All-Star first basemen Prince Fielder hits hard on the diamond and in the cage.
At first glance, 5’-11”, 275-pound Detroit Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder looks like he could go toe-to-toe with any UFC heavyweight. Watching him leap into the air to deliver a perfect flying knee while MMA legend Bas Rutten holds the pads supports that belief.
With a leg press of 1,000 pounds and 22-inch biceps, the four-time All-Star has the athletic ability to contemplate a move from the baseball diamond to the Octagon, but after signing a nine-year, $214 million contract to play first base and bat clean-up for the Tigers in 2012, it may be awhile before he begins crushing opponents instead of baseballs.
“I would like to,” says Fielder, about the possibility of fighting professionally one day. “It would be a challenge, but I’m pretty sure taking one elbow would be enough of that for me.”
Jon Burke, owner of the 6 Levels Gym in Orlando, Florida, and trainer to other big name athletes like former NBA great Shaquille O’Neil, LPGA golfer Paula Creamer, and NFL placekicker Ryan Longwell, believes Fielder could transition into the fight game if he wanted to. “Whatever Prince decides to do, he will be successful—that’s his mentality,” Burke says. “If he ever did crossover into MMA, I’d worry about his opponent. Prince is an extremely powerful individual. Applying principles of mixed martial arts like knees and striking—his power would be unparalleled.”
As the sport continues to grow in popularity and gain mainstream attention, more professional athletes from other sports are incorporating MMA into their training programs.
“MMA is an alternative solution to the daily grind,” says Burke. “Some of these athletes have been doing the same thing for 15-20 years and want something new that’s going to challenge them.”
Fielder is MLB’s active Iron Man for consecutive games played (343), and he has only missed one game in the last four years, so it’s no surprise that one of the toughest players in baseball would be into one of the hardest-hitting sports in the world. What is a little shocking is how he discovered MMA.
“My kids [Jadyn, age 8; Haven, age 6] would go to jiu-jitsu classes at 6 Levels, and my wife would send me videos of them training. I thought it was really cool, so I came here in the offseason, and it’s been a blast. It’s a lot better than just running on a treadmill.”
Now, he can’t stay out of the gym. During spring training when the Tigers were in nearby Lakeland, Florida, Fielder trained general MMA with Burke five-times a week, concentrating on his conditioning and tying in elements of boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. The MMA results are paying off with his day job.
“MMA training has helped me with my hand-eye coordination, my agility, footwork, conditioning—everything. The explosiveness I’ve gained this offseason is incredible. It also helps you with confidence—hitting the mitts, learning something new, it helps your mind and is mentally tough,” says Fielder. “The training is hard, so getting through that helps you on the field. If you go 3-10 in my sport, you’re an All-Star. That’s failing seven times, and if you can’t deal with those seven times, it’s going to be rough mentally.”
Even his “old school” manager, 68-year-old Jim Leyland, was impressed with the results. “He thought I looked great and was really proud of me for working hard in the offseason to stay in shape,” Fielder says. “For me, that was a great compliment from a manager who has been around a long time.” Although Fielder isn’t 100 percent sure Leyland really knows what MMA is, he better be careful around the veteran. “Coach did say he could pressure-point me and knock me out.”
The Tiger’s locker room isn’t becoming a Fight Club, but there have been a few instances when some MMA has gone down.
“My kid once came into the clubhouse and put my teammate Miguel Cabrera [seven-time All-Star/AL Triple Crown/World Series Champion] in an armbar,” Fielder says. “He was like, ‘Ow! That hurts.’ “I said, ‘Yeah, you’re supposed to tap.’ Even though not all of the guys train, it brings us together because it gives us something to talk about. In order to win, I believe you need to be a unit.”
The Tigers made it to the World Series in 2012 for the first time since 2006 and are considered favorites in the American League in 2013. Who knows, maybe someday Fielder will need to break out some of his MMA techniques on the ball field. He made it very clear that, now that his kids are older, there’s no chance he would rush the mound. But, if he had to choose what his finishing move would be?
“I don’t know,” Fielder says with a laugh, “maybe a guillotine would be cool.”
Burke offers more details.
“If he had to rush the mound—fictionally speaking of course—he probably would use a superman punch or flying knee because no one would expect that from a guy his size, and then follow that up with a takedown and some ground-and-pound.”
After spending the day in the gym watching Prince Fielder in action—if he were to deliver a flying knee to a pitcher, there will be no need for any follow-up.