Interview with Daniel Puder

Interview with Daniel Puder
15 Dec
2014
Not in Hall of Fame
There are many of you who are reading this and are familiar with Daniel Puder from his stint in the WWE where he won the 2004 Tough Enough competition and from his title as an Undefeated Mixed Martial Arts Fighter.  That alone is impressive, but that wasn’t why I wanted to talk to Daniel; in fact in my conversation with Daniel, those topics were only a sidebar on the narrative.

What he is known for now in many communities across the United States is for his creation of a new program to confront the bullying problem that has plagued schools across the country. And, he is doing so in a ground breaking way by going after the problem at the source instead of just delivering speeches on the topic.

As Daniel explained to me, dictating to kids about how they shouldn’t bully their peers without giving them the rationale as to why it is wrong or finding out why they engaged those activities to begin with is nothing more than a cosmetic solution.

He’s right, as when “establishment” dictates what is right and wrong, and this is regardless of what celebrity is involved in giving the message it is like throwing fresh paint on an old house.  It may still look good on the outside when driving by and give an illusion that everything looks fine, but it is all for show.  The pipes are rusted, the foundation is cracked and the roof is one good wind away from needing repair. 

Recognizing this, Daniel Puder created the “My Life, My Power” program which he and I had the opportunity to discuss in great detail and how he intends to continue rolling it out internationally and the great strides he has made so far in such a short period of time.[i]

With the way that Daniel has been challenging the existing system from the inside out, I can only wonder what would happen if he tried to execute the ills of the American political system from within.  Based on the relationships he is forging and the determination he is showing in the My Life My Power project, we would not be surprised to see him in that arena, and if so, I would be hard pressed to bet against him.



         The first thing that I want to do is congratulate you on your endeavour with “My Life, My Power”.  I have done a lot of research on this project and I think it is just an amazing thing that you are doing.  I am curious when you first envisioned this?

         “October 2010.  I got on national TV and said with all the anti-bullying and anti-suicide messages that were being discussed, that I would come to your school if you are being bullied and talk about it.  We got over 10,000 emails from over twelve different countries in about eight weeks.”

         That’s quite a lot!

         “It is.  What it really came down to is looking at what the root problems really are before going out there and trying to figure out the solution.  It’s like going to the doctor if you don’t know it’s broken, how do you know how to fix it? 

         That’s where we started.  During the first year, we really tried to figure out what’s going on with our youth by visiting communities, schools, students, teachers and principals.  The next year, we started developing a curriculum and an overview to teach kids at a younger age how to deal with challenges, and how to become more successful and learn from that and grow and gain more wisdom and make the right decisions.

         We really put something together in the last four years where our program and platform is being used and implemented across the country.  We just launched in Burundi and Mexico last month.  Next year, we are expected to be in China, Vietnam and Cambodia.  We are working on a contract right now.  It’s pretty great.”

         I think I want to ask specifically how this became a personal issue for you.  Was this something that stemmed from your childhood, or something you witnessed?  Basically, why did this become your main cause?

         “When I was a kid they put me in special ed classes because they said I had learning disabilities.  I like to call them learning differences and the challenge is that they put a lot of kids is these classes and school is built for one type of person and they want to throw people who learn in different ways in special ed, which to me is insane. 

         I looked at how I was picked on and bullied continuously when I was a kid and I brought it back to how the system needs some changes and how parents need to be more involved.  I really took it from my past and said that we need to put something in place to fix these similar issues that I faced when I was a kid.

         Right now the kids are still doing it but its even worse.  The value system is all off with what is "cool".  If you don’t have the latest cell phone you’re not cool.  It’s ten times worse today because we have more stuff. 

         Going through research, I found that the national average that a parent spends with their kid is about three minutes a day of undivided attention.  Then you look at the U.S., and you see that we are number one in prison population, we are number one in divorces, number seventeen in education, number forty-six in the freedom of press.  You look at the entire system that is going in a direction that we don’t want it to go but most people aren’t willing to spend the time to fix it.”

         I really like the way you are tackling it from a different point, going to the root of the problem, and focusing on the bullies, while still acknowledging the bullied.  I don’t recall a whole lot of people approaching it from that angle before.

         “You see all these campaigns right?  I just had a guy named Kareem Rush contact me; a former NBA player.  I haven’t met him yet I am going to meet him in about two weeks in L.A..  I talked to his PR people and he is about to launch his music career and he wants to do something with bullying, it’s his passion.

         I said ‘All right, does he want to do a campaign or does he want to solve it?’  Because the ‘War on Drugs’, the anti-cigarette campaigns, the anti-drinking and driving campaigns; you still see people doing drugs from forty years ago.  Why didn’t it solve it? How are you impacting the subconscious mind?  Why did it (drug use) grow?  How do you get to the root problem and solve it? His team said “He wants to fix the problem”

         So what me and my team did was create an approach, or taken other proven and effective approaches that are out there, like motivational and interviewing which a lot of successful counselors and psychologists use. We just made it friendly for kids and adults, where it’s very simplistic.  We just ask a series of questions and get them to really focus in on their vision while understanding their purpose and creating a mission to be able to get to their long term goals.  We've basically developed it in a way that doesn't feel like a therapy or counselling session, but instead it's fun and interactive for their futures!

         What have you found is the common thread of the bullies?  Is there something that they have that distinguishes them somewhat?

         It’s pain, hurt and fear.  Pain from other people hurting them and fear from the unknown or from feeling insignificant.  They haven’t received enough love, they are trying to get their next fulfillment.  When you give three minutes of undivided attention to a kid per day and you buy them two hundred dollars worth of toys for their birthday, but with only those three minutes per day, how do you expect them to have any self-worth?  There is an obvious disconnect.  Their value is in things and not themselves. 

         And this is something that's not just across country.  I have been to Canada, the U.K., Japan and Mexico and I have seen this downfall of time and effort towards our children and even ourselves.  There is less peace in our lives and more stress.  It’s all perspective.  I was just in Mexico, where I was in Leon, Mexico and helping an orphan on the street.  That is what a harsh life is.”

         I think also too the message coming from yourself, someone who has been in multiple sports locker rooms, someone who is as physically imposing as you are.  Do you think this helps kids identify better with you?  I don’t mean this in a bad way, but you look like the kind of guy who would be on the other side of it.

         “Correct.  I agree with you.  People go ‘you were bullied as a kid?’ and I show them a picture of what I looked like as a kid.  The reason I got to where I am, is that I surrounded myself with good people in my life, who became my mentors and I listened to their advice and direction.  I walk into some classrooms and they go “come on, you’re the big tough guy, wouldn’t you be the guy to pick fights?’ and I go ‘no, I want to build relationships, I want to help others. 

         I think looks are very deceiving.  I think a lot of people value looks and first impressions and don't really take the time to understand what’s really going on people’s lives.”

         Indirectly I think that helps you break stereotypes, which I love doing myself, especially when I am talking to athletes like yourself.  I love breaking down the myth that athletes only think about sports and are one-dimensional people. 

         “I think that’s the challenge, right?  For instance, look at the NBA players.  I think the last stat I saw was that 86 percent of them are either broke or divorced within three years of retiring from playing.  In the NFL, it’s in the 90 percentile.  You look at some of these guys and they’re doing dumb stuff, but you have to look at why they are doing it.  You have to look at what’s really going on in their lives to cause them to act a certain way. 

         It’s the fast fulfilment, it’s the partying, it’s the drugs, the things that have instant gratification, and then it’s taken away one day and then they begin to stress out, you know?  They can’t deal with it.”

         It is too common.  I was just talking to Leonard Marshall, a former New York Giant who bucked that trend and became very successful after football, and spends a lot of his time mentoring youngsters and with other philanthropic endeavours.

         Would I be able to ask a few questions about your past athletic career?

         “Yes”

         I won’t go into the Kurt Angle thing, you’ve been asked that to death.  I saw that great YouTube thing you did with Jimmy Korderas[ii] that sums it all up.[iii]

         “(laughs)”

         That was great by the way!  I don’t think anything more needs to be said on the subject, and I am sure that you are looking forward to when you are not asked about that on a regular basis.  Saying that, what I have been trying to figure out as a wrestling fan is why they used you so poorly. 

         Specifically, I am thinking of the 2005 Royal Rumble it almost appeared that they had you out there specifically to be punished as you took some harsh knife edge chops during your stint in the match. 

         “I've heard different things.  You know, at the end of the day, I stuck to my guns.  I wouldn’t go out and drink with the guys and in the WWE, like other industries, they like when people simply follow.  I was one of those guys who would show up well before time, help with setting up the ring and do all of that stuff.

         It’s interesting how some people who like to talk smack or just don’t like you for whatever reason.  The people in charge, Vince (McMahon) has the ultimate say so on that, and at the end of the day he would have had a guy who would have really busted his butt for him.  But he didn’t want that.  He actually offered me a crappy deal at the end of the first year and there was no way that I was going to deal with a company that wants to low ball based upon doing everything I was supposed to do.”

         And just going back to that moment when Koreras saved Kurt Angle from you breaking his arm. I look back at that at that as almost a perfect theme to what you are doing now.  Angle was in there to bully you and the other Tough Enough contestants.[iv]

         “Yes.  It was to pick on us and make us look bad.  You know if you really look at people’s objectives and motives, they (the WWE) have an anti-bullying campaign, but I’ll tell you right now, from my experience and research in the topic of bullying, you don’t just solve bullying by talking about it. You don’t solve drug abuse by talking about drugs, you don’t solve gang violence by talking about gangs.  You solve these things by tackling the problem, which is the root core issue, and then getting them engaged on something positive toward a successful future.  You have to give their life meaning and value.

         It’s interesting to see how a billion dollar company would want to go to a couple of schools and talk about bullying so that they don’t look bad for their investors.”

         I wanted to ask you a question about your Mixed Martial Arts career, and I apologize, as I am sure that a lot of people have probably asked you about this before.  You have an undefeated 8 and 0 record.[v]  Did Dana White ever contact you to work for his organization?  I would think that with your record and the notoriety that you had, that it would be a given that they would have reached out to you at some point.

         “The first time they contacted me was after Tough Enough and he wanted me to do the first season of Ultimate Fighter.  It was five hundred bucks a week and I was making five thousand (with the WWE).  That wasn’t guaranteed, and I had a guarantee (with the WWE) so it wasn’t my first choice.

         When I got out of the WWE, we met to go over contracts, but it just didn’t jive and there was one other point where I met with them and it just wasn’t the right contract and just wasn’t the right timing.”

         Is that something you would think of going back to or is what you are doing with My Life, My Power your main focus, and you are much happier with that?

         “I love what I’m doing now.  It’s a harder fight than actually fighting.  To be able to build a program in a field where a good portion of the kids and parents don’t care.  Parents don’t spend the money or the time, or they think the school is taking care of that for them.  The schools don’t have any money, the principals are overwhelmed, the streets have too many issues, the school counselors often don’t have enough time, like in California where it is an average of eight hundred kids to one counselor.  So, you have a system where there is no budget, no time and no value of taking care of and maintaining mental health.

         We have been able implement My Life My Power into the juvenile justice system where kids are court ordered by judges to go through our program and become mentored by police officers, who have been trained on our program, within their schools.  We just got the FBI, DEA, Homeland Security, ATF, U.S. Marshalls and the HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program of South Florida aboard so that their agents can start going through our training and become mentors to kids.

         We’ve gone from nothing to implementing a new approach and a new way to deal with positively changing the mindset of our youth.  Going back to your original question, I love what I’m doing right now and I’m trying to go for a bigger challenge and we have some interesting projects coming up and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

         Are there any that you could share with us?

         “With our new platform, we’re really spending a lot of time in Houston, Texas and Florida.  We’re getting the Feds on board now, and we have seven police chiefs providing their support here locally in Florida.  We have just pitched Nova Southeastern University to implement a credited curriculum college course based on My Life My Power and they are potentially talking about having a faculty for the mentors and the mentees in the education department. 

         We’re looking at how can take the most proactive approach by starting with kids when they are in elementary school and working with them throughout their entire schooling. Also, how can we take the next generation of teachers and educators and provide them with the right amount of wisdom and skills so that when they walk into a classroom, they can have the most effective and efficient students based upon their approach and how they mentor a kid, so that they can build the necessary relationships and trust. 

         We have something else that we are launching, which is called “Spare Change for Real Change”. This is a program to raise money for our non-profit so that we can donate our program to underprivileged youth and schools who cannot afford it. Also, another big project that we have been working on over the last couple of months, is our "Think Tank" where we have some of the leaders of the most influential government agencies, and they all get together to discuss how we can create the biggest impact with long term change possible!

         On a side note, did you know that we can base the number of prisons that must be built depending on a generation of third graders. That’s how prisons are built in the U.S., where we have gone from about two hundred thousand inmates to about three million in the last thirty years.” 

         That’s a scary statistic.

         “For instance, in Florida, 43 to 46 percent of kids get rearrested in Miami-Dade County, that’s about 3,500 kids.  Something is clearly wrong with these numbers.  However, we can actually lend a hand to the system and give them alternative ways to fix a kid and change their mindset with the My Life My Power Program.

         We also have a military transition program, which we haven’t announced yet…I guess we just did! (laughs) It was launched in Fort Hood about two months ago and now my buddy who is over there now; actually I will read you his text, it makes me so happy:

         ‘One of our guys is going to go back to the hospital today and do my weekly recruiting.’

         What he’s doing is going to the military hospital and looking for men and women who need some encouragement and have a desire to help our future generation!  He then helps them by having them come out and talk about their challenges and what they have gone through and rebuild their values and gain fulfillment in their life with our program. 

         Everything currently has a flow problem.  For example, you have a kid in jail, he gets out and now what?  He goes back to school, he is on probation but what happens to prevent it from happening again?  What we do is expose them to our program while in juvenile hall so that they want to be mentored and at that point not only is the kid going to be mentored by an officer in school, but they will be mentored weekly and that's when we truly begin changing lives. 

         We are recreating the system so that we can make a bigger impact long term instead of just doing what most people do, which is always the same where they say ‘Let’s say no bullying’.  If you’re going to tell people ‘Let’s say no to bullying’ or ‘Let’s say no to drugs’, why would they change if you just tell them what not to do?  They’re going to look at you and go ‘You don’t know what I’m going through? You don’t know my problem?’

         It has to begin by solving the root core issue, so when I say we are going after bullying, or any other challenge, whether it is drugs, gangs, school challenges, or home challenges, we now teach adults, kids, and parents how to deal with what they are going through and to help them get to where they want to go by providing them with the tools needed.”

         Is there anything you would like to promote?

         “Absolutely!  If there is anybody out there that wants to be a part of this, be it at one of our charity events or take some time and mentor a kid, we would love to have more people help us solve problems within the community.  Once you start going through the program and you start making these great relationships with teachers, principals, cops, community leaders, lawyers, this and that; it really helps you grow in your own life too!  Now you’re serving the community and it is the community that can help you grow into whatever you want to do. 

         Thank you so much for your time!





[i]This is the link to his website:  http://www.mylifemypower.org  

[ii]Jimmy Korderas was the referee in the ring during the Kurt Angle/Daniel Puder Tough Enough altercation. 

[iii]This the YouTube with Puder and Korderas.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cgyhODv7bM

[iv]For those not aware of the scenario, Angle was in the ring with the Tough Enough contestants where they were shoot wrestling.  Angle, a former Olympic Gold Medalist at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics was expected to defeat all completion handily.  As Korderas explained the above mentioned YouTube video, he deliberately counted Puder’s shoulder to the mat to save Angle, not only from the injury but from embarrassment. 

[v]That record may not have been in the UFC, but it was with very reputable Mixed Martial Arts companies, mostly with the respected Strikeforce organization.



Last modified on Thursday, 22 March 2018 15:43
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