The NBA Orlando Magic’s Glen “Big Baby” Davis moves bodies in the cage when he’s not on the court.
It was September 2009, and John Allan had just seen the future. Allan, the head trainer and owner of the Wai Kru Gym in Allston, MA (the home gym of John “Doomsday” Howard), had a newcomer visit his establishment—a very big, very athletic newcomer. The newbie was 6’9” and weighed 300 pounds, but he was incredibly agile and nimble, with great natural instincts. Best of all, he was only 23 years old.
There was only one problem—this mountain of a man had a full-time job that was going to interfere with becoming the next UFC Heavyweight Champion. He played for the Boston Celtics.
You can’t fault Davis’s choice to play hoops. So far in his young career, he’s already been a high school All-American, collegiate All-American, and Final Four participant at LSU. He’s also earned an NBA championship ring with the Celtics in 2008 and pocketed more than $14 million in career salary. But you also can’t dispute his love for mixed martial arts. It isn’t just a passing interest for him.
“I saw MMA on television and fell in love with Ken Shamrock at an early age—but that was before doing the workouts,” says Davis. “I’ve been training for about five years now. After I started working out, that’s when I really started having a passion for it.”
After years of carrying extra weight on his frame and having his conditioning called into question, Davis gravitated toward MMA workouts as a means to get into better shape. It worked—he dropped 25 pounds after getting involved in the sport. That’s allowed him to be more productive for longer stretches on the court. Look no further than his career-high 33 minutes per game he is playing this year for Orlando.
“MMA has helped me lose a lot of weight,” Davis says. “The mental aspect has been helpful too—to stay calm, but at the same time as having a sense of urgency. You’ve got to have that sense of urgency when you fight, but you can’t be all crazy and wild because you’ve got to watch for all types of techniques. You’ve got to keep your composure, and that’s helped me. Playing basketball, you’ve got to think all the time. You’ve got to be calm, but at the same time, the sport is fast and you’ve got to go up and down the court.”
It’s not just the conditioning aspects of MMA that have helped Davis on the basketball court.
“My hand-eye coordination has improved. So has my positioning on the offensive rebound. You can always do little things to get guys to move where you want them to move—a knee to the outside thigh,” says Davis with a laugh.
Through his friendship with lover-of-all-things-Boston Dana White, Davis got the opportunity to train at the UFC’s headquarters in Las Vegas. He has also become a cage-side regular at UFC events, where he isn’t just there as a fan—he’s there as an MMA student.
“You get to see the corners in action, that’s what I like to see,” says Davis. “I like to hear the corners. You really can’t hear the corners on TV much.”
Big Baby is a student of the sport. He has great natural ability and extraordinary size and athleticism. You can see why his first MMA trainer fell in love with him from the jump. The scariest part is, Davis thinks he’s improved greatly since he first took up the sport four years ago.
“My ground game has gotten much better,” he says. “I’ve done a lot of jiu-jitsu work, and my striking has improved too.”
Cain Velasquez and the rest of the heavyweight class (not to mention the Orlando Magic) have no need to worry—Big Baby plans on sticking to the hardwood and not the Octagon.
“I get the urge sometimes to compete in MMA,” he says. “But basketball is a handful.”