JACKSON, MISS. – Feeling like he wasn’t getting the competition he craved, former college wrestler turned competitive bodybuilder Justin “The Silverback” Wilcox decided to give Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) a try five years ago. He’s been hooked ever since.
Now, Wilcox finds himself in the biggest fight of his career, taking on lightweight (155 pounds) star and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro in the headlining fight of a STRIKEFORCE Challengers event on Friday, Nov. 19, at Jackson Convention Complex in Jackson, Miss., LIVE on SHOWTIME® at 11 p.m. ET/PT, (delayed on the West Coast).
Wilcox (9-3), a 31-year-old former NCAA wrestling star, has won his last four starts. In his most recent outing on March 26, he registered a unanimous decision over Shamar Bailey at STRIKEFORCE Challengers in Fresno, Calif., the city where his family currently resides.
A member of San Jose, Calif.’s Team AKA, one of the most fearsome fight teams in the world that also plays home to STRIKEFORCE superstars Josh Thomson and Cung Le, Wilcox wrestled for Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and is from Cincinnati, Ohio.
Wilcox answered six questions recently.
QUESTION: What do you think about Vitor Ribeiro? He thought he beat Lyle Beerbohm (he lost a split decision May 15) in his last fight. What did you think?
WILCOX: “I think it could have gone either way. I think he looked good. I know he’s a four-time Jiu-Jitsu world champion and he’s 20-4. I’m not underestimating him in the least. I know people think there won’t be a lot of striking; that we’re both going to want to get it to the ground. Wherever he wants to take it is fine by me. I have faith in my ground game and I’m working with Dave Camarillo at AKA, just an incredible Jiu-Jitsu coach.
QUESTION: What’s it like training at the AKA gym in San Jose?
WILCOX: “It’s been awesome. It’s one of the top gyms in the world. I don’t see myself training anywhere else. Going into my fights I don’t get too nervous because I’m training against such high-level guys and some world champions. The gym is so complete. You don’t have to travel to get high-level boxing or high-level wrestling. It’s all right there. That’s why I love it so much.”
QUESTION: Who’s the toughest guy you ever fought?
WILCOX: “Each opponent has had his strong points. They’ve all been tough. I don’t take any of them lightly. If I had to pick one I would say the (Daisuke) Nakamura fight (which Wilcox won by unanimous decision on Dec. 19, 2009). I had to take the fight on two weeks notice. He was such a high-level opponent.”
QUESTION: In your first professional fight in 2006 you beat Bobby Voelker, another Cincinnati fighter (who scored a major victory over previously undefeated Roger Bowling last Oct. 22 on STRIKEFORCE Challengers on SHOWTIME). Does that seem like a long time ago?
WILCOX: “That was also a tough one. I was just a wrestler back then. Everything he could throw at me he did. People after that fight were like, ‘Wow, wait till you get that chin.’ I don’t know. I just want to keep moving forward. That was my first fight. Bobby’s had some success recently with STRIKEFORCE which is great. We’re kind of on the same path. He’s a great kid. I like Bobby a lot.”
QUESTION: Is there any opponent you’d like to face? Where do you see yourself in the sport in a year?
WILCOX: “I see myself wearing that belt. Each fight is one step closer to that belt. That’s what I see myself going after and being a world champion. Whoever they put in front of me is fine. Whoever has the belt at the time is who I want to fight and who I want to beat.”
QUESTION: What do you like to do in your free time?
WILCOX: “I just really like to hang out with my 3-year-old daughter Natalie and being with my family. I’m up here in San Jose training and they are down in Fresno so I go down on weekends and see them a lot. Just being with my little girl and my wife Leslie is what makes me happy. Just hanging out and spending time with the family.”
The Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fight card presented by Rockstar Energy Drink will mark STRIKEFORCE’s initial foray into the state of Mississippi.
Tickets are on sale now to the general public at all Ticketmaster outlets, including the Coliseum box office and Be-Bop Record Shops, by phone at 800-745-3000 and online at Ticketmaster.com and STRIKEFORCE.COM.
Doors at Jackson Convention Complex will open at 6:45 p.m. CT. The first non-televised preliminary bout will begin at 7:30 p.m. The first televised main card fight will begin at 10 p.m.