Steve Carl is truly one of the unsung heroes of World Series of Fighting’s success, and recently picked up the biggest win of his 24-fight MMA career, finishing UFC veteran Josh Burkman to capture the promotion’s welterweight belt. Carl’s story is a very inspirational one; an ex-marine who shattered his leg in a severe car accident, and went on to become such a humble and talented mixed martial artist – all the makings of a Hollywood film.
Carl holds a record of 21-3, with notable wins against the aforementioned Burkman, as well as Tyson Steele, Brett Cooper and Tyler Stinson. The 28-year-old has notched up seven wins in a row, all coming via submission and six of those coming in the first round. It seems as though the American is really coming into his own and reaching his prime, and with the acquisition of Rousimar Palhares as well as rumours of talks with ex-Bellator champ Ben Askren, there are a lot of interesting potential match-ups in the pipeline.
I spoke with Steve Carl to discuss the impacts of his incredible story, his thoughts on future fights and any changes since winning the belt.
JC: First of all, congratulations on a very impressive victory over a tough fighter in Josh Burkman. You were an underdog coming into the fight, did you use this as added motivation?
SC: I’m always the underdog and I love it, because I feel it puts more pressure on my opponent to get the win. It always motivates me more knowing that the majority of people are expecting me to lose because then what is there to lose; there is more to gain by winning the fights that you’re not supposed to and doing so turns people’s heads and makes them change their opinion on you in the future.
JC: Well it was one hell of a performance, however you were very openly critical about your own performance. Would you consider yourself a perfectionist in this respect?
SC: I don’t think I would call myself a perfectionist at all, but when it comes to my fighting career there have only been a handful of fights that I have celebrated after and enjoyed the win. The Burkman fight left me feeling physically exhausted and I was mentally off; I was under the impression that due to how tired I was, the fight couldn’t have been very entertaining to the crowd and the viewers. However after watching the fight on several occasions I realise that it was a good fight but I still know I have more to show and more to prove. Earlier in my career, I was constantly disappointed in my performances even when I blew through opponents, because I would put so much stress on myself about the fight that I could feel it holding me back.
JC: And have you noticed any differences since becoming champ, other than financially?
SC: Not really, life’s the same for me with a few small exceptions. The biggest difference is when I see people I know who aren’t a part of my every day life, because all of them are under the impression that I’m living in some fantasy life now. In reality, I’m just getting back to the grind with the same lifestyle that’s taken me to where I am today.
JC: Many fighters praise WSOF for their treatment of fighters, whilst Bellator isn’t seen in such a positive light. How would you compare your experience fighting for the two organisations?
SC: I’ve had a good experience with both organisations, I’ve met the crew of both shows and they are all really nice people who want to do the right thing for their fighters.
JC: Interesting stuff. Moving on to potential opponents – Jon Fitch is just one of WSOF’s welterweights who are openly after a shot at your title, were you impressed with his last performance?
SC: While Fitch’s win and the manner in which he did it wasn’t all that impressive, he did show some flashes of genius in that fight. Fitch has started to believe in his hands a lot more and his boxing looked pretty good when he threw certain techniques. He never let off the gas, and when the fight hit the ground he was posturing up to strike. He looked like a different Jon Fitch.
JC: And with your win over Josh Burkman – who many considered a top 10 welterweight – do you feel you’ve done enough to put yourself in the mix for top 10 status?
SC: I don’t think that I’ve done enough to be considered in the top 10 just yet, but I believe I’m a contender for the top 10. After my first title defence, where I guarantee I’ll be the underdog, I believe you will see why I should be up there.
JC: WSOF 6 marked your first main event for a non-regional promotion, was this nerve wracking or did you enjoy the experience?
SC: I enjoyed the experience besides the stress of not being able to train for the last couple of weeks. I’m really looking forward to fight again and I think it’s going to be the time of my life!
JC: WSOF have recently signed Rousimar Palhares, who was banned by the UFC for holding onto a heel hook for too long (which was not the first time he has done so). Jon Fitch has openly stated that he would refuse to fight him if offered, what are your thoughts on a potential matchup with Toquinho?
SC: The match-up is quite possible now that he’s signed with WSOF. I’m on the same page as Fitch, I don’t want to have to fight a person that cannot control his emotions and is trying to end careers rather than win fights, but I am the champion and if he is able to get a couple of wins in a row and display a new level of control, I wouldn’t refuse to fight him if I was told to do so.
JC: Former Bellator welterweight champ Ben Askren was recently offered a contract by chairman Ray Sefo, does a fight with him interest you?
SC: I would love to fight Ben Askren! If Askren signed with WSOF I would happily put my belt on the line to be the first person to beat him.
JC: As an ex-Army sergeant, there are presumably a number of disciplines and attributes you picked up that transition well into MMA. How do you think your time in the Army has helped you develop into a well-established MMA fighter?
SC: My time in the military gave me a lot of discipline and this has helped me to keep motivated and push myself to the limits, which has all helped me get to where I am today.
JC: And developing on that question, would you have liked to fight at the recent UFC: Fight for the Troops 3 card?
SC: Of course, I would love to put on any fight for the troops. I was lucky enough to be a part of a grappling seminar which was held for the troops several years ago by Ft Hood, it was a great experience.
JC: In a few interviews, you have stated that you were offered a chance to fight in the UFC. Were you given any particular opponent(s), and what was the reason for turning them down?
SC: I don’t remember the opponent but I didn’t turn down the fight, it was just on short notice and as it was in Canada it wasn’t possible for me. I would have loved to have taken that fight, but I was young and dumb once and have an OWI on my record which would require me to apply for a temporary work visa to fight in Canada 5 weeks prior to the fight.
JC: Another incredible story about your career as an MMA fighter is the fact that, in December 2006, you were in a severe car accident and shattered your right leg. What drove you to continue your pursuit as an MMA fighter?
SC: I had found something that I really loved and I knew that I had what it took to make it to the very top, but I was the only one that truly believed it. This gave me more motivation to prove to the doubters that I could make it. After the car accident, I never let it soak in how bad it really was; for months and months I treated it as if it was just a hiccup in my career. I got back in the weight room on one leg and made sure I would be ready to start training and competing again as soon as my leg would let me.
JC: And how impactful do you feel this incident was on your career? Do you imagine that you could have been even better than you already are if the accident didn’t happen?
SC: The car accident was hugely impactful on my career and has been an impact on myself since its happened. I know that I would have been even better had this not happened, of course. It affects me today on a daily basis with all my training as it has caused me multiple other problems from my body compensating for the lack of strength and movement, but this is where I am – there is no looking back from here and no dwelling on the past.
JC: And finally, on a more positive note, where would you like to go from here? Who would you like to fight next, after capturing the WSOF welterweight crown?
SC: I believe that I still have a lot of people that doubt me in the MMA community that I’d love to prove wrong. I feel as if whoever is brought in to fight me will still be considered the favourite going into the fight despite me being the champion, and I’m fine with that. With that being said, I want to fight either Jon Fitch or Ben Askren next.
A huge thanks to WSOF welterweight champion Steve Carl and we wish him luck in the future. You can follow Steve on Twitter: @steve_carl.