Titan FC’s Mike “The Greek Assassin” Bronzoulis on Joe Riggs: “He had a Little Extra Help.”
Although Titan FC’s Mike “The Greek Assassin” Bronzoulis has competed in such visible promotions as Strikeforce, Legacy Fighting Championship (LFC) and Shark Fights (SF), the majority of mixed martial arts fans – this writer included – were first introduced to the hardnosed heavy hitter during his tenure on Bellator Fighting Championship’s Spike TV-aired reality MMA competition, Fight Master: Bellator MMA.
Bronzoulis entered the competition with a 15-5-1 record, won his qualifying match on the show and aligned himself with Fight Master coach Randy Couture, who worked with him on reconciling his heavy-handed striking style with a grappling approach suited to reinforce it. Their pairing proved fruitful, as Bronzoulis defied viewer presumptions, twice returning from the jaws of defeat to make it to the finale to face former UFC welterweight standout Joe “Diesel” Riggs.
“Everyone I’ve talked to – I get stopped all the time – is like, ‘Man, you had me on the edge of my seat! You showed amazing heart,’” he said during a 20-minute phone conversation we had last week. “I’ve heard a lot of that, you know, and it really means a lot to me. I’ve gotten some pretty good feedback. I was kind of surprised, because I was really hard on myself. I guess I didn’t see what other people saw.”
Leaving the show and going back to his hometown of Houston, Texas, Bronzoulis didn’t initially have the opportunity to dwell on the fact that, though The Louisiana Boxing and Wrestling Commission had previously stated that every fight occurring on the show would factor into the fighters’ pro records, none of those matches thus far have. Now that some time has elapsed, however, he’s grown more vocal about their absence.
“I go by 19-7-1,” he said. “For some reason, they’re not counting my Fight Master fights. I was told those counted, but they’re not showing up on my record.”
Mike Bronzoulis and Joe Riggs faced off at Bellator 106 on November 2, 2013. After three smothering rounds, Riggs had his hand raised and was declared the inaugural (and likely final) Fight Master: Bellator MMA tournament champion, winning $100,000 and a berth in the next Bellator welterweight tournament.
Although he’d forgo the tournament in favor of a juicy UFC contract (recently undone by some shoddy home firearm maintenance), at the time, Riggs was elated.
“It means everything to me,” he said in victory. “It will take care of my family; the one thing I did this for. I’m very thankful and grateful for the opportunity. Mike fought a great fight and he had a back injury coming into this, too.”
That’s odd… How did Riggs, who was in a completely different camp training for the fight and in a completely different team on the show itself, know about Bronzoulis’ back injury?
“I’ve held this in for way too long,” Bronzoulis told me over the phone. “Joe Riggs, we flew home together on the same plane and he was crying in front of my corner, which was Brian Melancon from the UFC, and his corner, the “Ginga Ninja” [Tim Welch] who was on the show. He basically told me that one of my coaches that wasn’t in my corner that night but was there had come to him – this was one of the coaches that was on Fight Master – and told him at the weigh-ins that my back was injured and the extent of those injuries. He told him to target my back and it would go out. Just a few weeks prior to the fight – everyone knows Tito [Ortiz] pulled out because of back and neck injuries – I have the same problem. I have the same exact injuries. I got injections for mine and I didn’t train anything on the ground for two to three weeks because my back was so tender. “Everyone knows about my ability to get up from my back against anybody. I showed that against [fellow Fight Master competitor and former #1-ranked collegiate wrestler] Eric Bradley – you know, the best wrestler in the nation.
“Joe won that fight. He fought very smart and he deserved to win, too. I’m a fan of Joe’s. I’m a friend of Joe’s. And it sucks that there can only be one winner, but yeah… he had a little extra help and that really pissed me off. He even offered to give me some of his win money – that’s how bad he felt.
“No one knows about this because I didn’t cry about it afterwards. This is the first time I’ve spoken about it. You’re the first person. I’ve done interview after interview after interview, I’ve wanted to say something. I said a little bit one time, but now I’m just saying to hell with it, man. This is what happened. This is what happened. I shouldn’t be ashamed of it. Bellator made me sign contracts so I wouldn’t say stuff, and whatever – I don’t care anymore, man. That’s what happened. It was verified by everyone on my team and they ended up getting rid of that coach. I went to war and the people that were on my side that I went to war with were giving [Joe Riggs] inside information. It was fucked up.”
In light of this news, my natural question was, of course, who this coach in question was. Bronzoulis, though noticeably incensed, stopped short of naming names.
“It wasn’t anybody that was in my corner that night,” he offered. “It wasn’t Randy Couture. It wasn’t Tim Lane. It was one of the coaches that was on Fight Master with me. It wasn’t Frank Trigg. Those guys have been nothing but great to me.” *
Was this why we never saw him again in Bellator?
“I was so furious with what Joe Riggs disclosed to me, I wanted nothing to with any of these people anymore,” he said. “I was disgusted. I wanted out. I told them I wanted out of my contract immediately that night and [then-Bellator president Bjorn Rebney] told me, ‘Come up with X amount of dollars and you’ll be out.’ So I did.”
He left the Viacom-owned promotion and wound up competing in an Albuquerque, NM promotion called Triple A MMA. A series of gradually constricting changes saw him eventually standing across the cage from an opponent who outweighed him by almost 30 pounds on fight night. He lost by TKO for the first time in his almost seven-year career.
“I made a mistake,” he said. “I went up in weight. I fought in a weight class I never fight at and that guy was huge. I mean, if anyone saw the fight, he was way bigger than me. That matters, you know, when it comes down to strength and fighting. I shouldn’t have been so quick to take a fight. I fought for money. I need to pay my bills. They changed my opponent at the last second to a fighter from another weight class and I didn’t know what to do; I had to take it. I took it and that’s what happens, you know?”
Next Friday, he’ll have a golden opportunity to correct his career’s course when he faces off against the comparatively unknown fighter, Keith Johnson (7-3).
“I believe my style is too much for people to deal with,” he says. “They don’t know how to prepare for it. I think we’re going to see Keith Johnson’s will break in the ring and then he himself is going to break. He can do whatever he wants to, but it’s just going to be a waste of energy. That’s just what I believe. I’m looking to end it in dramatic fashion, so when the bell rings, don’t blink. I understand there are two Greeks on the card that night [the other Greek fighter, George Sotiropoulos, headlines the event against fellow TUF alum Mike Ricci] and I’m planning on us going 2-0.”
As a special thanks to “The Greek Assassin” for his candor, I’ve opted to uncharacteristically list some of the sponsors he asked to be mentioned. They are, in his own words, “Lightning Logistics, Shamrock’s Pub in Humble, StateFarm Insurance, Aqua Hand Car Wash and Detail, Unique Kennels, Metro Fight Club, Lexani Tires, [a few others I couldn’t hear clearly], there a ton more, and thank you, mom, for having me.”