On the 9th of September this year, the first episode of UFC’s reality show The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) aired. One of the contenders was Frantz Slioa from Botkyrka, Sweden who fought his way in to the TUF house in an impressive way. Frantz is back in Sweden and we got the chance to sit down and get to know Sweden’s future MMA star and hear more about how he became a celebrity over a night. We meet up in his second home, Allstars Training Center at Hagagatan in Stockholm in mid November 2015.
Skipping class to work out
It’s grappling session for the competition group at Allstars when we meet up, but Frantz won’t participate today. He’s suffering from a knee injury and in a week it’s finally time for surgery. We walk through the gym to find a calm spot where we can sit and talk and you can tell that he feels like home. He moves around in a relaxed way, greets every person who passes by and everybody seems happy to see him. Most of them makes fun of his new haircut and he laughs together with them. We sit down and turn back the time to 1991 when Frantz was born.
”I grew up in Fittja, Botkyrka. I didn’t do well in school, already in second grade I skipped class so much that I had to do that year all over. My mother was sick when I grew up but I didn’t know that then. I just noticed that she was often absent and I had a constant feeling that something was not right. With time it got clear to me what was going on, her medicines made her lose her hair and it was tough times. I couldn’t concentrate in school but I started to work out even more. In the beginning I trained gymnastics and football but it wasn’t really for me, I was a bit too aggressive. By the end of second grade I got a remedial teacher whose brother owned a Taekwondo gym. She suggested that I would try a practice so I decided to give it a shot. I didn’t like it too much, in my opinion they just screamed all the time so I quit short after. Finally I tried Thai boxing which felt good so I continued with that for a while.”
Frantz’s neighbour during his upbringing was the MMA fighter Diego Gonzalez. He was 7 years older than Frantz and started with professional MMA at an early stage. Diego got Frantz motivated to follow the same path and he joined him to Hilti gym which had all the famous Swedish fighters back then. “I started training Brazilian jiu-jitsu at Hilti but I could only train with the beginners. The rule was that you had to have at least blue belt to train with the pros. That became my goal. I put all my heart into it and skipped class to be able to work out twice a day. Six months later I finally got my blue belt and could finally roll with the big boys. I was about to turn 16 and was the smallest guy in the group.”
Due to his high absence from school he didn’t receive any grades from middle school which led him to the Individual Program at Tumba High School, and Frantz wasn’t very motivated for this. “I thought I’d give school a final chance to see if maybe it can get better. I remember the first day like if it was yesterday. I took the bus to Tumba at 08:30 AM, it was packed and I was so tired. I’d been so nervous the night before I barley slept at all. At that point I just wanted to stop the bus and get off, but I had promised myself to give it an honest chance. When I arrived and sat down in the classroom I felt right away that this won’t work. I tried for a few weeks but then finally dropped out and turned all my focus to martial arts. I discussed the decision with my family and both my dad and my siblings thought I was stupid, but not mom. She told me to follow my heart and go for this if I believe I can succeed. I’ve understood afterwards that she viewed life in a different way, her state gave her another perspective. So I took her advice.”
”I WAS SO WORRIED I’D GET A 0-1 RECORD! I DECIDED THAT WHATEVER HAPPENS THAT NUMBER OF LOSSES
WILL STAY ZERO, AND IT DID”
”When I turned 18 I started competing in shooto. I had five amateur fights and won all of them. Shortly after I’d turned 19 I got a call from Diego who said that they needed a 66 kg fighter to a professional fight in Finland. I asked Diego if he thought I was ready to take a pro fight and when he said yes I didn’t hesitate. Even though I took the fight on short notice I managed to knock down my opponent twice before I choked him out.” It was the Finn Joni Pasanen who Frantz beat with a rear naked choke in round 2. Allthough he was a tough opponent Frantz was only worried about one single thing, to get a bad record. “I was so worried I’d get a 0-1 record! I decided that whatever happens that number of losses will stay zero, and it did.”
Botkyrka and the family
Botkyrka hasn’t always been mentioned in the most positive contexts in media, but as a matter of fact the suburb has produced many talents. Besides Frantz there is also Nico Musoke, the Teymur brothers, Diego and Fernando Gonzalez and others who are from there, as well as famous music artists and football players. There is no doubt that Frantz likes it there. “I remember that when I was a kid I used to say that I will never move from Fittja. As a matter of fact I still feel the same thing. A major reason for my success is the people I grew up with, they’ve always been there for me during all the tough periods I’ve been through. Who knows how it would have been if I had grown up in Lidingö instead? Would I have had the same supportive group of friends? Would I have been as tough after what I’ve seen and been through? I don’t know the answer to that but I’m grateful to be from Botkyrka.”
”I WAS BY HER SIDE WHEN THE DOCTOR GAVE HER THE MESSAGE THAT THERE WAS NOTHING THEY COULD DO TO SAVE HER”
When our conversation touches on the topic of family, something changes in Frantz’s eyes. You can tell that family has a very special place in his life, that it’s on a different level from everything else. In 2013 Frantz went to Thailand to train but after a few days he received a phone call from his sister. Their mother’s cancer had come back and that she had gotten very sick. Frantz dropped everything and got on the first flight back to his family. “I was by her side when the doctor gave her the message that there was nothing they could do to save her. I felt like a little boy again, the same feelings came back to me. I talked to my coaches and managers and explained that I would take a break from everything. I wanted to spend every remaining second with her to not risk regretting anything later in life. I put everything else to the side which I’m very happy about today, it’s the best choice I’ve made in my life. Actually, it wasn’t even a choice, it was an obvious thing to do.”
”When my mother was getting worse she told me and my siblings that we can never forget about each other when she’s not around anymore, that we must always take care of each other and stick together. It is my family that gives me strength. Every person has his own way to charge the batteries, some talk a walk in the woods, I spend time with my family. Recently, my siblings started to spread out over the globe so unfortunately we can’t meet as often anymore. Two of my sisters live in London, my brother moved to San Diego and my big sister got married. But we still talk every or every second day on Facetime and we also have a group chat where we talk and make fun of each other. I live at home with my dad which works great for me, we get along very well.
Frantz explains that the family members have reacted differently on his fighting. “My siblings have always watched my fights, they think it’s fun. Mom never dared to watch, she was too worried. Even when I tried to show her a fight on Youtube she closed her eyes. My dad thought I was stupid to put my time on fighting, but at the same time he was the one calling every relative all over the world when I succeeded. I have a huge number of cousins so you can imagine the phone bill we got! As soon as something is published about me he shares it on his Facebook. You can tell that he’s proud of me now, he says that everybody knows who I am and asks for me. He always wants to know when my next interview is, even if he doesn’t understand much Swedish he wants to know.” Frantz laughs and says that most probably it’s just because he wants something to post on Facebook, but he also confesses that his father is a big support for him.
TUF – The Ultimate Fighter
After his professional debut in Finland Frantz had four more fights and managed to keep his perfect record with zero losses. The wins came at Battle of Botnia in Umeå against British Paul Croft via TKO and at The Zone in Gothenburg against Rami Aziz and Rafael Macedo via decision. The plan was to take another fight in Russia but due some issues with the arrangement they decided to pass and instead look forward to the next opportunity. It turned out that the next step would change his career.
”I FELT THAT I WAS SCREWED, THAT I LOST MY CHANCE!”
”My brother had moved to the US and was getting married. It turned out that his wedding was just one week before the tryouts for UFC’s reality show The Ultimate Fighter –TUF. My manager said that if I’m travelling all the way for the wedding, why not also go to the tryouts? We filled out the registration form and I took the flight to the US west coast. After the wedding I went on an eight hour bus trip to Las Vegas and got picked up by my uncle who live there. According to the official information the tryouts would start at 8 o’clock but my two friends who were also going called me and said that we’d have to be there at 6 o’clock as there would be so much people. I decided to take it easy and not listen to them. The next morning I woke up around 7 AM and had a cup of coffee and relaxed. Time passed and I started to wonder where my uncle was as he had promised to drive me to the tryouts. Eventually I didn’t have much time and I found him still sleeping in his bed! I woke him up and was getting really stressed out and wasn’t sure I was going to make it on time. After what felt like an eternity we finally got there and my stress level skyrocketed when I saw the amount of people. Imagine the premier opening of a new roller coaster at the amusement park Gröna Lund in Stockholm. This queue to the registration counter was twice twice the size of that! I knew that they had a limit for how many they would accept for the tryouts and if you’re on the wrong side of the limit you’re going home. I felt that I was screwed, that I lost my chance! Anyway, I took my bag and ran in and suddenly I saw my saviour. At the top of the queue I see David [Teymur], my good friend from Botkyrka and Allstars. He was first in line and was just about to hand in his registration forms. I ran up to him and pretended that I would give him my bag, I cut in line and managed to get registered. I could finally breath again.”
As if this start of the adventure wasn’t enough, the next problem came up for Frantz short after. He realized he had forgotten his passport at his uncle’s place and the staff was insisting that he had to show ID or else they wouldn’t let him proceed. After a long discussion, one of the producers approached to talk to him. With a little bit of charm he managed to convince the producer that they could solve the ID question later and he was finally approved for the first stage of the tryouts: grappling. “The matchmakers of the UFC, Joe Silva and Sean Shelby, were standing in there shouting out names of the people who were going to wrestle each other. They checked that your grappling level was okay, and if you were sufficiently good you proceeded to the next stage which was stand up fighting, i.e. punching and kicking pads. Then the final and most difficult stage came: the interview. I came in to a small room with a round table. Five or six producers were sitting by the table and three big cameras were pointed towards me. I can’t remember everything they asked but I remember that one question was about politics. I looked at them with a serious face and said that if they’re looking after someone who wants to sit and discuss politics they found the wrong guy, I’m here to fight and show my skills in the cage! It made them laugh and shortly after they told me we were done. I was super nervous, it felt like they might have ended the interview too soon, I think only a minute or so passed. Now we had to wait about five hours before we got the information about who had been selected for the show. The waiting was terrible, but when it was time they called out the first name: FRANTZ SLIOA! I started screaming and jumping, I couldn’t believe it. We stayed another week for medical checks and then went back home to wait for the message telling us when the shooting would start.”
A few weeks later Frantz receives a flight ticket in his inbox and it’s time to shoot the first episode. For all of you who haven’t seen the show, the first episode is all elimination fights which means that half of the fighters proceed to the house and the other half goes home. In front of the cage where they fight is a table where UFC’s CEO Dana White is sitting together with the two head coaches of the season. This year it was the MMA veteran Urijah Faber and UFC’s superstar Conor McGregor. To have them watching you from front row probably didn’t bring any less pressure. “I was super nervous because Dana was there to watch us, it’s well known that he hates boring fighters so there was a huge pressure to perform on top. But regardless of the circumstances, when I go in to the cage I let go of everything. All nervousness just runs off me, I know exactly what to do and I shut everything else out. In my elimination fight I faced Martin Delaney from Scotland with a record of 10-1. He knocked me down with a clean uppercut and everything turned black. That could have been the end of it for me, but in some strange way my body turned on autopilot and continued. I can’t remember anything of how it happened but when I woke up I had a perfect choke and he tapped out. I realized what it meant and the joy got me running straight up to Dana and just scream out of happiness!”
The contenders who won their fights where divided into two teams, Team USA with Faber as coach and Team Europe with McGregor. Team Europe had in total nine fighters from seven different countries, and three of them were Swedish. “I knew David since way back and it was really nice to have a good friend in there. I didn’t know Martin [Svensson] but we got to know each other quickly and got along great. It felt good to be able to speak Swedish in the house, even though the producers didn’t like it much. They told us that the show wouldn’t have subtitles so the more Swedish we talked the less Sweden would see of us. But it just didn’t feel natural to speak English with someone you know speaks Swedish, so you automatically switch to your common language.”
”The stay in the house was tough. The biggest challenge for me was to not have any contact with my family. The first thing they did when we landed in Las Vegas one week before the show was to take our cell phones. Everything around the program is very secret so we couldn’t have any contact with other people. The elimination fights were in July and my family knew that if you lose you go home the next day, but I told them that we won’t speak until the end of August because I know I’m getting into the house. We were lucky to have such a good atmosphere in Team Europe, it made everything a lot easier for all of us. We still have contact, everybody from the team. They’re good contacts to have and several of them said they’d like to come to Sweden to train.”
”I CAN ASSURE YOU THAT CONOR IS EXACTLY LIKE HE SEEMS TO BE, JUST AS COCKY AND WITH NO FILTER WHATSOEVER”
In every episode two contenders face off in a fight, one from each team. Frantz’s turn came already in the second episode and he faced the American leg lock specialist Ryan Hall. “My team mates had told me that Ryan is one of the best grapplers in the world and that leg locks is his speciality. I thought about it all the time and focused on not letting him get a chance to use it. I felt that he didn’t have much in the stand up game, but because I was only thinking about what he would do I lost focus on myself. A bit into the fight we ended up on the ground and he pulled off the leg lock and the game was over.” I can imagine that a loss must be devastating when you’ve come so far, but Frantz doesn’t see it that way. “To me it’s not a loss, I see it as a lesson. The lesson was to never think about what my opponent will do but instead focus only on my own game. Of course I’m disappointed, but I spoke to Conor afterwards and he said that in his eyes I didn’t get beaten, I was caught. That felt good to hear and he encouraged me to just move on. Also, I saw the whole participation in TUF as a huge experience and to get the chance to train with Conor and his coaches was extremely rewarding. I can tell you that Conor is exactly like he seems to be on TV, just as cocky and speaks with no filters at all. He will always say exactly what he thinks, that’s just the way he is. Everybody on our team liked him, he was always funny and added a lot to the show.”
Before TUF, Frantz was a promising fighter on his way up, but when the first episode of the show aired he became a celebrity in the MMA world over the night, and he doesn’t seem to mind. “People recognize me now and many of them come up to say hi. I love when people come up to me like that, to me it’s a kind of acknowledgement for what I’ve accomplished. I’ve got a lot of new fans in Australia and in the US, mainly Assyrians who started to follow my career. I receive so many messages I haven’t even had time to read all of them. My friends are very happy for me as they know how much I’ve fought over the years to get to where I am now.”
Training, diet and other stuff
Allstars Training Center is located in Vasastan in Stockholm and it’s Sweden’s most famous martial arts gym with the superstar Alexander Gustafsson as front figure. Frantz moved from Hilti to Allstars when it opened three years ago. “I’m not sure what caused it but suddenly all fighters moved to Allstars. It’s wonderful to train here, we have a bullet proof team. Now I can get all my training at the same place which is a big difference to how it was before. Then I had to travel around depending on what I needed to train. If it was wrestling I had to go to one place and if it was boxing it was another one. Now I always come to the same place and I have everything here. Normally I have two workouts per day, that’s the schedule I have to follow. If I have a fight coming up my coach will add two sessions during the week. On Saturdays I only have one workout, mostly sprints or cardio. Sundays are my resting days and then everything starts again Monday morning.”
“I don’t want to think about how to train. I’m a fighter, not a coach, so I let them put together a good schedule for me and then I just go with it. The training is of course different depending on the opponent I’ll face. If it’s a wrestler we’ll put in more wrestling sessions, e.g. sparring with wrestlers who focus on trying to take me down. It doesn’t work to fight a wrestler if you only prepared with thaiboxing. The wrestling makes you extremely tired so you have to get used to the grind before the fight.”
There are many parts to think about for a fighter besides the actual fighting. It’s often difficult to get the economy to go around and you also have to handle PR, media, contracts and fight planning. These are parts that Frantz happily lets other people worry about. “Manos [Terzitane] arranges the fights, I’ve known him for many years. Tomas [Ghassemi] handles PR, contract and sponsors. The cooperation works great and they’re really doing an amazing job!”
“It hasn’t always been easy with the economy, I’ve had to be careful with money, but now I’m used to it. For example, this weekend I won’t go out to party. This week I won’t go shopping. I used to only need a metro card to be fine. From being in TUF I got some money so I’m doing alright now, but I still prefer a gaming night at my place more than going out to a club. My dad says he doesn’t want me to pay rent as long as I’m working hard to reach my dream. I used to get some money from sponsors but now I’ve reached a new level so we’ll see how it will work with new sponsors for now on, Tomas is handling that part.”
”TO BE HONEST I THINK I’M TOO LAZY TO KEEP TRACK OF ALL THE SUPPLEMENTS”
”When it comes to weight I’ve had all my fights outside TUF at 66 kg and I’ve had to cut about 10 kg. I’ve gained quite a lot of weight now and whey like 80 kg so I’m thinking about changing to fight at 70 kg like I did in the TUF house. I haven’t decided yet, just thinking about it. Anyway, I’m handling my diet by myself. I know my body very well by now so I know what to eat and what to avoid. I’m lucky to never have had problems with my weight, I lose my kilos easily when I workout 2-3 times per day. When I’m preparing for a fight I have Saturdays as my eating days. Then I can eat whatever I want, kebab is standard with oriental and garlic sauce! I’ve not used supplements up until just recently when I started to take amino acids during and after training. To be honest I think I’m too lazy to keep track of all the supplements, plus I haven’t really felt any difference the few times I’ve tried. As a result I’ve always preferred real food instead, that’s the best in my opinion. A classic dish is chicken breast in the oven without anything else. All you need is a glass of water so that you manage to swallow the pieces!”
”IF YOU’RE NOT MENTALLY STRONG I DON’T THINK YOU BELONG IN THE CAGE”
Behind his fit physique Frantz possesses a big mental strength, which to him is something that you have to have. “If you’re not mentally strong I don’t think you belong in the cage. You really have to have this quality and I think I do. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been very competitive. I was always determined not to lose, even if it was just a game. Then you also need to have good discipline to get through all the training. If you miss one training session because you preferred to stay in bed and sleep you lose much more that just that session. Your mind needs all the training to become strong so that when you enter the cage you know how much you’ve sacrificed, how much time and effort you’ve put in to it. The worst scenario would be to know that you’ve cheated with the training to sleep instead. Of course there are times when I hate coming to the gym, especially when I prepare for a fight. When I come in and see the blue canvas I just want to get out of here as fast as I can. No one has said that this is an easy business, if it was everybody would do it. But still, the best feeling you have after a tough workout, I can’t even describe that feeling but it’s the best one in the world!”
By the end of the interview I’m trying to get a picture of how Frantz sees his future, but he can’t give many answers. It seems like he’s just not thinking in that way. “When I was younger I could think a lot about where I would be in three years from now for example, but not anymore. My goal has always been to get to the top of the UFC and I know I will get there, I just don’t know how much time it will take. I can also not think about what will happened after my fighting career. To be honest I can’t even see that day ever coming. I’m here right now with all my focus and I‘m not paying any thoughts to what will happened later. All I need to know is that I will succeed!”
As a final point I’m trying to find out if Frantz has any upcoming fight scheduled but on that topic he can’t say anything at all. “I just can’t answer, I cannot confirm anything. I know I may sound like a jerk, and that’s not my intention but I’m not allowed to say anything about it. But trust me, everybody who follows me will get to know.” The only thing we can know for sure is that we will see him for the rest of the season in The Ultimate Fighter, already next Thursday when the next episode is out.
FighterInterviews wishes Frantz Slioa good luck in his upcoming fights and looks forward to follow his trip towards the top!