Open Mouth Insert Foot

Webster is a total freakin’ idiot, and I say that with complete and utter certainty. In his  world-famous reference manual, which can be found in every library on the planet, that sonofabitch actually had the gall to define training as, among other things, “the action or method of preparing someone for an athletic contest; the process by which one is made proficient or qualified.” Yeah, right! As far as I’m concerned, that longwinded gobbledygook can be tossed out in favor of a kiss-simple, three-word summation: absolute fucking torture.

Funny thing is, (or sad, depending on how you look at it) I haven’t even exposed myself to any real mixed martial arts or fight-specifi c tutelage yet – at least, not in terms of live-action instruction. It’s far too early for that. The way I see it, my situation closely resembles that of a world-class chef preparing his signature steak. The selected piece of meat needs to be properly tenderized, marinated, and seasoned long before being subjected to the flame. Well in this case, I am that aforementioned piece of meat and it appears as if I’m on an unswerving collision course with the flame. And as much as

I hate to admit it, I’m already starting to feel the heat.

Of paramount importance is getting my body in the proper shape – or, at the very least, some semblance of shape – not just to survive my eventual pro MMA bout, but also emerge victorious. But at the moment, the form I see every time I stare into a full-length mirror (or whenever I review one of my daily submissions to www.youporn.com) is somewhere along the lines of a quadrilateral or one of those dodecahedrons. Alas, all is not lost. Because beneath the corpulent surface of this established literary mercenary lurks a fairly decent athlete – at least, that’s what some agent from the NSA wrote in my secure file. The glaring problem I’m facing is that I’m not quite sure just how many layers of debauchery and decadence my former self is buried beneath. Like it or not, in order to properly pull off this op, it appears as if I’m gonna have to go deep.

Some of the suffering I’m whining about is most assuredly the result of my age. It’s that whole “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” thing. And at 37, my body just doesn’t recover as quickly as it used to. While Father Time has been relatively kind to me over the years, leaving me capable of handling just about any physical task within reason, the arduous process of prepping myself for structured, hand-to-hand, close-quarters-combat is truly a horse of another color. Much to my dismay, the local vitamin shack doesn’t offer a powder or a pill to instantaneously achieve the desired results; trust me, I checked. Sure, I could pay a visit to a little-known false-door laboratory that’s rumored to be frequented by a bevy of NFLers, a fair amount of MLBers, and a track athlete or two but, c’mon, seriously, what fun would that be? And besides, how the hell am I gonna skate through the post-fight blood test? Just ask ex-pro wide receiver Johnnie Morton about that one. He got his head handed to him in his MMA debut and then got his ass kicked by the tox-screeners at the hospital, which, in all probability, will see him banned from the sport. Bottom line: there is no shortcut. Blood, sweat, and tears, baby!

And therein lies the rub.

These days, 30 minutes of stretching is akin to 30 hours on a medieval torture rack. And at the end of an extended weight session, my muscles are seriously considering fi ling assault charges. In fact, I think my lats and pecs may already have chipped in on a bounty on my head. If out of the blue I happen to drop stone cold dead with no obvious explanation as to the cause, at least the detectives will have a lead on the likely culprits. That brings me to the state of my cardiovascular condition. Man, I’m still trying to figure out exactly how much my heart can take before it simply explodes. I’d bet a jigger of Don Julio that a senior citizen kickball team has more endurance than I do right now.

But give me time. I’ll get there. I’m not taking this challenge lightly. When I eventually step into the cage – or get thrown in, depending on how hard I resist – whoever is standing across from me had better be ready to throw down – a white towel preferably. Win or lose, I have no intention of embarrassing myself. I’ll be coming to fight and bringing my A-game (if it looks more like a Z, that’s just because I’m a writer with horrible penmanship); my eventual opponent would be wise to remember that. Whoever he is, I hope he’s cool with bribes. And if not, maybe the ref can be bought. Perhaps ex-NBA official Tim Donaghy will still be looking for a new gig, (Hey Tim, if you’re reading this, I may not be able to match the funds you routinely received for tainting pro hoops games, but I’ll definitely make you an attractive offer.)

To fully understand exactly what I was getting myself into, I decided it’d be best to go and check out some MMA events live, in the flesh. Prior to the start of this vision quest, I had only seen MMA on television or pay-per-view. Let me tell you, seeing the extreme action up close and personal is so insanely different from watching it on a screen that it makes you appreciate the difficulty of the sport and the dedication of its participants a zillion times more. My first observation: Holy fuckin’ shit, the fighters are fast! Punches, kicks, knees, throws, chokes – even the slow maneuvers are carried out with deceptive speed. And then there are the impacts – goddamn they’re loud! Even with synthesizers and a fully equipped, multi-million-dollar soundstage at their disposal, Foley artists (the folks who simulate the sounds of kicks and punches connecting, among other things, in movies and on television) simply can’t compare to the real deal.

Since I was in Phoenix, Arizona, working on a story for another publication (you’ve all heard of Bluff Magazine), I headed over to the Celebrity Theatre for Rage in the Cage (www.rageinthecage.com). Promoted by Roland Sarria, also the owner and head instructor at the RITC Training Center (www.ritctrainingcenter.com), I was truly impressed with the level of expertise and professionalism that all the fighters displayed. Every bout was highly competitive and loaded with full-tilt, non-stop action. Even the amateur fi ghts, which did not allow closed-fist strikes to the head, were still high-octane conflicts that kept the audience on their feet for their duration.

Prior to the first bout, I had the good fortune of chatting with six-time world champion Rick “The Jet” Roufus, in attendance to corner for one of his students in a Muay Thai fight. Unquestionably the most famous American kick-boxer ever, now 40, Rick’s body looks like a fleshcovered steel battering ram and his eyes showcase the identical ultra-intense gleam from the days when he was knocking out his opponents within the first minute of the first round – a feat he can still pull off.

Hoping to garner some solid advice from a man who has seen more hardcore ring time than just about any professional fighter alive, I asked The Jet if there was one factor above all else that he could cite for his incredible success. His response was immediate: “Discipline. In life, in training, and in the ring.” Rick went on to say that he was living the dream and it all boiled down to his unfl appable work ethic, eye-on-the-prize mindset, and the fact that he always fought the best there was, without exception. When our impromptu Q & A was complete, I made a mental note to drop by his Tempe-based school (www.roufuskickboxingcenter.com) at some point in the near future. If I was going to build up my pugilistic arsenal, Rick Roufus seemed like a pretty solid guy to learn from.

Next came UFC 71 in Sin City, and the highly anticipated match-up between challenger Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and the then-current light heavyweight champion of the world, Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell. Mixed martial arts had experienced a nuclear algae bloom level of growth as of late, and Liddell had become the unofficial poster boy during that stratospheric surge. His picture was everywhere, and the list of requests for his presence was longer than the line in front of Pamela Anderson’s kissing booth. Heck, Liddell even did a cameo on an episode of HBO’s hit series Entourage.

But before the main event, there was some incredible action in the preliminary bouts. Karo “The Heat” Parisyan won a three-round unanimous decision over Josh “The People’s Warrior” Burkman, courtesy of his flawless Judo skills and a no-quit motor. Watching Karo work provided me with kick-in-the-nuts proof that the fighters competing in MMA’s upperechelon events had spent years training at the highest level. No way could I possibly amass that kind of expertise in such a short time. My only hope was to learn a few solid techniques (both offensive and defensive) and master them as best I could. The way I figured it, even a one-trick pony could still dole out a helluva kick.

Another under-card match, Houston “The Assassin” Alexander versus Keith “The Dean of Mean” Jardine, looked like it was going to be an all-out war. That is, until the fight began. Less than fifty seconds later, the heavily favored Jardine was on Queer Street, trying to get the license plate of the truck that had flattened him like a Redwood falling on a snail. Alexander’s potent combination of speed and strength quickly overwhelmed the highly regarded UFC veteran, quickly dispelling the myth that a pedigreed name is more important than ferocious determination.

Interestingly enough, that fight set a precedent for the bout the world had been waiting for. Many in attendance, along with the vast majority of MMA pundits, believed that the Iceman’s superior octagon experience and sledgehammer fists would make short work of the far less heralded Rampage. As it turned out, the looking glass all those prognosticators were peering into must have been turned upside down. For two minutes into the first round, Rampage completely melted the Iceman with a barrage of blows that could have stopped a Mack truck, let alone a flesh-and-bone, upright-walking life form. Liddell is a tough guy, a fact no one will ever dispute, but on that night, Quinton Jackson was a man on a mission not to be denied what he believed was rightfully his – that being the UFC light heavyweight crown. Quinton’s upset win gave me hope. Maybe, just maybe, steadfast resolution and total belief in one’s self was all I would need to prevail.

Chances are I would still need a lot of help.

Amazingly, help was on its way. Apparently, my self-imposed challenge had already attracted a fair amount of attention. Sponsors from far and wide were reaching out to me, offering all forms of assistance. Either they truly believed in my cause or they just wanted some decent PR if and when I got my brains beat in. Either way, I was grateful for the assistance. At this point, I’d happily accept any lifeline thrown my way.

Suunto (www.suunto.com) sent me an ultra-high-tech T4 heart-rate monitoring watch along with a speed-and-distance-sensing foot pod to help me achieve cardiovascular supremacy. Although the timepiece is easily smarter than I am and slightly more complex than Melania Knauss-Trump’s pre-nuptial agreement, after only few minutes I figured out how to operate all of its many functions and was well on my way to a higher state of fitness.

Two different limousine services offered me free luxury transportation to and from the gym and/or dojo, allowing me the opportunity to push myself to the edge without the fear of being too exhausted to drive home. I haven’t selected one of the companies yet; if and when I do they will certainly be mentioned.

Paladin Press (www.paladin-press.com), “Home of the Action Library,” sent me a quartet of DVDs as a precursor to my combat training. Mark Hatmaker’s Submission Encyclopedia Volume I is filled with effective submission techniques. Considering that I currently don’t know any, this was a welcome gift. Also by Hatmaker – a lifelong student of the martial arts widely known as “The Professor of Grappling” – are the ABC’s of NHB: High-Speed Training for No-Holds- Barred Fighting, Volumes 1, 2 and 3. This set will provide me with an extensive array of extreme boxing chain drills, shoot and takedown progressions, and plenty of additional grappling and submission progressions.

Turtle Press (www.turtlepress.com), one of the best martial arts reference resources around, also sent me a slew of material. On DVD, they sent Jujitsu 1 and Jujitsu 2 by former SWAT team member and law enforcement instructor James Kodzis, and Championship Sambo by world-renowned Sambo coach Steve Scott. The books included two more Steve Scott titles: The Grappler’s Book of Strangles and Chokes and the Armlock Encyclopedia. At the very least, when someone slaps a painful hold or suffocating choke on me, I’ll know exactly what it is. A third volume, Boxing: The American Martial Art, by former amateur champion and Sarasota, Florida boxing school owner R. Michael Onello, should do wonders for my stand-up, although I’m still confident my fight’s sanctioning board will grant me permission to bring a 2×4 into the cage. Hey, The Rock got to use one— why not me?

And finally, Fight Resource (www.fightresource.com), the online mixed martial arts directory, was kind enough to ship me the voluminous, end-all manuscript for ground game combat, 1001 Submissions, written by David Roy and Kirk Jenness. Featuring over 850 pages and more than 6,000 photographs detailing submission techniques from Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, Judo, Sambo, submission grappling, and more, if this book can’t help improve my ground game, then I’m really fucked!

So, where am I going with all this? Downhill, quickly.

No, seriously, calls are already out to Danny Bonaduce’s people, trying to set up a fight. I figure the possibility of getting my ass kicked by Danny friggin’ Partridge should motivate me to a higher level. Granted, Danny is a seasoned kick-boxer and he may or may not be on synthetic juice (along with a host of other substances, by his own admission, of course) but that’s the chance I take. So c’mon, you Burger King-lookin’ airwave assassin, nut up and throw down with me.

If anybody out there has any suggestions or ideas, I’m more than happy to listen. Email me at ASlutsky@FightMagazine.com. Fight challenges, training tips, nickname suggestions, c’mon people, don’t hold back. Hit me with everything you’ve got. Now all I have to do is survive the training!

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