MMA Frontmen

Nearly every American male has wanted to experience the rock star lifestyle. These musicians tour the world, party hard every night, and are swarmed by countless groupies willing to do absolutely anything to meet a celebrity. But as profi led in the third issue of FIGHT!, a handful of recording artists based in Orange County – Alex Vakatzas of Atreyu, M. Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold, Dave Peters, Brandan Schieppati, and Brian Leppke of Bleeding Through – are more concerned with following a strict diet and training in mixed martial arts while traveling the globe.

Those Orange Country artists are only the tip of the iceberg. Eugene Robinson, Johnny Strong, Mark Hunter, and Maynard James Keenan have practiced martial arts for years. So if some idiot decides to cause trouble, someone will get hurt – and it won’t be any of these rock stars.

In 2006, Eugene Robinson, lead singer of experimental rock outfi t The Oxbow, went on tour with guitarist Niko Wenner and performed an acoustic set in Washington, DC. The 6’1”, 235-pound front man had just fi nished rehabbing a leg injury suffered while sparring with future Elite XC Middleweight Champion Cung Le.

In the middle of the unplugged concert, a loudmouth began harassing the duo. “We’re playing a really quiet song, and he was talking at the top of his lungs. I told him to shut his mouth, and it went downhill from there,” Robinson recalls. “It was probably stupid of me to be fi ghting audience members, but I fi gured I had a point to make. He was being really rude.” Although he demonstrated his skills to that rude idiot, Robinson isn’t the type of guy to start trouble. He trains in boxing, Shotokan and wrestling for self-defense purposes.

July 17, 2007 served as a strong reminder to Robinson. On that fateful night, one of his infl uences, John Stabb of Government Issue, was assaulted by fi ve teenagers a block away from his home. “They beat him up and put him in the hospital,” Robinson explains. “So I have made a choice to be prepared.”

It would be a lie, however, to say that the singer doesn’t have a passion for the fi ght game. The vocalist is so driven by the art of combat that he wrote Fight: Or, Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Ass-Kicking But Were Afraid You’d Get Your Ass Kicked For Asking. The book takes a look at the evolution of MMA, and includes interesting facts pertaining to striking techniques, interviews with some of the best in the business, and stories of how international leaders like Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin trained in the art of Sambo.

Though Robinson has competed in amateur contests, he doesn’t have aspirations of a professional MMA career. But he wouldn’t mind fi ghting a celebrity – any celebrity, for that matter. “I’m extending this to all of the arts – music, fi lm, TV – I will take them all on,” Robinson states. “I feel fairly certain I’ll win.”

That could intrigue Johnny Strong, head honcho of hard rock outfi t Operator, who has appeared in movies like The Fast and the Furious and Black Hawk Down. But right now, Strong has his eye on UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva. “I’d love to fi ght that dude,” he says. “Anderson Silva has put a crush on everybody in that division. Nobody in that division really has strikes and at 185, that’s my favorite thing to do. I just wanna throw heavy leather.”

Strong studied Judo when he was seven years old, and as a teenager began incorporating kickboxing and Jiu-Jitsu into his bag of tricks. Eventually, the 5’11” middleweight would train at Chris Lisciandro’s school in Sherman Oaks, California, and John McCarthy’s Ultimate Fighting Academy in Valencia. Strong earned fame while practicing his art at Big John’s school. During an experiment taped by the Discovery Channel, the network recruited Randy Couture and Dean Lister to train a heavyweight novice for MMA competition, and decided he should test his skills against Strong – a relative unknown in the sport. Within twenty seconds, the Operator front man submitted his foe with a rear naked choke.

In the right circumstances, Strong would be in the cage for good. “If the universe took my voice or my musical talent, or any stuff I like to do, I’d defi nitely consider making a living fi ghting. To me, it’s one of those things where I grew up doing,” he explains. “All the stuff I’ve done has been behind closed doors and different situations that the police would frown on, but I just haven’t taken it to that level. Maybe one day.”

With Dana White admitting that Anderson Silva has cleaned out the middleweight division, perhaps the UFC President could be inclined to give Strong an opportunity to bang with the champ. Until that time comes, Strong will continue pursuing music and promoting his clothing line S.K.R.A.P Gear.

Mark Hunter, vocalist for metal sextet Chimaira, shares a similar outlook. The 6’1” songwriter follows a strict diet, and when he is on the road, makes regular pit stops at martial arts schools. With the help of the Internet, he researches gyms to train at, and even had the honor of spending some time with Daniel Gracie. It was one of his proudest moments. “That’s like learning how to play guitar form Angus Young [lead guitarist of AC/DC].”

Hunter studied karate during his childhood, until music became his top priority. But in 2006, he walked into J.K. Kang’s Tae Kwon Do Center in Cleveland, Ohio. His instructor, Mark Vayno, convinced him to incorporate other disciplines into his arsenal as well, most notably Tae Kwon Do. “It made me feel like a kid again, like breaking the boards, getting the belts, and wearing the gis,” Hunter recalls. “It was nice.”

But there is something that doesn’t sit well with Hunter and Vayno. “I can’t stand the jackasses who think that [just because] they can lift weights, it means they are gonna just jump in and fi ght somebody after a couple of weeks of training. Those are the guys me and my teacher laugh at, and we would crush.” Hunter vents. “There are people who working hard for it, so it sucks that people think it’s easy [to do] because they watch it. But once they get into training or hit for the fi rst time, they got another think coming.”

In the meantime, Hunter will continue going about his business. One day, he hopes to open his own gym and teach martial arts techniques. “I seem to have good patience for that, which I don’t for music. Like if I had to teach somebody a guitar riff, I’d go insane,” he asks with a laugh. “But with fi ghting, I have all the patience in the world and I really enjoy doing it as well.”

While those three warriors are delving deeper into the MMA industry, Maynard James Keenan, founder of Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer, is only concerned about self-defense. A former high school wrestler and Jiu-Jitsu blue belt under Rickson Gracie, the 5’5” musical icon stays busy year-round with his obligations to the three bands he fronts. But whenever he leaves for a tour, he brings along Todd Fox, his personal instructor and chief of concert security. Fox spent years training alongside the likes of Jeremy Horn and Travis Wiuff.

Training with Fox, who has a 12-2 professional record, has benefi ted Keenan. “It’s inspirational. If you understand the simplest and most basic things, that’s what gets you to the next level,” the singer explains. “Even my father, who is a high school wrestling coach, that was always his focus – to focus on two or three strengths that you have, and then train new ones that spread out from there. That’s what it’s like working Todd. H
e really focuses on the details. Nothing fancy, [just] super simple.”

So if Keenan were attacked, he could quickly defuse the situation and get out of harm’s way. But the vocalist isn’t a violent individual, and realizes that if he were to hurt somebody, it could be costly. “What it really comes down to is lawsuits,” he explains. “I’m sure there might be a bunch of musicians out there that think it would be fun to train and kick somebody’s butt, but when they get the bill, they’re gonna be wishing they passed it off to somebody.”

Robinson, Strong, Hunter, and Keenan are content entertaining fans with their brands of music. Just don’t be rude during their concerts – that’s asking for trouble.

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