Quick Hits

Quick Hits

Back pain affects nearly 80 percent of the population and can severely interfere with your ability to train and compete if you are an MMA athlete. Contrary to what most people believe, the most common cause of back pain is not poor lifting mechanics, but it is more often the result of poor postures and muscular imbalances. This applies to the average sedentary working person, but for those of you who train in MMA, there is more to back pain than meets the eye. The MMA athlete puts a higher demand on the lower back than many other sports, which can lead to bouts of acute and chronic lower back pain resulting from herniated discs.

 

THE SOURCE OF THE PROBLEM

When you have back pain that radiates past your knees and there is numbness or tingling in your legs, you probably have a herniated disc along with a pinched nerve in your lower back. The discs are cartilage, or “shock absorbers” found between the vertebrae, which allow for flexibility in the spine. I like to use the analogy of a jelly doughnut when explaining what can happen to discs. The disc is composed of a cartilaginous outer layer (annulus fibrosis) and a soft center (nucleus pulposis). A disc does not “slip” as most people believe, but it can do one or a combination of three things: it can degenerate, bulge, or herniate.

 

Disc degeneration is a process that occurs as a normal part of aging, but it can also be accelerated from excessive stress on the body. The disc essentially wears away and dries out, becoming less flexible and less soft over time (the “dough” becomes dry and the “jelly” loses its fluid content). Abnormal pressure in the lower back from repetitive movements can cause a disc to bulge. A bulge occurs when the soft center of the disc (the “jelly”) pushes out on the outer cartilage layer (the “dough” is pushed outward) which can potentially pinch a nerve. If a disc herniates, the soft center of the disc actually leaks outward and compresses or irritates the sensitive nerves in the lower back. This is a common cause for the radiating pain down the back of the thigh and leg, which is referred to as sciatica. X-rays can rule out a fracture or dislocation, but they do not show the integrity of the discs. An MRI will accurately diagnose whether you have a degenerated, bulging, or herniated disc.

 

Many disc injuries are predisposed by muscle imbalances. Mixed martial arts and grappling athletes often have flexion dominance in the lower back and pelvis. In neutral spinal postures, the lower back should curve inwards, but many of the movements in Jiu Jitsu and submission grappling occur with the back in the opposite direction with the lower back flexed forward and the hips flexed. Additionally, most training drills involve repetitive flexion at the waist and abdominal strengthening movements, causing tightness of the hip flexors and weakness of the hip extensors. Over time, the lower back muscles become under utilized while the hip flexors become shortened. Addressing these muscle imbalances often makes back pain disappear or at least helps them to become more manageable.

 

REPRIEVE FROM THE PAIN

The good news is that most cases of herniated or bulging discs are self-limiting and usually get better if you give it enough time. Unfortunately, the pain is often too much for athletes to cope with and less conservative options don’t always provide the immediate relief patients are seeking. Treatment typically involves an initial period of rest with anti-inflammatory and pain medications. Physical therapy modalities including electrical stimulation, ultrasound and mechanical traction can also help with pain relief and speed up recovery. Once the initial painful symptoms have resolved, you should start a physical therapy program that includes stretching the tight muscles (usually hip flexors and hamstrings) and a good spinal stabilization program. The goal of any rehab program is to prevent future recurrence and allow you to safely return to training and competition.

 

When conservative measures fail, a short term course of corticosteroids taken orally or epidural steroid injections applied directly into the spine can decrease the inflammation and lessen the symptoms. When all else fails, surgery may be necessary to remove part of the disc or fuse the vertebrae so there is no pressure on the nerves. Any back pain that is accompanied by loss of bowel or bladder control, weakness or inability to control your legs may indicate damage to the spinal cord and requires immediate medical attention. Though there are many treatment options available, one thing remains clear: it is imperative that you undergo aggressive rehab following a disc injury to stay active in mixed martial arts. For more information on disc injuries and how to rehab back pain, you can contact Dr. Park at the address to the right.

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In the International Fight League, something had to change. After spending two seasons attempting to distinguish itself from the competition with a team-based format, colorful mascots, and legendary coaches, the league’s new CEO, Jay Larkin, is taking the company in a different direction, in hope that focusing more on the fighters and matchmaking will help the company show profit in 2008.

 

Larkin will be the first to admit he is still learning the nuances of mixed martial arts as a sport, picking up pointers from the fight-oriented shows on the History Channel and National Geographic. However, what he lacks in MMA knowledge he more than makes up for with his twenty years of experience orchestrating boxing events for media-giant Showtime.

 

“I wanted to darken it down,” said Larkin of the league’s circus-like mascots and bright ring colors. “When I arrived, there were bright Olympic-like, amateur-like colors. [The new logo and new ring] are representative of the direction we’re going. We’re no longer the happy fight club.”

 

And while a league’s choice of color palette might seem trivial, the darker colors helped the league look more like an MMA organization and less like “professional wrestling with four-ounce gloves” at their 2007 season-ending event in December. The new IFL ring is gray canvas encircled by black ropes, giving it the feel of a foursided Octagon, if there ever was such a thing.

 

The league has also decided to dispose of the mascots and citybased teams they represent. Gone are the Quad-City Silverbacks, New York Pitbulls, Los Angeles Anacondas, and Nevada Lions. They have been replaced by different camps, which, unlike the old teams, fans will already know: Team Quest, Xtreme Couture, Miletich Fighting Systems, and the Lion’s Den.

 

Instead of focusing on playoffs and winning team championships, fighters will now compete for championship belts in their weight classes, including the newly added featherweight division.

 

Bas Rutten, the IFL’s new Vice President of Fighter Operations, will be approving all of the matches. In prior seasons, the Dutch MMA legend has served as coach and broadcaster. By bringing him into the management fold, the IFL has bought itself access to one of the sport’s most extensive Rolodexes. Rutten is in a unique position of being loved by the fans, as well as being respected and revered by fighters.

 

“Bas can open doors that most don’t know exist. I don’t expect him to come in and wear a suit and tie,” says Larkin of the new VP. Rutten still prefers training in a gym to bantering in a boardroom, which should help the IFL in its quest to fi nd more up-and-coming fight talent to showcase in its live television events.

 

And a significant portion of IFL’s 2008 programming will be live. The league has announced a partnership with Mark Cuban’s MMA venture, HDNet Fights, in which the first three IFL events of 2008 will be aired live on HDNet.

 

“HDNet Fights is excited about the partnership with the IFL, and it is a big part of our commitment to provide twenty-four live fights to fans in 2008,” says HDNet Fights CEO Andrew Simon. The IFL/ HDNet partnership began when HDNet fighter Jason “Mayhem” Miller defeated the IFL’s Tim Kennedy. According to Simon, “This showed both HDNet Fights and the IFL that great things can happen when we work together.”

 

In addition to the live programming offered on HDNet, taped programming will be aired on Fox Sports Network featuring some of the IFL’s top fights, including those that did not go to air during live broadcasts.

 

The league is also reportedly negotiating with MyNetwork to bring MMA programming back to broadcast television. In November of 2007, the two made TV and MMA history when the IFL Grand Prix Semi-Finals became the first MMA event to be aired live on broadcast television.

 

A network spokesperson at MyNetwork described the IFL programming as being “on hiatus”, meaning it may or may not reappear on the network. However, Otto is convinced a deal will get done. “[The network] is excited about having us. Our ratings went up twenty percent,” says Otto, who knows his sport delivers a demographic to networks and advertisers that is otherwise elusive – males 18-36 years old.

 

The IFL shows will originate from three main venues: The Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, NV, the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, NJ, and the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville,

CT. Each card will feature at least eight fights, five of which will be broadcast, including at least two championship fights.

 

No longer focused on seasons but instead putting on the best fights for fans, the IFL is making a big leap forward. If they can ink another deal with MyNetwork, especially a deal that brings live MMA back to broadcast television, they could pose a significant threat to the UFC’s dominance in MMA.

 

For 2008, the IFL has a new slogan that captures the essence of the league: New Blood, New Battles. For CEO Jay Larkin, the new blood has little to do with carnage in the ring. It instead is meant to represent the league’s pool of fight talent, who are slowly stepping out of the shadows of their legendary coaches.

 

 

The IFL’s Talent Pool for 2008 Runs Deep

Below we take a look at some of the top standouts

 

Chris “The Polish Hammer” Horodecki

Lightweight Contender

Camp: Xtreme Couture

 

Many fight fans thought Horodecki had the lightweight belt locked in 2007. That is, until Ryan Schultz wrapped up the IFL’s baby-faced prodigy like a pretzel and pounded him for a TKO victory. But even in the midst of defeat, the Canadianborn fighter demonstrated incredible heart, showing intelligent defense with reverse hammer fists in a position where many fighters would have tapped.

 

 

Wagnney Fabiano

Featherweight Champion

Camp: Renzo Gracie

Jiu-Jitsu NYC

 

During the IFL Grand Prix Finals, Fabiano was referred to as a “submission magician” and that nickname is certainly apt. More than two-thirds of his matches have ended with his opponent tapping out. Still undefeated in the IFL, Fabiano will defend his featherweight belt against Shad Lierley, a former NYU wrestler who is dropping from lightweight to featherweight.

 

 

Tim Kennedy

Middleweight Contender

Camp: The Pit

 

Mixed martial arts fighters redefine the word tough, but Tim Kennedy takes the definition to a whole new level. While most MMA combatants are full time fighters, for Kennedy it’s just a hobby – a reprieve from his full-time time job as a soldier in the US Army. Just when you think he can’t get any tougher, Kennedy is a member of the Army’s highly trained and elite Ranger unit.

 


Though Kennedy was scheduled to challenge Horwich for the middleweight title in February, he will have to wait for his title shot, as a sudden deployment will keep him out of the ring.

 

 

Matt “Suavé” Horwich

Middleweight Champion

Camp: Team Quest

 

There is no character more unique (and we mean that in a good way) in the IFL than Matt Horwich. From his choice of hairstyle, to his use of Bible quotes during interviews, Horwich breaks the mold of the traditional MMA fighter.

 

While he sports a notable record (21-9-1), more impressive is the fact that in 31 professional MMA fights, this Team Quest fighter has never been knocked out.

 

 

Ryan “The Lion” Schultz

Lightweight Champion

Camp: Team Quest

 

In 2007, Ryan Schultz emerged at the end of a long line of fighters who were supposed to fight lightweight Chris Horodecki to determine the IFL’s first lightweight champion. Having already lost to Horodecki via a TKO on strikes in 2006, the bearded warrior was anxious for redemption and did exactly what he said he was going to do: take Horodecki down and pound him until the ref pulled him off, handing Horodecki his first professional MMA loss. Schultz is also the only fighter to hold a victory over UFC upstart Roger Huerta, when Huerta tapped out at SuperBrawl 36 back in 2004.

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RENZO VS. EUGENIO

In September of 1997 the bout between Renzo Gracie and Eugenio Tadeau at Pentagon Combat had to be stopped due to a riot. Gracie, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter and Pride FC veteran and Tadeau, a Luta Livre fighter and UFC veteran were sworn enemies at the time and their respective camps became unruly outside the cage which forced a stop to the action.

 

THE DREAM TEAM

Former Dream Stage Entertainment staffers (operators of PRIDE FC) and FEG (the parent company of K-1 Hero’s) have joined forces to create DREAM, a new MMA promotion. DREAM has already signed former PRIDE and UFC heavyweight Mirko Filipovic as well as Gesias Calvancante, Kid Yamamoto, and Kazushi

 

VARIETY

Ben Rothwell’s last eight fights have all ended in a different fashion. Dating back to September of 2006, Ben’s fights have ended by KO (punch), Keylock submission, KO (kick), TKO (punches), Split decision, Kimura submission, TKO (elbows), and a Unanimous Decision.

 

WHO’S THE MAN

Former UFC middleweight champion Evan Tanner has the distinction of having fought 4 divisional title contenders (including one former champ) at 4 different weight classes. Tanner battled Paul “The Head Hunter” Buentello (super heavyweight), Heath “The Texas Crazy Horse” Herring (at heavyweight), “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” Tito Ortiz (at light heavyweight) and “The New York Bad Ass” Phil Baroni (at middleweight) beating all but Ortiz (and splitting a pair of bouts with Herring).

 

GOING, GOING, GONE!

UFC 83 in Montreal was the quickest sellout in UFC history. Nearly 14,000 tickets were sold in pre-sale and remaining tickets were accounted for minutes after being made available to the general public.

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Right now in the IFL, there are some guys who are really hot…and I don’t mean good looking! They are, however, very talented fi ghters.

First, there’s Ben “Northstar” Rothwell. He’s 8-0, and now holds the record for the fastest KO at thirteen seconds. He’s a big guy that moves really well

on his feet. I had the pleasure of meeting his parents, and there is no doubt where he gets his great personality. They own a restaurant and Ben helps them out from time to time.

Then there is young Chris Horodecki. He’s only 19, and he looks 15! Chris is unbeaten to date, having posted a 10-0 record. Six of those wins are in the IFL. He’s a great fi ghter with amazing striking and take down defense. He goes through people with ease and has excellent conditioning. On top of all of that, he’s a great person and an even better interview!

He’s incredibly popular. Girls and older women like him because he’s cute. The boys his age like him because he’s such a cool guy. The older guys like him because they want their sons to be just like him. I mentioned all this in a press conference, and he told me I had to stop because he was about to cry! He’s always quick with the jokes.

The next standout performance was put in by Vladimir “The Janitor” Matyushenko who is 4-0. He acquired his nickname because he “mops the floor” with his opponents. The guy looks very intimidating, but when you talk with him you realize that he is a real comedian. He has phenomenal wrestling skills, great ground and pound, and good submissions…all while having very heavy hands. He’s smart and articulate and is a great ambassador for the sport, in and out of the ring.

Benji Radach, 4-0, came in this year as the new 185 pounder for the Anacondas. He suffered some injuries that kept him from competing for a while. Despite this, when Mike Pyle left the Anacondas, the fi rst guy I called was Benji. I had trained with him a long time ago and knew how capable he is. During the season, he stopped all but one of his opponents in the first round. Benji is the real deal.

Some folks will tell you that Antonio McKee, 4-0, is not that exciting of a fighter. I say, so what, he gets the job done! He’s a confident fighter who takes his training very seriously, and always shows up in great shape. He’s a super wrestler that got each of his opponents to the ground quickly. He loves the side kick and ground and pound, and if he sees a submission opportunity, he’ll take it. He has an amazing story. He fell on hard times and started hanging with the wrong crowd…was even stabbed. He found MMA and says that it saved him. Now, he teaches kids and shows them there are better ways than being a thug!

Finally, there’s Antoine Jaoude. Antoine, 3-0, said his dream growing up was to be an Olympic champion of any kind, and to work for the United Nations. He was a silver medalist at the Pan Am Games and competed at the 2006 Olympic Games. He speaks five languages! Funny guy and a great fighter.

With so much talent emerging in just its 2nd year, the IFL is shaping up to be one of the most fruitful sources of talent in all of MMA.

Party On,

Bas

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Most UFC Heavyweight Champions are pretty large individuals, and because of that, they probably aren’t the best at playing hide and seek. But former champ Ricco Rodriguez is diffi cult to fi nd. Over the past year, he made a couple of appearances at smaller MMA shows, where he steamrolled through his unfortunate foes.

 

And then…..he vanished.

 

Only days after FIIGHT! sent this journalist on a manhunt for Rodriguez, it was learned that he left the country for Zagreb, Croatia, to help Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic prepare for his battle against Cheick Kongo at UFC 75: Champion vs. Champion.

But this isn’t completely out of character for Rodriguez. After all, he’s known for helping others get ready for their upcoming fi ghts, and Cro Cop is just the latest heavyweight to utilize his talent. “Ricco is very, very generous to a fault when it comes to his training techniques and training methods,” Saul Soliz says, who has trained him since 1999. “I think a lot of people have adopted that into their program and have been very successful for what Ricco’s been gracious enough to give him.”

Since he fell out of the spotlight, most MMA aficionados think Rodriguez has ballooned out of shape and is spending a considerable amount of time bonding with Twinkie the Kid. Apparently, that isn’t entirely true. Although he took some time away from the sport, it looks like he is on the verge of making a comeback.

In order to move forward though, sometimes a few steps back are necessary.

**

It’s the morning of September 28th, 2002. The night before, Ricco Rodriguez defeated Randy Couture for the UFC Heavyweight Championship. It was the proudest moment of his career.

Five months later, his time was up. In his first title defense, Rodriguez lost the strap to Tim Sylvia at UFC 41: Onslaught due to strikes in the first round. “I think the success was overwhelming,” Soliz says. “At the time, he probably should’ve taken a little bit of time off just to enjoy the victory and savor the moment of being a champ, but Ricco isn’t that way. He’s pretty competitive. So when they offered him a fight, he took it.”

It didn’t get any better. In a cross-promotional heavyweight showdown, Rodriguez lost a controversial decision to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueria at PRIDE Total Elimination 2003, and at UFC 45: Revolution, he dropped a unanimous decision to Pedro Rizzo, who utilized his takedown defense and back-peddling plan to a tee.

That was the last commitment on his UFC contract, and he opted not to re-sign with them, or any other organization. He needed a break from the sport. “I think Ricco had other things he needed to pursue, and he didn’t have a chance because he had dedicated the past six years of his life to MMA,” Soliz explains. “He had some other things he wanted to do that were distracting for him.”

Over the next year, Rodriguez’s fighting took a backseat as he worked through his issues. Since he didn’t work out much during that time period, he gained a massive amount of weight, puffing up past 300 pounds. That isn’t easy to do. “Ricco doesn’t do anything half ass. He trains hard, he has fun hard; everything he does, he does 200 percent,” Ken Pavia, a well-established agent who represented Rodriguez from 2005 until 2006, explains. “And when he started going off track in terms of the diet, he did that hard too.”

Eventually, Ricco started trimming those extra pounds, and went back to the basics by dominating fighters at smaller MMA contests (minus the Ron Waterman and Robert Beraun battles). In 2006, he signed with the World Fighting Alliance (WFA). At their show King of the Streets, he defeated Waterman in a rematch.

But the WFA was short-lived. When Zuffa (parent company of UFC and WEC) purchased the organization in December 2006, they also received the rights to his contract. Rodriguez, however, had other plans. “He had told me back when the WFA was acquired by the UFC, he asked for his release,” Pavia explains. “He didn’t want to fight with them at the time.”

Maybe he needed another break.

**

Rodriguez had to get out of Patterson, New Jersey. It wasn’t a good environment for him, considering that most of his friends had gotten into trouble and wound up in jail.

That wasn’t a path he would go down. When he was 17 years old, the high school wrestler relocated to Los Angeles, California, and he eventually linked up with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu experts Rigan and Jean Jacques Machado. Under their tutelage, he won several tournaments, and in 1999 took home the gold medal at the Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) Submission Wrestling World Championship.

Coincidentally, he started competing in MMA that same year. During the fall, he walked through the doors of the Patumwadee Thai Boxing Gym, and was introduced to his now longtime trainer, Saul Soliz. “They had a regional MMA show and Ricco was going to fi ght Sam Adkins,” Soliz recalls. “The promoter for the event brought Ricco into my place because he needed a place to train. We started training, we hit it off, and he started training with me full time after that.”

It paid off. Rodriguez choked Adkins out, and then he went on a tear. After disposing of Travis Fulton at King of the Cage, he traveled to Japan’s PRIDE organization and earned wins over Gary Goodridge, Giant Ochiai, and John Marsh. Then, he returned to King of the Cage and put a nasty knee bar on Paul Buentello.

That was enough to capture the attention of the UFC. His winning streak continued as he decisively beat four top mixed martial artists (Andre Arlovski, Pete Williams, Jeff Monson and Tsuyoshi Kohsaka), thus earning a title shot at then champion Randy Couture at UFC 39: The Warriors Return.

Although Couture was able to put up a strong showing in earlier rounds, Rodriguez turned it up as the fight went on and was able to take him down with relative ease before finishing him off in the fifth round. He took home the UFC Heavyweight Championship and immortalized himself as one of the elite.

During this time of his career, Rodriguez would box and do pad work each morning. In the afternoon, he would lift weights and do sprints. And in the evening, he grappled. It was his discipline and strict training regiment that shaped him into one of the biggest threats in mixed martial arts. “He did everything that everybody else wasn’t willing to do, and I think that’s why he’s been more successful than anyone at the time,” Soliz states. “He set the standard.”

**

In Croatia, Rodriguez is helping Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic train for his next fight. Cro Cop, having spent most of his time attempting to decapitate his opponents with his nasty left leg kick, stands to gain extensive knowledge in grappling and octagon control from the former champ.

“I think he takes into consideration that Ricco was probably the best heavyweight in the cage at one time. I think Cro Cop wanted to pick his brain and get some insight,” Soliz says. “Ricco is an awesome wrestler with good Jiu-Jitsu, and he never had any prob
lem taking anybody down. Cro Cop might want to add that to his repertoire.”

Between training with the dangerous heavyweight striker and a win against Lloyd Marshbanks at a low-key event in July, it looks like Rodriguez could return to the octagon in the near future. However, that is purely speculation, and it may be too early to ponder his comeback. Only Rodriguez knows the answer to that. Still, it leaves room to contemplate.

“I think he’d like to go to the UFC if they’ll have him back. There are plenty of guys who offer good rematches, as well as good PPV action. I think it’s definitely something he wants to do,” Soliz explains. “He’s just trying to get in shape and do his thing. I think when he comes back, everyone will be surprised at how much he has evolved, and how much of a game he introduces and still has. I think he is going to do well.”

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Alex Varkatzas, lead singer of the metal band Atreyu, is a slender man, but his voice fi lls arenas. On May 27, 2006, it fi lled the Staples Center in Los Angeles before the main event of Ultimate Fighting Championship 60: Hughes vs. Gracie.

Varkatzas says one of the coolest moments of his life was hearing his band’s song, You Eclipsed by Me, blaring from the arena’s giant speakers. “All these people are on their feet, and our song is getting them pumped up,” Varkatzas said. It would be a triumphant moment for any musician, but Varkatzas’ excitement was amplifi ed by the fact that he is an avid martial artist and mixed martial arts fan.

Actors, musicians, and athletes from other sports have long made ringside appearances at fights. Many have trained in boxing and martial arts to maintain their physiques or to prepare for physically demanding roles onstage or screen. Varkatzas is only one of a growing number of musicians from Orange County, CA who both delivers a pummeling on stage and is willing to take one off it. Alex, along with vocalist Brandan Schieppati and guitarist Brian Leppke of Bleeding Through, and Avenged Sevenfold vocalist M Shadows, is leading the charge of high-profile SoCal rockers willing to knuckle up and throw down with serious fi ghters.

The tatted up 25-year-old Varkatzas was a Tae Kwon Do tyke who liked to watch the early UFC tournaments with his younger brother. He watched The Ultimate Fighter Season One to kill time on tour in 2005, and was inspired to train. When Atreyu finished its run of shows, Varkatzas signed up with Cleber Jiu-Jitsu in Huntington Beach and trained twice a day for six months. “I’m a blue belt, but I’ve been on a Muay Thai kick for about a year or so,” Varkatzas says.

There are a lot of blue belts out there and a lot of so-called kickboxers, but Varkatzas is “by no means a candy ass,” said OC Muay Thai owner Dave Janssen. UFC veterans Renato “Babalu” Sobral, Joe “Daddy” Stevenson, Justin Levens, and World Extreme Cagefighting star Cub Swanson have trained at Janssen’s gym. “When [pro fighters] are there, Varkatzas trains with them,” Janssen told us.

OC Muay Thai occupies a warehouse space east of the 405 in Santa Ana, CA. It’s a “total fuckin’ warrior dungeon,” according to Schieppati. He should know; the 27- year-old trained there for several months before transitioning to OC Kickboxing to work on his ground game. The screamer brought guitarist Brian Leppke, with him and the pair trained heavily in both Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu before the band’s next tour.

M Shadows lives the sporting life when he’s not on the road. A lifelong athlete, the 25-year-old dedicates much of his free time to working out and participating in recreational sports leagues. He was introduced to the Freestyle Fight School by a friend and now “every time I get off tour, I get my ass kicked every day,” he said. Take the rock star’s word for it: UFC, Pancrase, Shoot-fi ghting, Vale Tudo, and King of the Cage veteran Todd Medina operates the no-bullshit MMA academy inside Club MetRx in Costa Mesa, CA.

Atreyu, Avenged Sevenfold, and Bleeding Through often spend six months or more each year on the road, which makes traditional training impossible. “It’s hard to train for a month and leave,” Leppke says. As a result, the gym has to come on the road. Each band takes Thai pads and focus mitts on tour. Varkatzas carries mats too, so that he can roll with band members. If there is no where to train, “I’ll go to the gym and do a gnarly workout just to do something,” the Atreyu vocalist said. Occasionally the band will spend several months touring with other acts whose members or road crews fight train, and he will get to roll with new faces.

But months of less-than-ideal sleeping arrangements, bad food, and countless hours spent sitting in vans and on buses takes its toll. “I get dull and it takes me a week or two to feel comfortable in the gym after returning from tour,” said Varkatzas, but after that “I’m feeling the rhythm, you know what I mean?” The life of a full-time touring musician is hard, and all of these guys would like to have more mat time.

But their lifestyle does afford them the freedom to hit the gym four to six times a week when they are home. Orange County is paradise to those who know it only through Hollywood’s lens. Warm Pacific winds blow over its nearly 800 square miles and 34 incorporated cities. Those cities range from sleepy beachfront towns, to ultra-wealthy gated enclaves, to scrubby inland bedroom communities. It is one of the most affluent counties in America, a vanity-driven culture of bronzed bikinied bodies and expensive rides. M Shadows notes that, “once a few cool people do something, everybody wants to do it.” From car culture and fast food, to surfi ng and skateboarding, Southern Californians are the cool people the rest of the Western world has emulated since World War II.

But Hollywood’s version of the OC isn’t entirely accurate. Some residents’ American dreams have been deferred amidst Southern California’s embarrassment of riches. “I think people have chips on their shoulders because they see people who have something and they want it,” Schieppati says. The children of paradise have something to prove, and right now the cool kids of Orange County are heavily tattooed metal heads who like to fight.

“There are probably more 18-to-25- year-olds in OC involved in MMA than not,” says Throwdown vocalist Dave Peters. Boasting Schieppati as a former member, Throwdown is another OC band that exploded from small, underground shows to the summer festival circuit of Warped and Ozzfest tours. Southern California is awash with high profile gyms, fight teams, and “a bunch of buttheads” according to Schieppati. Those buttheads are the growing legion of fanboy wannabes in Affliction t-shirts. In Orange County, image is everything and “everybody thinks they’re a cage fighter,” Schieppati says.

Throwdown is an example of the cultural crossover. While Peters is a fan, he is not a fighter. However, the band tapped into combat culture for the artwork on its 2003 album Haymaker as well as the video for Forever. In the video, a group of young men gather in a darkened storage space to bust each up Fight Club-style while Peters spits and snarls his way through lyrics about commitment and integrity. Peters thinks that MMA offers the same catharsis that some look for in the churning mosh pits of hardco
re and metal concerts.

Those pits, inspired by the chaotic and often violent shows of early 1980s punk bands, have become a ritualized fight where participants smash each other and anyone else standing too close to the perimeter. What was once a space for the frustrated and fucked up to blow off steam is now a place for maladjusted jocks to beat each other’s heads in. Fights at shows are common, and the culture of violence often carries over into other parts of show-goers lives. Schieppati admits that he used to run with knuckleheads, but “ever since I started training, I’m calmer. It just evened me out.”

Heavy music and combat sports have enjoyed unprecedented success after spending years on the freak show fringe of pop culture, and Orange County has served as an incubator for both. The members of Atreyu, Avenged Sevenfold, Bleeding Through, and Throwdown remember playing in rec halls and dank nightclubs to small crowds. These same bands now play to thousands a night in large halls and amphitheaters and watch themselves on MTV2. Every big-name mixed martial artist can share a story about fighting in a fairground exhibition hall or run-down casino. These same fighters now step into cages and rings in arenas and cavernous casino event centers.

Success is sweet for the misfits and miscreants who were told to stop playing music and get a real job and for the eccentrics and extremists who only feel free in a cage. But that success is complicated. What was once a passionate pastime is now a brutal business with promoters, managers, and hangers-on all working their own angles. These musicians stay focused on one passion by immersing themselves in another.

“The music industry is full of sharks and shitheads,” Varkatzas says, “but when you’re rolling, your intentions are clear. It’s a noble truth; I want to beat you, you want to beat me.”

Arena-sized sound system or not, the rock singer is coming through loud and clear.

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In the exploding world of MMA, it’s sometimes hard for fans to notice some of the amazing fighters on the verge of making it to the next level. We’ve enlisted the experts at MMAWeekly.com to take you deep inside the sport, and present you with some of the newest names to watch.

 

Name: Kevin Swanson

Nickname: “Cub”

Professional Record: 11-1

Height: 5’7”

Weight: 145lbs

Discipline: Shoot Fighting, Muay Thai

Notable Wins: Micah Miller, Tommy Lee, Charlie Valencia

 

Fighters say that you learn more from a loss than you do from a victory. Well, if that is true, Cub Swanson is one quick study. The World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight contender lost his first professional bout, but has been on an 11-fight winning streak ever since.

Swanson fought his way up through the Total Combat promotion in Tijuana, Mexico and then the venerable King of the Cage organization before he was offered a shot in the WEC.

Like most light weight fighters, Swanson often had to compete in the 155 pound division before the WEC came along. With the promotion’s emphasis on lighter fighters, Swanson jumped at the chance to fight consistently in his true weight class at 145 pounds. He also benefits from the exposure that comes along with the WEC and their national television deal with the Versus network.

Not wasting any time, Swanson, a California native, quickly submitted one of the Midwest’s best fighters in his WEC debut. In little more than three minutes, Tommy Lee (not the drummer from Mötley Crüe) tapped out to Swanson’s guillotine choke.

Returning to the WEC cage on the night of the promotion’s live debut on Versus, Swanson was largely considered an underdog to an undefeated Micah Miller. Swanson and Miller put forth one of the night’s most exciting battles as they exchanged punch combinations and knees to the body while standing, and displayed an array of submission attempts on the ground. Swanson seemed to always be a half step ahead of Miller, and landed the cleaner shots en route to a unanimous decision victory.

Swanson is a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and has been training under legendary martial artist Erik Paulson, as well as at OC Muay Thai. Naturally athletic, he also has a background in soccer.

Under the guidance of Paulson, his professional mixed martial arts record now stands at 11-1. Having shown the management at the WEC that he is a true contender, winning both of his WEC fights decisively, Swanson is now in line for one of the biggest and most exciting challenges of his career.

Famed fighter Jens Pulver is making the move from the UFC to the WEC so that he can fight at his natural weight of 145 pounds, much like Swanson. Pulver’s first opponent in the WEC? You guessed it, none other than Cub Swanson.

In fact, it was Swanson that chose Pulver as an opponent. He was given the choice between Pulver and Canadian Mark Hominick for his next bout. In choosing Pulver, Swanson stated matter-of-factly, “Jens is a little bit of a bigger name. They’re both real tough, but I felt this was the better matchup for me.”

Despite Pulver’s pedigree as the first ever UFC Lightweight Champion, and being a veteran of several top promotions including PRIDE FC, Swanson knows that the challenge Pulver presents comes with a payoff. “A win over Jens is definitely going to help build my career.”

Although it’s a big fight for his career, Swanson still seems to keep things in perspective, not letting the aura of Jens Pulver take over his psyche. “The whole [featherweight] division is exciting. It’s nothing but tough guys, bring ’em on one by one.”

 

Name: Leonard Garcia

Nickname: “Bad Boy”

Professional Record: 10-2

Height: 5’10”

Weight: 155lbs

Discipline: Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, Wrestling, Boxing

Notable Wins: Alan Berube, Justin James, Jake Hattan

 

Debuting in 1999, it wouldn’t seem that Leonard Garcia is “new blood” material. But considering that he has been on a three-year hiatus and has only fought three times in the past year and a half, Leonard is still pretty new to most fight fans.

 

Nathan Marquardt. Duane Ludwig. Pete Spratt. Thomas Schulte. Justin James. These are just some of the fighters that Garcia cut his teeth with when he started out with manager Sven Bean’s Ring of Fire promotion.

Now, with a 10-2 professional record in mixed martial arts, Garcia is on the cusp of becoming a widely known fighter. He made a name for himself at the grass roots level on shows like Ring of Fire and in the United Shoot Wrestling Federation.

His return to fighting in April of 2006 was once again under the Ring of Fire umbrella. True to his Jiu-Jitsu roots – Garcia started training in the discipline when he was 16 years old in an attempt to stay out of trouble – he submitted an overmatched but tough Rocky Johnson in his old stomping grounds in Denver.

Following the win over Johnson, it took a twist of fate for Garcia to take the step up into the Octagon.

Fellow Ring of Fire veteran Alvin Robinson was on tap to face Roger Huerta as the UFC made its Texas debut in Houston. As luck would have it, Robinson injured his knee in his last fight prior to UFC 69 and had to withdraw from the fight.

With only three weeks to go until the Houston date, in stepped Leonard Garcia, long anticipating this day.

He had a tough task in front of him in Huerta. Although he ended up losing a unanimous decision, he and Huerta earned “Fight of the Night” honors and a healthy bonus check when all was said and done. The two threw blows and searched for submissions for the entire three rounds of their bout, but Huerta was a little more effective with his hands and maintained top position throughout most of their time on the ground to get the win.

Garcia’s thoughts on his first time in the Octagon? “The first round, I was extremely nervous. It was the big stage, [but] I was having the time of my life in there. I can’t explain how it felt. It’s been my dream since the UFC started to fight there.”

Not only did Garcia get his shot in the UFC, but in the process, he found a new home. “For [the fight with Huerta] I came up to Greg Jackson’s camp to train and get ready and actually got signed to the team,” explained Garcia. “So now I’m an official part of Jackson’s team.”

It was a great new experience for the Texan. “I’ve trained Jiu-Jitsu for a lot of years, and fought MMA, but I’d never been to a camp where I trained with a lot of MMA fighters.

“I live there at the gym. It’s like being around family all day long,” says Garcia.

It is definitely an empowering experience for Garcia to finally find a place where he has the support of other professional fighters. “When you come out and you’re ready to go and you see all your guys, they’re not telling you anything, but with the way they look at
you…it’s all coming down to this one moment…and I think it makes us fight harder.”

Again on short notice, Garcia followed up his battle against Huerta by accepting a fight with The Ultimate Fighter Season 5 participant Allen Berube, on the show’s season finale. This time, Garcia wouldn’t be satisfied with an exciting loss. This time he wanted to walk away with the win.

And he did.

At the 4:22 mark of the first round, Garcia called upon all those years of Jiu-Jitsu training and locked a rear naked choke that left Berube gasping for air and tapping out of the fight.

It was a nice bit of retribution for Garcia. He was among the 19 finalists for Season 5, but was left out of the final 16 due to a hairline fracture in his wrist.

Adding a win to his UFC dream, Garcia could hardly find words to explain his first victory in the Octagon, “It’s an unexplainable feeling. It’s an overwhelming feeling.”

He is on tap to face Cole Miller, another UFC reality show veteran, in late September. But Leonard Garcia hasn’t forgotten his first time under the bright lights of the UFC, and isn’t shy when asked who he really wants to fight.

“I’m going to definitely be looking for Roger [Huerta] again. I want to see what we both do against each other when we both have a solid training camp. Who knows? I might just throw the game plan out the window again and try to go to war. I’m not a guy that likes to work position. I’d much rather try for a submission. If I miss it, get myself in a better position and go again.”

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In my last two articles, I covered building a foundation for understanding betting on MMA fights. This article builds on that foundation, so if you missed the first two issues of FIGHT!, get your hands on a back issue. You can also find this information archived online in the “MMA Wagering Guide” on MMAjunkie. com.

If you are up to speed, you now know how to read a betting line, how to convert that line in to a percentage, how to set your own percentage for a fight, and then how to go about using your own line to start to fi nd value. It’s now time to dig deeper into probability and value as it applies to betting on MMA.

In my last article, I worked through the process at a high level for setting my own line for the Matt Hughes vs. Matt Serra fight scheduled for UFC 79. I had set the line for Hughes around 80%, or -400. The market line opened for this fight where I predicted, with Hughes hovering around -400. The line has moved a little from the open; early money came in on Serra, and the line has adjusted so that Hughes is available (at time of writing) at -360 on a major online book.

Sportsbooks move lines like this all the time. It’s ultimately a function of the market forces of supply and demand. Sportsbooks don’t typically get equal dollar action on both sides of a line – a common sports betting misconception – but books don’t usually like to be too significantly exposed on a given side of an event. So when line is set at something like Hughes at -400 and a significant amount of money comes in on Serra, the books will usually decide that they’d like to bring their books a little closer towards balance, and so they shift the lines to make Serra a little less attractive and Hughes a little more attractive. That’s exactly what has happened for the Hughes/Serra fight.

As outlined in previous articles, those numbers mean that you would risk $360 to win $100 on Hughes, and that the line of -360 converts to a percentage chance of 78.26% for Hughes to win the fight. It is then time to evaluate that approximate 78% chance, along with the initial 80% chance for Hughes to win that I predicted. A gambler can ultimately use these probabilities to determine if he should place a bet on this fight, and which side he should bet on.

If I’m correct, and the actual probability of Hughes winning the fight against Serra is actually 80%, then the 78.26% probability offered by the line of -360 presents a small

+EV (expected value) opportunity. In other words, a good bet. At the current market line, I think that a bet on Hughes has an edge of 1.74% – it’s not a significant edge where I’d make a multi-unit play, but it’s enough to represent a small play.

The reasoning behind this probability approach is most easily explained by considering a hypothetical series of ten fights, all using the -400 line I originally predicted. This means that fighter A in each fight would win 80% of the time and fighter B would win 20% of the time. If the fight series results followed their estimated probability exactly, fighter A would have eight wins and two losses. The net result at the line of -400 (risking 4 units to win 1 unit) would be +8 units from the eight wins (winning eight bets for one unit each), and -8 units from the two losses (losing two bets for four units each). This results in the corresponding breakeven for -400 at 80%. So if a bettor thinks Hughes will win this fight exactly 80% of the time and is being offered a -400 line, the proposition has a neutral expected value (EV). It’s like flipping a coin and betting on whether it will land heads or tails; you’re going to win and lose equally, assuming a fair coin.

However, if you were offered a line of -360, which has a breakeven occurrence of 78.26%, and you expected fighter A to win 80% of the time, this would be a bet with positive expected value (+EV). This bet represents an identified edge, thanks to your own handicapping between the line being offered and the expected outcome of the fight. Identifying these edges is the key to making money long term from MMA wagering. Ultimately, if you can be just a little bit better informed than the public lines, you can find value and can win over time.

If the line is -360 but the probability is actually 80%, we expect to net the same eight wins and two losses. On our eight wins, we still win the same +8 units, but on our two losses, we lose a total of 7.2 units (two losses of -3.6 units each time). As a result, we profit +0.8 units in total.

This is the same logic used in poker. In Texas Hold’em, a player holding a pair of aces is approximately an 80% favorite over a player holding a pair of sevens before the flop (equivalent to a line of -400). If the player holding the sevens were offered the opportunity to bet at an equivalent moneyline of +500 (for example, calling their last $10 in to a pot which already contained $50) this would be a good move, even if the player knew he was up against aces. Even though the player holding the pair of sevens expects to lose this hand more often than he wins, by making the right play based on the odds, he will profit in the long run.

MMA wagering works the same way: find an edge, bet it, and profit in the long run.

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If you’ve ever seen video clips or pictures of any of my fights, you’ve more than likely said, “What the hell is wrong with that guy? He’s doing a dance before he gets in the ring? Throwing money? Is that guy out of his mind or what, doesn’t he realize he’s about to get in the cage with a guy who wants to tear his head off?!” The answers are simple. Of course I am, and of course I do!

But this wouldn’t appease the editors of FIGHT!, so at gunpoint they have made me elaborate why I have infused pro-wrestling showmanship into the prestigious sport of mixed martial arts. Luckily, the barrel of the gun is quite cool to the touch, and I work the best under pressure.

Pressure is my best friend. I don’t know why, but since I was a kid I tend to do things the hard way. For example, I’m writing this article a few hours from when it goes to press (hence the gunpoint thing) and I think (hope) it will be exemplary, for that very reason. Now I could launch into an armchair psychologist account of why I have developed from birth into a somewhat anti-social, always rebellious youth, and maintained my strange habits beyond my childhood, often making the simplest of situations into a three-ring circus, but I don’t have even an honorary or online certifi cate in psychology, so I’ll leave that to those who decide to psychoanalyze me. The point is, I perform better under stress, so sometimes I’ll create the stress for myself. I do it unfortunately in all areas in my life. Sorry Time Warner Digital cable, I’ll pay when I’m done writing.

The second reason has something to do with graffiti. I know, graffiti, makes absolutely no sense in the world of fighting, but to me it does. I remember being pulled into the high school principal’s office as a teenager for fighting. Before the geek vice principal could launch into his diatribe about how I’ll never amount to anything, he paused and spoke clearly into his walkie-talkie. “Could you please send a janitor to the 300 hallway to clean up some graffiti?” All I could think was damn it, I just put that there 30 minutes ago.

Why the hell does a kid in downtown LA shimmy thirty feet up a street sign protected with barbed wire to draw a picture of a cartoon character smoking a cigarette? Easy, he wants to leave his mark. He wants to be heard, express his feelings, his emotions, be remembered. We all have this desire. Some of us pop out a bunch of kids, some fight, some draw, or work on engines, but we aren’t far from the cave paintings of our distant cousins.

Every entrance has had its own meaning. For a fight that I was making next to nothing for, I threw out a bunch of money, as if to say “money doesn’t matter!” I’ve had choreographed dance routines by the notorious b-boy Flow Master to amp the crowd up, as well as pyrotechnics that I was afraid were going to burn me or the building down. But every time, it was meant to express something going on in my life, or how I was feeling at that point. Sad, happy, whichever, whatever. Self expression, attempting to leave a legacy.

I’m shocked at the lack of showmanship in the world of mixed martial arts. I don’t know about the readers, but I grew up being babysat by Optimus Prime, and then eating dinner with “Hacksaw” Jim Dugan, The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase, and “Hulk” Hogan, with whom I shook hands at an event for 4th graders; I thought his hands felt like a bunch of bananas. These characters and larger than life personalities really left an impression on me to this day. The clearly defined roles of good guy/bad guy were so apparent to a preteen Jason Miller, but times have changed, and so has the game.

Gone are the days of pre-determined outcomes, as well as the faces and heels of the pro wrestling world, unless of course you still watch that kind of “fighting.” With Zuffa blazing trails in American entertainment and bringing MMA to the forefront of pop culture, I think it is the athletes’ responsibility to showcase their personalities to the world. You’d much rather see me win or get my ass kicked if you remember or care about me. Not to say everyone needs to be as wild and outlandish as I tend to be, but if we don’t know who you are, we don’t care one way or the other. My “wrasslin” entrances are just my special way to get across who I am.

I see quite a few fi ghters get nerves before the fi ght. Sometimes the dressing room of an event can look like the inside of one of those amphibious vehicles that stormed Normandy on D-day. I always laugh when I see some young bucks looking like caged lions, pacing back and forth, amped like they swallowed five gallons of Starbucks.

Although I can’t say I don’t get some kinds of nerves, I deal with it in a much different way than most people. When I think the plane might be going down and every other passenger on the plane is white-knuckle gripping the armrests, I am usually giggling to myself. It may well be genetic, because my dad has a similar response to intense situations, which probably didn’t help him on any Kuwaiti battlefield, but apparently does help a Miller handle the worst of situations.

I guess my laughing and displays of sometimes silly proportions go right along with my trademark “Strip of Doom” haircut – just another way I deal with the world, however boring and understimulating it might be at times. Piling stress on top of an already stressful situation may seem like an insane thing to do, but in my humble opinion, a lot of the best things in life tend to be a little crazy. I encourage anyone who can read these words, as well as those who can’t, to express themselves to the best of their abilities and leave a mark in whatever way you can.

Lastly, I hope anyone watching my fights will be entertained from the time I walk into the building to the minute I walk out. If the crowd wanted to just see any fight, they could hang out at the local bar for a few nights with a water pistol. Entertainment is why they paid 300 bucks to sit in the nosebleed section. If entertainment is what you want, then that’s what you get. Now that I’ve explained that, good luck figuring out the rest of me. And editors, please, get the gun off my temple. Thanks.

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Three X-rays and an MRI later, my training had officially ended – for the time being, anyway. The worst part of that equation: it had hardly even started.

FUCK!

My plan was to amass a small arsenal of fighting techniques by training with numerous instructors, each schooled in a different style. Obviously, it would prove next to impossible to become a bona fide expert in any one style, let alone a few of them, in such a short period of time, but by exposing myself to a wide variety of pugilistic theories and mano y mano combat philosophies, my thinking was that I could at least become proficient enough to defend myself inside the cage or ring and, in all possibility, mount a legitimate offensive against an opponent if and when the opportunity presented itself. Bottom line, I didn’t want to look like a complete freakin’ schmuck when I eventually fought.

Currently quartered in Southern Arizona, where I’m involved in a few large-scale literary projects, I had been working diligently on my general fitness. Hiking Pinnacle Peak two to three times a week in the early-morning hours before it became Hades hot, hitting the weights a minimum of three days a week, swimming laps any chance I could get. After a month and a half, my strength and cardio had reached a subprime- but-more-than-acceptable level. When I was reasonably certain that I wouldn’t keel over during my first week of MMA training, I started asking around in the hopes of hooking up with a reputable martial arts instructor or quality training center. My queries led me to the Scottsdale Martial Arts Center (www.scottsdalemartialartscenter.com), a state-of-the-art 6,000 square foot facility in North Scottsdale, one of the more affluent Phoenix area communities. With a number of padded-floor training rooms and a host of different instructors offering classes in a wide array of styles, this seemed like the perfect place to initiate my immersion into the world of martial arts. SMAC’s operational manager, Tyler Warren, a lean, lithe, bad-ass with a black sash in Chinese Wu-Shu, gave me the grand tour and invited me to get my ass kicked on a regular basis – uh, scratch that – train at his dojo. Turns out they had just launched a new Mixed Martial Arts curriculum, which included tutelage in every aspect of “extreme fighting” – striking, grappling, wrestling, you name it – anything and everything an MMA fan or a prospective amateur/professional fighter could ask for. And so, after being properly initiated – Tyler called me a plethora of expletives, kicked me in the nuts, and told me I was less than nothing, then lifted me off the ground and hugged me – I was officially a SMAC member. (For the record, not all new SMAC students need to go through that same initiation. My experience was reserved strictly for defense attorneys and members of the media!)

A few days later, at my first class, I met my new instructor, Vince Perez- Mazzola. VPM is a Jeet Kune Do/Jun Fan Gung Fu/Filipino Kali practitioner who was among a short list of instructors to be certified by the worldrenowned Dan Inosanto, protégé of the “little dragon” himself, Bruce Lee. Beyond just being a martial arts guru, VPM is a dark arts Yoda of sorts, who has taught Close Quarters Battle techniques (aka CQB) to innumerable elite military operatives, including Navy SEALs, Green Berets, Army Rangers, and other members of the Black Ops community. He’s also worked with foreign commandos, international antiterrorism units, law enforcement personnel, and quite a few professional athletes, some of which are rising stars in various MMA organizations. If VPM couldn’t make me fight capable, or at the very least give me a rudimentary fighting base, nobody could.

First up, I needed to learn how to properly strike. Being your typical “I’ve seen a few action movies” kind of guy, I thought I had the whole punch-elbow-kneekick thing pretty well nailed down. I mean, c’mon, what was there to know? You identified your target, you wound up, and you decked him, right? Not even close! My technique, if you could call it that, looked like something a drunken Viking would use in a bar fight, or so I was told. My mechanics, VPM said, left much to be desired. Mechanics? I was there to learn how to fight, not repair a fucking automobile! But proper mechanics – for anything and everything related to fighting – were the key.

“When you get tired,” VPM explained, “and everyone gets tired sooner or later, even the freakiest of physical specimens and your body switches over to autopilot mode, clean, effective, well-rehearsed movements will be the key to finishing the fight and not getting finished.”

So I got my brain around that concept and threw myself into the training. In all sincerity, learning the proper mechanics wasn’t all that hard; it was un-learning all my previously acquired bad habits that proved to be a real bitch. I’m told this is the most difficult aspect of MMA training for many fighters, pros, and amateurs alike. So many people have the misguided conception that just because they customarily kicked ass in street fights, or because they always cleaned house in last-call bar brawls, they would be able to simply step inside the cage and wipe the mat with their opponent. Trust me when I tell you, nothing could be farther from the truth. The leap from unregulated “anything goes” brawls to semi-sanctioned “Toughman” contests to fully-sanctioned and properly refereed MMA bouts is like comparing a car you bought at Larry’s Lemons used car lot to a multi-million-dollar Formula One race car. Sure, there are similarities, but they are few and far between.

After just one lesson, I learned that proper striking technique isn’t simply about the proper mechanics of the strike. Hell no, there’s so much more to it than that. Stance, balance, head positioning, target and angle of the blow, delivery of the blow, defensive posture before, during and after the blow – you could easily pen an encyclopediasized volume of all that is needed to be done just to throw a single punch correctly, let alone a combination. And yet, when a skilled fighter throws down, his movements are so quick, so fluid, so clean, the end result truly is an art form. As I learned all the little nuances of each and every movement related to the delivery of a blow, I developed an even greater sense of appreciation for MMA and its participants than I already had. Man, there’s a shitload to learn.

Next up came groundwork. Having never wrestled in high school – unless you count the time a few slutty cheerleaders jumped me after a pep rally – I had no idea what to expect. To be perfectly honest, the thought of rolling around on the floor with a sweaty, muscular dude didn’t appeal to me all that much. What if the guy got aroused? Yeesh! Or worse, what if I sported wood? Both scenarios are too horrific to devote any additional ink to. But right off the bat, it was extremely obvious just how technical, not to mention tiring, ground fighting could be. Choke holds, joint-locks, throws, escapes, reversals – you need to be a rocket scientist with an Einsteinian IQ to fully comprehend all that is possible when the fight goes to the mat. And if you have to think about a move, even for a micro-second, before implementing it, chances are it’s already too late – you’re either knocked out or choked out and the referee is checking to see if you’re injured.

And speaking of injury, midway through only my third rolling session, while jockeying for position with a seasoned fighter with thirty pounds
on me, I felt a strange sensation in my right knee, accompanied by a faint but audible BO-ING! Unfortunately, my adrenaline was flowing and, even though I felt a little discomfort, I continued with the activity, not wanting to pussy out. A few minutes later, when I began sparring with another opponent, I knew something was wrong. I tried to throw a kick and my right leg sort of flapped about like a hooked mackerel on the deck of a fishing boat. Shrugging it off, chalking the lame kick up to being out of position and/or slightly off balance, I planted my foot, pivoting to throw a hard punch, but when I delivered, it seemed like I had the momentum of an anorexic Girl Scout. That’s when the nausea hit me, followed by a more intense wave of pain. Suddenly, standing wasn’t just difficult, it was nearly impossible. So I sat my ass down, took stock of my body. No swelling in the knee. That was good. But it hurt to the touch, mostly on the interior. That wasn’t so good. Something was obviously wrong, more than just a simple tweak. Hence, I called it quits for the night, took off my gear, and limped out to my car.

That night, my knee hurt like a motherfucker. Sleeping proved tough. I couldn’t find a comfortable position. The following morning, X-rays at the hospital proved inconclusive, but the orthopedist on staff knew something was up and gave me a script for an MRI. A few days later, my wound was revealed: a partial tear of the meniscus and a sprained MCL. Surgery wasn’t a viable option. Time and physical therapy was the only remedy.

My injury confirmed yet another sad but brutal truth about this physically taxing sport.

Just because I had gotten my body in shape to begin training didn’t mean I had gotten it into anything close to resembling fighting shape. Big difference. Huge, actually. Once again, mad props to the people who train for professional (and amateur) bouts on a daily basis. When you consider everything that takes place in the cage or the ring – and I’m just talking about training now, not the actual fight – it’s truly amazing how many people manage to stay injury free, or at least fit enough to go through with the fight. And given the nature of the sport, and the sheer intensity that goes into it, the fact that more fi ghters aren’t reduced to hobbling invalids within a matter of seconds gives testament to exactly how physically (and mentally) prepared these athletes truly are.

So I’m laid up for a while, a bit gimpy but still undeterred. My body isn’t what it used to be twenty years ago, when I could recover from a hard workout, or even a minor injury in relative haste. I guess my pace will just have to be a bit slower than I had originally hoped. Then again, maybe I should just stick to gun fighting. I can do that without breaking a sweat, and possibly without spilling my cappuccino. But I know, I know; there’s no honor in that. It takes guts to allow yourself to be locked inside a cage, across from an opponent, and settle things up close and personal. That whole “two people enter, one person leaves” scenario. Old school. Empty hand, naked foot. Strength and skill and endurance. Balls don’t hurt, either. Well, they might, but that’s what protective cups are for! No, you know what I mean. MMA’s the real deal, not a game. And it needs to be treated as such. And I really can’t wait to start training again!

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