever to take place on American soil. How does it feel to be one of the trail blazers for the 125-pound division?
Pat: Thank you Bevois. It feels great. It really feels like a lot of hard work is paying off. This fight was a real test for me and my camp to see how I would match up against tough competition. Dodson was no joke. The first thing I do when I look at a tape is see what I can improve, but overall I am very happy with the performance.
Bevois: In that bout with Dodson, you displayed incredible resilience after getting dropped with a big left hook in the second round. Can you tell us what was going on when that happened and what helped you survive that blow?
Pat: Well I pretty much got rocked and wasn't sure what hit me. I was coming up after a shot looking to clinch his head and that's when I got hit. After reviewing the tape, I saw it was actually an uppercut that dropped me and he followed it up with a hook. It was a flash knock out and I immediately came to when I was on my feet defending a guillotine. I pretty much was hurting the rest of the round. I was just lucky that I didn't go out. Mario Yamasaki is a great ref. He gave me a chance to fight back.
Bevois: Your first two bouts were in the Palace Fighting Championships (now known as Tachi Palace Fights) where you won the PFC flyweight title in May, before you moved on to fight for the UWC title. Were you pleased with your first experience with the UWC?
Pat: Definitely. I was pleased with the experience and exposure I got from this fight. The CEO Marcello Foran did an excellent job promoting the fight and actively promoting the flyweight division. Besides the Virginia state commission being difficult at weigh-ins and screwing up with the Beebe and Easton decision. Everything else was very professional and organized. The fans were awesome and you could really feel their presence in the arena. UWC has a great show that a lot fans will enjoy. I'm happy to be a part of it.
Bevois: In July, Jussier "Formiga" da Silva of Brazil took the flyweight division by storm when he defeated longtime flyweight kingpin Shinichi "BJ" Kojima via Unanimous Decision in a Shooto event in Japan. Formiga was 2-0 going into that bout, just as you were 2-0 going into your last bout. Do you see that as a good sign for things to come, as far as the much-needed new blood and talent arriving to help grow the division?
Pat: Definitely. Before last year there were no active promotions highlighting flyweights in the States. It was tough to find fights in my amateur career. I had to do what a lot of flyweights do and fight up in weight classes. But as I entered professional ranks, fighting more skilled opponents, it doesn't make sense giving up that weight. Most guys in the division are pretty well-rounded and even though you don't see 20-fight records, everyone has a pretty extensive amateur background in grappling or striking arts.
Bevois: One of the most decorated competitors in your division is 1996 Olympic freestyle wrestling bronze medalist Alexis Vila of Cuba, who won his sixth straight fight since starting MMA, just one week before your win over Dodson. Do you see that as the "next-level" of opponent you would like to test yourself against?
Pat: Honestly, I'll fight anyone at flyweight right now. Vila looks like a physical specimen. I actually thought I would go up against him when I was in Palace. I am sure as long as we are both at the top of the ranks there is a good chance we will square off in the future. I have lot of respect for someone who has medaled in the Olympics in the sport of wrestling. Vila is definitely a top competitor.
Bevois: You were originally scheduled and weighed-in to fight Rambaa "M-16" Somdet on January 22nd of this year for the PFC flyweight championship. You both weighed-in the day before without any problems, but Somdet suddenly dropped out just a few hours before the bout. Did you find that situation a bit unusual?
Pat: Well I couldn't believe it when it happened. At first I thought it was strange, maybe he thought I was bigger or was unclear that it was a 5-rounder. After talking with his manager, he had to back out of his Shoot fight for the same injury. It was something that had been bothering him for awhile. I give him the benefit of the doubt. But don't make me go through a training camp and weigh-ins and cancel 2 hours before a fight. I feel that guy owes me a fight still.
Bevois: Somdet is now set to fight on November 23rd in a match to crown the first-ever Shooto strawweight world champion. He will drop a weight class to take on Noboru "Shinpei" Tahara, whom he already defeated last year. If he wins again, and the opportunity presents itself, would you be inclined to cut weight to 115-pounds and challenge Somdet for the strawweight title to settle your unfinished business with him?
Pat: Rambaa still owes me a fight. I went through a whole camp training specifically for him. If he gets into the same organization I am involved with, you can bet I will be begging for that fight. As far as cutting down a weight class to strawweight it would be pretty tough to make it and probably could, but would have to change my body type pretty dramatically. I don't see that making too much sense for me right now. I have been competing at 125 pounds throughout my collegiate career so that is where I feel best.
Bevois: Earlier this year, the Zuffa-owned WEC promotion announced the addition of a flyweight division. Do you think that it's just a matter of time before this division starts having fighters get the notoriety and fame of Urijah Faber, Miguel Torres, and other fighters who fight in the lighter weight classes?
Pat: I think flyweight talent is there already in the division, it just doesn't have the exposure. There are a lot of tough flyweights out there, you just don't see any of their fights on network TV. That's really all that is needed to get the notoriety of someone like Faber or Torres. I think in the next year or two it could happen. Everyone was excited when WEC announced the division, but they just haven't been able to put it together yet. But I see the promotion I am with Ultimate Warrior Challenge to be the front runners this year with the flyweights. From the rumors I hear they are talking to top-ranked flyweights in the world and are activity looking to sign them. Guys like Rambaa Somdet, Yasuhiro Urushitani, and Alexis Vila to name a few. These fighters are already ranked Top 10 in the division.
Bevois: Your head jiu-jitsu instructor at Arizona Combat Sports, Gustavo Dantas, is a Nova União teammate and good friend of 7-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion Robson Moura, who helped pave the way for BJJ based fighters in your weight class. Have you been able to train with him and talk to him about MMA?
Pat: Robson is an awesome guy. In my opinion he is the best BJJ practitioner that is out there. Hands down, he can beat anyone out there. He is unstoppable on the ground and I am very fortunate that he is good friends with Gustavo and whenever he comes to the gym we always find time to train BJJ and MMA. Actually, for everyone out there he is coming to ACS on November 21st to do an open seminar with Gustavo.
Bevois: You train at Arizona Combat Sports with the likes of Ryan Bader, C.B. Dollaway, Jamie Varner, Carlos Condit, Jacob McClintock, and Aaron Simpson. All these guys are top-notch grappling-based fighters that compete in heavier weight classes. How much has that helped you, when fighting guys your own size?
Pat: It's good to have those guys in the gym, because they are on the same page and when you have teammates that are constantly pushing themselves to be the best they can, it's a good check and balance system to make sure you're doing the things you're supposed to be doing. Jaime Varner though really helped me put my MMA game together. I owe him a lot for building me as an amateur and getting me fights out of state. He is an amazing boxer and a lot of his stand up I try to emulate.
Bevois: One of your primary training partners at Arizona Combat Sports is women's pro boxing Hall of Famer and the newly crowned Sovereign Nations MMA women's flyweight champion Elena Reid. What do you think makes her such a good training partner?
Pat: Elena is such a skilled boxer. She is my size. Anyone who has ever sparred with her knows how tough she is cause she stays in the pocket so well and throws so many punches. She very experienced, heavy handed, and a good teacher.
Bevois: Before moving back to Arizona, Elena was one of Ulysses "Useless" Gomez's primary training partners at UNLV boxing and Cobra Kai in Las Vegas. Last November, you and Useless were in the same Palace Fighting Championships four-man flyweight tournament, but you did not crossed paths yet. Is that a fight that you think everyone (except Elena) would love to see somewhere down the line?
Pat: Uly is tough kid. He has a lot of ground experience and has been working with the right people to develop his skills. I can see that fight materializing in the future. We have actually been set up to fight before in Palace Fighting. Unfortunately he was injured a month out before the fight. Currently, he has been on a good winning streak. I think it would be a great fight. Give me a date and time.
Bevois: Cornering Elena in North Dakota during her recent Sovereign Nations MMA title fight win on October 24th was a bit of a homecoming for you, since you wrestled in college at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. How long have you been wrestling?
Pat: It was always natural for me, since I had two older brothers to deal with. We watched WWF and wrestled for hours. I got into it in 7th grade. It's been forever. A lot of my success in BJJ and MMA I attribute to the sport of wrestling. I have been fortunate to have awesome coaches throughout my high school and collegiate career.
Bevois: Who are some of your other lighter training partners at Arizona Combat Sports?
Pat: Damn, there are so many light weight guys aside from Elena that have helped me train, but some to watch out for in the fighting scene this year would be John Moraga who is an upcoming flyweight that was a Arizona State wrestler and is making his way to pro scene this year. He has helped me tremendously in my last few fights. WEC vet Jesse Moreng, who you will get to see fight George Roop at 135 in the January WEC. Ryan Diaz is a bantamweight fighter who moved from Vancouver, BC, to train with us this year. He was a former KOTC champ and an excellent kickboxer. He is also in talks with the UWC at bantamweight.
Bevois: What do you think it is about the Lally brothers, that make them so successful, where they continue to regularly produce top-tier fighters and champions?
Pat: First of all, they have an incredible amount of experience in MMA. They have been in this sport since nearly the beginning. They both are great teachers who are dedicated to their fighters and the gym. They work us hard and demand the best from us. They have a lot of integrity, they have done so much for the sport here in Arizona.
Bevois: WEC lightweight champion Jamie Varner is your main cornerman during your fights. He also comes from a collegiate wrestling background. How much has that helped you when game planning for fights?
Pat: Yeah, actually it was Varner who convinced me to take my first fight. Because of his wrestling background stylistically he knows me as fighter. He is an extremely well-rounded fighter and also a great strategist. I would want him at every one of my fights. He is a good ambassador of the sport.
Bevois: Tomorrow night, two fellow Filipino fighters will be headlining two major fight cards. Manny Pacquiao will move up in weight to fight Miguel Cotto in boxing, while Brandon Vera will take on your former teammate and UFC legend Randy Couture in MMA. How do you see those two fights going?
Pat: Well, I have to go with Pacman. His speed is too much for Cotto. How could you not? He's the hottest boxer right now and will no doubt go down in history as one of the greatest boxers of all time. He is huge in the Philippines, he's the shit. Vera is a tough guy, he's got the skills to win... Randy you never know what to expect. He's a legend and has a way of amazing the fans.
Bevois: Do you have anything else you would like to add or anyone you would like to thank before we wrap this up?
Pat: I would like to thank my friends and family. Arizona Combat Sports -- the Lally brothers Trevor and Todd, Gustavo Dantas, and all my training partners I didn't get to mention. Also my personal trainer Ryan Johnson and my girlfriend Jaime. Palace Fighting Championships, Ultimate Warrior Challenge for the opportunities they have given me. Thanks to On The Mat for a great interview. I also want to thank my brother who is in Afghanistan and all the other troops out there who are fighting for us abroad.