On this past Wednesday’s Fight Master: Bellator MMA, the show’s preliminary bouts continued for the second week. The final bout of the episode featured a matchup of American Top Team teammates Steve Montgomery and Cristiano Souza that saw Souza defeat his teammate in violent fashion.
Neither fighter was happy about the matchup, with Souza appearing distraught on camera following the bout. MMAFrenzy recently spoke with Montgomery about the frustrating pairing, what he has been doing since his brief stint on the show, his future, and more.
What happened prior to your fight with Souza?
“I thought Fight Master did a good job of showing what happened for the time they had, especially with Cristiano questioning why we had to fight so early with so many other guys there. The thing that made it so awkward to fight each other is that we knew we were going on the show eight weeks prior to filming. So there were three other guys from our gym that were also training for the show, including my roommate, so we camped together and trained together. We had a game plan of trying to get on the show and try to land on the same team.
Only Cristiano and I ended up on the show, and had trained and fought together for nearly four years. So we were pretty close friends and basically I was fired up for the show. I’d fought prior to the show, so I basically had 16-weeks of straight training going into the show. So I am pretty ready to go by this point but then I find out I am fighting my teammate.
So we went to [Bellator matchmaker] Sam Caplan, and we were arguing with him asking to fight anyone else on the show. I even asked for Joe Riggs, and I told [Caplan] ‘Let me fight Riggs, I’m a 3-2 fighter and you want him to win to get into the house, so let him fight the worst fighter on the show, let him fight me.’ They wouldn’t let it happen and gave us some excuse about the how the [Louisiana] Athletic Commission could not let them change it but then they changed up Riggs’ matchup at the last minute so they lied to me.
I don’t know if they did it to create extra drama, and I thought it was kind of stupid in general. I thought it would have been a better story to have two teammates on the show, and maybe we would have to fight later in the house but it would not have been for free.
We were both pretty unhappy with it and were talking about it up to ten minutes before the fight. It was the most surreal situation I have ever done, especially to have it be my national television debut and to have [my debut] be against a good friend of mine. I should have known he was going to out to throw some hands and bring the fight, I just kept questioning myself as to what I should do.
But it was a learning experience and to be honest I was glad to be freed from my contract after that. That way I can keep doing what I was doing before [the show] which is trying to get to the UFC and getting my name out there.”
When did you two find out you would be fighting each other?
“We found out at weigh-ins. The weigh-ins were at midday on Friday and then we fought around 10:30-11AM on Saturday. So it was so weird to find out then. If you had seen the weigh-ins, I was standing on the side with a group of about ten guys and I was sure one of them was going to be my opponent. Me and Cristiano were elated to be fighting on the same day and to get into the house and settle in and have the whole weekend to relax while the other guys were fighting.
Then they called him up on the scale, and then called my name, and my posture went from being like a caged animal to being completely broken in like half a second. It was just a very surreal experience. I mean it is what it is and part of fighting is facing your demons.”
What did you learn/take away from that experience?
“More than enough. I fought April 27, because I was able to get out of my Bellator contract, and I never felt so mentally prepared. It changed my entire mindset and not just in fighting either. It changed a lot of things for the better.”
Your manager mentioned that you had been offered another bout by Bellator following the experience. What happened with that offer?
“Well basically, and I can’t give all the details because there was a lot to it, after the fight announcement me and ‘Soldier’ went to Caplan and argued with him about changing the matchup. Throughout the day after the weigh-in, when we were replenishing, we had to do a lot of filming. So Caplan and everyone else was just telling me to ‘man up,’ that this was my one opportunity, etc. And my thought was ‘Yeah, but you’re asking me to take it from a friend that I just spent eight weeks training and exchanging game plans with up to the plane here.’ They would not see it from my point of view and I don’t know why.
After the fight, I guess a lot of people (i.e. other fighters, Spike officials, etc.) were pissed about how it went, and the producers did not seem happy with the matchup in general. Maybe they were, but they were keeping it from me. [However] they did not seem very happy with it, so after I lost Caplan came back to the locker room and told ‘we will have you back, etc’ and I told him I needed to be on a card before the summertime (for financial reasons). It was February at that time and he never promised me anything but told me ‘We’ll see what we can do.’
A couple of weeks later, my manager called me and told me about the Summer Series closing up and that they didn’t have any space for me so it wouldn’t be til September. So they offered me a release from my contract and said they would have me back for September too, but honestly, I was looking elsewhere. If they offer me a good fight in a good location, I will go fight for it but I am not looking to sign any long-term contracts or anything like that. I have a couple of offers from other shows that could be just as good. I am only 22-years old definitely looking to make it to the top. I’m going to make this work.”
What is next for you? You said you fought on April 27, how did it go?
“I won my [April 27] fight in a minute, I came in 3-2 and fought a guy who was at 4-1. He was a tough guy from Tennessee and I took him down in ten seconds and ended up taking his back. I tried a flying triangle and ended up turning it into an armbar, so I had a really good victory in my last fight. I really enjoyed it, and like I said earlier, my mindset was totally different. It was a great way to come back from such a weird thing in February.
Now I’m looking to for a fight, maybe something with CFA [AXS.tv-aired Championship Fighting Alliance]. Also some local shows. My manager, Ryan Hayes, is really good about that and is looking to find me a fight in July or August.
I am working on a web series right now with 20-minute episodes about fight life in south Florida in general. I train with some of the best fighters in the world, there’s just so many guys I see on a daily basis and I have gotten a lot of footage of workouts and hanging out. So I am looking to show a behind-the-scenes look at what it is actually like to drop everything to become a full-time fighter in south Florida. I am looking to turn that into a web series and we have a great idea for a website too.
So basically I am working hard and looking for more exposure and getting better all the time.”
Which location of American Top Team are you at? I know there are several, including the main Coconut Creek location.
“Yeah I am at Coconut Creek but I also train with a lot of different Top Team’s in the area. In September of last year, I don’t train with them regularly, but I got to with my teammate Micah Miller to stay with Nate Diaz and train with them for a few days. Really got some great boxing and jiu-jitsu training, and got to meet a lot of cool people. So I train with a lot of camps but ATT is my home and my family away from my family in South Carolina.”
Anything else you would add about your experience on Fight Master?
“Yeah, I would like to say it really was a positive. At first I had a lot of bad feels and hit a huge wall over the people that put me in position to fight such a good friend of mine. But now I don’t care, and don’t focus on the negative but I look at the positive aspects regardless of how I felt, I guess, exploited by having to fight a friend for free. Either way, it taught me so much about not just the fight game but life in general. It made me a way better person, so I just focus on the positive.
I saw the fight last night and ‘Soldier’ got me. I will say this, he hit me more times than I realized. In the fight, I woke up in half guard trying to defend myself and I thought I had not been that much, so I was like ‘why did they stop it?’ They asked me where I was and I was just like ‘I am in New Orleans!’ But [after seeing it] it was a good stoppage and my boy looked good dropping me, it looked pretty sick. Props to my boy, ‘Soldier’ because he really is the man.
So I just focus on the positive and I know good things are coming my way. Only way to prove it is to do it and it will be fun to see where we are in five years.”
So your stint on the show really has ended up turning into a positive for you despite having to fight a teammate?
“Yeah, like I said, we had talked about fighting in the house. Basically, if we had both gotten on the television show and had our time to get the exposure and the marketing – I mean that’s mostly what you get as a fighter on these shows, name recognition and experience – so if we were in position where we had to fight each other (which would have been unlikely since you get to choose your opponent), I would have been like ‘screw it!’ and just handled business, and probably had fun with it.
It would have still sucked, but having a couple of days instead of hours, it’d been totally different. It would have much easier than what we had to do, which was take away each other’s dream after training together for eight weeks and really trying to make each other better, he even helped me out for my last fight. So if we’d had to do it for money or after we’d been in the show it’d been easier.
That said, later on, I saw a lot of benefits from the show. I can’t describe how much it mentally changed me in a positive way. It all helped take me to the next level no matter how brutal of a loss it was.
I think the show summed [the situation] up, but a lot had to cut a lot for TV time. Let me tell you, if they had filmed a lot of what was going on in the background it would have been one of the greatest TV shows you’d ever see. As much as I was wanted to do to someone what ‘Soldier’ did to me, these guys were so unbelievably funny. I could not stop laughing the entire time, some of the dudes on the show were so cool. I mean we’re all in this situation together back at the house/gym and these guys are just cracking me up. If they had filmed the things that went on behind-the-scenes, it would probably do three times the ratings of Fight Master. The guys on the show were real cool people and if it doesn’t show on the show, they’re missing out on an opportunity.”
You can follow Steve “The Weasel” Montgomery at @WeaselSteve and be sure to check out the link to his YouTube series in the article. Fight Master: Bellator MMA airs each Wednesday at 10PM on SpikeTV.