The Look of Strategy

The best part of coaching is not the recognition, acknowledgment, or limelight, even though they’re all great benefits. The money is good, too, if you’re a capitalist at heart like I am. But what brings me back to the grind every day is when that moment arrives—when the technique that you and your fighter have been working on comes to fruition.

In the NFL and NBA, coaches scout players and teams for their strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies. I do the same thing. I assess the individual fighter. In the fight game, however, you can’t share the blame with other players. It comes down to the fighter and his coach—mostly the fighter.

Back in Albuquerque, I’m telling a fighter that it will work and that all we need to do is bait him into throwing a left hook. “Coach, I like this four-punch combo,” he says. I suggest quick, precise strikes and fighting long, and I tell him, “We can beat him at his own game.” My fighter gives me a look of dead confidence and says, “Yes, we can.”

Wow, how easy my job becomes when a fighter believes, like this one. Sometimes they surprise themselves—much like Rashad Evans did against Sean Salmon and Chuck Liddell. With this guy, I have to pull on the reins. He just wants to blast off. Repetition becomes the key to success. I make the student practice the technique at least 1,000 times. Every day, round after round, I try to become his opponent when we are hitting the mitts. I take a beating. This is how confidence is built.

Before the fight, I am wrapping his hands, which are shaking like most fighters. I can tell that he’s having an internal dialogue with himself, thinking about the gameplan and options. This is usually the moment when a fighter knows it’s time to go. Fighting is all-consuming. A fighter can’t go two minutes without thinking or stressing about the fight. Because of this, sometimes they are tired before the fight even starts.

I have been lucky and blessed to work with the ones who believe. Keith Jardine believed in the uppercut against Forest Griffin. His face beamed with “Yeah, that just happened.” Brian Stann knocked out Chris Leben and Jorge Santiago and then gave me the “Yeah, I got it.” Melvin Guillard knocked out Waylon Lowe, Evan Dunham, and Shane Roller and pointed at me and said “THAT man.” Jon Jones hit Shogun in the body, then gave me a knowing smile afterward. Holly Holm, the best female boxer of all-time, made Christy Martin miss her mark by a mile and fall into the ropes. She looked at me with steadfast determination, peppered with “I got her number now, Coach.”

This fight begins with little exchanges and lots of fakes and feints—many techniques that are just distractions. There’s some booing from the crowd. They are thirsty for blood. I hope we get there first, I think to myself. Boom! The crowd falls silent, and blood is drawn from the wrong guy. Dan Hardy—the popular Brit—goes down. Wow! I’m not getting any sleep tonight. I need to catch a plane back to the U.S. I’m dragging, and I want to see my family. On the plane, however, I can’t conceal the stupid grin plastered across my face. After the fight, Carlos Condit gave me that look. He did it again after beating Dong Hyun Kim. Now, we’ve got GSP. What a cool job.

I suggest quick, precise strikes and fighting long, and I tell him, “We can beat him at his own game.” My fighter gives me a look of dead confidence and says, “Yes, we can.”

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