ON A BRIEF STOP IN HONG KONG, THE BRUCE LEE FANATIC SPOKE TO ROUGH ABOUT HIS CLOSE CONNECTION TO ASIA, WHY MENTAL STRENGTH IS HIS WORST ENEMY AND HOW DROPPING A WEIGHT CLASS WILL TURN AROUND HIS ROLLER COASTER UFC RIDE.

Welcome back to Hong Kong, you have a strong connection to this place – what is it that brings you back here so often?

I love Hong Kong, it’s a beautiful place. Growing up I was watching all the films about Hong Kong and Bruce Lee, it’s the Mecca of martial arts. I feel like I’m Chinese sometimes, it’s weird! It just feels like home to me. I love coming here and seeing my good friend Thomas Fan from Triquest, I’m actually planing to move here because I love it so much.

I WAS TELLING MYSELF THIS GUY IS ANGRIER THAN ME, HE WANTS IT MORE THAN ME, HE’S GOING TO KILL ME… I COULDN’T CONQUER THAT FEAR AND THAT LED TO MY DEFEAT.

You’ve also spent time training in Thailand and Japan, what is it about Asia you like for training and fighting?

It’s where martial arts comes from. It stems from Asia, from Japan and from China. I’ve trained with Korean Top Team and in Thailand, as well as here in Hong Kong. I just love it. The training is really different, especially with Korean Top Team, they are really hard. It’s almost military-style training camp, I’ve never experienced anything like that before. It gave me a different outlook on training. The way they train I’ve adapted it my training.

UFC is said to be eying Korea next year, are we likely to see you fight in Asia sometime soon?

I wish the UFC would let me fight in Asia all the time. It brings out the martial arts in me. When I fought Nam Phan in Macau, I did loads of spinning kicks, I wanted to give everyone a really good show of martial arts. Asia just seems to bring that out in me.

Is that something that comes as part of your training, or something that just comes out when you’re inside the cage?

It’s definitely something that I incorporate into my training. I grew up training in traditional martial arts. I started martial arts when I was 13. I tried to study loads of different styles, I went to different schools to learn techniques that worked.

Was there anything that stuck out in particular?

Yeah, Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kun Do. I studied that when I was 16 and became a junior instructor when I was 19. That’s when I got into MMA to really test my skills and abilities.

Vaughan Lee and Team Triquest

From left: Triquest’s Andy Chan, MGK Wing Chun’s Marc Guyon, Triquest Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Thomas Fan and mixed martial artist Bernard Fung.

There was something you mentioned in previous interview which really stuck with me. You said your wins are great, but the losses make you better and make you who you are.

The weaker side of my game is my mental strength. I have to work on that a lot more than the physical side. The physical stuff comes naturally to me, my mind is my worst enemy. When I try to encourage myself, the other half of my brain is telling me the opposite. There are mental games that I’m playing with myself all the time and I have to overcome them before I overcome my opponent.

How much of what you do is about mental strength?

I think for all the top guys, it’s very much a mental game. To be honest, you are you’re own worst enemy. I always say that if you master your own mind, you can beat anyone, but most of the time it’s just me beating myself. In my last fight I couldn’t get over it. I was telling myself this guy is angrier than me, he wants it more than me, he’s going to kill me… I couldn’t conquer that fear and that led to my defeat.

Have you considered sports psychology to overcome it?

I’ve been thinking about going to see a psychiatrist, but I think it’s something I want to do personally and conquer it myself.

It’s an interesting time for MMA. The sport is now more commercially accepted, take the Reebok deal for example. Do you see yourself as a professional athlete? How does all that sit with you?

It’s weird because I never really thought of myself as a professional athlete. People keep telling me I’m a professional athlete and even though I am, I’m really just a guy trying to improve myself as a martial artist and a fighter. I got into martial arts to learn how to defend myself on the street, now I’m labelled as a professional athlete – that’s not really what I’m training for. I’m training for a life or death situation. I can’t go into a fighting looking at it as a sport. I go into the cage to defend myself.

You had your orbital bone broken in your last fight, what’s your plan after injury time?

I’m moving down to flyweight, I’m going to smash those little guys when I get back to work. I spoke to [UFC matchmaker] Sean Shelby and he said if I can make flyweight, which should be easy for me, then hopefully I’ll be at 125 and a force to be reckoned with in that division.