MMA Life

MMA Life

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UFC lightweight Jim Miller’s quest to conquer The Spartan Race

Jim Miller almost fell off the face of the earth. On September 8, the UFC lightweight participated in the Tri-State NJ Super Spartan Race at Mountain Creek Park in Vernon, New Jersey. Just hours into the competition, the 30-year-old—decked out in a red TapouT shirt with matching red and white shorts, and his bib number 66981 written across his forehead in black paint—treaded up one of nature’s harshest inclines and held on for dear life.

Jim Miller“There was this one uphill,” he says. “It was like a double-black diamond—one of the nastiest ski slopes on the east coast. I was on my hands and feet, climbing it so I didn’t fall off the hill. It was so steep. It was one of those things where you turn around, look down, and go, ‘Holy shit!’”

So Miller did the only thing he could do—he stopped looking down, maintained his composure, and continued the most physically demanding race that he had ever participated in.

The Tri-State NJ Super Spartan Race “Open” heat kicked off Saturday morning at 10 a.m. with an 11-mile hike up the mountain, which reaches an elevation of 3,000 feet. A slew of obstacles followed, including a horizontal wall climb, a muddy barbwire crawl, and a tire toss drill.

“I knew going into it that it was gonna be hell getting up those ski slopes, and a lot of ups and downs,” says Miller. “That’s what it was for the first couple of miles. Being a fighter and being able to basically work out for a living, the obstacles weren’t too bad for me. They were fun and pretty easygoing, but those hills were tough.”

One of those fun obstacles involved throwing a spear at a medieval human replica made up of hay. Miller proved his marksmanship skills as he chucked the weapon into the upper right ventricle of the makeshift dummy’s heart on his first and only try. Another highlight was the 24-foot cliff dive into cold water. Both of those activities were documented on SpartanRace.TV.

Miller put up a faster time than 85 percent of the field, as he finished the megaobstacle course in 3:40:00. That’s pretty impressive, considering his decision to compete in the Spartan Race was just happenstance. Miller initially heard about the Spartan Race after his UFC on FOX headlining bout against Nate Diaz in May. The Jersey Boy didn’t commit to the competition at first, because he was waiting to hear back on his next scheduled fight. By the time August rolled around, however, nothing was lined up. That’s when he decided to enter the Spartan Race for one simple reason: “To have some fun by basically beating the crap out of myself for a couple hours.”

Miller was excited. So were his friends and family. They were beyond excited, but not enough to join him in his quest. “I was trying to get someone to run with me, but it’s funny because everyone was like, ‘Oh yeah. It’s cool. Oh, you want me to run with you? I don’t know,’ knowing it was gonna be a tough thing,” says Miller. “I really started training for it five weeks out, so it wasn’t the longest training for it, ya know? It was just funny to see people excited about it, and then you ask them to enter and they’re like, ‘No way.’”

Miller’s training included basic pad work, lifting, and circuit exercises. He also added an extra two-and-a-half-hour run to his routine. Although his friends and family opted not to beat the crap out of themselves for a couple of hours at the Spartan Race, quite a few individuals did—4,419 other individuals, to be exact.

The more Miller immersed himself with the participants, the more he realized that they shared some of the same characteristics as mixed martial artists—both have a passion for physically demanding tasks, both are dedicated to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and both embody the warrior spirit.

“Everyone was very supportive of everyone else, and there are a lot of similarities between people who do the races and MMA fans,” Miller says. “MMA is one of those sports supported by fans who are doers. The group at the Spartan Race, they’re there to push themselves and go through something, and it’s definitely similar to the type of people involved in MMA.”

With that in mind, Miller is already thinking about his next Spartan Race and how he can improve his time. “It’s going to be cool to learn from my mistakes and do even better next time,” says Miller.

SWIFT AND NIMBLE

With his first Spartan Race officially in the books, Jim Miller has a better understanding as to what qualities an athlete must have in order to be successful in this intense, physically demanding competition. He also believes many mixed martial artists already possess those qualities.

“As a fighter, if you’re training hard for Spartan Race, you will do pretty well,” Miller says. “It takes mental toughness to go in there and to keep going. It’s just the long distance cardio we don’t necessarily focus on, so I think a lot of my peers can do it and do pretty well with it.”

Including his peers in the heavyweight division?

“Maybe not,” he says with a laugh. “I would say 185 pounds and under. It’s not a big man sport. They can go play football. That’s where a 155-pounder like myself would be a ball boy.”

GET IN THE RACE

Want to test your warrior spirit without getting punched in the face? You can at one of Spartan Race’s upcoming events. Be sure to check their international schedule online at SpartanRace.com.

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Among MMA’s hottest topics is an aspect of the game that gets attention for all the wrong reasons. Seemingly every event has a decision where either side can debate a winner and not come to a consensus on why.

But with any sport that can have an outcome based on objectivity, there are always going to be arguments and calls for change. With so much at stake these days, state commissions cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the furor, lest fans, promoters, and fighters feel they are hopelessly viewing and competing in a flawed system.

With a full slate of events scheduled for 2010 and no foreseeable changes to the system on tap, the spotlight will continue to focus on today’s judges and the decisions they are entrusted to make. No matter how far things have come, this fight isn’t going away.

The Best of What’s Around?

Without regurgitating the rulebook word for word, the 10-point must system can essentially be broken down like this:

• In any given round, 10 points go to the fighter that wins the round based on effective striking, aggressiveness, defense, grappling, and control of the fighting area.

• The fighter that loses the round traditionally gets nine points, but more points can be deducted based on rule infractions or damage.

• There also can be a 10-10 round if it’s simply too close to call, but it’s rare.

While this seems simple enough, it’s the perception of the rules and the interpretation of “effective” that raises the biggest issues. One major complaint is that judges don’t understand the ground game and sometimes can mistake being on top as “effective grappling.”

“The biggest problem is when judges and refs don’t understand effective ground and pound,” says Strikeforce analyst Stephen Quadros. “As soon as the fight hits the ground, they think it’s a death match.”

WEC bantamweight contender Scott Jorgensen cited the August 2009 Jeff Curran/Takeya Mizugaki fight as an example of a case where damage can be done from the bottom and be missed, a bout Curran lost by split decision.

“Curran was throwing up submissions and strikes and everything from the bottom. If a guy is that active and being that proactive about his ground game, that’s an offense,” says Jorgensen.

“When you’re keeping your opponent’s offense from happening, you’re winning that position, and that needs to be taken into account.”

In Nevada, the 10-point must system has been a constant since the summer of 2001. Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Keith Kizer has heard it all when it comes to MMA, boxing, and kickboxing scoring, including suggestions on rule adoptions, variations on the point system, and lots and lots of feedback.

As part of the Association of Boxing Commissions—a group that legislates and enforces rules for both boxing and MMA in North America—Kizer says they have reviewed various systems but haven’t found anything to compel them to drop the 10-point must system.

“There’s not a lot of support to change what’s been going on for the last 10 years or so,” says Kizer, adding that boxing and MMA don’t necessarily have to fall under the same point scoring system. “The other systems didn’t seem to be getting any better, and in fact, they seemed to be worse.”

Eastern Thinking

In looking for potential changes, two Japanese systems have been pointed to as alternatives.

“In Pancrase, fighters were given a certain number of points to start the match. When they were caught in a submission but made it to the ropes to escape or were knocked down to the mat, they lost points. When the time limit was reached, the fighter with the most points remaining was the winner,” explains Total MMA author Jonathan Snowden.

PRIDE had a system where judges were instructed to choose a winner based on the fight as a whole, not by individual rounds. “The major criteria consisted of the fighter’s effort to end the fight by submission or knockout and causing damage to your opponent. It was a system that rewarded aggression and penalized a fighter looking to do nothing more than control position,” Snowden says.

Jorgensen has never fought under either system but is open to the idea.

“I think there are a lot less controversial decisions over there. The fights might be closer and require a judge to be more cognitive of what’s going on, but if they’re trained and know what’s going on in MMA, it shouldn’t be an issue to know throughout a 15 or 20 minute fight who’s creating all the action.”

Judged By Your Peers

While various systems can be debated endlessly, the crosshairs remain on those brave souls who put numbers to paper and can change the course of fighters’ careers just by giving their opinion. For the most part, judges are relatively obscure and don’t tend to comment too often, aside from Cecil Peoples, who staunchly defended his scores for one of 2009’s most controversial decisions: Lyoto Machida vs. Mauricio Rua at UFC 104.

In Nevada, there are 15 to 18 judges that cover boxing and MMA, with just a handful doing both. Depending on the event, either Kizer or the Commission (with Kizer’s recommendations) will assign approximately seven judges to a card.

During a fight, judges are front and center to the cage, but in the occasion that they are blocked by a referee or can’t get a good vantage point of what’s happening on the other side of the cage, they are at the mercy of their own eyes or looking up at a screen in the arena.

“When we watch an event, we get three to five camera angles, replays, and commentary on those replays to shade our view of who won. Judges don’t have that. Why?” Quadros says. “All these people online are geniuses, as they have the luxury of great production value to see every minute move that the judges don’t see live.” Jorgensen agreed, adding that when he’s cornered fighters, he sometimes misses action due to the referee or angle.

“You might not see strikes landing from the bottom or a guy on top landing short elbows. Even up against the cage, you might not see the complete control of a guy if he’s landing stuff in the clinch,” Jorgensen says. “Some of the action and attacks are in closed space. Judges may not see it, and you may not get credit.” Kizer said that judges haven’t asked for monitors and is unaware of any jurisdiction that has them.

Quadros—who has judged in both the UFC and King Of The Cage—feels that the amount of events is problematic in today’s judging and that quality is being stretched too thin. However, when it comes to judging, there is one simple truth.

“Judges are good up until they render a decision fans don’t agree with,” Quadros says. “It should be obvious: ‘Who won the fight? This guy or that guy?’ That’s the bottom line.”

SIDEBAR

SO, YOU THINK YOU CAN JUDGE?

If you’ve ever thought that you can judge a fight better than those who get paid for it, step right up. You too can become an MMA judge if you’re willing to work for it. When Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Keith Kizer gets applications from inexperienced wannabe MMA judges, he tells them to spend a few years judging in one of the state’s amateur MMA organizations before they are considered. Even then, Kizer is careful not to put judges in high-pressure situations until they are fully ready and have proven themselves at various events. “There’s nothing like the pressure of being in that seat, judging the fight, and knowin
g the whole world will hear your score in a few minutes,” says Kizer. “No matter how well you do, there’s always going to be discontent— unless it was a very easy fight with a clear-cut winner.”

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During my global travels as host of The History Channel’s Human Weapon, I was able to explore a variety of martial arts. While the show’s focus was primarily the history of these arts, mine was their practicality. Having been involved in some form of traditional martial arts since I was six years old and MMA since I was 16 years old, I see two very different sides to the collective martial community.

 

On one side of the fence is mixed martial arts. Mixed, by definition, is a hybrid—a combination of techniques consistently refined by today’s gladiator, the MMA fighter. The problem we tend to have as MMA fighters is tunnel vision. We have seen martial arts come further in the past 15 years than the past 150 years. We have seen hundreds of fights and now have a strong sense of what works and what doesn’t in the cage.

 

On the other side of the fence are traditional martial arts. Some date back hundreds of years and are rooted deeply in a nation’s people, including Kung-Fu and Karate. These are the styles that—as mixed martial artists—we tend to almost look down on as “not effective” or “for fitness only.”

 

I admit that I was guiltily of prejudice. I would journey to a country and be genuinely captivated by the culture, people, and history, but often times lacked the respect for the actual “art.” If this worked, we’d see it in the cage. If we didn’t … it didn’t.

 

This was my thought process until I went to Israel and met some awesome Krav Maga instructors. They opened my eyes to the simple fact that MMA, as all encompassing as we think it is, is really linear. We have techniques designed and refined for very specific combat. While highly effective in the cage and often outside, they are, like it or not, for sport.

 

Don’t get me wrong, if you train in MMA you can handle yourself better than 99% of the population. The difference is what works inside the cage isn’t necessarily what will work outside the cage.

 

Ask yourself these questions:

 

• What if I have to defend a family member while I’m getting attacked?
• What do I do if I’m a BJJ black belt but have to fight two guys?
• How can I minimize damage if someone picks up a knife or bottle?

 

The list could go on and on. This paradigm shift forced me to reevaluate all martial arts and realize that in the big picture, some are very underrated. Here is my list of martial arts that I believe should get their due.

 

6 Judo

 

Judo makes the list due to its extreme effectiveness.We have seen a few MMA guys use Judo, but as a whole it is not trained on a regular basis. With Judo you are able to manipulate an opponent using minimum force and still remain standing, alert, and aware. Judo also gives you a great sense of balance, which is a fantastic attribute in any sport.

 

5 Krav Maga

 

Due to the fact that Israelis a country with roughly seven million people surrounded by 40 million people that “aren’t too fond of them,” Krav Maga is an art consistently being refined to deal with very real world threats. Every citizen has to do their time in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and everyone in IDF is taught Krav Maga. While most of the techniques are not cage-ready, this is arguably one of the most effective martial arts for the real world.

 

4 Jeet Kune Do

 

Often called the “Father of Modern MMA,” Bruce Lee designed a martial art with one simple principal: use what is useful. Similar to Krav Maga, JKD builds on many art forms and encompasses a wide range of attacks. Simplicity is key.

 

3 Kung Fu

 

As one of the oldest arts known to man, Kung-Fu focuses on the holistic sense of balance. Body, mind, and spirit are all trained in this art. While I am not sold on many of the technical aspects of Kung-Fu, I do believe that martial arts at its highest level is a use of the mind, be it to meditate for focus before a fight or avoid a street altercation all together. Another great benefit of Kung-Fu is that it teaches us to use our chi, a vital part of fighting if not just life.

 

2 Escrima/Kali

 

While I don’t advocate beating someone with a stick, Escrima/Kali (yes, they are the same thing) is a great art for several reasons. First, a stick, unlike a sword, nun-chuck, or sai, can be found almost anywhere, making this weapons system a viable choice in the real world. Secondly, the techniques taught in Escrima/Kali can also be applied to knife and hand-to-hand combat. A focus on attacking angles and proper footwork is also a keynote for the curriculum.

 

1 Tai Chi

 

China has a few zillion people in it. How do they manage not to go nuts on a daily basis? I’m going to go with Tai Chi. This ancient art is not combat based, but rather a way to focus and align oneself. Many fighters have found the benefits of calming your mind thru yoga, meditation, or Tai Chi. I chose this as the #1 underrated martial art simply because if you do not have a calm mind, it is difficult to focus in any area of life. Have you ever had those days where you had so much going on you didn’t want to train? How about so much stress that it affected work? Train the mind and the body will follow.

 

Remember, at the end of the day, whether you are a Judoka, BJJ’er, boxer, mixed martial artist, or high school wrestler, we are all martial artists first.

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Everyone grows up eventually. After graduating college, Erich Krauss set out to live the life of a wandering writer in Spain, Morocco, Thailand, and South America while living on as little money as possible. But at thirty years old, Krauss found the vagabond lifestyle getting a bit tiring, and he decided to accomplish something with his life. So, with an empty wallet and a laptop full of stories, he moved back to California and wrote several books while working as a Muay Thai coach at Ken Shamrock’s gym.

After publishing books on the Asian tsunami, the Mexican Border Patrol, and California wildfi res with different publishing companies in New York, Krauss co-authored Jiu-Jitsu Unleashed with Eddie Bravo, and got it published by McGraw Hill. But there was a problem: They didn’t know anything about MMA.

“They jacked it all up,” Krauss says. “They didn’t know how to edit it or market it, and then they tried to sell it as a striking book. Eddie Bravo has never thrown a kick in his life!” That experience lit a fi re under a guy who normally had an asbestos ass, and, along with his training partner, Glen Cordoza, he founded Victory Belt Publishing in 2005.

But a lifetime dedicated to adventuring instead of higher education left Krauss qualifi ed to host a show on Travel Channel, but not to run his own company. “We had to learn business real quick because we didn’t know much,” Krauss admits. Fortunately, his father was experienced at making money, and guided the pair though the steps of starting a small business. Before they knew it, the they hit a gold mine when BJ Penn agreed to let them publish his book, Mixed Martial Arts: The Book of Knowledge.

Today Victory Belt has sold over a million copies of its books, regularly outselling the major New York publishing houses. So if you’ve bought an instructional book on MMA in the last three years, there’s a good chance it was published by Krauss and Cordoza. The Las Vegas-based company has cranked out titles by notable fi ghters like Randy Couture, Anderson Silva, Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera, Fedor Emelianenko, and Karo Parisyan, among others. This makes them the unoffi cial “How-To Guys of MMA,” whose infl uence has reached all corners of the sport.

The average MMA tome takes between fi ve and twelve months from photo shoot to release, depending on how many projects the pair are juggling at the same time. Their fi rst book, Guerilla Jiu Jitsu with Dave Camarillo, took a mere fi ve months to shoot, write, design, and print, while a book by Matt Lindland has been languishing in the design phase for over a year because other projects keep jumping ahead of it in the line. A year is actually a relatively short time in the publishing world, especially when you consider the amount of information that’s embedded in each book and the impact it will have on its readers. Customers throw down their money because they want to learn how to fi ght, so a fi ghting system like Lindland’s, which took him years to develop, cannot be trivialized or rushed.

“We put everything we can into our books,” Krauss says. “All of our books are a complete system instead of just a bunch of moves lumped together. Glen [Cordoza] is a master at breaking down a fi ghting system and presenting it in a way that’s easy to understand, so it fl ows naturally.”

But just how much of an instructional book is written by the athlete versus the publishers? Fighters like Fedor Emelianenko and Anderson Silva are celebrities with busy schedules, and when you add in a language barrier, the challenges of writing a four-hundred page book are clear. With Victory Belt, the ratio is about 50-50. “The athlete has the system and the philosophy,” says Krauss. “We get as much information as we can out of them at the photo shoot and then get more as we write the book, but we put in the little things. You don’t need Fedor to say, ‘I put my right foot here when I throw a cross.’ We know that so we put those little details in.”

That approach has made Victory Belt one of the best-selling publishers in the business today. But with so many titles, there’s a risk of saturating the market so heavily with MMA books that they might go straight to the bargain bin. Fortunately, Victory Belt doesn’t publish just anyone’s book. Randy Couture’s Wrestling for Fighting is a completely different system from Karo Parisyan’s Judo for MMA, and Marcello Garcia’s X Guard isn’t the same as Eddie Bravo’s Rubber Guard.

Krauss and Cordoza don’t just take on a project because there’s a popular name associated with it. There has to be a compelling reason to spend a year preparing a book about a fi ghting system—and a market to sell it in. “We only publish books by people who have something to offer,” adds Cordoza. “Kimbo Slice might be a marketable guy and a recognizable name, but he doesn’t have a fi ghting system that people will want to learn. He’s still developing his skills, so we wouldn’t publish a book by him.”

What they will publish are eight more books; one by BJ Penn on gi-style grappling, as well as titles by Lyoto Machida, Cung Le, Greg Jackson, and another book by Anderson Silva in 2009. It’s not exactly what Krauss set out to do when he hit the road so many years ago, but if Victory Belt continues to be successful, his tales of hang gliding in Guatemala and running with the bulls in Spain will make their way to the bookshelves too.

When you travel far and wide to capture the fi ghting styles of the best in MMA, it’s easy to gather some stories of tomfoolery along the way. Here are some of Krauss and Cordoza’s favorite moments:

1. Punking Eddie Bravo – “We were videotaping one of Eddie Bravo’s DVDs and decided to mess with him a little, so we had this big Samoan dude come into the gym and hit on a girl Eddie was interested in. Eddie kept looking at this guy and fi nally walked over, got in his face, and started yelling at him to leave the gym or they were going to fi ght. The funny thing was the girl kept instigating it. She was saying, ‘Kick his ass Eddie!’ and all these other things to stir the pot. When it was fi nally over Eddie admitted he was scared to confront the dude, but had to for this girl. The things we do for hot chicks.”

2. The Missing Day –“We had to fl y to Russia to photograph Fedor for his book. Well, I don’t really like fl ying, so Glen gave me two Zanax and I was out cold. I was so out of it that, when we were changing fl ights in New York, they had to carry me from one plane to the other. And when they propped me up against a wall some kids started looting my pockets. When I fi nally came to, we were in Russia…25 hours later!”

3. Anderson Silva’s Impersonations – “There isn’t much to this, but it was so funny at the time. We were photographing Anderson Silva for his striking book and during one of the breaks he suddenly goes into a deadon impersonation of Royce Gracie’s fi ghting style. Then he broke out Randy Couture, Bruce Lee, and Chuck Liddell imitations that had the whole gym rolling.”

4. Sleeping on Couture – “We had to drive from Chico to Randy Couture’s Legends gym in L.A., and like always, we’d stayed up all night working beforehand. So we drive the nine hours down there and go straight into the photo shoot just as tired as hell. Well, Glen got into the clinch with Couture, and suddenly I had to adjust some of the camera equipment, which took a minute or so. When we were ready to shoot, Glen was asleep on Couture’s shoulder…standing up! Randy had to wake him up to do the photos, but he was totally cool about it.”

5. Tempers Flare in Albuquerque – “
We were shooting Greg Jackson’s fi rst book, and one of the co-authors was this Army guy who was pretty intense. He had a video recorder going, so whenever Greg talked he could capture it. Well, I forgot he had it on and kept saying, ‘write this down,’ or ‘did you get that?’ every time Greg spoke. I didn’t know it was starting to wear on him, so I did it one more time and he blew up. He was yelling, ‘Yes I got it, mother f**ker. What do you think I am, a f**king idiot? I’m a damn Army offi cer with a Masters degree and you’re poking at me like a f**king kindergartner with crayons!’ He was joking a little bit, but only a little.”

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Instead of making our own magazine resolutions—which would have been insanely boring—we decided to offer resolution suggestions for 10 of our favorite fi ghters and MMA personalities. Some are funny, some are serious, and some are just plain stupid. If you can’t figure out which are which, we’ve got a resolution for you: Try to beat them. We dare you. Send your list to contest@fightmagazine.com. If your list is better than ours, we’ll post it on our Web site. If that’s not enough, we’ll send you a free FIGHT! T-shirt.

10) CLAY GUIDA

Get a Haircut

We love watching Guida fight, but the constant hair flip he does in the cage has to stop. May we suggest that Guida take a page from Miguel Torres’ book on hair care and cut his mop into a svelte looking mullet.

9) HERSCHEL WALKER

Heisman Pose After Each Victory

We’re not sure Walker will get a victory, but if he does, the Heisman pose could be the funniest post-fight celebration since Mark Coleman’s belly flop into the ropes after beating Igor Vovchanchyn at the PRIDE 2000 Grand Prix.

8) ANDERSON SILVA

Score a KO While Doing the Moonwalk

Silva has never been shy about breaking out his Brazilian Samba dance after a victory, but we’d like to see him pay homage to the King of Pop and bust out a moonwalk while simultaneously KOing his next opponent. Sure, it’s a little cocky, but what else can Silva do to keep us constantly impressed?

7) ROY NELSON

See Feet

The TUF winner has always been proud to show off his less than conventional physique, happily rubbing his belly after every victory. However, in the interest of his own health, we’d like Nelson to drop of few pounds. We’re not suggesting dropping to 205, but consuming a few less Whoppers might be a good start.

6) GREG JACKSON’S CAMP

Keep Nipple Twisting Behind Closed Doors

It just a little weird. Actually, it’s more than a little weird. It’s creepy. When Keith Jardine does it, children have nightmares.

5) KIMBO SLICE

Start a Bakery

Slice is all about getting his bread. What’s a better way that opening your own bakery? Can you imagine telling your friends you just stopped by The Slice Is Right to pick up a bagel and rye loaf? Slice would have to wear a beard net. No one wants to bite into a macaroon and find one of those hairs.

4) TITO ORTIZ

Update Fighting Style From 1997

To borrow a line from Seinfeld creator Larry David, the 1990s called and they want their fighting style back. If Ortiz hopes to beat Chuck Liddell in episode three, he’s going to need more than his standard ground-n-pound. The Huntington Beach Bad Boy is more than capable of adding a few more weapons to his repertoire.

3) LYOTO MACHIDA

Market a Urine Soft Drink

It’s no secret that Machida likes to consume his own urine each morning. Why not capitalize on this uniquely disgusting habit by creating Dr. PeePee, a refreshing urine-based soda. At the very least, it would be better than Tab.

2) DANA WHITE

Cuss Less

This is probably impossible. Plus, we know, we know, White doesn’t make f*!#ing resolutions.

1) DON FRYE

Shave Mustache

Who are we kidding? That’s the worst idea in the history of MMA.

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For mixed martial artists, the days of wearing gis and singlets are over. To be recognized as a serious contender, you’d better be wearing one of two things when you step into the cage:

 

MAN-PANTIES or BOARD SHORTS.

Not exactly sure what’s what? Here’s the breakdown:

 

Man-panties (at least that’s what I call them) are form-fitting, elasticized, spandex briefs. The shorts can extend a few inches down the thighs and are usually made of Lycra.

 

Board shorts are the durable, quick-drying shorts that surfers (hence the word “board”) made popular. The shorts usually extend to the knees and are comprised of a polyester or nylon blend.

 

How It All Came to This

Somewhere around 600 BCE, the Greeks decided they needed a combat sport to test their skills and determine who the alpha males were. Accordingly, Pankration – a combination of boxing and wrestling – was born. The rules were simple:

1) Two men enter the stadium and fight until one gets knocked out or submits.

2) No eye gouging.

Sound familiar? That’s right, the Greeks invented MMA. But there was a catch to Greek Pankration. The combatants were naked. And there was nothing in the rules prohibiting one fighter from punching another in the junk. To their credit, the Nevada Athletic Commission (and others) modified this rule and fighters are now required to wear shorts and cups to cover up their business.

 

Like Apples and Oranges

Which brings us to the question at hand – what does a fighter wear to cover up his business – board shorts or man panties? Is it a question of comfort? Can shorts improve performance? What are the risks of injury? Are there style issues involved?

Make no mistake about it, fighters think about these things before they step into the cage. Or, they at least they will now.

 

Comfort

Hands down, board shorts win this one. If you think I’m wrong, why aren’t more people walking around the street in man panties? Enough said.

 

Performance You’ve got to go with man panties on this one. The streamlined design makes it easier to kick, scramble, and slip out of precarious situations. There’s a reason swimmers wear Speedos. It’s all about performance.

 

Risks

Fighters can get their feet, hands, fingers, and toes stuck in the loose fabric of board shorts. It was rumored that Jens Pulver tour his meniscus after getting his foot caught in a pair of board shorts while practicing. Bottom line, board shorts are more dangerous. So wearing them in the cage might give you a small advantage in hurting your opponent. Just be sure to wear the man panties when training.

 

Style

No, not fighting style, but personal style. Let’s face it; some fighters need all the image help they can get. Bad haircuts, missing teeth, tattoos needled in by cousin Pookie – none of this is shocking in the Octagon. But what about the fighter who promised his mother he wouldn’t get a tattoo, and instead wants to make a statement with his shorts? Here are a few of the style categories that board shorts and man panties fall into:

 

The Patriot

Do you want to represent your country? Take a page out of Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic’s book and wedge your 200 pound thighs into a pair of Croatian flag man panties. Or maybe Roger Huerta’s Mexican flag man panties are more your style? Dare I bring up the fact that Butterbean drapes his lower half in the largest American flag shorts ever made. This is exactly what Betsy Ross had in mind for the stars and stripes when she sewed the first US flag back in 1776. Regardless, nothing says “I’m a devoted patriot” like having a flag on your ass.

 

The Nickname

Oh, you have a nickname? Well then, thank God you can have it readily visible on your shorts. If Chuck Liddell didn’t have icicles on his board shorts, who would know he’s the “Iceman?”

 

The Sponsor

Fighters have to make a living, don’t they? Sometimes it pays to have www.condomdepot.com on your shorts. Just ask Chris Leben, Pete Sell, or Andrei Arlovski. It seems that everyone and their mother is now sponsored by a sports drink, supplement company, or condom vendor. Who will be the first to advertise for women’s hygiene products? That will take a real warrior. Where is Andy Wang (of The Ultimate Fighter 6 fame) when you need him?

 

A Brief Closing

The reasons behind a fighter’s outfit can be as simple as what’s readily available or who is paying him, or as deeply rooted as a superhero fixation. Regardless of what a fighter wears when he enters the ring, he’d better make sure he can kick a little ass. No one wants to be knocked out in front of millions of people wearing little more than a fig leaf.

 

And one more thing: Superman wore man panties, and he can kick everyone’s ass.

 

Three Man-Panty Wearing Men You Don’t Want to Insult

 

Fedor Emelianenko

If Fedor and his man panties were around in the 1960s, Russia would have won the Cold War.

 

Bas Rutten

He once said, “If someone put their gi in my face, I would blow my nose.” I’m sure he feels the same way about board shorts.

 

Rickson Gracie

Although he wore a diaper-looking pair of man panties, he’s not to be scoffed at. His unblemished record speaks for itself.

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Major MMA promotions have a bigger broadcast footprint than ever. So why is tough for fighters to cash in on sponsors?

“Is this Mark Gingrich?” the voice on the line politely asks.

“Yes,” says Gingrich, who’s conferenced in a call that interrupted an interview for this story. It’s dark outside his office in Dallas, where he runs the apparel company HTFU (Harden The Fuck Up). Dozens of calls have blown up his cell phone in the past 24 hours, including death threats to him and his family. 

But mostly, the message is one like this: “F’ you.” The line cuts off. 

Five days earlier, lightweight Rick Hawn tweeted that a sponsor was unhappy with his performance at Bellator 88, which ended in a submission loss to champion Michael Chandler, and stopped payment on a $1,500 check owed him for wearing the sponsor’s gear. He didn’t name the sponsor, but soon after, Hawn’s rep started a thread on a popular MMA message board, and Gingrich’s phone started ringing.

If measured in cage time, Hawn’s fight to get paid probably lasted just a bit longer than the 8:07 he spent with Chandler. A few email parries with the rep, a public shaming, a day fielding angry MMA fans, and Gingrich agreed to send Hawn a new check. He denied stopping payment based on performance and claimed Hawn hadn’t honored a deal when his cornermen didn’t wear HTFU. Hawn’s rep countered that cornermen weren’t included. There had been no contract between them, so it was a matter of who you believed. That was already clear. 

Despite Bellator’s new broadcast platform on Spike TV, which initially brought a nearly tenfold increase in the promotion’s average viewership on MTV2, Hawn said he had battled just to get sponsors. Yet the experience of being shorted even a relatively small sum wasn’t a shock. 

“That’s part of the game,” says Hawn. “There’s not a lot of money out there right now.”

sponsors
During their fight at The Ultimate Fighter Finale 15, Jake Ellenberger represents Lunarpages.com and Martin Kampmann Sports Safe Auto, as fighters look to secure sponsorships from companies outside of the MMA industry.

* * * *

As the UFC enters the second year of its FOX partnership and Bellator’s national profile heightens, the current sponsorship market remains anemic for rank-and-file fighters, according to several fighters and industry vets. The payouts brought by the boom of 2006-2008 have by and large vanished, yet fierce competition exists for a smaller pool of free cash. In the rush to get as much as possible in the weeks leading up to an event, a frenzy of pitching, haggling, and undercutting goes on behind the scenes. 

Manager John Fosco said it’s not uncommon for him to pitch a marketer on a $15,000 sponsorship package that meticulously tracks broadcast exposure and social media impact, only to be undercut the next day by a manager offering a patch for $1,000.

Those encounters shadow high-profile endorsements recently called game-changers in the sport’s visibility. UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre is rumored to earn more than eight figures from endorsement deals with Coca-Cola, Google, and Bacardi, while Jon Jones is the face of MMA for Nike. Meanwhile, ex-champ Quinton Jackson reportedly wears Reeboks on trail runs, no doubt in the bountiful scrub of Ladera Ranch, California.

The potential rewards remain rich for those who continue to win inside the cage. But for most fighters on their way to stardom—or fighting to keep it—the market is more unforgiving than ever. The average payout to wear a shirt, hat, or patch for a fight broadcast on pay-per-view or network TV is now 50 percent less than three years ago, according to numbers given by several managers and fighters. Prices also have dropped steeply for bouts seen on cable, and fighters whose bouts stream online can only expect a few hundred dollars or free products. 

The reason? MMA companies now know that all but a few athletes can bring a return on investment.

“Even the top guys are not getting as much,” says manager Brian Butler. “Obviously, we want to make as much for them as possible, but a lot of the time, the fighters don’t understand it. They don’t understand how today’s market is different.”
Nevertheless, they have adapted. Lightweight Jacob Volkmann boycotted a sponsor that first paid him $1,500 per bout, dropped him when he fought on an un-televised preliminary-card, and then resurfaced with an offer of $500 when he returned to TV. He was convinced he could replace the income from local businesses in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

Welterweight Jake Ellenberger, who recalled getting stiffed $20,000 when he didn’t wear a sponsor’s t-shirt (the sponsor never sent it), enlisted a trusted friend to handle the process after so many unfulfilled promises. He recently inked a deal with a small web hosting company and participated in an anti-bullying workshop at the school of a sponsor’s son.

“The biggest thing for me is over-delivering on what they’re expecting,” he says.

But when managers don’t deliver on expectations, some fighters shop for new managers between bouts. Savvy reps, meanwhile, have sprung into action. After dialing for dollars with MMA companies all too willing to drive down prices by playing reps against each other, Fosco sold executives in auto insurance, supplements, and bodybuilding companies on MMA. Instead of naming a price for his fighters, he asked to represent them in the market. He now controls a budget “deep into the six figures” for insurer Safe Auto, which reportedly banks $300 million annually in revenue and sponsors an average of 30 fighters a year. He is part of a growing contingent of MMA managers who also act as marketing directors for brands you see in major fight promotions. Now, he gets calls from competitors asking for money.

He calls himself one of the most hated managers in the industry. 

“The business model is to sell the sport,” Fosco says. “Other managers say, ‘I have Jon Fitch. He’s a great brand. He’s an All-American type.’ Well, isn’t there a conflict of interest there? You’re pushing your guy and trying to tell your brand that your guy is the best guy for their brand, when it actually could be a number of other fighters who are a better fit for what they’re trying to do.”

To those who suggest he’s in the same position, Fosco, and others with his role, say they don’t favor personal clients and pay fair market value while maintaining profit margins. With little prompting, he says his star client, Clay Guida (a Safe Auto endorser), banks between $75,000 and $100,000 per fight. 

Meanwhile, since becoming an official sponsorship partner of the UFC, Safe Auto has made a killing on referral fees for insurance requests in states it doesn’t cover, Fosco says. This past year, it purchased a minority share in his company. If the manager is unapologetic toward critics—in fact, Fosco has a string of expletives for every adversary—it’s because he fought to keep the insurer in the fold. 

“The UFC at first blocked Safe Auto and said, ‘You cannot sponsor fighters unless you do a deal with us,’” he says. “It’s a very eye-opening thing as a business owner, because in the blink of an eye, all your work can be snatched away so easily. It’s not their fault. They built this world that I play in.”

In 2009, the UFC instituted a sponsor tax on companies that utilized its platform for advertising. Brands wanting to sponsor an athlete had to pay between five and six figures annually for the right. Thus, the promotion created another revenue stream. Whether they helped or hurt the marketplace is a matter of debate. 

Until the credit crunch of 2008, it wasn’t uncommon for companies to dole out a minimum of $12,000 for a walkout shirt. Monthly sponsorships generated $5,000 a month for top fighters, and some signed six-figure bonuses for exclusivity. Many of the deals were financed on home loans during the real estate bubble, and hundreds of companies went bust in the slowdown.

While there are now fewer fly-by-night t-shirt companies among taxpayers, an excess supply of fighters strengthens the position of remaining sponsors. Fewer companies compete for more advertising space, and with the death of Strikeforce, more are on the way. Some companies continue to overspend and quickly disappear, but most keep a tight budget. They are aware of their leverage with fighters and managers looking for extra cash prior to a fight, and so the incentive to make a big commitment is less. 

“The companies that are around know each other,” says manager Jeff Clark. “They’ve paid their dues, so people are going to get things for what they can. I don’t think it’s the UFC’s burden. At the end of the day, fighting has its own feeling. Is it the UFC’s responsibility to build all these brands, or is that the brand’s responsibility?”

Manager Jason Genet nevertheless crafts sponsorship plans that are not dependent on camera time in the cage. He believes that commodity is a bonus to the value he provides through a multi-level marketing strategy that includes in-person promotion and web marketing on his independent media platform. 

“Sponsorship and marketing is about reach and return,” he says. “You must control the controllable. If the brand is approved to be a sponsor, you still must overcome the significant investment they have in gaining that approval, and no patch will compare to what was paid.”
There are several managers who believe the value of MMA, whether measured on TV, the web, or through an athlete, is lost on blue-chip companies. Former venture capitalist Bill McFarlane has brokered sponsorships from Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble for Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo, who now plans to fight MMA. He said, despite the UFC’s sophistication, most big companies still look at the sport as an untested commodity, and many athletes’ out-of-cage behavior acts as a deterrent to investment. 

“That can easily diminish the value that these companies may be missing,” he says. “You can’t just say he’s a badass fighter. If you’re going to represent their brand, they want to make sure you know how to behave in public.”

* * * *

The day after he tweeted, Rick Hawn received a $1,500 check, but it wasn’t from Gingrich—it was from Bellator. A week later, another check arrived from the sponsor, who vowed never to support another MMA fighter. Hawn claimed something of a moral victory in the dispute by declaring that one of Gingrich’s staff members had resigned in protest. He was skeptical that there had been death threats and expressed little sympathy for the harassment the Dallas man encountered.

“There’s so much more to the whole story, it’s just ridiculous,” Hawn says.
Hawn, a former Olympian in judo, planned to give the extra $1,500 to a pet rescue charity. He said he and his fiancé were animal lovers, and it was a worthwhile cause.

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Three MMA Managers, Three Different Approaches

It’s Friday night after weigh-ins, and I’m sitting at the lobby bar at the Sheraton Harbour Castle in downtown Toronto at UFC 152: Jones vs. Belfort, when Jon Jones’s manager Malki Kawa walks in. As soon as he’s noticed, a man calls him over and the two start talking business. The man, a Canadian restaurateur, wants one of Kawa’s clients to open a franchise across the border. Before the meeting is over, Kawa notices the man’s watch, a Breitling that I would estimate costs $25,000.

Jon Jones“That’s a nice watch—I really like it,” says Kawa, in his trademark machine-gun patter. Without a thought, the man rips it off his wrist and hands it to Malki. “It’s yours,” he says.

Welcome to Malki Kawa’s world. Kawa, an MMA manager, who counts three current UFC champions among his clients (Jones, Carlos Condit, and Benson Henderson), is in constant deal-making mode. But his approach has certainly rubbed some people the wrong way. Is he misunderstood?

“I don’t know what’s to misunderstand,” says Kawa. “Nobody works harder than me in this business, and everybody knows that. I get the best deals done on paper, that’s for sure. If somebody thinks I’m a bad person, there’s nothing I can do about that. They obviously don’t know me. If other fighters misunderstand me, they should pick up the phone and talk to my fighters, because while they’re sitting at home trying to figure out how to pay rent, my guys are buying homes in cash. I’m not trying to brag, but that’s the reality of it.”

More than 1,200 miles away, Scott Karp sits in his office on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. He’s perusing TV scripts for one of his clients, Gina Carano, who is currently in London filming Fast and Furious 6. Karp takes a different approach to choosing his roster, which also includes Cung Le and ring card beauty Brittany Palmer.

“There’s money in MMA for a few fighters,” says Karp, “but only for a few people who can crossover. If you’re only a fighter, I don’t know where you make money anymore. The sponsors who used to offer $5,000 or $10,000 for a patch on shorts are offering $500 or $1,000 these days. The money’s dried up in purely MMA. Or when a card falls apart, suddenly your fighter has no fight and no sponsorships. It’s a tough world for MMA-only clients these days, that’s why I try to represent people who have crossover appeal and can make a lot more money in other endeavors.”

Indeed, Carano is fielding offers from Hollywood daily, and Cung Le, who is coming near the end of his fight career, will jump fulltime into his movie-making career, which has already seen Fighting and Dragon Eyes break through into the mainstream consciousness.

Alchemist’s Lex McMahon is in Montreal at Tristar Gym when I catch up with him. He’s watching client Rory MacDonald train for his upcoming bout with BJ Penn.

“As a manager, the key to success in MMA is differentiating yourself from the others,” he says. “I’m the only manager with both an MBA and a law degree. MC Hammer is our CEO, and nobody has the Silicon Valley venture capital connections he has. Our chairman has been voted 40 Under 40 several times and has run one $100-million business after another. We have Ivy League lawyers on staff, and we provide excellent service.”

McMahon, who counts MacDonald, Brendan Schaub, and Nate Marquardt as clients, feels every client is unique and deserves a customized experience from him.

“The most challenging part of working as a manager is understanding the nuances of each individual athlete,” he says. “It’s not a formula-based business. You have to help build each athlete’s brand in their respective promotions. Tailoring athletes’ careers is the most challenging part. You can’t do the same thing for every guy—that would be a disservice.”

Karp says having the right manager is integral in making a successful career.

“There are so many avenues to success that you need someone who knows which ones to take and which ones exist,” says Karp. “My whole background is in entertainment. I worked at William Morris, I worked at Warner Brothers, I worked with Will Smith. I was Cung’s manager long before I ever met Gina. If Gina were coming up now—as opposed to a few years ago—with her talent and her looks, the exposure is so much bigger than just two years ago that she would be even more successful.”

Kawa seems to be an anomaly in the business. He started as an NFL agent in 2005 and transitioned to MMA after meeting Thiago Alves in 2008. He’s a single
father of a seven-year-old daughter. He doesn’t drink alcohol, and he is always on. This year, he made news by signing his star client Jon Jones to a global sponsorship deal with Nike, the granddaddy of sports marketers.

Gina Carano“When I first signed on with Jon, he had an idea of what he wanted to be, who he wanted to sponsor him, including Nike and all that,” Kawa says. “And it worked out. If you look at the guys who dress well, take the time to educate people about the sport—Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones—those are the guys who have the best sponsors in this sport.”

Ari Emanuel, the chairman of William Morris Endeavor and the man who represented UFC in their FOX Sports deal, was instrumental in helping Jones sign with Nike. “He picked up the phone and called Phil Knight,” says Kawa. “He made it happen. He’s got a Rolodex of who’s who in any category—sports, movies, music, business. I look up to him. He’s the man.”

Kawa also looks up to NFL agent Drew Rosenhaus, another man who is universally disliked because of his success. “The guy was handling a billion dollars worth of NFL contracts at one time. He started from nothing,” says Kawa, who admits UFC president Dana White won’t be inviting him over for Thanksgiving dinner any time soon.

“Dana White doesn’t like me, but why would he?” he says. “I’m a manager. I’m his opposition. I negotiate for three of his champions. He doesn’t have to like me, but I do need to maintain a good relationship with the UFC. Some fighters think, I did this and won that, but they have to understand that no matter what they’ve done, the UFC has done more, and they continue to do more for the sport.”

And while Karp and McMahon are driven by the competition of business and breaking down walls for their clients, Kawa is driven by something a little more personal.

“My father died four years ago and left us nothing, so we have to take care of my mother,” he says. “I don’t want to be on my deathbed and look at my daughter and know I left her nothing.”

For Karp, MMA has helped him in the entertainment world because Hollywood is looking for more realism in one of its biggest categories—action films.

“For Gina, it was the right place and the right time,” he says. “An A-list director [Steven Soderbergh] wanted to show audiences what a real fighter could do in a big budget fight scene, and he cast her as the star in Haywire. Audiences can turn on the TV every night and see real action by watching UFC fights, so when they go to the movies, they get frustrated with quick cuts. You don’t even see the actor’s face during fi ght scenes. Now, with Gina and Cung, they do. In Dragon Eyes, Cung helped cast real fighters— Gil Melendez and Josh Thomson—in the fight scenes. There’s real opportunity for fighters with crossover appeal.”

McMahon was a venture capitalist and says that the lack of qualified managers in mixed martial arts is what compelled him to enter the space.

“I looked at the MMA landscape and saw a dearth of talent in the management ranks,” he says. “When I put my business hat on, I saw a need for quality representation, and on the business side, I saw tremendous growth globally. I saw it as a great opportunity to distinguish myself and make partnerships. There is a lot of money in MMA.”

Kawa agrees that managers can sometimes hurt not only their own clients but also an entire industry.

“I hate when I call a sponsor and they say they’re going to go with my guy’s opponent because he’s cheaper,” says an animated Kawa. “Why do my guys suffer and deals get passed because other managers are just taking deals without negotiating at all? Why do the numbers go down across the board because managers don’t know what their fighters are worth? It’s frustrating. These guys are leaving a lot of money on the table, not just for their fighter, but for everybody’s fighters.”

As MMA continues to grow globally and more and more opportunity for fighters presents itself, the need for the right manager will become even more imperative. But how will a fighter know if they’ve made the right decision?

“Look at your bank account,” says Kawa. “If you don’t see that number grow over time, then you should probably give me a call.”

0

Most bands use the Internet to spread the word about their music. Although Benji Madden is promoting Good Charlotte’s fifth studio album Cardiology on various social media platforms, the rock guitarist also uses it to interact with mixed martial artists such as Shane Carwin, Josh Koscheck, and Jason “Mayhem” Miller. In fact, those budding online bromances have transcended outside the cyber world.

 

“That’s the amazing thing about Twitter—you break the ice with people, and then start hanging out with them,” says the 31-year-old Madden. “I think it also lets fans get to know fighters. When you get to know these dudes, you feel emotionally attached to them. You see the work they’re putting in. You see their dedication, and you begin to root for them. It becomes personal.”

 

Madden first became a fan of MMA in 2001 when, during a tour, Rancid guitarist Lars Frederiksen introduced him to Chuck Liddell. After spending a few minutes with “The Iceman,” the tatted rocker thought he was “a cool guy” and began keeping a close eye on MMA. Not only did Madden learn about all the fighting styles, but now he serves as an unofficial ambassador to the sport by converting those who pay little attention to MMA into instant fans.

 

“For UFC 117, I was with four guys who knew nothing about MMA. I walked them through the card and during the Stefan Struve fight where he was losing to Christian Morecraft, they were all like, ‘He’s getting his ass kicked,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, but anything can happen in this sport. Just watch!’ Then, Struve gets his knockout,” Madden recalls. “By the end of the night, they were like, ‘When’s the next one? When’s the next one?’ I just know anyone who really watches and takes the time to try to understand the sport will be hooked on it.”

 

While Madden is a die hard aficionado, he recently got his own “fight on.” Earlier this year, former MTV Headbanger’s Ball and current NASCAR 24/7 Live host Riki Rachtman trashed him by calling Good Charlotte a “pop” band (a no-no in the punk world) and challenged him to a boxing exhibition.

 

Though caught off guard, the guitarist accepted the fight, which served as the headliner for Ellis Mania 5—an event created by skateboarder/radio host Jason Ellis. In preparation for the bout, the tatted musician trained at Fortune’s in Hollywood, California, alongside Ellis and Mayhem Miller.

 

For Madden, this fight wasn’t a joke.

 

“Anyone who knows about my band knows that we’re not shit talkers and we’re not dickheads. At the same time, before I ever started training, we still threw down with anyone. We don’t care. That’s just how we were raised,” he says. “So I said, ‘If I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it right,’ and when it came time for the Ellis Mania fight, I wasn’t walking in there laughing, because he told me to my face that he was gonna kick my ass.”

 

The rock guitarist knocked Rachtman down multiple times, and the fight was called in the first round. “Not to pat myself on the back or anything,” he says, “but for my size, I have heavy hands.”

 

Although Madden isn’t a professional mixed martial artist or boxer by any means, he understands the sacrifice it takes to compete on an elite level. In fact, it correlates well into a touring musician’s lifestyle. While playing in a band is quite a different and less physically demanding occupation compared to being a cage fighter, there are similarities between the two, such as perseverance and dealing with the critics who label you as an overnight sensation.

 

“When you have your first hit, everyone is like, ‘Oh, those guys came out overnight,’ but it’s like, ‘Actually, nah.’ We’ve been a band sleeping on people’s floors for the past five years. Losing every job we ever had, because if we had a show, of course we’d take it,” he says. “You dedicate everything to it. You’re homeless at times, you lose your job, you sell all your shit, and you go on tour and come back. Then, when you finally get that breakthrough, that deal or whatever, everyone thinks, ‘Oh, that just happened overnight.’”

 

Now, 10 years removed from crashing on people’s couches and dropping their debut album, the band resides in beautiful Los Angeles, California, and returns with their fifth studio album Cardiology. For Madden, it’s a defining moment of his career.

 

“This is gonna be our best record for sure, and fighting has everything to do with that,” he says. “The work ethic, the lifestyle, and the encouragement—the thing I love about the whole MMA scene is how encouraging they are of each other. There is so much positive energy going on when the training is happening. You see these guys getting ready and see how much they build each other up, and that was something I got a chance to learn from.”

 

And now, it’s time once again for Madden and company to share that encouragement among their legion of fans, and, of course, the Twitter universe.

0

Sibling rivalries usually bring the best out of one another. For Armand Jasari, bassist of Christian metal band I The Breather, that virtue holds plenty of truth. The Delaware-based musician was working on his boxing techniques back in 2006 when, one day, his older brother entered the gym. Instead of sparring together, however, he was introduced to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu—the hard way.

 

“I just thought it was another martial art. I never thought it was what it actually was,” the 23-year-old recalls. “We happened to roll one day, jokingly, and he embarrassed me in front of everybody. It pretty much put me in another world. So, I went to a few classes, really loved it, and started off simple—passing guards, escaping, all the stuff you learn as a white belt. It just got me hooked.”

 

Truth be told, if his music career hadn’t take off, Jasari would probably be finishing the degree requirements of his Bachelor’s of Science in Criminology and working his way to becoming a professional mixed martial artist.

 

Jasari grew up in Maple Shade, New Jersey, and, despite watching pro wrestling and the early UFC events as an adolescent, he decided to try his hand at boxing. The youngster went to his uncle’s gym when he was 16 years old, training alongside his older brother and hoping to have a couple of fights in the ring.

 

While learning the sweet science, he also felt the need to improve his self-image. That’s when he supplemented his stand-up game with bodybuilding. “I just wanted to get my weight up, and to be honest with you, the whole thing had to do with just being a skinny kid in middle school,” Jasari says. “Everybody was messing with me. Then freshman year, I started to get into it and gained some muscle. It made me stronger and improved my stamina.”

 

It might have helped him in his boxing pursuits, but the desire to compete in the ring vanished once his big bro embarrassed him in front of his friends with an arsenal of submission wrestling. He was hooked on BJJ.

 

When Jasari’s family relocated to Dover, Delaware, he linked up with Team Viper and elevated his jiu-jitsu skills, earning a blue belt. Even when the 6’1”, 190-pounder began working toward his Associate’s Degree at Delaware Technical Community College and pounding away on the bass, he made it a habit to train with his teammates. Like he did with boxing, he wanted to test his skills against other BJJ practitioners. But after Jasari earned his degree in 2009, he enrolled at the University of Delaware and moved to Newark to begin work on his Bachelor’s of Science in Criminology. That forced him to go elsewhere to train.

 

Though he explored new dojos in Newark to hone his craft, he found it difficult to find a gym up to his liking. Then, his band I The Breather took off, and his plans to compete in tournaments were thrown to the backseat.

 

“When I moved up here, I couldn’t find many places that were as good as the place in Dover. I tried, but it was hard,” he recalls. “I went to train multiple times at different facilities. I was even interested in doing Grappler’s Quest and NAGA, but I did not get a chance to do that because of the touring.”

 

Due to I The Breather’s hectic schedule, Jasari had to delay his purple belt test and take time off from obtaining his college degree. Formed in August 2009, the Christian metal quintet made a big impression. Within a matter of 12 months, the energetic troupe (also comprised of vocalist Shawn Spann, drummer Morgan Wright, and guitarists Jered Youngbar and Justin Huffman) built up a decisive following, captivated crowds with their high-energy shows, and inked a deal with Sumerian Records.

 

Then, this past December, the Christian group released their official debut album These Are My Sins. Throughout the explosive 11-track collection, I The Breather cleverly weaves elements of hardcore with metal, creating an epic styles-clash, while Spann emotionally screams messages about personal struggles and spirituality with conviction. Some of the many highlights include “Longevity,” “Destroyer”and “Forgiven,” the latter of which they’ve shot a music video for.

 

Like most fans, Jasari believes his band’s raw and pulsating style perfectly complements the attitude of the MMA culture. “Metal generally has the definition of being aggressive and hard hitting. It goes along wonderfully with the nature of the sport,” he says. “The nature of metal music is not calm. It’s not soft. It’s not easy going. It’s not pop music, but it grabs you by the throat and pulls you in.”

 

Despite being on the road most of the year, Jasari still finds time to train when he can—whether it’s hitting up the local gyms when he’s back home in Delaware or doing some weight lifting and cardio exercises backstage before his band performs. Nonetheless, his passion for MMA continues to grow and he is constantly improving his grappling. In fact, five years after being embarrassed by his big bro in front of all his friends during their initial jiu jitsu session, the bassist finally returned the favor. “I handed his ass over to him in front of his friends. It was a little payback,” Jasari says with a chuckle. “I feel like I’m the top dude now.”

 

Armand Jasari has finally one-upped his older brother. For now.

 

Hard Times

 

Armand Jasari plays hard, breathes hard, and trains hard. It’s probably no surprise that three of his favorite fighters are some of the hardest working mixed martial artists in the sport.

 

Cain Velasquez: “He’s a solid striker and is really good at grappling. Despite being a brown belt, he can still hold his own against guys higher up on the BJJ level.”

 

Wanderlei Silva: “He’s a big influence of mine. Throughout the years, I’ve looked up to him as a fighter, and I follow him throughout every fight.”

 

Georges St-Pierre: “He is an incredible athlete and has cleaned out the whole 170-pound division. His style is unmatched.”

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