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MANILA, Philippines – It took some convincing when he got the offer, but Filipino-Swiss mixed martial artist Christof Jr. Valdez Hofmann has since embraced the opportunity to win a big contract in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
“When I got the offer through my new manager, at first I was unsure. I was like, man, I don’t know if I’m ready for that?” said the 33-year-old former FEU basketball athlete turned MMA fighter. “But my wife was like: ‘Don’t be stupid, it’s now or never, you are getting old, you know.’”
That “now or never” mantra also kept being repeated by his coaches in both Manila and in Zurich, where Hofmann is based with his family. Eventually he grasped the enormity of what was at stake should he win. Buoyed by their enthusiasm, he put nose to grindstone, preparing hard to wow the UFC executives.
Hofmann is slated to fight at the Road to UFC Season 2 on May 28 at the UFC Performance Institute in Shanghai, China, where eight mixed martial artists from Asia in four men’s weight classes will compete in a classic ladder tournament for a contract with the promotion.
He will be going up against South Korea’s Sang Hoon Yoo in one of the four non-tournament bouts. Despite being slotted in a showcase fight, the way an athlete wins is a huge factor towards getting signed. Similar to the bouts in Dana White’s Contender Series where underdogs found themselves on the UFC roster because of their extraordinary performance.
If it’s one thing Hofmann knows, it’s how to put people to sleep.
Currently 9-1 as a pro, all his wins have come by knockout or referee stoppage. His brutal finishes are the stuff of highlight reels in the Philippines’ Universal Reality Combat Championship cage, where he reigns as both middleweight and light heavyweight champion.
His heavy hands have also ensured that he hasn’t seen a third round yet, making him one of the top ASEAN prospects in the region’s MMA arenas.
This time as a welterweight, he hopes to display his flair for KOs to impress UFC’s top brass on Sunday.
“Sorry for the other guy. But who doesn’t enjoy a knockout?” grinned Hofmann on our video call.
Ahead of his fight, we talked to Hoffman about his hopes of becoming a Pinoy in the Octagon and the caliber of sacrifice it takes to be a champion cage fighter.
The following interview has been edited for clarity.
Rappler: Tell us about the experience so far and how you are taking it all in at the UFC Performance Institute in Shanghai? How does it feel to be in the big show?
Hofmann: Well, it’s pretty amazing, man. At the Performance Institute there’s three big wrestling mat areas, there are two cages, a huge weights area, there is also a PT physical therapy area. There was cryotherapy and there is a cold plunge. A huge sauna, too.
I mean, everything is perfectly set up here for athletes. We have a shuttle that brings us there every 30 minutes if we want. Right now coach Richard (Lasprilla) and coach Beni (Brander) are at the restaurant, they’re waiting for my meal orders.
By tomorrow I get my food delivered from the PI. My nutritionist was actually in contact with them and he provided them what I’m what I’m able to eat and according to the shopping list that they are preparing my meals. There’s nothing missing.
You’re spoiled for choice and there’s absolutely no excuse not to make weight or anything like that.
Exactly. I doubt if I’ll ever miss weight but they’re really top notch and there’s really no excuse man. If you mess up here on the big stage, it’s on you. I hope I will not swallow my words then on fight day.
I had also like photo shoot, the videotape for the graphics, the fitting of gloves and yeah, the makeup session. It’s all top notch! I can’t imagine that someone would do it better. It all definitely makes it real now.
You’re going up against a Korean fighter from the prestigious Team MAD. Sang Hoon Yoo is also a knockout artist, like you. Can we expect you to bang it out like usual or is the game plan to do more grappling?
We don’t have like a fixed game plan. But we worked on my weaknesses or what I should have improved on from the last fight. Where I really sucked. I mean everyone saw what happened to me [versus Kim Min Seok at URCC 83 last March 3].
We have more situational drills, where I am not reacting to the opponent so much but I am dictating the tempo. A big topic was that I don’t do much clinching on my terms. I just react with wrestling.
I prefer to do kickboxing but yeah I’m not a kickboxer. I love it though, I do, I like to bang. My record speaks for itself and I always have knockouts and TKOs. I have to fight smart now. I cannot just do what I feel comfortable doing.
I’m actually really lucky that the whole team is in sync. Even if my two coaches, (coach Richard Lasprilla and coach Beni Brander) with me right now just met for the first time. They said the same thing: You have to wrestle more if you have an opportunity. Even if I don’t like it, because it’s wasted opportunity to exhaust my opponent.
Don’t expect that I will always shoot for the takedown now, but for sure I will use it more. Not like the last fight. At the very beginning I caught one of [Kim’s] kicks and then he tripped, then just stood up. So that should not happen anymore. I should capitalize on that, whenever he makes a mistake I should fall on top and beat him up.
Since you have teams in two countries, DEFTAC Philippines in Manila and 360 Martial Arts in Zurich, what are the differences or flavors of training in the Philippines versus in Switzerland?
I would say in the Philippines I get crushed through the grinder more. It’s more a little bit of the old school mentality of “Screw him up!” but that’s really been adjusted a lot since the time when I was coming up. Coach Richard (Lasprilla) has adjusted that program a lot.
In Zurich, we have a really a strict schedule. On Monday, it’s sparring, on Tuesday it’s technical situations, on Wednesday it’s all fight preparation. So really, it’s a very structured environment. But the focus and the goals are always the same so the good part is they all saw the same mistakes, and they see the same things we have to focus on.
What is at stake for the fight? It’s a non-tournament bout but you’re still up for a contract with the ‘how’ of the win?
The way they communicated it is that a win doesn’t automatically secure a contract. It’s your performance, a showcase bout. I have to impress them. And as far as I know [UFC matchmaker] Sean Shelby will be sitting in the first row. Since I’m in the first bout he won’t be bored yet.
My coaches are like joking around all the time, saying “You have to win ha, impressively. You can’t just like win. But no pressure!”
What would it mean for your family them for you to make it in the UFC? Could you become a full-time MMA athlete and quit your day job?
I still have a day job right now. You can’t live in Switzerland without one. Because of the cost of living and having to raise three boys, that’s impossible. So even if I get the contract, I think I’ll still be working.
For my wife, for my family, it came all of a sudden. When I got the offer through my new manager at first I was unsure. I was like, man, I don’t know if I’m ready for that? My wife is like: “You stupid idiot, it’s now or never, you are getting old, you know.” See, because that was right after the last fight.
Then I also consulted with my coach in Zurich, coach Beni (Brander, an active Bellator fighter). He said: “Chris, what are you worried about? They will never offer you this again, especially since you are 33 years of age. Go for it!”
I’m like, okay. Okay. So I heard on that day, like many times, that it’s “now or never.” So better now, than never!
Sounds like you took some convincing.
My wife, she has been there since day one in my MMA career. Some people know that I used to play basketball and though I was not in the Far Eastern University varsity I was playing there and training there.
Basketball didn’t work out so it was like I was mentally crushed when I found out I couldn’t play UAAAP then I started to do MMA and kickboxing and, my wife, she was there from day one.
Getting into the UFC would mean a lot to my wife and my family. She knows how much we’ve sacrificed. Whenever I needed to train, she was the one taking care of the kids full-time.
Of course, when I get home I help her, but after work and after two training sessions, you’re just exhausted. She respected that and she had to support me over and over, whenever I fought.
I’m doing my hobby, right? I’m living my dream and she is the one sacrificing her time so I can do it. That’s why I say she was making a far bigger sacrifice than I did.
Your boys have never known you as a basketball player, though.
All my kids are almost born and raised in the gym, somehow. But they don’t know me as a basketball player at all! They are like “What, you can play basketball?” Yeah, why don’t you believe me? – Rappler.com
You can stream “Road to UFC” on UFC Fight Pass or Premier Sports on Cignal HD and the Tap Go app (available on Google Play Store and the Apple App Store).