Leg Locking in the MMA Meta & Elegant Leg Entanglements for Vale Tudo With Robert Degle

Leg Locking in the MMA Meta & Elegant Leg Entanglements for Vale Tudo With Robert Degle

I talk to Robert Degle who is a Danaher Death Squad member and trains under John Danaher. We discuss the use of leg locks in MMA, how leg attacks can be used either poorly or how they can be applied in a more high percentage manner. We do this by talking about some of the greatest leg lockers in MMA like Imanari, Ryan Hall, Rousimar Palhares and Marcin Held. Along with some of the essential MMA bouts containing leg lock battles and go through Gary Tonons career in One F.C. to examine the D.D.S. use of MMA leg entanglements.

Episode Transcript

Sonny Brown: Robert, how are you today, mate?

Robert Degle: Good. Just got up. It’s pretty early here in New York.

Sonny: Early in New York unlike here in Australia.

Robert: [laughs] Yes, [crosstalk].

Sonny: A little bit early for grappling.

Robert: Yes. [chuckles]

Sonny: Well, that’s what I was going to ask, actually. It’s been a couple of months since we talked, at least. I think just wondering what you’ve been up to since we last spoke, where you’re at because I know there was some plans to go back to Singapore and get back with Evolve, but, obviously, with things changing so rapidly, since then the rest of the Danaher team has moved to Puerto Rico. A whole brave new world out there. What’s going on with you? What have you been up to?

Robert: As I just gave away, I’m still in New York. I’m moving very soon, I’ll just say that. I don’t want to say where. Anyway, you can DM me and I’ll just tell you. [laughs]

Sonny: Sure.

Robert: I don’t want to publicly say it until I’m there, let’s just say that.

Sonny: Yes, okay.

Robert: A lot of people asked me about Puerto Rico. It’s like I didn’t go because I’ve just been waiting to go to Singapore. It’s like what was the point? Well, look, make no mistake, I’d love to train more with my coach and some of my teammates, but there are a lot of us still here. Not everybody left. I’m training at Renzo Gracie in Northern Valley, which Professor Carl Massaro is one of our teammates. He’s been in the blue basement for decades. I have a lot of good guys to train with there.

Also, in a lot of ways, I’m very attached to New York probably more so than I should be. [chuckles] Craig asked me once, he’s like, “Why do you like this place?” I was like, “Pure nostalgia, I grew up here. That’s maybe the only reason.” [laughs] I’m pretty reluctant to leave unless I’m leaving for something that I really want to leave for, if that makes sense.

Sonny: Yes. What about this allure of these Puerto Rican tax rates that I hear is so tempting? Does that–

Robert: I don’t make enough money to care.

[laughter]

Sonny: Fair enough. Still going to be in New York for a while. Plans to move somewhere else, keep that, wait until it happens. Don’t count the chickens before they hatch.

Robert: Yes.

Sonny: One thing I know that you have, obviously, done since we last spoke is released an instructional on leglocks for MMA. I think it’s a great topic to discuss because it was even just a couple of weeks before that, a few guys in the gym were asking me and one of the other coaches, “What about leglocks for MMA?” We started discussing it and probably hit him with all the standard things that you might say.

Maybe I’ll give you the chance to introduce your instructional and maybe some brief thoughts on the topic, and then I can give you some of those objections that I would give someone else who was asking the same question.

Robert: Yes, for sure. I’ll start off by talking about what was the initial inspiration for the instructional. I think people think I’m joking when I say this, but this is really why I decided to make the instructional. I can’t tell you how many times some middle-aged blue belt has commented on one of my videos where I pulled guard in a grappling match have been like, “If this is the street, I would beat the shit out of you.”

[laughs] I hate that so much because it’s assuming that I would pull guard in a street fight. Obviously, that’s not what I’m going to be doing really. These comments which you would be shocked at how often they– Maybe you’re not shocked.

Sonny: I probably wouldn’t be shocked, but I’m sure a lot of people have got some wild comments that– Yes.

Robert: They have it all the time and it’s– There was one in particular where Grappling Industries reposted a match that I had, where I competed under the Grappling Industries tournament, and I heel hooked this guy. It was a pretty nice submission. This guy commented about how it’s not realistic for actual fighting and stuff and all these other things. I started to think about why do these guys look at what I’m doing and think that it’s ridiculous?

The conclusion I came to is they think it’s leg locks, but it’s not actually leglocks because if we think about what a leg lock is, it’s a joint lock that breaks your leg. If I told you that somehow I could equip you with the ability to break somebody’s leg in a fight, would that be a valuable weapon? Obviously.

Sonny: Yes.

Robert: It goes without saying. It’d be very silly to say otherwise.

Sonny: Sounds scary if— [chuckles]

Robert: Yes. [chuckles]

Sonny: It carries some serious weight behind it.

Robert: Right. What they were objecting to I think more so is how you got there. They go, “Oh, he’s sitting on his butt, he’s going towards the guy, then he’s doing moves to get him in a leg lock.” There’s interim steps and stuff such. The trick is, yes, you’re totally right. I don’t think you should pull guard in MMA or in a street fight. In a street fight, you’re going to get kicked in the face. In MMA, kicks are usually not legal on the ground, but there are still a lot of bad things that can happen to you. Yes, they’re totally right. That’s not a good idea.

The idea that leglocks themselves are not a good idea, I think there’s a lot of silly bias against them, which doesn’t– I think when you actually look at the available evidence, it doesn’t measure up. The criticisms don’t measure up to what I think they’re actually capable of doing. I wanted to give– It’s funny. I actually think on the other end of the spectrum, there are people who overestimate the value of leg locks. I wanted to give what I thought was a measured, almost I will even say conservative, approach to pursuing leglocks in MMA, which I think that can be used very effectively.

Also, I wanted to temper them, in my opinion, with a more realistic expectations for it. People take this instructional, and you’re not going to turn into the greatest leg locker on the face of the planet. It’s going to equip you with a practical realistic way to use leglocks in situations where strikes are involved. I hope I achieved it. I don’t know.

Sonny: Yes. Obviously, it’s probably one of the standard objections is once you can keep people on the ground, obviously, pulling guard becomes not the smartest idea in MMA as such. Yet, where we probably saw leglocks taking or used most in MMA was in Japan in Pride, the promotions where you can actually use soccer kicks and everything on the ground. Do you think that that counters that narrative or–?

Robert: I think that’s mainly a cultural thing like the community. The community of grappling practitioners there. Let’s say you go out there in a street fight and the guy goes to kick you in the face, could you counter that and leg lock? Yes, of course, but I don’t think [crosstalk].

Sonny: That’s not a video you want going around if you miss.

Robert: I wouldn’t recommend it.

Sonny: I wouldn’t recommend it either. There is that one video of the street fight, there’s a guy in a basketball court. I’m sure you’ve seen it. Where he takes a guy down and holds him in a heel hook. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it. He threatens, “I’m going to break your leg.” Of course, for a basketballer, I’m sure that carries even more significant measures. Other than that though, is there anyone that comes to mind that you can think of?

Robert: As for street fights? I don’t really watch that many street fight videos, so I don’t know. [chuckles]

Sonny: Fair enough. You’re not even making the point that they do work in street fights necessarily or that you would recommend it, so maybe that’s not the way to look at it.

Robert: I actually have a part in the instructional I talk about the purposes of leglocks for self-defense. I think they can be used for that. What I basically say is, “Guys, this is a last-resort thing. Don’t do this unless you have no other option.” I do think you can use them for self-defense. I’ve never had to use them for self-defense. I’ve used jiu-jitsu for self-defense. I use takedowns and guard passing, which is what I think should be your first option.

I think your first option as a grappler in any situation where strikes are involved should be taking the guy down and passing his guard. I think that is always going to be primary, but sometimes you can’t take the guy down. If you can’t take the guy down and let’s say maybe he’s a better striker than you, geez, what are you going to do? I think leglocks can feature very well into that sort of a situation.

Sonny: I like that. Maybe let’s start with the objection that I gave these guys just a few weeks ago I think it was. Should we do some leglocks in MMA? Now, with that being said, like my gym, we’ve always been okay with leg locks. I’ve trained with people who won their MMA fights with leg locks. It was in our MMA syllabus, toe hold, knee bar.

We never shied away from it, but it’s still the old classic thing is while you’re going for a leg lock with both your hands tied up around the leg, your opponent’s hands are free to punch you and it’s too risky. It’s too risky. Don’t do it. You’re better off just focusing and scrambling, getting on top rather than committing your hands to one of the legs while you can get punched. What would you say to someone saying that?

Robert: Well, they’re totally right. There are guys throughout the history of leglocks in MMA who, you’re absolutely right, completely disregarded the need to protect themselves from getting punched in the face. I don’t want to call people out. I feel bad, but I will mention one fight. A very, in my opinion, notable example of somebody who I think is not a bad leg-locker, but, man, he didn’t do the right thing in this fight. If you look at Ian Entwistle versus Dan Hooker.

Sonny: I was thinking that one myself.

Robert: I feel bad. I’m not trying to shit on Ian because I’m not saying he’s bad whatsoever. In this match, he didn’t do a good job. He held onto the heel hook for such a long time and it’s clearly not working. We can talk more about this later on, but I’ll just mention this now. I think there’s two main ways in which leg-locking is different in grappling from situations where strikes are involved, obviously including MMA.

I think one of those big differences is you have to have the ability to mitigate the opponent’s ability to basically– If he can touch your face, he can punch you. If he’s within a hand’s reach, you’ve got to make sure he can’t. You have to stop that. You have to make it be the case that he is not a hand’s reach away from you. Because you’re totally right, both your hands are going to be committed to that heel.

You have to make sure that as you’re breaking him, not only can he not mitigate the break, defend somehow. Most MMA guys don’t know how to heel slip or toe slip. That’s not a significant issue in MMA, but they do know how to punch you in the face. You’ve got to make sure that you do a good job of keeping the guy from being able to touch your face, which obviously would translate to getting punched in the face.

For instance, in that fight, Ian, at one point, he does a really good job keeping Dan away, and then for some reason, he goes to what basically is an outside sankaku at one point, which is way better because you can keep the guy away from you. Then he goes right back to a regular 50/50 and it’s like, “Damn, dude. You had the position. You’re so close.” [chuckles]

He got beat up. You hate to see that. The guy does a great job getting the position, he gets his heel and he’s got everything that he should need to get the break. Not that I want to see him get broken, but to get the tap, whatever. He gets beat up. Whereas by contrast, a really good example– There’s a couple of ways you can keep the guy from punching you. I think there’s two main ways. The first one is, I call it a misdirection. Any time you put pressure to the back of somebody’s knee, what will happen is two things, their heel becomes exposed typically and their upper body is turned away from you.

If you imagine a backside 50/50. In a backside 50/50, what happens is– Let’s say the guy’s foot is flat on the mat. They’re standing up, you’ve got a 50/50 and they’re going to punch you. If you spin under for a backside 50/50, what happens is you start to put pressure to the back of their knee. As a result, their heel comes off the mat because the weight, it’s pushing the knee forward, brings the heel off the mat. Then you can expose the heel. At the same time, their upper body is turned away from you, so it’s very hard for them to punch you.

Some notable examples of this in MMA would be Ryan Hall versus Frans Slioa. I probably pronounced that wrong. [chuckles] That was an Ultimate Fighter. One of his qualifying fights. Ryan does an amazing job in that fight of keeping Frans away from him and making it hard to punch him. I studied Ryan a lot because I think Ryan is genuinely a master of not getting his face caved in as he’s going for leg locks, you know what I mean? If you go back and watch that fight, you’ll see at one point, Ryan is in a bottom 50/50, Frans is in a great position to punch him. He can hit him really hard from where they are, but Ryan does a beautiful spin-under movement.

What he does when he does that is he puts pressure to the back of the knee that exposes the heel and also it keeps him safe from strikes. Now, the second way you can keep yourself safe from strikes, Ryan actually does this also in that fight really well. You can take your feet and put that in front of the guy so you’re pushing him away from you. It could be an outside sankaku. There are a lot of other variations of your feet.

If you look at that fight, Ryan puts his feet in what I call a double foot-on-hip ashi. It’s the same position that Lachlan finished Mansher Khera with. He actually didn’t finish Mansher from an outside sankaku. It was what I call a double foot-on-hip. Ryan uses the same basic position to finish Frans. That’s really good because you can push the guy away from you while also getting a really strong break.

I was also going to mention, you can also look up Iminari versus Joachim Hansen back in the day in Pride to see Iminari is in a bottom 50/50 and he does an amazing job spinning under just like Ryan did in that other fight to keep himself safe from strikes. But he does get KO’d very brutally. [laughs]

Sonny: I was going to say, which match was that exactly? Didn’t they have two? Because that was a very brutal KO. That one stands out. `

Robert: Very vicious, but that was not from 50/50. He did a good job staying safe in 50/50. Imanari got KO’d going for an Imanari roll.

Sonny: Just goes straight into a big knee.

Robert: Yes, it was bad.

Sonny: Hellboy, Joachim Hansen was such a good fight as well. It just didn’t transition when UFC bought Pride. Not a lot of people know him, but he’s an amazing fighter. Imanari, that was a tough out.

Robert: Yes, for sure. The thing is people say that the whole thing about you can get punched in the face. The thing with that is is you’re absolutely right. I don’t even disagree with that. I actually completely agree with it. The thing is it’s like, if that’s the case then, then we have to make sure that when and if we go for leglocks, we have to make sure we are well-equipped to not get punched in the face as we do this. There are definitely ways to do that. Also, I think oftentimes, with that criticism of getting punched in the face is also connected to this criticism of positional loss. You’re on top, and then you go to the bottom.

Sonny: Get on top, stay on top. Don’t ever drop back for a leglock. You could give up position. That could be the end of the fight.

Robert: What’s funny is I mostly agree and I even say that on the instructional. I’ll tackle that a few ways. The first way is the same criticism holds true for armbars. Nobody ever shits on armbars for that.

Sonny: I actually advise the guys not to go for armbars for MMA. For that reason, I like the arm triangle unless there’s 30 seconds left in the round just like the classic armbar. You better not mess that one up. You better be good at those armbars in the gym, but certainly, there’s not that stigma around it.

Robert: I think that’s good advice, to be honest. Don’t do it until the end of round, be cautious. I totally agree. The trick is just what that discounts is the idea that all leglocks are born out of just dropping from the top. I spent the vast majority of the instructional talking about how can you use leglocks from the bottom position. Let’s say you got taken down or maybe even knocked down or from a situation where you’re trying to take them down but you just can’t get it. I think that’s the best situation to use leglocks in.

I mostly would agree with the idea that if you’re in a fight where punches are involved and you’re on the top, I think falling back for any submission is not really the smartest thing to do, but I do practice that by saying I think that it is feasible to go for leglocks in situations where you feel like you’re going to– Let’s say you’re on top and you’re going for a knee cut, and you maxed up into a cross Ashi, you’re still on top of the guy. You haven’t really given up bottom position. Even if you fall back for a cross Ashi and you’re controlling both legs, that’s a really good position to just get right back on top.

Basically, I think that if you’re going to go for leglocks from the top at MMA, it should be from a position where you can much more easily get back on top. I generally don’t recommend it from the top falling back for a straight Ashi or even a 50/50 or anything like that. I would say go to cross Ashi from the top. Go to cross Ashi pretty much only because you can control his legs, and then you can stop him from– He’s not going to get on top of you. You’re going to be in a double-seated situation so long as you control both of his legs. What that means is you’re going to be able to get back on top. The risk isn’t as high.

It’s like that criticism, basically, I totally understand it. It’s not an idiotic criticism. There is reall merit to it. I just think that we shouldn’t discount the use of these valuable weapons because there are things that can go wrong when we use them and because there are, I think, dumb ways to use them. I think if you’re just taking people down and then falling back for leglocks immediately, that’s pretty dumb. It’s not a good strategy. You work for the take down.

I would recommend try to pass his guard and control him. That’s how you win rounds in MMA and that’s also how you stay safe from getting punched with real force, but that’s a dumb way to use leglocks but there’s a smart way to use leglocks, which is from the bottom position. Also, keep in mind, leglocks are an awesome way to get on top. You can attack leglocks and then when the guy defends, a common defensive reaction you’re going to see when you attempt leglocks is the guy’s going to bring his hips to the mat because there are a couple of reasons to do that that keep him safer relatively. Guess what? You can get on top.

A really good example of this is– This isn’t MMA but it’s a good example of this, is Craig Jones versus Matheus Lutes at Polaris. Craig goes for a Kani Basami and he gets what is called a Russian Ashi, and he goes for a heel hook. Russian Ashi isn’t really the best for finishes and Lutes is also very hard to tap with leglocks. He clearly doesn’t want to tap to a leglock. It’s a very tight-looking heel hook but he doesn’t tap to it.

What does Craig do? Craig does a great job of using the position then to just get on top. If you don’t get the breaks, just get on top. You know what I mean? If you’re doing that from the bottom position or if you have the ability from the top once you go for the leglock to get back on top, you mitigate the risk of being on bottom and losing position and such.

Sonny: Okay. That idea then of using the leglocks to just at least offer a threat from the bottom to maybe someone’s walking into your open guard, you can just at least threat with a heel hook to make them back off or even using leg attacks to help pass guard. That’s something that Sakuraba would do as well a little bit. I guess that, as an addition to the toolbox, seems like always a good thing to have. When we think of leglocks in MMA, there’s a handful of guys who you think you point to and say, “These are the guys.” Obviously, Imanari, Palhares. I would put in Entwistle in there as well because he did score a lot of heel hooks in MMA. He got a lot of quick victories as well.

They’re those guys that we look at, but there doesn’t seem to be that many of them. It’s like that is what they’re known for. The ones you look to that make leglocks work in MMA are really those guys. That’s their game, especially Imanari, where he would enter just by throwing these wild kicks with reckless abandon that would just– It was a beautiful thing to do. It seemed like Ryan Hall took a little bit of that, but then he actually has a bit more technique in those kicks. Actually, probably a lot more. How do you think about the disparity then of just how many people are leglockers in MMA versus the potential of their use?

Robert: A few comments. I just want to comment on Ryan Hall first. I think this is interesting. I view Ryan as an updated refined version of Imanari. I think he has a very similar approach to Imanari in a lot of ways and he’s just like a more systematic controlled version of Imanari in a lot of ways. Not to disparage Imanari whatsoever, because he’s actually-

Sonny: Not at all.

Robert: -a gigantic influence on me. It’s fairly arguable. One thing Imanari was not good at was being controlled. He used to do crazy shit.

Sonny: That’s what reckless abandon is what I’m describing because he would just throw, and then just all of a sudden, he’d end up with your heel and that was it.

Robert: Yes. He’s pretty wild. It’s an interesting point you bring up. You see a lot of these guys that they do leglocks but they’re super specialists at it. I think there are two main ways to use leglocks in MMA, you could even say in combat sports in general, because I think even in grappling, you see this distinction a little bit. You see guys that they take leglocks and then they make that the main focal point of their game. In MMA, you can take somebody like Paul Harris as an example. That becomes the center point of their game. You can have a lot of success with that, but I think there is a ceiling to that. It’s hard if leglocks are the chief focus of your game to succeed at the highest level. On the other side of the coin, you have guys that use leglocks rather than as an end into themselves. They use them as a means to an end and the larger end is the positional game, the upper body positional game which is getting on top, passing the guard, taking it back or getting them out to punch them in the face if it’s MMA.

Leglocks can situate themselves very well into that context, that strategy of using the threat of leglocks, you can either break the guy and then now he is easier to take down. If I break both your of legs, it will be obviously much easier to take you down or the threat of that will allow you to get on top. Just off the top of my head, I think two of the best leglockers in MMA for the way I would recommend using leglocks in MMA would be Gary Tonon. Obviously, there’s bias there but I do think it’s true.

Sonny: Yes, I will ask you about that in a bit.

Robert: I also think Marcin Held deserves.

Sonny: Yes, of course.

Robert: Marcin is somebody who we’ve seen the development of his career where in the beginning he was one of those guys that it was leglock or bust. If he didn’t get the break he was probably going to fall short. I don’t now if you remember his fight with Michael Chandler where, godamn he was so close. Have you ever seen this fight?

Sonny: I think I went through all of Marcin’s fights a while back so I would have watched it but I’m not remembering it for a while because he played a lot of Williams Guards so when I was looking over that I went through every one of his I could find.

Robert: Okay, so at some point go and check out his old fight with Michael Chandler where he’s so close to finishing Michael Chandler and then he doesn’t and Michael gets out and Michael arm triangles on it. It’s like, “Ah, dead,” but he’s so close. It was such a nice knee bar entry but you see he’s young and inexperienced. When the leglock falls short his whole game falls apart but as his game developed over time, you start to see a maturity. He actually fought a friend of mine named Phillipe Nover. Phillipe Nover trains with us in the blue basement.

Sonny: Phillipe from the ultimate fighter?

Robert: Yes, that Phillipe Nover.

Sonny: Did he win it, MMA?

Robert: He did. He won, yes. Phillipe is such a good guy. Phillipe’s actually a nurse which is fucking crazy.

Sonny: Yes, I remember that.

Robert: He still works as a nurse nowadays. It’s wild but he trains with us. I’ve rolled with him many many times and he has very good leglock defense. In that fight, Marcin couldn’t get the finish, so what did he do? He came on top. Sorry, Phillipe, he used the leglock really well to positionally advance which is I think that’s the most mature intelligent way to use it. Really, I’m going to be honest, any context whether it’s fighting or what’s funny is I think at the highest level, I really think the same style that dominates in terms of the general strategy, obviously, specifics change but the same style that dominates MMA grappling I also think dominates pure grappling. ADCC and I’m talking about No-Gi only, the Gi is a totally different ball game.

[crosstalk]

ADCC is pretty similar to MMA grappling when you see what succeeds. When you watch the guys that are dominant at ADCC I do think that style translates very well into MMA. What I’m recommending doing for leglocks in MMA not seeing it as an end unto itself, not seeing it as distinguished or divorced from this positional strategy but rather seeing it as a part of this positional strategy.

I think that also can be used very well for ADCC or just competitive No-Gi where by all means try to finish them with the heel hook but in the event that either maybe you can’t get the finish or maybe they just need the break because there are fights where people literally had their ACLs torn mid-fight. Conor McGregor against Max Holloway. It wasn’t a heel hook but apparently, Conor popped his ACL in the second round and he just kept fighting.

Sonny: Lot of adrenaline going through the bone. A lot on the line that much bigger crowds and everything to keep you going.

Robert: Yes. I’ve heard of other fights too where people, I think if I remember correctly, I think Kurt Pellegrino tore his ACL on a fight or something and he kept going and he went up winning so yes, sometimes people will just eat it. You have to be prepared for what do we do next. If the leglock is all you have, then it’s a rough spot to be in.

I think the biggest adjustment we’ve got to make for leglocking is to just situate them into a different strategic context and when we do that, pretty much all of the major criticisms, I think they all pretty much evaporate. I think most of those criticisms are just born out of looking at leglocks in a way that you shouldn’t be using them. If you look at them and how I think a smarter strategy is, I think they work really really well if that makes sense.

Sonny: I get where you’re coming from which is basically, of course, if you are just diving back, if you’ve got full mountain instead of opting to punch the guy you just dive back onto a toe hold or something and you lose it and then end up on bottom. Of course, it’s not going to work. That’s not what you’re recommending to do.

Robert: That’s the dumbest thing ever.

Sonny: Yes, [laughs] but you’re saying that there is a way to use this strategically and those are the times when you can look in MMA. There’s evidence of how they can be used in such a way and as long as you focus on that don’t just get that tunnel vision of the legs, then they can be a useful addition into your MMA game, right?

Robert: Yes, absolutely, and also it’s funny, you mentioned toe holds. A lot of people have asked me, they’ve gone through the instructional or they’ve dm’d me and they said, “I don’t see any toe holds or ankle locks in this structure,” I’m like, “Yes, because you should not be doing that in MMA.” [laughs] In my opinion, it’s like, “Look, can you get toe hold an ankle lock finishes?” Yes, obviously you can. Andrei Arlovski won the UFC Heavyweight title with an ankle lock. A lot of people mentioned that fight to be like, “Yes, Rob, we were under the lock.”

Sonny: There’s always one.

Robert: Yes. It’s like, “Okay guys, but we’re talking about percentages here.” You can go to a local grappling industries tournament and put some tough blue belt in an ankle lock and he’ll refuse to tap and you’ll break his ankle. I’ve seen that many times at local tournaments. If someone’s going to do that for a $5 medal, people are going to do that in high stakes professional MMA.

I can speak from personal experience, I had two matches. One was at the ADCC trials, one was at a fucking Naga, not really worth it, but I let my foot break both times. They’re both like a steem lock variation. My foot broke both times and I just didn’t tap and I won both matches.

Sonny: Was it worth it?

Robert: In hindsight, knowing that my foot is fine now, yes. I’m glad.

Sonny: Okay.

[laughter]

Robert: Immediately after the second one, the second one was because it was the same foot. The second one was definitely worse. I couldn’t walk for a month and I was like, “Bro, that was not smart.” I’m 100% sure I should’ve just tapped that but in hindsight, no. It healed up fine and there was no lingering issues. My foot is fine, but anyway, the point I’m getting at is that you don’t want to bang–

If I’m going to attempt to break someone with a leglock, I sure as fuck don’t want it to be the least damaging variation of leglocks. I basically recommend the only leglocks you go for in MMA are knee bars and heel hooks and they could be outside or inside. Obviously, we all know that the inside heel hook is the most devastating. I don’t think should just count knee bars either. I think knee bars are very valuable. I think they’re very very valuable. I think those three, outside inside heel hooks and knee bars.

Sonny: I wouldn’t disagree with that. If you did take knee bars out of there then people would be telling you about Frank Mir beating that beast of a man Brock Lesnar with a knee bar. It was a good time, right?

Robert: Yes, I just say those three because what do they do, they attack the most vulnerable, they attack the joint of the leg that’s the most– If your foot breaks, that shit will heal, but not all the time. I’m not an expert on the biomechanics of your feet, but my foot has been broken and it’s healed. It’s not as devastating, but the knee, man, we all know the knee is very serious. The consequences are much more significant.

Sonny: For sure. It actually highlights something that I just want to bring up as an aside, which I think is the way that the Danaher team uses the term break, it’s not necessarily breaking the bone. A break could mean a ligament tear, just any major swelling. Is that what is considered a break? It’s not necessarily the bones, right? It took me a while to get my head around it, because when I would hear “Break,” I think, “Oh, they must have broken a bone,” but it’s not necessarily that. Is that right? Because that’s just what I’ve managed to figure out on the outside.

Robert: It’s funny, I’ve never sat down and asked Danaher, “What do we mean by break?” What I take it to mean, I think we’re just referring to structural destruction. That sounds like the black metal album.

[laughter]

Sonny: I like it. Structural destruction. It’s like a song title.

Robert: I don’t know how else I would describe it. Any time a structure is destroyed. It’s funny, I do get your confusion a little bit. My teammates and I, we often times talk about pops. I’m like, “What is a pop?” I still don’t really know.

Sonny: [laughs] Is a pop different than a break? Like, “I got a pop,” is not a break?

Robert: I think a pop is just when you hear a pop, just physically, which I don’t know what that tells you. I had a match once where there was a pop in my knee and it just turned out to be an air pop. I was like, “Okay, nice.”

Sonny: That’s what I’ve heard. It can be air or it can actually be when something gets stretched and the pop is actually when it goes back into place. Something gets stretched out and when it rebounds back into place, that’s the pop sound. A physiotherapist told me that when my knee popped and I had assumed that that pop was a tear, that was the noise your knee made when it tore, was a pop, but they said that it’s actually when it snaps back into place apparently.

Robert: Interesting. The one time I had a match where I couldn’t finish this guy with an inside heel hook and my mechanics were off. I asked Danaher about it. I sat down with him and I was like, “Okay, I got to figure out what happened.” The first thing he asked me was, “Did you hear a pop?” I think a pop is a sign, it’s a signal that there could have been a break. It’s not proof, but it’s a signal that there could have been. I think that’s generally what we mean by pop.

Break, again, I think break mainly refers to ligaments, to be honest. We’re mainly not attacking bones. It’s mainly the ligaments of the knee or of the elbow or the shoulder. I think those are probably the three main targets, the knee, elbow, shoulder, and obviously we got feet too. I’d say those are all the major targets, and it’s mainly ligament, I would say. The only break to your bone I could think of would be that Tex Johnson ankle lock, because he almost does an ankle lock higher than most people do them, but he seems to get such torque on it that it snaps the shinbone. It’s funny, I’m telling you not to do ankle locks in MMA. There are exceptions. If you tell me that you’re capable of snapping somebody’s shinbone.

Sonny: [laughs] Maybe we add it to the arsenal.

Robert: Yes, that’s different. Can most people do that? I think a lot of that is also a byproduct of just being an absolute moose of a human being. I’ve never seen a devastating break from an ankle lock in MMA. Actually, okay, I have once. Héctor Lombard got a pretty nasty one.

Sonny: Which one was whose? I’m trying to–

Robert: It was an obscure fight.

Sonny: He fought a lot in Australia. I saw him fight a lot live because he came up on the CFC, a local promotion down here, and trained at one of the local gyms until he got onto Bellator. There’s definitely one where he breaks some guy’s leg in a gym, I think it was a knee bar, but it’s a horrific one that I don’t want to even go Google again.

Robert: [laughs]

Sonny: I’m trying to remember. The fight one doesn’t come to mind off the top of my head.

Robert: I think I know which one you’re talking about. I don’t think it’s that one. It’s in a dusty cage. Sorry, not dusty cage, it’s like a ring. It’s like a shitty-looking ring. It was the last fight he had. What’s his name?

Sonny: Yes, I’m starting to remember, it was Brian Ebersole on the card as well.

Robert: I think he was. Yes, he was.

Sonny: I think it was an explosion fight or something like that.

Robert: I think, if I remember correctly, Héctor got a pretty nasty ankle lock on. I think the kid was really young too, which is terrible. Apparently Héctor snapped his shinbone. Anyway, people always bring up these examples. Look, man, I’m totally open minded. If you can show me that it works consistently, fine, by all means. I’m just arguing that the goal for leglockers in MMA should be– This is another criticism people levy against it, which I think is actually an intelligent criticism, they say you have a limited amount of training time.

Sonny: Yes. This was one I was going to bring up as well.

Robert: I hear this all the time, it’s very valid. You have a limited amount of training time, you should be allocating your training time to more relevant areas. Okay, I don’t disagree, yes. I think leglocks are probably less important than striking and less important than takedowns, but I would argue they are more important than arm bars from the guard, which people do not seem to want to stop drilling. They’re more important than triangles from the guard. I think they’re more important than a lot of other things from the bottom position, quite frankly.

I think that leglocks can be situated very well within this idea of using submission attacks to get on top. I think that because they’re not as important as the most important things, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t allocate time to practicing them. On top of that, I think if you’re going to practice them, only practice the most relevant areas that have been demonstrated to be effective. You can get a nasty ankle lock if you practice it, if you refine it and practice it. I rolled with guys with nasty ankle locks. The time those guys took, these guys were not MMA fighters, they were all grapplers. Let’s say they’re MMA fighters. What do you think is a more relevant use of your time, working on that ankle lock or working on your boxing? Probably your boxing.

Sonny: Definitely boxing.

Robert: Yes, definitely, I agree. I hear these things, it’s funny because, because I’m in the middle of this debate where some guys are hyper leg-locky. They’re like, “Fucking let’s just go out there leg-lock people.” The other side is like, “Leg locks suck.” I’m in the middle like, “No, let’s find common ground.” There’s a middle point we can reach that I think is more reasonable than either of these two extremes. This criticism of limited training time is very valid.

I think that you can still use them effectively, more effectively than many other things, and I think that as long as you allocate just the amount of time to learn the most relevant skills, get really good at the core skills, finishing with heel hooks and knee bars, gaining the positions, mitigating the opponent’s ability to strike you from the positions. Those are the main things. You get really good at those things and you’re going to be able to use leglocks really effectively to either break people or to get on top of them. Those are two very damn good things to have in any fighting scenario.

I used to coach some MMA guys. I’m not currently coaching any MMA guys, but I plan on doing so in the future. I have a friend of mine who is Singaporean, who is an MMA fighter, he was actually being scouted by the UFC but he’s stuck in Singapore. [laughs]

Sonny: It’s a tough time.

Robert: It’s a pandemic, yes. [laughs] It sucks, but it is what it is.

I’m going to coach him on using leg locks in MMA and he’s talked to me a lot about the strategy and stuff, and it’s like, “Look man, focus on your boxing and your wrestling first and foremost. That’s paramount. I don’t want to interrupt that training time. That’s got to be your central focus, but then the leg locks are going to come into play when that stuff doesn’t work.” It’s funny, I don’t know if you remember, do you remember that old Eddie Bravo video where he’s talking about-

Sonny: The Third Option?

Robert: The Third Option, yes.

Sonny: Oh yes, oh yes.

Robert: I actually totally– People can rag on Eddie, but do you remember when Tony fought Justin Gaethje recently? Eddie was like try an Imanari.

Sonny: Maybe try an Imanari. Poor guy.

[laughter]

Robert: Yes. People attacked Eddie, but the reality is-

Sonny: Maybe.

Robert: -nothing else was working. He’s getting his ass kicked.

Sonny: Was he supposed to just give him this magic bit of advice that would have won the fight? It’s a tough position to be in.

Robert: The thing is that people shit on Eddie there but it’s like a disingenuous criticism because Eddie didn’t say that– Imagine if in the beginning of the first round Tony’s about to walk out and Eddie said, “Maybe try a new move.” Then it’s pretty inappropriate. That’s not the time for that. In the fifth round, you’ve been getting your ass kicked the whole fight, you can’t take the guy down, fuck it, try the leg lock.

Sonny: Exactly. The tough thing to go with that too is if he had just given like the cliche, “Come on mate, dig deep, go out there, give me five minutes Tony, that’s all we need. I know you’re an animal,” kind of speech, which is useless most of the time.

Robert: 100% yes.

Sonny: No one would have blinked twice.

Robert: People also just loved to shit on Eddie Bravo. He’s his own worst enemy with some of these conspiracy theories and stuff but I don’t think he’s an entirely idiotic guy when it comes to jiu-jitsu. I think he has a lot of insight on jiu-jitsu.

Sonny: Definitely.

Robert: I don’t think he is the greatest coach ever but he’s definitely got some insights, he’s very creative.

Sonny: Very creative without a doubt.

Robert: Anyway so getting back to The Third Option, I think in that video basically what Eddie Bravo says is he says, “Look if you can’t beat him on the feet, and you’re having a hard time taking him down, what are you going to do next?” He says, “Pull guard.” A lot of people shit on that, what he said there, but I think he’s totally right. He’s totally right. I was talking to Gary one time about pulling guard in MMA and he thinks of, he’s actually, I’ve heard him say this in interviews too if I remember correctly where he says, “If you think about it, pulling guard into leg locks is the best way to pull guard because you pull right into a submission and on top of that if you don’t get it, you get on top of the guy.”

This brings me to– We talked a little bit about this before the podcast got started where it’s funny that I think leg locks back in the day were more advanced in MMA actually than grappling. If you go back to the era before the Death Squad blew up, you go back to 2012 let’s say, not that long ago, all things considered.

Sonny: It’s tough to say not long ago or does it?

Robert: Yes. I used to stay up to watch Dream and ONE Championship, I’ll never forget-

Sonny: Those were the days.

Robert: Yes, they were great.

Sonny: Simpler times.

Robert: Yes. Oh geez. Well, there’s still events happening but not many for sure. I remember when Imanari heel hooked Kevin Belingon. It was a ONE championship fight. That fight, I’ll never forget that. I woke up, it was the morning of Comic-Con, and I was going to Comic-Con. Before I was going I was like, “I’m going to watch. I love Imanari so I want to see him fight.” I got up at 4 AM to watch him fight. I watched it and I was like, “Fuck yes, Imanari is the man. Holy shit.” Back then I do genuinely think that there was nobody in pure grappling at the level of Imanari and Palhares. I think those two were the best. I don’t think anyone was at their level.

There were other guys that were very skilled, but nobody was as good as those two in my opinion. I’m a very big Imanari fan. I genuinely think Imanari is one of the most creative innovators I would say in grappling history but definitely in leg lock history. The guy discovered so many things which are only now, the relevance of them are becoming known. What’s really interesting about him though is that he would discover things which I think were actually brilliant, and then just stop doing them, and it’s like, “Why? What happened? This was working.” I don’t know. I think he just probably wasn’t organized about it but he was coming out with brilliant stuff.

Back then leg locks in MMA seemed to be better than in pure grappling. I think the main reason why that is is cultural which I think comes down to a lot of major criticisms of leg locks have more to do with cultural outlook than they do with actual efficacy. Back then in the MMA world, leg locks, they maybe weren’t the most popular thing but they weren’t outright frowned upon whereas in jiu-jitsu not only was it considered bad, it was considered borderline unethical. I actually first got into lego locks because of MMA. Okay, that’s not fully true. Basically what happened was I was a Gi athlete, I was focusing on a Gi, and I started to really get into leg locks and in order to keep practicing them, I actually fought MMA. I fought MMA-

Sonny: You won with leg locks as well, yes?

Robert: Yes. I had four fights. My first night I won by a very fast heel hook. I had no idea what I was doing. I won by– I accidentally did some very good stuff.

[laughter]

Sonny: Why not? That’s the best way to do it I guess.

Robert: Yes. It’s taken played. I won two and I lost two, but even the two that I lost, if you Google you’ll find them on YouTube, they’re still up, one of them I still I’m salty about. I think I should have gotten the decision. The reason I didn’t get the decision is because I kept falling. It’s ironic. I wouldn’t recommend anyone to do this. I kept falling back through leg locks. What you’ll see in the fight is the guy never punches me hard. At no point do I get– Out of four fights, I got punched hard one time. I was doing stuff I actually don’t recommend people to do. I was diving for leg locks like a madman. I had one fight against the guy named Shaquan Moore, a very tough guy.

I didn’t finish him but I won the decision where I was literally just sitting on my bottom pulling guard, and I was going towards him and I was actually having a lot of success doing this. The key is to see, if anyone’s curious and wants to watch my fights, I focused hard on not getting punched. I was like, “Okay, how can I mitigate strikes?” The one time I did get hit hard is because what happened was I got really eager to get the finish. It was my last fight which I lost my decision. I do think I deservedly lost the decision. I didn’t get blown out of the water, but I definitely think the guy edged me out on points.

It was near the end of the third round, and I knew he was up on points, and he hadn’t really cracked me at any point, but he did a great job mitigating, keeping control, and regulating distance and stuff. He played a very cagey, intelligent game. In the third, I dived, I did like kind of Asami. I got his legs and I was like, “I’m going to get him.” He cracked me real hard while I wasn’t paying attention and then I was like, “Oh shit.” Basically, I dipped on the position, and I was like, “Okay.” I let him out because I didn’t want to get hit again and then we just standed there, stood there rather, and then the fight ended and he got the decision there. I think he deserved it.

Anyway, the point is other than that one slip up I never really got hit very hard because I focused very hard on, “If I’m going to go for these, I need to make sure that I keep him away from me.” I talked about this earlier, I don’t need to reiterate it. Just one quick thing is I only stopped doing it in MMA because I saw an avenue for using leg locks. I was very interested in leg locks. I was very curious about them I thought they were cool. NoGi started to gain some popularity so I was like, “Oh, maybe I don’t need to do these fights anymore to do this I can just go in a tournament instead.” I shifted to that yes.

Sonny: If you haven’t watched Imanari’s fights, which probably if you’re listening to this, I imagine you probably have because-

[laughter]

Sonny: -you got to be pretty into it. Yes, and there’s so many creative things that he did over the years it’s a treat to go back and just watch. Even in his losses he is just one of those entertaining guys that normally win spectacularly or lose spectacularly. There’s no in-between. I actually did a breakdown video on guard pulling in MMA, and one of the things that I bring up in that is that if you want to do it successfully, you have to close the distance in one way or another. I guess borrowing an Imanari role, you’ve got to close the distance and that’s entering into a clinch, or I actually think that the best way to do it is to be shooting in onto a double leg and then pulling into a half guard like Damian Maia would do.

If you are going to have to pull guard, I’d say that, in my opinion, that’s the best way to do it which also then means that to practice your guard pulling, you’re actually going to have to be practicing your wrestling, practicing your double legs, because you’re still going to be able to take a good shot to get in on the hips. Even if you want to pull guard, you should have good wrestling. Is that something you agree or disagree with that?

Robert: It’s funny, I literally say verbatim, the same exact thing on the instructional.

[laughter]

Sonny: Great minds think alike then.

Robert: Yes. It’s so funny because everybody fixates on the rolling entries, the Imanari rolls, the Ryan Hall rolls. They’re good, they can work, but I definitely think shooting for doubles or even singles, and then off of the failed attempt– Like Poirier’s a huge percentage of his entries was he would go for a double, he would put the guy against the cage and he’s trying to get the double but the guy would defend so he says, “Fuck it. I’m going to go for a leg lock.” He sits back goes for the leg lock and usually gets it. I totally agree.

This aspect of closing the distance, what’s so key about it is that what it enables you to do is proactively force body contact in such a way that– Whenever we’re grappling in MMA, we have a different consideration that we still have it in regular grappling, but not as much. The guy doesn’t need to grapple you. In pure grappling there’s a lot of stalling, but they’re supposed to be engaging you. In pure grappling, hypothetically, this doesn’t always play out but how it’s supposed to work is if I pull guard, the onus is on you to engage me. That’s how it’s supposed to work it doesn’t always work like that, but it’s how it’s supposed to work.

In MMA, that’s not true whatsoever you sit on your butt, the guy has no need to engage you. The onus is on you. If you want to grapple you have to make him grapple so what you have to do is you have to find a way to bridge the distance so that you can proactively force body contact which you can force grappling exchanges. The issue with rolling entries, it’s not that they’re bad because I talk about them and I do think they can be used well, the big issue is that they’re mainly reactive it’s really hard to proactively force rolling entries.

Every time people try to practically force them, they just wind up looking dumb, and they just don’t work that well. A notable example is– Who was it? Rory McDonald’s versus Stephen Thompson was it?

Sonny: Yes, I remember that one. I was pretty hyped for that fight. That was pretty not very memorable in the end.

Robert: Fair enough. Do you remember that rolling entry?

Sonny: Yes, Rory went for the rolling entries, but yes.

Robert: It was when Stephen was backing up so it’s so hard to get it under those situations. The best place to get it is when you bridge the distance especially when you’re going for a takedown. When you create that kind of a threat then he defends it then you can pull it to the legs. That’s the best way to do it.

Sonny: Where would you class then the Ryan Hall, Gray Maynard fight in that one? Is that a good example of that as well?

Robert: Yes, that’s a really good example to illustrate my point. If you watch that fight so many times Ryan tries to get the rolling entry and Gray will run away. That or rather he’ll back it up. Then the best few times Ryan gets in on Gray’s legs, you’ll see it’s because Gray is going towards him. Gray starts to walk towards him and that’s when Ryan gets him. Yes, that fight was also, I would say I found that terrible.

Sonny: [laughs] Look up Imanari matches before going back to look those ones up this year.

Robert: Yes, that one was just awful. It’s not entertaining whatsoever.

Sonny: Give some data let’s put it like that [laughs]

Robert: Definitely a useful fight, yes, for sure.

Sonny: I want to talk then about Garry Tonon. We’re talking about shooting the double. I can’t remember the guy’s name, who he fought. Shooting for the single leg, he ducks under, pulls guard into a heel hook, gets the tap. To me, that is just a masterful bit of shoot boxing, just striking to wrestling to submission attacks it’s just such a very masterful fight. He has run into problems with his leg locks in some of his other fights, run into problems. I think it was his second one he fought the Indian 10th Planet guy. I thought he had his heels snapping or breaking and the guy gets out.

Even though in the last fight, the guy seemed pretty wildly, pretty skilled and it seemed like he couldn’t rely on those heel hooks as much as he could in say, submission grappling where you’d think if Garry gets you in that position, if he got even those guys in this position in a ADCC rules match probably you’d expect Garry to get the finish but there’s something about MMA if it’s the gloves, if it’s the extra sweat or something that it seemed like they weren’t as reliable as they should be, as they normally are. What’s your thoughts on that then?

Robert: I’ve seen all of these fights obviously.

Sonny: Sure

Robert: I’ll take it one at a time so the first one is your Yoshiki Nakahara that’s the ideal way to use leg locks.

Sonny: I agree that is an ideal. If anyone I know did that, yes it would be amazing.

Robert: Yes, He goes for the takedown, and then when the guy defends, he goes for the leg lock, and yes beautiful execution yes pretty perfect. Yoshiki actually came to train with us. He wanted to learn leg lock defense. I rolled with him at the time. Really nice guy. I think it’s always cool when people do that. They recognize they have an area of weakness, and they go to mitigate it with somebody who just beat them with it. Yes, so it was cool of him. Then the second one is Rahul Raju. Actually, I’ll talk about the Koyomi Matsushima fight that’s the other Japanese guy who he fought.

That’s an interesting one to compare to the Yoshiki Nakahara fight because there’s a lot of similarities but there are some key differences. The first big difference is that Koyomi definitely came better prepared, technically speaking to defend. Koyomi had Satoru Kitaoka in his corner, who is a real innovator of leg locks back in the day. I still love to study Kitaoka. I think he also trained with Imanari leading up to the fight. He definitely came very prepared, technically to defend and you can see it Koyomi was doing very intelligent defense.

I think in that fight, the reason why Garry couldn’t get the finish simply was a matter of Koyomi preparing himself very well defensively, but the reality is Garry was able then to get on top pass the guard. Garry won the fight based on that you know what I mean. The leg locks I don’t remember if he ever got on top from the leg lock threat. I honestly don’t recall but sometimes it just doesn’t come through. A big difference when you look in those fights– Another thing is Garry, in the Yoshiki Nakahara fight, he pulls into a far hip Ashi and he rolls through to an outside Ashi. In that Koyomi Matsushima fight, he pulls into a diagonal Ashi.

Usually, that’s okay, you can still get the roll to the outside Ashi to get the break, but it can be hard if the guy’s very prepared defensively and Koyomi definitely was. He did all the right things defensively and so, yes, there is a slim margin for errors. I also think the gloves as you said, I do think that plays a part. That is another big factor where your gripping has to be very very good, has to be very on point. Anyways, the Rahul Raju fight, that fight definitely Gary, the trick is, Gary had a hard time getting him to tap. I think he’s still broken if I remember correctly. I think he broke Rahul.

Sonny: Yes. It’s been like apologies to all these guys for not remembering a nice show and it’s been a while since I’ve watched that so I’m just going from memory, but I remember I’m like, “Damn, this guy’s legs look like rubber candle.” He defended, got out, didn’t tap but I do remember having that feeling of like, “Oh, is that not working, is the adrenaline or–?”

Robert: Yes. I think there was a lot of adrenaline but fight I can definitely say Gary used the leg locks to get on top. After the failed leg lock attempts, he would get on top with it which is I think the best way to use it. I forget. I don’t remember if I asked Gary about this, I don’t remember if I did, but for some reason, I think I remember I did and Gary told me that he heard pops. I think so. Those were very notably brutal. Rahul is fighting, I think he actually fought last night-

Sonny: Oh wow.

Robert: at ONE. He’s still clearly healthy.

Sonny: Yes. I made all respect to him as well for getting there-

Robert: Yes, for sure.

Sonny: -and surviving and putting up a decent fight too. Go on, sorry.

Robert: Sorry, just to add. That’s what I was getting at with why I said I think Gary is a really, I think he’s the best guy for leg locks in MMA. I think probably ever, to be honest because what he’s doing is he’s not just using it for the finish. Against Rahul, he couldn’t get the tap, fuck it, passes guard. He turned that on its head. Instead of fucking try like, “Oh, fuck it,” passes the guard.

Sonny: That’s a really interesting way of looking at it and I think it’s probably correct in that even though that he’s only working with six fights still such so early on. With all that expectation that he does have so many leg lock finishes in his grappling career that I’ve been thinking, “Oh, if he gets someone in that position, it should be dead to rights that he finishes him.” From the other perspective, it is, “Well, he didn’t finish but he still used the leg locks to get on top.” Obviously having such a threat behind him with that is going to make it easier to work those other elements of his game because people they don’t want to be in his guard or they don’t want to sit on top probably trying to go for grant and pound if they’re concerned about him snatching hold of the leg so he still has that advantage.

One thing actually again I thought of going back to the brakes on the pops when you’re talking about twisting. Probably on the aside, but I can’t let it go. If you get a pop and they tap, does the pop become a break?

Robert: I don’t know.

Sonny: I heard a pop and he taps so does that make it a break?

Robert: Well, the thing is, I guess when we were talking about brakes, we’re dealing with speculation.

Sonny: Of course because that’s not like, “Until you get an x-ray how are these guys calling it a break?” That was my brain. After the match they go, “Oh yes, I’m broken.” I’m like, “Wait until he gets the MRI mate.” Like, “Come on.”

[laughter]

Robert: Yes, for sure. No, 100%. It’s a tricky thing. One time Danaher told us his story about we’re talking about the paradox of this, we’re trying to practice braking mechanics, but we don’t actually want to hurt each other. The only way you could really know is by you’re right, getting an MRI. One time, Danaher told us he said, “Don’t rely on any mechanics unless you’ve seen it definitely break two people. I’ve seen it, done more than once, and you can rely on the mechanics.”

I was talking to a friend at training yesterday he was a former wrestler, and he’s like, “Yes, why does it NoGi jiu-jitsu become a high school sport?” I was like, “Okay, it’s because, imagine just the visual image of a 14-year-old with like a snapped ACL lying in a gymnasium locker room, sorry, or a gymnasium floor just screaming.”

Sonny: It’s not going to happen.

Robert: The school would not fund that.

Sonny: Well, that’s why wrestling is the perfect thing you guys got over there, folkstyle wrestling where it did evolve from catch wrestling, taking out the submissions so people could perform it, and then I know that they’ve got a lot of potentially dangerous calls from high school wrestling where they take some things out and keep it safe. I think it’s because they’ve taken those submissions out that it is able to work in a school environment and frankly, I think everyone talks about getting jiu-jitsu in schools over here in Australia and it’s like, “Man, it’s the same thing.”

Robert: Yes, it’s tough.

Sonny: There’s no way that, you could do some things but it’s not going to take off like a big thing because there’s just too many headaches involved with submissions whereas wrestling it’s like, “Well, hey.” It’s just like rugby scrum kind of. It’s far more palatable than anything if it could go wrong in jiu-jitsu.

Robert: Yes. Well, it’s funny because I think that wrestling is statistically more dangerous injury-wise.

Sonny: Than jiu-jitsu?

Robert: Yes.

Sonny: It could be, it could be.

Robert: Just from my own personal– I shouldn’t have said statistically too bad because I don’t know the statistics.

Sonny: Sure.

Robert: My own personal anecdotes I’ve seen many more injuries from wrestling than jiu-jitsu. For myself, I can say for instance I have had many more injuries from wrestling than I’ve ever had from leg locks. The point is that in wrestling the goal is not to break the guy’s leg because jiu-jitsu it is.

Sonny: That’s it. Those visuals count for points on the sideline-

Robert: Yes. No, 100%.

Sonny: -or just anyone trying to sell it to a school admin. That is going to matter what the goal is.

Robert: Yes.

Sonny: Then going into that specialization then of that wrestling or jiu-jitsu where to spend the time, we know that Gary was a wrestler, goes into jiu-jitsu, adds striking into the mix and he’s still, I look forward to every one of his fights now watching him, paying close attention just to see where this development of the modern submission grappling game can go in MMA. He’s got to be at the forefront of it. You get someone coming in saying, “Fresh, brand new,” how much specialization then would you put on that leg locks? Or is it really as we’ve discussed in just those key areas that you’ve talked about? I guess, in what order of hierarchy would you put that in?

Robert: The most important things for MMA first and foremost would be striking offense and defense. Personally, this is a hot topic of mine, a lot of grapplers will get mad at me, but I think striking is the single most important thing in MMA because I think that if you have– It’s debatable. A lot of people say wrestling and I think there’s some validity to that but fair enough. I think that wrestling defense if you have solid wrestling defense, striking seems to be firmer.

Sonny: Can be very hard to take someone down who’s got a good single leg defense, the no shoes on, and if they get good at using the cage, taking someone down who wants to just avoid it to strike can be very difficult.

Robert: Yes. I would say– Anyway, we don’t have to rank the first two because there’s a debate there but I would say striking and then wrestling, or just takedowns, those two areas, To be honest, I would honestly rank leg locks right beneath those two. I would rank them right beneath those two. We’re talking about skills from the outset of a match because you could say, I would argue back control. Pinning is more important than leg locks, but hat’s not the outset of a match. I would rank that above, but if we’re talking about things that you’re going to do at the beginning of a match, I would say striking, takedowns, leg locks. In my opinion, those are your best three options. If you get really good at–

Another point, I don’t even talk about this point on the instructional because I don’t think it’s too important, but I don’t want people to fixate on this. I think it’s a mistake to ever fixate too much on trying to– I used to try to do this, metagame the community where I’d be like, “What are people not good at?” There was a point to doing that initially when the squad came up, but it’s really hard to do that now in grappling. In MMA, to be honest, can get away with– Palhares was a master at two things. To be honest, he doesn’t have sophisticated skills in certain leg locking areas. For instance, his heel exposure strategies aren’t super sophisticated, but in MMA, you don’t really need that, that much.

Palhares, for instance, was an absolute master at entering the legs and breaking people, maybe the best ever at that with an outside heel hook, specifically an outside heel hook, psychotically good. The point is if you’re a grappler and you’re looking to do leg locks, I think a large percentage of your time has to be on heel exposure strategies. Whereas in MMA, it’s just not as important. It’s just not-

Sonny: Yes.

Robert: -because guys don’t know how to hide their heel as much. Now, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t learn that because what happens if you go get somebody who does know how to do that? You got to learn to deal with it, but you don’t need to invest as much time. Training time has always been like you’re playing the stock market, which is on everybody’s mind nowadays.

[laughter]

Sonny: I was trying to think of how I could work a joke.

Robert: Yes, the GameStop–

Sonny: Yes, GameStop somehow, I don’t know, I’ll see what I come out with. [chuckles]

Robert: Yes. I view it is like playing the stock market, where you don’t really know where– There was hedge fund managers they were expecting that stock to go down in value to make money, and then it, obviously, didn’t. It’s similar with– Imagine if you don’t invest any time into, just an analogy, you invest no time into leg locks, but then maybe you’re in a fight where it really could have been valuable for you or maybe you invest too much time in– Let’s say, you invest hours of time into, something that I love to shit on because it’s super popular, and I think barely ever works is just the traditional armbar from the closed guard.

Sonny: Yes, I’d agree with you.

Robert: Just the way people do it most of the time it just doesn’t work.

Sonny: Imagine to get your guard passed in MMA pretty much.

Robert: Yes, and also you’re on bottom and you’re ineffectively throwing your legs up and the guy’s punching you in the face.

Sonny: It’s– Yes.

Robert: It’s stupid. It can work, but it’s a low percentage.

Sonny: Of course, it can work, but I’d probably say keep them tight so you’re not getting punched in the face first. Then if they are posturing up, feet on hips trying to kick them away or throwing the legs up just you could– Geez. [laughs]

Robert: Anyway, yes, I think you get what I’m saying.

Sonny: Yes. I think what you’re saying is we got to take leg locks to the moon really.

Robert: Well, yes.

[laughter]

Robert: Yes, there you go, that was really good.

[laughter]

Robert: Yes, 100%.

Sonny: I think that’s pretty much covered I think most of the things we wanted to get through in this discussion. Maybe what are some all-time matches or leg locks for leg locks in MMA aside from the ones that we’ve discussed if you haven’t seen that Gary Tonon one? I’d animated it. I think it’s free on the ONE FC thing, so definitely check that out. What are some other maybe some hidden gems that you could think of that people could go and check out to see leg locks in MMA in action?

Robert: Yes. I think that one of my favorites ever is Palhares versus David Branch. That’s a really, really good one. Very, very significant match in grappling history too because Danaher was actually in David Branch’s corner. Definitely, very closely studied the outcome of that fight because Palhares got the heel hook on Branch. A lot of his early outside heel hook stuff, he studied Palhares very intensively. Everyone should ensure–

Sonny: As they would, yes, of course.

Robert: That was very good at what he was doing, which I find very interesting because it’s almost like he doesn’t seem like the brightest character. It’s like how did he figure this stuff out. [chuckles]

Sonny: He does seem like the brute strength reap and tear kind of guy too, but hey, he obviously figured it out.

Robert: Yes, there was real I think technical refinement to what he was doing. Anyway, that one is really, really good. Another good one, Imanari versus Hiroshi Umemura. The thing is it’s tough because that fight I’m reluctant to mention it because I don’t think people are going to be able to find it very easily because that’s an old Deep– It’s called Deep–

Sonny: Deep. Yes, Deep and ZST ones that he fought on, they’re tough to get.

Robert: Yes. A good ZST one you could watch is his tag team fight with Takumi Yano. It’s great one.

Sonny: Yes, exactly. That is classic.

Robert: That one is not really even MMA, to be honest. It’s sort of MMA.

Sonny: I’d wonder if there’s bits of work there or if they had–

Robert: Yes, I think probably.

Sonny: You never know with that if they were–

Robert: Most likely. It’s funny because that kneebar he gets at the end is definitely a real kneebar. It was very brutal. [chuckles]

Sonny: You just don’t know what they had agreed to. It could be 100% real. I don’t know. It’s a tag team match, two grapplers against two strikers in Japan. Who knows?

Robert: It’s a very ridiculous fight, but it’s interesting. It is on YouTube for free. I generally would just say watch Gary, watch Rousimar, watch Imanari, watch Marcin Held, watch Ryan Hall. There’s a lot of other guys you can watch, but those are the central–

Sonny: Those are the main guys, right?

Robert: Yes, they’re the main guys I would recommend. There’s so many other guys. I’d say Marcin Held. I would say a lot of other Polish guys like Marcin Held. I criticize one of Ian Entwistle’s fights but he’s also done very well before. His fight against Anthony Birchak was a very, very good fight. That’s a really good use of leg locks in MMA. Definitely has his moments, Paul Sass is another one, Paul Sass.

Sonny: Yes, Paul Sass. One of the best guard pullers ever with something like– Who knows how many triangle victories he got?

Robert: Here’s a fun fact about Paul Sass.

Sonny: Please, yes.

Robert: I was a massive fan of Paul Sass. I thought his game was so good. I did a seminar in Liverpool at Paul Sass’s academy. He doesn’t own it. It’s where he trains.

Sonny: Kaobon or something like that?

Robert: No, NextGen MMA. I was talking to the owner of NextGen MMA who was Paul Sass’s coach. I said, “Whatever happened to Paul? Why doesn’t he fight anymore?” He said, “Paul got a job working in finance making a ton of money and just said, “Fuck this.'”

[laughter]

Robert: I was like, “All right, that’s totally fair.”

Sonny: That’s definitely fair. It seems fitting that he would because he was such a unique fighter as well in that guard pulling, and that he only ever won by triangles and heel hooks. I think that was it.

Robert: He had one decision win.

Sonny: He had that heel hook against Michael Johnson, right?

Robert: Yes, that was an awesome one. He had one decision win. Yes, but that was the only one on that. I’ve never seen the decision win. I just know it happened, but, yes, all triangles and heel hooks other than that.

Sonny: Amazing.

Robert: Definitely one of the best guard pullers in MMA history, an absolute legend of a guy.

Sonny: Without a doubt. What about any up and comings? Is there anyone that comes to mind, a leg locker that–? Maybe it’s the person you mentioned you were training before or just anyone under the radar that maybe we could keep an eye on if we want to keep savvy in the leg lock game in MMA?

Robert: Not anyone that’s currently fighting, but one of my teammates Damian Anderson he has been training a lot with Gary doing the MMA drills and Damian is a very, very high-level leg locker, especially with outside heel hooks. Outside heel hooks, I would say, are his specialty. In my opinion, legitimately one of the best outside Ashi and outside heel hook practitioners out there. Very, very solid at that and he seems to be shifting his focus, mainly to MMA. I think that once he fights there will be a lot of really interesting outside heel hooks on display. Yes, he’ll finish most people with that, but he’s not just focusing on that.

One thing that Danaher does is when he works with the guys is they’re working on MMA. All the arts integrated together. Gary’s not just doing jiu-jitsu practice and then hitting a punching bag, and then [laughs] they’re integrating it all together. I’ve no doubt, I think Damien will do very well because he’s directly under Danaher and Gary, so he’s going to do well.

Sonny: That would make me excited to watch him. Definitely. I just remembered the final question of scrimmage wrestling. Scrimmage wrestling is something I hear about. What is it? From what I understand that does seem something that would work into MMA and maybe leg locking in MMA as well, right?

Robert: Well, you’re going to hate my answer. My answer is I actually don’t know what the definition is.

Sonny: That’s okay. It seems I’m trying to get a definition and I’m like– My vague one is wrestling up from the bottom.

Robert: Okay, that might be what it is. I’ll tell you what the scrimmage wrestling drill is. Scrimmage wrestling drill is we start from a broken down single leg and you have to wrestle up from that. That’s the scrimmage wrestling drill. I have never really asked what is the definition of this. I just know and I guess, I’ve seen a lot of other– Danaher is always trying to integrate wrestling with– You have to modify it. You can’t just copy and paste it. For instance, very low single legs, and wrestling are much more viable because man, that shoe really catches when you grab the ankle, there’s a real surface it catches right.

Grappling that is not viable, the foots going to slip out. You can’t do that as easily. You got to modify it. Similarly, let’s say I shoot a single leg and I stand up with it and I just look for the takedown but I’m struggling to get it but I don’t account for submission threats, you can get counter because in wrestling those threats are illegal, obviously. You can’t keep hitting somebody in wrestling, you can’t rolling for somebody in wrestling.

Sonny: Used to be able to, because– what was– I’m blanking now, Foxcatcher, the ’92 Atlanta. Was it ’92 Atlanta Olympics? Damn, I’ve gotten terrible with dates and names, but he’s going up against the Turkish guy. Is it Mark? Mark Schultz. Mark Schultz. Yes. He’s going up against him and he breaks a guy’s arm in the Olympics.

Robert: Oh, wow, there you go.

[laughter]

Sonny: Now it’s banned. It’s definitely banned.

Robert: Okay, so there you go, you can’t do that in your wrestling, but in jiu-jitsu, obviously, super valid counter. You’ve got to take that into account. You’ve got to factor that in. When Danaher is coaching wrestling, he’s always thinking about that thing. A lot of what you’re going to see at an up and comer, Damien, for instance, or Gary in future fights is going be the integration of different arts. Yes, that’s, I think, a very valuable insight that I gained watching him coach those guys. Yes.

Sonny: Okay, that’s, that’s good. I’ll keep thinking about and looking out for that thing in the future as well. Hey, Robert, thanks so much for your time. It was great to catch up and obviously if people want to get a hold of that leg locks in MMA instructional and get in touch with you, what should they do to get their hands on that?

Robert: The instructional is just on my website, it’s robertdeglebjjonline.com. So robertD-E-G-L-E-bjjonline.com. It’s on there, and if you want you can follow me on Instagram. Same thing, Robert D-E-G-L-E BJJ. Also, I have a YouTube channel which I haven’t been putting up as much stuff, to be honest, because I’ve been pretty busy lately, but–

Sonny: As we all are. As we all are, it’s crazy times.

Robert: Yes. Hopefully, I will get back to YouTube because I actually enjoy YouTube more than Instagram.

Sonny: I think it is better, it’s longer-lasting anyway. It just reminded me there’re some clips from the instructional app on there, is that right?

Robert: Yes, there’s two. Yes, there’s two. I have two up. One on breaking mechanics, one on I talked about, so we didn’t get to this on the podcast, but I think that breaking mechanics actually. There are some differences in MMA versus grappling. If you’re curious about that, I have a video.

Sonny: You have a video, yes nice.

Robert: Yes, there’s a video where I talk about that. I’ll just say this. I think it’s way easier to break somebody in MMA, it’s so much easier to break people, as long as you’re in a cage because you’ll hit the cage wall. That helps things immensely.

Sonny: No rolling out of bounds and–

Robert: Yes, you can’t, it’s impossible. [chuckles] I had a grappling match in a cage and we hit the cage and I had the lock. I just thought to myself, “Oh, man, I feel so bad.”

[laughter]

Robert: I was like “Really it was the cage that fucked this guy , we hit it and he tapped.

[laughter]

Sonny: Two points in a standoff are gone.

Robert: Yes, yes, no, no.

Sonny: Two gone.

Robert: You can check me out on YouTube as well.

Sonny: Awesome. Awesome. Robert, thanks so much for your time mate.

Robert: Thanks for having me.

Sonny: Yes, be in touch. Stay in touch again in the future. It’s been a good chat and yes, I appreciate it very much.

Robert: No worries.

Legendary Longevity on a Journey Beyond a Hundred Battles With Jeremy Horn

In this episode, I interview Jeremy Horn, a storied MMA pioneer and legend with over 170 fights to his name, even fighting on the weekend where he was victorious in his professional boxing debut. He has fought a whos who of MMA greats including Chael Sonnen, Chuck Liddell, Anderson Silva, Forrest Griffin, Randy Couture, Dan Severn and Frank Shamrock and many in every significant promotion of the sport including UFC, Pride, Bellator, Pancrase, IFL & King of the Cage. We discuss the wild tale of his first fight in MMA where he wasn’t sure if he would make it out alive and how he has witnessed the sport change over the years. Also, his advice on training and sparring smart for career longevity, his time at the Militech Fighting Sytems which could be considered one of the first super camps of the sport. Finally, we discuss the overall benefits he has gained from living a martial arts lifestyle as he now continues to train upcoming martial artists at his gym “Jeremy Horns Elite Performance” located in Utah.

Podcast Transcript – Episode 019

Sonny Brown: Jeremy, pleasure to have you here today, mate. Let’s hope all is well over there in Utah. Looks very sunny in the background, I must say.

Jeremy Horn: That’s just a picture of my dog.

Sonny: Beautiful. Jeremy, your career is obviously very extensive. You’ve got to have be one of the fighters with the most MMA fights under their belt. At all, I think it’s 119.

Jeremy: I’ve actually got in the neighborhood of 175. A lot of my earlier fights didn’t get recorded. I was going to fight before the internet had a database so a lot of them slipped through the cracks. A lot of promoters didn’t really record them themselves, they didn’t submit them.

Sonny: I can believe that 100% that that is what happened and probably pride of the Sherdog days. With such an extensive amount of fights that’s so rare across the board of the entire sport, really, there’s a handful of guys that I’m sure you probably fought as well who you’re in that same category as yourself. One thing that’s always just interests me is how is that even possible? How does someone take on that many fights and get that much experience over the course of their career because now it just seems like it could never happen again?

Jeremy: Well, that’s certainly part of it. For today, everybody is so much more well-trained and well-rounded and evenly matched even when fights are technically a lopsided fight, they’re still way more evenly matched than somewhere back then. Add to that the fact that today everybody seems to be encouraged to stand up and throw punches. You’re seeing a lot more damage with people, the rules affect that as well. Back in the day when I was fighting, I’d easily– Dozens and dozens of fights where I could take the guy down and get on top of him and as soon as I started to throw a punch, he’d roll over and I’d choked him. The fight was over in a minute and a half, neither one of us took a single punch, we could both fight again an hour later if we felt like it. That’s a big part of it. Then that’s always been my mentality is, I want to win fights as fast as I can, as cleanly as I can and generally, that means taking people down and submitting them. It just causes less damage on both sides.

Sonny: That’s a good way to do it, [crosstalk] get a lot of fights by taking as little damage as possible.

Jeremy: Exactly. That’s how I like that.

Sonny: When you first got into into fighting, what was it that drew you into it, and did you have any martial arts background? What were those first couple of steps like?

Jeremy: I started martial arts when I was 12. My older brother had seen a demonstration at a local fair and so he joined and then not long after I joined. I just fell in love with martial arts right away. Like any kid, I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s so obviously, all the martial arts movies, the ninja movies, the John Claude Van Damme, Bloodsport movie. Those are movies I grew up on, so infatuated with martial arts. When the opportunity to fight rolled along it just seemed like something fun to do. What kid that does martial arts doesn’t want to try it out. I had a couple of fights, turned out I was decent at it and I loved it so I just kept fighting.

Sonny: I hear that we were listening to the Bloodsport soundtrack tonight at training, it’s always a good one. When you had those first fights, did you know what you were getting into?

Jeremy: No, not at all. In my first fight, I actually thought I was possibly entering into a snuff film. I thought we might have be going to be killed after the fight. In my first fight, I was living in Omaha at the time, in Nebraska, that’s where I born and raised. They flew us down to Atlanta for the fights and they didn’t pay us anything but they bought us a plane ticket, put us in a hotel and I think they gave us like $100 so we could get something to eat while we were down there. Me and a couple of my friends both fought. They show up the night of the fight with a limo which is odd. At this point, I don’t even know how I’m going to fight. It was just, you guys are coming to fight, we’ll have you a fight, be ready at five o’clock or whatever. They show up to pick us up, they drive us down into the dark after hours business area of Atlanta somewhere like a business district and we are in metal utility sheds and corrugated metal buildings and not a good area of town. They pull up and we are literally fighting in a warehouse. We walk in, they have some of those suede mats thrown down on the floor and there are people in tuxedos and evening gowns drinking champagne. There’s only about 20 people watching. It was creepy like bear light bulb hanging from a chain in the roof, in the ceiling in the building that’s what was lighting us. No cage, no boxing ring. They had a bunch of guys with those old school Taekwondo kicking shields, the curved ones you can hold. They had guys with a bunch of those running around the outside of the mat and if we got close to the edge, they would just body-check people back in to keep you inside. Then they got everybody lined up and then they’re like okay, you guys are about the same size so you fight him and you fight him and you fight him. I thought they were going to do this and then take us out and kill us and throw us in the ditch. It was bad, [chuckles] but they obviously didn’t so it ended up working out pretty well. It actually turned out to be the guys that did this show were the same ones that ended up promoting the MARS Show. I don’t know if you remember that it was–

Sonny: Japanese show?

Jeremy: It was martial arts reality super fighting. The main event was Murilo Bustamante against Tom Erikson. Do you remember that tournament?

Sonny: Yes.

Jeremy: It was those guys they were doing this. These fights were basically auditions to possibly get into the tournament. They were going all over and having everybody fight and then some of the people that fought got into the tournament. It was quite nerve-racking. After a start like that, it’s only uphill. It can’t get any worse after that. I’m like, oh, I actually am fighting in a cage in front of a crowd with a referee and people that know I’m here. It’s much easier to deal with.

Sonny: After that one then, were there any other unusual places that fights took place for you?

Jeremy: Well, unusual, sure, but nothing like that severe. Obviously, as the sport was growing, a lot of fights in rodeo arenas, I had a couple of fights that were basically in some guy’s backyard, that kind of thing.

Sonny: Nothing to compare to the warehouse with the tuxedos?

Jeremy: Yes, being flown to Atlanta and chauffeured to the fight in a limo and then you walk in. It literally was like a movie, we walk in and there’s people in evening gowns and tuxedos. This is crazy.

Sonny: That was so bizarre. What a way to get started on your journey.

Jeremy: Definitely.

Sonny: Couldn’t ask for much more for sure.

Jeremy: I had quite a few interesting beginnings in my career like that. I think that’s part of the reason I really had an easy time with a lot of things that other people would struggle with. Just like when that’s your first fight, it can’t get worse. A lot of guys are going to their first fight and it’s an amateur fight on a real MMA card and they’re like, “Oh, I’m nervous.” Did you think you were going to get murdered after you fought? [laughter] Definitely it’s only up from there, I actually got a locker room?

Sonny: What were some of those other interesting parts of those beginnings then for you that helped shape you?

Jeremy: Another one was my first fight at the UFC. My first fight at the UFC, which normally is incredibly nerve-racking for everybody. That’s a tough fight to get going, not only that but my first fight in UFC was Frank Shamrock. At the time, he’s looked at as the greatest fighter on the planet, and I knew that I was pretty much being brought in as a sacrificial lamb. I didn’t care that it was in the UFC. I’m like I’m fighting Shamrock, nobody thinks I’m going to win, nobody cares what happens, I’m lucky to be here. It’s not like I got to win this fight, I got to make a good impression. Nobody expected that, so no stress there. Also, Frank Shamrock had just fought his last two fights were Kevin Jackson and Igor Zinoviev, both really, really tough fighters. He beat both of them in 30 seconds. Again, I’m like nobody’s expecting anything at me but I knew that there’s nobody that he’s going to beat me in a minute. Those guys that are better than me but nobody’s going to beat me in a minute. I can run for a minute. [laughs] When I go into that fight, I had zero expectations. Nobody expected me to win. Nobody cared if I won. It was just another opportunity for Frank to beat somebody up so all the stress is gone. There’s no performance anxiety when nobody expects me to win. It makes it real easy, my first fight is out of the way.

Sonny: I think that fight you’re talking about he wasn’t going to beat you in a minute, I think that flight went on 17, 18 minutes or something.

Jeremy: Yes, I ended up winning the majority of the fight until I screwed up and got caught in a leg lock at the end of the fight.

Sonny: That hints to the different changes in the rules of the sport that you would have been around for because, of course, that was not a 25-minute title fight-

Jeremy: Right. Right. Sunny: -it was before those were happening. How did you see those evolution of rule changes happen from your side?

Jeremy: I guess we could say that the rule changes have been necessary for the acceptance of the sport and to get it a little more understood by the general public but truthfully, I don’t like a lot of them. As the sport gets further and further away from what a real fight actually is, it becomes more of just a game, it is just– It’s a sport, obviously, but it gets further away from reality. When they took away kicking and kneeing a downed opponent, that was big. When they take away hair pulling, [unintelligible 00:12:11] nobody- everybody shaved their head anymore anyway. Being able to control somebody by their hair is a big part of it, that helps a lot. Not being able to hit people in the back of their head, not being able to elbow people, the 12 to 6 elbow. All these little things make- they all add up to a big change. It used to be that if you were a grappler and you shot a double leg on somebody and they sprawled and you were stuck on all fours, you were in terrible danger, not anymore. You can shoot and stay on all fours and they can’t really do much to you other than then punch you or try to spin your back, that obviously submissions. If you were on all fours and somebody had you in front headlock, you were going to get kneed in the head. That was a massive, massive change for the wrestlers, now, they can take a shot and if they miss, no big deal.

Sonny: That’s still one of the biggest weapons in Japanese MMA, to be able to– those knees to the head from front headlock position is such a powerful weapon.

Jeremy: Yes, it’s huge. Or downward elbows when you’re on top of somebody that– They don’t get used a lot but that’s one thing that a lot of people don’t understand is the threat of them being used is oftentimes enough to elicit the response you want. I’m training guys in the gym here, and guys are getting ready for a fight and I try to tell them, “You have to spar and you have to train with the mindset of would I do this in a real fight if my life was on the line, if the win was on the line.” Because there is always another level of anxiety that you just can’t get to until you’re actually in a fight. We’re grappling and we’re rolling around and guys see they’re doing well. Then we put those little MMA gloves on and say, “Okay, now I’m going to punch you in the face”, and suddenly everything changes. Not a massive amount because we’re still friends and you know that if I hit you, I’m not going to try to hit you hard. If I do hit you hard, I’m going to let up and I’m not going to try to put you away. Whereas in a fight that one more step, it really breaks a lot of people and it’s just the threat of doing it. I don’t have to throw a single punch but if I put on a glove, and you think, “Fuck, this guy, he might hit me. I got to do this, this, this and he might hit me.” The same thing, now he’s like “He might hit me and it might knock my teeth out.” It changes things. I don’t even have to throw a punch but the chance that I could throw a punch changes your perspective. That’s what a lot of people don’t understand. You can put on gloves and you can train a little bit. It’s definitely a good training tool but it’s still not a fight.

Sonny: Then for you have those rule changes and turning it more into a sport and then we see now and even going more into an entertainment side with some of the promotional tactics and how different fighters are promoted. How do you think that has taken away from the essence of what you see as the real art of fighting?

Jeremy: I don’t know if the promotional side of things has taken away from it too much. Even now, I’ve got my problems with that as well because I prefer to see people that are awarded on their skill as a fighter. As a participant in the sport, I want to see people earn a number one spot by beating the number one guy. As a fan, I also enjoy the Conor McGregor’s of the world and the Chael Sonnen’s because it does, it makes it entertaining, definitely. I would still rather see people earn their spot through their actions and their performance not by running their mouth and that’s what earns them a big fight.

Sonny: Yes, I hear you. I’d still prefer that too but then I still always tune in. [crosstalk]

Jeremy: Absolutely. I love an entertaining fight as well and I love a good backstory, but it’s irritating when now everybody tries to be Conor, to be Conor and Chael both. Both of those guys have a gift to talk. They’re very good at hyping a fight and they seem sincere. Even though I think at this point, we all know, it’s a show. They’re talking, they’re building a fight, and they’re making us get engaged but you still can’t deny it, you’re still engaged, you still want to see it. Whereas other people just do a really bad job of it.

Sonny: When you were fighting and obviously over in Japan, there’s this crossover over there with Japanese MMA and pro wrestling. Was there any kind of fights that you had that the Japanese put that extra bit of show on for or that they were hyping up in an interesting way or–

Jeremy: No, not particularly. When I was fighting over in Japan, it was a big rush. The Japanese crowd and a lot of the organizations over there just really wanted to see a lot of foreign fighters. They are not quite sure. It’s both. They love to see foreigners come over and get beat by Japanese fighters. That’s huge for them, it’s a nationalistic thing. They’re proud of their fighters winning and so that’s cool. At the same time, they’re just huge fans of the sport. They love to see two guys fight and the winner win. They don’t care that much but at the same time, if that winner is a Japanese fighter, it’s just even better. It was just a huge push. Lots of foreign fighters coming over because the Japanese fighters and fans wanted to test themselves, I guess, wanted to see where they stood. We got a lot of press and we got a lot of push and a lot of support but never anything specific for me.

Sonny: Sure. I guess then speaking of then the different cultures and how those different cultures can breed different perspectives of people watching, and of also then the people earning their place. Probably one of the best examples of an early super team would have been the Miletich Fighting Systems and the culture in there must have been something special in those early days to produce so many of those champions.

Jeremy: To me, it really wasn’t anything special, it was just a room full of people that just really enjoyed training. Again, that’s another thing that I don’t like where the sports going now because now you see people that come into the sport and their goal is just to make money. They’re like, “Hey, I’m a pro fighter” because they love the image and the ego that comes with that, and I want to make money. When we started, there was no money in the sport. We trained every day because we love training, we love fighting, we love competing, we love doing what we do. When you love what you do, they always say “If you love your job, you never work a day in your life”, right?

Sonny: Yes.

Jeremy: We were at the gym five or six days a week, two or three times a day because we loved it. “Hey, I’m going to put in 40 hours a week to train for this fight and I’m going to go make $300.” Now, you got to tease people with a carrot on a stick, they’re like “Hey, if you come train twice a week, you might make $1,000.” I don’t like seeing that because I’m tired of people thinking that to become a fighter is an easy payday. I get to lounge around and do nothing all day, and then I get to go fight and be a superstar and make lots of money, well, that’s not how it works. If that is your goal, then you shouldn’t be in this sport anyway, you should be in this sport because you love to train, you love to fight, and it’s a bonus that you get to do it for a living.

Sonny: I hear that. What part were you on your journey when you started training with Miletich Fighting Systems?

Jeremy: Well, so I’d had a couple of fights in a few different organizations, and then in my, I guess actually, it was my second and third fights, I fought a tournament for Monte, who was my manager. Now, he managed me…

Sonny: Monte Cox? Is it?

Jeremy: Yes, Monte Cox. I met Pat and all the guys, and obviously, I was in Omaha training with my friends, and we were still pretty new, and everybody was still figuring everything out. I saw Pat and his guys, and I was like, oh, those guys they have a direction, they know what were doing. My friends and I were just getting together and jacking around, doing whatever we thought was right, like a lot of people at the time. I decided that I wanted to go train with Pat. I would start traveling to Iowa, it was about four hours. I would drive there for the weekends, then I would stay with him for the weekends, and we’d train Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and then I’d go home on Monday and go back to work. Eventually, it got to the point where, excuse me, I was getting a few fights rolling in, but I was still working full time. Then I decided to move to Iowa, and at the time, fights were exploding, everybody was doing a show. If you had 300 square feet of space, you were going to put together a fight. When I move to Iowa, there were just so many fights happening that I could fight every weekend, and it turned out that I didn’t need to get a job again. Again, that’s another one of those things where I never really felt any stress. It’s not like, okay, here I go, I’m going to quit my day job, and throw all my eggs in one basket as a pro fighter. I was working in Omaha, I moved to Iowa, I had planned to get a job in Iowa, but there were so many fights that I didn’t need to. Back then, I was making $300, $400, $500 a fight maybe, but if you’re doing that every weekend, it’s enough to pay rent, so whatever. I’m like, okay, I got a lot of fights, I guess I’ll start looking for a job next week, another fight, another fight, and another fight, I’ll find a job next month. I just ended up never getting a job again because I didn’t need to. Then obviously, the sport started growing a bit, and there started to be a little more money in the fights, and I was still fighting every weekend if I could. Eventually, the fights started spreading out a little bit, but they were also paying a little bit more, so I just eased into being a pro. I never really intended to do it because I was training and fighting because I loved it.

Sonny: That’s a good way to do it.

Jeremy: That’s the way it should be.

Sonny: How many fights up to 100 did you get to when you realized, you know what? I think I’m in this?

Jeremy: Well, honestly, even like all the way up to five years ago, six years ago, I still look back and I think, man. I sometimes feel like a fraud, that’s going to get discovered at some point. People don’t realize I’m just some kid that likes to train, and fight, and play video games, and play with my dogs. Somehow they’re going to your realize, that I’m not really a pro fighter, they just happen to keep paying me to do this. That’s always how it’s been. I would get up in the morning, I would go to the gym and work out, and then I’d come home and hang out with my friends, and go ride my mountain bike, or play video games, then go back to the gym at night, and then on the weekends go fight. I never sat back and said, holy cow, I’m a professional at this. Imagine if you’re a college kid, but you get paid to go to parties every weekend. You just do your thing during the week, and then go do your thing on the weekend, and somehow there’s always money in your bank. That’s what it was. I never really looked at myself as a pro, never really sat back and thought, okay, this is my career now, I’m just riding this train as long as it’ll take.

Sonny: Wow, that’s fascinating. It was really just this natural progression of just, hey, I want to fight, I have to give this a go, into this crazy warehouse, let’s go one foot after the other, keep it going. It must’ve been maybe good fortune to be able to hook up with Miletich.

Jeremy: Yes, absolutely, it was. Had I not done that, then I’d imagine that things would have taken a different path obviously, because I would have hit some limits of technique and skill, and I would have started losing more. Because as it was, like in my first 30 or 40 fights, I think I only had three or four losses. I was doing well, and I was winning more than I lost. [crosstalk]

Sonny: Just to be on the side of that sentence, in my first 30 or 40 fights, I had a few losses, say no more.

Jeremy: It was a very different time back then too, because there were still a lot of people that were struggling to figure out the sport, and figure out the game. We were as well, but I guess I was just a little bit lucky, in that I had a little bit of a knack for it. I’ve got a good brain for understanding fighting, I guess. People tell me that the way I explain things, the way I teach, makes it easier to understand, and all I’m doing is like, this is how I look at it, this is what I think, this is how I look at this situation, and position and mindset and strategy. People like, oh, I get it. Just chugging along doing that, and then going to Iowa and having partners that were good, really good wrestlers and good kickboxers, and stuff like that, just gave me an opportunity to push me, make me better.

Sonny: What would you think then, some of those things that you looked at the problem a little differently to others, that enabled you to have success?

Jeremy: I don’t know if I could pick out any specific examples, but just different ideas of techniques, and different ideas of how to do things. This is one [unintelligible 00:26:21] that I actually ever have, I kind of struggled with a little bit as I’ve become a coach because to me– We talked earlier about, when you add punches and you add the ability to strike, it changes your mindset in a fight, but it never did for me. I realize now that it does, but it never did for me. I was always thinking look, if I’m in a fight, and I’m grappling properly, I’m controlling your arms, I’m controlling your head, I’m doing the things that I should do, then it doesn’t matter if you have the option of hitting me or not, because you can’t move your arms anyway. As long as I’m tying up your arms, which is what I want to do anyway to control you and win, so what is the matter if you can hit me? That’s how I’ve always looked at it, like if I’m doing things right, it doesn’t matter what the rules are. It doesn’t matter if there’s a gun laying across the room, legally you can get up and run over and shoot me, that’s fair. If I can keep you pinned down, and you can’t get anywhere near that gun, it’s not going to add stress to me because I got you. I realize now over the years of coaching, it’s not like that for everybody, that level of anxiety. I’ve always told people look, just do things right. If you’re grappling properly, it doesn’t matter if your opponent can hit you or not, do what’s right and you’ll succeed. That ghost hanging in the corner still scares them, but what if I lose track of him? What if he gets away from me? What if? That what if is what ruins people. I guess that I’ve always had a slightly different perspective, and that’s the one that jumps to mind, but conceptually, I grapple conceptually a lot more than a lot of other people, I think.

Sonny: Definitely your grappling skills seem to give you that advantage over a lot of people, and I’d say probably kept you safe, would that be reasonable to say?

Jeremy: Absolutely, it kept me safe, and my mindset as well. My goal was always to win fast, so I’m going to grapple, I’m going to not let you hit me, I’m going to keep you tangled up, and I’m going to get on top of you, and then you’re going to turn over, and I’m going to choke you. I’m a decent boxer, but I’ve never been known as a striker, I’m a grappler, and I think everybody should be, primarily when they get started. Striking is incredibly hard, and now everybody, they see the superstars in the UFC, everybody wants to be a kickboxer, but again, people don’t understand, it changes things. If you’re not used to it, and put a lot of hours into it, as well as the fact that t I think it’s more difficult. Grappling is like hand to hand, it’s like contact, whereas striking is we’re feet apart, and now it’s reflexes, and hand-eye coordination, and intuition, whereas those are all very less relevant in grappling.

Sonny: Is there a way that you would train your grappling, in maybe in the early days, that has changed over the years, or is there any kind of drills, that you’ve done the whole way through?

Jeremy: No, not really. My technique has changed a little bit, obviously. I’ve learned a bit more, and gotten a little bit better, and implemented some new things, and maybe changed a little bit the techniques that I used to do other things, but for the most part, well, it’s the same. It’s the same mentality obviously, like new techniques. Everything gets updated, everything progresses.

Sonny: Sure. One thing that always interests me is the progression of sparring over the years. We maybe hear that the old style way was more just the survival of the fittest. Whereas now people are trying to periodise training more and soft days and hard days. How do you look at that? How do you think that changed?

Jeremy: Well, I think I have always been of the mind, even from the very early days that training super, super hard, like hard sparring is unnecessary. Grappling is a little different. You can go really hard and you’re not going to get hurt, but when you’re hitting each other, you don’t need to do that hard. Also because like, if somebody’s going to punch me, they can either hurt me or they can’t. I don’t need to test that every day in the gym. All I need to test is whether or not I can avoid that punch. If the punch lands, the result is what it is. Again, that’s another thing that I’ve tried to explain to people. I’ve always tried to tell people when you’re sparring, what you should be trying to do is execute good technique, throw good clean punches, and do your best to avoid them. People are like, but what about this, what about that and what happens to this. I was telling people, there’s really only three examples, there’s only three things that can happen if somebody lands a punch. Let’s say you’re in a fight and we’re going to assume that your defense is already like redlining. You are doing everything you possibly can to the maximum of your skill and ability to not get hit. Let’s say that guy who manages to land a punch or a kick or a knee, there’s only three options. Either A that punch doesn’t hurt because the guy can’t crack an egg. What do you do? Nothing. Your strategy doesn’t change. You’re already defending as well as you can. That guy manages to get a punch through. If he set it up, well, maybe you’ll read that set up a little better, but for the most part, you do nothing. Because if you’re already doing everything you can, you can’t do anymore. Or that punch hurts you and hurts you bad and now you’re fighting on instinct and you’re wobbling. What do you do now? Nothing because you’re fighting on instinct. You don’t have a choice or you’re unconscious. Those are the only three choices if you’re going to get hit in a fight. Again, assuming that we are already doing everything we can to avoid getting hit. There is no reason to ever let emotion get into fighting because all it does is make you worse. When we’re talking about training, same thing, you don’t have to hit me hard. I’m trying to avoid that punch anyway. Obviously t here are some days where you need to go a little harder to make sure that you are capable of it, but once or once or twice a month is plenty. You know Sean, O’Connell. He won the first season of the PFL, he’s one of my guys.

Sonny: Yes.

Jeremy: Crazy, funny way in guy. That’s almost you all know him. From the very first day, he started training with me. It became very apparent that he does not care if he gets hit. He really doesn’t care. You watch his fights and somewhere you’ll punch him right in the face. His expression doesn’t even change. He doesn’t flame. He doesn’t squirm. He doesn’t run away. You punch him in the face. He just doesn’t care. That’s a unique perspective. All I had to do with him was get him to understand, but it is bad to get hit. You will go to sleep if you get hit hard enough. Even though you don’t care, let’s try to move your head. Let’s try to defend but yes, emotionally, you shouldn’t care. Mentally, defensively, you need to care, but emotionally, you shouldn’t care. You see those guys that are scared of getting hit, they shouldn’t be boxers. They should be grapplers. If your training is that, and all you’re doing is basically playing high speed tag, then your training can go on and on and on forever. I used to train with Jens back in Iowa when we were together, he’s weighing 140 pounds or 150 pounds. I’m weighing 210, and we’ve been sparked 10, 12, 15 rounds a day, because all we’re doing is playing tag, basically. With good adherence and good technique and not doing a bunch of flashy bullshit. If you do that, we’re learning good head movement, good defense, learning to do all the things you should do, but you don’t have to get hit hard.

Sonny: That seems like a much more efficient way to train because you’re going to get a lot more time working with good partners.

Jeremy: It’s a lot more fun. You trained yourself, right?

Sonny: Yes.

Jeremy: Do you train a lot of Jujutsu or MMA or a little bit everything?

Sonny: Jujutsu, MMA used to fight professionally, but now everything.

Jeremy: You know what it’s like when you go into that gym for a hard sparring, then you like, fuck, man, this is going to suck. I’m not happy here. This is going to be a bad day. I want to get my work done and get out of here because I’m not feeling it today. I’m getting my ass kicked and it’s going to suck. Well, who wants to train in days like that? Versus the days where you go in, you’re like, hey, we’re going to have some fun. We’re going to roll around real lightly on the mats. We’re going to have some fun. I’m going to learn, blah, blah, blah but if your sparring days are just like hey, we’re going to go in, we’re going to play tag. I’m going to run around, have some fun, then it makes training enjoyable and you get more out of it as well as retain more brain cells.

Sonny: I think even sometimes it’s certain people that are this round [crosstalk]

Jeremy: Absolutely. Everyone got one of those rounds. I got to bite down because this round is going to suck. You see, you need those every now and then, but only two to reinforce that, yes, I am tough. Yes, I can take a punch. Yes, I can continue to execute good technique even when I’m a little nervous and the things are on the line. Once you know that you have that faith in you, you don’t have to do it all the time.

Sonny: Were you ever able to do that then with Tim Sylvia?

Jeremy: Yes, because I’m faster than Tim. You’re training with people long enough, you get to know their tendencies and definitely hard to deal with his jab, but stay closer, stay far away.

Sonny: Then going back to your idea of taking the emotion out of fighting or the emotion out of getting hit, I think you were talking about specifically that when you’re taking your- like a mindset approach into fighting, is that where you also just trying to be emotionless and just trying to act rationally through the fight?

Jeremy: I try to be as much as I can, obviously, in a fight nerves creep in and nerves qualifies emotion. You start to make decisions that you wouldn’t normally because you’re basically scaring yourself. I got to flinch a little more because if this guy hits me, he’s going to knock me out. I can’t afford to let him come. I always tried to be as logical and rational as I could, when I fought. Every single time I fought, like generally, I was the better grappler in the fight. Look, I don’t care how good this guy is on his feet. I’m not going to box with it. If I can take him down, I win. It’s not a matter of, oh, what if he hits me or I can’t afford to get hit. I’m not even going to play that game. I’m going to do everything I can to take you down and then I’m calm. I’m calm with that mindset because I know what I have to do.

Sonny: Taking that mindset, is that something then you try and put onto your fighters that you’re training now? How do you go about trying to do that for you like when you’re warming them up or just when you’re walking them to the cage or how do you impart [crosstalk]

Jeremy: Yes, I do. Obviously, we talked about a lot while we’re training and while we’re rolling and stuff like that, I try to explain to people what their mindset should be. I’m like I said I always try to encourage people. Like I said, it all comes down to basically logic in fact. If you are faster than them, you’re faster. How do we work around that? If that guy’s faster than you, how do you work around that? If he’s stronger than you, how do you work around that? If you have a guy that’s bigger, stronger, faster, better Jujutsu, better boxing, better wrestling than you, how do you win that fight? You don’t, you can’t win that fight without some luck. If you’re my fighter, we’re not taking that fight. You don’t have a chance in that fight. There’s no reason to take that fight. If you’re a little bit stronger and you hit a little bit harder, but he’s a better grappler and he’s faster, well, now that gives us the strategy. We got to try to stay on our feet. You got to try to hit him hard, that kind of thing. Or if you’re a better grappler, blah, blah, blah. If there’s a way to win, then we just try to figure it out basically.

Jeremy: That makes sense.

Jeremy: Every fighter, well, it’s getting to be a little less common, but almost every fighter has a weakness, a weak area. All we got to do is find it and go there. Obviously, that weak area is getting smaller and smaller for a lot of guys, but everybody has one. We just got to find it and try to take the fight to that area. That’s again where we talked about earlier. I don’t really like to see where the sport is going now because now everybody wants to stand up and brawl. It drives me insane when I watched two guys that are, let’s say, one guy’s a bulkheads, are good stand up guys. One guy’s also a good Jujutsu guy. he’ll get clipped on his feet and he’ll go down. What’s the first thing he does?

Sonny: Stands back up.

Jeremy: Tries to get back to his feet. Like, what the hell are you doing, man? Do you understand what you should do? You are good on the ground and you are hurt on your feet, lay on your back and try to recover for a second. If that guy follows you to the ground, you’re good on the ground. Try to recover. Don’t get back up where you can barely stand up and let that guy knock you out more. Everybody is getting so sucked into this idea of, I got to stand up and prove how tough I am. I got to win that fight of the night bonus because I want to get up and brawl with people. I’ve never cared about that. I want to win. I still look at training and fighting as an offshoot of self defense.

Sonny: That makes me think then of maybe the diminished role of the guard now in modern MMA, it just doesn’t seem to be played as much, sometimes not at all. What’s your thoughts on how that’s happening and what could be different?

Jeremy: I agree 100% the guard is going away because the way the rules, rounds, and the standards have implemented the sport. There’s a lot of things that the grapplers, in general, but specifically it hurts the guard a lot. Judges are still stupid. If you’re on your back, they think you’re losing. Somebody can lay on your guard with their head in your chest and punch you in the ribs, and they’re going to win. That’s not always the case, but you get what I’m saying. There’s just a lot of opportunities where the grappler is hurt. Every round starts on their feet. The strikers get an advantage every round. Well, if I spend three minutes in a round, chasing you around because you’re running, then I finally get a hold of you, it takes me a minute to drag you down because you’re leaning against the fence and every now and then grab. Well, that’s a whole another issue.

Sonny: [laughs]

Jeremy: Out of a five minute round, I’ve been chasing you around, finally dragged you down and I have a minute to work. If I sit still for 30 seconds, I’m going to get stirred up. Really, I just spent four minutes working on taking you down, and we’re going to get stood up within a minute. Why don’t we start on the ground on the next round?

Sonny: I could be sold on that idea for sure.

Jeremy: Just like anything else. If there’s a referee restart, and they can reset it in the same position, like in some of the grappling tournaments, if the position is clearly definable, then restart him on the ground. He earned it that whole first round. Why not let him work from the segment? That might change things a little bit because now you have a guy if he’s good enough on the ground, he can take you down. One take down is all he needs. He gets one take-down in the first round and keeps you there for the rest of the fight, might change things a little bit, rather than the striker getting a free stand up every round as well as stand ups for the referees, stand ups for inactivity, blah, blah, blah. It’s just very skewed towards strikers.

Sonny: It’s definitely just evolved that way now. I think a couple of maybe set positions that they could restart if it needs to be. I’d be willing to watch some of that. Of course, I enjoy watching grappling myself. [chuckles] I may not be the average person that people are- that they’re marketing these fights through, unfortunately.

Jeremy: Right. The average people just want to see people get knocked out. It brings more money to the sport for the fighters, which I’m a fan of, but it also makes the pursuit of money the main goal rather than winning a fight.

Sonny: It’s one of those things that it’s going to be difficult to change at all really. On then your pursuit into professional fighting, and maybe this was getting into where it was starting, to get more money for you into the UFC and the rings as well. You had fights Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Anderson Silva, what for you was some of those most memorable ones with these elite levels of the sport?

Jeremy: Honestly, all of them were memorable. Again, because I’ve always loved fighting and I’ve always loved training. None of them really stood out more than any others because they’re all awesome. It’s like which one is your favorite? Well, they’re all my favorite. Again, I feel like I’m a kid that’s hiding and somehow I’m going to get discovered. I’ve gotten to live an amazing life. I’ve gotten to travel the world doing exactly what I love, training and fighting and being part of this community of people. I love all of it and I always have. The more I see it shift away from that, because it’s going to be more financially driven, the less I like it. I don’t want to see it go that way. I’ve had people come into my gym before, they’re flicking a cigarette as they walk in the door and they’re like, “All right, how long before I can have my first fight and how much money do I make?” I’m like, “Man, just get the fuck out of here.” Well, I’m not doing that. If you’re not here because you’re interested in training– You can come in and say,”Hey, look, fighting is my goal. I really want to fight. I love the sport. I want to be part of the sport.” “Absolutely. Come on in.” If you’re like, “Hey, I think this is an easy way to make money. I just want to fight and make money. What do I got to do to make that happen?” It’s not for you. First of all, you’re never going to be good at it. Second, there’s not that much money and until you’re way, way down the road. I don’t want to deal with that. I want people to come in and go, “I watched the sport. I love the sport. I want to try it. I would love to compete someday.” Those are the guys I want.

Sonny: I hear you.

Jeremy: Honestly, I want self defense, it goes without saying.

Sonny: For that side of things, I always tell people, it’s like picking up a guitar and saying, “I want to learn to play at the stadium, down the road or something.” It’s like, “Well, you got to play a lot of open mics first.” [laughs]

Jeremy: You can go a long, long way.

Sonny: What would you think would be some of those benefits of having the love of the sport, the love of martial arts, that have carried over into the other areas of life for you?

Jeremy: Obviously, all the relationships that I’ve made, all the the people that I’ve met and the lives that I’ve gotten to change, that’s another thing, that for me has been a really big deal. I don’t see myself as anybody’s special as a fighter and I don’t see fighters as special people anyway, athletes in general. I don’t watch any other sports. I don’t care about football, baseball or basketball. I just don’t care.

Sonny: Me too.

Jeremy: It really bugs me. You’re playing the game, so am I. I’m playing a game, I’m nobody’s special. I’m not doing anything. For people that somehow think that because of their status as an athlete, they mean more to the world than then somebody else. I’m nobody’s special. I am fortunate that I have lived the life that I have and I am fortunate that I’ve been able to make money doing what I do so that I don’t have to go get a job. Because if I couldn’t make money doing this, I would go get a job and I would still do this. My life would just suck because then I would have to spend all my hours working instead of getting the train like I do. I don’t think me as a fighter or any fighter has done anything particularly special for the world. I don’t deserve any credit as a fighter. I’m nobody’s special. As a trainer, as a martial artist, as a coach, I have changed a lot of people’s lives. That I am very proud of. As a fighter, man, so what? I haven’t been good at beating people up. I’m glad people enjoy watching me do it. I’m glad it gives them some entertainment. I guess, there’s a little bit of value there because people enjoy it. I’m way more proud of, the guy that joined my gym and because of it, quit drinking, quit being a dirt bag, and now he’s married with three kids and owns his own business. I’m way more proud of the fact that, there’s a little kid that trains with me, that was getting bullied, and now he’s confident, strong, has friends, and has completely changed his personality. I’m way more proud of those things than I am that I won a world title. I said, as a fighter, none of that crap matters. It matters to me, it’s cool, but it doesn’t matter as far as like changing the world. What matters to me is the things that I’ve done in the gym with the people that you’ll never hear of because they’re not going to be professional fighters.

Sonny: I really like what you’ve said there in terms of, I guess, having the impact on the closest people around you.

Jeremy: Absolutely.

Sonny: You might say that you don’t think you’re anything special as a fighter or that’s not as much value as worth. From a personal perspective, you’re an inspiration to–

Jeremy: I may be overstated that. That is very nice to know that what I have done has touched other people to make them want to be inspired. Yes, in that regard, it does matter. You get what I’m saying now.

Sonny: I do.

Jeremy: I’m just a guy in a ring beating somebody up. I didn’t do anything for the world. There is some value because other people–

Sonny: Again, I think, you’re right. At the end of the day, it is those personal interactions that we have with people closest around us who can know on that one on one level that are going to have that lasting impact as well. Just some of those impacts that martial arts can have on a personal level for people that maybe the most valuable aspect of training and competing. Would you think that the transformative power of martial arts in people’s lives?

Jeremy: Absolutely. I think that is one the biggest. I don’t want to say it’s overlooked because, obviously, that is something that a lot of people know martial arts does. It’s one thing that its losing its front page status, so to speak. It’s huge. I was a shy little kid that got bullied and I’m still a shy adult but I’m now confident. I’m shy because I don’t really like being around a lot of people, not because I’m scared to be around a lot of people. It certainly is nice to know that pretty much anywhere I am, I could kick the shit out any two or three people at a time. It makes it much easier for me to stay calm and relaxed. I’m okay just sitting in the corner watching people. I don’t have to be the center of attention. I don’t want to be the center of attention. Definitely, it has changed my life for the better massively. It does for thousands of people, maybe hundreds of thousands of people across the world every day.

Sonny: It’s very interesting you bring that up because, I guess, the two sides that people would look at martial arts would be like they see the UFC on television, the hardcore, competitive cage fighting side, where people think of it as a blood sport and this awful thing. Then, there’s also this other side of the power of building confidence and transforming people’s lives.

Jeremy: Yes, definitely.

Sonny: That’s something that you must have come across with a lot over the years, with being such an active fighter and knowing of this other part of martial arts. How have you dealt with squaring those two off in your life?

Jeremy: Well, I guess they really have not had a whole lot of crossover for me because I’ve always tried to help people. I see people come to the gym and I can see people that are like, they’re just broken people. I had a guy who trained with me years ago and he ended up quitting, which was really unfortunate because I think he’s one of the people that really needed it. He was early 20s, in decent shape, but not a physical superstar. I could tell that he felt like he was worthless. He was a really nice guy and he had trouble doing just a basic, free bodyweight squat. That should be a pretty the simple thing for a kid in his early 20s to do, but he just couldn’t do it. He didn’t have the balance or the flexibility. He had never done anything athletic before in his entire life and he knew it. He knew that he was not where he should be, even to the point where he would make comments about himself, he’s like, “Oh, man, I wish I could do this, like a normal person,” and stuff like that. I’m like, “Man, I hate to see that kind of thing. I hate to hear that.” I used to work with him a lot. I tried to get him to come back. I think just because he felt so self conscious being in a crowd of other people that could do it. I’m really lucky. I’ve got a great gym of people. I don’t have any jerks in my gym. Everybody’s friendly. A new guy comes to the gym and everybody comes over and says hi and introduce themselves. I know that it was just his own self consciousness that drove him away because he was very welcomed at the gym. He just couldn’t get over it. He ended up stopping training with us. I feel really bad for people like that.

Sonny: Is there anything else that you think that martial arts or the MMA could do to help bring those people in, to help make the weak strong?

Jeremy: Yes, obviously, just doing what we do. Just helping them and training them and being a friend to them. That’s all people need. It all boils down to basically your own self image and your own self confidence. I’m sure you’ve seen it. There’s people that should not be confident that are, and then there’s other people– I’ve got a guy that he actually is now training. I think he’s probably pretty close to done. He’s going to be in the Secret Service. He was a really smart guy, college football star, trained with me for a while, have a lot of good fights, with dual citizenship with Australia and the US. He went to school in Australia, trained at a gym down there. Really funny, good looking guy. He’s six foot two, 210 pounds, just abs, just the whole package. I was talking to him one time and he was telling me how he thinks he’s ugly. He’s always worried that people think he’s funny looking. I’m like, “Dude, I would bend over backwards to be built like you. You’re a good looking guy. You’ve got a great sense of humor. How can you feel this way about yourself?” Now he was a copier locally, he got accepted into the Secret Service detail. He’s bouncing all over the US doing different training things. He probably still feels like he’s not good enough. I saw a documentary with Jim Carrey, the comedian. He talked about his upbringing and obviously an incredibly funny guy. He talked about how a lot of people that are very, very funny are because they are really self conscious and abused as kids. They develop a sense of humor to make everybody like them. There’s so many people out there like that that ,man, if you could see yourself the way the rest of the world sees you, you wouldn’t feel the way you feel. I think martial arts can do that for people by giving them some physical strength and giving them some physical tools. Showing them that they have some value and showing them that they do have friends with similar interests that aren’t going to judge them. That’s what martial arts should be about. As well as, obviously, helping people to defend themselves and helping people to build stronger lives and stronger relationships. Then, real far down the list of importance, is getting in the ring and competing. It’s certainly fun.

Sunny: Great fun.

Jeremy: In the world of importance, it’s pretty far down there.

Sonny: I really like that, Jeremy. That’s a very nice way to put it. I think I’ll finish up just with one more question for you. Just for advice for any young fighters, maybe on dealing with promoters, I think might be a good angle, because I’m sure you have a lot of experience with that. Just how would you recommend or a bit of advice that maybe you could have given yourself back in the day?

Jeremy: Well, I was pretty lucky. I had good people around me. My first trainer actually took over as my manager for a little bit. Because, again, he was just a good guy that wanted to see me not be taken advantage of. He was like, “Look, I don’t know anything about the sport, but I’m a smart guy and I’d be happy to look over your contracts and make sure that you’re not getting screwed.” He was basically my manager, but he didn’t really know what he was doing. He was like, “Look, I don’t want any money, I want to help you to make it.” He looked over my first UFC contract and basically he was like, “I want to make sure you’re not getting screwed and taken advantage of.” Then I went along with Bonnie, not long after that, who obviously is a great manager. I would recommend that they get somebody who obviously has some intelligence, but who also that they really trust to help them navigate through this. Everybody wants to fight. Every fighter wants to take every fight, but you need somebody there to say “Hey, man, this is probably not the best fight for you.” If you’re a fighter, and you’re talking to a promoter directly, what fighter is going to say “Yes, I know, that guy’s got 10 fights and I’ve got one. I probably shouldn’t be fighting him.” Well, no, the fighter is like, “Yes, I want that fight.” Well, not every fight is right all the time. It helps to have somebody else to protect you from yourself. That’s what I would say is, get somebody to be the middleman because promoters will naturally take advantage of fighters. Not necessarily in a nasty, underhanded way, but it’s the promoters job.

Sonny: That’s their job.

Jeremy: [crosstalk] as much fights as I can for as little money as I can. The fighter wants as much money as they can get. Find somebody to help walk that line. That’s one thing I would say. Find a good gym. Find a good gym with people that want to train hard.

Sonny: That’s good advice. I like the idea of finding someone who will protect you from yourself. I think it’s good advice for young fighters. I think that’s a good way to put it. Jeremy, it has been really awesome to talk to you, mate. I really appreciate you giving me your-

Jeremy: My pleasure.

Sonny: -time. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Jeremy: Absolutely.

Sonny: Awesome. I’ll be in touch in the future. Maybe we can do this again and again sometimes.

Jeremy: I’d love to. Awesome. Sounds good.

Sonny: Jeremy, thank you so much.

Jeremy: All right. Thank you. We’ll see you next time.

Sonny: Cheers, mate.

Jeremy Horn Interview

Crafting Comfort When Uncomfortable & Adapting for Victory With Alexander Volkanovski

In this podcast episode, I feature an Alexander Volkanovski Interview! Alex is currently the UFC Featherweight champion and one of the first UFC Champions to originate from Australia. Alexander came from humble beginnings on the local scene, where he captured many regional titles and has now established himself as being ranked in the UFC men’s pound-for-pound rankings. Alexander Volkanovski trains at the Freestyle Fighting Gym under coach Joe Lopez, located in Windang, Wollongong, south of Sydney.

Join us as we discuss what it was like as an amateur athlete rising through the ranks of Australia to become the UFC champion and how he was able to get valuable training with partners of different abilities. Alexander also shares the mentality he adopted to help drive and motivate him to the top by building resilience and staying adaptable. Tune in to listen to these, a few fight stories, and many exciting topics, including advice for the younger fighters.

Listen to the Alexander Volkanovski Interview

Interview Topics:

[03:22] Setting a good wrestling base through rugby

[05:40] The “all chaos” SPYDA workout

[08:49] King of the wall drill

[12:42] Wrestling in Illawarra

[16:59] Why Alexander opted for home training to overseas

[21:50] Joe Lopez’s contribution

[25:52] Wallwork sessions

[28:25] Sparring day at the Freestyle Fighting Gym

[30:51] Alexander’s fight against Jamie Mullarkey

[32:00] Alexander’s source of motivation and belief

[35:07] Going for more than just getting there

[36:36] Advice to young fighters

[39:20] Transition to City Kickboxing in New Zealand

[43:17] Head clash with Brad

[46:32] Being adaptable in the game

[49:35] Fighting in the PXC

[54:07] Alexander’s advice to his younger self

Quotes

  • You know, martial arts, there’s so much skill involved, but at the end of the day, hard work, being strong, and just having that grit goes a long way.
  • Everything is a battle. Even if you’re not winning, it’s a grind.
  • Sometimes it’s very important to train with all levels. Even at the highest level, even at my level, I want to train at all levels. 
  • You need to adapt to what’s in front of you, and to do that; you need a gym mate.
  • You can be a lot better, but you could still lose. It probably just worked out for me. So I was lucky to keep getting the wins up.
  • I wanted the fastest route to the top. And to do so, you’re going to beat the best.
  • Be comfortable at being uncomfortable. Put yourself in uncomfortable positions so you can adapt. 

Alex Volkanovski Interview Transcript

Sonny Brown: Alex Volkanovski the champ’s here, how is it going, mate?

Alexander Volkanovski: I’m good, I’m good my man. How are you, how have you been?

Sonny: Not too bad mate, not too bad. Just getting through everything and just charging ahead my tenacity, that’s how we do it.

Alexander: Good stuff. That’s it, the way it’s going to be

Sonny: Thanks for joining me for a chat mate. It’s been a long time that you’ve been on the scene in Australia. I was thinking back to the first time that I actually saw you and it was second fight back in 2013 against Reagan Wilson. I was in Reagan’s corner. I’ve got a confession to make, mate, I’ve got a confession to you, to Joe Lopez, to the people of Wollongong, and I was the only one who thought this so blame’s all on me, but when I saw the name Windang I legitimately thought traditional martial arts school. I was thinking Windang these guys must be doing Wing Chun.

Alexander: All right, yes?

Sonny: That’s what I thought.

[laughter]

Alexander: There you go.

Sonny: Little did I know. I didn’t know Windang was a suburb, I didn’t– [laughs]

Alexander: Also, I get you now, oh really.

Sonny: You know what I mean?

Man: He actually thought that was a gym school.

Sonny: I thought that was the gym. I’m not from Wollongong.

Man: Sorry, the gym name.

Sonny: I thought that sounds a bit like Windang, Wing Chun, okay? These guys must be doing traditional martial arts. I was luckily, Mike, the coaches of Reagan, and Reagan himself didn’t think that, that was me on my own.

[laughter]

Sonny: Obviously, that wasn’t the case mate, because you came out there and you did some– Reagan was a decent bloke we were thinking pretty highly of him and you came out there and did some excellent wrestling, and then look you’re straight just continued all the way so wondering–

Alexander: Yes, mate.

Sonny: I know you have your rugby league background and you went into wrestling. I was wondering would you consider that rugby league background like a traditional Australian martial art, would that have given you a bit of that base?

Alexander: Oh, yes man. Bases it as a Florida but being a Florida I’ve been martial art anything. A lot of the time especially in contact sports, you need to be sometimes a little bit different. Again I was a little short, 4’6 and I was playing prop and I had to run at these big men, if that doesn’t make it tough, I don’t know what does so you’re still building– Again, martial arts is so much more skill involved and all that, but at the end of the day, hard work, being strong and having that grit that goes a long way. The fact that I’ve always had that grit and been used to the big boys, been used to the hard work, getting into training, and obviously, I guess you could say I always knew how to fight, but then I was a quick learner.

Being able to know hard work and know hard training and just being a gamer, you set yourself as a good base like you said, you’re going to have a good base going into training. Then if you just make that who you are then when I do camp I can’t not be fit, it would be impossible for me to go in underprepared. It’s just who I am, that’s who I am now. Because of them early days of just– That’s all I know. That’s all I know even when I’m told by my coaches to pull it up a bit, it’s just hard for me. I know it’s very important sometimes you need, “Oh, just chill.” As in when I talk about some days you just need to turn it down because say you got a spider workout crazy the next day. Let’s just do this as a low-intensity, just drilling, I want to get more of a sweat out and I just want to work, but it doesn’t mean I’m trying to knock your head off I just mean, I want to get a higher pace and I want to keep doing more and more and they’re like, “Hey relax,” or they even told me, “Oh, that’s enough, you can go home.”

I said, “No, I’ll do a couple more.” Even fight week, I’ve just got Joe Lopez, the coach is telling me to, “Ease up you’ve done enough for today.” It’s just who I am.

Sonny: Oh, definitely and we’ve seen that as you’ve come up through the ranks over here, I don’t think anyone would doubt your hard work or not. I just heard you mentioned this spider drill because it’s something I’ve heard that you see kickboxing boys do. Maybe you can start off just explaining what that drill is, but I heard a story that apparently there was one time where they said stop the spider drill, and you just kept spear tackling everyone and wouldn’t stop. What’s the go with that?

Alexander: Because it’s, man, it’s chaos. Honestly, that workout is chaos and is meant to be chaos. It’s a flight simulator, so however long the fight goes for, right? If you’re doing three, five-minute rounds, it’s three, five-minute rounds of absolute chaos. When I say chaos, I mean, you are going to go to breaking point 100%. You can’t smash this session, you can’t make this easy, it’s not how it works. You are going to start buckling, you are going to struggle to get back to your feet in between the reps that you need to do, you are going to lose in lots of sweats, you against five people and they’re not trying to smash you, but it’s just very, very, very high intensity, is lactic, is bodyweight flowing and you’ve got to use strength, it’s techniques still, you’ve got to go do more work.

Is so much involved and whilst everyone is just going nuts, especially when you’re getting close to a fight, the atmosphere is incredible, that’s a big part. We want to get that adrenaline kicking as well. Yes, that’s the whole point, like in a flight simulator. We’re trying to hit all angles. It really does hit in and I couldn’t even hear the timer, so I’m going and then Joe is like, “10 seconds,” and I’m tackling and people are walking. Then, “Five seconds,” and then I can’t hear, you can see the video and that’s happening.

Then he calls time but like I said everyone’s going nuts [cheering]. Because I’m picking up, because I knew I was getting close so I just started picking the boys up because it’s my last fight before I fought. I’m picking the boys up and dumping them like if that was the last one. They would just walk in and you just need to speed tackle them, and they just keep going, it’s just that.

I’m lifting him, the boys are just– The teammates and they run in and they’re just going absolutely literally nuts, so you can’t hear nothing. Then everyone’s coming to celebrate [cheering] I took one down, everyone’s laughing “Aw he took them down”. Then more people come to celebrate. I’m taking more people– I literally took down two people after the time was done just because I couldn’t hear nothing. They were just coming in like, “Yeah, we’ve done it. Game’s over.” Once you’ve done your last spider, back and the rest is easy mate. That’s what it’s like, everyone like, “Yes, you did it.” I’ll just spearing them. It was good, it was good fun. Not fun, I wouldn’t say fun. It’s good fun to look at now.

Sonny: It’s good moment to reflect back on.

Alexander: Good moment. Yes, that’s the word.

Sonny: That’s nice. One of the other drills I see you guys doing and over in City Kickboxing, and maybe it started at Wollongong as well is the king of the wall drill. You got a little trophy that you guys are winning. It’s perpetual trophy, I think. Can you explain to me what that drill involves and how you guys have come up?

Alexander: Yes. Well, they bring that they had a belt like City Kickboxing, we’ve always done king of the wall, king of the mat like wrestling. I guess there are a lot of gyms will do King of the– They just demand that whoever’s winner stays in top thing. We usually do it with wrestling and war work we’ve done that for a while. City Kickboxing do it and they do with a heap of them. They get a few people on the wall. They’ll get around five, six people on the wall where however many there is that people just go in and then the people with the most rounds or they went through the most amount of people get the trophy.

It’s hard work mate, like I said, especially when you’re competing, not just competitive, when you’re reasonably good as well, you’re winning. Everything’s a battle, even if you’re not winning it’s a grind. Sometimes there’s guys that they go for about 25, 30 minutes, some people because it’s competitive in there, they’re evenly matched they went the whole 25 minutes. We got other guys that you might get an easy runner, just get guys that are smaller than you or whatever it is and then someone gets this two base that just go at it the whole session. Literally, they were there for 25 minutes just trying to get each other down so they’ll never get to win the belt. Sometimes, it’s a bit of luck as well, bit of luck. You got to get a good run. Sometimes, you’re going, you’ll get a couple of good runs and then you’ll get someone hard. Sometimes, you look, you’re like, “Oh look at this guy.”

I don’t want to sound like an easy run and say people are easy but at the end of the day, you’ve got high level professionals that are three times the weight of this person. Okay it’s going to be a bit easier for me. I’m not knocking this guy but he’s half my fucking size. You get what I’m saying but it’s good. It’s real competitive. We usually do that towards the end of the week. It’s hard. Again, even though I’m small, I verse people, wall work’s my thing. I’m really strong there. I’ve got to verse guys twice the size as me and now I’m still very very competitive there and that’s how it works.

The schedule we got already, it’s a nightmare man, it’s hard work. I have nightmares about the fight camps and stuff like that. No, not really but it’s hard work and then you got that session where some people can be like, “Oh it’s not that hard,” and then for some, it’s killer unless you just let people in but it’s not in me. Like I said, I ain’t going to let that happen.

Sonny: Fair enough. With that competitiveness going on then with the wall work and so many people if it’s just everyone in there together, how you guys keep in track of who’s taking down who? Do you ever think someone may be just like–

Alexander: I reckon some people might sneak in a couple extra. They might say. It’s usually up to the person but while you’re going, obviously you’ve got people watching so there’s a lot of people that know anyway and then you got the coaches watching and then they’re asking every few minutes, “What are we on?” Then they’re like, “Oh yeah I’m on two,” whatever. It’s pretty easy for people to keep track but in saying that, there’s been some arguments where people didn’t agree with certain things. People are like, “Oh this is bullshit. You said that, blah blah blah.” Sometimes, you get a draw and then you got to do the 1v1 with the two guys that done a draw.

Sonny: The thunder dome just took it over the middle.

Alexander: Everyone goes nuts. Pressure’s on.

Sonny: That’s gold. A big thing, I guess, as an Aussie coming up fighting on the local scene, there’s a big idea that you would have had to have gone overseas to get your proper training. You’ve got to go to America, that’s it, that was all it. Especially for wrestling, you were lucky enough to wrestle in Australia. You wrestled in Illawarra. Where exactly were you doing that? Was that Illawarra PCYC because there’s not that many places around to do it.

Alexander: No, not many at all so Lake Illawarra PCYC, that’s where I did it. I started doing that. It was ahead of games night so they did that for– It was just a youth club so they done a games night, anyone could go but then because they have a wrestling clinic there, that was a part of activities that you got to do. You wrestled towards the end of the night. I went there and done all right and Don Brown, his name, he’s a wrestling coach, he comes, he’s going, “Oh you should give it a crack. You’re pretty good.”

I’ve always been strong and I’ve always been a goer, you could say, like I said. I did that and then I was actually pretty good at it. I wanted to play football with my mates. How many I done? I can’t remember honestly. I don’t know if it was one or two years and then a couple years. I know I’d won a couple of national titles so I’m guessing it was around two years. I’ll train and then I was competing and I was doing really well but just starting out. I wanted to hang out with mates, play football with the mates and got over wearing tights, as I always say, got over wearing the tights and then I’ll wear tights anyway so it doesn’t matter.

Sonny: Yes, I hear you. I do say that tights are a sport killer in Australia. Wrestling’s never going to take off here with the tights.

Alexander: [laughs] Well, that’s here. Australia, it’s not big here, you’re right, it’s not big. I understand what you said with that question where there was a lot of people. When I first started training and I started getting pretty good, a lot of people are like, “Oh man you need to go to America. It’s the only way.” They’re not tired of you. You want to sit there and be like, “No, fuck you,” but it ain’t like that.

It ain’t like that, it’s just they think– They don’t know any better. Everyone thinks the grass is greener on the other side and they can be wrong. It was very big over there and earlier on– It’s a lot more than just having crazy– You need training partners, obviously, you need competitive training partners and obviously good coaching and that so you want all that but there’s still a lot more as well. You can go to gyms like that and it can not work at all for you. If anything, it can go worse.

You go, you train with a bunch of killers and you’re trying to get better, say you’re getting better. You’re sparring with a bunch of killers and then you wonder why people get hesitant. How do you get better when you’re sparring against some– Everytime I try something, I get my head fucking knocked off. Every time I want to shoot, they just throw these hips and I never get them because they’re fucking better than me. I’m just a beginner, these guys are better. How do you get better?

Sometimes, it is very important to train with all levels even at the highest level, even there at my level, I want to train with all levels. Obviously, you need that competitive training, don’t get me wrong. If you got to work game plans and things like that and you’re constantly versing guys that know your game, all that are really really good and know your game anyway, then how do you start incorporating that in your sparring and things like that?

The full process is going to be a little bit difficult because every time he shuts me down because he knows exactly what I’m doing. It goes a lot deeper than that and I can see why people say it but again, now, we got so many good gyms over here. It’s strangers so now we got some of the best fighters in the world over here. Now people understand we don’t need to. There was a time where maybe you could say we were a little bit more behind, but I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that now at all.

Sonny: No, definitely not. Just to focus in on that one thing where you’re saying that people just keep shutting your game down, or they could or whatever, do you think that’s because if you were to go overseas and something like that, they’re going to see you as the outsider and try and– They’re in competition with you. Whereas if you’re in your home gym, so to speak, where people have your back, they’re going to help you work and help you grow and develop. Is that part of it?

Alexander: Yes. You are going to get good training partners but a lot of people– That’s what I meant. I’m just trying to show you the headspace people are in or how they think like, “Oh yeah. Iron sharpens iron,” so you’re saying. I get it, it’s true, but you’ve got to have balance. That’s mainly what I’m trying to say. Obviously, you can go to these gyms, they’re going to still obviously pull back for you but again, a lot of these things, they’re not going to–

Some people can be competitive. They’re probably not going to give you a takedown or they’re probably not going to let you land a punch. They’ll take it easy, they won’t bash you, but it’s going to be hard for you to work things. Again, that’s why I like training with guys at a lower level than me as well. When I say lower level, I might be better than somebody, but I don’t mind training with them because I can work things.

Today, I want to work that distance. These guys, I want to make them miss and touch them, I’m not going to hit them hard. I can really work, I can really play the inches game with them or this millimeters game and really– Just fine little details that you can work on training with all different levels no matter what it is. Then, you’re going to get some killer where you’re like, “All right I need to use everything and I need to be careful with what I do and I need to really set this up. I need to constantly keep him worrying about what I’m doing.” Little things like that. When you’re training with other guys, it’s like, “All right,” there’s so many more things you can work on to develop your game.

Sonny: Yes, okay.

Alexander: That makes sense. You get what I’m saying with that?

Sonny: I hear what you’re saying. It’s like you need people that will give you a range of different looks so you can develop different areas and be willing to work in cooperating with you so you can both grow and develop and it’s not just where survival of the fittest every night and you’ve only going to have to use your A game, you can’t grow and try something new because they’re just going to shut it down and not let you grow. Is that what you mean?

Alexander: Yes, you’re exactly right. If this is constantly happening, if you are constantly– You’re training with guys that– It’s hard to really explain. There’s certain combos that I’m working on. Say I’m drilling combos. I want to work on that in sparring but again, I’m trying this on guys. I can’t get in near him, they just smash my leg every time or whatever it is. I’ll get taken down every time I do it because they’re obviously a lot better than the person. This is constantly happening. You probably don’t notice but it’s constantly happening and then you start, “Oh, no. I don’t want to throw that combo,” or, “I won’t do this, I won’t do that.” You’re not thinking, “Oh, if I throw this I’m going to get punched ahead.” It’s just getting built into you. Every time I throw this, I get hit. I don’t want to throw that no more. You fight someone in your own level, you’re probably landing that. It’s probably working. Not only that, these guys know your game. They know what you’re trying to do.

That’s why and like you said, training with as many different shapes, and sizes, styles is key. I’ve always been a big believer of that, me and Joe. Joe has always been happy for me to train with other guys. That’s what I mean. You need to adapt to what’s in front of you. To do so, you need a– That’s why in the gym, mate, I am adapting every day in the gym too. I’ve done it from my early days in my career where I’m training with different guys and I don’t know their game. I don’t know these guys. I go in there and I need to adapt. I need to find out what’s going to work. I’m so used to doing that that there’s no surprises come fight time.

I honestly believe that because I do adapt very well in the cage. There’s times where I go in a fight and I’m thinking it’s going to go be one way. It turns out going the complete opposite way. Just purely feeling it out, touching. I had obviously work game plans but there’s a lot that I thought was going this direction with this game plan, not it ended up staying here or went this way. Again, I’m always preparing for whatever, anyway. Especially earlier days, there as times where I thought, “All right. However it’s going to be, I’m going to be standing up. I’m going to finish on my feet,” and next minute it just went to the ground.

Sonny: Yes.

Alexander: I just beat him up to the ground or complete opposite. That’s talking about it on a smaller scale. I’m not going into too much detail.

Sonny: Yes. Just being able to be adaptable and change to the chaos of a fight let’s say. That makes sense. You bring up Joe. We got to talk about Joe. You guys have a good relationship it seems. I remember when you guys were training together down in Melbourne. You guys were bunking up having to share the room at Absolute for IFC. [laughs]

Alexander: Oh, yes there. I thought you were talking about another story. I had to share a room with him while I was fighting in the UFC too.

[laughter]

Alexander: You’re right, man. I remember.

Sonny: What was your impressions when you first started training there with him? What has he done different to build that culture that you’re talking about of having people who are adaptable, allowing people to work like that? What’s he done different than other places that you would go?

Alexander: Look, again I couldn’t tell you what’s different. With Joe, again he’s always been– It’s not like it’s hard. You know yourself, there’s a lot of gyms. I don’t know if it’s getting any better but I don’t think it ever was easy for gyms to go and train at other gyms. There’s not many people who are going to do that. Just to be able to do that. Even a coach that understands that, “Oh, I’m not doing this to be selfish,” know you can’t go there.

Having trust in yourself and knowing like, “Oh, that’s all right. This is to evolve us.” We go there and again we can go there and– He’s happy to adapt as well. We’d go and he watches me spar. He’s there. We’re learning while we’re doing this too. Don’t get me wrong. We know a fair bit. We’re always learning. You got to be able to adapt to whatever is happening.

One thing that Joe’s always had is hard work as well. Again, that was my style anyway. He’s always a situational type of a trainer as well which I love. You can show someone– Technique is obviously telling you you need to know a lot of techniques and drills. Being in positions and working things out yourself as well is another thing as well. There’s so much in between if you get what I’m saying. There’s movements and there’s skills and techniques. There’s so much more.

Getting to a position to do that technique, a lot of times it’s very hard to just teach that. We’ve always done the live rounds. We’ve always, whether it’s alright, start in this position and go live from there. We’ve done that from wrestling and clinch whatever it is. That’s something that I believe really, really helped me especially the wall work. We were always big on wall work. Joe was from day one.

I don’t think it was real big like in Australia people would do it but we’ve done a lot. We did a lot of it. It was always situational. Even though we knew skills, we’d just put ourselves in them positions and just work from there. The amount that we learned just from putting ourselves in that position so many times, you just start building techniques. You just know what works and what doesn’t. You know what’s a good position, what’s a strong base. You know when you’re in this position this works, you know when you’re in that position that works. You know this don’t work here.

It’s hard to know that unless you put yourself in that position and we always put ourselves in that position. I think that it’s something that I remember really working. Even now, when I try and show techniques, there are so many things that’s just built-in. I’ve never taught it but it’s just my body knows. Why? Because we’ve been in that position a billion times.

Sonny: I know exactly what you mean. That’s actually something I’ve been talking about a lot with other people just how it’s really not about the technique, it’s about building that intuition and just those natural reactions out of your body that comes through practice and repetition.

Alexander: A hundred percent.

Sonny: You mentioned the wall work. I remember looking at your timetable once. You guys have at least one dedicated class a week just on wall work, is that right?

Alexander: Yes, we got two.

Sonny: Two a day?

Alexander: Two sessions, yes. We got two sessions. We’d go live and we’d do technique. We’re doing a lot there. All of our guys, they’re always very, very, very competitive on the wall. Especially when the guys fight, they’re always strong. Again, they always got the grit. They always got the heart. That’s something that– Again, you don’t want to go and kill yourself. You want to be calculated in how you do all that. You just want to have a good balance but the hard work still will always later be done. We definitely do that.

Sonny: Yes. That’s definitely not something that a lot of other gyms do even to have one dedicated wall work class a week. To have two and then to have the UFC champion who’s pretty damn good at wall work. There might be something to it, I don’t know.

Alexander: Again, on the same topic, I think a lot has changed and now you’re getting so many MMA gyms. Especially in Australia, one thing that Joe’s always had more of an MMA gym from the day 1. Again, there was a lot of gyms that still did that. You still see today where even UFC fighters if they’re doing kickboxing, they go to a kickboxing class and do a kickboxing class. If they do wrestling, they go to wrestling school. There are still guys that would go through separate aspects of the sport and train. I get that but at the same time, you need to do MMA sessions. You need to be able to blend it all together.

We dedicate a lot of sessions to MMA specific stuff. We’re an MMA gym. Obviously, we do jujitsu. There’s going to be jujitsu but then we’re going to incorporate MMA jujitsu-type stuff. We’re MMA-specific. Little things like this, little details that works perfect for this and it might be have to be changed a little for this. We change it as they did up like that as well. We dedicate a lot of sessions to mixing it all up.

Sonny: The other thing I know you guys do in terms of mixing it up and bringing those different looks, you guys are always saying any open sparring or whatever on a Saturday, everyone welcome, other gyms welcome. You put the word out that if other gyms want to come spar that’s fine, which is again not many other places do that.

Alexander: Again, we’re not trying to take these people out. We want them to come with their coaches. We’re not trying to take people’s clients. It’s nothing like that. It’s just purely letting everyone know that you can come train here with us, get your rounds in. Again, look at the bigger picture. Yes, okay, you might have to fight someone you train with maybe but what do you know. Again, I didn’t care. Again, I told you that I always trained with as many people as I can. I’ve trained with guys that I’ve fought. Jamie Mullarky I’ve trained with him before I fought him. Things like that.

That’s going to happen but again also it’s looking at the big picture. I’m not looking at, “Oh, what if I fight this guy? I don’t want to train with him.” Look mate, do you want to get better or not? Don’t worry about that. It’s sparring. It’s never going to be the same as a fight anyway. Obviously, you can get a lot from sparring but it’s always going to be that little bit different once you get to the fight time anyway.

Again, I’m not concerned to knock people’s head off as well. I think it might have been a false– Again, I’ve sparred with some guys and then they wanted to– They might want to fight, there’s some that will be happy to accept the fight after that. I’m like, “Are you sure?” Then obviously the fight didn’t go the way I planned, or it’s been the other way where someone’s called me out and then I’ve trained with them and they didn’t want that fight anymore. It’s going to happen but again probably because I knew they called me out so I had a little bit more to prove so I’d end up just letting them know like, “Hey, you don’t want this.” We challenged and we trained and he ended up accepting the fight and then thought he could beat me and I was thinking, “Could it be because of that session?” I don’t know because again, you want to be competitive but I’m not going to try to kill my training partner. It’s just not about that. I don’t get paid in the gym.

Sonny: Yes, fair play. I mean there’s probably is a testament to that mentality though that Jamie did end up making it to the UFC even after that fight was a pretty brutal knockout that you got on him but he obviously persevered probably because he had that mentality, same as you, to go train with everyone.

Alexander: Yes. I didn’t mean that in a bad way when I said that but again obviously you got to have that belief in you. There’s times where you might not go good in a round but you still know you can beat these people so you got to have that belief. At the time I credit him really because at the end of the day we were both, especially in Australia at the time in Featherweight Division, we were both fighting. A lot of people were like, “Well, these guys got to fight.” That doesn’t usually happen. I was the type of guy I would fight anyone anyway and for him to have taken on, good on him. It just shows you his belief. He knows he’s really good but obviously that was my night and he’s in the UFC now. He’s a good fighter. He showed me mate. That was a crack of a fight too, man. It was a huge fight.

Sonny: It was. It was wild. For you, where does that motivation then and belief come from especially to take on everyone because we do see people take easy fights just to try and pad their record to get to the UFC and that’s one way of doing it I guess but I always look to you now as the example of, “Well, look at how he did it and what he’s achieved. That’s probably the better way to go about things.” What gave you that mentality to just accept all the tough challenges on the Australian scene?

Alexander: I don’t know. For me, maybe it probably just worked out for me. Luckily my abilities and it’s MMA as well. You can be a lot better than guys, you can still lose. You could still say things went your way so I was lucky to keep getting them wins up even though I was taking on killers that people thought I wouldn’t be able to beat especially in heavier divisions. Obviously, there was that one loss so that’s what got me the loss, purely fighting someone I probably shouldn’t have. It was very early in my career fighting the pound-for-pound number one in Australia in a division I should have never been in. That shows you that–

Sonny: Corey Nelson is a beast.

Alexander: Yes. It just shows you that you shouldn’t be– I can see why people want it like that but at the same time a lot of people get padding records and doing things like that. You still need a good competitor, you still want to test yourself but I’ve always been the type of person that even while I was in the UFC. Before UFC I was, “If I beat this guy–” I wanted the fastest way to the top and to do so, you’ve got to beat the best. That’s how I looked at it. Look, if I fight these guys, I could have moved Corey Nelson. He’s number one pound-for-pound in Australia. If I beat him, I’m the man. That’s how I looked at it and that’s the same as when I was in the UFC.

All right, Chad Mendez. I was outside the rankings. Chad Mendez is going to win. I’m like, “Man, he’s going to be ranked number five after this. That’s going to shoot me straight through the ranks. No one calls out Chad Mendez but I know that’s going to push me forward. I want that fight.” The same as Aldo. Aldo is ranked number one. I’m going to have to fight him in Brazil on his home soil. He’s absolutely killing people in these three-round fights but that’s going to put me at number one so give me that fight. I know I can do it. I’m not going to find an easy way. Like I said, it was really not given. I chose to earn my way to that belt and I went and done it. There’s a lot of people that might get lucky, things will work out for them, and they might get a bit of help along the way but I was just, “Whoever get’s me there quicker, let’s do it. Whoever I need to beat to get there, I’ll do it.” That’s just how I was.

Sonny: Yes, definitely. I remember once after training up at Chatswood at BT1 that day, we went and got lunch and you were talking about the UFC and were bringing up something about just the payscale or something like that and I can’t remember exactly what it was but you were pretty much like, “No, that’s not going to cut it. That’s what I need more. I’m going to get there and I’m going to get more. I’m going to do it.” I was like, “Okay. This guy is committed. This guy, he’s after it.”

Alexander: Well, as in do you mean as I’m trying to get that?

Sonny: As in you weren’t going to be content with just getting there.

Alexander: Okay, yes. Sorry. That’s what I thought that’s where you’re going.

Sonny: You weren’t going to be satisfied. We weren’t just talking about, “I want to have a fight and then just be a UFC veteran.” You were talking about, “No, no, no.”

Alexander: Yes. Exactly right. Before I went off in the ring I wanted to make sure that’s what you were talking about because I knew it was.

Sonny: Rant away, sir. Rant away. [laughs]

Alexander: Yes. That’s true, man. I’ve said it time and time again. Before I got that belt I was like, “I ain’t just happy to be in the UFC. I’m going to be at the top.” I was telling people that I ain’t happy with just being a number in the UFC. I’m going to get to the top. I ain’t just looking to get that contract and be like, “Yes, I made UFC.” That ain’t good enough for me. I’m going to the top. I was saying that and I was pretty vocal about that. Again, it’s not cockiness. It was just I knew I could do it and I wasn’t lying. We’re here now. [laughs]

Sonny: Ain’t that not the truth, mate? Ain’t that not the truth? It’s a good point maybe to ask what advice you would give any young fighters. I know you got Colby. Colby Thickness coming out of your gym and he’s one to keep an eye on but any advice you would give young fighters on how to go about things?

Alexander: Man. One thing that I love and again I was telling you it helps because I explained this earlier on when I was talking about hard work and being put in positions and just always making it who you are. To do so from the first days in the gym, you shy away from certain exercises, you shy away from hard work, you want to take the easiest training partner, that could be who you become. You will maybe look for the easy road. I don’t mean that in a bad way but if you’re the type of person that, “Oh, yes. Tomorrow’s this crazy session. I’m going to go do it. We’re meant to do it, I’m going to go do it. I ain’t going to make an excuse and not turn up. All right. There’s this guy who’s an absolute killer. Obviously, he’s someone that’s going to break your arm. All right, don’t go with him but it’s this guy you know is a hard round, I want him. I’m going to go there. I am not going to shy away.” You do things like that. Put yourself in. When you want to work out and the coach isn’t looking, “Oh, I could slow down.” These little things, man. Just be comfortable at being uncomfortable. Put yourself in uncomfortable positions so you can adapt to being able to– Let’s make it who we are. That’s what I could say. Be comfortable in uncomfortable positions. That’s my saying.

Sonny: Yes, makes sense especially in MMA. There’s no way around it. Whether you like it or not, come fight night, you’re going to be put in some uncomfortable positions.

Alexander: 100%. Even for your career, you’re going to end up being there but if you can suck it up for that first bit of your career or when you get in there and you just make it, again it’s just all you know. When you are on that assault bike, you don’t have to have someone watching you. I look at these fucking numbers and I’m like, “I need to hit these numbers because I know,” it’s who I am. Again, I make it who I am. I’m not trying to impress these people, it’s just I know if I’m giving 50% I know that and that’s going to fucking tear me apart so I won’t let it happen because again, it’s who I am. Let it be who you are. Get used to it nice and early and you won’t know any different. Someone tells you to do something, you’re going to do your best you can and you won’t shy away.

Sonny: That’s beautiful. Good advice for the young tekkers out there looking to get into things. I’m wondering from that belief that you would do it, how did you then transition into maybe going across into New Zealand and hooking up with City Kickboxing. How should I say? Now it’s a common misconception that maybe you’re a New Zealander and that you’re here from City Kickboxing. Does that ever get on Joe’s nerves at all or is there any been– How did it come to go to City Kickboxing to the stage where now people think that that’s where you’re from?

Alexander: Man. You got to remember obviously everyone out here knows that even in Australia, well, most of the people in Australia that are in the sport know that I trained there. You’re going to get the mainstream media or whoever, they’re going to say “City Kickboxing got two champions,” and then a lot of people, that’s what they’re going to see and that’s what they know. They don’t look any deeper.

People that know the game, probably know. Obviously, a lot of people, they think I’m in New Zealand and literally think I’m a kiwi. It’s funny, but obviously again, I’m biased out of a freestyle fighter gym. A lot of people know that. I would say it gets on– Look, I’m sure a lot of people come up to Joe, and be like, “Oh, where are they keeping you now?” That probably annoys him because people are coming up to him and going, “Oh, why are they giving him?”

He’s okay. Well, obviously he’s all for it. He knows that we’re part of it. We’re all one team we go over there, it’s just we’re a part of the team. We just look at it. You can’t pay attention to things or judge them as well. Fine, pay attention to little details like that or then same as they say, with haters and people that are going to say negative things. They’re always going to be there, you cant pay attention to them.

I’m sure he’s fine with it, but I’m sure it’s probably got to his nerves. Got on these nerves here and there though as well.

Sonny: I can only imagine. I’ll have to state it to Joe [crosstalk]

Alexander: I wouldn’t blame him really.

Sonny: Now, I have heard a story that apparently, speaking of getting on Joe’s nerves, Joe and Brad Riddell have a bit of back and forth or something. Can you shed any light on that?

Alexander: Like banter?

Sonny: Yes.

Alexander: You mean the past banter?

Sonny: Yes. Is that what it is. I don’t know.

Alexander: To be honest, that’s everyone over there. Everyone over there, we bring Frank Hickman it’s just constant banter. I love the banter. Sometimes I’ll be fighting, fight week, and I can’t even have a normal conversation with these guys because they’re just constantly– I’m like, “Guys, what do you want to get to eat?” “Bla, bla, bla,” and they just carry on. I’m like, “Fuck, I want to eat. Shut up for a second.”

I love it, but at the same time, that’s just who they are. They’re just, the boys will be boys and they’re just constantly giving each other shit.

Sonny: Having a laugh.

Alexander: Obviously, when we’re in New Zealand, a lot of times we’re staying at Brad’s. So we live with Brad. Obviously, it’s like a love-hate relationship where you get two mates that just constantly give each other shit and it never ends, like that. It seems to be Joe and everyone else. He’s like that. Like I said, you get two people that just always go at it. It’s always Joe and someone else.

Sonny: [chuckles] That’s classic. Just a bit of lads having a laugh.

Alexander: Brad and Joe just bantering and carrying on with angry Brad we call it.

Sonny: Angry Brad. Well, speaking of that, the other story I heard about was something about one time you broke Brad’s headgear or something at Tiger Muay Thai.

Alexander: No, no, no, no, head clash.

Sonny: What was it? A head clash. Oh, what happened then?

Alexander: [crosstalk] That was just because we usually wear headgear. That’s probably where you got that from. Wear the fucking headgear. Eugene and Joe would have been up there saying, “Where the fuck is the headgear?” I think what I’d try to do. A lot of times a level change.

I think I went for a level change and went to go like a double leg. Or I can’t remember what it was or something like that. I went level changed and he sort of went for the sprawl but then I bailed out on it and then we head clashed. Just saying, he was giving me shit. Blaming me for it and I was blaming him for it. It was one of them things he blamed me but I blame him.

Sonny: Classic.

Alexander: Oh, no, no, no. Actually, I remember it was. I went for a high kick single leg, you get the head on the chest-high on the single leg, step that right leg over, so I throw a punch and then step over the right leg, I went to the single, so your leg will change a little bit like that. He went down to spar and just head-butted. Who do you blame for that? I just went for a single leg.

Sonny: Part of the game. What are you going to do?

Alexander: Part of the game. That’s what I told him then.

Sonny: Wear your headgear I guess.

Alexander: That’s what you do.

Sonny: That’s the moral of the story.

Alexander: Mate trust me. Fuck it. He deserves it from the shit that he’s fucking done to me. He split me with a spinning back elbow while we were fucking wrestling.

Sonny: How did that happen?

Alexander: We were wrestling. Okay. It wasn’t legit spinning back elbow. That’s harder to explain. I went for a single leg and accidentally head-butted him. He somehow fucking spin and back elbowed me in the head. You can see why I blame him all the time. Well, I think I had a sore shoulder. I ended up like we were just playing around.

I had his hip and he went to turn and because I couldn’t hold him with my other arm, h e turned quicker than he expected. As he’s turned, he just lifts his elbow up a little bit, he’s trying to keep his elbow nice and tight so I wouldn’t get bound to him and then bang. Mate, you know about the broken rib too?

Sonny: No, what happened there?

Alexander: No, not a broken rib. I tore my intercostal muscles.

Sonny: Is that the rib cartilage where the ribs [crosstalk]?

Alexander: Yes, rib. Yes.

Sonny: Yes, I’ve done that. It’s not much fun. What happened then?

Alexander: Oh, that was two days before my fight. Two days before my Darren Elkins fight.

Sonny: Oh, yes, yes. That’s right.

Alexander: That was Brad Riddell.

Sonny: Oh, really. Okay. Now that you mentioned that, yes, I do.

Alexander: Two days before my Darren Elkins fight. You can see what position I’ve been in from injuries. Again, obviously, we’re both brutes so we tend to injure each other all the time.

Sonny: That’s going to happen in this sport. It’s a rough sport, right?

Alexander: Yes.

Sonny: I think I’d actually, linking it back into what you’re talking about with being adaptable and having that adaptability, no matter what. Being able to be adaptable to a rib injury two days before a fight, adapting to head clashes, adapting to those things in sparring. That’s all part of that adaptability, right?

Alexander: Exactly right. 100%. Exactly, right. I can dwell on things going wrong and obviously, there’s going to be some pretty negative things happening in camps. If you constantly just focus on them and let them get to you, man, it’s going to be hard. It’s going to be real tough. If you constantly find ways around it, I don’t want to be cliche, stay positive and you know.

Sometimes you just really need to– Whatever it is, that was pretty hard to stay positive. I had tore an intercostal muscle. I couldn’t even lay in bed. I lay in bed, I couldn’t move. Because I was still water loading, because I still had to fucking make weight, I couldn’t even get up. It could take me five minutes just to get up and I’m in pain and then I’m trying to cry because I thought, I don’t know if I could fight. Then I can’t cry because it’s hurting me too much. So I’m just like, “What do I do?”

It’s just absolute chaos. Man, it was nuts, but we still got it done. Again, we adapted, even just training. I couldn’t even train. I couldn’t even fold the right hand. I put hit pads in front of my right hand. I feel my right-hand, it took the ind right out of me, I couldn’t feel my right hand. It was just, once the adrenaline rush comes, hopefully, you won’t be in as much pain and see how you go.

Those times it was adapt that I made in there. I think I adapted probably too much. Because I reckon the adrenaline rush worked a charm. I still had the rib injury on my mind a lot. There was times where I dropped him and I was worried about. I love my ground and pound. I’ll just fucking jam on him and just cave in, that’s my thing, especially back then. I was so worried about jamming his legs or his knees into my rib. I curled up and went to go in there and he was getting up. Then I just went for guillotine. It’s hard to explain. I wouldn’t usually go for guillotine when I’ve just dropped someone and landed on their back. I slowly went in because I was worried about jamming into the hips.

Then because he got up, he was there and again, I didn’t want to flatten him back out because I was worried about my ribs. I just tried to go for a guillotine. I don’t think I would have had to. I think if I just threw bombs and do what I normally do, I would’ve finished the fight and I don’t think it would have felt it. Because again, the adrenaline rush, fucking worked the charm, I’ll tell you that.

Sonny: Yes. Could certainly change things quickly. You adapted you overcame and that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.

Alexander: I was in pain and conquered.

Sonny: That’s it mate. It certainly did. Maybe you could tell this story. I think I heard it, Joe mentioned. Actually, I think it’s great example of adapting is when you were fighting in PXE, and I think one of the fighters there maybe had a bit of lotion on, was a bit greased up.

Alexander: Oiled himself up.

Sonny: Can you take us through that story that fight? What happened?

Alexander: Joe, he was in my only corner so he’d come with me, just me and him. So we’d done the whole process together, more over there. Again, we’re in a different country. First time fighting in Guam, PXC, and we go there and again, this guy was a Guam boy, Carl Reyes, he’s actually a good fighter but I think back then– I actually talked to him not long ago. He’s a lot different now. You can see that he grew up a little bit. He was a bit young and wanted to be gangster type when I fought him, if you get what I’m trying to say. I believe that he’s changed a fair bit but that’s– I went and I fought him and while we were fighting I grabbed him and he was oiled up. I could tell he was oiled up. I was fighting him. I remember having his back, having him in the rear, naked, he was swiveling.

He was literally sliding down like– He would swivel, I’d get back on top and he would swivel again. While I had my legs around him locked in he was just able to still swivel in me like that. I’m like “What the hell?” I’m grabbing him, just sliding everywhere. I mean proper oil. It was oil. I’m wedging and he’s all oiled up. I’m trying to wedge him, going back to the corner, I’m fuming. You could imagine how angry I am. Joe’s trying to calm me down and at the same time thinking, “Man these guys, we’re in a different country, they’re going to rob us. They’re doing this on purpose, but Alex is going nuts, I need to control him. I’ve got to calm him down.” Because I’m going, “What the fuck?” I’m flipping out and the ref at this time was just like, “Oh no, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Then the second round, same thing happens, and then he’s starting to guess. I end up still, again, adapting and just doing what I had to do and I was beating him up anyway and I guessed. The ref grabs him and goes, “Oh, I can feel oil. I’m going to go get him checked.” I’m like, “Now that he’s tired.” I thought it was part of their plan. “Oh, now he’s tired you want to check him, give him time to relax and get his breath back.” I’m going, “This is all–” I’m fuming again. Joe’s trying to calm me down.

Sonny: The game is rigged.

Alexander: At the same time I’m thinking– Yes, and then we end up fighting. He wiped him down a bit. After the fight he held him and actually “Okay, I’ve got the permission to come in. I want you to check in.” He knew something was up, he ended up feeling it eventually. They end up finding it in his drink bottle. I got told that the ref ended up telling us, he goes, “You were right. We found it in his drink bottle.” They went in, they do the check up. Do the check up, then walks in and they spray through the cage sometimes. Just went [noise] and then he’s just got it in hand and acting like they’re patting themselves up, and just oiled his whole body up.

Joe even remembers him doing that but didn’t realize, because some fighters do that. That’s how he spread it all over himself and man, I’m telling you it sticked. I remember my shorts. I remember wearing my shorts and they were just full of oil. I’m like, “Joe, look at this.” I put water on it, squeezed it out and you just see oil and water all through the ground. It was nuts. Joe had to calm me down a fair bit then. We adapted and got the in right.

Sonny: Adapted. Got it done. Survive and thrive. I love the idea of Joe having to calm you down in the middle of a cage fight. So you can–

Alexander: It’s usually me trying to calm him down all the time, but he had to calm me down this time.

Sonny: Don’t get too angry mate, we got a cage fight to worry about here.

Alexander: He’s like, “You’ve got to fight, just don’t worry about it. Relax. We’ll worry about it later.” Oh mate, it was crazy. He was just slipping out of weird positions and– But actually, I got put in a pretty bad– Well, I would say a bad position. He had me in– I don’t think it was a triangle but he almost had a triangle maybe and then I end up slipping out. That could’ve worked against him maybe.

Sonny: That’s classic. Mate, it’s been a great chat. I’ll finish off with one last question just to wrap it up. Basically, is there anything that you could think of, advice you would give your younger self when you were just starting out training? You can look back and say– Is there anything that you can think of that you’d tell yourself?

Alexander: Oh man, I’m all about how people say you learn so much from your experience and all that. The way we’ve done things, I’m happy with how I did them. I’d like to say I wouldn’t change anything or there is things that I believe in that I truly believe helped me through my career. Maybe just, like I said, even though I always was a hard worker, let him really know that. Let him understand these things that I know now. Luckily enough I went through that process but I didn’t know it. I just went through that process and become who I am and I just look back at it and realize that that’s why I am who I am.

Maybe just let myself know. Let him know these things. Just so you understand it so you can use it the best way you can. Maybe I could’ve used it a little better and maybe I could be even more fitter and stronger right now. You never know. Maybe I could’ve worked even harder. Just things like that. I’m proud of who I am and I wanted to become the champion. I wanted to be me through the whole process so that’s something. If I could tell my young self– You know what I would say?

Sonny: What’s that?

Alexander: Don’t commit to Game of Thrones because you’re going to get let down in the last season.

Sonny: Season seven mate, season seven. I didn’t keep watching it after the end of season six, just when the wall came down in 10 minutes. I’d been building that wall up for years. That was going to be the big battle and then the dragon, just it’s done in a minute. It killed it.

Alexander: Oh mate, yes they did that exactly. I could do a whole podcast on just that fucking– Anyway.

Sonny: Happy days. But I do like it, that’s the adaptation, that champ mentality of what could you do different. Maybe work a bit harder. It’s beautiful. Alex, thanks so much for your time. If people want to get in touch it’s Instagram, Facebook, you’ve got a new program coming out. I’ve seen you advertise. What’s going on with that?

Alexander: Yes, it’s a 10 week strengthen ignition program. My specific strengthen ignition program that I do with my trainer, people can actually do that with me. We’ve got the footage of me training so pretty much, people can be my training partner for 10 weeks. They’re going to do my exact workout. It’s not just a program we’re pretending we’re doing, you actually see me do it and you do it with me. It’s cool. It’s my specific strength program that everyone has access to. There’s obviously a lot more details but you can go to that trainwithvolko.com, it’s cool. It’s pretty good. We’ve had a lot of interest so we’re very very happy about how things are going.

Sonny: Beautiful. So trainwithvolko.com. Learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable, survive, adapt, and overcome.

Alexander: Adapt. Be comfortable in uncomfortable positions baby. That’s what you need to know through life.

Sonny: That’s it. I love it. Alex, thanks so much for your time mate. I’d love to do it again sometime in the future but I know it’s busy being a champ mate. It’s hard work so I appreciate you taking time out of your day very much.

Alexander: No worries man. Next time we’ll get more into more of the stories. Maybe some McDonald’s stories and cheeseburgers.

Sonny: Cheeseburgers, aye? Forgot about that one. Next time mate. You have a good night mate. Take care.

Alexander: You too champ. See you later.

LINKS

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alexvolkanovski/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/AlexVolkanovskiOfficial

Freestyle MMA Gym: https://www.freestylemma.com.au/

Alexander Volkanovski Interview Podcast

Creating Championship Culture and Conquering Cancer With Greg Nelson

I talk to Greg Nelson, who was the coach for UFC champions Brock Lesnar, Sean Sherk and Rose Namajunas. He is a 4th Degree BJJ Blackbelt, Division 1 Folkstyle Wrestler, All American Gymnast and Muay Thai kickboxer along with multiple other martial arts. We discuss how he creates a positive culture in his gym while utilising visualisation, affirmation and building relationships. How this also contributed to his incredible battle against cancer where after beating it once he overcame a different form of rare nerve cancer which has intrigued medical scientists. And we also discuss technical aspects of coaching and cornering fighters in the cage.

Podcast Transcript – Episode 015

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Sonny: Greg, how are you today, man? It’s an honor to be on the line with you.

Greg: I’m doing pretty well, can’t complain. Save the normal complaints of what’s going on, but other than that, just pushing on, keeping things busy, doing what we can with what we got.

Sonny: That’s awesome. I’ve reached out to you because you’ve been a big inspiration to me in a bunch of different areas really, obviously, with mixed martial arts. Your own history and background in mixed martial arts is rather extensive. I know you’re All American wrestler, also All American gymnast. You were Thai boxing back in the ’80s. You’ve done work with Shuto Filipino martial arts. I’m sure I’m missing out a few, but I feel like if we go through your entire history, that will probably be a show on its own, right?

Greg: It’s been an epic journey, that’s for sure. It’s been fun. I love doing the martial arts. It doesn’t matter what kind it is really. It’s been a pretty diversified trip. I really enjoy it. For me, as well it’s about the journey, about enjoying the time and having fun doing what you like and staying healthy along the way.

Sonny: That’s some of the things I’ve heard you say about the journey is some of the favorite things I’ve heard you talk about. What I am wondering is then with that background and all those different martial arts, is then how those then informed your coaching practice and how you eventually shifted into the coaching side of things and of course, going on to coach champions, like Sean Sherk, Rose Namajunas, Dave Menne, Brock Lesnar and of course, just coaching a lot of people in general. How did you take that wide experience? Then what was the impetus to transition over into coaching?

Greg: I think coming from an athletic background, growing up doing just all sorts of sports, but then really narrowing it down when I got into high school into gymnastics and wrestling. Obviously, with gymnastics, you got a multitude of events that you’re doing. That went right into the wrestling season. I was doing martial arts at the same time. Right between my high school and going into college, that’s when I met Sifu Rick Faye and we started training then and it was just in his garage with six people. It was pretty cool because I was just like, “Oh, you doing all the stick work and doing all this stuff that I only read about on Dan Inosanto. Man, this is great.” Right from then on, it was like, everything was interconnected. I was just writing about this. To me, I never really saw a difference between training gymnastics, wrestling, martial arts, it was all intertwined into one thing. It was all about getting better and more athletic, and understanding movement, and just seeing how it all tied together. Drifting into these other martial arts, first, it was Filipino martial arts and Jun Fan martial arts, then Muay Thai, and then Savate and Wing Chun. I just kept on growing with the whole over the years. That has allowed me a huge variety of training methods to pick and choose from depending on who I’m working with. Also just I think it really helped build the creative mindset and being able to just make up stuff when we needed to make up stuff. There’s a perfect example of it. We’re just making up stuff a lot of it right now. We’re just pulling from it. I’ve been able to pull from so many different martial arts that when I had an athlete that was competing, let’s say came in a lot of them had a very strong wrestling background. They’re going to need striking, they’re going to need to build up their grappling. I would look at where they were, what type of body they have, were they fast? Are they just big or whatever? I could pull from different sources of training methods. That’s always been a huge help. There’s never been really an empty, where it’s like, “Jeez, I don’t know what to do here,” because you just have so many drills and training methods and tools and techniques over the years. Then all the testing that we’ve done with all the fighting bit, just my own wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu and grappling, Judo. Just continuing on, obviously Muay Thai and all that other fighters that are in the school, were always picking at each other’s brains. How did you develop that? How did that fight feel? What do you think we need to work on? This has just been a constant evolution of building off of each other over the years. If I have a question about something I said, “What do you think, XYZ?” From one of the fighters, from one of the coaches. We have a very interactive team, that we’re always dialogueing back and forth with.

Sonny: I like that. The wide variety of experience that you built on your own now when you’ve translated into coaching, it’s more arrows in the quiver, more tools in the toolbox that you can then pick and choose from and suit each individual athlete based on, you mentioned the feedback that they’re giving you and their own thoughts on what they think, right?

Greg: Exactly, because you can’t put all fighters in a cookie-cutter. They’re all different. They all have different body types, different strengths, different backgrounds, mindsets, psychology, everything is different with each fighter. You might have one fighter over here, though the base techniques that they need are pretty similar, once they develop that, now it’s really the whole Bruce Lee philosophy, absorb what is useful, reject what is useless and average specifically your own and mix it up and find what works best for each fighter and go from there.

Sonny: I like that. One thing with that Bruce Lee philosophy, do you think that it sometimes could be for some fighters that when they’re training, they could say, “This works for me so, I don’t want to change,” when in fact, they might be getting false positives or bad feedback on something. I’ve had some experience where I see that people take that philosophy and maybe through a misunderstanding of it, use it to– it makes them go down a path that maybe isn’t the best for them. Have you ever seen anything like that?

Greg: I think especially with fighters, you’re going to get feedback pretty fast if [chuckles] your philosophy’s working or not. We’ve had game plans that we put together that within the first round, we’re like, “It ain’t working.” That person ain’t planned against us, whatever, but because we have this really strong foundation with each one of the fighters, they have a good wrestling background, a good Jiu-jitsu background, with striking background, we can make shifts. They are also going to be able to do that on the fight because when you think about a fight camp for a particular fight might be 8, 10 weeks. All the other times throughout the year, say if there’re other fight camps or training and as you said earlier, give me another arrow in the quiver. When they come into the octagon or the ring, wherever they’re fighting, they’re going to be able to make adjustments on the fly because they’re constantly live grappling, they’re sparring, they’re testing, we have different types of people. That’s being a truly mixed martial artist, being able to do that right away. That’s something that’s really important to see.

Sonny: That adaptability obviously is huge to be able to do that on the micro-level within a fight and then on the macro-level of just big life changes for a fighter to be able to adapt especially like things we’re going through right now. Do you think that adaptability and openness to change and being a coachable athlete, do you think that can be taught in itself or is that something that inherent to just the athlete when they walk through the door?

Greg: I think you can teach it. You got an athlete who’s really hard-headed when he comes in, pretty soon things are going to start happening, where he realizes, “Maybe I got to change”. This is the nature of training, especially when you’re walking into a place that maybe has a good variety of really tough well-rounded fighters that will find their holes pretty fast, and they’ll fall into suit. Usually, that’s what happens, and then as they start to realize and then they’ll go to the other fighters and they’ll say, “Hey, how did you catch me there as well?” Because you’re staying right on his tracks pretty easy to hit you. You got to start getting footwork, you got to start breaking it up whatever it might be. I think that definitely it can be taught and I think just the nature of how we run our program that you’re coming into a school that has a really wide variety of martial arts. You’re not just getting this really even in the context of just mixed martial arts, no we’re going beyond that. We got Filipino Martial Arts, and the Wing Chun and Jun Fan and Savate, and all these different arts that people are seeing, and they’re going, “What is that?” “Oh, that’s this,” and then they see a little element, “Hey I might be able to use that”. It becomes part of who they are, they want to– They obviously drift into our academy because of maybe they feel that fits there because that’s important too. They got to feel they have a fit with who you’re training with and the coaches and the philosophy.

Sonny: That makes sense. It sounds like the feedback that people are getting from the training partners and the feedback people are giving the coaches, you place a strong emphasis on and probably rightly so. One of the things that I remember you saying somewhere is just being appreciative and valuable to the time that any of your training partners are actually giving you, and cherishing that time you get to spend to train with that person and that really stuck with me when you’re talking about where it might be that one person who you’re seeing there every week for a good couple of months or maybe years. You’re getting good rounds in with them and just being appreciative of the time because eventually, who knows? People get jobs, people move on, whatever, that’s not always going to be there and especially now in this moment we can think of people that we wish we were training with. How do you create that culture? How do you make sure that people are willing to give that feedback in the gym to their different training partners? What I’m asking is, how do you be a good training partner for people?

Greg: Well, I think the biggest thing is we always talk about even with our fighters, we’re here to build each other up. If everybody’s building each other up, well, everyone’s going to get better because if you’re not getting better, and everyone else is getting better, well, you’re just going to fall behind. We’re always there to work with one other, they’re always calling each other to make sure that, “Hey can you come in and train at this time? Are you going to be there?” If they don’t show up and there I am right away so we’re always keeping everybody accountable. A big part of it is also– and this maybe comes from just the fact that how we started the entire academy when we’re training, when we’re fighting back in the day, you showed up because you are obligated to not only for yourself but to your training partners. They’re going to be there for you, you got to be there for them and those are the people that are going to build you up when you don’t feel like being there. Then they’re going to chide you, they’re going to do whatever they got to do to get you back into the mood. Usually, you get the guys that you find really care for you and you want to be there for them. You want them to– Hey, I’m not going to say we haven’t had people that we’ve had some issues with. If I got somebody that is not a good fit, they got to go. It’s very important to have a good vibe between all the fighters, all the teammates. No fights in there, no personality clashes. Every once in a while without a doubt, it happened in the wrestling room, it happened whatever. You can get so tired sometimes both the guys are so tired, and you got your wits’ end and it’s just like they’re about to throw blows down and I say, “Okay guys. Chill out. Relax, we don’t have time for that,” and they’re, “All right, sorry about that.” Things are gonna happen, but for the most part, they get over that pretty quick, and then they’re back to training. The people that have a problem or their ego is too big for that, we just say, “You know what? It’s probably not the best place for you”. You got to get the problem out of there, or else it might fester to the rest of the guys. We have a pretty very friendly team, everybody’s friends with each other, they really want to be there to help each other out and that’s a big, big part of the development of everybody.

Sonny: That makes sense. You’re very selective in the people that you allow to stay on the team if they’re starting to become possibly a negative influence or don’t have the right attitude. Let’s say this is something that I think is probably pretty common with a lot of gyms around the world that someone gets ready for an MMA fight, they have their fight, win, lose and then you don’t see him again for another month until they’re ready to come back in and start training. Everyone was there helping him get ready and then they have their time in the spotlight and then we might not see him until they’re ready to come back in on their own time. If that was to happen in your gym, you don’t see him for a month, they come back in, how do you handle a situation like that?

Greg: Well, obviously it depends on the fight. Usually, they get done fighting, I want them to take a week off, I want them to just rest and recover. It’s a lot of things have to recover after you get down with a really hard fight. What usually happens, I generally never have to call anybody because the other guys on the team will be the ones calling. They’ll be like, “Hey where you been? What’s going on?” Either through our little messenger page that we have for our team, or they’ll call each other up. They really police one another really well so I don’t have to do that and I tell them straight up. “Hey, if I have to be there every single day to remind you to get in the gym, maybe this is the wrong sport for you. This is not one to take lightly”. All right. We have a pretty good group of guys and they keep each other accountable so–

Sonny: That’s good I like that. I should clarify injuries permitting. I’m not saying that everyone should come back in before they got the stitches out or something like that.

Greg: [unintelligible 00:17:04] say, “What are you doing here? Look at your face, get out of here”. [laughter]

Sonny: It seems like you have such a positive attitude and that positive environment even to develop that within your athletes to be taking the initiative. I know a big thing with you does seem to be the power of positive thinking and you’re big on affirmations, you put them up on Instagram and I think, “Damn, I should be writing down something like this. How does he do it? How did he come up with this stuff every day?” Tell me a little bit about that because I do think it’s valuable and I do think it’s something that’s important and I just want to know, like your mindset how you came to that and how you think it affects you.

Greg: Well, I think that mindset and that positive mindset, obviously being an athlete, the mindset has to be there. I was fortunate in the fact that I had some really proactive coaches that were probably even ahead of their time. I remember my gymnastics coach in high school which was in the 80s, 1980, he was really big on visualization and having you visualize your routines and to think about what’s going to happen if you fall? How are you going to recover? What are you going to think about? Where’s our breathing going to be? He was already putting that and planting those seeds in and I started to see that, “Men, this stuff works”. I tell you there’s a great story about visualization and about the mentality that I went through, I was learning a release move on a high bar. You’re flying out the bar and you’re coming back and re-grabbing the bar and I was just crashing, just wiping out. I wasn’t getting the bar, and the bar’s like what? Nine feet in the air so when you’d fall down he’s like, “Argh, get back up, do it again.” Crash! Finally, he’s like, “Get off the bar. It’s not doing anything for you right now.” He goes, “What I want you to do, I want you to go home and visualize yourself doing this move over and over,” and I remember him saying this, “However long your adolescent mind will allow you to visualize this, I want you to focus on it.” I was so determined to get this move. I’m going, “I don’t know, whatever. If this is going to work I’m going to try it”. The whole weekend I really spent time before I went to bed, when I woke up, random times throughout the day I’d focus. I remember him saying, “Hey, because you’ve never done it, you’re not possibly going to be able to see yourself doing this move so put your face on someone else doing the move first, and then start to work your way through”. I did that I really got to the point where I was visualizing myself doing the move. I remember that Monday, when I came back into the gym, I got up in a bar after our regular warm-ups and went to do the move and I cast it over, boom! Grabbed the bar and I was like, “Ah,” and I let go. He goes, “Why did you let go?” I go, “Because I never had it before, I couldn’t believe it.” I got up and I hit it and I never missed that move again and I did not physically do that move the entire weekend. Right then I was going, “Holy fuck, this works. This visualization, this mental game works.” I really started to delve into it a lot more with not only the physical plane of moves over my head in gymnastics, but I brought it into wrestling and then what’s going to happen if I get taken down, how am I going to come back? I’d started to visualize matches, I’d started to visualize all these different things and that really started to build the importance of using the mental capabilities, the psychology of winning and performing. Then I remember I got a book and it was by Dan Millman called The Way of the Peaceful Warrior.

Sonny: I was just about to ask you that because with the gymnastics– please continue.

Greg: I read that, of course, he’s bringing the martial arts element into it. He’s a gymnast and I’m looking at this stuff going, “This is exactly true, this is everything’s right in this book. This is awesome.” Then from there, on that book I got the warrior athlete from him, so I just kept on building, That was the impetus to really start reading books on this stuff was Dan Millman’s books, It was so awesome that there’s now these things, and there was books back then, you couldn’t Google anything. I still have– in fact, this will crack you up. I just found this because I’m digging around stuff and there it is.

Sonny: I got that one behind me as well. I got it right behind me.

Greg: I’m going over it and I’ve rewriten all the notes I had, and sometimes you’re looking at the notes and I remember my gymnastics coach also wrote for me these, a piece of paper and I have that too. I wish I had it up here, but he wrote down his questions. How do you mentally prepare for gymnastics? How do you mentally prepare for wrestling? What’s different? What’s the same? He had all these questions that he wanted me to define. I found that in gymnastics, I had to be really relaxed and calm and get my breathing down because everything is so precise and if you too amped up, you’re going to wipe out and crash. In wrestling, it was almost the opposite. I was getting super amped up to get out there. It was really getting me to focus on how to prepare myself for these different things and that just naturally went over into the martial arts and how I did the training for martial arts. I think another thing as far as learning and thinking about that is when I got to college, you go and you meet sports psychologists that are working for the university and they started talking about visualization. They start talking about positive feedback in your mind and positive affirmations. When things go wrong, how are you going to deal with it? When a class doesn’t go so great, how are you going to stop from bringing that into the practice room? If a week doesn’t go so great in the practice room, does that mean it’s not going to go well for your fight? It could be the opposite, we don’t know. All these things are starting to be developed at this time and that was right away in my late teens and early 20s and that just kept on building from there.

Sonny: That’s fascinating and I think they made a movie too out of the Dan Millman, one of the books, which is interesting. If people aren’t into reading they can start with the movie. In fact, I’ve got some notes on the mindful athlete up on my website that I’ve put up there. It’s a great book, no doubt. When you’re dealing with that with your athletes, will you recommend that, “Hey, you set aside a time to visualize.” Will you take them aside and tell them how to do it? What type of involvement do you then take on to giving your athletes the structure on how to visualize and how to think positively.

Greg: I’ll do a number of things. Usually, after every practice, I’ll sit down and I’ll be having a thought or whatever, and I’ll write it down on a whiteboard and I’ll talk about it. Sometimes it’ll be about the mental game, sometimes it’ll be about pushing themselves and when they get really fatigued, how to push past that. I’ll talk to the fighters as a group and then I’ll also talk to them as individuals, watching their training, what they need, what I think they should focus on. Some resources that they could use, things to watch. Ultimately, I’m a big believer in this, that I could sit there and tell them all day long until I can’t talk anymore, but they got to take initiative. I’ll tell them, I’ll point them the way and then I’ll ask them, “Hey, did you ever–” “Oh, you didn’t. Well, what’s the deal?” I’m not just going to sit there and harp on them. I’m going to say, “Hey, this is for you, not for me. I hope you figure that one out, so keep on going.” I got another person I got to deal with and then I got an entire school of students who’ve got hundreds of students in there. I got to sit there and focus just on you. Especially as a professional fighter or as an athlete, this is something that you should want to do. You should want to prepare your mind, your body, everything for the event to be the best fighter, the best competitor you can be.

Sonny: Definitely, I think it’s that old, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink kind of a mindset especially with some fighters, all you can do is offer up the advice if they want to take it, if they don’t you can’t spend all day with them, unfortunately. Now that makes sense. Do you put that visualization into part of your morning routine? Do you do that every morning? I know you get up and do– with the anesthetics, it seems like, and do you make it part of your daily ritual, daily schedule?

Greg: Well, definitely for every single day, at some point in time I’m visualizing something. Just because I have so much feedback over the years, so I could be shadowbox and I could be doing the Carenza and I could be visualizing weapons coming at me or people coming at me, so I could do it in that manner. I also do when I need to calm myself down and how to try to just get to the zone where you’re just relaxing. For me, that’s not easy because I’m wired, I’m like a random [unintelligible 00:27:09] . I have to find a way to do that and so that’s part of the thing too and I do this thing. It’s pretty simple where I just sit down and relax. I learned this from Brendon Burchard, he’s a high-performance coach and it’s called the release meditation. All you do is you sit there and you relax and you just say release, release, and you try to release all the tension and all thoughts and if a thought comes in, you just let it release out. You don’t try to fight it and it calms you down. I’ll try to do that, and to me, that was a very simple thing because I try to think about a candle burning and whatever, in my mind, the candle is burning and a wind is blowing it and then someone’s throwing firecrackers in there, that keep it really simple. That’s better for me just release, just release all the thoughts that are coming in and relax. I’ll do that and that’ll be part of my visualization too and I’m really big in that positive affirmations to keep myself on a positive framework, be optimistic about what’s going to happen, and enthusiastic about what I’m going to do and excited about what I’m doing right now. Again, you have to train your brain to do that just like you train your body to be stronger or faster. That’s not automatic. We always say you have the ants, the automatic negative thoughts, and they’re all over. They will overwhelm you. You don’t just have positive thoughts that come in and everything’s great. It’s automatic negative thoughts come in, you got to crush those and then stamp on those ants and then get the positive ones in there. You have to start to train your brain for that as well and that’s just something that I’ve done for a long, long time ever since I was younger. Seeing as an athlete doing it and then getting different directions by different martial artists and how they were visualizing, how they would see things mentally, and I tried to use that same philosophy. It was useful, that really works well for me and then someone would explain something to me, try to teach me. Just whatever doesn’t work that well and I’d be like, “Ah, okay, I get it. Maybe I’ll point somebody else that way, but that just doesn’t work for me.” Then there’s been things I just added my own twist to.

Sonny: I really liked that, the way of thinking that it is a skill that you have to train because it’s very easy for people to go on just to look on the bright side of life, cheer up buttercup, but sometimes it’s hard. You’ve got to start small, lift those weights and it’s hard. I actually had a good conversation yesterday with the Bishop runs Hip-Hop Chess Federation, is very interesting and he was talking about three positive actions for every one negative thought. I thought that was really good.

Greg: Those negative thoughts are so– they’ll bombard you. They could bombard you. They do, and a lot of people let them and it overwhelms them.

Sonny: Yes, I’ve been there. I think everyone has that. [crosstalk] With your affirmations do you write those every day and where do they come from? I look at them, you put them online for other people to read and thank you for that and they’re quite detailed. They’re not just “cheer up” or “you’re going to have a great day”. You’ve got some substance behind them that you seem to be putting out every day. How do you come up with those, and where’s that coming from, and how important do you think that is, actually writing it down?

Greg: I have a couple of different ones. There’s ones that I say and I do it every day in the shower. I’m in the shower and the first thing I say is, “This is going to be the greatest day of my life”. Right away I’m already preparing my mind this is going to be a great day no matter what happens. I’m going to be full of energy and positivity throughout the entire day. I could be excited so I say that “My abilities and skills are expanding all day long”. I’ll say that. Then I’ll say, “I have the power of my mind”, and then I go through the alphabet. I choose to be and I’ll say, “Have a good attitude, be action-oriented, be bold and creative, courageous, disciplined, decisive, energetic, excited-

Sonny: Let’s go.

Greg: … and just keep on going through that. To have an attitude in grace and health and happiness and integrity and joy and tonnes of love and motivation and never give up, and optimistic, and persevere and just go through the entire alphabet. Man, that’s all I think about it and I do that every single day to start off in the shower.

Sonny: Beautiful.

Greg: That kind of, there it is and then that part’s done. I’ve already directed my brain right away to look at the positive things. Then the other ones I have the sheet of paper, I think you saw me– One of them is the purpose of my life now is and that was originally again, Sean and I learned it at Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Academy, where he said, “There’s a purpose of my life now it’s like, be, do some of that”. It’s like be full of energy and truly excited and enthusiastic and totally engaged. To be bold and courageous, kind of the things I talked about, and to do what I love in a way that I love it. To serve with happiness and gratitude, to seek challenges, blah, blah, blah. Then so that you’re at the end of my life, kneeling before my Lord, He’ll say, “Well done my good and faithful servant, you’ve used your time, your talent your treasure to your ability. That’s something that I wrote out. Then the other one it’s about what I choose to protect. I choose to protect my integrity, my faith, my choice, my life, my health, my happiness, my energy. That’s a very proactive thing that I choose to protect it so that when I get up I’m going to drink water, I’m going to sleep the amount of sleep I’m supposed to get, I’m going to exercise regularly, I’m going to eat clean and green as much as I can. I’m going to plan my day and attack that plan. I’m always going to keep learning and reading and listening and studying. I’m going to value my time and be generous and kind and real and try to be as authentic as possible with people. I’m not going to fear failure, and I’ll embrace it. I’ll fail all the time, I don’t care less. Also, I’ll do that. That’s something my daughter talks about. She’s a gymnastic too and she’d always say, “Fail, fail, fail until you don’t”. That’s what gymnastics is. You crash and then you get up, you crash, you crash, and then you get it and then you start to perfect it as much as you can and then they say, “Okay, you got that now you got to get something else. Cash, crash, fail, fail”. That’s just the process. You’re always challenging yourself to do new things, or try new things. You know what I always say, “No challenge, no change”. It’s always you’re trying to find ways to challenge yourself. For me, I try not to complain over trivial nonsense. There’s enough things that are really there to complain about. Right now we got a big one.

Sonny: That’s true.

Greg: Now you start looking back and go, “God, I couldn’t believe that sometimes I get so irritated because there’s some guy taking too long to pump his gas”. Now I’m like, “Wow, that’s crazy”. All right. Now look at what we’re dealing with and so the other thing is that my thing is to try to use that to protect my ability to be positive and optimistic and inspiring. I take that on as a challenge to do that no matter what I’m facing. This really served me well, especially obviously when I had cancer because now I was like, “So what?” That was like a battle for a solid year and then afterwards, building back up was another process.

Sonny: Now that story is, from what I know of it just rather amazing could be because my understanding was that the cancer you had was an incredibly rare form of cancer, that they really didn’t know about your chances for survival. Obviously, we know how the end of the story went, it all turned out okay in the end, but it looked like it would have been incredibly daunting. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like. One of the important things I remember reading about it when you’re mentioning that story is that once you found out about it, you didn’t want to know the odds of the survival rates, and, oh, all that positive thinking stuff, you put it to the ultimate test. How did that all happen?

Greg: That I had two cancers back to back and the first one was I had stage four liver cancer, and I had tumors on my spleen and tumors on my liver, and there’s kidney involvement. It was like they’re like, “Well–” I remember at the time, I was married and my wife was like a bulldog and she was just the one that really got the doctors to start to– because I was 37 so they’re going, “It’s probably not cancer”. I didn’t get any scans or anything and finally, I got the scan and they said, “Come to the hospital”. I went to the hospital and I remember I was so fatigued, I could hardly do anything. I’d sure move and I had to sit down, I’d just be like, “Men this is not normal”. I remember getting off the elevator, and the first thing I saw was oncology, so I’m like, “Oh, all right, God, I have cancer”. In my mind right then, I was like, “Okay, now I have something to fight. Now, I know what it is to fight”. Then when they did the biopsy and they said, “Yes, all right. You got cancer in your liver,” I said, “Okay, what do we got to do?” I told them right away and I said, “Hey, I don’t want to hear statistics, I don’t want to hear numbers. I don’t want to hear anything because that takes into people that it was too late, they quit, they didn’t want to fight, too old, misdiagnosed, addictive. That’s not what I want to hear, I just want to hear what do we got to do?” If all of a sudden, and just afterwards, I got to find out all the numbers but that first cancer, that was about a 5% survival rate at that point. I ended up going through chemo and dealing with all that and obviously, they don’t know how much I train, what my mind is made up, how much physical abuse and pain and discomfort I’m used to taking. They don’t have any clue. I remember my wife brought in a picture book and a video, “This is what we’re dealing with, so it showed competition, fights and training”. They’re like, “Oh, okay”. Well, that cancer went into remission. All good. The tumor’s gone away, it went away and then all of a sudden the second one came. I always tell people, my stage four liver cancer was my easy cancer. Then the second one, I ended up going down to Rochester Mayo Hospital, a very famous hospital in the States here, and a lot of people come from internationally there. For months, I went into the door and I didn’t leave for months and they had no clue what was going on because there was nothing showing up in my blood, there’s nothing showing up on scans and all they know is that my ability to walk was taken away and I had tons of pain, just nonstop pain, pain, pain. Once again, I was like, “I don’t want to hear numbers. I don’t want to hear stats, when they don’t even know what to do, and anyways what’s up with this? Keep on figuring out this”. A long story short, they finally did a high powered MRI imaging, they found that my left cyanic nerve was bigger and brighter than my right. They went in, I did a biopsy on one nerve in my ankle then they did a biopsy in my sciatic nerve, and they found that the cancer went into my nervous system. They told my wife at that point. “All right, here’s the deal. We know what it is. There’s been zero survivors to date. They’ve all died of pain.” I didn’t know that, so I was like, “What are we going to do?” My son was two and my daughter was five, a lot of motivation to keep going. I’ll tell people when you talk about the negative thoughts and how they come in bombarding you, man, when you’re alone in those rooms and you’re dealing with this pain, it’s just like phew if you didn’t have a way to attack that, that alone would just cause a lot more despair than you need. I remembered having that and I’d get one word in mind, whatever it was and I’d just say it over and over until it’d either subside or I’d fall asleep or something would happen where that negative thought would leave. That was the battle, it was just continual. Knowing that, “I know how to do this really good. I know how to fight really well,” and I even had mantras there. One of them was, I may have cancer, but cancer will not have me. That was one of them. The other one was, I will fight until I live or die, but either way, I won’t stop fighting. I already knew that. I’m not some fantasy person. I know there’s a chance. Either way, whatever’s going to happen is not just going to be me giving up. It’s just going to happen because that’s just the nature of this. That was the mindset. I always tell people all those years of preparation and sports and martial arts and the pushing and the driving and developing that mindset and the way to visualize and imagery and all this other stuff was like preparation for this big battle. Then once that battle subsided and I came back, then it was like the second chapter of my life where you start looking at things a lot differently. Like I talked about the trivial nonsense. Things get pretty trivial after that. I remember some of the guys would get so irritated because they would say, “Oh my God, I can’t believe this happened,” and I’d go, “Dude, at least it’s not cancer. Don’t worry about it.” They be like, “All right. We get it.” That’s how I think about it now, I go, well– this whole quarantine thing when it had happened, when it started I’d go, well, I was quarantined inside a hospital room on a bed for months and couldn’t get up because I couldn’t walk, couldn’t do anything. My kids would come in and half the time I’d be zoomed in and out of morphine. Being able to do all this stuff I can do now in this quarantine, I can still go outside. I can still walk around. I can still train. I can still talk to my friends. I can go and do zoom classes. I can do podcasts. I can do whatever. It’s a different world and it’s nothing like being– what about those people that are in the hospital right now that are really going through this battle or going through any other battle that they’re dealing with? Far worse than being stuck in a house for a little while. I look at life in a much different light than I did beforehand.

Sonny: That is such an incredible story. There’s so much to take in from that, it’s amazing to hear it from you. For people listening if they don’t completely understand the rareness of that cancer and what you did being so incredible is like that was written about in scientific journals and articles and studied as an exceptional case. I’ve been thinking, “You’re on the cover of the Mayo Clinic magazine, which many martial artists might want to be on different covers.”

Greg: You definitely do.

Sonny: That just is a testament to just how incredible and exceptional that was, right?

Greg: Yes, it was. Obviously we didn’t know at that point until they found out what it was, but at that point, these other people had gone through it and they didn’t know, they found the majority of them post-mortem what they had, and then one person lived and then died. That was what they had basically. I talked to the doctors and that was like 18 years ago. 2002, 2003, that whole span of time. 17 years actually, coming up it was Memorial Day weekend which was coming up in the United States. That’s when I was diagnosed with my first cancer back in 2002. It’s surreal right now. I look at it kind of surreal. I go down and I talk to the doctors and they say, “Anytime you’re in town just come in and let’s run surgery. We will drop anything.” They want to talk and see how things are going and if I have any residual effects, which yes, definitely I had my sciatic nerve obliterated. I got some issues with my left foot and compared to what it was, they were just like, “This is amazing.” The doctors would talk about it and the one doctor who was the head of the neurology department of Mayo, he changed an entire conference that he did because of my case and how they look at a nerve cancer and how they look at abnormalities in the nervous system. It changed a lot of things. I didn’t do anything, I just fought. That’s all I did.

Sonny: It’s amazing. It is truly an incredible story. It’s that testament then to all the mindset that you’re talking about, that visualization, affirmations, positive thinking that you’re helping develop with the martial arts, that is just testament to it. They seem to be working in unison with that visualization. Going into this quarantine I could tell who had never gone through a big injury before because they’re worried like, “My skills going to drop off in six months.” For me I’m thinking, actually when I’ve come back from injuries, sometimes surprisingly the first couple of weeks I’m feeling a bit better. Don’t get me wrong, not that I’m comparing a bad knee to what you overcame. My question is, the combination then between that mindset that you used to overcome your cancer and then the actual techniques that we’re training in the gym. From the mental aspect and the mental side of martial arts to then the physical, technical hitting mitts, hitting pads, rolling round, cranking arms, how do those two inform each other? How do we help one side develop the other?

Greg: I think that any kind of hard training where you’re pushing yourself and you’re putting yourself in very uncomfortable positions a lot and you have to deal with it, is developing your ability to problem solve on the spot and be able to deal with– You’re underneath some big dude is crushing you and you figure out how to breathe and how to not panic. Then pretty soon that becomes almost normal. You think about the person that you were when you started jujitsu or started training and then all of a sudden throw them in with the people that you’re training with now, that person will be crushed like an ant. They’d be like,”What’s happening?” That process of just you’re not only getting physically tougher, but you’re mentally getting tougher. You’re being able to deal with more and more pressure. Your little aches and pains that you right now just think, “It’s pretty normal.” Maybe to somebody who doesn’t do anything, they’d be like, “God, this is the worst I’ve ever felt in my life.” It’s like, this is actually pretty good. I feel pretty good because I’m used to– obviously, you’ve had knee injuries or whatever. I think that right there as you start to train and you start to push yourself physically, you have to constantly battle that mind that wants to say, “You’re good enough, that’s probably good enough,” when you know you could do more. There’s one little battle right there, especially when you’re doing any kind of conditioning or pushing or you set a high rep on a technique that you’re going to do and you look at it and you go, “Man, I’ve been doing this for 22 minutes now and still got X amount of reps.” You start playing these mind games, “I can do maybe a little less.” That’s where you got to fight that. That’s where the battle comes in and that’s where you start getting a little bit tougher, mentally tougher as you start getting physically tougher. I think that you cannot become really physically tougher and in great shape without first being mentally tough because you’ll quit. As soon as you start getting really tired, you start feeling your lungs burning, your muscles burning, a lot of people who don’t have that, who don’t realize that’s what you’re yearning for, that’s where they’re like, “I got to go, I got to quit.” Whereas you’re like, “I can do one more, I can do one more rep. I can do one more rep. I can do one more sprint. I can do one more go.” That becomes something that you take into the rest of your life as well on and off the map because now you realize, “I’ve been through some pretty tough positions and really uncomfortable positions, I’ve been in a bunch of really burning lungs, my legs have been crushed all over somebody, I can deal with this problem.” I look at a lot of the problems that we have in our everyday life is the same thing, we had to figure out how to deal with this problem. What’s the difference? It’s just a different problem. Maybe I have to mentally deal with the pressure now of trying to figure something out as opposed to physically dealing, but it’s kind of the same process? That’s how I look at things. The more I’ve been around high-performing people like– there was that place I went to is– I talked about this, this is Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Academy where you’re around a lot of people that some of them could be really, really high-performing business CEOs, some of them are high-performing athletes, entrepreneurs, and then, of course, you’ve got people who have no idea why the heck they’re even at this conference, [chuckles] and they signed up for. You deal with all these people, but you start seeing the people that are really successful, they have no fear about falling on their face and getting back up. They don’t have any fear about the pressure because they know it’s going to be normal. They know that the person who perseveres past those pressure, past the part where it’s uncomfortable, past the point where you feel stupid, whatever it is, because they realize everybody has to go through this, and the people that persevere past that are the ones that are looked at as, “Wow, look at that person, he’s successful.” They’re still going through the same stuff it’s just at a different level now. I think that is a huge part of jujitsu, it’s a constant problem-solving, constantly dealing with pressure, constantly asking questions, “What would be the better way to do this? How do I get through this situation?” I always say this, whenever I’m grappling I find myself in a craptacular position-

Sonny: [laughs]

Greg: I’m always like, “All right, well, this is a unique training opportunity.” That’s how I look at it. I don’t be like, “Oh, damn, I’ts a test. My God! I’m just like, “Okay, here we go. This is different, let’s figure this out now.”

Sonny: I love that. That’s a very good way to look at things. Would you say that it’s like you talk about the fear of looking stupid doing something? That’s more of an imagined fear that people could have versus when we try martial arts we get a pretty tangible fear, so it gives us a good way to bridge that gap between the imagined fears in our head and the actual physical reality.

Greg: Yes. Especially if you go into a competition or something and you’re getting ready to go out, and there’s a chance you can get tweaked, you can get your arm busted or who knows what happens out there. Definitely that’s a little bit more of a real apprehension that gets out there it’s like, “Okay, this might happen,” but then you have to be able to control that say like, “Well, when is the last time I’ve seen that happen. Well, not really. Did I prepared for this? Yes. Did I worked super hard for this? Yes. Good, now I can go out there and I can get through that.” Now, most other fears that are out there are contrived, we make them up, they’re imaginary. If you think about originally what was fear based on, against giant tigers or some coming after us or another warring tribe coming to kill us. Stuff like that. Then, all that stuff was taken away and it’s like your brain starts to figure out things to take its place. [laughs] It’s like, “Well, that’s not really that scary. To fear making a mistake.” Really? That not really a fear. That’s like, “Yes, I don’t want to look stupid. I don’t want my friends to think or people think I’m an idiot.” That’s not really a fear. That’s just a loss. I don’t even know what that is sometimes. It’s something that we make up. If you just look at half my videos I’m just making crap up, I’m just doing and trying stuff. It’s like, “Whatever, we’ll see what happens.” Sometimes some of the goofiest stuff I do I’m like, “Yes, we’ll see what happens,” those are the ones that people are like, “Oh, my God, that was great. I can’t believe that.” I’m like, “Really? Wow, that was just me jumping in a chair.” [laughs]

Sonny: I love it. You’ve mentioned then that the best way or one way to help overcome those fears in a tangible reality is to have a plan for what you’re going to go around doing. Shout out to mate Pete. Shout to Pedro who once told me to plan your work, work your plan [crosstalk] it’s a good one. I wonder then and especially with competition going in with game plans for fighters Sean Sherk, Rose Namajunas, Brock Lesnar, how do you as a coach take all that stuff we’ve talked about, planning to mitigate fears and then implement a game plan into your fighters over the weeks of a training camp, and then when it comes final?

Greg: I think the biggest thing as far as mitigating the fear is you’re straining and you’re training hard, and you’re physically pushing yourself and just preparing. You’re doing everything you know you can to be the best you can on the night that you’re going to go out there. You can’t do anything else, what are you going to do? We’re ready. We have a saying here because it’s Midwest, “The hay is in the barn, all the work is done.” Now, it’s like we just got to go out there and let it shine. I remember, this is a funny thing because each fighter is so different. If you look at it Sean Sherk, pretty much it wasn’t not a big secret what was going to happen. He was going to shoot a double at some point, put you down on the ground, and it was hard to get up once he hit you on the ground. That was a big thing. He had, I’d have to say one of the simplest game plans all the time. If you look at him, he was not that tall. He was maybe 5’7′ that’s with shoes on. I’m about the same size. For the first 30-whatever, 35 fights of his career there was no one 55 weight class, it was all 170. He was fighting people that were way bigger, and taller. His philosophy, “Whether they’re taller than me now, but when I take them down, and I’m on top, I’m the tall one in the cage.” What he did because he had a speed, this whole thing was, “How do I transfer, how do I get myself from here to there.” Every single day he had a routine that he did. At least three days a week he was just really maximizing combinations and shots in every possible way, focused mitts, cables, shadow boxing, partner drills, wherever. We always joke about it because we always say he had one real guard pass and everyone goes, “Well, yes, but he had like four options.” He was so good at it, you could stop it. It was really tough. Then, if you were inside the guard and he could pass it, he was so dangerous inside there because he had short arms, he was like T-Rex, but he could hit super fast and cut you open inside your guard, so that was a problem. He had this very streamlined game that he just developed, “Okay, this is my game plan, I’m going to go in there, I’m going to take him down, and I’m going to be in better shape than they are. I’m going to condition myself so I can just keep going, and going, and going.” His game plan never really change that much. He just got better at it. That was that mindset. He was also one of those guys that was a product of the classroom. He would take regular Thai boxing classes with students. You’d look over and some white belt would be arm barring him because he’s letting them be,” Oh, you got me. Good job.” He didn’t care because he knew he could absolutely smash the dude. He could play. He’d say, “Okay, I want you to put me in a triangle and choke me out. Ready? Go.” Then, he just methodically work his way out. I never ever had to worry about anybody getting hurt rolling with Sean Sherk even though he was the fastest, most explosive just really good fighter. Never had to worry because he just had that mindset. It’s like, “Yes, I’m training and having fun.” He had also this mindset where at nighttime he’d always ask somebody to come and train. He’d say, “Hey, so do you want to come train tonight?” You’d say, “Yes.” Right away he’d go ask somebody else, “Hey, do you want to come train tonight? “Yes.” He’d have two people that were going to come to train tonight. He’d write down his third workout when neither of the guys showed up because they were going, “Oh, my God. I’ve got to keep up with Sean tonight.” He’d look at the clock and whatever, you got to train at eight o’clock at night, 8:01, nobody showed up, he was already putting together his thing and nothing would change in his mind. He already had the game plan set. When one of them showed up, he had the plan. When both of them showed up, he had a plan, so he never looked at it as, “Geez, no one’s going to show up.” He was like, “Okay, let’s go,” and that’s his mindset. That’s how he developed. I look at the other fighters that have been really successful, they have that same mindset. They know what they got to get done, and they’re going to get it done no matter what. They don’t really worry about whether this person is going to show up or that person is going to show up, because they’re going to be fighting alone in the ring anyways, so they’ve already mentally prepared for it. It’s funny because you have Sean on one end of the spectrum, then you have Brock on another end of the spectrum. It was kinda like a Sean Sherk but giant . He had already gone through so many different evolutions of his game; great wrestler, NCAA champion. Then he goes from there to, “I’m going to go to the WWE and I’m going to become a world champion at that. Then I’m going to leave that and I’m going to go play professional football.” To be the last person cut off for a professional football team without playing football since high school is pretty amazing. Then he’s like, “Okay, I’m going to try MMA,” and every one of those things, he’s risen up to the top at some point. He’s very methodical about how he trains, what he does, wants everything. When I would work with him, myself, Marty Morgan, Eric Paulson was even involved with it, he wanted to know what was going to be done during that day so he could know how hard to push. He goes, “I just don’t want you to add stuff on at the end of the day, because I’m going to push already.” He knew he was. That’s just the nature of the beast, He didn’t want you just to add stuff, “I think you should add this.” “No, I’ve already put my mind and when it’s time to go, I’m going to go hard.” The people that we brought in because he could, it’s a different game with a guy like that who has millions of dollars and he can bring in whoever he wants. We’d bring in Cole Conrad who was a two-time undefeated NCAA wrestling champion and four-time All American, and Tony Nelson, two-time national champion and four-time All American, and Marty Morgan was an undefeated NCAA national champ, and runner up in third place very good multiple time All American. Then we brought in Comprido who was a two-time absolute world champion in Jiu-Jitsu, then we got Pat Barry. We could bring all these people in and you would put them in a house or wherever and they would live there. He’d pay them and they’d train. His mentality was, “Okay, you’re being paid, that means you got to show up. If you don’t, then you’re just going to get fired.” It was pretty straightforward. But all those guys were competitors at the highest level. There was no qualm there. Then his strength and conditioning coach was the strength and conditioning coach for the Denver Broncos that would fly in. So we had the highest level people there. He would get pushed through these really strenuous camps. Then he gets done with that journey, goes back to the WWE and is still a big superstar. It’s so funny because you have a different type of mentalities, different athletes. Rose, different entirely again. Comes from an absolute striking base. No wrestling, but became very good at Jiu-Jitsu. She’s physically very tough. I’ve punched her hard in the face, I’m telling you that right now, and she’ll punch you right back. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, this girl’s tough.” She’s 115 pounds, 120 pounds max maybe. She’s tough, but she’s also very educated, very smart. I don’t have to take that abuse, I’m going to have to learn how to create angles and get in there. I want to have a set plan going in. Each one of them had a very specific mindset, but knew where they needed to be stronger, and had no qualms about developing in that area as much as they could, so it was fun to watch and seeing their growth.

Sonny: That’s great. It’s great to hear how their mindset was enabling them to all reach their goals. All were world champions. Brock Lesnar world champion in fourth fight, just absolutely incredible from pro wrestling. It’s just incredible stuff. When you’re game planning for the fights, you’re getting them prepared, how much will you tailor what they’re planning on doing? I think we probably went over Sean Sherk not so much, but tailor what those guys were going to do for their individual opponents? How do you approach your athletes and say, “Hey, your guy’s really strong here, maybe we work on something else,” without coming across as scared or without coming across as being negative? Or thinking that, “Oh, you got to worry about something here.”? Do you do that? Do you tailor it much? Or do you just focus on their positives? How do you go about that?

Greg: I guess it’s a little bit of both, because you can’t take a person who has a certain skill set and just say, “Oh, guess what? You’re going against this guy. We’re going to Lego you together and turn you into this person.” They already have a specific skill set that they have, so you look at what they have, “Okay, this is where you’re great. This is where you’re really good. This is where we got to probably avoid as much as possible in this fight. But if we do end up in that position, here’s how we’re going to deal with it.” That’s how we look at it. We just say, “Okay, this person’s a really good wrestler or a really good striker or whatever their deal is,” and then we’d say, “Okay, so now that we know that, how are we going to deal with that? How are we’re going to deal with that strike?” You can game plan, especially if you watch– This is a really detailed version of it, but with Frank Mir, obviously, the first fight, hey, it was still pretty good. He got caught. He thought he actually won, after he smashed him, he gets pulled up, and he thought, “That’s it? That’s over?” His mindset was like, “Wow, this is crazy.” Then he gets his hand raised, and then, “One point.” He’s like, “What is this?” Then he had to go back. The second fight, we knew what Frank was about. I already knew what Frank was about, so I said, “Okay, here’s the deal.” We broke him down really well, and it got to the point where we looked at him and said, “Okay, 86% of the time after Frank throws a combination he moves to his right. The other times he moves to the left, so that’s a major tendency that we can exploit to shoot in or do whatever. When we’re down on the ground, we know he’s going to probably try to work that half guard, he’s probably going to go after your legs because it worked already. Look at your upper body, it’s going to be tough to get you. You’re so dominant there.” This was a dig on Frank at the same time, because he said, “His submission skill, his ability on the ground is nowhere near mine, blah, blah, blah, blah,” and I’m like, “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to go back to some of my first catch wrestling move that I ever learned in my life, and that’s what we’re going to drill.” That’s what happened. If you look at it, it was that reverse half, catch the forearm, trap it, and that’s what we drilled. That was pretty much the nuts and bolts of that whole game. Get in the half guard, stop that and just pound him into oblivion, and it went to plan perfectly. We looked at where his strengths were, but, hey, here’s what he has worry. How is he going to find anybody with the attributes, the strength, the speed, the explosiveness of Brock Lesnar and then imitate? It’s a lot easier to find somebody who’s not as fast, is a good grappler, and we have a two-time absolute world champion grappler. He’s got some good things. So we were able to find those people, but it’s hard to find a person like a Brock. You also have to play with their mindsets as well. You have to keep them strong, what feeds their strength mentally, and you have to bring that into your training. Usually they’re pretty smart. Brock was pretty smart when he would say, “Hey, listen, I know we had two really hard training sessions today, but now my body’s trash,” and I’d say, “Okay, let’s do one and then maybe swim tonight.” You have to know your own body, because that’s where you’re going to get injured. Especially as a big, super fast dude, you’re throwing that much weight around that fast with another human that big, and you could get injured really fast. He was very smart in that respect, knowing if and when he had to taper down, because he knew he was a great athlete, pushed himself for so many years. You have to trust your athlete too, and you’d know that when he says that he’s not like, “I’m a big puss.” It’s not normal. It’s like, “I get it. I get it.” You have to be smart with that as well. There’s a time where you tailor-make. You can try to say, “Hey, this guy fits perfectly with what we do. We’re just going to–” “Game on. Go for it,” or say, “Hey, we got to watch out for this person’s x, y, z. We’re going to move more like this. We’re going to put that into our training camp.” The other thing, too, is you have to remember, they might be game planning the exact same way. “Here’s what they’re expecting.” Here’s a great example of that, Sean Sherk versus Hermes Franca. We watched Hermes. Every time he threw a punch, he’d go like this. Sean was like, “That’s when I’m going to shoot every single time.” He’d throw that big old haymaker. He could hit hard. He was good on the ground, but that’s when Sean was going to shoot. Guess what they were game planing? When we go like this, we’re going to lift our knees straight up because he’s going to shoot. That’s exactly what happened three times. It was lucky that Sean’s neck is this thick, and his skull must be super thick because he took that knee square in the face, boom, and was able to continue and keep fighting. He even got caught once in a really tight guillotine, but he was able to deal with that because he already trained for it. He already knew, “I’m a great double leg takedown guy.” He wanted people to get him in guillotines a lot, and he would fight his way out of it. He’d figured out. He goes, “If I’m going to shoot a lot, there’s a good chance I’m going to end up in a guillotine, or I got to be able to deal past the guard.” That was a big focus of his game. That’s why it was almost impossible to choke him.

Sonny: That’s funny. I was speaking to Brian Ebersole just recently. He was saying, “Guillotines don’t exist. I’m just in a double leg.” [laughs] My memory of that fight with Sean Sherk, too, is that, it was something like– Was it 20 takedowns or something like that? I think, at one point it was the highest takedowns in UFC?

Greg: To this date, number two in UFC history, to this date, 10 years after he fought. He had that probably just to go and go and go and go and go.

Sonny: There is some debate that fight, that’s number one now with Khabib what they score as takedowns could actually be classed as mat returns under wrestling. I think it only puts it for six takedowns for Khabib if you change that. We could make an argument that if we score how takedowns are done in college wrestling, Sean would still be number one. Also, what you mentioned with Brock Lessnar with the reverse half nelson, the crucifix, pirate’s crucifix stockades, I love to hear that. I actually did a video on that. I did a breakdown video on that technique. Brock’s the best. He’s finished the fight with the highest percentage or the biggest name to use it in MMA. That’s just incredible to hear.

Greg: Good game plan. We’re going to use the stock, and we’re going to tie him up. This is one of the first things I learned way back with Larry Hartsell in the ’80s. We’re going bring it to life. Because he was such a good wrestler at controlling top crossbody anyways, it just tied in perfectly. We knew, he’s going to try to block with that other arm, pin it down. Comprido brought his elements to it. “This might happen. Here’s how I want you to control that.” We were all just coming together to take that one little area of the game and just master it.

Sonny: That’s incredible. Did you practice that one from half guard? Were you practicing those setups?

Greg: Yes, from half guard, from crossbody, from everywhere.

Sonny: That’s so cool. I’m so happy to hear that. [laughs] Just following on then with that game planning and coaching. When you actually get into the fight then, I like that idea that you can only really change little bits about people’s tendencies. We can’t let go on together and replace the whole fight. That’s one thing I had to tell myself as well and tell people who I’m coaching is that if you watch a video on someone, they’re in there with someone else. It’s going to be different when you’re in there. When they actually get in there, what kind of coaching advice do you like to give? Any cues, or do you use code words, or do you have a backup game plan that you might say, “Hey, switch to plan B.” When the fights on, how do you do that?

Greg: I think because you’re trained for so long and you’re training with a variety of different people in your own camp all the time, you’re going to be able to adapt really fast. Hopefully, you have a good group of wrestlers in there. You got really good jiu-jitsu guys in there. You got really good strikers. You got the ground and palm guy. You have all these people that they’re already dealing with constantly. They’re going to be able to adapt pretty fast if they need to because it’s flow. They feel when they go. This is another really good example with Sean Sherk when he fought Nick Diaz. Going out there, we were like, “We got to take Nick Diaz down because he’s got those long hands. He’s going to sit out there, and he’s going to try to keep you at length and just punch you right in the head. He’s got some heavy hands, so we don’t want to do that. We want to try to get him down.” But when we got there, Nick Diaz was crouched over, totally ready, prepared for the double leg. Sean shot in, he got sprawled on, he got stuck, and then he got back up, he sprawled again. He comes back in the corner, and he said, “He prepared for the double. I can’t take him down.” I go, “Yes, but he’s crouched over. He’s as tall as you now, so punch him in the face.” If you watch that fight, all of a sudden, in the second round, he’s like doing boxing combos and people were like, “Oh my god, Sean Sherk can box.” He’s always been able to box. It was right there. Then he was able to set up to take down and get him down on the ground from there. It’s not like he was just rocking Nick Diaz, but he was punching him enough that it was just like, dang dang dang . It was really fast shots that he was able to set up his takedown. We had to change that whole game plan from first round to the rest of the fight. That was done, “Sean, start boxing. now its time to box. He’s as tall as you. He has to change his entire position and his footwork and everything because he’s crouched over. He’s not normal.” That was changing it on the fly but having the ability because he’s trained all that stuff already ahead of time.

Sonny: That makes sense. Just having the advice that you can actually give to someone within the fight is really what they’ve done outside the fight in preparation. You can’t just yell out, “Hey, reverse flying whatever.”

Greg: Yes. That’s all I am, too. I’m pretty straightforward in the corner. Sometimes, I hear people yelling entire instructional videos. It’s like, ” the persons not hearing anything ” It’s like all they hear is, ” wah wah wah .” One of my fighters that I used to corner, I had three commands. It’s all I said, hands, that meant something with his hands are open. Leg, and everybody thinks, “Oh, leg kick.” No. That meant kicks are open. There it is because he was really good at faking a low kick and head kick, and he knocked out a lot of people with it. As soon as I see the person’s hands come in or that neck was exposed, I would just go, “There it is.” Sometimes, he would not take it right away. He would start setting it up and look, and then he’d come back and say, “I see it. I see it. I’m going to take it this round.” It was very simple sometimes because we worked so well together. We trained so much that he just knew exactly when I said– With Sean, he already knew what he was going to do, how he’s going to do it. Maybe he would have to come in like in that Nick Diaz thing and be reminded, “Hey, you’re really good with your hands. Let them go.” “Okay.” Baam. He was also one of the guys I would just say, “Okay,” and then do it. That again is a different type of guy. Just to say okay.

Sonny: I like that, definitely one of the best guy code word, combo things that I had when I was fighting. One of my coaches, Carlos, was just blue, just blue,simple . That was a coded word, but it was just one word. For you is that, keep it simple.

Greg: Keep it simple. Usually, in the corner, they hit in there, and the first thing, I’m like, “Sit down, breathe, just breathe.” I get them to breathe and get them to try to as much as possible. If they’re busy just going, ” breathing ,” and you’re trying to tell them something, they’re not hearing anything. It’s like, “Breathe, calm down, doing good.” I’m also pretty honest. I’ll be like, “Listen, you’re getting your ass kicked. You’ve got to figure this out. You got to start doing something now.” Sometimes, you need to light that fire. Who knows what’s going on in their head. It’s like, “Listen, I don’t know what’s going on, but you’re getting wailed on,” or I’ll say, “Hey, you got to watch that leg kick. You’re walking right into it. You’ve landed your right hand, so walk away. Keep with your game plan but know that he’s going to come with that right kick. I guarantee, they are telling him right now, “Kick his leg.” Sometimes, it’s simple because there’s not enough time to tell them all what’s going on. I’ll also also confer with the other people that are in the corner, and they’ll have one thing to tell him. It’s one thing. That’s it. Because if I’m telling him one thing, someone else is telling him one thing, three things isn’t going to be an overload. It’s like a lot of times simple. Sometimes it’s the attitude like, “Hey, listen, to turn up the heat or impose your will. This guy is about ready to break.”

Sonny: That makes sense. I think that getting everyone in the corner on the same page, and then probably knowing their personalities and the personality of your fighter and doing all that preparation work beforehand.

Greg: I have a couple of guys that have such booming voices that I’ll tell them what to yell. Because, I’m like, “Waah,” my voice is starting to crackle. Marty Morgan was like that with Brock because he was Brock’s wrestling coach in college. That’s the voice he could hear. Anything I had to say I would just tell Marty and Marty would just , “Woo,” he had just this booming voice and Brock will hear it. You got to be smart with that, and the voice he hears is the voice you want to be yelling.

Sonny: I hear that. Yes. Sometimes when I’m in there and I just feel the urge to yell especially where kickboxing coach is,Nick Pudney he’s yelling out the advice and I want to yell something, I’ll just be like, “Okay, I’ll just repeat what Pudz is yelling because I get it out of my system and then, it’s just following orders. [laugh]

Greg: These guys see different things. They have a different, they fight differently. They come from a different background so both people are going, “Kick him. Punch him. Kick him. Punch him. Take him down.” The guys are, “Aah.”

Sonny: That’s so good. Amazing, I’ll just finish up with a couple more questions. There’s one with Brock Lesnar’s training, especially in terms of preparation. At one stage there was, I guess, Bas Rutten had said that when Brock was sparring, he wasn’t allowed to be hit in the head, hit in the face. There was something like that. I’m wondering, is there any truth to that? What was the deal? What was the actual– the truth behind that?

Greg: There was times where sparring hard and hard sparring for sure. Then there’s other times, where it’s just like we know that he could take a good shot. He took a lot of shots and we were trying to develop different parts of his game plan. It’s like, “Okay, we don’t want to sit there and sling punches,” we’re in there with who knows who, a couple of guys obviously one of them from your part of the world. You don’t want to get hit by that dude. Hunt, you don’t want to throw his overhand right land it on your head because if it does, it’s going to be game over. There was a time where I remember Marty yelling at him. “No.” He just yelled no because they both started swinging and somehow they both missed each other and I was just like, “Oh my gosh, this is–” but get back in the game plan. There was a time where we didn’t want him to just sit there and get into that mentality of trading blows. What are you going to do, train your head to be hard enough to take Mark Hunt’s overhand right? Not going to happen, right? Remember how much you get hit in that training camp.

Sonny: Makes sense.

Greg: It was like, “Okay, we have to try to get to your game plan, get it in there and have punches thrown at you.” Your goal is not to become a striker, it’s to become a fighter that wins at what you’re great at. There was times where that would happen, but he had to be hit. There’s times where I’d say that he’s got to be punched in the face a little bit more. We had to bring it up. But he’d been in a lot of crazy things. The other thing, too, is you have to look at what he’d come into the camp with. Does he have a tweak in his body here or there? Obviously, if you ever saw him when he did his, whatever the heck was called a shooting star where he flew up in the air and landed right on his neck. You don’t want to have this guy’s neck getting snapped back all the time when he had that issue. There was times and places where, when we said, “Hey, you got to pick it up.” He would.

Sonny: That makes perfect sense actually, now that you explained it. You’ve got a guy who’s a primarily a wrestler learning striking, sparring with World Champion kickboxers in K-1 and Pat Barry, Mark Hunt. You don’t want to send your athlete in there just to get lit up by them. That’s not going to help anyone. So, of course, it would make sense, “Hey, let’s work different areas of the game.” Like, I guess, what you said with Sean Sherk, working with a white belt is like you want to have people tailor their training to help that person improve. Again, a guy like Mark Hunt wouldn’t need to go 100% for Brock Lesnar’s head to get his point across of, “Hey, I could have hit here.”

Greg: Yes, I had been for that fight too. If you watch that fight, and you see how much Brock is just bouncing around in an unpredictable pattern, that was planned out. Because I said, “If you give Mark a steady bead on your head, he’s going to land. It’s going to happen.” You got to be unpredictable and move in and drop low for a low ankle pick and then come bounce back up. That’s why he was hopping around and was almost like a jumping bean in there, because he was trying to be really unpredictable with his footwork, and then just explode in as fast as he could. That was the purpose behind that and then he’d get out of it a little bit and start swinging and we’re like, “No. Get out of there.”

Sonny: That’s right. That makes perfect sense. Actually one of my favorite clips of you is where you’re talking about the importance of timing sparring, and especially what we know or what we’re learning more and more about with CTE. It’s like, obviously, holding back on some shots to the head doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. [laugh] Doesn’t seem like such a bad idea now. I send my guys who are sparring, I’ve got a clip with that with you saying that, talking about the importance of timing sparring and just getting those rounds in because I think it’s such an important thing to do. You got to go hard sometimes but life long, right?

Greg: Yes, you definitely got to go hard, but I was tell my guys this too. I said, “If you know you can already take a really good shot, you don’t have to keep reminding yourself that you can take a good shot. You already can.” Because guess what? Your brain is not like your body. It doesn’t get harder through the contact, it gets softer. There’s a time if you’re getting zinged a lot and you’re getting flashed or whatever, and you’re just fighting your way through it, that that little toughness just shuts off, and also, duh, you get hit and it’s over. It’s like, you got to get out of the game. It’s done. Why force that issue? A big part of it is because when I would go and train in Thailand, these guys have hundreds of fights and they play all the time, they’re playing. When they do tie pads and they do heavy bag and they clench. They’re going hard, super hard, but they’re not going to spar like they fight. There’ll be nobody left to fight. The whole art is designed to wreck the human body. How could you spar with that? They can have some speed in it and some snap, but they’re not out there to try to knock each other out. In fact, if someone gets a little bit out of hand over there, they’ll be like, “Whoa, whoa, who, what are you doing? This is not the fight. If you want to fight there’s a lot of opportunities for that.” You watch some great fighters have hundreds of fights, and you watch them timing sparring and they’re having a blast, because they get so good. Training over there, it’s like they can read your mind. You’re about to do something and it’s like, “No. Boom.” Why? Because they’re so used to playing the game and watching each other that they see this. They see that and they stop you already. A big part of it is being able to educate your eye and your ability to perceive what’s going to happen and then be able to just stop it or just move out of the way as opposed to just bang and you never see what’s going on, except for flashes of light every once in a while. You want to have the ability to watch and educate your eyes to be able to see what’s going on. Then, like you said, there’s a time and a place where we got to spar hard and sometimes they’ll say, “Okay, hey, we’re going to, at this time, at this day, we’re going to spar hard, be ready.” Get ready for it. You just don’t bring them in and say, “We’re going hard today.” They’re like, “Really, great.” You can get smashed and injured. You got to be smart with it, especially now that we do know that there is so much more damage being done than we know. This is already a seriously damaging sport to your brain. No reason to increase it.

Sonny: It’s like everyone probably had a fair idea. It’s probably not the healthiest thing to do, but now we know for sure.

Greg: We know for sure.

Sonny: I like that, just setting a day that, okay, this is the hard spar day. Other times we’re playing because we can get so much more reps in and do it for a lot longer as well. The ability to train your instincts and intuition through that play sparring is something I’ve recently been thinking is just so valuable.

Greg: It’s the exact opposite in Holland.

Sonny: Yes.

Greg: It’s like, oh my gosh, this is a love jungle. You walk in those play and it is this hard core. Even there now, I guess that you’re starting to see that they’re starting to address a little bit of that and they’re getting more time. At that point, it is going to be the toughest of the tough that can be able to survive in that arena. Maybe somebody gets injured that could have been a great fighter at some point, but they’re just like, “Oh, man.” It was almost like if you walk into the gym over there with a limp, everyone was like, ” [swirls tongue] I’m going to get after him.” That’s great for the toughest guys that just can endure. For everyone else, it’s not so great.

Sonny: Yes, that makes sense. Great for tough guys, great to prove your toughness in a gym, but for longevity, I’m certainly not so sure about. If we look at martial arts as one of the goals is to be a lifelong martial artist, then the ability to make the weak strong, certainly we can’t just have a sharp pick tough guy competition where the weak get kicked out and never get to do martial arts. I wonder what your advice could be to be a lifelong martial artist. If you were to go back to yourself and visit yourself when you’re white belt just starting, what would be the piece of advice you would give yourself or maybe anyone else who wants to be that lifelong martial artist?

Greg: My thing is, do what you love and love what you do and have fun with it. When you go in there, it’s inherent in martial that there’s going to be challenges, and there’s going to be struggles, but those are something that you’re going to want to embrace. Those are the goals. The goal is to find as many challenges and as many struggles as we can and figure out ways to get through them and have fun with it. Don’t worry. Nobody’s getting paid or getting medals for being the toughest guy in the gym on Tuesdays. It’s just the way it is. You can get caught 100 times, but be the toughest guy on whatever you’re fighting. I saw that when I was wrestling at the U . You’d watch guys that were getting beat in practice and you’re like, “God, maybe this guy’s going to lose his spot.” The coaches knew that under the bright lights, that dude wins. That’s the way it is. Who knows what he’s doing? Maybe he’s trying new things, he’s trying to play around. He’s having fun. He realizes we’re going to be here for four years doing this hardcore against other guys that all want to win and all want that spot. I got to pick and choose my battles. The biggest battle is to win on the night that I’m supposed to win for the fighters. I even tell that to my fighters, “Who cares if you’re in a regular class and you get tapped out? Big deal. Put yourself in as many odd, strange predicaments as you can find because that’s how you’re going to figure out.” Everything that you go through in the ring, you want to be able to deal with it and go through it in the academy far before you ever have to deal with it in the cage. I have My guys that are really good fighters and have many, many, many fights. I’ll look over there, and they’re getting arm barred by somebody and they’re laughing, “Oh my God, I can’t believe. I didn’t think you were going to take it.” That’s the mentality I want because then they’re having fun and they’re being creative, and they’re learning and growing and they’re not worried about, “Okay, I got to keep my reputation.” Nobody knows you’re fighter. Have fun. Then, guess what? You’re going to have more people want to grapple you because they know, “Hey, he’s just having fun. I’m not going to get hurt. I don’t have to worry. He’s just fun to grapple with.” How many different looks and feels do you get when you’re that guy? You get them all. That’s a huge part of it.

Sonny: That’s beautiful. I like it. It’s good advice. Do what you love, love what you do. I love that. I love your sayings. You’ve got a bunch of phrases that I love. Just to finish up, I’m going to ask you about just to hear it from the man himself, because I’ve certainly used these a lot myself. Yes, I’ve used them a lot myself, so I’d love to just hear your explanation of these two, and then, well, I’ll let you go. One is just that, “Repetition is the mother of all skill and discipline is its daddy.” I like that one. Can you tell me what you think?

Greg: Repetition is the mother of skill, right? Everybody hears that one. They go, “That’s great.” But if you don’t have discipline, you’re not going to put in the rest. Discipline is going to be over there. Daddy’s going to be over there going, “Hey, get those reps in. You got to go.” You got to have the repetitions, but if you don’t have the discipline not only to do them but to do them how you’re supposed to do them with the right mindset when you want to and when you don’t want to because you said you were going to do them. That’s where the discipline comes in. Discipline, that’s the name of the game.

Sonny: That’s beautiful. The other one is, “Jack of all trades, master of none; master of few and jack everyone.” Love it.

Greg: That’s right. I sell people this. One of the best examples of that, again, I’ll bring him up, is Sean Sherk. Everybody knew a double leg take down was coming. Good for you. You got to stop it. He had a couple of guard passes. Good, you know him, stop him. He just had that mentality. Under pressure, and Guru Dan said this once, I remember just saying, I can’t even remember when, but it was a long time , Dan Inosanto . He goes, “I might know 600 submissions, but when I’ve about 50%% pressure, it drops to 50. When it’s live, it’s down six.” I always tell people, especially self defense or fighting, I said, “When is the last time you saw a new punch invented in boxing or a new tool invented in Thai boxing? Or a new single leg, double leg, high cross, sweep single move invented in wrestling?” There isn’t any. But, you might have options and different setups, but it’s taking those simple things and figuring out, “How do I apply them?” Those arts like that: wrestling, judo, Muay Thai, boxing, if it’s not working, it’s going to be filtered out pretty dang fast. They figured out what works and now it’s about honing those skills, so you’re being pretty good instead of being a guy that’s going to be great or trying to be great at everything. You can train a whole bunch of stuff. Man, I trained hundreds of things from all these different arts, but I know exactly what my few is that I will know I can jack as many people as possible with. I always tell people for self defense, “Think about this; self defense or a real fight situation, how many moves do you have in your repertoire that you think you could pull off against anyone at any time under any circumstance on any environment?” Man, that goes [noise] really fast. I go, “Because what if you’re sick and you got the flu?” People don’t attack healthy, strong looking people. They attack the people who look sick or they’re just like, “You’re now sick. You got to be out,” or whatever. Now, you get attacked. What are you going to do? No warm up. You can’t jump around. You’re not feeling as strong. What’s our game? What’s your move? That’s the no jack of all trades, master of none; master of few and jack everyone. You know the ones to jack them with.

Sonny: [laughs] Yes. I love it. It’s funny with that self defense, one thing I always think of is that the positive mindset and feeling confident when you’re walking around is actually one of the key themes of self defense that before the techniques in martial arts get there is that ability just to be confident makes it less likely that people are going to attack you.

Greg: I used to work at a Target store. It’s a retail store here. The one I worked at was the highest crime store in the entire state. It was the second most 911 calls, emergency calls of all business establishments in all of Minnesota. It was chaotic. All the male employees that worked there got stabbed at least once. I got stabbed twice. It was just a crazy store. It was in the ’80’s. ’80’s and early ’90’s where things were a little bit more available to do, and they didn’t care. When you walked in, and you were going, “Oh man, I hope somebody goes after it today.” No one would, because they could see it. They could feel it. They knew it. But when you’re like, “I don’t feel so good today. I don’t know what to do,” that’s when the guy would punch. That’s when they would fight. It’s like they can read it. Having that confidence in that way you’re moving, like when you’re walking, you’re walking like that lion. You’re just like [growls] yes, and they know that’s a lion. Let’s wait for the next one to come by. Then also they see the little tippy toed around, doesn’t know what he’s doing, they’re like, “That’s the one we’re going after.” That’s a huge part. A huge part of it is having that attitude. It’s not being a jerk, it’s not being cocky. It’s just showing that you’re confident in who you are and yes, “You jump me, you’re getting a battle, buddy. That’s all there is to it.” They can read it. They’re saying, “Oh, I pass. Next person.”

Sonny: It’s so important and I think that really ties together everything we’ve talked about, I think, today. The ability of that visualization and positive thinking, going into the techniques, having a plan and then how that’s going to help you be a martial artist for life and keep you safe. It really puts it all together in a beautiful little perspective, little package, little philosophy. I just thank you so much for your time, Greg [laughs] . It’s a big honor for sure. I’ve enjoyed it. As far as power visualization goes, I can go put a tick next to my interview dream list. [laughter]

Greg: It was fun. I like it. Enjoy it. We have the time now.

Sonny: It’s been great for me. I’m trying [laughs] to get in touch with people. It’s been brilliant. Look, thank you so much. If people want to get in touch with you, follow you, what’s the best way for them to do it? I know you’ve got the online academy now as well, which might be a good option for people. How do they go about that?

Greg: That’s gregnelsonmma.com for the online academy. Then, of course, in my Instagram, Greg Nelson MMA, Facebook, Greg Nelson so look it up, look at the goofy stuff I do [laughs] . Training, having fun, loving what I do. That’s it.

Sonny: Thanks, Greg. Thank you so much. It’s been brilliant. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation and I hope you stay safe and have a great day. I’d love to have you back on sometime in the future when things get back to normal and have another chat.

Greg: Yes, definitely would love to.

Sonny: Thank you so much, man. Really appreciate it.

 

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I talk to Greg Nelson, who was the coach for UFC champions Brock Lesnar, Sean Sherk and Rose Namajunas. He is a 4th Degree BJJ Blackbelt, Division 1 Folkstyle Wrestler, All American Gymnast and Muay Thai kickboxer along with multiple other martial arts. We discuss how he creates a positive culture in his gym while utilising visualisation, affirmation and building relationships. How this also contributed to his incredible battle against cancer where after beating it once he overcame a different form of rare nerve cancer which has intrigued medical scientists. And we also discuss technical aspects of coaching and cornering fighters in the cage.

Podcast Transcript – Episode 015

Sonny: Greg, how are you today, man? It’s an honor to be on the line with you.

Greg: I’m doing pretty well, can’t complain. Save the normal complaints of what’s going on, but other than that, just pushing on, keeping things busy, doing what we can with what we got.

Sonny: That’s awesome. I’ve reached out to you because you’ve been a big inspiration to me in a bunch of different areas really, obviously, with mixed martial arts. Your own history and background in mixed martial arts is rather extensive. I know you’re All American wrestler, also All American gymnast. You were Thai boxing back in the ’80s. You’ve done work with Shuto Filipino martial arts. I’m sure I’m missing out a few, but I feel like if we go through your entire history, that will probably be a show on its own, right?

Greg: It’s been an epic journey, that’s for sure. It’s been fun. I love doing the martial arts. It doesn’t matter what kind it is really. It’s been a pretty diversified trip. I really enjoy it. For me, as well it’s about the journey, about enjoying the time and having fun doing what you like and staying healthy along the way.

Sonny: That’s some of the things I’ve heard you say about the journey is some of the favorite things I’ve heard you talk about. What I am wondering is then with that background and all those different martial arts, is then how those then informed your coaching practice and how you eventually shifted into the coaching side of things and of course, going on to coach champions, like Sean Sherk, Rose Namajunas, Dave Menne, Brock Lesnar and of course, just coaching a lot of people in general. How did you take that wide experience? Then what was the impetus to transition over into coaching?

Greg: I think coming from an athletic background, growing up doing just all sorts of sports, but then really narrowing it down when I got into high school into gymnastics and wrestling. Obviously, with gymnastics, you got a multitude of events that you’re doing. That went right into the wrestling season. I was doing martial arts at the same time. Right between my high school and going into college, that’s when I met Sifu Rick Faye and we started training then and it was just in his garage with six people. It was pretty cool because I was just like, “Oh, you doing all the stick work and doing all this stuff that I only read about on Dan Inosanto. Man, this is great.” Right from then on, it was like, everything was interconnected. I was just writing about this. To me, I never really saw a difference between training gymnastics, wrestling, martial arts, it was all intertwined into one thing. It was all about getting better and more athletic, and understanding movement, and just seeing how it all tied together. Drifting into these other martial arts, first, it was Filipino martial arts and Jun Fan martial arts, then Muay Thai, and then Savate and Wing Chun. I just kept on growing with the whole over the years. That has allowed me a huge variety of training methods to pick and choose from depending on who I’m working with. Also just I think it really helped build the creative mindset and being able to just make up stuff when we needed to make up stuff. There’s a perfect example of it. We’re just making up stuff a lot of it right now. We’re just pulling from it. I’ve been able to pull from so many different martial arts that when I had an athlete that was competing, let’s say came in a lot of them had a very strong wrestling background. They’re going to need striking, they’re going to need to build up their grappling. I would look at where they were, what type of body they have, were they fast? Are they just big or whatever? I could pull from different sources of training methods. That’s always been a huge help. There’s never been really an empty, where it’s like, “Jeez, I don’t know what to do here,” because you just have so many drills and training methods and tools and techniques over the years. Then all the testing that we’ve done with all the fighting bit, just my own wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu and grappling, Judo. Just continuing on, obviously Muay Thai and all that other fighters that are in the school, were always picking at each other’s brains. How did you develop that? How did that fight feel? What do you think we need to work on? This has just been a constant evolution of building off of each other over the years. If I have a question about something I said, “What do you think, XYZ?” From one of the fighters, from one of the coaches. We have a very interactive team, that we’re always dialogueing back and forth with.

Sonny: I like that. The wide variety of experience that you built on your own now when you’ve translated into coaching, it’s more arrows in the quiver, more tools in the toolbox that you can then pick and choose from and suit each individual athlete based on, you mentioned the feedback that they’re giving you and their own thoughts on what they think, right?

Greg: Exactly, because you can’t put all fighters in a cookie-cutter. They’re all different. They all have different body types, different strengths, different backgrounds, mindsets, psychology, everything is different with each fighter. You might have one fighter over here, though the base techniques that they need are pretty similar, once they develop that, now it’s really the whole Bruce Lee philosophy, absorb what is useful, reject what is useless and average specifically your own and mix it up and find what works best for each fighter and go from there.

Sonny: I like that. One thing with that Bruce Lee philosophy, do you think that it sometimes could be for some fighters that when they’re training, they could say, “This works for me so, I don’t want to change,” when in fact, they might be getting false positives or bad feedback on something. I’ve had some experience where I see that people take that philosophy and maybe through a misunderstanding of it, use it to– it makes them go down a path that maybe isn’t the best for them. Have you ever seen anything like that?

Greg: I think especially with fighters, you’re going to get feedback pretty fast if [chuckles] your philosophy’s working or not. We’ve had game plans that we put together that within the first round, we’re like, “It ain’t working.” That person ain’t planned against us, whatever, but because we have this really strong foundation with each one of the fighters, they have a good wrestling background, a good Jiu-jitsu background, with striking background, we can make shifts. They are also going to be able to do that on the fight because when you think about a fight camp for a particular fight might be 8, 10 weeks. All the other times throughout the year, say if there’re other fight camps or training and as you said earlier, give me another arrow in the quiver. When they come into the octagon or the ring, wherever they’re fighting, they’re going to be able to make adjustments on the fly because they’re constantly live grappling, they’re sparring, they’re testing, we have different types of people. That’s being a truly mixed martial artist, being able to do that right away. That’s something that’s really important to see.

Sonny: That adaptability obviously is huge to be able to do that on the micro-level within a fight and then on the macro-level of just big life changes for a fighter to be able to adapt especially like things we’re going through right now. Do you think that adaptability and openness to change and being a coachable athlete, do you think that can be taught in itself or is that something that inherent to just the athlete when they walk through the door?

Greg: I think you can teach it. You got an athlete who’s really hard-headed when he comes in, pretty soon things are going to start happening, where he realizes, “Maybe I got to change”. This is the nature of training, especially when you’re walking into a place that maybe has a good variety of really tough well-rounded fighters that will find their holes pretty fast, and they’ll fall into suit. Usually, that’s what happens, and then as they start to realize and then they’ll go to the other fighters and they’ll say, “Hey, how did you catch me there as well?” Because you’re staying right on his tracks pretty easy to hit you. You got to start getting footwork, you got to start breaking it up whatever it might be. I think that definitely it can be taught and I think just the nature of how we run our program that you’re coming into a school that has a really wide variety of martial arts. You’re not just getting this really even in the context of just mixed martial arts, no we’re going beyond that. We got Filipino Martial Arts, and the Wing Chun and Jun Fan and Savate, and all these different arts that people are seeing, and they’re going, “What is that?” “Oh, that’s this,” and then they see a little element, “Hey I might be able to use that”. It becomes part of who they are, they want to– They obviously drift into our academy because of maybe they feel that fits there because that’s important too. They got to feel they have a fit with who you’re training with and the coaches and the philosophy.

Sonny: That makes sense. It sounds like the feedback that people are getting from the training partners and the feedback people are giving the coaches, you place a strong emphasis on and probably rightly so. One of the things that I remember you saying somewhere is just being appreciative and valuable to the time that any of your training partners are actually giving you, and cherishing that time you get to spend to train with that person and that really stuck with me when you’re talking about where it might be that one person who you’re seeing there every week for a good couple of months or maybe years. You’re getting good rounds in with them and just being appreciative of the time because eventually, who knows? People get jobs, people move on, whatever, that’s not always going to be there and especially now in this moment we can think of people that we wish we were training with. How do you create that culture? How do you make sure that people are willing to give that feedback in the gym to their different training partners? What I’m asking is, how do you be a good training partner for people?

Greg: Well, I think the biggest thing is we always talk about even with our fighters, we’re here to build each other up. If everybody’s building each other up, well, everyone’s going to get better because if you’re not getting better, and everyone else is getting better, well, you’re just going to fall behind. We’re always there to work with one other, they’re always calling each other to make sure that, “Hey can you come in and train at this time? Are you going to be there?” If they don’t show up and there I am right away so we’re always keeping everybody accountable. A big part of it is also– and this maybe comes from just the fact that how we started the entire academy when we’re training, when we’re fighting back in the day, you showed up because you are obligated to not only for yourself but to your training partners. They’re going to be there for you, you got to be there for them and those are the people that are going to build you up when you don’t feel like being there. Then they’re going to chide you, they’re going to do whatever they got to do to get you back into the mood. Usually, you get the guys that you find really care for you and you want to be there for them. You want them to– Hey, I’m not going to say we haven’t had people that we’ve had some issues with. If I got somebody that is not a good fit, they got to go. It’s very important to have a good vibe between all the fighters, all the teammates. No fights in there, no personality clashes. Every once in a while without a doubt, it happened in the wrestling room, it happened whatever. You can get so tired sometimes both the guys are so tired, and you got your wits’ end and it’s just like they’re about to throw blows down and I say, “Okay guys. Chill out. Relax, we don’t have time for that,” and they’re, “All right, sorry about that.” Things are gonna happen, but for the most part, they get over that pretty quick, and then they’re back to training. The people that have a problem or their ego is too big for that, we just say, “You know what? It’s probably not the best place for you”. You got to get the problem out of there, or else it might fester to the rest of the guys. We have a pretty very friendly team, everybody’s friends with each other, they really want to be there to help each other out and that’s a big, big part of the development of everybody.

Sonny: That makes sense. You’re very selective in the people that you allow to stay on the team if they’re starting to become possibly a negative influence or don’t have the right attitude. Let’s say this is something that I think is probably pretty common with a lot of gyms around the world that someone gets ready for an MMA fight, they have their fight, win, lose and then you don’t see him again for another month until they’re ready to come back in and start training. Everyone was there helping him get ready and then they have their time in the spotlight and then we might not see him until they’re ready to come back in on their own time. If that was to happen in your gym, you don’t see him for a month, they come back in, how do you handle a situation like that?

Greg: Well, obviously it depends on the fight. Usually, they get done fighting, I want them to take a week off, I want them to just rest and recover. It’s a lot of things have to recover after you get down with a really hard fight. What usually happens, I generally never have to call anybody because the other guys on the team will be the ones calling. They’ll be like, “Hey where you been? What’s going on?” Either through our little messenger page that we have for our team, or they’ll call each other up. They really police one another really well so I don’t have to do that and I tell them straight up. “Hey, if I have to be there every single day to remind you to get in the gym, maybe this is the wrong sport for you. This is not one to take lightly”. All right. We have a pretty good group of guys and they keep each other accountable so–

Sonny: That’s good I like that. I should clarify injuries permitting. I’m not saying that everyone should come back in before they got the stitches out or something like that.

Greg: [unintelligible 00:17:04] say, “What are you doing here? Look at your face, get out of here”. [laughter]

Sonny: It seems like you have such a positive attitude and that positive environment even to develop that within your athletes to be taking the initiative. I know a big thing with you does seem to be the power of positive thinking and you’re big on affirmations, you put them up on Instagram and I think, “Damn, I should be writing down something like this. How does he do it? How did he come up with this stuff every day?” Tell me a little bit about that because I do think it’s valuable and I do think it’s something that’s important and I just want to know, like your mindset how you came to that and how you think it affects you.

Greg: Well, I think that mindset and that positive mindset, obviously being an athlete, the mindset has to be there. I was fortunate in the fact that I had some really proactive coaches that were probably even ahead of their time. I remember my gymnastics coach in high school which was in the 80s, 1980, he was really big on visualization and having you visualize your routines and to think about what’s going to happen if you fall? How are you going to recover? What are you going to think about? Where’s our breathing going to be? He was already putting that and planting those seeds in and I started to see that, “Men, this stuff works”. I tell you there’s a great story about visualization and about the mentality that I went through, I was learning a release move on a high bar. You’re flying out the bar and you’re coming back and re-grabbing the bar and I was just crashing, just wiping out. I wasn’t getting the bar, and the bar’s like what? Nine feet in the air so when you’d fall down he’s like, “Argh, get back up, do it again.” Crash! Finally, he’s like, “Get off the bar. It’s not doing anything for you right now.” He goes, “What I want you to do, I want you to go home and visualize yourself doing this move over and over,” and I remember him saying this, “However long your adolescent mind will allow you to visualize this, I want you to focus on it.” I was so determined to get this move. I’m going, “I don’t know, whatever. If this is going to work I’m going to try it”. The whole weekend I really spent time before I went to bed, when I woke up, random times throughout the day I’d focus. I remember him saying, “Hey, because you’ve never done it, you’re not possibly going to be able to see yourself doing this move so put your face on someone else doing the move first, and then start to work your way through”. I did that I really got to the point where I was visualizing myself doing the move. I remember that Monday, when I came back into the gym, I got up in a bar after our regular warm-ups and went to do the move and I cast it over, boom! Grabbed the bar and I was like, “Ah,” and I let go. He goes, “Why did you let go?” I go, “Because I never had it before, I couldn’t believe it.” I got up and I hit it and I never missed that move again and I did not physically do that move the entire weekend. Right then I was going, “Holy fuck, this works. This visualization, this mental game works.” I really started to delve into it a lot more with not only the physical plane of moves over my head in gymnastics, but I brought it into wrestling and then what’s going to happen if I get taken down, how am I going to come back? I’d started to visualize matches, I’d started to visualize all these different things and that really started to build the importance of using the mental capabilities, the psychology of winning and performing. Then I remember I got a book and it was by Dan Millman called The Way of the Peaceful Warrior.

Sonny: I was just about to ask you that because with the gymnastics– please continue.

Greg: I read that, of course, he’s bringing the martial arts element into it. He’s a gymnast and I’m looking at this stuff going, “This is exactly true, this is everything’s right in this book. This is awesome.” Then from there, on that book I got the warrior athlete from him, so I just kept on building, That was the impetus to really start reading books on this stuff was Dan Millman’s books, It was so awesome that there’s now these things, and there was books back then, you couldn’t Google anything. I still have– in fact, this will crack you up. I just found this because I’m digging around stuff and there it is.

Sonny: I got that one behind me as well. I got it right behind me.

Greg: I’m going over it and I’ve rewriten all the notes I had, and sometimes you’re looking at the notes and I remember my gymnastics coach also wrote for me these, a piece of paper and I have that too. I wish I had it up here, but he wrote down his questions. How do you mentally prepare for gymnastics? How do you mentally prepare for wrestling? What’s different? What’s the same? He had all these questions that he wanted me to define. I found that in gymnastics, I had to be really relaxed and calm and get my breathing down because everything is so precise and if you too amped up, you’re going to wipe out and crash. In wrestling, it was almost the opposite. I was getting super amped up to get out there. It was really getting me to focus on how to prepare myself for these different things and that just naturally went over into the martial arts and how I did the training for martial arts. I think another thing as far as learning and thinking about that is when I got to college, you go and you meet sports psychologists that are working for the university and they started talking about visualization. They start talking about positive feedback in your mind and positive affirmations. When things go wrong, how are you going to deal with it? When a class doesn’t go so great, how are you going to stop from bringing that into the practice room? If a week doesn’t go so great in the practice room, does that mean it’s not going to go well for your fight? It could be the opposite, we don’t know. All these things are starting to be developed at this time and that was right away in my late teens and early 20s and that just kept on building from there.

Sonny: That’s fascinating and I think they made a movie too out of the Dan Millman, one of the books, which is interesting. If people aren’t into reading they can start with the movie. In fact, I’ve got some notes on the mindful athlete up on my website that I’ve put up there. It’s a great book, no doubt. When you’re dealing with that with your athletes, will you recommend that, “Hey, you set aside a time to visualize.” Will you take them aside and tell them how to do it? What type of involvement do you then take on to giving your athletes the structure on how to visualize and how to think positively.

Greg: I’ll do a number of things. Usually, after every practice, I’ll sit down and I’ll be having a thought or whatever, and I’ll write it down on a whiteboard and I’ll talk about it. Sometimes it’ll be about the mental game, sometimes it’ll be about pushing themselves and when they get really fatigued, how to push past that. I’ll talk to the fighters as a group and then I’ll also talk to them as individuals, watching their training, what they need, what I think they should focus on. Some resources that they could use, things to watch. Ultimately, I’m a big believer in this, that I could sit there and tell them all day long until I can’t talk anymore, but they got to take initiative. I’ll tell them, I’ll point them the way and then I’ll ask them, “Hey, did you ever–” “Oh, you didn’t. Well, what’s the deal?” I’m not just going to sit there and harp on them. I’m going to say, “Hey, this is for you, not for me. I hope you figure that one out, so keep on going.” I got another person I got to deal with and then I got an entire school of students who’ve got hundreds of students in there. I got to sit there and focus just on you. Especially as a professional fighter or as an athlete, this is something that you should want to do. You should want to prepare your mind, your body, everything for the event to be the best fighter, the best competitor you can be.

Sonny: Definitely, I think it’s that old, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink kind of a mindset especially with some fighters, all you can do is offer up the advice if they want to take it, if they don’t you can’t spend all day with them, unfortunately. Now that makes sense. Do you put that visualization into part of your morning routine? Do you do that every morning? I know you get up and do– with the anesthetics, it seems like, and do you make it part of your daily ritual, daily schedule?

Greg: Well, definitely for every single day, at some point in time I’m visualizing something. Just because I have so much feedback over the years, so I could be shadowbox and I could be doing the Carenza and I could be visualizing weapons coming at me or people coming at me, so I could do it in that manner. I also do when I need to calm myself down and how to try to just get to the zone where you’re just relaxing. For me, that’s not easy because I’m wired, I’m like a random [unintelligible 00:27:09] . I have to find a way to do that and so that’s part of the thing too and I do this thing. It’s pretty simple where I just sit down and relax. I learned this from Brendon Burchard, he’s a high-performance coach and it’s called the release meditation. All you do is you sit there and you relax and you just say release, release, and you try to release all the tension and all thoughts and if a thought comes in, you just let it release out. You don’t try to fight it and it calms you down. I’ll try to do that, and to me, that was a very simple thing because I try to think about a candle burning and whatever, in my mind, the candle is burning and a wind is blowing it and then someone’s throwing firecrackers in there, that keep it really simple. That’s better for me just release, just release all the thoughts that are coming in and relax. I’ll do that and that’ll be part of my visualization too and I’m really big in that positive affirmations to keep myself on a positive framework, be optimistic about what’s going to happen, and enthusiastic about what I’m going to do and excited about what I’m doing right now. Again, you have to train your brain to do that just like you train your body to be stronger or faster. That’s not automatic. We always say you have the ants, the automatic negative thoughts, and they’re all over. They will overwhelm you. You don’t just have positive thoughts that come in and everything’s great. It’s automatic negative thoughts come in, you got to crush those and then stamp on those ants and then get the positive ones in there. You have to start to train your brain for that as well and that’s just something that I’ve done for a long, long time ever since I was younger. Seeing as an athlete doing it and then getting different directions by different martial artists and how they were visualizing, how they would see things mentally, and I tried to use that same philosophy. It was useful, that really works well for me and then someone would explain something to me, try to teach me. Just whatever doesn’t work that well and I’d be like, “Ah, okay, I get it. Maybe I’ll point somebody else that way, but that just doesn’t work for me.” Then there’s been things I just added my own twist to.

Sonny: I really liked that, the way of thinking that it is a skill that you have to train because it’s very easy for people to go on just to look on the bright side of life, cheer up buttercup, but sometimes it’s hard. You’ve got to start small, lift those weights and it’s hard. I actually had a good conversation yesterday with the Bishop runs Hip-Hop Chess Federation, is very interesting and he was talking about three positive actions for every one negative thought. I thought that was really good.

Greg: Those negative thoughts are so– they’ll bombard you. They could bombard you. They do, and a lot of people let them and it overwhelms them.

Sonny: Yes, I’ve been there. I think everyone has that. [crosstalk] With your affirmations do you write those every day and where do they come from? I look at them, you put them online for other people to read and thank you for that and they’re quite detailed. They’re not just “cheer up” or “you’re going to have a great day”. You’ve got some substance behind them that you seem to be putting out every day. How do you come up with those, and where’s that coming from, and how important do you think that is, actually writing it down?

Greg: I have a couple of different ones. There’s ones that I say and I do it every day in the shower. I’m in the shower and the first thing I say is, “This is going to be the greatest day of my life”. Right away I’m already preparing my mind this is going to be a great day no matter what happens. I’m going to be full of energy and positivity throughout the entire day. I could be excited so I say that “My abilities and skills are expanding all day long”. I’ll say that. Then I’ll say, “I have the power of my mind”, and then I go through the alphabet. I choose to be and I’ll say, “Have a good attitude, be action-oriented, be bold and creative, courageous, disciplined, decisive, energetic, excited-

Sonny: Let’s go.

Greg: … and just keep on going through that. To have an attitude in grace and health and happiness and integrity and joy and tonnes of love and motivation and never give up, and optimistic, and persevere and just go through the entire alphabet. Man, that’s all I think about it and I do that every single day to start off in the shower.

Sonny: Beautiful.

Greg: That kind of, there it is and then that part’s done. I’ve already directed my brain right away to look at the positive things. Then the other ones I have the sheet of paper, I think you saw me– One of them is the purpose of my life now is and that was originally again, Sean and I learned it at Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Academy, where he said, “There’s a purpose of my life now it’s like, be, do some of that”. It’s like be full of energy and truly excited and enthusiastic and totally engaged. To be bold and courageous, kind of the things I talked about, and to do what I love in a way that I love it. To serve with happiness and gratitude, to seek challenges, blah, blah, blah. Then so that you’re at the end of my life, kneeling before my Lord, He’ll say, “Well done my good and faithful servant, you’ve used your time, your talent your treasure to your ability. That’s something that I wrote out. Then the other one it’s about what I choose to protect. I choose to protect my integrity, my faith, my choice, my life, my health, my happiness, my energy. That’s a very proactive thing that I choose to protect it so that when I get up I’m going to drink water, I’m going to sleep the amount of sleep I’m supposed to get, I’m going to exercise regularly, I’m going to eat clean and green as much as I can. I’m going to plan my day and attack that plan. I’m always going to keep learning and reading and listening and studying. I’m going to value my time and be generous and kind and real and try to be as authentic as possible with people. I’m not going to fear failure, and I’ll embrace it. I’ll fail all the time, I don’t care less. Also, I’ll do that. That’s something my daughter talks about. She’s a gymnastic too and she’d always say, “Fail, fail, fail until you don’t”. That’s what gymnastics is. You crash and then you get up, you crash, you crash, and then you get it and then you start to perfect it as much as you can and then they say, “Okay, you got that now you got to get something else. Cash, crash, fail, fail”. That’s just the process. You’re always challenging yourself to do new things, or try new things. You know what I always say, “No challenge, no change”. It’s always you’re trying to find ways to challenge yourself. For me, I try not to complain over trivial nonsense. There’s enough things that are really there to complain about. Right now we got a big one.

Sonny: That’s true.

Greg: Now you start looking back and go, “God, I couldn’t believe that sometimes I get so irritated because there’s some guy taking too long to pump his gas”. Now I’m like, “Wow, that’s crazy”. All right. Now look at what we’re dealing with and so the other thing is that my thing is to try to use that to protect my ability to be positive and optimistic and inspiring. I take that on as a challenge to do that no matter what I’m facing. This really served me well, especially obviously when I had cancer because now I was like, “So what?” That was like a battle for a solid year and then afterwards, building back up was another process.

Sonny: Now that story is, from what I know of it just rather amazing could be because my understanding was that the cancer you had was an incredibly rare form of cancer, that they really didn’t know about your chances for survival. Obviously, we know how the end of the story went, it all turned out okay in the end, but it looked like it would have been incredibly daunting. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like. One of the important things I remember reading about it when you’re mentioning that story is that once you found out about it, you didn’t want to know the odds of the survival rates, and, oh, all that positive thinking stuff, you put it to the ultimate test. How did that all happen?

Greg: That I had two cancers back to back and the first one was I had stage four liver cancer, and I had tumors on my spleen and tumors on my liver, and there’s kidney involvement. It was like they’re like, “Well–” I remember at the time, I was married and my wife was like a bulldog and she was just the one that really got the doctors to start to– because I was 37 so they’re going, “It’s probably not cancer”. I didn’t get any scans or anything and finally, I got the scan and they said, “Come to the hospital”. I went to the hospital and I remember I was so fatigued, I could hardly do anything. I’d sure move and I had to sit down, I’d just be like, “Men this is not normal”. I remember getting off the elevator, and the first thing I saw was oncology, so I’m like, “Oh, all right, God, I have cancer”. In my mind right then, I was like, “Okay, now I have something to fight. Now, I know what it is to fight”. Then when they did the biopsy and they said, “Yes, all right. You got cancer in your liver,” I said, “Okay, what do we got to do?” I told them right away and I said, “Hey, I don’t want to hear statistics, I don’t want to hear numbers. I don’t want to hear anything because that takes into people that it was too late, they quit, they didn’t want to fight, too old, misdiagnosed, addictive. That’s not what I want to hear, I just want to hear what do we got to do?” If all of a sudden, and just afterwards, I got to find out all the numbers but that first cancer, that was about a 5% survival rate at that point. I ended up going through chemo and dealing with all that and obviously, they don’t know how much I train, what my mind is made up, how much physical abuse and pain and discomfort I’m used to taking. They don’t have any clue. I remember my wife brought in a picture book and a video, “This is what we’re dealing with, so it showed competition, fights and training”. They’re like, “Oh, okay”. Well, that cancer went into remission. All good. The tumor’s gone away, it went away and then all of a sudden the second one came. I always tell people, my stage four liver cancer was my easy cancer. Then the second one, I ended up going down to Rochester Mayo Hospital, a very famous hospital in the States here, and a lot of people come from internationally there. For months, I went into the door and I didn’t leave for months and they had no clue what was going on because there was nothing showing up in my blood, there’s nothing showing up on scans and all they know is that my ability to walk was taken away and I had tons of pain, just nonstop pain, pain, pain. Once again, I was like, “I don’t want to hear numbers. I don’t want to hear stats, when they don’t even know what to do, and anyways what’s up with this? Keep on figuring out this”. A long story short, they finally did a high powered MRI imaging, they found that my left cyanic nerve was bigger and brighter than my right. They went in, I did a biopsy on one nerve in my ankle then they did a biopsy in my sciatic nerve, and they found that the cancer went into my nervous system. They told my wife at that point. “All right, here’s the deal. We know what it is. There’s been zero survivors to date. They’ve all died of pain.” I didn’t know that, so I was like, “What are we going to do?” My son was two and my daughter was five, a lot of motivation to keep going. I’ll tell people when you talk about the negative thoughts and how they come in bombarding you, man, when you’re alone in those rooms and you’re dealing with this pain, it’s just like phew if you didn’t have a way to attack that, that alone would just cause a lot more despair than you need. I remembered having that and I’d get one word in mind, whatever it was and I’d just say it over and over until it’d either subside or I’d fall asleep or something would happen where that negative thought would leave. That was the battle, it was just continual. Knowing that, “I know how to do this really good. I know how to fight really well,” and I even had mantras there. One of them was, I may have cancer, but cancer will not have me. That was one of them. The other one was, I will fight until I live or die, but either way, I won’t stop fighting. I already knew that. I’m not some fantasy person. I know there’s a chance. Either way, whatever’s going to happen is not just going to be me giving up. It’s just going to happen because that’s just the nature of this. That was the mindset. I always tell people all those years of preparation and sports and martial arts and the pushing and the driving and developing that mindset and the way to visualize and imagery and all this other stuff was like preparation for this big battle. Then once that battle subsided and I came back, then it was like the second chapter of my life where you start looking at things a lot differently. Like I talked about the trivial nonsense. Things get pretty trivial after that. I remember some of the guys would get so irritated because they would say, “Oh my God, I can’t believe this happened,” and I’d go, “Dude, at least it’s not cancer. Don’t worry about it.” They be like, “All right. We get it.” That’s how I think about it now, I go, well– this whole quarantine thing when it had happened, when it started I’d go, well, I was quarantined inside a hospital room on a bed for months and couldn’t get up because I couldn’t walk, couldn’t do anything. My kids would come in and half the time I’d be zoomed in and out of morphine. Being able to do all this stuff I can do now in this quarantine, I can still go outside. I can still walk around. I can still train. I can still talk to my friends. I can go and do zoom classes. I can do podcasts. I can do whatever. It’s a different world and it’s nothing like being– what about those people that are in the hospital right now that are really going through this battle or going through any other battle that they’re dealing with? Far worse than being stuck in a house for a little while. I look at life in a much different light than I did beforehand.

Sonny: That is such an incredible story. There’s so much to take in from that, it’s amazing to hear it from you. For people listening if they don’t completely understand the rareness of that cancer and what you did being so incredible is like that was written about in scientific journals and articles and studied as an exceptional case. I’ve been thinking, “You’re on the cover of the Mayo Clinic magazine, which many martial artists might want to be on different covers.”

Greg: You definitely do.

Sonny: That just is a testament to just how incredible and exceptional that was, right?

Greg: Yes, it was. Obviously we didn’t know at that point until they found out what it was, but at that point, these other people had gone through it and they didn’t know, they found the majority of them post-mortem what they had, and then one person lived and then died. That was what they had basically. I talked to the doctors and that was like 18 years ago. 2002, 2003, that whole span of time. 17 years actually, coming up it was Memorial Day weekend which was coming up in the United States. That’s when I was diagnosed with my first cancer back in 2002. It’s surreal right now. I look at it kind of surreal. I go down and I talk to the doctors and they say, “Anytime you’re in town just come in and let’s run surgery. We will drop anything.” They want to talk and see how things are going and if I have any residual effects, which yes, definitely I had my sciatic nerve obliterated. I got some issues with my left foot and compared to what it was, they were just like, “This is amazing.” The doctors would talk about it and the one doctor who was the head of the neurology department of Mayo, he changed an entire conference that he did because of my case and how they look at a nerve cancer and how they look at abnormalities in the nervous system. It changed a lot of things. I didn’t do anything, I just fought. That’s all I did.

Sonny: It’s amazing. It is truly an incredible story. It’s that testament then to all the mindset that you’re talking about, that visualization, affirmations, positive thinking that you’re helping develop with the martial arts, that is just testament to it. They seem to be working in unison with that visualization. Going into this quarantine I could tell who had never gone through a big injury before because they’re worried like, “My skills going to drop off in six months.” For me I’m thinking, actually when I’ve come back from injuries, sometimes surprisingly the first couple of weeks I’m feeling a bit better. Don’t get me wrong, not that I’m comparing a bad knee to what you overcame. My question is, the combination then between that mindset that you used to overcome your cancer and then the actual techniques that we’re training in the gym. From the mental aspect and the mental side of martial arts to then the physical, technical hitting mitts, hitting pads, rolling round, cranking arms, how do those two inform each other? How do we help one side develop the other?

Greg: I think that any kind of hard training where you’re pushing yourself and you’re putting yourself in very uncomfortable positions a lot and you have to deal with it, is developing your ability to problem solve on the spot and be able to deal with– You’re underneath some big dude is crushing you and you figure out how to breathe and how to not panic. Then pretty soon that becomes almost normal. You think about the person that you were when you started jujitsu or started training and then all of a sudden throw them in with the people that you’re training with now, that person will be crushed like an ant. They’d be like,”What’s happening?” That process of just you’re not only getting physically tougher, but you’re mentally getting tougher. You’re being able to deal with more and more pressure. Your little aches and pains that you right now just think, “It’s pretty normal.” Maybe to somebody who doesn’t do anything, they’d be like, “God, this is the worst I’ve ever felt in my life.” It’s like, this is actually pretty good. I feel pretty good because I’m used to– obviously, you’ve had knee injuries or whatever. I think that right there as you start to train and you start to push yourself physically, you have to constantly battle that mind that wants to say, “You’re good enough, that’s probably good enough,” when you know you could do more. There’s one little battle right there, especially when you’re doing any kind of conditioning or pushing or you set a high rep on a technique that you’re going to do and you look at it and you go, “Man, I’ve been doing this for 22 minutes now and still got X amount of reps.” You start playing these mind games, “I can do maybe a little less.” That’s where you got to fight that. That’s where the battle comes in and that’s where you start getting a little bit tougher, mentally tougher as you start getting physically tougher. I think that you cannot become really physically tougher and in great shape without first being mentally tough because you’ll quit. As soon as you start getting really tired, you start feeling your lungs burning, your muscles burning, a lot of people who don’t have that, who don’t realize that’s what you’re yearning for, that’s where they’re like, “I got to go, I got to quit.” Whereas you’re like, “I can do one more, I can do one more rep. I can do one more rep. I can do one more sprint. I can do one more go.” That becomes something that you take into the rest of your life as well on and off the map because now you realize, “I’ve been through some pretty tough positions and really uncomfortable positions, I’ve been in a bunch of really burning lungs, my legs have been crushed all over somebody, I can deal with this problem.” I look at a lot of the problems that we have in our everyday life is the same thing, we had to figure out how to deal with this problem. What’s the difference? It’s just a different problem. Maybe I have to mentally deal with the pressure now of trying to figure something out as opposed to physically dealing, but it’s kind of the same process? That’s how I look at things. The more I’ve been around high-performing people like– there was that place I went to is– I talked about this, this is Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Academy where you’re around a lot of people that some of them could be really, really high-performing business CEOs, some of them are high-performing athletes, entrepreneurs, and then, of course, you’ve got people who have no idea why the heck they’re even at this conference, [chuckles] and they signed up for. You deal with all these people, but you start seeing the people that are really successful, they have no fear about falling on their face and getting back up. They don’t have any fear about the pressure because they know it’s going to be normal. They know that the person who perseveres past those pressure, past the part where it’s uncomfortable, past the point where you feel stupid, whatever it is, because they realize everybody has to go through this, and the people that persevere past that are the ones that are looked at as, “Wow, look at that person, he’s successful.” They’re still going through the same stuff it’s just at a different level now. I think that is a huge part of jujitsu, it’s a constant problem-solving, constantly dealing with pressure, constantly asking questions, “What would be the better way to do this? How do I get through this situation?” I always say this, whenever I’m grappling I find myself in a craptacular position-

Sonny: [laughs]

Greg: I’m always like, “All right, well, this is a unique training opportunity.” That’s how I look at it. I don’t be like, “Oh, damn, I’ts a test. My God! I’m just like, “Okay, here we go. This is different, let’s figure this out now.”

Sonny: I love that. That’s a very good way to look at things. Would you say that it’s like you talk about the fear of looking stupid doing something? That’s more of an imagined fear that people could have versus when we try martial arts we get a pretty tangible fear, so it gives us a good way to bridge that gap between the imagined fears in our head and the actual physical reality.

Greg: Yes. Especially if you go into a competition or something and you’re getting ready to go out, and there’s a chance you can get tweaked, you can get your arm busted or who knows what happens out there. Definitely that’s a little bit more of a real apprehension that gets out there it’s like, “Okay, this might happen,” but then you have to be able to control that say like, “Well, when is the last time I’ve seen that happen. Well, not really. Did I prepared for this? Yes. Did I worked super hard for this? Yes. Good, now I can go out there and I can get through that.” Now, most other fears that are out there are contrived, we make them up, they’re imaginary. If you think about originally what was fear based on, against giant tigers or some coming after us or another warring tribe coming to kill us. Stuff like that. Then, all that stuff was taken away and it’s like your brain starts to figure out things to take its place. [laughs] It’s like, “Well, that’s not really that scary. To fear making a mistake.” Really? That not really a fear. That’s like, “Yes, I don’t want to look stupid. I don’t want my friends to think or people think I’m an idiot.” That’s not really a fear. That’s just a loss. I don’t even know what that is sometimes. It’s something that we make up. If you just look at half my videos I’m just making crap up, I’m just doing and trying stuff. It’s like, “Whatever, we’ll see what happens.” Sometimes some of the goofiest stuff I do I’m like, “Yes, we’ll see what happens,” those are the ones that people are like, “Oh, my God, that was great. I can’t believe that.” I’m like, “Really? Wow, that was just me jumping in a chair.” [laughs]

Sonny: I love it. You’ve mentioned then that the best way or one way to help overcome those fears in a tangible reality is to have a plan for what you’re going to go around doing. Shout out to mate Pete. Shout to Pedro who once told me to plan your work, work your plan [crosstalk] it’s a good one. I wonder then and especially with competition going in with game plans for fighters Sean Sherk, Rose Namajunas, Brock Lesnar, how do you as a coach take all that stuff we’ve talked about, planning to mitigate fears and then implement a game plan into your fighters over the weeks of a training camp, and then when it comes final?

Greg: I think the biggest thing as far as mitigating the fear is you’re straining and you’re training hard, and you’re physically pushing yourself and just preparing. You’re doing everything you know you can to be the best you can on the night that you’re going to go out there. You can’t do anything else, what are you going to do? We’re ready. We have a saying here because it’s Midwest, “The hay is in the barn, all the work is done.” Now, it’s like we just got to go out there and let it shine. I remember, this is a funny thing because each fighter is so different. If you look at it Sean Sherk, pretty much it wasn’t not a big secret what was going to happen. He was going to shoot a double at some point, put you down on the ground, and it was hard to get up once he hit you on the ground. That was a big thing. He had, I’d have to say one of the simplest game plans all the time. If you look at him, he was not that tall. He was maybe 5’7′ that’s with shoes on. I’m about the same size. For the first 30-whatever, 35 fights of his career there was no one 55 weight class, it was all 170. He was fighting people that were way bigger, and taller. His philosophy, “Whether they’re taller than me now, but when I take them down, and I’m on top, I’m the tall one in the cage.” What he did because he had a speed, this whole thing was, “How do I transfer, how do I get myself from here to there.” Every single day he had a routine that he did. At least three days a week he was just really maximizing combinations and shots in every possible way, focused mitts, cables, shadow boxing, partner drills, wherever. We always joke about it because we always say he had one real guard pass and everyone goes, “Well, yes, but he had like four options.” He was so good at it, you could stop it. It was really tough. Then, if you were inside the guard and he could pass it, he was so dangerous inside there because he had short arms, he was like T-Rex, but he could hit super fast and cut you open inside your guard, so that was a problem. He had this very streamlined game that he just developed, “Okay, this is my game plan, I’m going to go in there, I’m going to take him down, and I’m going to be in better shape than they are. I’m going to condition myself so I can just keep going, and going, and going.” His game plan never really change that much. He just got better at it. That was that mindset. He was also one of those guys that was a product of the classroom. He would take regular Thai boxing classes with students. You’d look over and some white belt would be arm barring him because he’s letting them be,” Oh, you got me. Good job.” He didn’t care because he knew he could absolutely smash the dude. He could play. He’d say, “Okay, I want you to put me in a triangle and choke me out. Ready? Go.” Then, he just methodically work his way out. I never ever had to worry about anybody getting hurt rolling with Sean Sherk even though he was the fastest, most explosive just really good fighter. Never had to worry because he just had that mindset. It’s like, “Yes, I’m training and having fun.” He had also this mindset where at nighttime he’d always ask somebody to come and train. He’d say, “Hey, so do you want to come train tonight?” You’d say, “Yes.” Right away he’d go ask somebody else, “Hey, do you want to come train tonight? “Yes.” He’d have two people that were going to come to train tonight. He’d write down his third workout when neither of the guys showed up because they were going, “Oh, my God. I’ve got to keep up with Sean tonight.” He’d look at the clock and whatever, you got to train at eight o’clock at night, 8:01, nobody showed up, he was already putting together his thing and nothing would change in his mind. He already had the game plan set. When one of them showed up, he had the plan. When both of them showed up, he had a plan, so he never looked at it as, “Geez, no one’s going to show up.” He was like, “Okay, let’s go,” and that’s his mindset. That’s how he developed. I look at the other fighters that have been really successful, they have that same mindset. They know what they got to get done, and they’re going to get it done no matter what. They don’t really worry about whether this person is going to show up or that person is going to show up, because they’re going to be fighting alone in the ring anyways, so they’ve already mentally prepared for it. It’s funny because you have Sean on one end of the spectrum, then you have Brock on another end of the spectrum. It was kinda like a Sean Sherk but giant . He had already gone through so many different evolutions of his game; great wrestler, NCAA champion. Then he goes from there to, “I’m going to go to the WWE and I’m going to become a world champion at that. Then I’m going to leave that and I’m going to go play professional football.” To be the last person cut off for a professional football team without playing football since high school is pretty amazing. Then he’s like, “Okay, I’m going to try MMA,” and every one of those things, he’s risen up to the top at some point. He’s very methodical about how he trains, what he does, wants everything. When I would work with him, myself, Marty Morgan, Eric Paulson was even involved with it, he wanted to know what was going to be done during that day so he could know how hard to push. He goes, “I just don’t want you to add stuff on at the end of the day, because I’m going to push already.” He knew he was. That’s just the nature of the beast, He didn’t want you just to add stuff, “I think you should add this.” “No, I’ve already put my mind and when it’s time to go, I’m going to go hard.” The people that we brought in because he could, it’s a different game with a guy like that who has millions of dollars and he can bring in whoever he wants. We’d bring in Cole Conrad who was a two-time undefeated NCAA wrestling champion and four-time All American, and Tony Nelson, two-time national champion and four-time All American, and Marty Morgan was an undefeated NCAA national champ, and runner up in third place very good multiple time All American. Then we brought in Comprido who was a two-time absolute world champion in Jiu-Jitsu, then we got Pat Barry. We could bring all these people in and you would put them in a house or wherever and they would live there. He’d pay them and they’d train. His mentality was, “Okay, you’re being paid, that means you got to show up. If you don’t, then you’re just going to get fired.” It was pretty straightforward. But all those guys were competitors at the highest level. There was no qualm there. Then his strength and conditioning coach was the strength and conditioning coach for the Denver Broncos that would fly in. So we had the highest level people there. He would get pushed through these really strenuous camps. Then he gets done with that journey, goes back to the WWE and is still a big superstar. It’s so funny because you have a different type of mentalities, different athletes. Rose, different entirely again. Comes from an absolute striking base. No wrestling, but became very good at Jiu-Jitsu. She’s physically very tough. I’ve punched her hard in the face, I’m telling you that right now, and she’ll punch you right back. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, this girl’s tough.” She’s 115 pounds, 120 pounds max maybe. She’s tough, but she’s also very educated, very smart. I don’t have to take that abuse, I’m going to have to learn how to create angles and get in there. I want to have a set plan going in. Each one of them had a very specific mindset, but knew where they needed to be stronger, and had no qualms about developing in that area as much as they could, so it was fun to watch and seeing their growth.

Sonny: That’s great. It’s great to hear how their mindset was enabling them to all reach their goals. All were world champions. Brock Lesnar world champion in fourth fight, just absolutely incredible from pro wrestling. It’s just incredible stuff. When you’re game planning for the fights, you’re getting them prepared, how much will you tailor what they’re planning on doing? I think we probably went over Sean Sherk not so much, but tailor what those guys were going to do for their individual opponents? How do you approach your athletes and say, “Hey, your guy’s really strong here, maybe we work on something else,” without coming across as scared or without coming across as being negative? Or thinking that, “Oh, you got to worry about something here.”? Do you do that? Do you tailor it much? Or do you just focus on their positives? How do you go about that?

Greg: I guess it’s a little bit of both, because you can’t take a person who has a certain skill set and just say, “Oh, guess what? You’re going against this guy. We’re going to Lego you together and turn you into this person.” They already have a specific skill set that they have, so you look at what they have, “Okay, this is where you’re great. This is where you’re really good. This is where we got to probably avoid as much as possible in this fight. But if we do end up in that position, here’s how we’re going to deal with it.” That’s how we look at it. We just say, “Okay, this person’s a really good wrestler or a really good striker or whatever their deal is,” and then we’d say, “Okay, so now that we know that, how are we going to deal with that? How are we’re going to deal with that strike?” You can game plan, especially if you watch– This is a really detailed version of it, but with Frank Mir, obviously, the first fight, hey, it was still pretty good. He got caught. He thought he actually won, after he smashed him, he gets pulled up, and he thought, “That’s it? That’s over?” His mindset was like, “Wow, this is crazy.” Then he gets his hand raised, and then, “One point.” He’s like, “What is this?” Then he had to go back. The second fight, we knew what Frank was about. I already knew what Frank was about, so I said, “Okay, here’s the deal.” We broke him down really well, and it got to the point where we looked at him and said, “Okay, 86% of the time after Frank throws a combination he moves to his right. The other times he moves to the left, so that’s a major tendency that we can exploit to shoot in or do whatever. When we’re down on the ground, we know he’s going to probably try to work that half guard, he’s probably going to go after your legs because it worked already. Look at your upper body, it’s going to be tough to get you. You’re so dominant there.” This was a dig on Frank at the same time, because he said, “His submission skill, his ability on the ground is nowhere near mine, blah, blah, blah, blah,” and I’m like, “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to go back to some of my first catch wrestling move that I ever learned in my life, and that’s what we’re going to drill.” That’s what happened. If you look at it, it was that reverse half, catch the forearm, trap it, and that’s what we drilled. That was pretty much the nuts and bolts of that whole game. Get in the half guard, stop that and just pound him into oblivion, and it went to plan perfectly. We looked at where his strengths were, but, hey, here’s what he has worry. How is he going to find anybody with the attributes, the strength, the speed, the explosiveness of Brock Lesnar and then imitate? It’s a lot easier to find somebody who’s not as fast, is a good grappler, and we have a two-time absolute world champion grappler. He’s got some good things. So we were able to find those people, but it’s hard to find a person like a Brock. You also have to play with their mindsets as well. You have to keep them strong, what feeds their strength mentally, and you have to bring that into your training. Usually they’re pretty smart. Brock was pretty smart when he would say, “Hey, listen, I know we had two really hard training sessions today, but now my body’s trash,” and I’d say, “Okay, let’s do one and then maybe swim tonight.” You have to know your own body, because that’s where you’re going to get injured. Especially as a big, super fast dude, you’re throwing that much weight around that fast with another human that big, and you could get injured really fast. He was very smart in that respect, knowing if and when he had to taper down, because he knew he was a great athlete, pushed himself for so many years. You have to trust your athlete too, and you’d know that when he says that he’s not like, “I’m a big puss.” It’s not normal. It’s like, “I get it. I get it.” You have to be smart with that as well. There’s a time where you tailor-make. You can try to say, “Hey, this guy fits perfectly with what we do. We’re just going to–” “Game on. Go for it,” or say, “Hey, we got to watch out for this person’s x, y, z. We’re going to move more like this. We’re going to put that into our training camp.” The other thing, too, is you have to remember, they might be game planning the exact same way. “Here’s what they’re expecting.” Here’s a great example of that, Sean Sherk versus Hermes Franca. We watched Hermes. Every time he threw a punch, he’d go like this. Sean was like, “That’s when I’m going to shoot every single time.” He’d throw that big old haymaker. He could hit hard. He was good on the ground, but that’s when Sean was going to shoot. Guess what they were game planing? When we go like this, we’re going to lift our knees straight up because he’s going to shoot. That’s exactly what happened three times. It was lucky that Sean’s neck is this thick, and his skull must be super thick because he took that knee square in the face, boom, and was able to continue and keep fighting. He even got caught once in a really tight guillotine, but he was able to deal with that because he already trained for it. He already knew, “I’m a great double leg takedown guy.” He wanted people to get him in guillotines a lot, and he would fight his way out of it. He’d figured out. He goes, “If I’m going to shoot a lot, there’s a good chance I’m going to end up in a guillotine, or I got to be able to deal past the guard.” That was a big focus of his game. That’s why it was almost impossible to choke him.

Sonny: That’s funny. I was speaking to Brian Ebersole just recently. He was saying, “Guillotines don’t exist. I’m just in a double leg.” [laughs] My memory of that fight with Sean Sherk, too, is that, it was something like– Was it 20 takedowns or something like that? I think, at one point it was the highest takedowns in UFC?

Greg: To this date, number two in UFC history, to this date, 10 years after he fought. He had that probably just to go and go and go and go and go.

Sonny: There is some debate that fight, that’s number one now with Khabib what they score as takedowns could actually be classed as mat returns under wrestling. I think it only puts it for six takedowns for Khabib if you change that. We could make an argument that if we score how takedowns are done in college wrestling, Sean would still be number one. Also, what you mentioned with Brock Lessnar with the reverse half nelson, the crucifix, pirate’s crucifix stockades, I love to hear that. I actually did a video on that. I did a breakdown video on that technique. Brock’s the best. He’s finished the fight with the highest percentage or the biggest name to use it in MMA. That’s just incredible to hear.

Greg: Good game plan. We’re going to use the stock, and we’re going to tie him up. This is one of the first things I learned way back with Larry Hartsell in the ’80s. We’re going bring it to life. Because he was such a good wrestler at controlling top crossbody anyways, it just tied in perfectly. We knew, he’s going to try to block with that other arm, pin it down. Comprido brought his elements to it. “This might happen. Here’s how I want you to control that.” We were all just coming together to take that one little area of the game and just master it.

Sonny: That’s incredible. Did you practice that one from half guard? Were you practicing those setups?

Greg: Yes, from half guard, from crossbody, from everywhere.

Sonny: That’s so cool. I’m so happy to hear that. [laughs] Just following on then with that game planning and coaching. When you actually get into the fight then, I like that idea that you can only really change little bits about people’s tendencies. We can’t let go on together and replace the whole fight. That’s one thing I had to tell myself as well and tell people who I’m coaching is that if you watch a video on someone, they’re in there with someone else. It’s going to be different when you’re in there. When they actually get in there, what kind of coaching advice do you like to give? Any cues, or do you use code words, or do you have a backup game plan that you might say, “Hey, switch to plan B.” When the fights on, how do you do that?

Greg: I think because you’re trained for so long and you’re training with a variety of different people in your own camp all the time, you’re going to be able to adapt really fast. Hopefully, you have a good group of wrestlers in there. You got really good jiu-jitsu guys in there. You got really good strikers. You got the ground and palm guy. You have all these people that they’re already dealing with constantly. They’re going to be able to adapt pretty fast if they need to because it’s flow. They feel when they go. This is another really good example with Sean Sherk when he fought Nick Diaz. Going out there, we were like, “We got to take Nick Diaz down because he’s got those long hands. He’s going to sit out there, and he’s going to try to keep you at length and just punch you right in the head. He’s got some heavy hands, so we don’t want to do that. We want to try to get him down.” But when we got there, Nick Diaz was crouched over, totally ready, prepared for the double leg. Sean shot in, he got sprawled on, he got stuck, and then he got back up, he sprawled again. He comes back in the corner, and he said, “He prepared for the double. I can’t take him down.” I go, “Yes, but he’s crouched over. He’s as tall as you now, so punch him in the face.” If you watch that fight, all of a sudden, in the second round, he’s like doing boxing combos and people were like, “Oh my god, Sean Sherk can box.” He’s always been able to box. It was right there. Then he was able to set up to take down and get him down on the ground from there. It’s not like he was just rocking Nick Diaz, but he was punching him enough that it was just like, dang dang dang . It was really fast shots that he was able to set up his takedown. We had to change that whole game plan from first round to the rest of the fight. That was done, “Sean, start boxing. now its time to box. He’s as tall as you. He has to change his entire position and his footwork and everything because he’s crouched over. He’s not normal.” That was changing it on the fly but having the ability because he’s trained all that stuff already ahead of time.

Sonny: That makes sense. Just having the advice that you can actually give to someone within the fight is really what they’ve done outside the fight in preparation. You can’t just yell out, “Hey, reverse flying whatever.”

Greg: Yes. That’s all I am, too. I’m pretty straightforward in the corner. Sometimes, I hear people yelling entire instructional videos. It’s like, ” the persons not hearing anything ” It’s like all they hear is, ” wah wah wah .” One of my fighters that I used to corner, I had three commands. It’s all I said, hands, that meant something with his hands are open. Leg, and everybody thinks, “Oh, leg kick.” No. That meant kicks are open. There it is because he was really good at faking a low kick and head kick, and he knocked out a lot of people with it. As soon as I see the person’s hands come in or that neck was exposed, I would just go, “There it is.” Sometimes, he would not take it right away. He would start setting it up and look, and then he’d come back and say, “I see it. I see it. I’m going to take it this round.” It was very simple sometimes because we worked so well together. We trained so much that he just knew exactly when I said– With Sean, he already knew what he was going to do, how he’s going to do it. Maybe he would have to come in like in that Nick Diaz thing and be reminded, “Hey, you’re really good with your hands. Let them go.” “Okay.” Baam. He was also one of the guys I would just say, “Okay,” and then do it. That again is a different type of guy. Just to say okay.

Sonny: I like that, definitely one of the best guy code word, combo things that I had when I was fighting. One of my coaches, Carlos, was just blue, just blue,simple . That was a coded word, but it was just one word. For you is that, keep it simple.

Greg: Keep it simple. Usually, in the corner, they hit in there, and the first thing, I’m like, “Sit down, breathe, just breathe.” I get them to breathe and get them to try to as much as possible. If they’re busy just going, ” breathing ,” and you’re trying to tell them something, they’re not hearing anything. It’s like, “Breathe, calm down, doing good.” I’m also pretty honest. I’ll be like, “Listen, you’re getting your ass kicked. You’ve got to figure this out. You got to start doing something now.” Sometimes, you need to light that fire. Who knows what’s going on in their head. It’s like, “Listen, I don’t know what’s going on, but you’re getting wailed on,” or I’ll say, “Hey, you got to watch that leg kick. You’re walking right into it. You’ve landed your right hand, so walk away. Keep with your game plan but know that he’s going to come with that right kick. I guarantee, they are telling him right now, “Kick his leg.” Sometimes, it’s simple because there’s not enough time to tell them all what’s going on. I’ll also also confer with the other people that are in the corner, and they’ll have one thing to tell him. It’s one thing. That’s it. Because if I’m telling him one thing, someone else is telling him one thing, three things isn’t going to be an overload. It’s like a lot of times simple. Sometimes it’s the attitude like, “Hey, listen, to turn up the heat or impose your will. This guy is about ready to break.”

Sonny: That makes sense. I think that getting everyone in the corner on the same page, and then probably knowing their personalities and the personality of your fighter and doing all that preparation work beforehand.

Greg: I have a couple of guys that have such booming voices that I’ll tell them what to yell. Because, I’m like, “Waah,” my voice is starting to crackle. Marty Morgan was like that with Brock because he was Brock’s wrestling coach in college. That’s the voice he could hear. Anything I had to say I would just tell Marty and Marty would just , “Woo,” he had just this booming voice and Brock will hear it. You got to be smart with that, and the voice he hears is the voice you want to be yelling.

Sonny: I hear that. Yes. Sometimes when I’m in there and I just feel the urge to yell especially where kickboxing coach is,Nick Pudney he’s yelling out the advice and I want to yell something, I’ll just be like, “Okay, I’ll just repeat what Pudz is yelling because I get it out of my system and then, it’s just following orders. [laugh]

Greg: These guys see different things. They have a different, they fight differently. They come from a different background so both people are going, “Kick him. Punch him. Kick him. Punch him. Take him down.” The guys are, “Aah.”

Sonny: That’s so good. Amazing, I’ll just finish up with a couple more questions. There’s one with Brock Lesnar’s training, especially in terms of preparation. At one stage there was, I guess, Bas Rutten had said that when Brock was sparring, he wasn’t allowed to be hit in the head, hit in the face. There was something like that. I’m wondering, is there any truth to that? What was the deal? What was the actual– the truth behind that?

Greg: There was times where sparring hard and hard sparring for sure. Then there’s other times, where it’s just like we know that he could take a good shot. He took a lot of shots and we were trying to develop different parts of his game plan. It’s like, “Okay, we don’t want to sit there and sling punches,” we’re in there with who knows who, a couple of guys obviously one of them from your part of the world. You don’t want to get hit by that dude. Hunt, you don’t want to throw his overhand right land it on your head because if it does, it’s going to be game over. There was a time where I remember Marty yelling at him. “No.” He just yelled no because they both started swinging and somehow they both missed each other and I was just like, “Oh my gosh, this is–” but get back in the game plan. There was a time where we didn’t want him to just sit there and get into that mentality of trading blows. What are you going to do, train your head to be hard enough to take Mark Hunt’s overhand right? Not going to happen, right? Remember how much you get hit in that training camp.

Sonny: Makes sense.

Greg: It was like, “Okay, we have to try to get to your game plan, get it in there and have punches thrown at you.” Your goal is not to become a striker, it’s to become a fighter that wins at what you’re great at. There was times where that would happen, but he had to be hit. There’s times where I’d say that he’s got to be punched in the face a little bit more. We had to bring it up. But he’d been in a lot of crazy things. The other thing, too, is you have to look at what he’d come into the camp with. Does he have a tweak in his body here or there? Obviously, if you ever saw him when he did his, whatever the heck was called a shooting star where he flew up in the air and landed right on his neck. You don’t want to have this guy’s neck getting snapped back all the time when he had that issue. There was times and places where, when we said, “Hey, you got to pick it up.” He would.

Sonny: That makes perfect sense actually, now that you explained it. You’ve got a guy who’s a primarily a wrestler learning striking, sparring with World Champion kickboxers in K-1 and Pat Barry, Mark Hunt. You don’t want to send your athlete in there just to get lit up by them. That’s not going to help anyone. So, of course, it would make sense, “Hey, let’s work different areas of the game.” Like, I guess, what you said with Sean Sherk, working with a white belt is like you want to have people tailor their training to help that person improve. Again, a guy like Mark Hunt wouldn’t need to go 100% for Brock Lesnar’s head to get his point across of, “Hey, I could have hit here.”

Greg: Yes, I had been for that fight too. If you watch that fight, and you see how much Brock is just bouncing around in an unpredictable pattern, that was planned out. Because I said, “If you give Mark a steady bead on your head, he’s going to land. It’s going to happen.” You got to be unpredictable and move in and drop low for a low ankle pick and then come bounce back up. That’s why he was hopping around and was almost like a jumping bean in there, because he was trying to be really unpredictable with his footwork, and then just explode in as fast as he could. That was the purpose behind that and then he’d get out of it a little bit and start swinging and we’re like, “No. Get out of there.”

Sonny: That’s right. That makes perfect sense. Actually one of my favorite clips of you is where you’re talking about the importance of timing sparring, and especially what we know or what we’re learning more and more about with CTE. It’s like, obviously, holding back on some shots to the head doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. [laugh] Doesn’t seem like such a bad idea now. I send my guys who are sparring, I’ve got a clip with that with you saying that, talking about the importance of timing sparring and just getting those rounds in because I think it’s such an important thing to do. You got to go hard sometimes but life long, right?

Greg: Yes, you definitely got to go hard, but I was tell my guys this too. I said, “If you know you can already take a really good shot, you don’t have to keep reminding yourself that you can take a good shot. You already can.” Because guess what? Your brain is not like your body. It doesn’t get harder through the contact, it gets softer. There’s a time if you’re getting zinged a lot and you’re getting flashed or whatever, and you’re just fighting your way through it, that that little toughness just shuts off, and also, duh, you get hit and it’s over. It’s like, you got to get out of the game. It’s done. Why force that issue? A big part of it is because when I would go and train in Thailand, these guys have hundreds of fights and they play all the time, they’re playing. When they do tie pads and they do heavy bag and they clench. They’re going hard, super hard, but they’re not going to spar like they fight. There’ll be nobody left to fight. The whole art is designed to wreck the human body. How could you spar with that? They can have some speed in it and some snap, but they’re not out there to try to knock each other out. In fact, if someone gets a little bit out of hand over there, they’ll be like, “Whoa, whoa, who, what are you doing? This is not the fight. If you want to fight there’s a lot of opportunities for that.” You watch some great fighters have hundreds of fights, and you watch them timing sparring and they’re having a blast, because they get so good. Training over there, it’s like they can read your mind. You’re about to do something and it’s like, “No. Boom.” Why? Because they’re so used to playing the game and watching each other that they see this. They see that and they stop you already. A big part of it is being able to educate your eye and your ability to perceive what’s going to happen and then be able to just stop it or just move out of the way as opposed to just bang and you never see what’s going on, except for flashes of light every once in a while. You want to have the ability to watch and educate your eyes to be able to see what’s going on. Then, like you said, there’s a time and a place where we got to spar hard and sometimes they’ll say, “Okay, hey, we’re going to, at this time, at this day, we’re going to spar hard, be ready.” Get ready for it. You just don’t bring them in and say, “We’re going hard today.” They’re like, “Really, great.” You can get smashed and injured. You got to be smart with it, especially now that we do know that there is so much more damage being done than we know. This is already a seriously damaging sport to your brain. No reason to increase it.

Sonny: It’s like everyone probably had a fair idea. It’s probably not the healthiest thing to do, but now we know for sure.

Greg: We know for sure.

Sonny: I like that, just setting a day that, okay, this is the hard spar day. Other times we’re playing because we can get so much more reps in and do it for a lot longer as well. The ability to train your instincts and intuition through that play sparring is something I’ve recently been thinking is just so valuable.

Greg: It’s the exact opposite in Holland.

Sonny: Yes.

Greg: It’s like, oh my gosh, this is a love jungle. You walk in those play and it is this hard core. Even there now, I guess that you’re starting to see that they’re starting to address a little bit of that and they’re getting more time. At that point, it is going to be the toughest of the tough that can be able to survive in that arena. Maybe somebody gets injured that could have been a great fighter at some point, but they’re just like, “Oh, man.” It was almost like if you walk into the gym over there with a limp, everyone was like, ” [swirls tongue] I’m going to get after him.” That’s great for the toughest guys that just can endure. For everyone else, it’s not so great.

Sonny: Yes, that makes sense. Great for tough guys, great to prove your toughness in a gym, but for longevity, I’m certainly not so sure about. If we look at martial arts as one of the goals is to be a lifelong martial artist, then the ability to make the weak strong, certainly we can’t just have a sharp pick tough guy competition where the weak get kicked out and never get to do martial arts. I wonder what your advice could be to be a lifelong martial artist. If you were to go back to yourself and visit yourself when you’re white belt just starting, what would be the piece of advice you would give yourself or maybe anyone else who wants to be that lifelong martial artist?

Greg: My thing is, do what you love and love what you do and have fun with it. When you go in there, it’s inherent in martial that there’s going to be challenges, and there’s going to be struggles, but those are something that you’re going to want to embrace. Those are the goals. The goal is to find as many challenges and as many struggles as we can and figure out ways to get through them and have fun with it. Don’t worry. Nobody’s getting paid or getting medals for being the toughest guy in the gym on Tuesdays. It’s just the way it is. You can get caught 100 times, but be the toughest guy on whatever you’re fighting. I saw that when I was wrestling at the U . You’d watch guys that were getting beat in practice and you’re like, “God, maybe this guy’s going to lose his spot.” The coaches knew that under the bright lights, that dude wins. That’s the way it is. Who knows what he’s doing? Maybe he’s trying new things, he’s trying to play around. He’s having fun. He realizes we’re going to be here for four years doing this hardcore against other guys that all want to win and all want that spot. I got to pick and choose my battles. The biggest battle is to win on the night that I’m supposed to win for the fighters. I even tell that to my fighters, “Who cares if you’re in a regular class and you get tapped out? Big deal. Put yourself in as many odd, strange predicaments as you can find because that’s how you’re going to figure out.” Everything that you go through in the ring, you want to be able to deal with it and go through it in the academy far before you ever have to deal with it in the cage. I have My guys that are really good fighters and have many, many, many fights. I’ll look over there, and they’re getting arm barred by somebody and they’re laughing, “Oh my God, I can’t believe. I didn’t think you were going to take it.” That’s the mentality I want because then they’re having fun and they’re being creative, and they’re learning and growing and they’re not worried about, “Okay, I got to keep my reputation.” Nobody knows you’re fighter. Have fun. Then, guess what? You’re going to have more people want to grapple you because they know, “Hey, he’s just having fun. I’m not going to get hurt. I don’t have to worry. He’s just fun to grapple with.” How many different looks and feels do you get when you’re that guy? You get them all. That’s a huge part of it.

Sonny: That’s beautiful. I like it. It’s good advice. Do what you love, love what you do. I love that. I love your sayings. You’ve got a bunch of phrases that I love. Just to finish up, I’m going to ask you about just to hear it from the man himself, because I’ve certainly used these a lot myself. Yes, I’ve used them a lot myself, so I’d love to just hear your explanation of these two, and then, well, I’ll let you go. One is just that, “Repetition is the mother of all skill and discipline is its daddy.” I like that one. Can you tell me what you think?

Greg: Repetition is the mother of skill, right? Everybody hears that one. They go, “That’s great.” But if you don’t have discipline, you’re not going to put in the rest. Discipline is going to be over there. Daddy’s going to be over there going, “Hey, get those reps in. You got to go.” You got to have the repetitions, but if you don’t have the discipline not only to do them but to do them how you’re supposed to do them with the right mindset when you want to and when you don’t want to because you said you were going to do them. That’s where the discipline comes in. Discipline, that’s the name of the game.

Sonny: That’s beautiful. The other one is, “Jack of all trades, master of none; master of few and jack everyone.” Love it.

Greg: That’s right. I sell people this. One of the best examples of that, again, I’ll bring him up, is Sean Sherk. Everybody knew a double leg take down was coming. Good for you. You got to stop it. He had a couple of guard passes. Good, you know him, stop him. He just had that mentality. Under pressure, and Guru Dan said this once, I remember just saying, I can’t even remember when, but it was a long time , Dan Inosanto . He goes, “I might know 600 submissions, but when I’ve about 50%% pressure, it drops to 50. When it’s live, it’s down six.” I always tell people, especially self defense or fighting, I said, “When is the last time you saw a new punch invented in boxing or a new tool invented in Thai boxing? Or a new single leg, double leg, high cross, sweep single move invented in wrestling?” There isn’t any. But, you might have options and different setups, but it’s taking those simple things and figuring out, “How do I apply them?” Those arts like that: wrestling, judo, Muay Thai, boxing, if it’s not working, it’s going to be filtered out pretty dang fast. They figured out what works and now it’s about honing those skills, so you’re being pretty good instead of being a guy that’s going to be great or trying to be great at everything. You can train a whole bunch of stuff. Man, I trained hundreds of things from all these different arts, but I know exactly what my few is that I will know I can jack as many people as possible with. I always tell people for self defense, “Think about this; self defense or a real fight situation, how many moves do you have in your repertoire that you think you could pull off against anyone at any time under any circumstance on any environment?” Man, that goes [noise] really fast. I go, “Because what if you’re sick and you got the flu?” People don’t attack healthy, strong looking people. They attack the people who look sick or they’re just like, “You’re now sick. You got to be out,” or whatever. Now, you get attacked. What are you going to do? No warm up. You can’t jump around. You’re not feeling as strong. What’s our game? What’s your move? That’s the no jack of all trades, master of none; master of few and jack everyone. You know the ones to jack them with.

Sonny: [laughs] Yes. I love it. It’s funny with that self defense, one thing I always think of is that the positive mindset and feeling confident when you’re walking around is actually one of the key themes of self defense that before the techniques in martial arts get there is that ability just to be confident makes it less likely that people are going to attack you.

Greg: I used to work at a Target store. It’s a retail store here. The one I worked at was the highest crime store in the entire state. It was the second most 911 calls, emergency calls of all business establishments in all of Minnesota. It was chaotic. All the male employees that worked there got stabbed at least once. I got stabbed twice. It was just a crazy store. It was in the ’80’s. ’80’s and early ’90’s where things were a little bit more available to do, and they didn’t care. When you walked in, and you were going, “Oh man, I hope somebody goes after it today.” No one would, because they could see it. They could feel it. They knew it. But when you’re like, “I don’t feel so good today. I don’t know what to do,” that’s when the guy would punch. That’s when they would fight. It’s like they can read it. Having that confidence in that way you’re moving, like when you’re walking, you’re walking like that lion. You’re just like [growls] yes, and they know that’s a lion. Let’s wait for the next one to come by. Then also they see the little tippy toed around, doesn’t know what he’s doing, they’re like, “That’s the one we’re going after.” That’s a huge part. A huge part of it is having that attitude. It’s not being a jerk, it’s not being cocky. It’s just showing that you’re confident in who you are and yes, “You jump me, you’re getting a battle, buddy. That’s all there is to it.” They can read it. They’re saying, “Oh, I pass. Next person.”

Sonny: It’s so important and I think that really ties together everything we’ve talked about, I think, today. The ability of that visualization and positive thinking, going into the techniques, having a plan and then how that’s going to help you be a martial artist for life and keep you safe. It really puts it all together in a beautiful little perspective, little package, little philosophy. I just thank you so much for your time, Greg [laughs] . It’s a big honor for sure. I’ve enjoyed it. As far as power visualization goes, I can go put a tick next to my interview dream list. [laughter]

Greg: It was fun. I like it. Enjoy it. We have the time now.

Sonny: It’s been great for me. I’m trying [laughs] to get in touch with people. It’s been brilliant. Look, thank you so much. If people want to get in touch with you, follow you, what’s the best way for them to do it? I know you’ve got the online academy now as well, which might be a good option for people. How do they go about that?

Greg: That’s gregnelsonmma.com for the online academy. Then, of course, in my Instagram, Greg Nelson MMA, Facebook, Greg Nelson so look it up, look at the goofy stuff I do [laughs] . Training, having fun, loving what I do. That’s it.

Sonny: Thanks, Greg. Thank you so much. It’s been brilliant. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation and I hope you stay safe and have a great day. I’d love to have you back on sometime in the future when things get back to normal and have another chat.

Greg: Yes, definitely would love to.

Sonny: Thank you so much, man. Really appreciate it.

 

Forging a Competition Mindset & Abstract Thinking While Wrestling With Brian Ebersole

I talk to Brian Ebersole, a veteran of over 70 MMA fights, including a memorable run in the UFC. We discuss his early beginnings in the American scholastic wrestling system and the competitive mindset that helped to produce. The start of his fight career which includes training with American Kickboxing Academy, Frank Shamrock and leading all the way to the UFC and finally, how chaos theory, math and abstract thinking, including fish that getaway, has helped to inform his training and coaching methods

Podcast Transcript – Episode 014

Sonny Brown: Welcome to Episode 14 of the Sonny Brown Breakdown, a podcast where we discuss the training, teaching, health, and education of mixed martial arts to help you find the difference that makes the difference. I’m your host, Sonny Brown. In this episode, I talk to Brian Ebersole. Brian is a veteran of over 70 MMA fights, including a memorable run in the UFC. We discuss his early beginnings in the American scholastic wrestling system and the competitive mindset that it helped produce. Also starting his career training with American Kickboxing Academy and Frank Shamrock, all the way to the UFC, and how abstract thinking, including fish that getaway, has helped to inform his training and coaching methods. Now let’s go to the podcast. Good morning, Brian. How are you today, man?

Brian Ebersole: Hey, not too bad. I just got a bit of a workout done. Onto the easy part of my day now.

Sonny: Beautiful. That’s what we like, kick back, have a chat, reminisce with some good martial arts tales, and make plans for the martial arts future. Beautiful. [laughs] Now, I’ve been aware of you for-

Brian: You have a visitor.

Sonny: Nice. nothing wrong with a nice cat on-screen.

Brian: He just climbed the back of my chair, I couldn’t help it.

Sonny: The Internet loves cats, so we’re all good.

Brian: [laughs] I’ve noticed.

Sonny: The internet and ancient Egyptians. We’re on to something. [laughter]

Sonny: Now, I’ve been aware of you since you came to Australia and started fighting with the CFC, which, at the time, it was the biggest promotion in Australia, for sure.

Brian: Definitely.

Sonny: That was probably maybe your 50 fights, 60 fights deep into your career at that stage, I would have guessed.

Brian: Yes, the 50s.

Sonny: In the 50s. You were well-experienced and established veteran. It was interesting to have someone like that come on into the Australian scene because there was really no one else like that around. I know you’d grown-up wrestling and got into fighting through that. I wonder if we can start just exactly how you got into wrestling over into America. What’s the story behind that?

Brian: There’s a big difference in sport in America and in Australia. Everything in Australia is through the club, like club sports, where everything in America is scholastic, it’s through the school itself. Schools actually fund most of the athletic endeavors for kids. They do all the scheduling, they take care of the buses and uniforms. Everything’s covered, and there’s minimal expense. It’s a lot easier, like is a barrier of entry. There’s no big financial barrier of entry. Logistically, you’re done with school, you just go to the gym. You just have another PE class at the end of the day, where, here you’ve got to get picked up and brought maybe even to another town, to an oval or a certain aquatic center or whatever the case may be. Well, all of our schools have those aquatic centers built-in. What do you call them, leisure centers here?

Sonny: Yes.

Brian: All those separate pieces of a leisure center would be in our high school. My high school, for example, had three gymnasiums, a main gymnasium, a women’s, and a boy’s. The varsity teams always played in the main gym most of the time. It was the big, nice one with all the bleachers. A lot of the JV and freshman squads could play their games in a smaller gym if sports were booked over the top of each other. It was very interesting being able to go through that process and have it very organized. Our schedule, from the time I was five until the time I was in eighth grade, looked very much the same. We were wrestling the same schools, we had very much the same dates on the calendar and things like that. When I got to high school, those four years were almost exactly the same in high school. Freshmen, sophomore, and varsity would have the same schedule. We’d go play one school and all three teams would drop, which is very regimented and very easy, or I find here it’s very different. My grandfather started the wrestling club in my hometown. I co-founded it because there was a gap. All the people in my town, they never got to wrestle until they were in grade nine, which we call high school, secondary education. We had some athletic, tough kids, and they were always getting beat because they always ran into more experienced guys. They founded the youth program, which is just coping and pasting what other communities have done, but all these other communities that kids wrestling since they were six, seven, eight, nine years old. What’s happening at the high school, they were seasoned veterans as far as competition and skill and things like that. It just made for a bit of a lopsided affair sometimes. My dad asked me to wrestle. I remember one night when I was five, and I told him no. I remember the first day told him no. The next day, or a couple of days later, I can’t remember, but soon after, he asked me again, and I said yes. The next day I went, and then I just never stopped going. I hated the offseason. I was like, “I’m bored now. Can I go wrestle?” [laughs]

Sonny: It was a family tradition. The grandfather, your father wrestled as well.

Brian: No, I don’t think my dad wrestled. I know I saw my uncle wrestle in high school, my youngest uncle, but my dad’s one of the older– Sorry, dad. He’s one of the older brothers and sisters out of the 10.

Sonny: Wow.

Brian: I’ve got nine aunts and uncles, and I only saw my youngest uncle wrestle live. Now, I know my second-youngest uncle wrestled because his name is on a plaque in my high school, hanging up as well, next to my youngest uncle. Those two had won MVP, like the team captain-type awards in the late ’70s, early ’80s. When I grew up and I got to school, I knew those names are on the plaque, but I’d already started wrestling. I was five years old, I was already well and truly hooked. It wasn’t one of these things I looked back and went, “Oh, I’ve got to do what they’ve done.”

Sonny: You just started doing it, I guess, from a young age.

Brian: Yes, and it was social. My coaches made it fun. Could it have been more regimented and more [mimic] ? Yes, it could have been, but then we’d had lost a lot of kids. I had coaches when I was really young, that did a great job of keeping a large group together through all the bad grades and getting in trouble and being a ratbag little poor kids from a socioeconomically depressed part of town. Dealing with all that. Going as far as coming to pick us up to go to practice, or coming to pick us up to go to a tournament at 4:30 in the morning. We’re all supposed to meet at the school at 4:30 and drive an hour and a half. Well, we’d all meet at the school at 4:30 and half of the caravan would go and one or two of the coaches would swing by houses and just knock on the door and say, “Hey.” With the best of intentions, there were just parents that didn’t get up that early and get their kid there. Not that they didn’t want them to go, the permission was there and the $10 to enter the tournament was there, it’s just they can’t be bothered to get up at 4:00 AM and drive across town. They did a really good job keeping the whole group involved. When I got to high school, it got a bit more serious. I had a really, really full-on coach, but he did it with love. He was a really, really good guy. A Catholic guy, eight or nine kids himself. He’s actually just retired this year. COVID came and he just went all out, “I retire, I’m done.” [chuckles]

Sonny: Good play.

Brian: Now he retired, he had that decision well and truly made well before. No, wrestling back in the US, it’s just part of the school thing. A small, small percentage of boys wrestle, but still, that small percentage lends to a fairly large raw number. Because it’s built like a pyramid, you’ve got to win to get to the finals, we really do find who is the best of the best, at least in the statewide region.

Sonny: That is such a different culture from here in Australia. Just to be able to have that martial arts format baked into just regular life in your schooling system, so different from what we have here. The importance, I guess, of being able to do it for lifelong pursuit and making it fun for those kids, it’s something that I’ve been talking about a bit lately, is just how fun really Trump’s being able to focus on techniques or anything like that. I went through a stage of, okay, I imagine every person in America wrestles.

Brian: [laughs]

Sonny: It’s actually been like, “Oh, no, not everyone actually wrestles.” It’s still people don’t like doing it. People will drop out of it.

Brian: Absolutely.

Sonny: That’s been a bit of a learning curve. What do you think kept you keeping going? To keep going through into college, what was the driving force? Was it just that sheer enjoyment?

Brian: I was good at it.

Sonny: That helps.

Brian: When you start getting good, you start setting goals. I was taught to set goals early. Whether or not I was a great goal setter, I did things, I kept my schedule on my refrigerator for wrestling. Every time win, loss, two wins, one loss, whatever it was, first place, fourth place, I’d write that down. I’d just sit and look at it and I’d have a goal by the end of the year, and toward the end of the year. It’s got to be, but slightly out of reach. For me, it was always, “If I can beat someone that I’m not supposed to beat, if I’m like the fifth best wrestler in my weight class, I want to take third, hit that final tournament.” I’ve got to beat someone that I’m not supposed to. That has to be the goal. Not, “I’m the fifth best wrestler. As long as I beat everyone I’m supposed to beat I take fifth, I’ll be happy.” You’ve got to push yourself just a little higher. I’m not going to beat Robert Whittaker tomorrow, but if I go to a tournament, there’s going to be a couple of guys that are pretty good, and I’m going to say, “Well, I’m going to beat these guys.” I run into Rob and we give him a go, but I wouldn’t rest my whole happiness on beating him tomorrow. Things like that. Trying to keep it realistic, but also still pushing past what you know, or knowing that you’re going to run into a kid again. If it was a close match, I got to beat him this time. Split decisions in fighting are no fun. No one likes that. In wrestling, it instills– Because we have to wrestle that guy again, I tell myself, “I’m going to beat him. I’m going to pin him, I’m going to whoop him this time.” Or here you get guys that will win a pro-fight by split decision, and then they’ll act like they’re entitled to a title shot or, “I need a UFC contract.” or da da da. It’s almost offensive to offer him the same fight a year later. “Well, I’ve already beat the guy.” Well, one, did you really beat him, and two, what’s this, “I’m going to clear out the division kind of thing.”? Maybe go in and fight even a lesser guy just because he’s different, how does that make you a better martial artist, or how does that solidify your spot as the top whatever weight in the country? It breeds a different mentality. As a matchmaker over here, I’m finding it interesting. I don’t judge. I just find it very interesting that I’m putting kids through a system and helping a system with attitudes that are much different than what I came up with, because of the system, I guess. Over here it’s very free and open and everyone has an opinion, whereas in the US, your opinion doesn’t matter in sport. You just show up and play the game, and then results speak, and then you just show up and play the next game. I find it so awkward. AFL, they play the same team a couple of times in a year, you don’t get to choose.

Sonny: Yes, I’d be very interested, maybe we will get into it, just with your experience as a matchmaker and just your opinion on people seeking out maybe easier fights in an attempt to pad their record up to get a better win loss ratio, because clearly, that’s something that you haven’t done with 70 odd fights, isn’t it? You’ve–

Brian: Yes. I just didn’t pick and choose. Would it have been smart? Maybe, but in the end, we didn’t grow up looking to avoid people. We wanted the toughest match. Even in practice those days, you have to go in and go, “I’m going to go beat up on someone 15 pounds heavier than me today.” because that’s the challenge, or, “I’m going to try to wrestle with the lighter guys, but I’m going to wrestle like a lighter guy. I’m going to try to beat him with speed not just–” Like playing basketball, when your shooting with your brother, you can post him up and back him down and hit layups all day. “Can I put a few jumpers on, can I outrun him, can I do a few other things.” would be the challenge. You’ve got to make everything a challenge to get better.

Sonny: I’m with you on that. I don’t understand it as well where, yes, people will take the easier fight in a sport where especially they might present the image that they’re tough and hardcore and scary individuals, but yet, you know that they’re going easy on themselves by picking and choosing certain matchups. I don’t get it. It’s a sport where you can really test yourself, and you can really show legitimately you are a tough guy, no doubt about it. You can get out there and leave no mistakes, but yet there are people who will give that impression to people who don’t know any better. You can go back to work and say, “I smashed this person.” and everyone will believe you and think that’s pretty gnarly, and it’s really only the people who can look at two records and go, “Oh, hang on, something’s not right here. Why are you fighting this guy when you’re [crosstalk] “

Brian: This is a little bit in the US too. I found like, amateur sport-wise, people were willing just to go and try to beat the best guy. Then once you turn pro– Boxing is like this, once you go pro in boxing, you have to go 20 in a row to ever get a shot at anything, blah, blah, blah, blah blah. Our sport’s not really like that. If you really look at the guys that are, and have been in the UFC and have been successful, their early pro-career, there are plenty of losses for a lot of these guys, but they were against tough people. I don’t understand sometimes coming across people that just think, “Well, if I can get to 10, I’ll know I deserve to be in the UFC.” Sometimes they look to see if you beat someone, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they don’t care about you, they’re just going in there because they need a hole filled, but in the end as an individual or as a coach, you’ve got to trust that you’ve put yourself in enough situations where you can handle a tough spot under pressure. I’ve had guys tell me, that I’ve coached, “I want to be in the UFC, da da da. I should be in the UFC.” or, “I take a shot tomorrow. I’ve won this.” and I look at them and I say, “You don’t want to be in the UFC tomorrow. You don’t. You don’t.”

Sonny: It’s going to be tough.

Brian: Like, “Do you want me go sawn off 20 pounds real quick and then beat you up tomorrow? You don’t want to be in the UFC tomorrow. Can we give it a couple of years? Can we give it a couple of test runs against tougher people?” You don’t really want to go on national TV or Pay-per-view and get beat up that bad. There’s a lot of dudes on that roster that would beat up a lot of dudes that I know that bad.

Sonny: I look at the guys, especially from Australia, Volkanovski and Robert Whittaker, who, champions, done their best. From an early stage, you could tell their goal was to fight the best and be the best. You know what? I think that’s worked out better for them.

Brian: Yes, neither of them padded a record. Volkanovski fought some tough dudes, and Robert really fought some of the best to the best as well. Even taking on international challenges, I think that was Robert’s first loss, but he learned a lot. He wrestled a [inaudible 00:16:36] wrestler in CFC.

Sonny: Yes, Jesse Martinez, I think maybe it was.

Brian: Jesse Juarez.

Sonny: Juarez. That’s it. Yes. I’m sure he grew and improved from that.

Brian: Absolutely.

Sonny: I look at them as our models for– If people want to be good in the sport, those are the guys in this local area that you should look to. They would have had that goal and been able to follow through with it, embedded to find out here, what you have to work on then probably get, as you say, get into the big show, the tomorrow and maybe it doesn’t go so well.

Brian: You don’t always get a second chance. You might go lose a fight or two in the UFC and get booted out, and then that springboards you athletically. You get that brain-body connection, you put a few things together, you come win a few fights, and you feel like you’re unstoppable now. You might be, but you might not get back in.

Sonny: Yes. I know that there’s some people I can think of that’s happened.

Brian: Then you get relegated to protecting your record domestically, and you get into that weird middle ground like, “Well, then what?”

Sonny: Yes, I’ve always felt like some of the local guys who have been in the UFC and come out, kind of owe it to some of the other local guys to put that on the line, to be like, “Okay, you had your chance. Now you’ve got that Rep. Can you help take on some of the other local guys here so they can have the opportunity? Prove yourself.”

Brian: That’s it. Be a gatekeeper, at least. Go be the national champion. If that’s the next best thing, go do it. Go clear out the division. I don’t know. Just competition has a different flavor coming from that system. The two guys you mentioned were very happy to go out of their comfort zone and do boxing exhibitions or kickboxing, and Robert Whittaker is a national champion wrestler. He was going to wrestle in the Commonwealth Games a year or two ago. Alex had wrestled, done a few other things. Go jump into grappling industries. I think Robert got healed up by Tito Carlo. Not all that long ago. Just for the challenge.

Sonny: After his fight with Israel Adesanya, nearly every grappling– Probably less than a month afterwards. If you can’t be inspired by that and take something away from that looking at the guy who’s just been in tens of thousands of people in front of Melbourne and now just he was at the local gym taking on the local, grappling-

Brian: Just that want to compete, just put yourself in that– It’s not always like, “I need to win, win, win, win.” everything is just, “I want to have a good go.” You can’t always do it in the gym with your mates. It’s not always an honest, fair fight with your mates.

Sonny: There is that extra level of competition that just breeds that little bit of extra intensity.

Brian: It’s the unknown.

Sonny: The unknown.

Brian: The unknown. The uncertainly. I’ve seen some really unassuming looking people in all different avenues, whether it’s an ESCO or a Waco, or a wrestling tournament or Jiu Jitsu cup, that don’t look like they should even be in the room, and then they go out whip people. Imagine a chubby old guy grabbing Robert, you’re having his way with him, Dean Listering him or something. Can you imagine? Just that unknown, you just never know if someone’s got a good game here, a good game there and a nice trick move that works every now and again. Maybe someone is just super fit and you can’t wear him down, things like that. There’s all sorts of challenges in those tournaments and those uncertain matches where in your room you know, you can go and pick and choose your opponents and your teammates and everyone knows each other’s game and everyone has that little brotherly, well, that’s our agreed intensity.

Sonny: Which you need as well for training, but–

Brian: Longevity.

Sonny: Longevity, you need that. Speaking of the unknown and uncertainty, when you would have started competing yourself and would have set that goal, I guess at some stage, you said you’re big on goal, I’m sure you would have set that goal to compete and there would have been no way that you could have known where the sport was going or what you were maybe getting yourself into for the long run. What first prompted you to take that first fight, maybe, and how did you go about dealing with those unknowns of competition in those early days for you?

Brian: When I was 12, 13, my parents actually ordered the first UFC, and we watched it. It wasn’t something that was all that interesting to me, it was cool to watch for martial arts, I didn’t even consider wrestling martial art until way later, but it was me just watching it and having a go. Then a couple of years later, I started playing basketball with a group of guys through the summer, and they were kenpo and Taekwondo and did some point fighting tournaments. One of the other ones was really into the whole, “This wrestling thing is really cool.” We’d always wrestle and play and try to figure out how to do some of the moves, kind of like what the guys do now with YouTube, the blue belt YouTube thing. We were doing very much the same thing, but as subpar white belts back then. Eventually, that morphed into, could you, because I’d wrestle, I was only one that wrestled in the group. Well, you couldn’t take me down to submit me because I did okay on the ground with them and some of the guys weren’t very good and didn’t get it, so I was always on their back, pinning them, and even if I couldn’t sub them, just wearing them out and sitting in mount. That whole ego thing turned into, well, you couldn’t take me down before, so we could get out on the grass and put some gloves on and take them down and da da da da da. Then it turned into, I’ll teach you to wrestle, you teach you me how to strike. Then they tried to take me down while I was boxing. We just mixed up all these games, and some of that’s still with my coaching style now, just mixing up games, you play one character, you play the other character, you got to be this way, he’s got to be that way. I went off to college, wrestled my first year. Matt Hughes had fought earlier in that year. I actually went with one of my teammates to watch him up in Chicago. That was the promoter I first ended up fighting for, funny enough, in that same gym. A year or so later, after my second wrestling season, I had four fights that summer, then I came back from my third season, gotten a scuffle with a college kid from another school that was down visiting, and got arrested for it, charged, set through most of the wrestling season awaiting trial and going through court procedures so I couldn’t play sport. The charges got dropped toward the end of the year, I’d missed most of my school year, definitely missed all the wrestling season and wasn’t invited to come back to the team the next year. During that time, while I couldn’t go on campus, I couldn’t do this, I couldn’t do that, had a few more fights. Once I knew I couldn’t wrestle, that was going to be my only way to stay active, so I ended up getting a key to a local dojo to be able to train after they were done training in a matted area, and had a couple guys that were interested. One of them, big heavyweight fella, ended up fighting two or three UFC guys; fought Tim Sylvia, fought Jason Riley and did okay, considering where we’re coming from. Had Tim Sylvia at a bit of trouble, to be honest, and then Tim went on to be a UFC champion less than two years later. It was a bit of an interesting one. Had another kid that got into Bellator and did a few good things, young fella. Funny enough, my school, the wrestling team itself, produced about nine or eight UFC guys, and then some of just the offside, random kids that I trained with ended up getting into, like I said, Bellator, some other big fights. The whole goal thing, I think, started after my wrestling was gone because wrestling was always primary, that was first. Then I decided, well, I’m going to make a go with this. I ended up moving to California to go train at AKA in 2003. I was out there until 2006, ’07 because 2006 I visited Australia the first time for a couple of months. I went back for four months and left in April of 2007 to come back, and I’ve stayed most of those 12 years in Australia since.

Sonny: Did you move to California then with the intention of, I’m going to make this my career, my profession?

Brian: Yes, I went to AKA. Jon Fitch and I had taken a Thanksgiving break, we met through the local Midwest meet grinding fight every weekend kind of scene, and we took a couple of trips together. We ended up going out to AKA and staying with Crazy Bob Cook and Josh Thompson, sleeping on their couch and floor for a little while. Then we moved back separately not too far apart from each other, but after that school year was over. He got his degree and moved on out, I just stopped mine. I was 20 credits short, I should have stayed for another year and finished, but I just went, I’m going to go do this. I just followed it. I went out there, and by the time we’re out there, you’ve invested a lot to move to California. I think both of us looked at it like, this is what we’re going to do. In different ways, it work out for both of us.

Sonny: Yes, that burned the boats mentality, I guess.

Brian: I know. I definitely did, but he didn’t tell his parents he was fighting for a long time. His parents didn’t know until he was in the UFC. He went a long time without mom knowing that he was punching on for a living.

Sonny: That’s funny.

Brian: ‘Jon, does your mom know that you just spent a weekend in Mexico drinking Corona and punching people?” “No, Brian, she doesn’t.” “Well, I won’t tell her, Jon.” [laughs]

Sonny: That’s good.

Brian: I moved out there and trained at AKA for a good two years, and then Frank Shamrock left to open his own academy and I went with him. In my first fight out of his own academy was a [unintelligible 00:27:05] against Cung Le. I’d never kickboxed in my life, and I went and fought Cung Le in his sport.

Sonny: Correct me if I’m wrong, but that seemed to be what Cung Le was doing with his Sanshou. No one in that area actually did Sanshou, so he was getting some people who he could– His highlight really looks amazing. I’ll just say that.

Brian: Oh, it does, but it’s a couple of rungs up from Steven Seagal highlight. The guy could throw some punches and kicks, but he’s scissor takedowning people that can barely stand on their own two feet in the stiff wind anyway.

Sonny: It seems like that. I love what Cung Le’s done, I love enjoying watching his fights ….

Brian: He’s amazing.

Sonny: But those Sanshou fights he had in California just looks like–

Brian: He was not on the grind in those fights.

Sonny: [laughs] Just things like that, but there wasn’t much Sanshou background in his opponents, but that’s a big step in to keep going into your first fight.

Brian: Definitely into the deep end, but it ramped up my training, I was really excited for that fight. That was the one reason I went with Frank instead of staying at AKA because I thought Frank would get me into those kind of fights. I looked at the situation at AKA, which was still very fledgling. When I left with Frank and signed this fight, the other boys just got on to the Ultimate Fighter. Four of my teammates, Jon Fitch was the fifth and he got pulled off the plane with his luggage at the last minute. Four of the teammates went off to Ultimate Fighter, and then soon after, I was fighting Cung. I ended up getting one opportunity while they got another, but that’s the one that really set AKA’s MMA team off, and it turned into a big recruiting machine and sinking entertainment as far as the management started to get big and they recruited a Josh Koscheck as a couple of time national champion wrestler and the Daniel Comier’s of the world and Cain Velasquez’s followed soon after. I went off looking for those fights, and was super excited to get it. I had a feeling that he wouldn’t try to wrestle much, and in the end, he didn’t. I took a fair few leg kicks to my lead leg, and it turned nice and purple over the next few days as I rested and hung out, but it was a fairly close fight, and I was pretty excited to get in there and actually not get beat up against someone dangerous, because that, again, just showed me I was on the right path. That fight, and probably the M-1 fight where it was USA versus Russia, Chael Sonnen was on the card, Justin Eilers was on the card. We had a pretty good group of American guys fighting a stack of Russians. I fought a Russian whose record ended up being, it was 27 and 3, coming out of that red double team. It was at 93 kilos, and I usually fought 84, and later on I fought 77 and 70. He was a very large gentleman, so to be able to TKO him in round three, after trying to stand with him, because I was, “Hey, I’m trying to get American Kickboxing Academy. I’m going to show off my striking.” I stood with this guy for two rounds, and didn’t get beat up too bad. To be able to go do that again, with no choice really. If I wrestled with Cung, they just stood us back up anyway. To be able to get through that next bottle saying okay, I don’t want to fight Wanderlei Silva yet, but I’m on the right path.

Sonny: In part of that early formation of your style then, when you’re training at AKA, leaving to go with Frank. Frank is one of the all-time legends of the sport, no doubt, with his early mix of styles. How much did his influence translate on to your eventual fighting style? What was training under him like?

Brian: Training with him was– I wasn’t starstruck. I had met the Tito Ortiz’s and all these people, and I realized, Tito wrestled in a division in college that wasn’t as competitive as the one I was in. That said, he had some accolades. He won some medals. Had I went to that division, I don’t know if I had won those same metals, but I was wrestling the best of the best in competition in my room for the two years I wrestled. I didn’t look at it like it was out of reach. Matt Hughes, who was my wrestling coach used to pound me and pick on me and beat me up, so I looked at him like he was on another level. He was a three, four-time all American, and then you get to a Matt Hughes, and I looked at Matt very much– Oh sorry. You get out to Frank and I looked at Frank the same way. Complete physical specimen, you might be in a good position, but you still feel like you’re in danger with him. He was a pretty generous guy. It just took me to get over that hump to actually ask him for some help, because he ran like his own programs. He wasn’t part of the fight team, really at the time. He was just doing his own thing. He wasn’t really actively seeking fights at the time for himself. There was just that little bit of when I ran into him asking him for some of his time, like, “Hey, can I come in before one of your classes or stay after one of your classes?” First thing I remember asking him was about leg locks, because I didn’t know a thing about them.

Sonny: Nice.

Brian: He spent some time with me there. Then when I decided to leave with him, he was very much in that early 30s, trying to make the most of his brand, because he’d already done all the hard yards and the fighting and didn’t make all that much money doing it. By all that much money, I’m not even going to throw a ballpark figure out, I have no idea how well off he was from it, but he’s not making what they’re making today, and that’s for sure. You could see he wanted to make the most of the Shamrock name. He’s trying to set up a gym and set up other corporate stuff. He got in the gym a fair bit, but he wasn’t always on the mat, on the mat, on the mat. He was definitely more like a coach or a team manager at that stage. Which was okay because he did leave us with a pretty good knowledge base and he brought in some pretty good people to teach them the classes and play. It wasn’t like every day it was I got to wrestle with Frank, which would have been a dream. Getting over there and have him kind of lead the ship, like I said, was a bit of an interesting look into the other side. Maybe a bit late for me and maybe not my style, but he was putting us in front of cameras, and having us do mock interviews and all that stuff and said, if you’re ever going to make money in this game, it’s going to be as much doing this as it would be fighting. With the group of guys he had, he was giving us amazing knowledge. I’m the only one that got out to the UFC out of that group that trained there. It wasn’t my style to kind of be like a McGregor, but he very much gave us those tools and that insight if we wanted to. That would be the path to travel to try to increase your social media footprint. Social media wasn’t really a thing back then. He knew it was in the pipeline and coming, obviously knowing people in the Silicon Valley and the tech world. He had that insight and knowledge that it was all coming. Very interesting. Had he had a group of UFC based athletes 6, 7, 8, 10 guys, and did what he did with the group that I had, which was just a rough and tumble group, like a ragtag group of guys, I think he’d created a few superstars, to be honest.

Sonny: Yes, that’s fascinating that he got you guys in front of the camera to do mock interviews, because that’s the first time I’ve ever heard of anyone in MMA doing that. My understanding is that they do that in pro wrestling as like a form to get their interview skills better, but it certainly makes sense if you’re going to do it professionally to practice that for MMA. Very interesting. I remember him, his fight versus Phil Baroni actually. He did the full video packages beforehand that he produced himself and put on YouTube. Maybe he was one of the first person to do something like that. I remember at the time that seemed like a pretty big deal.

Brian: It’s one of the ones, he’s a bit of a visionary in that regard. Unfortunately, at every step of the way, it’s like he was just born too early. He was doing the stuff before, but it didn’t pay off until a couple of years later for other kids that were coming up. He did a great job for Strikeforce, and I know they had good buy rates and things like that. Again, to be able to leverage his name, his resume, and things like that, to be able to do that maybe five years later, would have been a whole different story. Could you imagine how many Instagram followers Frank Shamrock would have if he was 31 right now, 32 years old?

Sonny: For sure. That Phil Baroni fight would be gone viral. Making that hand gesture of him being on the pillow and things like that, in the middle of the fight, that would be a viral clip. 100% that will get around–

Brian: He’s not shy. He does the 10 second clips and does the really good hard sound bites that are going to get attention. That’s what he was telling us. It doesn’t matter how much you talk, it’s kind of how hard you hit with your words in those short bursts. When I got to the UFC and they wanted to do all these interviews backstage, there were times, I remember doing one in a dark room and they’re asking me these questions. I’m kind of going very long form with it, and finally one of the guys goes, “We’re just really looking for short, sharp clips.” He basically told me what they were going to do with it. You know when you come out and they’re doing the announcement of the fight and they put, for example, they put Chris Lytle up talking for sevens seconds and then they switch over to me for like seven or eight seconds, and then back to Chris. He goes, “That’s what we’re doing this for.” I’m like, “Why didn’t you say that? I thought you were interviewing me.” I was treating it like a podcast. As soon as he told me that, and that was my first fight, it got a lot easier to just go through those interviews and just say what they sort of needed. If I hit him with my left hand, he’s going to fall down. He’s going to go to sleep. If I get his back, I will choke him. That’s all they want to hear. They don’t want to hear about, how do you think your styles match up? Well, that’s what they ask you, but it’s not what they want to hear. [laughs] It was very interesting. I look at someone like Frank, I think he would have definitely thrived in a different era because he understood it, and he understood it early, and it didn’t have to be forced or pressed upon him. It was a very, very interesting time with Frank, and I left Frank’s and came to Australia and fought for Justin Lawrence twice before going back for a couple of months having one more fight, and then I moved back to Australia, and ended with a coaching job in Perth. I had a short-timer on Frank, and his influence besides being in the gym then, like all the stuff he taught me, most of it didn’t come out and come to fruition for me until I was coaching in Perth, leading another group of young men like 18, 19, 20, 21 year olds, and having a lot of time to do solo training and bag work and kettlebells and mat drills and just getting better at my own movement. That’s really where a lot of the lessons he gave me sunk in, and probably because I have that quiet time to reflect with no distractions as well. Frank’s knowledge has kind of been the gift that keeps on giving for me.

Sonny: Taking that knowledge and building on it, how did you manage to actually get through your fights until you get to Australia with, I believe, never knocked out, never knocked down? How does a wrestler manage to strike with people, even getting a cartwheel kick knock out, which I think there was some controversy about? Maybe you can explain that. Take those risks over and over again and then managed to come out relatively unscathed. Do you think that’s fair to say?

Brian: Yes, I came out pretty unscathed. There’s a little bit there. I don’t try to create train crashes very often. Even my striking style, not really trying to strike to kill people most of the time. Even the big stuff I throw, I’m expecting you to cover and I can take you down off of that or clinch you off for that. I expect to get that high hardcover, and I use that high hardcover to my advantage as well. Most people, and I never ran into like a body shot master or anything like that, most people have very big toes before they swing with something powerful. I learned to read people through wrestling. You could see when people are loading up to wrestle, and the same thing came with striking. I never really came across like a Vasyl Lomachenko that could faint and make you really jump and then slick out to one side or the other or change levels so well. I never really got hit with a big body shop, which I always thought it was just because someone’s going to hit me in the liver, someone’s going to slick me and make me scared one place and get me somewhere else. Fighting Hector Lombard is pretty straightforward. He’s going to swing with his left and then his right and then his left and then his right, then his left, then his right until he doesn’t want to swing anymore, or until I break distance or make him clench, or hit him back and make him think. Super easy for me just to use a high guard. Sometimes I look a bit silly doing it, but nothing really got past my forearms. It was a bit of pattern recognition, and then just a little bit of smarts. I don’t need to try to beat people to a punch. I didn’t have that pride where you throw 10 punches, I had to throw a couple back. I would let you throw a 10 and I’d throw a zero and that’d be fine, and I will just go to the next engagement. It was all about competing and winning. If you want to take 10 bad shots with a basketball, that’s fine, but I’m not going to rush into mine.

Sonny: That makes sense. Now you say you didn’t take too much of the showmanship stuff from Frank Shamrock, but then you did have the arrow. I believe, the arrow shaved into your chest pointing at the chin, goading people to come and try and knock you out. Was that just a part of gamesmanship?

Brian: Yes, eventually, like I said, Frank’s lesson started to sink in a little bit. I realized I’ve got to go out and show. It can’t just be head down, hoodie up, EarPods in, warm-up, compete, leave. I started to have a little bit more fun at the way so that whole arrow thing was a weigh-in thing. I told the guy at the weigh-in that he’s going to have to hit me to beat me. You’re not cow wrestling, you better bring your hands tomorrow. Then when I showed up, I left a goatee and an arrow on the chin. It was a longer story than just shaving the arrow. That was a bit set up, a bit of verbal sparring at the way in. Then I kept it from there because people loved it and had a laugh and I was like, “Well, even getting out of UFC–” While I was in the UFC I said, “Nobody knows my name, and that’s okay. They just know the guy with the arrow. Even after, I still get people who are like, “Oh, you’re the arrow guy.” Nobody knows my name. I had a few more fights without a change maybe, but in the end, I left an impression, and like I said, it started to sink in that you got to do something different. I wanted to get out of Australia into the UFC. I’m like, “Listen, I’ve got that many fights. I can compare myself to these many guys that have fought similar opponents or some of the guys I had beaten, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I’ve got to get in.” When I came over here, I decided if I’m going to go and be the best guy, it might not be enough just to be the best guy. I’ve got to have a bit of fun with it and show that I can play the entertainment side of the sport a little bit.

Sonny: The first time I think I saw you fight was with the CFC. The first fight was with Dylan Andrews, I think.

Brian: Correct.

Sonny: My recollection was you’re walking out to the cage on your mobile phone, and [chuckles] you went and sat down in the corner having a chat with someone.

Brian: Yes, I told everyone I was talking to my mom.

Sonny: Were you really? What was going on there?

Brian: I may or may not have been, but that’s what I told everyone.

Sonny: We’ll leave that to a bit of [crosstalk] secret.

Brian: Because I’ve done it a few times. I walked out with my phone at Strikeforce in the US. I don’t remember how many of those were real phone calls and how many of them weren’t, but I’ve done it a few times.

Sonny: The most important thing is that you left an impression that when I think about it, I can’t probably tell you what happened in the fight. I remember that walk out very vividly. There’s that to take away.

Brian: I didn’t realize, but they gave me the nickname bad boy without me knowing. I just showed up on the poster. It was Brian the bad boy. That was all. I was like, “Well, okay, I’m the American guy. I’m from out of town. That’s fair.” Then it stuck.

Sonny: Then speaking of the weigh-ins then that led to the arrow, I’ve got to ask you about what happened at the Hector Lombard weigh-in. What was it like fighting him? Because at the time, I guess he was kind of unknown, or he wasn’t what he came to be known as. I remember there was this scuffle at the weigh-in. You were wearing, it was like a Buddhist flag around your neck or something like that. What was that flag? What were you wearing? Then what actually went down there?

Brian: When I fought Hector, he was at 84 kilos, and I was already weighing 76 waking up on a day, and I knew I was going to 70, but I couldn’t get a fight at 70. Without naming names, there were just people in that division that wouldn’t sign to fight me at 70. I looked at Hector and I went, “Well, okay, I wasn’t that weight class. I’m not really weighing in that weight class now, but that’s something only I know. Everyone else thinks I’m a middleweight.” I couldn’t exactly duck him after beating a couple of guys at middleweight and then going on the lightweight or on the welterweight now. Everyone’s going to say, “Well, you’re ducking Hector.” Even though I’d went vegetarian, I’d leaned out a ton for the first time in my life properly without doing weight cutting. I actually had a glass of wine and a liter of water at the weigh-in just to get up to 77.5. Hector would have weighed in 83.9. I had a scroll around my neck, obviously, that got me up to maybe 78 kilos, but it said something about power doesn’t come from something, it comes from an indomitable spirit. Hector is walking around. Obviously we all theorize he’s used some substances in his day. He doesn’t pass the sniff test on that.

Sonny: Didn’t he get positive for a test?

Brian: Yes, there’s that. We made that up.

Sonny: [laughs]

Brian: You never know. It’s like you can do it when you’re 18 but those gains stay with you. It’s not–

Sonny: That’s not big things with that.

Brian: That’s what people don’t get. Is you don’t need to be on it all the time. It’s just when you make gains like that, your body holds that knowledge and that gain. I’ve talked to some people that know a bit about it on other podcasts, and they’ve given me the science behind all that and very interesting, the way the body lays down muscle and it lays down neural pathways and things like that. I was given a bit of a hard time in that regard, but not so subtle. I asked for drug tests for that fight, and CFC said, “Okay.” My drug test came out of my purse. I don’t know if they actually properly drug tested Hector or not. I remember peeing in a cup and that was really it and I don’t know who read it, who tested that. There wasn’t much said other than I lost 500 marks and I got to pee in a cup later that day. In the end, I was– Because I wasn’t given privy to the process, but I was asking Hector, “Are you going to be able to pee anytime soon? Because I don’t want to wait around for two and a half, three hours while you rehydrate to pee.” He didn’t probably even know what I said, and he just flew off the handle. I looked over at Luke, I said, “Hey, do we have to wait around? You know he’s 83.9 right now. He’s cut six kilos. How long do I got to wait tonight? I just want to go home and rest or go back to the hotel,” whatever it was. Just have a laugh. Hector flew off the handle. He came up to me and threw a combo, and then I stood behind my shortest coach so my Chin’s resting over top of his head and I’m still talking to Hector having a laugh. I’m like, ” Hold me back, Taff . Hold me back.” [laughs] He wasn’t really holding me back, obviously, but just having a big laugh. Well, Hector tried to pick up a barstool and chase me with it after that. I got to block my first four punches from Hector at the weigh-in, and then the barstool stuff and then the, “I’ll kill you in the streets,” and all sorts of crazy stuff coming out of his mouth. It seemed like a Scarface kind of speech that he gave me. The Cuban accent and everything. That left a little bit of a fun start to the whole charade and fight weekend. Then obviously we get in the fight and I cut him with an elbow in round one. I ended up getting cut myself in round three, and I blew my knee out a bit in round four. While in full guard, I just case gave the ref a bit of a wave and said, “Hey, that’s me for the day. I’m not going to go and ruin my knee on this guy.” Subsequent to the fight, Hector’s freaking out saying I headbutted him, [laughs] and that’s how I cut him. I had someone slow the video down and send it off on Twitter or something like that. He’s telling me he bet me $5,000 that it was a headbutt. I’m like, “Well, give me your $5,000 because here’s a video. There’s my elbow.” Having a laugh and flew off the handle. We had a few funny run-ins over the years since then. Obviously, he and I were in the UFC at the same time. He’s always been an interesting one for me.

Sonny: Yes, he’s definitely, definitely a character, who will say that. Then going from those fights, those local fights in the CFC, getting the call-up, finally, to get into the UFC while you’ve been training out here. I think the first one it was a replacement fight.

Brian: It was, yes. I replaced Carlos Condit against Chris Lytle. They were going to fight to see who was going to fight at GSP. The winner was going to get the title shot.

Sonny: Wow. At the time, Condit and Chris Lytle, it certainly wasn’t an easy fight to go into the UFC on. How prepared were you for that? Was that the moment you’d always been waiting for? How did that go down?

Brian: I had fought the June before, like six, seven months before I’d fought Carlos Newton in Brisbane. I practiced a few nasty movements and a few things that are just mean. He was one of the first guys I knew when I got in there that I could do a few things with, and I had to hold back the tiniest bit. I would hate to rip the leg off of a legend. I’m not the meanest guy. Then, I go fight Chris Lytle and it was the same thing. It’s like, “I need to beat him up, but I can’t heel hook him and I can’t do this and I can’t do that.” I could choke him and maybe hit him a few times [chuckles] . I beat Carlos Newton, and after round two, I knew I was up two rounds to zero, so round three, just played the same game, clinch, strike, throw a few kicks, and mostly coast. I didn’t go to the ground with him at all because I didn’t really want to give him any comfort and any shot. Then, the same thing, calling UFC like I want to get into UFC 127, it’s six, seven months away, da, da, da, da, da. “Well, we don’t need an American with 12 losses. You didn’t beat Carlos all that impressively,” when I said, “I’ve just been a UFC champ.” “It wasn’t that impressive. You didn’t finish him.” I’m like, “I have to go kill people to get a shot in UFC?” It was frustrating. Then, obviously, two weeks out or 10 days out, 11 days out, there’s an injury, so I do get a call-up. Luckily, I was training for a fight on the Gold Coast that was going to happen a week before the UFC. They pulled me out of a fight like five days before I was going to fight, maybe seven. Luckily, I was in training, but I was at a point where after the Carlos Newton fight, I was ready to be done. I was ready to just coach and be done. Then, I took a fight in Tasmania that was against someone I know, and I knew he wasn’t going to be able to beat me. That was one of those safe record padding fights but wasn’t really for the record, it was just for a couple of dollars so I could continue feeding myself. Then, I got the call for the UFC. Super happy to get in there, compete really well, get a Fight of the Night bonus which really saved everything because, without those bonuses, my pay would have been so paltry. It would have been tough to continue. I had a really bad injury pop up right after that fight. Two weeks later, I was in Melbourne doing a seminar and I was talking on one knee while holding onto a single leg not bearing any weight or anything from that single leg. I was just about to transition through a double. Before I even went into the move while I was talking, my back seized up. It was a slow little process, but over the course of 10 minutes, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do anything with myself for the rest of the day. I talked to a couple of students that I was familiar with through the rest of the seminar and they did all the demos. That night, I couldn’t even get out of the bed. I couldn’t get up to go to the toilet. I was crawling, excruciating pain. It was a bit of a tough one. Had I not got that bonus, I probably wouldn’t even have fought the next fight. I probably would have called it right there, but because they had that bonus money, I was able to really spend some money on myself and go chiro, osteo, physio, PT, pilates, and get myself core strength and strong to where I was confident enough not to rip my back again. The second fight was Dennis Hallman, I got another bonus. I was able to spend that money again.

Sonny: That’s got to be a good story.

Brian: Oh, that was amazing.

Sonny: Maybe that you were just on the receiving end of–

Brian: He made my day [laughs] .

Sonny: Yes, I guess the story was pretty much, “He’s won.” It’s definitely the most unique bonus probably given in UFC history, which is basically for beating Dennis Hallman after you came out wearing a pair of speedos for the fight.

Brian: I mean, go figure, I let the guy on my back to start.

Sonny: [laughs]

Brian: The last place you want a guy in speedos, but also the last place you want Dennis Hallman. Shocking, shocking start to the fight but it worked out.

Sonny: Did you flinch at all when he came out in the speedos? Because it was seen as such an egregious act at then.

Brian: I’ve wrestled my whole life, that’s normal stuff. That’s normal.

Sonny: At one stage in the sport, that was par for the course.

Brian: The pro wrestling, just wrestling.

Sonny: Yes, but he certainly coped at that night [laughs] .

Brian: You have Sakuraba. Even Frank Shamrock wore a pair of tights in one of his fights. Dan Severn. Ken Shamrock. It didn’t throw me off. It was so different than what you see in that era because everyone was wearing boardshorts, or maybe the Bad Boy spats closer to your knee. No, because, again, I’m old. As far as data goes, it’s like, yes, that data was collected a while ago seeing all those tiny, tiny, tiny shorts. Hulk Hogan even, Ultimate Warrior, all that stuff. Pro wrestling ravishing Rick Rude. That was all normal to me just because the recent data has drifted away and towards boardshorts and all that, it didn’t quite get me. Had I not had 50 fights and been a pro wrestling fan, then it might have been different. Everyone else freaked out. I had a good chuckle to myself. The only time I flinched in that whole fight was when he threw a head kick a bit unexpected. I caught it off my form and I turned and I went to square back up but he followed me on a path I didn’t expect, and he was jumped on my back pretty early. I was watching the video. I was so upset with myself. I said, “What am I doing?” I acted like he was a Cro Cop. I acted like he was Cro Cop kicking me in the head.

Sonny: That’s classic.

Brian: Yes. It made for good fun. Those bonuses really helped. In one way, I’ve got a lot of knowledge now that I wouldn’t have had I not hurt myself, so that’s cool, but not cool because I had to hurt myself to get that knowledge. Just about core strength and mobility and just different modes of exercise. It’s just not all about just bench, squat, deadlift, pick people up, throw them down if you want to be a real martial artist. Interesting days.

Sonny: You had some more fights in the UFC, but now, you’ve moved on now into a coaching role. I’m wondering, you mentioned there being a real martial artist, what do you expect from the guys that you’re coaching now with getting that– You even mentioned getting the old data and the new data from life experience. Taking that part of being a real martial artist that way that you’re collecting data, how do you translate that onto the guys that you’re coaching now? What do you expect them to grow into?

Brian: More of an expectation of an individual, for me, it’s like once people show me that they actually want to compete because, again, half the people I’m in contact with don’t want to compete, and I love that. I love the fact that MMA and whatnot is a sport where average Joes get to come in and help push competitive athletes a bit. It almost renders that at least team environment that’s missing from this individual type of sport where you get dads and whatnot that come in and can wrestle with Alex Volkanovski, three or four dads or trading rounds with them and giving them a push. When someone tells me they want to compete, it’s my job to find out what their normal life looks like, and then for us both to figure out what their best effort toward becoming a competitive martial artist would look like. All my guys will have a different schedule, and that’s not predicated on like, “To be a fighter, you have to do this, this, this, and this, and spend this much time,” it’s, “This is what your life looks like, so to be the best martial artist you can be, this has got to be what we do,” if that makes sense. If I get someone working four 12-hour shifts, their training routine has to look different than someone that works five eight-hour shifts. It has to be different. The rest, recovery, the time expectancy, all that has to be different. I get guys that– some guys are bucket listers, want to have one or two. It’s like, “Let’s be smart about the one or two we do and when we do them, it doesn’t have to be tomorrow, or do you want to have one now and then take a year to ruminate on those lessons and get good and then have the other one? How do you want to do it?” Some guys want to go back to back to back to back to back. It’s my job more to manage people because if just left to their own devices, some people would just try to run through the brick wall over and over and over and over and over, and that’s not always the best way to get a result. It’s very interesting because it’s not a sport environment. I don’t have people all coming from eight hours of sitting in desks and walking hallways and then training for two hours. I don’t have it to where I can call them in at 6:00 AM to do a run and a conditioned session before classes or go to school all day and then train after. Everyone’s coming from different areas. Some of my best athletes don’t even train together because they have different work schedules. One guy is in my 5:30 class, one guy is in my 7:30 every day. The only day they get together is on a Saturday. It’s such a different story dealing with the amateur guys. Everyone has a different end goal or outlook. Some guys know that they’re going to have four or five amateur fights, and that’s probably going to be it. Then, you get other guys that have that little bit of, “If I catch–” That’s what I did. if I threw mud at the wall and it stuck, and that’s why I kept going. I’m like, “I’m pretty good at this. I’m going to keep going. I’m going to move to California. I’m still winning most of my fights, I’m going to keep going.” At any point, one fighter, one incident could have changed everything. Trying to look at people and stay sustainable and that little bit of longevity and let them fall in love with the sport is one aspect. Then, the other aspect is, “How do we get you as well prepared as possible?” but again, knowing that you have a life outside of the gym. Because, again, we’re not in school all day.

Sonny: With maybe not as many people doing it for the competitive side and it’s not being as regimented for sport, then what would you say the main benefit of training martial arts, of being a martial artist can be for people to apply outside of that sporting context? What life lessons can they take from that training that you think are possible?

Brian: Martial arts is a really, really good– I don’t know if platform is the right word, but in the sense that you can start as a complete beginner and not know anything and feel uncoordinated, and you can truly see your progression with the same effort like weightlifting. If you can lift 10, then 20, then 30, then 40, then 50, you can see it go up, but this is more of a feeling of coordination of whole-body awareness. It’s very interesting for someone to be able to come in knowing nothing, and then the power of, “I can defend myself, I can move people at will, I can sustain being attacked and defend, defend, defend and still turn the tide to where, eventually, I become the attacker in a grappling situation or a striking situation.” Being able to set goals and see progress, again, inside the gym, is very easy where sometimes, in your work environment, you don’t really have a tangible plateau to get to and a hill to climb. For me, with my students, it’s very, very important for them to realize where they were two months ago and give themselves the credit for the work they’ve done to get there, and then to look at themselves in other avenues and go, “Yes, I can get better at everything in my life. I don’t have to stay stagnant.” You can get better as a parent. You can get better as a husband. You can get better as a friend. You can get better just with different bits of awareness in different modes.

Sonny: When you’re talking about getting as a better friend, sometimes, it’s hard to get the tangible feedback on what that actually would involve that you can get with something like martial arts, which I guess makes it more like an art. You can probably tell if you’re getting better at painting, if you’re getting better at playing an instrument, and that puts it into that art field. Would you think that’s reasonable to say?

Brian: Yes. With any drawing, you could draw anything, like a bowl of fruit and do it 20, 30, 40 times, you’re going to notice a difference. That same thing, if you’re going to get on a pads or a mitt routine, you’re going to notice the difference. You can get on a wrestling set of drills from touch to take down, to guard pass, to submission, you’re going to notice that you’re smoother and it’s flowing better and you’re not freezing up or thinking or getting in your own way. It’s interesting that it’s not just one training modality that’s going to get you the big picture of improvement. Sometimes, you hit the bag, trying to be light as a feather and retract really well. Other times, you’re trying to punch all the way through the bag. Sometimes, you’re trying to be as fast as you can. Sometimes, you have to slow it all the way down and try to draw the perfect pathway. With those even just four or five little modalities there, think about going into any other avenue of your life to get a response from a friend or to get a response from your child or your pet, to train my cat how to shake hands. I had to try a few different ways to get my daughter to want to dress her self [laughs] . You’ve got to try a few different ways and a few different things. Yes, it does translate very, very well if people are willing to be a bit abstract with their thinking.

Sonny: Okay. Talk about abstract thinking, in my mind, teaching your cat to shake hands is pretty abstract. Am I wrong? I don’t own a cat, but that doesn’t seem like everyone’s thought that one.

Brian: The first time trying to get him to shake hands was like I’d touch his paw to try to make him give it to me, and he didn’t quite get it. He was just looking at me like I’m trying to start a fight so he bites me, which he’s doing right now. Obviously, trying to get food involved, but then you’ve got to make sure he’s properly hungry. It’s like, “Do I do it during the day? Do I do it at night? Do I do it in the middle of the day?” Funny enough, the one that got it with our cat was my daughter. My daughter actually taught him how to shake hands. I’m sitting here racking my brain trying to figure it out how to get through to him, and then I just handed the treats to my daughter and say, “You try,” and then she does it [chuckles] .

Sonny: Interesting.

Brian: Very interesting.

Sonny: Would you say a little bit of abstract thinking has influenced your martial arts career or was it the martial arts that maybe made you see the benefit of abstract thinking?

Brian: I think I was always like that. When I wrestled, I had different ticks and different internal processes than my teammates, and because I had teammates, the same teammates, a couple of them from the time I was 8-years-old all the way until 18, we would actually talk about how we trained, not just, “Oh, I took you down today,” and, “Oh, you got me a good one.” It was like, “When you’re hitting 20 double A’s, what are you thinking about?” We all had a little bit of a different answer to that question, so it made me realize there’s different ways to skin a cat kind of thing. Getting our brain and body to connect is different for everyone, but it has to be done for everyone if they’re going to get efficient and proficient at things.

Sonny: Okay. It was your way of just chatting to people about what happened in training and noticing that everyone took away something a little different or saw things a little differently that opened you up to the idea that that’s occurring and there’s maybe a way to use that to your advantage?

Brian: Yes, and that’s why I look at everyone as unique. I don’t train everyone exactly the same. I don’t speak to everyone exactly the same, which is the one nice thing. In the scholastic sports, it’s a lot of teams speeches or team talks, which is good in one way because you can say something that might only be about one or two players but you’re saying it to the whole team, and it’s up to the individual to figure out whether that’s a general speech, whether it’s actually talking about you in particular [chuckles] or your mindset in particular because there’s some speech where you’re like, “He’s not talking about me. The coach is razzing on someone, I don’t know who it is, but this isn’t about me, but I’ll just sit here and suffer anyway.” Whereas, the martial arts thing, I get a lot more one-on-one time with my athletes. I do have to take into account how they’re motivated, what view they take because you can really push someone the wrong way and get a completely different result and put them off. Like I said about my early, early wrestling coaches, they made everything fun. Even the challenges have to have some semblance of the dangling carrot or a bit of fun to get people to respond.

Sonny: Okay, that makes sense. I hear that. Is there anything that you would say outside of your martial arts experience that has given you different perspectives that you found useful when going back into martial arts, things that you’ve taken outside? Maybe a different form of art that hasn’t been able to translate over for you?

Brian: Can you rephrase that one time, sorry?

Sonny: Sure. There’s the benefit of seeing different perspectives within martial arts training and knowing that each individual needs to be treated as an individual, and you’ve taken that from abstract thinking. Is there anything abstracting from that? Is there anything outside of martial arts practice that people wouldn’t necessarily associate with martial arts that maybe has helped inform your journey in martial arts? Maybe, maybe not.

Brian: I was a history major in college. Not that I got all deep and I didn’t have a major specialty, I just wanted to be a history teacher in high school. I basically just had to know– I didn’t have to specialize in English history or this or that, I just had to know how historians operate, how they do their research. All the reading and all the stuff, you come across history repeating itself over and over and over, but it always has different little wrinkles. Wars were waged for the same reasons over and over and over, but it always seemed like it was a different emotional trigger that would get a leader or a warlord to decide they wanted to take someone over. Whether it was a slight or whether it was they have that resource that I really like, the shiny sparkly thing over there, I’m going to go attack them and take that from them. I always find that very interesting. Then, having a bit of a mathematical mind and taking finite math was probably one of the weirdest, most interesting classes I ever took. It talked about like chaos theory and we used to do stuff like drops of ink and how they splatter, and how somehow mathematically, it makes sense, and trying to get my mind around stuff like that. I found it very odd, but statistics and order have always resonated an interesting way with me. Everyone thinks they’re unique, but if you take a bigger sampling, they’re not, but then again, you can’t– If I try to judge what you’re going to do next, I couldn’t. You’d be unpredictable. On a larger set of a million, it would be predictable. There’s going to be a certain percentage that this, this, this, and this. I know I’m getting a bit out there with it.

Sonny: I know but keep going.

Brian: It’s hard to explain exactly.

Sonny: It’s funny, actually, you say you’re getting out of it, but it’s one thing that keeps coming up in different avenues with conversations with different martial artists is the idea of chaos and order and informing different training practices. It’s like a little test tube where, obviously, things we know for sure can get very chaotic in the training room.

Brian: I see it all the time. Yes, it gets a bit ugly, it gets a bit chaotic. We try to make things look pretty on the mitts all the time. We try to make things look pretty with a grappling drill, and you see some of these flow drills that people do that are amazing. The mitts one is easy for me. I’ll get guys on the mitts that look good when I stand still, and then as soon as they throw their jab, I back up half a step and then their cross and their hook fall short, and they don’t know why and I’m like, “Because I moved and you didn’t.” Then, they start moving and they follow me, they follow me, and then I stand still after three or four reps, and they run into me and they’re too close. They’re like, “How do I fix that?” I’m like, “What do you mean? It’s just up to you to fix it.” If you’re trying to maintain a certain distance, it doesn’t matter what I do, you got to maintain that distance or you just got to call it quits. The first thing I’ll start doing is drifting back, then I’ll start drifting left and I’ll start drifting right and make them finish their combo. It’s very interesting how some guys can shift their stance without thinking about it and how other people have to break it down, the way each individual process that problem. For me, as a coach, it’s just introducing a bit of order, get them on 10, 15 good reps, and then do something slightly different where they need to make an adjustment, and then problem solved like, “How are we going to do that? Are you going to stop and think about it? Are you going to be hard on yourself or are you just going to get on with it, see if it works and go?” Then, there’s times I’ll have someone on the same combo for a while, and I’ll throw a different strike at him in the middle just to see if they pause or hesitate or play. You’re going to throw a jab-cross-hook, I’m going to catch jab-cross, and I’m going to throw an inside leg kick while you throw the hook. Then, the next time, I’ll throw an outside leg kick, and then the next time, I’ll lift up a knee, and then the next time, I’ll try to keep you on your jab, things like that. It’s very interesting to see the different responses that they have, but in the end, they all start to realize that I’m just trying to put them off of their path, and it’s their job to find a way to stay on their path because when it comes to sparring, it’s going to get even worse. That’s one of the few ways I try to mix sparring-type pressure and just shaking things up into mitts. As we were talking about before, it’s just me introducing a little bit of chaos to what had been perfect order in the previous reps.

Sonny: Is that somewhat influenced then by your– you just mentioned that study of chaos theory, eavesdropping on the–?

Brian: Yes, a little bit. When we used to wrestle, we’d hit like 20, 30, 40 double legs. At the time, again, was when I was taking some of these interesting math classes and I had some really cool teachers. If no variable changes, then nothing should change but then nothing can improve. If you’re going to hit 20 double legs on me in 2 minutes and I just stand there, that’s easy, but then if I sprawl 100% all the way, that’s one response, fair enough, and it might be difficult, but it’s not the only response you’re going to see in a live match. If I can break down my sprawl into like a quarter and a half, three quarter and full, and then I can add a bit of left and right, and then even instead of sprawling, sometimes, actually hitting in and walking into you, now, I’ve got six responses I can give you over your 20 reps. Now, you don’t know which one’s coming, but you have to shoot on as double legs every single time.

Sonny: Wow. I really like that.

Brian: If I just stood there you, don’t even to shoot on double legs at me. I’ve stood there for 10 reps and on rep number 11, I’ve taken one tiny step back and I’ve completely thrown people off and they were like, “What are you doing?” “Look at what are you doing? You’re shooting the double leg, and now you’re up here talking to me. I’m supposed to be laying on the mat underneath you right now.” “Yes, but you moved.” “Isn’t your opponent going to move?” “Yes, that makes sense.” Then, they understand what I’m doing, but then to get someone else to do that as a partner is actually hard because they might not have the same outlook as you. I find it super frustrating when I’m with a partner and I get no other feedback other than the one thing, and sometimes, that one thing is true stillness. Sometimes, it’s, “I’m going to stop you at all cost from shooting this shot,” and it’s like we’re drilling. I’m supposed to be hitting 15 or 20 of these before we do the next thing, but you’re just trying to spar right now. There’s got to be a lot of stuff in the middle that we can play with that’s not completely taking away your opportunity to finish your drill, but it’s also making your drill a unique journey to the finish. Imagine, you go for a [unintelligible 01:14:01] from north-south and you sit me up on my side, and I just shake the arm that you’re trying to [unintelligible 01:14:06] , that’s going to be a bit more difficult than if I just hold my hand with my other hand and wait for you to separate my hands.

Sonny: That added benefit then of just each drill giving people some defensive feedback, not just being– but a different kind of defensive feedback every time.

Brian: Yes. Even if you’re going to go mount armbar, if I just bump and shake and play consistent, not hard, not intense, but just consistently just move my torso, have fun. You got to find your spot to hit that arm marks. It’s going to be a lot different than from stillness. Imagine picking up a fish that doesn’t really want to be in your boat. Some of them go really hard, really consistent. Other ones are really smart and they play possum. They go still in your hands and they hang out, and they hang out, and as soon as they feel you’re relaxed, bop, bop, bop, bop, and they’re going. I have lost a lot of fish like that where they play still and then they go. That’s influenced some of my game as well, especially submission escapes. I’m dead to rights, you’ve got me, you’ve got me, I’m in a bad spot, but I’m going to surprise you with my one last ditch attempt as best as I can to make it hard for you to hold though.

Sonny: Right. Your submission escapes which you’re notoriously hard to submit, even saying that guillotine chokes are a miss-

Brian: They are.

Sonny: -your submission escapes were actually influenced by fish. Did I hear that right?

Brian: True story, absolutely.

Sonny: That’s fascinating.

Brian: Absolutely. When you hold onto a wet fish that doesn’t want to be in your arms, it’s not easy.

Sonny: When you’re escaping submissions, you’re trying to emulate that. I understand it. It makes sense.

Brian: Look how hard they change directions too. They’re not going to one direction and running from you. They don’t have feet. It’s just small direction changes. They undulate and they play and it’s just short, sharp movement, and it creates space. Like a jackhammer, you can’t really play tug-of-war with a jackhammer, ta, ta, ta, ta, ta. You can’t even keep the grip, which changes directions too fast. All these little odd things out in the world definitely can be related back to human movement and a methodology.

Sonny: Okay, I like it. It’s surprising, it’s not even the only time we’ve talked about fish and grappling this week. [laughter]

Sonny: I’m always surprised by how the things do always interconnect and relate to each other. It’s fascinating. I have to ask about the guillotine is a myth thing because I put it to you, Mr. Ebersole, the guillotine is not a myth. How about that? [chuckles] Convince me.

Brian: Here’s where it comes from. I know it works sometimes, but it was so frustrating going back and listening to commentators of my flights or even friends or whoever say, “He had you in a guillotine, he had you in a guillotine.” Listen, and not to use a curse word, but I want to like, “Listen, butthead, I double legged him and I took him down to side control. Where was this guillotine at? The guy was holding my head, it doesn’t mean it was a guillotine. I picked him up, I slammed him on the mat. He held my head so I didn’t get up and punch him.” That’s not a guillotine. There’s a big difference between someone controlling a front headlock and slipping in for an attempt to choke you versus some guy putting his armpit on the back of your neck while you lift him up over your head or drive him to the cage or take him down to side guard half control or half guard. It was just more of a frustration of most of the time my head’s ever been under someone’s arm, it’s because I put it there.

Sonny: I got you.

Brian: He wasn’t guillotining me, he was grabbing my head on his way down to his back. I was taking him down. Now, every now and again, were they able to regain guard? Yes, they were, but most of the time, I would tripod, straighten my neck, and they couldn’t apply much pressure. It came out of a frustration of listening to people like, “Oh, he’s in a guillotine.” I’m like, “I’m in a deep double leg. What are you talking about? I don’t care if you’re Joe Rogan or not, that’s not a guillotine, Joe.” Yes, we had a bit of a laugh with it.

Sonny: Okay, I get you. That makes sense. I’ve started doing a bit of commentary myself, and I’ll give him some empathy because I’ve found that I’m constantly now worried about doing something that I’m pissing off some dangerous fighter and he’ll come back and say, “You said what?” I’ll go easy on him.

Brian: Funny.

Sonny: It’s been a great conversation, Brian. I’ll just finish with just one last question. I’ve had you for a while and it’s been really good getting into some of those topics. Just one last question would be if there was any advice you could give yourself back when you first got into martial arts. Let’s say when you first started fighting professionally, you go back to your first professional fight, you’re the ghost of professional fighting past. What’s the advice you would give yourself?

Brian: Probably to diversify my training a little bit in the sense that I was obviously very wrestler-centric. I would have loved to have had more time around a black belt at a younger age and learn some of those skills, but also diversifying out of the blokey bloke tough guy thing. Not that that was my personality, but that’s what the culture was like, so that’s what I was given. I didn’t have social media to look up like kettlebell, core, pilates, yoga stuff, and that would have been cool. I wish I would have drifted more to those diverse avenues of training because I did meet some really good people along the way, I just didn’t gravitate toward them because I didn’t think that that was an assist to my martial arts endeavor. I’m a guy that I can barely get into a parallel squat, let alone put my butt to the floor, and I would love to be able to go to China or India and have a cup of tea on my own two feet but being a foot and a half tall. I would love to be able to squat and hang out like that. I would love to be able to open up my hips. I would love to be able to bend over and put my socks on every day with no struggle. Yes, diversifying my training and not just looking at it like, “If I do all the hard stuff, the hard stuff will be easier.” Well, sometimes, doing the soft stuff makes the hard stuff easier.

Sonny: I hear you. Probably, I’ll say the same thing. That’s something that I’m focusing on now more especially, just trying to get flexible for the longevity side of things because it seems like in early days, you can get away with so much more.

Brian: Yes, you can get out of bed without being sore every day, but even then, I knew my hips were tight and I knew I wasn’t flexible back then. I just didn’t know what to do about them. I just didn’t see that pathway of like, “Oh, if I just embrace knowledge from hippies, I’ll be all right.” [chuckles] I’m like, “What are hippies going to teach me that is going to help me with fighting?”

Sonny: Surprisingly, it may be a little bit, I think.

Brian: A little bit a lot, I think. Look at Jonathan Brookings, he went all the way to India for a couple of years, didn’t he?

Sonny: He’s a fascinating guy.

Brian: He’d be an interesting podcast, hey.

Sonny: I would love to talk to him, yes. [laughter]

Sonny: Hey, this has been a great show. I’d love to do it again. Maybe next time, we can just go straight into hippie talk and get down to that. [laughter]

Sonny: Thank you so much for your time, Brian. I appreciate it so much.

Brian: It was a pleasure.

Sonny: Absolute pleasure. I really appreciate it. If people want to get in touch with you, they want to look you up, what’s the best way that they can go about doing that?

Brian: I’m on Facebook at Brian Ebersole. That’s just a big sports page I’ve had for quite a while. Direct messages through there will come to me. I don’t have a secretary going through all that at this stage, and Instagram, same, @bryanebersole.

Sonny: Beautiful. I’ll make sure to put those links in the show notes for people who want to look it up. Thank you so much, Brian. I’ll be in touch, and hopefully, we can talk again in the future.

Brian: Hopefully, we can get on the damn mats in the future.

Sonny: I hear that mate. I hear that.

Brian: That would be a pleasure. We could just do this off of one device.

Sonny: Let’s do that. Let’s do that. Hopefully, in the next six months.

Guide to being a Cutman for MMA Athletes

Cutmen at an MMA fight are responsible for treating a fighters lacerations or swelling in the one-minute break between rounds. Therefore, a cutman’s duties include getting the fighters to perform at their highest level of ability by minimising the effects of cuts and lacerations that could hinder their performance. Also, if cuts become too severe, it may lead to a fight being called off by a referee or doctor so in some situations a cutman’s work could make the difference between winning and losing a contest. 

All major MMA promotions will provide corners with their cutmen; a smaller show may provide one cutman per fight and rely on the chance of both fighters requiring a cutman from not occurring. However, at smaller regional shows a cutman may not be provided at all, and it will be expected that the coach or cornerman of a fighter will fill this role. 

Legendary cutman Jacob "Stitch" Duran going to work.

Learning the skills required to be a cutman can be through an informal apprenticeship where you could help out a more experience cutman in their duties and learn on the job. In this case, you will have more success finding experienced cutmen in boxing clubs and venues rather than in the MMA circuit. Otherwise, a few formal training courses exist online and around the world that attempt to pass on the knowledge while providing an “Official Cutman” certification upon completion. The article below will give an overall guide as to what is required, but real insight will come through working corners and getting experience 60 seconds at a time. 


The equipment of a Cutman

The lists of equipment for a cutman will be as follows and may include some crossover with the equipment you would be expected to carry as a cornerman. Enswell, coagulant, vaseline, gauze, cotton swabs & towels. 

Enswell

The Enswell (Sometimes called an End Swell or No Swell) is the most distinctive piece of equipment in a cutman’s toolkit, and It is merely a flat piece of metal that is kept cold and used to apply pressure to cuts or swelling on a fighters face. Different styles and variations on design exist for enswells, but their essential use is all the same and can come down to personal preference as to what type you would use. As you want to keep the enswell cold for its use, it should be kept stored in your bucket of ice on fight night, and a thin layer of vaseline can be applied to the enswell to prevent the metal from being so cold that it would stick to a fighter’s skin when used. In the event that you cannot find an enswell to use any small piece of metal can be used as a makeshift enswell providing that it doesn’t have any sharp edges that could cause a cut. A simple bent spoon is always a good option that is available to use if necessary.


Coagulant

A coagulant is a medicine used to assist in clotting the blood to stop or slow the flow of bleeding from a cut. The most common and available coagulant used by cutmen is adrenaline 1:1000 or epinephrine. The epinephrine can be applied to cotton swabs and then pressed directly onto a cut to in-between rounds. It can come in bottles that are designed to be used for injections so it can be useful to transfer the liquid into an eyedropper bottle which is easier to apply to a cotton swab. Also, you may need to get the adrenaline from a doctor or nurse, so if it is unavailable, a hemostatic gauze is also another option to use. Hemostatic gauze is a medicated gauze strip that contains a coagulant in it to promote blood clotting that usually is either zeolite or kaolin. The hemostatic gauze can be cut into smaller pieces that can be applied directly to a fighters cuts in between rounds. Other coagulants do exist, but adrenaline is the most commonly used by cutmen, and hemostatic dressings may be the most easily available over the counter option available from pharmacy or military surplus stores. 


Cotton Swabs

A cotton swab is used as the application method for the coagulant and to apply pressure against a cut. Many cutmen will use a wristband that they store multiple cotton swabs in that they have prepared before a fight. Cotton swabs can also help in treating a bloody nose as they will be able to fit up a fighters nostril and help with stopping the bleeding. The cotton swabs used by famed cutman Jacob “Stitch” Duran are not your regular swabs used for cleaning out the ear. Instead, he will purchase cotton balls roll them out as much as possible and then cut and attach them to smaller cotton swabs to help bulk them out so they can contain more adrenaline and cover a larger area (Bartlett, 2008). 


Petroleum Jelly

Petroleum jelly is more commonly known by the brand name vaseline and is an essential piece of kit for any corner to have. Vaseline will be applied to a fighters face before they enter the ring or cage as a preventative measure to avoid cuts by helping gloves slide off the fighters face rather than sticking and breaking the skin. When dealing with an existing cut, vaseline will be applied entirely over the wound as a filler to help “seal” it up and help prevent further bleeding. When using vaseline as a filler, it can be kept cold which will make it harder and more malleable, but this can also make it more difficult for a doctor to clean and stitch together after the fight. The vaseline can also be mixed with adrenaline 1:1000 to provide an additional application of the coagulant to the wound. 


Towels

One large white towel should be kept for wiping down a fighters shoulders and back and in the unfortunate situation where it may need to be thrown into the ring or cage to halt a contest. Multiple smaller face or hand towels should also be in the toolkit and kept damp on fight night for use in wiping fighters face clean of any blood or vaseline between rounds or at the end of the fight. The smaller wet towel will be easier to handle and manipulate along the curves of a fighter’s face than the standard large towel which has a rough texture when kept dry.


Other Equipment

A cutman may use various other pieces of equipment with a lot of crossover with standard corners supplies. Latex gloves are one piece of additional equipment. Wearing gloves is simply a hygiene issue as dealing with open cuts you want to keep your hands as clean as possible to prevent infection. A bucket will be required to help store all the other piece of the kit and taken to ringside. Fishing tackle toolboxes can also be useful to store all the smaller pieces of equipment between fights. Icepacks to help keep your enswell cold or apply to a fighter are also helpful to keep in your tool kit. Plastic zip lock bags make for cheap and useful ice packs as you can fill them with ice you get at the venue. Ziplock bags should be double wrapped to help prevent them from accidentally opening and spilling ice on the floor when used. 


What to do In-Between Rounds

During the closing thirty seconds of a round, you should begin to assess what work will need to be done during the break. While a cut could still occur from the last punch in the last second of a round, you should always begin to form a general plan before the bell rings. After the bell rings, you will then need to asses the severity of cuts as soon as you are allowed into the ring or cage. A judgment will then need to be made about what will be worked on during the minute break with priority going to preventing the fight from being stopped and then too, which cut impairs the fighter the most (Matuszak, 2015). In general working out how you will work with other members of the fighters corner who will be wanting to provide technical instruction should be discussed backstage before the show starts. 

The following image is a guide to help asses the severity of the cuts according to their placement on the fighters face. The most common and severe cut you will deal with are ones running horizontally along the eyebrow. These cuts are dangerous as they can bleed into the eye and obscure the fighter’s vision and if they are deep enough they can damage important nerves (Gelber, 2016). 


Laceration Zones

Cuts that have occurred within zones 1 and 2 are the most serious and may need you to consider ending the bout. Cuts within all other zones will require careful inspection of their depth to make a judgement call

SUMMARY OF LACERATION ZONES

  1. tarsal plate, lacrimal sac
  2. vermilion border
  3. supraorbital/supratrochlear nerves
  4. nasal bridge
  5. infraorbital nerve
  6. nasolabial fold with facial artery
  7. superficial temporal artery, facial nerve (at the zygomatic bone)
  8. facial artery at masseter
  9. mental nerve
    (Gelber, 2016).


Working with Cuts

The number one technique to use when dealing with cuts or swelling is to apply cold direct pressure to the affected area to compress the blood vessels and help contribute to the clotting that needs to occur. Doing too much else can end up making things worse, so unless you are confident in what you are doing or find yourself in a unique situation, it would be best to stick to the basics. Even without adrenaline to apply to the wound merely adhering to the basic principle of applying cold direct pressure will be the most important thing you can do. 

The first thing to do when dealing with a cut is to quickly clean the area with your small wet towel, which should be cold from being kept in the ice bucket. Then as soon as possible, applying pressure to the cuts with gauze or your cotton swabs soaked in adrenaline should be done if you have them. You could also place the enswell on top of the swab to apply pressure and cold at the same time. When the break is coming to an end, then you will remove the gauze or swab to apply vaseline to the cut. The vaseline should be used over and into the cut to act as a filler and should be seen to seal up the wound to the best of its ability. 


Treating Nosebleeds

Nosebleeds will be another common injury you will deal with as a cutman. Again wiping the blood away from the nose with your small wet towel should be done straight away. Then immediately placing an adrenaline-soaked cotton swab up the bleeding nose of the fighter while applying pressure to hold it in place from the outside of the nose should be done. It would help if you were careful not to pressure both nostrils as you still want the fighter to be able to breathe but as you work on stopping the bleeding advise the fighter to breathe through their mouth, so they do not swallow blood. You should also caution a fighter no not blow their nose if you suspect that the nose is broken. 


Dealing with Swelling

As with cuts, the most important technique you can do is to apply cold direct pressure to the wound using your enswell o if you didn’t have one then even an ice pack will do. Some cutmen will advise to rub swelling out to try and lessen it, and I have seen this used to move swelling away from the eye, but this is a technique that Jacob “Stitch” Duran strongly advises against as it can make the swelling worse (Markarian, 2010). Cold direct pressure to any swelling will still be your most used technique in dealing with swelling. Vaseline should also be applied to any swelling before the break ends to help with reducing the chances of the skin tearing on a swollen area and turning into a cut. 


Other Duties of a Cutman

Dealing with cuts between rounds is the primary duty of a cutman, but other skills may also be useful to master and cover the scope of a cutman. Wrapping hands would be the number one skill cutmen would also be expected to have, and I will cover this in another article. Along with wrapping hands, general skills in applying sports tape to other parts of the athlete will also be useful and general first aid skills to help assist in fighters well being after the fight will be suitable to acquire. 

General people skills are also useful for a cutman to have as they will need to negotiate with corners to figure out how they will operate in between rounds. On top of that, giving the fighter confidence that they are working with is also helpful as they can help calm them in-between rounds and provide them with confidence backstage going into a fight. Part of the trust you can instil in a fighter can be done by building a reputation as being the best at your craft so that when they know you are working with them, they feel confident in your abilities.


Sixty Seconds to Work

Being a cutman will always be a pressure-filled role as you have sixty seconds to work within where you will need to prioritise what you do and work effectively with the rest of the corner. It may be repeated twice or four times within a fight. With that in mind have a good handle on your equipment and what you will do with them ahead of time will make you better prepared when the time to work on a cut comes. 

If you spend time in a fight gym, you may want to keep your toolkit in your gym bag. If a fighter gets cut during practice or sparring, then it may allow you to work with a cut without the pressure of the 1-minute time limit and gain some experience. Otherwise except for the few cutmen courses that are available then first-hand experience working on fights will be your best teacher or if you are lucky you will be able to find someone willing to let you shadow them and learn the craft. 

Dealing with cuts is all about helping your fighter be the best they can be and also keeping them as safe as possible during their fight. The above article is a good rough guide, but if this is a topic that you are serious about mastering, then you should seek further instruction, particularly from medical professionals. 

(Although this didn’t fit anywhere in the article I thought it was interesting to include at the end. While researching this article, I found a study they did on fighters in the fifties on sewing a single stitch to fighters cuts between rounds which I found fascinating: “Closure of Boxing Lacerations Between Rounds”. )


References

Bartlett, S. (2008). A look at the tools Stitch Duran uses to stop the bleeding. Retrieved 26 January 2020, from https://www.espn.com/espnmag/story?section=magazine&id=3686568

Duran, J. (2008). Jacob “Stitch” Duran Presents DVD: Giving the Fighter One More Round [DVD]. America: Jacob Duran.

Fleischer, N. (1951). How to Second and How to Manage a Boxer. Nat Fleischer.

Gelber, J. (2016). The Ultimate Guide to Preventing and Treating MMA Injuries. ECW Press.

Markarian, R. (2010). “Stitch” Duran: This Cut Man Gets Priority Position. Retrieved 26 January 2020, from https://tss.ib.tv/boxing/articles-of-2010/11826-qstitchq-duran-this-cut-man-gets-priority-position

Matuszak, S. (2015). UFC 189 From a Cutman’s Perspective | FIGHTLAND. Retrieved 26 January 2020, from http://fightland.vice.com/blog/ufc-189-from-a-cutmans-perspective

MMA Junkie Staff. (2013). Alex Davis, Jacob ‘Stitch’ Duran discuss the science of the cutman. Retrieved 26 January 2020, from https://mmajunkie.usatoday.com/2013/07/alex-davis-jacob-stitch-duran-discuss-the-science-of-the-cutman

Reddy, L. (2019). Adrenaline, Vaseline and composure – Kerry Kayes on the art of being a boxing cuts man. Retrieved 26 January 2020, from https://www.bbc.com/sport/boxing/47026147

A Study of Pulling Guard in MMA for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Athletes

In this study, I look at pulling guard in MMA as an alternative way of getting the fight on to the ground. It’s a rarely utilised strategy but has been successful for a small set of fighters who have excellent guards and have made it their speciality. The guard is technically an inferior position in fighting as you are on your back and trapped between the mat and the weight of your opponent on top of you while they can use the assistance of gravity to implement control and throw strikes.

However the UFC was built on Royce Gracie’s success from the guard and the impressive look of a small man submitting larger opponents off his back and Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a whole as built a reputation around taking this inferior position and with practice study and techniques turning into a spot where they have a competitive advantage and can finish fights. So in competition Brazilian jiu-jitsu players will often favour this position on their opponents to the point where double guard pulls where both competitors jump to pull guard at the same time was a problem, and a rule had to be developed to prevent both competitors from stalling from there.
However, in mixed martial arts eventually, fighters got better at defending submissions from the guard and when you add that strikes are allowed the guard is not an excellent position to be in for a lot of sensible reasons. Not the least being that the time spent on your back will typically be seen as you losing the fight on the judges scorecards.

The Third Option: Pull Guard

So what situation would you need in MMA where pulling guard would make sense. Well, Eddie Bravo has a great video on this where he explains pulling guard is the third option. The basic concept is option number one in a fight is to beat your opponent standing with strikes and option two if you can’t win the battle there is to wrestle your opponent to the ground and score a takedown. The problem that arises is if your opponent has better striking than you and better wrestling so you cannot outstrike them and you cannot score a takedown. Well, that is where pulling guard becomes the third option. While I might suggest that clinching or working against the fence might be other options the point still stands that the guard can provide an avenue to victory that is often neglected.

Now several fighters have shown its effectiveness throughout the years, and a handful has actively sought this position in MMA. These are fighters who do have excellent attacking guards and are extremely dangerous when they’re in that position so for it to be considered a good strategy you do need to have the type of guard that the opponent would actively avoid if given a choice as they know they’d be in danger. So in this breakdown, I’ll look at the techniques that martial artists have used to pull guard and get the fight to the mat successfully.

Pulling Half Guard

Half guard is statistically the most common position that sweeps are successful from in MMA so pulling half guard is a great option if you have a strong sweep game to get on top and begin to throw grounded strikes or start working for a submission. Now if you want to pull guard, you will still have to close the distance on your opponent. Although sometimes guard pulls will be attempted by simply flopping onto your back, this is an awful tactic that leaves the decision to play guard as a choice for your opponent to make and looks terrible if they decide not to.

If your goal is to take your opponent down, then you’ll still need to be taking wrestling shots which may be getting sprawled on, and this is where we will begin to work one of the significant positions to execute a successful guard pull. This method still requires you shooting in deep for a single or double leg shot and getting to your opponent’s hips and thighs. So consider this the guard pulling paradox where one of the best ways to pull guard is going to require that you still have good setups and wrestling shots.
Once in on your opponent’s hips, you’ll want to have your hands around their waist or even better maybe locked around a single leg.

The critical detail here is to get your outside leg to come round and hook behind one of the opponent’s calves which then allows some control over the opponent’s base to prevent them from standing back up and backing out. Once that outside leg has been hooked in place, then the inside leg can shift between the opponent’s legs to lock off a half guard position properly. Alternatively, the outside leg can be brought around the opponent’s back to control their posture while the inside legs knee is carried across the opponent’s hips. From there you can look to work one of the many half guard sweeps to get on top of your opponent and into a dominant top position or you could proceed to full guard and begin working for a submission.

Pulling Guard with a Collar Tie

The other majority of guard pulls are going to come from the standing upper body clinch position and performed with a few different gripping options with the first we’ll look at is the collar tie. Now, this still does require striking or feinting on your opponent to close the distance and get into the clinch and then securing an over tie a single collar tie or full Thai head control before jumping to pull guard.

These grips give control over the opponent’s head and are used to assist in executing the critical element of the standing guard pull which is breaking the opponent’s posture. With proper control over the opponent’s head and neck, the snapping them forward and adding your entire body weight for them to carry will help bring the fight to the mat. From these collar tie positions when the guard hits the mat, the collar tie can then remain on the back of the head to continue to control the opponent’s posture while the other hand can move to bicep or wrist control to start attacking a submission.

Pulling Guard with an Overhook

Another grip when in the upper body clinch is the over hook. This is good for guard pulls and setup by securing an over hook with one arm and having the other hand either controlling the opponent’s wrist or in a collar tie position. From there you can begin to break the opponent’s posture by getting them to walk forward with a Whizzer so that they become off-balance and when the guard jump is made the additional body weight will bend them at the hips and drag the opponent forward and down to the mat. Once hitting the mat that over hook gives a strong trapping guard that continues to control the posture of the opponent limiting their ability to land significant strikes and this position may be one of the best guards in MMA to begin to work for a triangle choke or an armbar.

Flying Triangle Guard Pull

Another guard pulling attack that works off the over hooks is to go for a flying triangle. With this move once clinched up with an over hook on one arm and wrist control on the opposite arm of your opponent, you jump in to pull guard while at the same time you push the opponent’s arm out of the guard on the side you have wrist control on so that you land in a fully locked triangle choke submission that you can begin to work on finishing immediately. Alternatively, if your Shinya Aoki you can pull off an extremely rare flying Omoplata that you use to sweep the opponent and land in top position.

Pulling Guard with Double Underhooks

Another option for the guard pull can also be performed from the double under hooks in the clinch. However, this would be my least preferred position to pull guard from, for starters if you do manage to get the double underhooks this is the best position to still work for a takedown so you may not want to give that up too quickly, but secondly if you do pull guard with double under hooks when you hit the mat it is going to be the most challenging position to control the opponent’s posture as both their hands are free to cross face and throw down significant strikes.

It can also be performed from a wrestling shot that is sprawled on, but the problem with being open to strikes remain as opposed to going to a half guard position where you are angled off to the side and working for a sweep. Alternatively pulling a butterfly guard with double underhooks may be the best position to work from with a butterfly sweep but if you can transition your grips quickly to gain control of the opponent’s posture, then this is still an option that has been used successfully many times by some of the fighters we’ve looked at.

The Jumping Guard Pull

A rarer option is to jump to the guard position from out of striking range or with only the slightest of contact being made on the hands of the opponent’s. Aoki and Imanari have done where they’ll run directly towards their opponent and jump at them relying solely on the momentum of the jump to break the posture of the opponent. This is pretty risky though, and you even run the chance of knocking yourself out as the back of your head slams down onto the mat but has been something that’s shown to work by these two fighters.

Throwing Kicks, Imanari Rolls & Leglocks

Throwing big kicks and guard pulling goes hand in hand, see another advantage of having a good guard is that it does open up more striking opportunities when standing as you can have the confidence to strike without being too scared of ending up on your back. This is especially true with kicks as you do not have a fear of your kick being caught and you being taken down as you know you can confidently attack or sweep from there. So with that belief, a common theme with fighters who have strong guards is that they will throw high kicks and low kicks with almost a reckless abandon.

Now a lot of the guard pulls in this study have been from Imanari, he might be most known for his Imanari Roll into a leg entanglement but should also be noted that many attempts at the Imanari roll often resulted in guard position which was just as desirable for him and may be seen as another option for pulling guard.

Moreover, there’s also a big crossover with the fighters pulling guard and attacking for leg locks. In the process of working to guard the opportunity for leg locks will be available and dropping into any of the leg locking positions in an MMA fight could be considered a guard pull. This is an exciting topic that is worthy of an individual study but be aware that leg locks and guard pulling are strongly connected.

A Conclusion to Pulling Guard in MMA

Now that rounds up this look at some of the various methods that have been used to implement this often neglected strategy, now while it is still recommended that fighters always work on their striking skills and wrestling skills to get them as technical as they possibly can. This is something to keep in mind if you have a dangerous guard and find yourself in a situation where you might need to use it. That indicates that you’ve spent time sharpening your guard, so you’re ready to sweep or submit your opponent as soon as it hits the mat

Peace, love and raging waters,
Sonny Brown

References

Bravo, E. (2010). Mastering The System 10: Pulling Guard in MMA. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/IGkd6mlukoA

Gold, B. (2018). Why is “Pulling Guard” mocked in the BJJ community?. Retrieved from https://bjjproblems.com/blogs/bjj-problems/why-is-pulling-guard-mocked-in-bjj

Grant, T. (2016). The Art & Science Of Pulling Guard In Jiu-Jitsu — A Complete Guide. Retrieved from https://www.flograppling.com/articles/5049225-the-art-science-of-pulling-guard-in-jiu-jitsu-a-complete-guide

Kesting, S. (2011). Pulling Guard in MMA – Grapplearts. Retrieved from https://www.grapplearts.com/pulling-guard-in-mma/

MMA : Improve your gameplan – The 3rd option : Pull The Guard. Retrieved from http://moncoachsportifenligne.fr/pull-the-guard/

Why Pulling Guard is Killing BJJ. (2014). Retrieved from https://pennerlive.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/why-pulling-guard-is-killing-bjj/

Wilcox, N. (2010). Judo Chop: Paul Sass Gives a Clinic in Pulling Guard at UFC 120. Retrieved from https://www.bloodyelbow.com/2010/11/1/1759748/judo-chop-paul-sass-gives-a-clinic-in-pulling-guard-at-ufc-120

Zahabi, F. (2015). Pulling Web Guard Part 1 – Firas Zahabi – Guard Pulling 2.0 Series. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/K2SvF6kXNGk






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