I had the privilege of speaking to PFL heavyweight Kelvin Tiller this past week. One of the most exciting and surprising fighters in the PFL tournament. I spoke to ‘The Mama’s Boy’ about what drives him to fight and how he got there along with what the future holds for him as he enters the semi-finals.
Richard Ferraina: Hey Kelvin, how are you? I’m glad I was able to snag you for an interview because you’ve been one of the most exciting fighters to watch in this PFL tournament right now. First thing, I wanted to bring up your nickname ‘The Mama’s Boy’. I resonate with that because I’m very close with my mother as well.
Kelvin Tiller: I’m doing pretty, and thanks, I appreciate that. But yeah, she drives to the fights by herself for the most part and she doesn’t have no help, we scrape up the money to get there for those fights and she makes them. That’s my love right there. She’s been there since the first fight all the way until now. I would like for this to pay off for her because she deserves it, we all deserve it.
RF: She’s got to be very proud of you, you’ve been doing very well for yourself.
KT: Yes sir, she is very proud of me, she tells me that all the time. We see each other a lot though, we talk a lot on the phone, she always makes sure to tell me she’s proud of me.
RF: So, were you originally fighting at light heavyweight and middleweight before moving up?
KT: I actually started my career off at middleweight, I believe I’ve had more fights at middleweight than light heavyweight.
RF: What made you decide to move up for this tournament?
KT: Well, really it was just injuries man. I’ve had a lot of injuries, they just kept coming back to back. I hit a depressing stage where I felt like I wanted to just fight nothing, I just started eating a lot and not working out. I tore my Achilles and that’s when I gained a lot of my weight about a year and a half ago. But, I got motivated when I got the call and here we are today.
RF: Now, you fought on short notice in the first round of the tournament, replacing Evgeniy Goncharov, correct?
KT: Yes sir. You know what? ‘Til this day I don’t know who I replaced. I don’t ever read the articles or any of those things, I just know I was a last minute replacement. My manager asked if I wanted to make a million dollars and I said, ‘Well, who doesn’t?” At the time I got the call, I was actually cutting grass. I was trying to start my own little lawn care thing. I was out of shape, 292 pounds, couldn’t run a half a mile, couldn’t properly do 20 pushups straight. I took the fight on like three weeks out, and I just stopped everything and just trained. Once again, here I am today.
RF: It turned out to be a great opportunity for you. In your first fight against Caio Alencar, you slipped his right hand and your right hand connected and put him out on his feet. How did that feel when it landed?
KT: It felt good but I don’t do a lot of study on film or anything. I just listen to my coaches and they help me break things down. We saw a clip of where he kind of was throwing an overhand, big baseball right, and if you look at any of my fights I have great head movement. I have never really been hit hard in any of my fights and I knew I could capitalize off of that so once I slipped and ripped it then – I didn’t think it was gonna land that early, but I knew eventually the big shot was gonna land. It felt great to come in there as the underdog, only had a month, not even a whole month to get ready, coming off an Achilles tear. Just everything, telling myself that I was going to retire from fighting to getting that win, that first win meant the most to me. I feel like everything else is going to be a breeze for me, but that first win was everything for me.
RF: Where do you train out of and is there any truth to you starting out in karate and boxing?
KT: Midwest Combat Academy a.k.a. Woodward Striking in Topeka, Kansas. You know, we just got a small gym, no UFC fighters, no Bellator fighters, no big names. I’m the biggest name fighter there. I’ve been there for a long time. My karate coach when I was 10 is my kickboxing coach today.
As far as me starting out in boxing and karate, I’ve never really trained in boxing. I took boxing for two weeks when I was 15 years old then I quit and I only did karate for six months. So I didn’t start up anything again until I was 18 years old. I’m a mixed martial artist. I feel like I’m the true form of a mixed martial artist. I feel like I’m good everywhere. I can do it all, I can wrestle, jiu-jitsu and I believe that’s because I started everything all at once. I fell in love with MMA in general, I think that’s why I’m as good as I am today.
RF: So what made you get into MMA and start training?
KT: Man, I was in the streets heavy. I was running around with the gangsters and the thugs, selling drugs, I’ve seen it all. My son was 2 at the time when I got into MMA, I was going to community college but I was doing other things down there I wasn’t supposed to be doing. This guy had seen me at Dillons, a food store down here in Kansas, and walked up to me asking if I wanted to go see some MMA fights. I didn’t know what that was at the time and asked what it was. He told me punching, kicking, elbows and I was like shit, I wanna fight, I don’t wanna go watch! Then he told me it was something I had to train for. I thought I was a tough guy, I thought I was hardcore, a whole bunch of other stuff man and told me he could give me a trainer’s number. So, he gives me a guy named Shane Hutchinson’s number and I hit up Shane the same day, we met three days later and he kicked my ass the first day of practice and sent me home crying. From that day on I have been humble. I don’t ever let my head get too big no matter how many times I can knock somebody out or submit somebody, or how many times I beat people up in practice. That day, when I was 18 years old, I was a humble man from that point on. I never let the wins, I never let the little bit of fame I’m getting right now get to my head. I always keep it on a low level, I always make it back home to my kids. That’s the first thing I do after I win a fight because I know it can all be taken away from me by a lucky punch or a lucky submission or whatever it might be so I thank that man Shane Hutchinson, shout out to him.
RF: That’s a pretty crazy story to where you’re at today. 10-1 record with 6 submissions and 3 knockouts and your submission game showed in your latest fight against Jared Rosholt who’s an NCAA Division I wrestler and 6-2 in the UFC. Can you explain how that fight went down and how you scored the finish?
KT: I knew from the beginning I would submit him because I knew he was gonna be desperate for the shot, over-confident. Everybody says I don’t have a ground game and they clearly don’t want none of my fights because I got more submission wins than knockout wins. In the first round he was leaving his neck out and like I said he was too comfortable there, he was too confident that I didn’t have no ground game. So he and his coaches didn’t study what they were supposed to study. The second round I knew – a lot of my fights end in the second round. The first round I just kind of like to give it to the person, I like to just kind of feel their power, feel their speed and in that second round I like to go for the finish, I like to close it out in the second round. Even in my amateur fights, they were second-round finishes because I feel like I need to know everything, I need to know about that fighter in that first round. But with me, Rosholt was desperate, he only had one thing to rely on. If you watch the fight over again, he never took me down. I abandoned the Whizzer on the left side to help sink my right hand in and then I’m the one who went down on my right hip to try and secure that guillotine choke. When he got out of it and we re-adjusted, I knew I had it before I even stepped my leg over.
RF: Right now you’re in second place in the playoff standings with 11 points, Francimar Barroso is first with 12 points and Philipe Lins is under you with 8 points. Do you know who your next opponent is yet?
KT: No sir. I haven’t gotten a word of who my next opponent is or haven’t gotten a contract. I don’t know how the point system works.
RF: Do you have a preference on who you want to fight next?
KT: Man, I just wanna fight. I feel like I gotta eventually fight most of the guys so I wanna get in there and win. I believe I can beat them all, I know I can beat them all. I don’t think none of them can beat me. I think they’re all one-dimensional. Francimar Barroso is the only one who showed he has some stand-up and a ground game, but the guys that he fought, they’re not on my level. They’re not faster than me, they can’t hit as hard as me, they don’t have the confidence that I got. So I really don’t care who I fight. I like the Philipe Lins fight for me because he knocked out Alex Nicholson. He’s sloppy though, I don’t believe he’ll ever really be able to get to hit me, but that fight excites me. I want somebody to sit there and bang with me, so if I had the opportunity, I’d say Philipe first. I think he’s got the best stand up right now, but like I said I still think it’s sloppy. I don’t think he has too much to offer me, but I would like to sit there and bang to show everybody… they’ve only seen maybe 40% of my stand up and what I can really do standing up. I believe that I’m top elite, best-of-the-best when it comes to putting things together and I just never get to show it because most fighters shoot for the takedown on me. But I would like that fight.
RF: That would be a fun fight to watch. Do you even know the date of your next fight yet?
KT: October 5th, we don’t know where it’s at yet though.
RF: From your mother’s reaction at your last fight, both of you seem very excited for the future. What would you do with the million dollars at the end of this tournament and what does the future hold for you?
KT: Pay off my debts. I’m a lot more grown up now then when I got this money 4, 5 years ago. I’ve promised my mom I’d put this money up, then go and win the next tournament and then hopefully go to the UFC after that. Eventually, I’d like to invest though. I’ve always wanted to own three things: a family bar, a barber shop and my own gym. Those three things I would like to own within the next three years. We agreed that I keep my same lifestyle, my same three-bedroom house, my same two cars that I got, my kids go to the same school, put the money up, get ready for next year’s tournament, win that one. The goal is to never go broke again, I gotta live like I’ve been living. Somehow, someway I’ve been able to do it, so I don’t want to go crazy and splurge the money over dumb stuff.
RF: That’s all I really have for you Kelvin. It was a pleasure talking to you. I think you carry yourself very well, you say the right things, you’re doing the right things, you’re winning your fights. Good luck the rest of the way, I’m a fan.
KT: Thank you, thank you very much. We’re working hard, everybody’s doing their part. I will see everybody December 31st at Madison Square Garden, all promises. It will happen.