MMA Life

MMA Life

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San Francisco 49ers Kassim Osgood uses capoeira to help find his edge on the field.

San Francisco 49ers special team standout Kassim Osgood has one of the most physically grueling jobs in football. The three-time Pro Bowler is a “gunner,” who charges down the field on kickoffs and punts and tries to wreak havoc on the ball carrier. To do so, he has to fight through multiple defensive backs that are trying to knock his head off.

Despite Osgood’s obvious toughness, the longtime MMA fan still isn’t inclined to step into the Octagon.

“Become a fighter? Hell no,” says Osgood. “That’s something you have to have the instinct for from day one. It’s kind of like somebody who’s been a basketball player all their life, then deciding they want to go play football. You’re going to be off. But in the case of MMA, if you’re off one second, you’ll get knocked out. I like the way I look. I don’t want my face all beat up.”

It’s not as if Osgood didn’t have an early introduction to MMA. As an All-American football player at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California, Osgood became friends with former Cal Poly wrestler Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell.
“I’ve known Chuck Liddell since I was 18 years old,” Osgood says. “I met him around town and went into his gym and found out who he was and what MMA was. Watching him and watching the old-school guys like Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock, that’s how I got into it MMA, and I’ve been following it ever since.”

While he never actually trained with Liddell, Osgood has been training forms of martial arts most of his life. He started kung fu as a teen, but the Brazilian dance-fighting art capoeira captivated him in 2005 while playing for the San Diego Chargers.

“One of the guys who has a capoeira class in San Diego came down and did a demonstration at one of our camps for the kids in our foundation,” Osgood says. “I kind of remembered it from a movie a long time ago. It was intriguing. It looked like it was a lot of fun. He was explaining that it was good for cardiovascular health. At the time, I had a shoulder injury, so it was a great way to strengthen my shoulder. There are a lot of flips and handstands and stuff that you’ve got to do, and little positions and that help utilize your shoulders a lot. It was good rehab.”

Osgood hasn’t been able to practice the Brazilian martial art over the past few years while playing in Jacksonville and Detroit, but now that he’s back on the West Coast playing for the Niners, he plans on getting back into capoeira.

“Capoeira helps with speed, quickness with your hands, getting off the jam, and getting off blocks,” says Osgood. “Being able to block people and using your overall weight distribution is a huge benefit. It’s just one more thing that will give me an edge to keep playing in the NFL.”

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There’s a school of thought that maintains fi ghters should live like monks. No sex, no booze, no contact with popular culture or anything that distracts them from their training. Stories of isolation from the world have become as proverbial as they are predictable: the high-altitude training sessions in Big Bear, the Spartan purity of Miletich’s camp in Bettendorf, the tales of fi ghters who slept on gym fl oors with cockroaches at their feet in sweltering Thailand. Somewhere along the line, piousness became a kind of street cred in the world of mixed martial arts. And then there’s the story of a gym located smack dab in the center of all that’s unholy: Legends Mixed Martial Arts Training Center in Hollywood, California.

Legends MMA sits on the corner of North La Brea and Hawthorne, and at 6:53 AM on this particular Wednesday morning in February, Tinseltown is a surreal place. Just down the block, Hollywood Boulevard is blocked off in preparation for the annual Academy Awards ceremony. A stone’s throw away, the noxious splatter of what is most likely vomit stains George Clooney’s spot on the Walk Of Stars. The dashboards of the cars parked overnight at the meters in front of the gym are covered with glossy fl yers hyping up the next party, maybe at Teddy’s in the nearby Roosevelt Hotel, where Paris Hilton was swarmed by paparazzi not fi ve hours earlier.

There’s a group of people gathered on this corner, a dozen of them, and they’re all waiting expectantly outside the gym’s darkened glass doors, eager, nervous, adrenaline pumping, waiting for admission to the kind of club that’s a world away from the countless US Weekly-approved hot spots that line these streets. The group is made up mainly of guys with two girls mixed in, some of them already wrapping their hands and trying to get warm for an early morning Muay Thai session. But their conversation isn’t your typical fi ght gym banter: it touches on the Los Angeles real estate market, the possibility of an actors’ strike in June, and various upcoming Oscar night parties. That’s because the professionals on the Legends MMA Fight Team don’t train until the afternoon. This early morning gang is a showbiz crowd: a television executive, an actor or two, a stand-up comedian, a screenwriter, and a fashion designer, among others. Above them, the stern visage of Mac Danzig looms over this stretch of La Brea, his face emblazoned on a huge banner hung on the side of the gym, congratulating him, a Legends instructor, on winning last season’s installment of The Ultimate Fighter competition on Spike TV.

Click click click… A young, wannabe starlet still wearing last night’s miniskirt is teetering precariously down the sidewalk in her high heels as she passes the gym, carefully weaving around the homeless guy passed out in her path, trying (and failing miserably) to conceal the fact that she’s doing the Walk of Shame. It’s the kind of sight these Legends members have seen all too often in this town, the Hollywood cycle in a nutshell: new dreams begin and old ones come crashing to a sudden halt on a daily basis, in plain view of each other. Come to think of it, as backdrops for fi ghting gyms go, it’s not half bad.

And then Victor Henry skateboards up La Brea to join that group waiting outside, baggy pants slightly sagging, his sweatshirt’s hood pulled over his boyish face, his slim, 135-pound frame cruising along with the easy grace of a natural athlete. He swerves around the slumbering homeless man in the middle of the sidewalk without even glancing down, paying no heed to that cautionary tale in his path. Which is somehow appropriate. Victor’s a 2nd Degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, holds a blue belt in jiu jitsu from Rorion Gracie, and has been training intensively in Muay Thai for the better part of a year. His fi rst smoker is three days away. Victor is 20-years-old and in the cycle of Hollywood, his dreams are just beginning.

At the stroke of 7:00, Jimmie Romero, one of the gym’s trainers, arrives with his keys to open the place up for the day. Jimmie’s got 34 different tattoos on his body (the most recent are large traditional Japanese style pieces on each shin, a dragon on one side and a tiger on the other) and he used to fi ght on the local Muay Thai and MMA circuits in the era before Zuffa acquired the UFC and revolutionized the sport. A natural storyteller, he’s full of tales from the old days… How he would shave the hair from his arms three days before a fi ght so the stubble would grow back razor sharp and scrape the skin of his opponent during grappling. How the fi ghters would party their asses off the night before a bout and enter the ring hung over, throwing wild head kicks over and over again, desperate to end the fi ght early, and the inevitable feeling of invincibility they’d get when it did.

Somehow, Jimmie emerged from those times with his face still intact, ageless and handsome, with a square fi ghter’s jaw and a thick head of black hair. This being Hollywood, he’s written and directed some short fi lms and is an actor who has trained private clients like Tobey Maguire, Shakira, and Nicole Richie. And therein lies a unique paradox of Legends gym: the producers, writers, and actors who are students dream of being fi ghters and the fi ghters dream of being producers, writers, and actors.

For the most part, the gym exists neatly in the middle of those two very different worlds. But sometimes it doesn’t. On this particular morning, I’m stretching in the heavy bag area when I come across a business card with an actor’s head shot and phone number printed on it, standard paraphernalia in Los Angeles. But then I notice something on the back of the card and fi nd a handwritten note:

“Dear Joe Rogan, some friends and I have an MMA movie set up with people at ICM [a talent agency] and I was hoping you had time to read our script. Contact me for more info!”

Joe Rogan, the UFC’s color commentator and a highly accomplished martial artist in his own right, trains regularly at Legends with his close friend, the legendary no-gi jiu jitsu pioneer Eddie Bravo, who runs his 10th Planet school out of the gym. I glance around and see the same actor’s business card with the same message placed in strategic locations across the 5,000 square feet of Legends: inside the large cage area where the classes are held, near the water fountain, on the treadmill in back, on the lip of the regulation size boxing ring next to the spit buckets and Vaseline. Hollywood is fi lled with stories of desperate hopefuls tossing copies of their scripts over the gates of movie stars’ mansions, hoping to be discovered. I think I’ve just witnessed the MMA version.

The man responsible for bringing serious, pro level mixed martial arts training to Hollywood is Legends owner Chris Reilly. Since taking his fi rst competitive fi ght at age four (a karate match), Reilly eventually blossomed into one of the most successful Muay Thai fi ghters to ever come out of the United States. He reached the pinnacle in 2001, when he became the fi rst and only American to fi ght in Thailand on the traditional holiday known as the King’s Birthday and win, knocking out his Thai opponent in the fi rst round in front of 150,000 people. Born and raised in Los Angeles and now 36-years-old, Reilly has retired but he’s still got that classic alpha male presence, with confi dent ice blue eyes and a lean, wiry fi ghter’s build that makes you think he could still bring it on if he wanted.

Back in 2002, Reilly was training Muay Thai fi ghters out of a small, gritty space in West Hollywood called The Bomb Squad when he met Eddie Bravo and invited him to start teaching his unique, MMA-friendly brand of jiu jitsu there at a time when grappling and stand-up fi ghting were viewed as wildly contrast
ing and incompatible styles. But things were starting to change. Fortunately for Reilly, during his fi ghting days he was known to have a devastating Muay Thai clinch that would open opponents up for barrages of knees and elbows. It was a style that was particularly compatible with what would become the modern era of mixed martial arts.

Soon, he was being approached by world-class fi ghters who wanted to take their training to the next level. One of the fi rst was Jeremy “Half-Man, Half-Amazing” Williams, the former two-time WBC heavyweight champion and, currently at 3-0 in the ICON organization, arguably the most successful elite-level boxer to make the transition to MMA. Another was a man named Quentin “Rampage” Jackson, who would go on to knock out Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell and capture the UFC light heavyweight title. To this day, Reilly is still Jackson’s Muay Thai coach.

Along the way, Reilly became friendly with Rampage’s former manager, current Elite XC Head of Fighter Operations, Jeremy Lappen. In 2006, Lappen and Reilly began making plans to open the fi rst mixed martial arts gym in the city of Los Angeles. “It wasn’t that long ago,” remembers Reilly, “but the world of MMA was different. Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture were about to fi ght for the third time. The sport wasn’t in the mainstream like it is now. The money wasn’t what it is now.” Indeed, Lappen and Reilly had Couture and famed mixed martial artist Bas Rutten lined up as investors and they served as the public faces of the gym, hence the name Legends. The gym offi cially opened in late 2006. Not too long afterwards, Couture made history by coming out of retirement to regain the UFC heavyweight title (and engage in an epic legal battle with the organization) and started focusing on his Xtreme Couture gym in Las Vegas, while Rutten is currently jetting around the country as a television commentator for the International Fight League, but both still endorse the gym and teach seminars when they’re in town.

“What the hell’s going on up there?” bellows Jimmie, glaring at Victor Henry, who’s standing up in the boxing ring, gloves on, dripping in sweat. “He’s got a fi ght coming up, work him!” I’m holding Thai pads for Victor and we made the mistake of taking a few moments during the round to work a complex counter technique off a body shot from an opponent. Jimmie wants him pushed to the limit, he wants to simulate that feeling in a fi ght when you’re gassed out and want to puke but have to keep reacting with aggression, striking with what he calls “bad intentions.” So Victor turns it up, throwing crisp, rapid-fi re combos, hooks, jabs, and black belt quality kicks that feel like they’re coming from a heavyweight, not a 135-pounder. The ring timer goes off and he catches his breath, brushing the brown curls back from his forehead. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a newly thin Jack Osborne (Ozzy’s kid) stretching in the bag area not too far away from Chris Masterson, of Malcolm In The Middle fame (and a Legends investor). Like anyone else trying to make it in Hollywood, Victor’s got a day job: he works at Knott’s Berry Farm, an amusement park where he gets dressed up like a cowboy and operates a roller coaster called the Silver Bullet.

“Are you nervous about your fi ght?” I ask him. “No,” he smiles. “Not really.” “You got family coming to watch?” “No way. My mom doesn’t want to see me doing this. I’m her baby.”

The bell rings. I can feel Jimmie’s eyes on us. I raise the Thai pads once again and Victor goes back to work, throwing knees that could split someone’s head open, his eyes focused, losing himself in his craft, a million miles away from that cowboy costume that’s waiting for him.

“I get a guy telling me they want to be a pro fi ghter at least once a day,” says Chris Reilly, “and maybe fi ve percent of them will end up making it.” He’s kicking back on the couch at the gym’s front desk area, where racks of t-shirts and board shorts bearing the Legends logo hang alongside copies of Eddie Bravo’s jiu jitsu textbooks. His cell phone rings steadily and he looks tired, the result of balancing his responsibilities at Legends with his regular commute to Las Vegas to serve as the Muay Thai coach for Rampage’s team in the new season of The Ultimate Fighter. He runs his fi ngers through the Mohawk he’s sporting; last week a bunch of the gym’s pro fi ghters followed teammate Dan “The Outlaw” Hardy’s lead and cut each other’s hair in the same punk rock style. Hardy is a highly decorated fi ghter out of Nottingham, England who is poised for stardom in the US. He was introduced to Reilly through fellow Brit and Elite XC star Paul “Semtex” Daley, another Legends regular.

As a general rule of thumb, Reilly wants aspiring fi ghters to have at least 10 Muay Thai smokers and 10 grappling tournaments under their belts before he allows them to take a pro MMA fi ght. “I lose guys because of that,” he admits. “But that’s how long it takes to get used to the pressure, for your body to adjust to the adrenaline dump. If you really want to fi ght that bad right here and now, go down the street to another gym and the owners there will toss you in a cage somewhere. But that’s not how we do things here.” At Legends, the guys on the pro fi ght team train free of charge and Reilly acts as their trainer and manager, handling contracts, helping them select opponents, dealing with promoters, and working them out on a daily basis. Most of the fi ghters have day jobs, many of them as instructors at Legends.

“The cost of living for a fi ghter is different in Hollywood,” Reilly explains. “The reason why you see these huge gym spaces in places like Las Vegas is because the rent, for the gyms and for housing, is much cheaper.” Indeed, this week he’s losing Mac Danzig, who’s relocating to Vegas to live and train. I ask him if he’s worried about prospective gym members being turned off because his highest profi le instructor is leaving. “The bread and butter of a gym like this are not the pro fi ghters, it’s the guys and girls that come in here to train and learn and have fun,” he says. “The vast majority of them don’t care about big names like Mac or [former Legends instructor] Karo Parisyan or Rampage. They come here to get in shape and learn more about the sport.”

The bright Los Angeles sun shines through the gym’s front windows and students walk in wearing designer sunglasses and limited edition Nikes, careful to shut off the ringers on their shiny new iPhones. It’s the afternoon now, almost time for the Legends Fight Team workout. Another one of the gym’s celebrity investors, Ethan Suplee, better known to the masses as Randy Hickey from My Name Is Earl, heads toward the mat area for his daily jiu jitsu private lesson. A few MMA fan boys decked out in Affl iction gear come in from off the street to ask some questions about joining the gym and they’re greeted by two girls working behind the front desk, Ciera and Caela. The girls are friendly, gracious with their answers, and with some piercings here and some tattoos there, totally hot and sexy, a fact that is clearly not lost on these dudes, one of whom actually seems to be drooling. Something tells me the front desk staff in Bettendorf, Iowa doesn’t look like this.

Jimmie sits down on the couch alongside Reilly, Peter Nylund and Jeremy Williams, both Legends instructors. The gossip starts fl owing fast: Scott Caan throws wicked body shots, Eric Balfour (of 24 fame, the recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, and also a Legends investor) was dotting guys up from a Southp
aw stance, Laura Prepon dropped in for some private lessons, and what was Jonathan Rhys Meyers doing here the other day? Dave Callaham, an Eddie Bravo blue belt and the writer behind the big screen adaptation of Doom starring The Rock strolls past, chatting with Balfour, who just happens to be starring in Callaham’s next movie, a serial killer fl ick called Horsemen.

Meanwhile, International Fight League veteran Conor “Hurricane” Heun heads towards the ring in back for a day of sparring, passing up the chance to talk trash with the rest of the guys. He’s got an Elite XC bout in two weeks against a Chute Boxe fi ghter named Marlon Matias at 160 pounds, which is stunning because right now Heun looks huge, muscles bulging under his rash guard. But like many longtime wrestlers, he doesn’t fl inch at the thought of cutting impossible amounts of weight. In fact, his weight cutting prowess has become something of an urban myth around this place. A few months back, a promoter made a surprisingly lucrative offer to fi ght on that same day, just as he was gorging himself on Brazilian barbecue and secretly nursing a torn MCL. The catch? He had four hours to cut 14 pounds of excess weight. A few minutes later he was wearing a wet suit and several layers of wool clothing in the driver’s seat of his Pathfi nder, the heat cranked up as high as it would go, speeding towards weigh-ins in San Diego. He doing jumping jacks outside the car at stoplights as his manager sat in the truck wearing shorts and nothing else, sweating his tail off. After a brief stint in the sauna, Heun made weight. Unfortunately, the promoter reneged on that sweet offer and Heun decided the risk to his damaged knee wasn’t worth it. But, perhaps more importantly, now he knows how hard he can push his body in order to get to fi ghting weight.

The day’s Fight Team session is largely devoted to getting Heun ready. He’s doing consecutive fi ve minute rounds in the same ring that Victor worked earlier that morning, but this time around it’s full contact MMA sparring, each round with a different, freshly rested member of the team as Chris Reilly looks on, shouting out instructions and picking apart mistakes. Down in the cage, Jimmie takes the rest of the fi ghters through rounds of light standup sparring, carefully smoothing out the wrinkles as they present themselves: showing wrestlers how to properly throw strikes, demonstrating to jiu jitsu players how they should parry and slip, taking karate devotees through the right way to move their feet in an MMA fi ght. During a break in the action, I’m standing next to Jimmie when his BlackBerry goes off. He checks the message and grins. When I ask him what’s so amusing, he leans over and whispers in my ear, low, maybe so the tough guys around us don’t hear, then winks: “I just booked a role in the new Cuba Gooding Jr. movie.”

The fi rst thing you notice at a smoker is how hot and humid it gets inside this tiny, dingy gym somewhere in the San Fernando Valley. A couple hundred people are squeezed inside, pressed up against the ring, and there’s tension in the air, enough to cause even a bystander to get nervous and amped-up. The fi ghters fi nd space where they can, some shadowbox in a cramped bathroom, watching their form in the mirror, others sit against a wall, cross legged, headphones on, trying to get focused.

Victor bounces lightly on his feet as Jimmie holds pads for him, getting him warmed up for his fi ght. Legends MMA has a stellar 24-2 record in local smokers, so there’s a certain amount of pressure. If Victor wants to graduate and start training with Chris Reilly and the pros on the Legends Fight Team, his journey has to start here with a win. His opponent has already fought and won once before and by the looks of him, he outweighs Victor by a good 15 or 20 pounds. The ring announcer screws up Victor’s name, calling him “Victory” by accident. Victor shrugs. Jimmie tries to hide it, but he looks nervous.

The bell rings, and his opponent comes out swinging wildly, big overhand rights and left hooks, powerful but undisciplined, clearly not accustomed to the “adrenaline dump” that Chris Reilly mentioned earlier. The crowd “oohs” over the display of haymakers, but Victor calmly covers, counters with a series of jabs and connects with a big kick to the head, sending his adversary sprawling to the canvas. When he gets up, Victor attacks. He lands a liver shot. He lands a hard left hook followed by another hard kick to the head. His opponent looks at the referee, wobbly, shaking his head, waving off the fi ght halfway through the fi rst round.

Victor raises his arms. Jimmie jumps through the ring’s ropes and hugs him tight, lifting him up in the air. He’s smiling, whispering something into Victor’s ear that no one else can hear. When he sets Victor down, the rest of the guys from Legends swarm him, ecstatic and proud, but Victor slips away and starts rummaging through his bag until he fi nds what he’s looking for: his cell phone. He takes it and runs over to an empty section of the gym, holding it close, his taped-up hand still shaking slightly from the rush of battle.

Then Victor’s opponent walks past, his shoulders slumped, no doubt trying to fi gure out his next move, strategizing how he’s going to come back from this ugly loss. And there it is again, that uniquely Tinseltown juxtaposition: big dreams passing each other regularly, some managing to rise up, others crashing to the ground, all in plain view of each other.

“Mom, it’s me,” Victor says softly into his phone. “I didn’t get injured. I’m okay. The other guy, he’s gonna be okay, too. Yeah, I won! I won.”

For one more night at least, the guys at Legends MMA get their picture-perfect Hollywood ending.

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More than 20 years ago, a mix of comedians, musicians, and eye candy was standard entertainment for deployed troops. Celebrities still do large numbers, but there’s another big ticket these days—mixed martial artists.

During a stint in the early 1990s as a military police officer in the Marines, jiu-jitsu coach Kurt Shrout remembers the impact of a Billy Ray Cyrus concert that drew 70,000 service members. Today, MMA fighters have surpassed all but stand-up comedians as the most requested personalities overseas, says Shrout, who founded Fighters for FIGHTERS, a group that brings some of the UFC’s best (and soon, Bellator) to the Armed Forces.

“Whenever you’re stationed overseas—and it really doesn’t matter if you’re in Germany, Afghanistan, or Guam—you start to think that America doesn’t care about you,” says Shrout. “You’re just another piece in the machine. Our goal is always to remind troops that they’re missed and loved, and we want them to come home safe.”

Since 2010, Fighters for FIGHTERS has gone around the world on that mission, touching down at military bases in the Pacific Rim and Middle East. Mike Swick, Jon Fitch, Chris Leben, Kyle Kingsbury, Dustin Poirier, and Tom Lawlor are among a growing list of fighters who have made the trip, braving 36-hour flights, shakedowns in Kurdistan, and rocket attack scares in Shindand, Afghanistan. They receive no pay, other than a small per diem.

Their impact on the troops, however, is unmistakable.

“We met a group of guys who are in explosive ordinance disposal, and in six months, they lost 10 percent of their unit,” Shrout says. “Our visits are such a needed break for them, because, for a few hours, they’re not thinking about what happened or what could happen.”

“At the nicer bases, we’d have 20 or 30 people show up to meet us,” says Kyle Kingsbury. “Then we went to Djibouti, where it’s just a hellhole and nobody wanted to be there. We showed up, and there were 250 people who all wanted an autograph or to take a photo. It’s a really cool experience. They really appreciate you coming.”

Shrout says that over the two-week jaunts, they speed through military bases and outposts on the front lines. The itinerary is: “You’ll be told when you get there,” but might involve flying over an active firefight or sitting in a bunker.

There could be crash courses in the inner-workings of a Cobra helicopter or a Squad Automatic Weapon. There will definitely be an education on what some service members endure while protecting our country.

“Djibouti is right on the equator,” Kingsbury says. “It’s walking distance to Somalia. They took us out on the U.S.S. Nassau, which has 1000 Marines and 1000 Navy Shipmen. Those guys had been out to sea for over a month without a dock, and their plan was to go 75 days without a port. Put it this way, when we ate at the chow hall, I had to sit back away from my food, because I was dripping sweat like a running faucet. Their job is to protect against Somali pirates. Knowing how long those guys were out there, how can you complain when something little goes wrong in your life?”

The fighters do endless meet-and greetsand autograph sessions. And whenever possible, they get out the mats to teach. Of course, there are many military members who are pro and amateur fighters, competing on their downtime away from their military duties, and they love the extra technique sessions. But soldiers aren’t just keen on learning the best double-leg takedown. They want Swick to explain why Josh Koscheck is such a headache at American Kickboxing Academy.

“They’re on the forums, they’re on the websites, and they know what’s going on,” says Shrout, who coaches at Easton Training Center-Fitness in Colorado when he’s not playing tour manager.

Besides getting down on the mats for a little MMA practice, Tom Lawlor’s trip overseas gave him a greater understanding of why people enlist.

“These people sacrifice a lot and get sent halfway around the world,” Lawlor says. “They give up a lot of the luxuries that we take for granted in order to sacrifice for their families and their future. Literally, the very least I could do is participate, and if there were 10 MMA fans on a trip, that was pretty much worth it for me.”

With three trips already in the books, another tour is planned in the fall for Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, Djibouti, and Qatar. As long as there are FIGHTERS overseas, Shrout plans to bring the fighters to them.

“It’s important to keep morale up,” Shrout says, “and these men and women serving our country deserve every ounce of our support.”

Running the Gauntlet: The All-Army Combatives Tournament

Atypical day on Kris Perkins’ squad involves an hourand-a-half of CrossFit, followed by 25, five-minute rounds of jiu-jitsu, lunch, and four hours of wrestling and Muay Thai. Most of this work—five days a week and a short day on Saturday—takes place in an 8,000-square-foot facility with three matted rooms and a 24-foot cage. A jiu-jitsu black belt is on staff. Trainer Mike Constantino and UFC lightweight Jim Miller might show up. Strikeforce contender Tim Kennedy is down the road. Medics are always on call.

“For three months, all they do is learn to fight,” Perkins says.

And near the end, they’ll fight each other for the right to compete on his Army Combatives Team. For the past two years, Perkins’ quad has not only won the All-Army Combatives Tournament, but also the right to host this year’s festivities at Fort Hood, Texas. Approximately 400 soldiers from bases around the world are expected to attend the three-day competition, which is set for July 26-28. Perkins is going for three wins in a row, and he admits that he’s stacking the deck as much as possible. He has to—the level of competition is sky-high.

“Every year, it gets better and better,” he says. “The Army is full of D-1 wrestlers. Some of them were All-American, and these guys start coming out of the woodwork when this tournament happens.”

Combatives, which integrates modern fighting techniques into the soldier’s arsenal, was founded in 2001 by a sergeant in the Army Rangers and was adopted Army-wide in 2004. Soon after, the tournament was born.

The first day of competition is submission grappling with fatigues. The second day is a fight under Pancrase rules (no closed-fist strikes to the head), and the third day is an MMA fight, minus elbows and knees to the head of a grounded opponent. It’s a double-elimination tournament, so entrants who lose still have a shot at placing third or fourth in their weight class (of which there are eight,
from 110 pounds to heavyweight). Women compete alongside the men, and they are given a 15 percent weight allowance.

Perkins recruits three to five people and chooses two to represent each weight class. His team often visits three-time tournament winner Tim Kennedy for some extra work. Jim Miller’s comment after a day working with the team was, “Holy shit, this is a tough room,” says Perkins. For all the sweat and sacrifi ce, the Combatives director estimates only 10 percent of competitors go on to become professional fighters, though many moonlight on the regional circuit. Most will go back to their units, where they’ll be the resident experts in hand-to-hand combat. Those who win will have some serious bragging rights, too.

“To a soldier, if you win the All-Army Tournament, you can say, ‘I’m the toughest soldier in the United States Army at 155 pounds,’” Perkins says. “That’s really why most of them do it.”

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Something about Boston felt right—a brew of culture and history that had been absent in venues like Sacramento or Columbus. Now, the most important mixed martial arts promotion is finally ready to introduce its sport to a city rich with fighting heritage.

 

Like it or not, every city has popular reputation: New York is rude and over-compensated finance guys chasing the skirts of clueless fashionistas; Chicago is men cursing the hapless Cubs while drinking cases of beer with Ditka-loving women; Los Angeles is sipping strawberry daiquiri’s in sex rehab while recalling the character developments from Season Five of The Hills. You get the idea.

 

Boston has its image too, one characterized by short-tempered South Siders with broad A’s and dropped R’s who pick bar fights and drink “wicked ahmounts of bee-yuh.” More than most cities, Bostonians are caricaturized by their culture—a tradition of provocation, intellectual bravado, and violence. In Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon’s character appeared to be just an epic metaphor for a city with equal parts intellectualism and physicality—the genius solving calculus problems at MIT during the day, while drinking and fighting at night. Call it movie making, the city’s attitude is derived from something historical rooted in more than screenplays and reality television.

 

Bloody Bahston

 

The first Bostonians weren’t 4-oz-gloves-and-a-cage scrappers, nor were they bullies. The Shawmut Peninsula’s original settlers were ornery, holier-than-thou English Puritans who were determined to domesticate the wild lands—and people—surrounding Boston. They utilized their work ethic to create a city that would stand in their hardy, self-reliant image for the centuries of growth that would follow. Within three generations of their arrival, the do-gooders had established commerce and trade independent of the Crown. They also grew tired of foreign rule, and that prickly Puritan nature incumbent in their culture initiated a struggle that would ultimately lead to a region determined to establish free rule.

 

A brief synopsis of the American Revolution: men wearing powdered wigs took umbrage to a tax on tea (to be fair, it’d be akin to an extra tax on beer in Milwaukee or hair gel in New Jersey). They then dumped some tea in the harbor, which irked King George, who responded by shuddering Boston Harbor and occupying the city with “Lobsterbacks.”Parched for drinkable tea, Bostonians led a Colonies-wide rebellion against the King with pamphleteering and those famous first musket shots at Lexington and Concord.

 

There were intellectual guardians in and around Boston as well. Heading the class of thinkers toward rebellion was future U.S. President John Adam—a pathetically short man who came to power through a combination of wit and cage rattling temper. He was more complicated than a one-sentence descriptor, but his sharp tongue stood at the influential forefront of American independence. Thomas Jefferson, his sometimes-seditious Vice President, once described his boss as being “vain, irritable, [and] stubborn.” By 1775, it was apparent that Adams was America’s First Masshole.

 

The Boxer Revolution

 

With the port cleared of Redcoats, more than one million immigrants coursed through Boston Harbor to find prosperity in America. Among those unloading in Boston were the Irish parents of John L. Sullivan, who was to become the first international boxing superstar.

 

According to Boston boxing historian Kevin Smith, “The Boston Strong Boy” wasn’t just popular sea-to-shining-sea. He was the world’s first athletic megastar, a man synonymous with inflicting apple carts full of rottenness on opponents while making truckloads of cash (he was the first U.S. athlete to make $1 million). Sullivan was considered the best athlete in the world in the sport with the grittiesttest of masculinity. Locally, he was a heroon par with those who won independence and the right to drink cheap tea.

 

“Most people basically saw Sullivan as the baddest guy on the planet, and yeah, he was from Boston. That meant that every kid in Boston wanted to become just like the champ.” Smith says. “That does a lot for your city, especially if it’s poor.”

 

Sullivan, who held the heavyweight title for 10 years, became for Boston boxing what American Top Team has done for mixed-martial arts in Florida. “At the turn of the century, kids were boxing in every event they could find,” says Smith. “They thought they could make money, get out of Boston, and see the world.”

 

Boston became the epicenter of boxing.Police leagues and boys clubs were established to fund youth boxing programs and keep kids off the street. Fighting wasn’t regionalized by precinct ordo-gooders—much of the fight game in Boston was ethnocentric. You may remember Tom Cruise’s character in Far and Away was an Irish immigrant who was pressured to fight on behalf of Ireland against the Italians. Not an uncommon scene. Smith says ethnic and racial motivations were common among fight promotions.

 

Premier among the idyllic brawlers of mid-century Boston was Rocky Marciano, an Italian street kid from down the road in Brockton, Mass. In time, he’d transcend the sport—from an intellectual and wild-swinging Italian-American fighter to arguable the greatest fighter, but not boxer (legendary boxing analyst Bert Sugar once called Marciano the “toughest son of a bitch to ever wear gloves”). His professional record was unblemished: 46 wins and 43 KOs. For her part, the city of Boston tried to sequester Marciano’s popularity and accomplishments. And why not? This was a city suffering through the Red Sox, an almost second-city mentality that leashed them to a New York inferiority. The media’s cartographical impulses took foot and changed their reality. Marciano’s championship held glamour for decades.

 

Marciano wasn’t without controversy. Writers criticized him for fighting older opponents (his title-defense opponents averaged in their 40s) but lauded the champ’s massive hands and ironwill, even if it lacked the finesse of technique. Joe Liebling wrote this for The New Yorker: “[Rocky] has an intellectual appreciation of the anxieties of a champion, but he has a hard time forgetting how strong he is; while he remembers that, he can’t worry as much as he knows a champion should.”

 

Marciano’s popularity and dominance only increased Sullivan’s 19th century cultural progress, but it waned at the tail end of the 20th century. The champ took the idea of Boston boxing and recertified its legitimacy as an inseparable pairing for sport and geography. Yet the regional affection for pugilism was dying. Nothing—not intellectualism, stardom, or the combination of city and sport—could stifle the growing popularity appeal and profitability of MMA. Not Marciano, not Boston.

 

Boxed Out

 

Peter Welch says he saw the MMA craze start as lingering gym rats who were looking for a new challenge. Like iron sharpeners, the TUF 1 and 2 boxing coach saw his clients mature from slap boxers into professional technicians. Their goals and motivations went from wide-eyed attention grabbing spectacle to earning some of the biggest paydays in the Northeast (even as the sport was illegal within the city limits). Welch had only been teaching kids the basics and refining the work of his professionals. Now, with MMA guys in his gym, he was catering to older students who wanted to know how to throw a correct jab and duck a haymaker.

 

“The city ratified [MMA] despite the objections of the older boxing crowd,” Welch says. &#8220
;It was odd, because at the last Bellator fight, I didn’t know any of the commissioners. They weren’t boxing people anymore. They were fight people.”

 

Welch isn’t backing down from MMA. He’s the boxing coac for Kenny Florian and Brock Lesnar, and the city has other top striking coaches in Marc Della Grotti and the Florian camp. Still, Welch knows Boston is a town of uppercuts, sucker punches, and black eyes. “It’s a right of passage for the kids in the community,” says Welch. “It’s something I’ve passed on to my sons and that we pass on to the sons of the community. Fighting is athleticism stripped down to its core. Me versus You. What drives a fighter to see another human being and decide to challenge him to a fight? This whole fighting thing is about the test of toughness—doesn’t matter if it’s boxing or MMA.”

 

That’s Boston: tough guys from tough neighborhoods, fighting for a way to improve their lives. Come fight night at the Garden, you know that the locals won’t just be watching the fight inside the cage—they’ll probably be starting a few of their own, hopped up on bee-yuh and 300 years of Puritanical scrapping tradition.

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Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome: This is the unoffi cial mantra of the U.S. Marine Corps. Why? Because Marines are badasses who typically have to think on their feet and adjust their tactics accordingly. Marines do not make excuses. Likewise, mixed martial artists have to be able to think on their feet. Fortunately, no one is shooting AK-47s at fi ghters, which allows them room for error in their improvisations. Some of their improvised tactics are good, some are bad, and some are just plain FUBAR. Here are the 10 that left me wondering, “Did he really just do that?”

10. Flying Front Flip

Harold Howard vs. Steve Jennum UFC 4, 1994

Back when mullets were the preferred haircut of karate black belts, Howard completed a fl ying front fl ip for purposes of accentuating his golden locks (at least that’s my best guess). The fl ip came nowhere close to touching Jennum, who then beat Howard into oblivion with a furry of punches. Howard also loses style points for not sticking the landing.

9. Crane Kick

Sean Salmon vs. Rashad Evans UFC Fight Night 8, 2007

Taking a page out of the Karate Kid’s notebook, Salmon delivered a perfectly executed crane kick. The problem was that Evans was on the other side of the Octagon. However, Salmon would make the UFC highlight reel after Evans dropped him with a devastating leg kick in the second round. Mr. Miyagi surely would have been impressed.

8. Flying Dropkick

Ikuhisa Minowa vs. Eric “Butterbean” Esch PRIDE Bushido 12, 2006

What’s better than opening a match with a fl ying dropkick? Minowa can answer that question. He delivered two fl ying dropkicks to Butterbean in the fi rst 15 seconds of their fi ght. The 400-pounder swatted Minowa away like a gnat, but minutes later the Japanese catch-wrestler had Butterbean tapping to an armbar. It should be noted that Butterbean has eaten barbecue sandwiches bigger than the 180-pound Minowa.

7. Piledriver

Bob Sapp vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira PRIDE Shockwave, 2002

In the opening seconds of the bout, Sapp countered Nogueira’s double-leg attempt by lifting him in the air and piledriving him down to the canvas ala Jerry “The King” Lawler. Big Nog rebounded from the slam and a substantial beating and submitted Sapp in the second round via armbar. Sapp has since found fame as the spokesman for Nissin Instant Noodles.

6. Humping Worm Slam

Georges St. Pierre vs. Matt Hughes III UFC 79, 2007

While St. Pierre had Hughes mounted in the fi rst round, he decided to soften up the Country Boy with several pelvic-thrust slams. It wasn’t ascetically pleasing, but it did make Hughes uncomfortable enough that he relinquished his body lock. Perhaps in the recesses of Hughes’ brain, he decided it was better to lose via armbar than be humped unconscious.

5. The EYENOOGIE

Mark Kerr vs. Dan Bobish UFC 14, 1997

Known for his wrestling ability and groundn- pound attack, Kerr may have felt he was becoming too one-dimensional as a mixed martial artist. So, after taking Bobish down with a double-leg and mounting him, Kerr applied the “chin to eye,” forcing the tap at 1:38 in the fi rst round. Mark Hunt may have the toughest chin in MMA, but Mark Kerr has the most technical chin. Imagine the damage Jay Leno could do.

4. Ball ANNIHILATOR

Keith Hackney vs. Joe Son UFC 4, 1993

Before Son became famous for playing the hat-throwing Random Task in Austin Powers, he was known for having his testicles repeatedly pulverized by Hackney. Crotch shots were legal in the UFC at this time, and Hackney sure took advantage of this rule as he forced Son to tap from a combination testicle strike/neck choke. I can say with absolute certainty that no one will ever lose again via “testi-choke.”

3. Ass Spanker

Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Ryan Gracie PRIDE 12, 2002

Sakuraba is renown both for beating numerous Gracies and utilizing unorthodox techniques. He decided to kill two birds with one stone in 2002 when he literally spanked Ryan Gracie’s ass several times while mixed up in a scramble on the ground. After the spanking, Saku fi guratively spanked Gracie’s ass with a unanimous-decision victory. Gracie can count himself fortunate that he was not the recipient of Saku’s double Mongolian chop.

2. THE SMOTHER

Emmanuel Yarborough vs. Tatsuaki Nakano Shoot the Shooto XX, 1998

When you weigh more than 700 pounds, it’s only natural to use all that fat to your advantage. And that’s exactly what Yarborough did when he plopped his belly on Nakano’s face and won the fi ght via smother. This is the lone victory of Yarborough’s career, and it truly is “fat-tastic.”

1. Atomic Butt Drop

Mark Hunt vs. Wanderlei Silva PRIDE Shockwave, 2004

What do you do when your opponent lies on the mat and will not get up? Some fi ghters kick. Some fi ghters pass guard. Some fi ghters reign down punches. If you are Mark Hunt, you take this opportunity to leap in the air and drop your ass onto Silva’s torso, thus inventing the atomic butt drop. Silva quickly reversed Hunt’s ass, but, in the end, Hunt got the split-decision victory. Hunt also has been known to modify the atomic butt drop into the atomic double-knee drop. However, it’s not nearly as entertaining.

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One of the best perks of being in a popular band is traveling throughout the world and performing for thousands of fans.While Nick Miller, the rhythm guitarist of post-hardcore sextet A Skylit Drive, utterly fancies his job, he also enjoys sightseeing—including visiting some of the most legendary training facilities in mixed martial arts.

 

On the music troupe’s recent trip to Riode Janeiro, Brazil, the 22-year-old had the opportunity to swing by a couple of the country’s most well-established gyms, including Black House, where he saw a few up-and-comers sparring. Miller, who was merely standing in the same dojo where the UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva divides his time, nearly lost his breath.

 

“There are so many gyms in Rio,” Miller says. “It’s gym after gym. It was cool to watch the fighters train. It was a great experience. If I had seen Silva, I would have passed out. I would have been so stoked.”

 

Although Miller maintained his cool, there’s a deeper reason why the experience meant so much to him. Like many other diehard aficionados, the guitarist has been an avid follower of the sport ever since he was a kid. His parents ordered the UFC pay-per-views when he was younger, and he would watch home-state favorites Frank and Ken Shamrock dominate their opponents in the Octagon.

 

While Miller wouldn’t be knocking out neighborhood bullies or slapping leg locks on schoolmates during gym class, he got his first, and only, formal martial arts training when his parents enrolled him in karate.

 

The young guitarist escalated up the ranks, but his tenure didn’t last long. “I stopped doing it before I could even reach my black belt,” he says. “When I started playing other sports, I didn’t have the time, but I wish I would’ve stuck with it. I still like karate because of Lyoto Machida and some of the other guys who use it.”

 

Miller may have his heart in karate, but his eyes are on two other martial arts that he believes are more to his liking. “If I had the choice, I’d wanna do Muay Thai and BJJ” he says. “I think that would be awesome. I love both those fighting styles, especially BJJ. I think it’s more intricate and cool.” Despite how cool looking those fighting styles may be, he doesn’t have the time to concentrate on either right now because his band is inconstant demand.

 

Formed in 2006, A Skylit Drive immediately set up shop in Lodi, CA, and dropped their first EP, She Watched The Sky, the following year. In 2008, however, they restructured their lineup and the collective—comprised of vocalist Michael Jagmin, lead guitarist Joey Wilson, bassist Brian White, keyboardist Kyle Simmons, and drummer Cory La Quay—was rushed to the studio to record their debut album Wires…And The Concept Of Breathing.

 

A Skylit Drive went out on the road to promote the full-length effort, but they had a very quick turnaround. The post hardcore sextet signed with Fearless Records, returned to the studio to record their sophomore set, Adelphia, and released the offering in 2009. Then, it was back to touring around the globe.

 

Typically, Miler meets with fans after concerts, and, sometimes, the conversation turns to MMA. “I actually know a lot of people who are into it,” the guitarist says. “The sport is one of the biggest now. A fan will come up to me who is really into it, and we love talking about fighting. It never gets old.”

 

Ironically, when Miller was home from tour last year, he was the one who began an MMA conversation. While mingling at a local bar, he ran into Nick and Nate Diaz—fellow 209 residents, who are a stones throw away from Lodi. This time, the guitarist approached the fighters and introduced himself. “I’d see them hanging out and going out,” Miller says. “So I just went up to the dudes one night and told them I love their fights, and they acted all normal. They’re really cool guys. I told them I wanted to make them a song, but I told them I wanted to make them a song, but I don’t know if they had heard of the band.”

 

Even if the Diaz brothers aren’t familiar with A Skylit Drive, it isn’t too big of a deal. Thousands of people across the world are, and thousands more will become familiar with their new album Identity On Fire. Throughout this stellar 12-track collection, the post-hardcore band convey the message of creating one’s own identity, becoming the person you want to be, and inspiring those around you. Singles like “XO Skeleton,” “Ex Marks The Spot,” and “Too Little, Too Late” help echo those sentiments.

 

Perhaps for Miller, Identity On Fire could give him the strength and motivation needed to start training in MMA. “I think I can do

0

It’s a sunny Southern California day in Agoura Hills, but forget about fun in the sun. The real fun is inside THQ’s office, huddled around a flat screen TV to see if UFC Undisputed 2010 can live up to the name it built in 2009.

 

Being undisputed is all about how you defend your title. UFC Undisputed 2009 earned publisher THQ the Spike Video Game Award Best Individual Sports Game of the Year. Their follow-up, UFC Undisputed 2010, comes out strong for its first title defense.

 

With a whole year to digitally manipulate joint locks and blood chokes, the team of THQ and Japanese developers Yuke’s evolved their game like the sport of mixed martial arts itself.

 

Just like Georges St-Pierre’s transitions are seamless, THQ polished their game play for better fluidity inside the Octagon. 2010 flips through a rolodex of strikes, transitions, and submissions smoothly, even with an increased number of positions, including back mount, butterfly guard, and “the Salaverry” cross side.

 

“UFC 2010 is a lot faster,” says producer Rob Pearsall. “We did a lot of changes under the hood to deal with the combo system and the actual animations of the fighters.”

 

The combination system is a risk-reward sway movement that allows fighters to stand in the pocket and trade. And yes, there is a southpaw stance. Each fighter has an idle: karate stance, power stance, Muay Thai, etc. Blocks are now side-to-side a la “Rampage”Jackson rather than face cover-ups—all in the name of slug fests or strategic stand-up contests.

 

“There’s more throwing punches while you’re getting hit,” says Pearsall, noting pre-set combinations are gone in favor of total control for the player. “You’ve always got that ability to move back, to cover up, to guard, and to throw a counter punch.”

 

Take too much of a beating and a cut stoppage may be in order, where the 100-plus high-resolution photos of the fighters are on full display. UFC warriors such as Mirko Crocop, who was one of 40 fighters made in the create-a-fighter system last year, now enjoys a stronger likeness.

 

“Universally, people say that it’s the best MMA game out there, period. That’s what we wanted to do,” says designer Wesley Bunn. “We tried to build upon the previous version and make it even better.”

 

Like the fighters themselves, the game team identified gaps in their arsenal and patched them up. The submission system is completely revamped into a seesaw battle that is free from stages that characterized it previously, as well as brute force-button mash escapes. Can’t finish with strikes? Submit the rocked fighter a la Paulo Thiago-Mike Swick with one of many new submissions, including the d’arce, anaconda, or even the gogo plata.

 

Major and minor transitions are the same in the clinch as they are on the mat thanks to a unified grappling system. Go from a Muay Thai clinch to a body lock to a single leg takedown. Feel free to pummel against the newly playable cage or kick off it to evade a bad spot on the mat. Variants on each position open up different strikes and submissions. A posture system makes ground-and-pound more dynamic. Each movement is assigned a level, ensuring some moves are more dangerous than others.

 

“Each level increases on the damage that can be dealt by that particular strike, effectiveness of the transition, and effectiveness of the submission,” says Pearsall.

 

In addition to adding new styles like sambo, karate, and Greco-Roman wrestling, THQ emphasized small details to complete the UFC experience. Arenas each have individual models. Cameramen, athletic commission officials, and post-fight clothing further create alive UFC event atmosphere. Referees now intervene directly to stop a fight. The best additions are pre- and post-fight montages. UFC Undisputed 2010 cover boy Brock Lesnar tells you how he’ll beat you up before it happens and celebrates with Joe Rogan after.

 

In career mode, gamer control and AI are showcased. Commentators Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan identify more than 100 first names, 100 last names, and 50 nicknames, while addressing issues throughout the storyline like rematches or knockout losses. Shove the champion at weigh-ins as a brash challenger or be humble with a victory speech as gamers can choose to be loved or hated in the UFC. Created fighters have unique voices with Brazilian accents if needed.

 

But the most notable addition to career mode is the World Fighting Alliance, an organization you must fight your way through before entering the Octagon.

 

UFC President Dana White personally takes time out of one of his video blogs to drop in at Marc Laimon’s gym to offer you a spot in the UFC if you have the chops. Will you fight and fizzle out or ascend through multiple divisions and take gold?

 

“That was high on our list, making sure that the game is always fun and there’s always things to do,” says Bunn of THQ’s emphasis on extensive modes to increase the game’s replay value.

 

Unlock fight highlights and UFC bonus footage in title mode and title defense mode. Good luck defending the belt though, each fight results in cumulative damage. There are more than 80 goals to keep you occupied, and if that gets boring, switch over to tournament mode or create an event. Ultimate Fights return, but this time gamer scan play through classic knockouts, classic submissions, and the Best of 2009—all with the option to play spoiler and win with the losing fighter.

 

THQ has stepped up the mother of all replay value with their online addition of fight camps. Start a team with friends, spar in an endless round with teammates, switch camps, or disband. Online allows fighter stats—which were determined with matchmaker Joe Silva and White—to be updated to keep up with each UFC event.

 

Out of all of the as-real-as-it-gets changes, Bunn insists one stands out above the rest.

 

“The most important thing, the Buffer 180 is in,” he says. “We’re saving [the 360] for future iterations.”

 

Pearsall concludes they can’t play UFC 2009 around THQ anymore—a mark of solid game progression. Set for their first title defense with UFC Undisputed 2010, he asserts the experience is entirely up to the gamer. “Rampage wanted head kicks,” he says. “Throw ahead kick in a fight and we’ll give you one.”

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PACIFIC X-TREME COMBAT (PXC) BREAKS NEW GROUND FOR MMA IN THE PHILIPPINES.

In a back corner of a nondescript government office building in downtown Manila sits a weathered industrial scale. Around it, bustling workers of the Philippines Games and Recreations Commission buzz and hum in their daily routines. The scale holds a special, mythic place in sporting history. This is the very device that Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier stepped onto before their epic Thrilla in Manila. Ali weighed 224.5 lbs and Frazier 215.5 lbs on that night 35 years ago, when the two men met in a rubber match and achieved an apotheosis in boxing that has not been surpassed. That fight etched the name of the city of Manila in the minds of boxing fanatics across the United States, but for native-born fans, it was only one moment in a long history of boxing excellence from this fighting nation.

The walls of the office are covered with a mix of grainy black and white and color photographs of the many Filipino champions over the last 80 years. Physically diminutive fighters with lightning speed and giant hearts such as “Flash” Elorde, “Little Dado,” “Dodie Boy” Peñalosa, and “Small Montana” smile down from their framed shrines. In the middle of this sanctuary is the one and only Manny Pacquiao, who is currently running roughshod over six weight divisions. “Pac-Man” may end up as the best Filipino fighter ever, and the people here love him for it. He is a ubiquitous presence in Manila—a hero to the city’s poor and a source of national pride. He’s so popular that he recently won a seat in the national assembly via a process closer to anointing than election. He is so beloved that there is speculation—only half in jest—that one day he will become President of the country.

In his office, Senor Juan Ramon Guanzon, the chairman of the commission (an immaculately groomed gentleman of some 50 years and a boxing man to his core) listens to bald and tatted Brandon Vera and tries to keep track of a bewildering array of acronyms. “I fight in the UFC,” says Vera, “but I’m here cornering some fighters from my gym who are fighting in PXC.” Commissioner Guanzon smiles cryptically, folds his hands, leans slowly over his desk, and says, “Well then, what is MMA? Is it a league or a sport?” PXC promoter EJ Calvo pipes in, “MMA stands for mixed martial arts. That’s the sport. The UFC is the Ultimate Fighting Championship. It’s the biggest league in MMA. PXC is Pacific X-treme Combat, our league. We focus on Asia and the Pacific. Our show is tomorrow night at the Resorts World Manila.” The commissioner is polite but skeptical, “And the matches are held… in a cage?” he asks. “Some are in a cage, some are in a ring, depending
on which league you’re in. PXC uses a cage,” says Calvo.

It’s easy for MMA fans to forget how young the sport is and how much of the world is still virgin territory. Calvo has been educating skeptical commissioners and the media in this part of the world for months in preparation for this event, so he has the pitch down. In addition to taking place at the lush Resorts World Casino, the event will be broadcast live on Filipino TV Channel 5.

Once the final presentation to the commissioner is completed and the necessary paperwork filed with his office, the PXC group gets ready to leave. The commissioner may not have been familiar with MMA, but his staff certainly is. On the way out, a young woman recognizes Vera and asks to have her picture taken with him. He agrees and is soon mobbed with office workers coming in from all over the building.

The Philippines can’t get enough fighting—any type of fighting. Even cock fights merit TV coverage. Sitting in Calvo’s office, I experience my first match via a large flat-screen TV mounted on the wall. The two roosters fly at each other in a cloud of feathers, and I have no clue which one is winning. Calvo’s office in Manila is brand new, with boxes still being unpacked. This will be the hub for the family’s growing business interest in the Philippines, with media, distribution, publishing, and the PXC MMA promotion all being run from here.

We head from the office to an open workout at the Mall of Asia, a publicity stunt ripped from the UFC’s playbook. It is designed to showcase some of the talent that PXC has developed on the island of Guam, where MMA has become something of an obsession. Widespread focus on training—along with the resources and business acumen of the Calvo clan (all of whom train religiously)—has allowed the tiny nation to have an outsized impact on the sport.

“Baby” Joe Taimanglo, a gregarious lightweight with a blitzing style and broad smile is working the crowd. Brandon Vera is cornering some fighters from his Alliance Gym, including Diego Garijo, whose handlebar mustache has him looking like he stepped out of central casting for a 1930s serial villain. Another Guamanian fighter with star power is Alex Castro, a famous street fighter back on the island. He sports the look with tattoos, a chiseled physique, and a surly glare. The word is that he’s a destroyer, and he certainly looks the part. PXC’s Heavyweight Champion Roque Martinez, rotund and affable, is a brawler. He has a chin like iron and an unhealthy tendency to take tons of punishment before coming back and winning his fights. He won a controversial slugfest in his last match against Kelvin Fitial, who fights out of Saipan. Fitial is convinced that he beat the champ the last time they fought, and there is legitimate heat between the two. Their camps needle each other during the promotion as the fighters take turns scowling and shaking their heads disdainfully.

As the event winds down, Vera, with the instincts of a natural showman, commandeers the microphone and gives a shout-out to the other Filipino martial artists who have made names for themselves in the UFC. When he calls out the names of Phillipe Nover and Mark Muñoz, the crowd, which has slowly gathered over the course of the two-hour workout, erupts in a loud cheer.

On the night of the big event, matchmaker Eli Monge (a Bostonian by way of Puerto Rico who married into the Calvo family) gives a heartfelt locker room speech to all the fighters from Guam. He tells them that they are all brothers and to represent the island well. Monge lets everybody know that because of the deal with TV 5, this will be the first time that the Filipino masses will be exposed to MMA, so there’s a lot riding on the night. He continues that this is the coming out party for the PXC and Guam as a global force in MMA. Many of the fighters in the room have faced each other before, and there’s healthy rivalry between gyms on the island, but tonight there is a feeling that they’re all on the same team.

Baby Joe’s fight plays out as expected, with him steamrolling his overmatched Korean opponent. Then, exhorted loudly from his corner by Vera, Garijo (the villainous looking gentleman) wins a tough fight and breaks his hand in the process. The fierce Alex Castro goes too hard too early, gasses, and then is ground out in a one-sided decision to crafty veteran Harris Sarmiento. Fortitude and skill beats power and rage almost every time. The crowd is on their feet for the two fights featuring Filipino fighters. Both former boxers, each loses via submission in the first round, but they go down swinging. Once these explosive little guys start learning the ground game, they’ll be hard to deal with. What could Pacquiao do in the cage if he mastered the sprawl?

In the main event, Kelvin captures the title from Roque. True to form, Roque takes a brutal beating early, but this time, instead of raging back in the championship rounds like their first fight, Roque suddenly gives way to Kelvin’s wild but powerful attacks late in the fourth. Like water breaking through a dam, Kelvin surges when he senses Roque folding mentally and delivers a vicious series of elbows from the top guard. Roque gets badly cut, and the referee rescues him from a deepening pool of his own blood. The quick brutality with which Kelvin finished the fight is the most impressive thing about his performance. He’s raw and wild with dubious submission skills, but his killer instincts are sharp, and with his physical attributes, it’s enough to beat a lot of fighters. After the event, Kelvin poses with a long line of fans who seem thrilled at the opportunity to get close to the new champion. Unaccustomed to all the attention, Kelvin intermittently breaks out into giddy smiles, and the fierce new cage fighting champion is as thrilled and transparent as a little boy.

The night is a success. The fighters from Guam have dominated and the TV 5 ratings are well above what anyone expected. PXC now has a long-term contract with the network to produce 16 events over the next four years. Breaking into the Philippines was another cagey business move by the Calvo clan. Judging by the crowd’s reaction, there’s a real appetite for MMA in this part of the world. In the United States, it seems like nothing can slow the inexorable advance of the UFC, but in the Philippines at least, the scrappy PXC has beaten the behemoth to the punch.

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It’s unanimous. No job is more thankless than being an MMA referee or judge. They are constantly under the spotlight, rarely receive praise for a job well done, and the only time they’re mentioned in the media is when they screw up. Doesn’t that sound like a great gig?

MMA is in dire need of qualified referees and judges. I felt it was important as a MMA reporter to educate myself on these two critical positions, so I signed up for a training course in Illinois from 17-year referee and judge Robert Hinds.

One of the biggest misconceptions in mixed martial arts is that there is a single governing body overseeing the sport and it’s responsible for assigning judges and referees for an event. That’s not the case— it’s the individual state athletic commission that hires qualified officials. But what qualifies these officials and how are they found?

Incredibly, most athletic commissions do not require mandatory training for their MMA officials. The Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) is widely recognized as the closest thing the sport has to a governing body (they handle all combat sports including MMA), and the ABC approves nine different training courses, including seminars run by John McCarthy, Herb Dean, and Robert Hinds. These courses continue the education of current officials and supply aspiring officials with the tools they need to properly officiate and judge MMA.

“There are a few commissions that host training seminars on a yearly basis and make it mandatory to attend if an official plans to work for their commission,” says Tim Lueckenhoff, president of the ABC. “We encourage our member commissions to require training, but, unfortunately, due to budget constraints, that is not possible at this time.”

Attending a session and passing the test doesn’t mean your next stop is in the UFC. Individuals must then apply for licensure with the commission they want to work for. The ABC is only a “recommending governing entity” and they don’t have absolute power over a state commission. The UFC can request and supply commissions with the names of officials they would like to work a show, but, ultimately, it’s the athletic commissions’ call.

The seminar by Hinds was an eye-opening and educational two-day session that proved to me that one of the biggest issues with the sport is that the athletic commissions are not all on the same page with their rules.

THE JUDGES

“The goal of this training is to get all of the judges who are watching a fight to use the same criteria when making their decision,” says Hinds. “Although the states are using the Unified Rules, the rules can and do differ from state to state—so it’s challenging.”

There needs to be cohesiveness in the rules from state to state. Imagine what it would be like to watch NFL games if the rules were different from city to city. For MMA to be accepted by mainstream America, there needs to be one set of rules.

The ABC passed unified judging criteria that MMA officials should follow if they are judging a bout. They are:

• effective striking/grappling

• control of the fighting area

• effective aggressiveness

• effective defense

A judge should score a fight by using the criteria outlined in the order in which the techniques appear and with the 10-point-must scoring system (10 points for winner/9 points for the loser of the round or 8 points if the fighter was completely dominated and there was significant damage done).

If you go to any state athletic commission’s website, however, their scoring criteria can be different. For example, per the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation website, the following shall be considered by judges while scoring:

• clean blows, not otherwise prohibited by this Part, in proportion to their damaging effects

• aggressiveness

• defensive maneuvers for avoiding or blocking a blow

• conspicuous command of the arena

Not only is the order of the techniques different from the unified judging criteria, but also there is no mention of grappling. According to these rules, if a fight goes to the ground, you’re not supposed to score grappling or submission attempts.

Did anyone inform Fedor Emelianenko or Dan Henderson about the Illinois criteria for judging before their fight in Hoffman Estates?

One of the biggest benefits of Hinds’ course was the fight video he used to show examples of close rounds, which created some interesting discussion among the attendees. We were then required to judge fights, including the UFC 119 bout between Sean Sherk and Evan Dunham.

Following the Unified Rules criteria, I awarded Sherk the first round and Dunham rounds two and three, giving Dunham a 29-28 victory. The judges at UFC 119 disagreed and awarded Sherk the split-decision win. Go figure.

LESSONS LEARNED

– If MMA is going to attract mainstream sports fans and not confuse them, they need to have judges following the same set of rules when judging a fight, no matter where that fight takes place.

– Being a judge is a brutal position that requires educated people who can handle pressure. I was sweating it out having to judge a fight with other students in a classroom. I can’t imagine what it’s like to judge a UFC title fight with 15,000 screaming fans.

THE REFEREES

Everyone loves John McCarthy and Herb Dean…that is until they make a questionable call during a fight. To be the third man in the cage requires athletic ability, a keen understanding of the MMA rules, and very thick skin.

Hinds’ referee training is intense and focuses on the rules of the sport and what the referees’ responsibilities are. PowerPoint presentations, videos, and hands-on activities are part of the eight-hour curriculum, which is enough to keep your head spinning. Topics include fouls, challenges that referees face during a bout, equipment requirements, and conducting a proper rules meeting.

I also got to execute a pre-fight pat down of the fighter. This included watching the fighter’s cornerman apply Vaseline, checking for a mouthpiece, inspecting the gloves, and checking the cup—I let the fighter do that one himself.

LESSONS LEARNED

– The responsibilities of the referees are not limited to their duties during a fight. There are several pre- and post-fight obligations as well, but the most important job the referee has is to ensure the fighter’s safety at all times.

– Even though I completed the MMA referee and judging class and was awarded with the official certificate, it doesn’t mean that I will be quitting my day job as a reporter for Inside MMA. But the training has given me a new appreciation of how difficult these jobs are and has educated me on the challenges these individuals—and the sport as a whole—are facing.  

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A handful of styles comprise the modern MMA fighter: boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, wrestling, and jiu-jitsu. Most other combat forms have been left on the scrap heap during the molding of MMA, and for good reason. However, as the sport continues to evolve, capoeira—a storied Brazilian martial art—is kicking its way into the cage.

On the main card of UFC on FX 4 on June 22, Ross Pearson is working the jab and throwing kicks, looking very much like a kickboxer. Opponent Cub Swanson is gliding around the cage, playing fast and loose with his strikes. Pearson is scoring, but so is Swanson. It’s mid-first round, and it’s anybody’s fight. Swanson pops off a jab and draws a left counter. Then, out of the blue, he swings wide with a right cross and follows his momentum to the canvas, where he plants his left arm and fires his right leg upward like a scythe thrown at the sky. It slaps the Brit’s neck, and he half-staggers into a takedown. The crowd surges, and a gaga Kenny Florian calls Swanson’s move a “capoeira kick” on the telecast.

Was it?

“Not really,” Swanson says.

Much like P. Diddy, there are a half-dozen (or more) names for the kicks that fall outside the standard range of techniques seen inside the Octagon. Purists might argue for one name or another, but when you plant your hand on the mat, post an arm, and throw a wild kick, you’re doing capoeira, right?

Right. Unless, of course, you don’t know you’re doing it.

“My kicking skills come from soccer,” Swanson says. “I was always the one to throw a bicycle kick or an aerial kick to get a goal.”

Don’t get him wrong, Swanson loves capoeira, especially the kind in the 1993 B-movie Only the Strong, starring Mark Dacascos, otherwise known as the guy who screams the secret ingredients (“CRANBERRY!…MACKEREL!…ASPARAGUS!”) on Iron Chef America. However, Swanson has never taken a day of capoeira training in his life. If anything, the kick should be called the “Leonard Garcia Kick,” because he was keeper of that flash on the mats of Greg Jackson’s MMA Gym. Swanson calls it a funky kickboxing technique.

“It’s high-risk, but it’s high-reward,” Swanson says. “And the fans always appreciate when you think outside the box.”

Ritualized Combat
So, what is capoeira? The name conjures circles of high-flying people in what looks like the friendliest battle you could ever find on a dance floor—they throw pinwheel kicks and tumble and somersault at each other, but they never make intentional contact. A tropical soundtrack accompanies them. There are calls and responses, improvisation, and a lot of smiles. It looks about the farthest thing from a fight—but maybe not.

“Every fight is a series of situations that requires solutions,” says Los Angeles-based capoeira teacher Amir Solsky. “If you have the solution, then you will last longer. If you don’t have the solution, you will get knocked out. Capoeira has a different perception than other martial arts. It has a different approach to that interaction that can give you a lot of creative ideas—a lot of intricate footwork, the way you carry your body, how you approach striking. There’s a trickiness that a capoeirista has.”

The circumstances that brought capoeira into the world were far from carefree. African slaves developed it under the oppressive rule of Portuguese colonists in 16th-century Brazil. Practitioners were persecuted when free trade brought slaves from sugar plantations to cities and street corners, replacing fields as the home for rodas, the circular formation where capoeiristas engage each other. From 1890 to 1940, it was illegal in Brazil. And yet, capoeira continued to flourish, in part, because it could blend into its environment. It was not only a fighting system, but also a form of self-expression. Its practitioners were not only dancing, but also beguiling would-be opponents into vulnerable situations from which to strike.

Still, capoeira wasn’t invited to the party in the style vs. style days of the UFC, and you can see why. Maybe the Gracie family just didn’t want to share their commercial success with another Brazilian form. But more likely, nobody took it seriously as a fighting style. Back then, the combat evolution was centered around the brilliance of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu’s ground-fighting techniques and the smashing of long-held myths touted by traditional martial arts. Alongside the yahoo practitioners of Ninjitsu, pencak silat, or SAFTA, capoeira might have looked just as ineffective.

Today, it’s a different story. Swanson is more closely aligned than he thinks with the storied Brazilian art. There are guys such as TUF: Brazil’s Cezar “Mutante” Ferreira and recent Bellator signee Marcus Aurelio who bring actual capoeira techniques into MMA (Aurelio’s YouTube sensation—a 20-second, 540-degree spinning-kick KO—is the very reason he got into the big show). But Swanson’s kick wasn’t just about flash. It was really an example of the mindset behind capoeira, one that allows for the kind of explosive attacks seen in his fight: malandragem and malicia.

“I try to trick my opponent into thinking one thing, and then I throw a power shot in the opposite direction,” Swanson says. “It gets in your opponent’s head that they’re not just looking out for the basic—they don’t know what to expect, so it automatically puts them on the defensive.”

The root meaning of malicia is evil, and malandragem stems from malandro, a kind of hustler. Both are bad for civilized society, but good for surviving the wild. In the context of capoeira, they’re essential to creatively understanding and reacting to complex situations that arise in physical encounters, which is pretty much what happens every second of an MMA fight.

“There’s so much imagination in fighting,” says Solsky. “It’s not always direct and obvious. There’s much more trapping and ways of setting up people. In a sense, it’s about arranging the situation so that your partner doesn’t know where the attack is going to come from, and you always try to get your partner when he’s not ready, which is very different from other martial arts, where stuff is more obvious.”

Ferreira, who found capoeira when he was 10 years old, had two guiding influences in his path as a mixed martial artist: Mestre Mao Branca of Capoeira Gerais, one of the biggest capoeira teams in Brazil, and Vitor Belfort of, well, you know. There was more money to be made in MMA, so he chose it as a career. But when he looked low and kicked high to knock out Thiago de Oliveira Perpetuo in the semifinals of TUF Brazil, his manager says that was capoeira. Others would call it the oldest trick in the book. There are many words for deception, as it turns out.

“He gets some things from capoeira and builds it into his game,” says Ferreira’s manager Pedro Lima.

Today, Solsky fields plenty of wannabe fighters at his classes in Los Angeles, and he tells them the same thing—capoeira is not a serious fighting system. Capoeiristas don’t spar the same way kickboxers do. Try to beat a Muay Thai fighter with the movie-set kicks the art is known for, he says, and you’ll likely wind up slightly concussed. If you really want to fight, he tells them, learn MMA.

But in a time where most MMA fighters more or less speak in the same tongue— employing a mix of boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, and BJJ—there are some fighters who are putting to use this combat dialect that’s five centuries old and deeply rooted in Brazil’s cultural heritage. Capoeira isn’t practical enough to supplant any of MMA’s major components. It might, however, be the perfect complement.

“Capoeira can benefit fighters a lot when you mix it together with other systems,” says Solsky. “At end of the day, it’s really not about the fight. It’s more about the interaction. It’s about the language. It’s about a dialogue with your body. A big part of this dialogue is martial, so there are primal elements, which is something that’s true to our nature. However, if you look at animals fighting in the wild, many times they don’t end up hurting each other—but they still fight. Capoeira brings that. It’s not about hurting each other. It’s about creating an interesting interaction.”

CAPOEIRA CONTEXT

Capoeirista: A practitioner of capoeira.

Ginga: The most basic move in capoeira—instead of keeping a fixed stance like in most martial arts, the capoeirista keeps moving in a dance-like pattern, normally to the beat of music.

Macaco: This move is where the capoeirista steps from a crouched position into a handstand. He can either continue the rotation and land on his feet or move into another position from the handstand.

Roda: The ring of people—who clap, sing, and cheer—where the capoeiristas fight.

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