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Bummed Out and Hungry: An Interview With Team Alpha Male’s Andre Fili

Fightland Blog

By Andreas Brauning

Photos by Andreas Brauning and Justin Staple

I first met Andre Fili—self-proclaimed comic book nerd, pizza obssessive and bummer punk—when Fightland took a quick two-day trip to Sacramento, California, to meet the young and rising strawweight “12 Gauge” Paige VanZant. It was a beautiful Monday—the air was brisk and the sun lathered itself all over the City of Trees like a lazy lover. We spent the day at Urijah’s Ultimate Fitness gym, where we ran into Joe Benavidez, Chad Mendes, Clay Guida, Danny Castillo and even TJ Dillashaw, who were rad dudes and gave us a truly warm and friendly welcome. It’s no surprise why Team Alpha Male is so popular.

After spending a lot of the day observing their training we took a break to have dinner and then headed to catch up with Paige during her nightly crossfit session at Sacramento’s MVMNT gym.

It was a group of six or seven—including Paige and Andre—who were training that evening. Fili was by far the most rambunctious and annoying of the squad, running around, making jokes and fucking off at every chance he had. Anyway, even if he fucked around in the gym, he still trained hard, and he was blasting Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late through the gym’s sound system. Anyone who fucks with Drake has homie-potential in my book. My buddy who was with me kept being like, “damn this kid keeps getting in my shot.” I told him to just work around him and to just take the loud AF verses from “Star67” in.

The next day we met up with him at his house. He told us about his music tastes and we were kind of blown away. A fan of what Fili calls “bummer punk” myself—the kind of melancholy tunes made by the Kinsella brothers in American Football or Cap’n Jazz, and currently bands like Snowing or Midwest Pen Pals—I was intrigued by what else this kid had to offer beside being one of the most fire up-and-coming fighters in the UFC.

We grabbed lunch with him and a few of his boys. He ordered a salad and a side of sweet potato fries, telling me to not tell anyone because he’s supposed to be cutting weight.

Fili and his boys have the swagger of kids who know what’s going on and the same sensibilities of intelligent young people who are aware of the world. I couldn’t help but think of them as Sac Town’s own October’s Very Own crew, with Fili as the fight game’s own Drizzy Drake, a label Fili really took a liking to when we spoke on the phone over the last couple of weeks.

When I last spoke to “Touchy” Fili on the phone, he was two weeks away from heading to Rio de Janeiro, host city of this weekend’s upcoming Fight Night, which features a main event between middleweights Demian Maia and Ryan LaFlare.

At 24-years-old, Fili has fought a shit ton. Taking on Brazilian Godofredo Pepey in the main card this weekend, this is going to be Fili’s fourth appearance under the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s banner, but his 17th professional fight. And some record this dude’s amassed: out of 16 fights, he’s won 14, and of those 14 wins, only 4 of them went to decision. He’s finished seven of his opponents by knockout and three by submission.

With only two losses in his record, his first one came at the hands of Strikeforce veteran Derrick Burnsed on technical knockout because Touchy’s knee got dislocated in the fifth round of what was his first ever title fight—a contest for the Rebel Fighter featherweight strap. That night was when he first approached Urijah Faber about his dream of joining the ranks of Team Alpha Male—arguably the best lighter weight camp in the entire world, opposite, of course, Brazil’s Nova União.

Fili’s second loss came at the hands of Hawaiian featherweight Max Holloway. Max Holloway is a great fighter, but if you saw that fight, you know that had that fight gone to the judges’ decision, the win would’ve been Fili’s. Fili was dominating his opponent throughout the fight. Even Holloway’s admitted to that. But Fili slipped up and Holloway got the in to submit Fili with a guillotine choke.

Fili is part of what he calls the “New Breed” of Team Alpha Male. According to him, “we’re not that short, we’re covered in tattoos and we’re hungry to make a name for ourselves. There’s a new breed of Alpha Male coming up that people aren’t ready for.”

Over the phone last week, I caught up with Fili about what’s been going on with him before his fight versus Pepey. We talked about how he got into mixed martial arts, emotional hardcore, more Drake, and what he’s going to do after fighting this weekend. Get to know this guy.

Fightland: What’s up dude? How’ve you been since we last spoke?
Andre Fili: Getting excited. Doing well. Last couple of weeks I’ve been training. Obviously I know I got a fight coming up, but it starts feeling more real two weeks out. 

I’ve been putting a lot of work into getting my weight down, I feel good, man, just getting ready to go. Training my ass off. I wanna get to Brazil and beat this dude up, come home and celebrate with my boys.

What do you think of this Godofredo Pepey guy?
Pepey’s got a crazy style, so I've been really just working to get ready for that. He’s crazy, he’ll throw, like, these big crazy, looping punches. Like, he’ll throw crazy overhands to hooks, like a big, wide hook. He’ll throw big crazy overhands, big hook, flying knee, then he’ll jump into full guard. He’s all over the place. Crazy motherfucker. So I’m just getting prepared for a wild, crazy, unorthodox guy. 

The UFC posted on their website that this is one of the top ten fights to watch in march, I was really stoked on that.

What are you trying to accomplish with this fight?
I wanna climb the ranks. I believe I’m one of the best 145ers in the world. I want to prove that. I dropped the ball when I fought Holloway. I just wanna prove that I deserve to be a top ten fighter, a top five fighter.

What happened against Max Holloway? I feel like you had that fight going your way until he got that guillotine in.
I got a lot of love for Holloway. If Holloway fights anyone besides me or one of my teammates, I got love for Holloway. He’s an awesome dude. I support his career all the way. He’s a cool ass dude, so I’m not like bitter or anything. But I definitely feel like I’ve got some things to prove. I definitely got a lot of things to prove to myself, to prove to other people.

What’s going on at Team Alpha Male lately?
Man, everyone’s been doing good. We’ve had a lot of local fights recently. I actually do the commentary for West Coast Fighting. I’m like the Joe Rogan of West Coast Fighting. I do the commentary, I do the post fight interviews. It’s a really cool experience to be able to do commentary and then go in and interview fighters. A couple of my boys won titles. The room is electric right now, a lot of people fighting, staying busy. Team Alpha Male always supports each other and feels good to feel like you have an army behind you. It’s something I’m super thankful for.

Tell me about this new Team Alpha Male breed. The team’s grown a lot lately.
The new breed of Alpha Male, man, we’re different. We’re not that short, we’re covered in tattoos and we’re hungry to make a name for ourselves. There’s a new breed of Alpha Male coming up that people aren’t ready for. There’s guy’s in the UFC like me, Chris Holdsworth and a lot of young dudes. Paige Van Zant is killing it right now. And there’s guys people haven’t even heard of yet. My roommate Anthony Avila, my buddy Eric Sanchez, so many guys, even guys younger than that. We got a couple of dudes who’re 18, 19 years old in the room, and they’re banging and sparring and putting in work since they were 13. We’re in the middle of building a dynasty right now, we’re the second generation of this team, and I’m glad to carry on this lineage.

How did you first get involved with Team Alpha Male. How did you meet Urijah?
I fought another Alpha Male guy and ended up losing that fight. That was my first loss. My knee dislocated in the fifth round. It was my first title fight, and my knee dislocated and I lost. I actually saw Urijah backstage and I told him then “I’ve always wanted to train with you, and I’ve always wanted to fight in front of you. I want to come train with you guys. It’s been a dream of mine to be in the team. Growing up in the Sacramento area, I’ve always wanted to train with you guys.” A week later I got the invite to come train, and that was that. To be honest, man, the transition wasn’t really that smooth. When I first got to Team Alpha Male I was still kind of fucking up, man I was on house arrest so I had an ankle monitor on. I could only leave my house to go train because my probation officer let me consider that my job, so I would have to go to work, which was training, then come home. I told Team Alpha Male, “I got this ankle monitor on, I’m fucking on probation, I just got arrested, I’m partying all the time. I’m just a punk ass kid.” It probably took a year of transitioning into the kind of lifestyle that guys in Team Alpha Male lived. I went from training three times a week, not really taking it seriously, to training three times a day and making it my whole lifestyle.

What did you get in trouble for?
Me and my boy Smokey Jones, we beat some dudes up. We had some problems with these kids, like, local small town beef. We found out where they were and showed up and there was an altercation, and that was that. It happened inside of a gym—they were all playing basketball—and we called them off the court and shit cracked off and they told the police on us and there was a bunch of video cameras. They tried to give us felonies for it. It was actually turned into a bigger deal than it should have. But that was just kinda how we grew up, man. Me and Smokey Jones and my boy Uncle Ray, you know, we all just kinda grew up rough. We had a crew of kids that we all grew up together with. We all been drinking since we were 13 and we always just looked out for each other, and kind of got in trouble and ended up in situations. That was sort of the end of it. I got arrested, it kinda prompted me to make the change, like, “OK. You can keep being arrested and you keep being a fuck up and, you know, being mediocre. Or you can make fighting a priority and really make this happen.”

What was growing up in Sacramento like?
I actually moved from around Seattle when I was young, to a really small town outside of Sacramento, and I was from a bigger city and got moved to a small town. Me and a bunch of other kids, a lot of my friends moved from the Bay Area to the same small town so we kind of cliqued up. I was really into all kinds of stuff. I’m really into comic books and music. Music is a huge part of my life. I was a huge hip hop head. When I was younger I loved hip hop. Me and my friends actually rapped and recorded and made mixtapes. Hip hop was a huge part of my life growing up. As I got older I started getting into a lot of hardcore and punk stuff. And now that’s a big part of my life as well. Music has always been a huge part of my life that I really enjoy. I like performing, I’ve been in a couple of bands. Me and my friends perform at local venues around Sacramento, put on shows and stuff, which is a nice change-up from fighting.

What do you have planned for after your fight with Pepey?
After this fight [against Pepey] I’ll have more time to focus on music. I got a couple of projects I’m working on. Me and my boys are working on a 90s-influenced emo project and I also have a project that I’m working on with one of my best friends. It sounds kind of like Rage Against the Machine with breakdowns. I’m really excited about that. It’s going to be like, aggressive hip hop, with punk breakdowns, it’s going to be pretty sick. I’m really excited. I’m not really sure what we’re calling these projects. We’ve just been jamming and writing. We have one song almost done. We’re still working on a name. There Will Be Blood is like, my favorite movie of all time, I kind of want to call the Rage Against the Machine project “The Bandy Tract”. That’s not anything set in stone, though. I’m so focused on this fight that I haven’t had a chance to think about it.

Dude, I just missed a show last night because I’m getting ready for this fight. Rotting Out and Expired played last night. I fucking really dig Expired, and I obviously love Rotting Out, man, and I missed that show. Suburban Scum was on that show also. I didn’t get to get to the show because I was cutting weight and training.

Is it hard to stay focused?
It is, man, because my friends are going out and doing all this rad shit and I gotta stay close to home. I gotta eat every two hours, I gotta stay focused on the fight, I gotta watch everything I eat, I gotta get my three training sessions in a day. When I get closer to a fight I get kinda weird. I get less social, I want to be left alone and shit. My mind’s just completely focused on the fight, you know? I’m not obsessing over the fight, but I’m staying focused on it. That kind of supersedes all this other shit that I want to do. I gotta just kinda fall back and keep my eye on the prize. It just motivates me. I hold on to that. I’ve missed out on so many things. Last summer I got all my friends to plan this road trip to go to Rock the Bells, and I was the one pushing us to get tickets, getting all the boys to go down to SoCal, like, we were gonna have this amazing trip. Then I got booked for a fight and they all went and I didn’t get to go. I hold on to stuff like that. That drives me. I’m fighting for my life. I’ve given up experiences with my friends and my family. You know, even little things like my friends going out to eat or going out to dinner, kicking it and having some beers—I can’t do that, and I hold on to that. I bring that into the fight with me. I’ve given up so much for fighting that I’m gonna put on a show, a performance for people.

The last really rad shit I did was probably last Saturday. I was doing commentary for West Coast Fighting, which is a local show here in Sac, and I had a bunch of homies on the card and Team Alpha Male won like, four belts on the card. We all went out to this club called The Park. And I’m not really a club guy but I do like The Park, we just had a good time, everyone was kicking it. It was cool to see everyone. It was really cool to see all the guys be successful. And then we brought the party back, because I live in Midtown close to the clubs and shit, so we brought the party back to my place and everyone was chilling. I went to bed pretty early, but just being able to be around all the homies. My friends are my family. I already got plenty of stuff planned for after the fight.

I’m going to Brazil, which is already cool enough. I’m going to beat Godofredo Pepey up and come home on Sunday—we have a tradition after every fight—we have a big family dinner with all my friends and we order way too much food and just devour it. On Tuesday I’m gonna get tattooed, and Wednesday I head down to L.A. to party and kick it and bullshit with my boys down at VICE!

You guys are like the Sacramento OVO. You’re like the fight game’s Drizzy Drake. You fuck with If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late?
People were kinda hating on it but I don’t know, I respected it a lot. You look at it, the motherfucker already went gold—it was supposed to be just, like, a mixtape but he made it into an album so that he could get out of his contract. That was his last contractual album on Cash Money, so he turned this mixtape into an album and went gold off a bunch of mixtape throwaway songs that he doesn’t give a fuck about anyway. He has a couple of straight classics on there in my opinion, there’s some good ass songs in there. And he’s probably going to release something on OVO pretty soon. People hate on Drake, dude, but I think if you hate on Drake that says more about you than it says about him. I love that line that says something like he doesn’t make music for dudes who don’t get pussy, so that’s the ones he expect to hate and overlook him. Like, if you hate on Drake, it’s probably because you don’t interact with women and you don’t keep it real. That’s how I feel about it. People can hate on Drake all they want, but I think Drake is special.

What else have you been listening to?
I’ve been jamming a lot of emo shit. Like a lot of emotional hardcore shit, a lot bummer punk shit. I don’t like saying emo because the word’s been misused so much. A lot of like Camping in Alaska. I love Snowing, I love Dikembe, man. I’ve been jamming to their newer shit and then I went back to that Broad Shoulder EP. Dude. I thought I’d heard all of that EP, but there’s a song I’d never heard for some reason. It’s called Librarians Kill For This Kind of Quiet. Bro. I was like how the fuck did I not hear this before. That song’s been stuck in my head for a fucking week straight. I also really fuck with Midwest Pen Pals, Merchant Ships and Park Jefferson. That’s like, all the same kids from the same area, and I fucking love it. Anything Jack Senff does—Jack Senff is the dude from Midwest Pen Pals, and he’s been in a bunch of other emo bands and, like, dude. 98% of the world probably doesn’t know who he is, but to me, he’s my favorite male vocalist, probably ever. I don’t think I’ve ever connected with anyone else’s music like I’ve connected with that dude’s music. If Jack Senff ever reads this interview, I hope he fucking knows: he’s my non-sexual male crush. You know when you just idolize a musician? He’s that guy for me. He’s like the only musician I idolize. If you’re reading this, I hope you know how much your music means to me. Something about that guy’s vocals, dude, they just speak to me.

Go listen to the Inside Jokes EP by Midwest Pen Pals. I could listen to that whole EP the whole way through, every fucking day. That shit is like the definition of the type of music that I would like to make.

There isn’t a better feeling than finding a new band, and being like “oh fuck, these guys. These guys are the shit. How did not hear these guys before? I got to tell everybody about these guys.” I’m that guy, I’m that annoying guy that’s always like “yo, have you heard these guys? Have you heard these guys?” All my friends don’t listen to the same music as me, so they’re just like “dude we don’t give a fuck.” All my friends are like big hip hop heads, so they’re always just like, “dude we don’t want to hear your bummer ass shit.”

What about that style of music attracted you to it?
I don’t know, man. I think it’s because I was really angry, really sad as a kid. I’m still kind of that way today, I have a lot of things…There’s a lot of feelings that I have and stuff that I think I used to express through hip hop. I used to be able to relate to hip hop artists and then I kind of found punk, more hardcore, angrier punk music. At the time in my life when I found that music I was like, “oh shit.” In the same way hip hop spoke to me when I was younger, this stuff spoke to me when I was older. This is how I feel, you know? I’m almost in my mid-twenties, and all this bummer punk shit, the more mellow, sad, melodic, introspective stuff—it’s how I feel, it just speaks to me. I feel a certain way that I think a lot of people might not feel. I’m angry and I’m sad a lot, it’s just how it’s always been. It’s easily relatable to me. It’s not for everybody. Most people hear it and they don’t like it and they can’t relate to it. But to me it speaks volumes. It’s just really important to me. I already told you, music is really important to me. When I found this hardcore, bummer punk it was exactly what I needed. I fucking love it, man. I still love hip hop and shit. If I’m just chilling, though, bummer punk is almost always the first thing that comes on. When I’m feeling bummed out, or feeling a certain way, I don’t wanna hear how good someone’s doing. I don’t want to hear a hip hop artist talk about how well he’s doing when I’m feeling down. I want to hear someone else convey the emotions that I’m feeling. It makes you feel—I don’t wanna sound corny—but it makes you feel less sad, to hear somebody else feel sad. It makes you feel less lonely to hear someone talk about being lonely. It’s a whole world of people who feel that way, even if it’s a small group of people who make this music, who listen to this music, at least we share that with them.

Do you know what you’re going to walk out to on this upcoming fight?
For whatever reason, I thought it would be dope to walk out to “Under Pressure”. People will know exactly what it is. People will vibe to that shit. Or Tupac’s “Troublesome”. Let that shit be known that I’m troublesome.

 

Check out these related stories:

Andre Fili Put Himself Through Hell to Be a UFC Late Replacement - Part 1

Andre Fili Put Himself Through Hell to Be a UFC Late Replacement - Part 2

 

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