Thursday, March 11, 2010

B.C. Bio: Upneet Rai -- "Fighting On Instinct"

Nanaimo's Upneet Rai (1-2), who will compete in the opening fight at this Friday's King Of The Cage: Uprising II card in Nanaimo, took time today to speak with this site's Josh Oliveira. Topics discussed include: his globe-trotting childhood, the benefits of fighting at home, and the importance of strengthening both the mind and the body.

King of the Cage Uprising II
Friday March 12th, 2010
Frank Crane Arena; Nanaimo, B.C.
Tickets on sale online @ and at the door!

J.O.: I understand you had a pretty interesting and worldly upbringing, do you care to tell our readers a bit about that?

Upneet Rai: Well, my dad is a doctor who practiced and worked with Doctors Without Borders. They're a non-profit, non-governmental organization. Just like the Red Cross, they go to emergency areas whenever there's a problem. So anyway, I was born in France. Then we went to Yemen, but when the Gulf War broke out we had to go to Holland. After that we went to Ethiopia and after that we came to Canada.

J.O.: And how old were you when you finally settled in Canada?

Upneet Rai: Seventeen.

J.O.: Oh, wow. So you spent a good amount of your life all over the world like that. So what does your father the doctor think about your fighting career?

Upneet Rai: He thinks it's okay. He's feels like, as long as I'm going to college and developing my mental strengths along with my physical strengths, it's okay.

J.O.: Right, and I hear you're graduating from college pretty soon here. Do you care to say what you're studying?

Upneet Rai: Yeah, in a couple weeks I'll be done my bachelor's in Global Studies and Political Science.

J.O.: Oh yeah? And what sort of aspirations do you have? Just out of curiosity.

Upneet Rai: Well, I'm interested in diplomatic work. Just basically following in the footsteps of my father. I'm not going into the medical field, but I'm interested in developmental aid and gender empowerment and what-have-you. You know, just whatever is needed. There are lots of NGO's around the world that need interns and staff.

J.O.: So you could potentially become the world's first-ever fighting diplomat? Those two things don't generally go together.

Upneet Rai: (Laughs) That pretty much sums it up, yeah.

J.O.: (Laughs) Okay, so when did you first get interested in learning MMA and get serious about training at Impact there in Nanaimo?

Upneet Rai: Well, the way it started out was that my roommate in dorms was into MMA, so I just went out there casually to check it out. Also, I used to be part of the rowing team and that fell apart, so I put on weight very quickly. I was just eating lots of food and not watching how much I was working out.

J.O.: Yeah, that happens sometimes in college, doesn't it?

Upneet Rai: Yeah, so I packed on weight and I was up to about 200lbs. I started thinking maybe I should try to do something to get myself back into shape. So I went to Impact and got back into shape. I also met lots of cool people there and made lots of new friends. Soon after, I made the commitment to be a bit more serious and that's been going for about three or four years now.

J.O.: Okay, so you're currently 1-2 as a professional, if I've got that right, and, actually, I watched your last fight live at KOTC:Catalyst in Vernon.

Upneet Rai: Oh yeah? That was fun, I guess.

J.O.: Yeah, I thought you won the first and second round against Brendan Frost, there. Well, at least the first round very convincingly and arguably the second as well. What did you learn or take away from this fight that probably didn't end the way you'd hoped?

Upneet Rai: Basically, I was just too chill. I didn't push the pace and I was having too much fun. I was smiling at the guy and I was having a blast, but then... Anyway, there were instances where I could have kept him against the cage, where he was back-peddling and moving away constantly. I kept throwing jabs, but I should have followed it with a 2 or something. I guess I learned to mix staying calm with turning it up. I'm pretty laid back, so I need to learn to be a bit more aggressive, which I did in the fight before that in Nanaimo. I guess, also, I almost got too technical and I forgot that it was actually just a fight.

J.O.: At a certain point you just have to wade in there and finish, right?

Upneet Rai: Yeah.

J.O.: So have you had a chance to watch any video on your upcoming opponent Cam Deleurme (1-1) or have you seen him fight live?

Upneet Rai: Yeah, I did. Actually, there's a funny thing about that-- he fought on the same card in Vernon.

J.O.: Yeah, but I assume you didn't get a chance to see that fight live.

Upneet Rai: No, I didn't see it live, but he added me to Facebook that day. So, when I heard I was fighting Cam, I just watched his fight. I know what he's all about, not that it really matters at this level, right? We're not talking about world-class athletes here. Most people at this level just fight with instinct. They just go in with a very loose gameplan. So I know what he's about, but other than that there's not much else to worry about. If you go in there with a very strict plan, he'll still be fighting back and you'll probably just end up fighting on instinct.

J.O.: Yeah, it's pretty interesting to hear you speak from that perspective. I think you're probably right, I just didn't know if you'd assessed any particular strengths in his game?

Upneet Rai: Well, the guy he fought was extremely flat-footed, so Cam got a single-leg every time he tried, and the other guy didn't sprawl. So, I'm hoping to make it a different story this time and give him a bit more of a fight for the takedowns. Anyway, I think I know exactly what he's going to do. I don't think he's going to want to stand. I mean, the club where he's from is called Kelowna BJJ so...

J.O.: Yeah, so it's probably all there in the name then, eh? You'll be in the opening fight of the night this Friday in your current hometown of Nanaimo. Do you think that combination will put any pressure on you? Or is getting straight to it in front of a supportive crowd something you're more looking forward to?

Upneet Rai: I'm not usually too worried about the crowd. Actually, I usually sort of forget about the crowd when I walk in, but it is a lot more comfortable fighting at home. When you're in, say, Vernon you're in some unknown hotel where you have to cut weight and you don't know where your next meal is going to be, or always exactly where the weigh-ins are. Here, everyone is around you and you know where everything is. The comfort level is just a lot better. So, I actually really like fighting at home.

J.O.: Yeah, I can see that for sure. Finally, I heard recently that you speak five languages. Can that be true? And if so, what are they and how fluently do you speak them?

Upneet Rai: Well, the first language I learned to read and write was Dutch, so I can speak Dutch fluently. Then I speak English, obviously. I also speak a mountain dialect from my village that my parents taught me. Other than that there's Hindi and then there's Punjabi-- I speak those two. Last there's Amharic as well, which is Ethiopian. So, theoretically, it's about six.

J.O.: Do you feel like you could converse pretty comfortably in most or all of them?

Upneet Rai: I can converse in all of them. I can hold conversations, so yeah.

J.O.: Well, that is extremely impressive to me, and it officially makes you the single person who speaks the most different languages that I have ever met.

Upneet Rai: (Laughs) You should meet my dad, he speaks twelve.

J.O.: (Laughs) Oh, wow. When I meet him you will officially be in second place then, I guess.

Upneet Rai: Ha, yeah. No doubt, eh?

J.O.: (Laughs) Yeah, well it was good talking to you and best of luck to you on Friday.

Upneet Rai: Okay, I'll see you on Friday.