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.

A Game Sense Style Pedagogy for Teaching Beach Wrestling

I have talked about how we prepared for the “King Of The Beach” competition on a podcast recently and what I noticed was what we did was very similar to how Andy from School of Grappling recommends that training be structured and also to the GameSense pedagogy I studied at Univerisity.

It was excellent training as everyone had a purpose, it was enjoyable, and it was one of those rare moments in time at a practice where everyone was in the mix together. It makes you grateful for having positive training partners and getting to spend the time training together. Those kinds of moments that I can appreciate even more now that we cannot get on the mats. But one thing I did notice was that the level of everyone in the room did seem to progress substantially during that time and made me think about what we did.

We trained for around 6-8 weeks doing two classes a week that followed this format. Generally, we did between five to ten rounds of each segment depending on how many people were in class, they were 1 minute long with a 15-second break. Everyone in the class rotated at least once with different partners, so they had a chance to work with everyone in the class. Once everyone had been around once I would briefly show one offensive or defensive option that could work from the scenario. Partners would drill these a few times each, and then we would do a couple more rounds of the drill.


The warm-up consisted of stance drills and shadow wrestling to get people moving in a way that was directly applicable to the sport.


The goal was to work for either an inside collar tie or underhook and to hold it for 3 seconds.


The goal was to snatch and hold a single leg of the partner for up to 3 seconds.


After you had the single-leg, then the goal was to complete the takedown and put your partner on the mat.


A few rounds where you could score from pushing your opponent off the mat or into the wall. My memory of the particulars seems to be hazy, possibly because this turned out to be an area that I was less than excellent at.


Then to finish, we did rounds rotating with the complete ruleset that the competition would be held under. I think on a few occasions we also di a mini knockout tournament at the end to simulate the competition setting.


A standard static stretch routine for a cool down. Maybe on some days we also took an obligatory post workout commemorative photo. 

As you may be able to tell from that the focus for the competition was on snatch single-leg takedowns which based on the ruleset I thought would be the best way to play to win. But any takedowns were allowed once it came time to practice under the full beach wrestling rules.

Overall everyone who competed did really well with everyone managing to score takedowns, and overall it was merely a fun day of wrestling and camaraderie for the team. An experience I hope we can get close to replicating again in the future when things get back to normal!


Wrestling between Risk-Taking & Risk-Aversion With Coach Matt Lindland

I talk to Matt Lindland, the head coach of the USA Greco Roman wrestling team, Olympic silver medalist & MMA Pioneer. We discuss his experience coaching wrestlers from a folkstyle background and how to alter their risk-taking intuitions to suit Greco roman. How coaches can simplify their coaching to help their athletes learn more and a lot faster How failure and questioning athletes can help them learn, his time coaching BJ Penn for his MMA fight against GSP and what BJJ can learn from wrestling.

Podcast Transcript – Episode 011

Sonny Brown: Welcome to episode number 11 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 am your host Sonny Brown. In this episode, I talk to Matt Lindland, the head coach of the USA Greco-Roman wrestling team and an MMA pioneer. We discuss his experience coaching wrestlers from a folkstyle background and how to alter their risk-taking intuitions to suit Greco-Roman, how failure and questioning athletes can help them learn, and his time coaching B.J. Penn for his MMA fight against GSP. Now let’s go to the podcast. Coach Matt Lindland. How are you today, Matt?

Matt Lindland: I’m doing great, Sonny. Good to have you on the call here.

Sonny: It’s excellent. I’m very excited to be talking to you. I’m actually a bit of a fan of your work. Let me just show here your dirty boxing book. I think is one of the best mixed martial arts book-

Matt: Oh, well, thank you.

Sonny: -out there. Maybe underrated, but I think it’s one of the most comprehensive books written on wrestling and especially wrestling for MMA. I just want to give you credit and props for that. It’s actually the first time I’ve got to speak to someone who I’ve done a video breakdown on as well.

Matt: Oh, that’s great. I found your video breakdown. I think it popped up in my recommended videos or something. I may have done it because I watched Randy’s dirty boxing one or something and then it suggested that. I don’t even know how I found your YouTube channel, but I love the breakdowns and I’ve definitely gone through and watch a few other ones and I’m sure there’s some more I need to watch. Very good editing. I really appreciated the editing. I’m starting to, especially with this COVID thing going on, trying to do more remote coaching. I’ve been doing some FaceTime coaching whereI”m like, “Set your camera. Okay, I could see you. Oh wait, you went out of screen. Get back off there.” Working on technique with some of my national team athletes, but definitely trying to– I had a bunch of video on my computer. I was like, “Oh, let’s film that. That’s really good.” I dumped all this video off my computer, put it on the hard drives and I started dragging them back and figuring out how to edit. What do they call it on the Max? The iMovie, that’s the basic one. I’m just a novice, so I’m doing what I can.

Sonny: That’s fine. You got to start somewhere. I tell you, video editing is one of those things that before I did it, I would definitely not have been able to appreciate how difficult it would be. It would be one of those things where I’d say, “Oh, it can’t take that long.” Then I actually get started, I’m like, “Oh, there’s a lot more to this.” Maybe we can get into some of those lessons in wrestling. Just before we do it, I just want to ask, how close did I get? Was I on the target? Was I in the ball range for what I was saying?

Matt: I thought you even picked up a few things I didn’t even recognize that I did with the footwork. There’s a lot of footwork involved. There’s some other stuff that’s just very intuitive from wrestling, from doing Greco-Roman wrestling and fighting. It is like I am southpaw in the sense that everything I do that’s gross motor is left. If I’m going to write or brush my teeth, that’s right-handed, but basically, that’s it. Everything else is left-handed. It was a little awkward transitioning from wrestling and everyone was trying to get me to throw right hands. It’s like, “You write with your right hand.” I’m like, “Yes, but I swing a bat left, I play hockey left.” I don’t play golf, but if I did, it would be left [chuckles] .

Sonny: Oh, I thank you, as well [chuckles] . Interesting that you mentioned that it was mainly intuition that a lot of things are picking up because as I am speaking to different coaches, the fact that a lot of this stuff does get tore into intuition or built into the people’s intuition, I think is a very interesting area to explore. I’m wondering your current role now, you’re the head coach of the Greco-Roman wrestling team for USA wrestling, working out of the Olympic Training Center. I’m wondering if there’s any lessons from that that you’ve taken or that informs how you’re coaching those guys or just, give us a general overview of your role and how you do coach there.

Matt: That’s a broad question. The first part, let’s take the general overview of my role. My role is to manage the Greco-Roman wrestling in the United States. In the United States, folkstyle wrestling are what you see at the NCAA, the colleges. It’s competed in high school, it’s competed in division one, division two, three, all that. If you wrestle in the United States, you’re probably a folkstyle wrestler. Greco Roman is a very small subset, but for the rest of the world, especially you go to Eastern Europe, it’s like, that’s it, you wrestle Greco. There’s many countries, they don’t even have freestyle. They have wrestling and it’s the classic style of Greco-Roman wrestling. It’s a very European sport. I noticed that even in Australia, you guys do a lot of folkstyle more than even freestyle. I thought that was a little peculiar to me, but yes, I manage age groups starting it at U15, U17, U20, U23, and senior, which is our Olympic athletes. Many of our U20 and U23 athletes are some of our best senior athletes as well because that’s right when you should be peaking in athletics and in their sporting career. It’s in mid to late 20s, but some guys are starting to do it early 20s. We saw Nazaryan’s son, just won Europeans at 18 this year, just won the European Championships in Greco-Roman at 55 kilos. The age keeps dropping for the world. We saw in London, I think the average age was about 27. In one quarter, it dropped to 23. I’m trying to attract a lot younger athletes. The traditional model has been like, let these guys go to wrestling college like the Penn States, Ohios, and our Oklahoma, all the college programs that people heard about and talk about throughout the sport of wrestling. What I’m starting to notice is guys are peaking a lot younger. Maybe they missed their peak and it already happened in college, which is really the amateur side of the sport, the college wrestling, but it’s very popular in the United States. Everybody’s looking to do that because it’s like, “Oh, you got to get a degree.” That’s a whole nother topic of conversation there but just trying to get athletes engaged at a lot younger stage, get them involved in Greco-Roman wrestling. That requires developing a lot more coaches because if you just try to pick one athlete at a time, you’re like, “Hey, you’re a great athlete, team wrestle Greco,” versus, “You’re a really good coach, maybe you could develop 30 guys.” A lot of it is investing into our coaches throughout the country, going to different regions of the country. I travel all over the United States and all over the world, but for the United States, going to a coach that already has a program, he’s already developing athletes in the Olympic styles, whether it’s freestyle or Greco-Roman, understands the philosophy of folkstyle wrestling and international style are completely different. They’re almost opposites to tell you the truth. International wrestling is all about risk. The greater the risk, the greater the reward. College wrestling in the United States is all about “don’t take risk” because you could give up a point. It’s like what we’re doing now with this whole COVID. We know that there’s a risk, there’s an inherent risk if I get in my car and jump on the freeway, somebody could be drinking and driving, slam into me, kill me, my family, and whatever, but I still am willing to take that risk to get on the freeway, to get to where I’m going. It’s the same thing with this COVID. It’s like, yes, there’s a great risk, but we know what the risk is. Either you’re willing to take it or you’re not. Risk is critical to success. If you don’t take risk, if you don’t attempt to fail, you’re never going to learn how to succeed. It’s taking that philosophy and trying to turn it upside down for the United States because it really is ingrained in our culture of “don’t take risk”. The whole sport of wrestling internationally is all about risk and reward. The more risk you take, the more the points you’re going to get against your opponent. That’s the short answer of what my role is. Obviously, within that is preparing our number ones or even our national team one, two, three, any weight categories. There’s 10 weight categories in wrestling for the world’s, there’s only six weight categories in the Olympics. We’ve got to pare that down, squish everybody into those six weight classes and get them peaked and timing and preparation and training. There seems to be a lot that goes into it for some reason. Does that answer the first question? I think you had a second part in there.

Sonny: That’s a good roundup. I think the second part was probably just getting more into the coaching specifics, which I definitely want to do. First thing is just with the wrestling in Australia. It is still mainly freestyle. Wrestling is still very small here, but it is still freestyle-dominated. I know you’re aware of the Wrestling Foundation who I coach for with my coach, Gary Jones. He’s friends with I think a mutual friend with you, Rica Dante. We’re really trying to get it going out here, just to try and get the folks to our wrestling programs happening and then trying to make it happen as much as we can. Maybe we can talk about that a bit more because you have actually founded a lot of kids’ wrestling programs, I believe.

Matt: I have. I’ve run quite a few kids’ wrestling programs. Throughout my career as an athlete, you’re trying to figure out, what can I do that fits into my training schedule? As you’re an athlete, you’re like, “I need to work because I’ve got to bring in income. Maybe I’m not at the level I want to be right now, but I’m taking that risk and I’m going to invest my time and my efforts and my energy into pursuing this goal of not just getting to the Olympics, but hopefully getting on the podium at the Olympics.” It takes a huge commitment and a lot of sacrifice and time and energy and efforts. To do that, you’ve got to travel all over the world to compete and train. I was always looking for opportunities to share my knowledge with other people. I have a different philosophy than others. As you’ve heard, I already feel like we need to focus on more international styles to become the best in the world. We’re the best in the world at folkstyle, but we’re the only country that does that [chuckles] . We’re also the best at NBA and major league baseball. We can just make up our own sports and become the best at it. That’s an American thing and the rest of the world doesn’t do that.

Sonny: We’re the best at Australian rules football. [laughter]

Matt: I guess you’re right, that is true [chuckles] . Touche.

Sonny: When you’re working with the athletes that you’ve got at the Olympic Training Center, they’ve come through folkstyle wrestling program and you have to change their mindset on risk, what’s the process there? How do you go through that?

Matt: That’s a very good question. We recently had an athlete that had some success, was a world silver medalist at the 100-kilo weight category in Budapest in 2018. The World Championships, Adam Coon. He was a very successful folkstyle wrestler. He was a national champion, three, four-time All-American for them. Not only that, he’s a rocket engineer. The guy graduated–

Sonny: Astrophysics or something like that, something crazy.

Matt: He’s insanely smart. Guys that are that smart, it’s so hard because it’s like, “Well, if I do this, this could happen and this could happen.” He’s analyzing every situation. You almost need dummies to wrestle sometimes. These guys that are super smart and can out-think everything, logically, this doesn’t make sense. What we do to our bodies doesn’t make sense. Adam, look at you. You’re going to land– Throw another man that’s 130-kilo and he could land on top of you. That’s a real risk, but to score and to win this fight, you have to take those kind of risks. It’s really just breaking it down trying to explain the differences in philosophies, putting athletes into the positions to where they can score points. How do I change that philosophy? It’s challenging, I’ll tell you. It really is. That’s why I would like to see more guys have experience. Adam did have a lot of experience as a youth wrestler in Greco-Roman and frestyle. He kind of did everything. He just loved to be on the mat, train, compete. I don’t think his goal at that time was to be an Olympic champion, I think it was to be an NCAA champion. Once he accomplished that and college was over, now he had to refocus and say, “Well, this is my new goal and this is how I’m going to approach this.” With that, you’re just trying to guide these guys into different situations, give them opportunities, create the right environments, bring in multiple training partners. Recently, we had a camp up in his wrestling room, in his hometown. I brought the Chilean heavyweight, I brought the Norwegian heavyweight, and then I brought him and Cohlton Schultz and Jacob Mitchell. We had a pretty good group of big, heavyweight men in the room and I was training with those guys. What I realized that it’s a different sport. Heavyweight’s a different sport and there’s no easy landings when you’re training with these big, big giant men that are 130-something kilos. Everything you do hurts when you do it with them. You’ve got a guy that’s around my size. I’m about 100 now, but when I was 85 kilos or something, it didn’t hurt as much when having a guy your weight land on you, even though you were the same weight. I look at these guys there and I’m like, “Well, you’re the same weight. It shouldn’t hurt as much,” but it does. That size matters. The techniques need to be a little crisper. They just have to execute and they have to fully commit to those risky positions. It’s about creating those environments. Bringing the right athletes together and putting them in those situations and letting them fail and then coming to you and going, “Why did that fail?” Then you ask a bunch of questions to them and see if they can figure it out. A smart as a guy like Adam Coon is, he asked a lot of questions. I think that’s why he’s probably such a smart guy, he just asked a lot of questions. I always try to flip it back to him and be like, “Well, what do you think? What is your reason?” He’ll come up with his thoughts or whatever. It’s like, “Okay, I’ll share whatever the situation is, how I could think you could adjust or make an adjustment in that area.” We’ll try it and if it works, then I start building that trust. I can believe him here because he showed me something. That allows me to show more and share more with these athletes. Coaching, as you know, you’re a coach, it all comes down to building that trust with these guys. It takes that back-and-forth communication, this dialogue of it’s not just, “Here’s what I do and here’s how I can pour this into you,” because you and I do not think alike, we don’t have the same body, we don’t react the same way. You’re 6’2, I’m 6-foot. I’m 100-kilo, you’re 130.” There’s just all these different– You see coaches that are like, “This is how I do it,” and they try to show what they do. “This is what I do.” Yes, but we’re on the opposite sides of the bookends here in weight categories. Maybe for me, I could try this. I’ve been coached like that and I’ve been coached the other way. I look at wrestling as a true art form. It’s a martial art. It’s an art form. You develop the guy’s basic fundamental decisions. It’s like if their mechanics are flawed, if their body positions are flawed, you want to fix that quick, you want to make that adjustment. Head up, hips in, butt down, lower your level, don’t hinge at the waist. That’s so much different than what we see in freestyle and folkstyle is there’s a lot of hinging and you’re getting the weight pushed onto your toes and you’re getting snapped down to your face and you’re falling. In Greco, it’s a much more upright posture where you’re getting your hips underneath you so you can drive your legs through your opponent. You’re not just pushing into him, you’re trying to drive through your opponent to attack that body. In Greco-Roman wrestling, I don’t know if we’re on video, but there’s only about six inches of space. There’s six inches here where you have to get to that body. If you’re up here underneath their chest and you’re trying to lock, the guys are loosey-goosey, but if you can get to those hips. I’ve taught a lot of freestyle and I’ve taught a lot of folkstyle. When I talk about attacking a single leg, I’d much rather be closer to the hip than closer to the knee. The closer I can get to the hip, I have more control. Even though it’s a single leg, we’re looking at a single-leg technique, it’s like I’d rather grab right next to your hip socket than closer to your knee. Somebody that’s rustled and put the time in there. You visualize that and you look at that and you’re like, yes, that makes more sense, but why are guys grabbing at the knee or below the knee? Low singles are a whole nother philosophy and technical area, but controlling that hip and– Greco-Roman wrestling really has two what I call control positions. The definition that I use for control position is I can score and my opponent can’t. Everyone’s like, “How is that possible?” Well, it’s only possible for a moment at the time, but you just got to add those moments up. The more times I’m in a control position is the last time that he can score on me and I’m creating an opportunity to where I can score on my opponent. Those two control positions are an under-hook and a 2-on-1. Those are the areas that I talked about a lot and how are we’re going to use those two areas to get to that body, to control the body, capture our opponents so we can score.

Sonny: Yes. Okay. That’s interesting the way you talked about that with having to make the athletes experience their own failure and come to the conclusion on their own so they can learn from that process as opposed to just telling them, “Hey, do this technique,” and expecting them to pick it up like that because that’s– A lot of the conversations I’ve been having lately is focused on that area, but it’s like how much easier just telling someone what to do is, but how much longer that would actually take them to learn the skill. With your experience then coaching coaches, as you were saying, you’re going out, how do you impress on them the way to take that view into coaching?

Matt: That’s interesting because– What I was thinking, the problem usually starts with the coaches. We’re talking about these coaches that are like– but it’s not all the coaches, it’s just the majority maybe, that this is how you do it. Put your hand here, put your foot here. Look, it’s that simple, but it’s not that simple because wrestling’s so dynamic. You’re going against somebody that doesn’t want you to do that to him. The fear of failure is so real to young athletes that you need to tell coaches, let these guys fail. Put them in those situations, encourage failure. It’s like, I clap. Yes, you failed. Okay, now what are you going to do differently? How are you going to make an adjustment? What is that going to look like? Show me. Don’t tell me, “Just go,” you failed again. Okay? Now you’ve figured out two ways not to do this. Well, let’s if we can get it right the third and the fifth or whatever it takes. To the coaches, it would be encouraging that experimentation and failure. Well, let’s use an arm drag for an example. I want to grab the guy’s arm, reach around his body, control his body and it’s like, here’s how you do it. Well, your opponent also has a saying in that, and as you’re attempting that technique, you’re taking that arm, you’re dragging to the guy’s body and he backs away or he squares up or he moves his feet, you got to start anticipating those reactions and build those reactions into the techniques because it’s not a static sport. It’s so dynamic that you’ve created these situations where this arm drag could be to the body. If he takes his hips back, well, now he’s leaving his head down. Now I’m going to attack his head because he took his hips away. Well, that means if he took his hips away, he has to bend over. That means is his head’s available. Well, if I attack his head, he pulls his head up, well great, that that opens up his body. You can’t get that tunnel vision where you’re like, “This is the move I want” and it’s like that’s the action that created the scoring opportunity. Whether I scored with that drag or he squared up and I hit him with an arm throw or he squared up, I ducked him to the body, you’ve just put yourself in this situation to where all kinds of great things can happen, but they only can happen because you made an action that created that situation. Maybe that drag didn’t work. Okay. I didn’t need the drag. I’ll take is his head. He puts his head down, I’ll snap him down and go mind or I’ll strangle them out if it was Jiu-Jitsu or whatever because there’s a lot of parallels with coaching Jiu-Jitsu and coaching wrestling. To me, wrestling with a Gi on, it really is. There are some intricacies like you can’t take locks against the arm in Greco-Roman, but you can in Jiu-Jitsu but it really comes down to getting to your controls and getting to an angle of attack position. When I talked about an angle of attack, do you know what I’m referring to?

Sonny: I think so but maybe it would be good to explain it to everyone.

Matt: I would say the simplest way to describe it would be my hips are facing my opponents and his hips are not facing me. They are facing away from me, so positive hip angles, we’re always fighting for that. In boxing and wrestling and in any combat sport, you’re fighting for this positive angle. I’d be in a southpaw and fighting a lot of orthodox fighters. It’s always getting outside that lead leg and then making a pivot so I’m in a positive hip position. Well, that’s only going to last until he squares up. From there, I’ve got to land out one or two strikes or make that arm drag attempt or hit that attack, whatever that attack is and whatever discipline we’re referring to. It’s about getting to a control position. When you’re in a control position, remember I said a control position has to have the part where I can score and he can’t. If I’m not on a positive hip angle and his hips are facing me, if he clears that control in a split second, he has an opportunity to score. If I’m constantly staying on angle and whether that’s right, left, moving my feet, but if I take a positive hip angle and my opponent takes that away from me, I just have to create a new one. Whether I go the opposite way or the same way, I increase, I doubled down on the direction I was going or he squared up so hard and it’s a shorter route to go the other direction. You’re looking for those different routes to get to those positive hip angles and owning an under-hook or owning a 2-on-1 allows you because there are two ways to get to a positive hip angle. Are you aware of those two ways? There’s only two. I teach a clinic sometimes, “There’s how many ways?” and they’re like, “There are a million ways.” I’m like, “No, you’re an idiot, there’s two.” [chuckles] I’m like, “If there are a million, name three,” Name three. You go to a clinic and you’re like, “There are so many ways to get to an angle.” It’s like, “Okay, if there are so many, name three.” I can only think of two, but I’m always eager to learn. If somebody’s got something to share, I want to learn what’s another way to get to a positive hip angle. In theory, there’s only two.

Sonny: That would be I guess you take a step or your opponent’s steps, right?

Matt: Move him, move you. It’s that simple. Move my feet to get to my angle or move him, keep my feet static, move him. Now I could do those in combination. I can move him and move myself and maybe get to a more of an acute angle which is harder to recover from. I typically try to move my opponent as I move myself into a positive hip angle. That’s what I would encourage my athletes to do as well but to anticipate the reactions. If I’m moving into a positive hip angle, he knows. His hips are not facing me. He cannot score. He’s going to square up as soon as he can. He does not want to stay in that deficient situation where he can be attacked and he can’t counter attack or he can’t even create offense. They’re going to constantly be squaring up with you. You’ve got to constantly be making those adjustments. When you get to those angles of attack, you have to take risk. You can’t look at that and go, “That was, I got there.” You don’t score, angles don’t score, angles just lead to scores. Teaching coaches to simplify things more, it’s not like I don’t care how much you know, what matters is how much you can relay into your athlete, how much you can get him to understand. Maybe I know a million different moves, but just showing move after move and after move with no context and not understanding the position. I think the first thing to get coaches to understand is just how critical, fundamental positions are. I think we’ve gotten away from the basic skills of wrestling which stance, motion, elevation, penetration, lift, back step, back arch. I’ve always said there’s an eighth basic skill and it’s much more applicable in Jiu-Jitsu and folkstyle because there’s a lot more ground fighting, which is the hip heist, but all the other basic skills are more standing skills, stance, motion, elevation, penetration, lift. The two that get left out a lot and because I don’t know why, I think maybe it’s a lack of knowledge, probably more than anything but a back step and a back arch. Those are the two areas where you can create the most scores. A takedown is great. When I get on top, and then I can lock up my gut wrench and maybe turn the guy for two, or I could lift him for four. I’d rather lift a guy for four. Same thing with the takedown, I’d rather expose his back and get four points, which requires greater risk. Hence the back step and the back arch being the two skills that I feel are most efficient, at least in American wrestling system, not in the Asian system. You look at Koreans and the Japanese and back step, everything’s an arm throw, a headlock, a hip toss, a lot of rotational turning throws, which puts you for that split second, you’ve given your opponent a positive hip angle. When you are facing your opponent and you turn your body away from your opponent to execute that technique, you’ve given him an opportunity. Well, hopefully, he’s pushing in a little bit because you’ve created that. You take his feet off the mat and you score your four points. You look at that same scenario in a folkstyle situation. If that doesn’t score, it’s not rewarded as a risk because, in international styles, you slip, there’s no score because you made the attempt. Your opponent didn’t stop it. You didn’t execute but you made a risk, you took the attempt, so you’re going to get rewarded for that. In college wrestling, you get penalized for that. It’s quite heavily penalized because not only do you end up on bottom, he scores points, now you’re underneath your opponent, and your lines of defense are facing the mat, they’re not facing your opponent. I think that in a nutshell is where I started out saying, guys don’t take risks because in folkstyle they’re punished for it and in international style, they’re rewarded for it. It’s like, “Okay, get back on your feet. No scores. Try it again. We want to see action. We want to see creativity. We want to see scores. We’re trying to entertain crowds.” I’m not entertained watching some guy lay on top of the other guy and try to hold him onto the mat and maybe turn them for two or writing time. That’s not fun.

Sonny: I hear you. I’ve liked a lot of what you said there really. I think maybe one of the takeaways I got from that is, let’s say you’ve created that hip angle with the athletes and the moment that they might have that angle of attack is so brief that they can’t think about it logically, it just has to be intuition that they’ll know how to respond in that moment. The folkstyle wrestlers that you’re getting, they’ve trained their intuition to be risk-averse. When you come to Greco, that’s the process where you’ve got to retrain that intuition to be more risk-taking. Is that a good summary?

Matt: I think you summarised that very well. Maybe I should just have had you share that because I was a little long-winded. [laughs]

Sonny: I learned that from you, so there you go. [laughs] I really like the way that’s looking at it because coming–

Matt: That goes back to my philosophy of coaching, is take a very complex problem and simplify it. That’s what you did. To me, that’s a sign of somebody that has spent a lot of time coaching in the coaching field, that says, “This is a very complex problem. All these different things are going on at the same time simultaneously. How do I simplify this and break it down to its just course situation?” That’s what I’m talking about 2-on-1 and under-hook, there’s two controls. There’s two ways to get to a positive hip angle. There’s not a million ways. There’s a million attacks, maybe from those angles, but let’s focus on just getting our guys in proper position and getting them to move their feet into those positive hip angles, and then the magic happens when they start taking risk. You got to put them in those scenarios over and over and over, whether it’s drilling, or sparring, or playing. However, what modality you’re using to coach that day, you got to encourage that. You’re going to have a lot more failures than you are successes. You’ve got to have a short memory with the failures and be like, “All right, that didn’t really happen. Let me try this again.” Just keep going over and over and over until it’s like that time you’re like, “Okay, that worked. How can I replicate that? What can I add when that doesn’t work? What’s the next piece I can add to?” It’s like that Andre, let’s go back to that Andre. I reached around and I didn’t get to his body, but he left that arm out here. Maybe I ducked and went to the hips on the second attack. Just continually to build on those attacks. We call that chain wrestling. Have you heard that term?

Sonny: I have actually. It’s interesting because I did have a conversation about that with– We talk about catch wrestling and pro wrestling. The chain wrestling came up and we’re talking about how that’s what a lot of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is now doing for Instagram and stuff like that. They film little videos where they put this flow rolling together. That’s really chain wrestling.

Matt: It’s all the same. I love the terminology, flow roll. Just that terminology makes me think of so many cool things. I’m in the flow state, I’m enjoying this, I don’t have ego. When I think about flow, I don’t think about, there’s a lot of ego and if I take this risk, oh, it might not work. It’s like, that’s ego, that’s all about hubris and saying, “Well, I don’t want to take this risk because I might fail.” Who cares if you fail. You’re training. That your partner going to go up to the cafeteria after practice and tell everybody how many times he countered your arm drag? Because that shit doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is competition. Are you getting better? Did you get better today? Did you grow? Did you improve? Did you learn something? Those are the lessons that matter. I’d always try to be the worst guy in the room. Whenever I got to that level, where I was one of the best guys in that room, it’s like, I need to go find a new training environment or I need to bring guys into my training environment that can challenge me. Maybe I could still beat that guy in this area, but I know I can’t– When I was doing MMA and I just started, I think a lot of guys were like, “Well, I don’t want Matt to get ahold of me because he clenches me up, he gets me in an under-hook, or he puts me in a 2-on-1 situation. He knows what to do there. I don’t want to stay there. I want to just box.” They would naturally assume I didn’t want to box with them, I would just want to clench them. It would almost frustrated guys to the point where they were so ready for that clinch game that they had their mind set. It was like, “No, you’re a better boxer than me. I’m going to box with you today because I know what I can do when I get my under-hook and my positive hip angle. I already know what I could do there. Let’s focus on an area where I’m weak.” That’s gap. That’s not the close gap. There’s those ranges of fighting. The first range I would say is where I could push kick or maybe I could throw around house, but I can’t connect with you with my strikes. That second range is that where I can punch you or I can clinch you and then there’s ultimately that clinch range where the striking really doesn’t work because you can’t get a whole lot of hip rotation and power, you’re tapping guys, but- maybe that was just to open something up. Understanding those ranges of fighting is important too. That’s not necessarily in wrestling, because in Greco, it’s all this range. It’s all that fight range. If you’re not willing to put yourself in that range, we’ll penalize you. If you don’t want to get in that range, where you have to take risk, it’s called passivity. It’s penalized, in my opinion very harshly. Not only do you just lose a point, the opponent gets a point. Now you go face down on the mat and you have your lines of defenses on the ground and your opponent starts on top of you. Wouldn’t every martial artist like to start with the back? For the guys that are jujitsu and maybe not Greco-Roman, they don’t know a lot about Greco-Roman, this would be the equivalent to you’re watching a grappling match and somebody is not taking risk, which happens all the time in grappling matches. It’s like the risk happens on the ground, but on the feet, nobody wants to get the takedown some guys, even pull guard and jump on their back just to get the fight to the ground. Imagine you’re not being active enough, you’re not taking enough risk. You’re passive.The penalty for being passive is the guy gets to start with both hooks in from the back. That’s the equivalent to what you’re giving a guy that is an expert in Greco-Roman wrestling in the park position. You’re giving them a huge advantage. That’s an opportunity where you see a lot of matches ended. You see Roman get on top of a guy, two side lifts it’s over, or EVEl oofer– There’s so many guys that just have that ability to put a match away as soon as they get a chance on top.

Sonny: Yes. I get exactly what you’re saying. For me, that’s why I’ve enjoyed training folkstyle wrestling more is just with the lack of that party position, just being forced to stand up, I’ve found more applicable to MMA, and even Brazilian jujitsu. I’m wondering with your transition into MMA, one of the things that I’ve picked up on is that you’re talking about coaching the end of the sequence first, you know, just, hey, we’re getting to an underhook letting the athletes fail their way into getting that position to learn the learner intuitively. But it seems like with Brazilian jujitsu, it’s very much the opposite where the instructor’s going to tell you, this is the start of the technique work their way through. This is a very special technique that was used by this person to win this match. Maybe because of the ranking structure, it’s held up in a higher regard. To bring that together, I’m thinking when you’ve transitioned over to MMA, have you probably used your wrestling style of coaching to inform classes. Whereas some people I notice, especially I’ve seen up there, it can also be a Brazilian jujitsu style of teaching of MMA as well without doing it, showing the whole technique first. Have you noticed that or is there anything you’d like to comment on between those two?

Matt: No. I’ve noticed that. That’s what a lot of coaches that maybe they’re young in their careers, maybe they have a black belt because they’ve studied the sport really well. Maybe that’s how they were taught, that type of a system. They understand all the holds and they can do an Arm bar and a triangle and a double wrist lock from every position. But when I coach MMA or I coach jujitsu, and when I coach MMA I coach MMA, I coach the whole sport. I don’t break it down. For example, I’ll give you a really funny story. It was when B.J. Penn was fighting Matt Hughes, and called me up. He was like, “man, I’d really like you to be my wrestling coach for this fight.” I was just like, there’s not a chance. I do not want to be a wrestling coach for this fight. B.J. I said, right now I’m in between fights and I would be more than willing to train you and prepare you for this fight, but I’m going to be the head coach. What you see in a lot of MMA fighters is they want the boxing coach, the kickboxing coach, the wrestling coach, the jujitsu coach, and they all have their different philosophies. They all have their different theories. Of course, the wrestling coach wants you to take the fight to the ground. The submission coach wants you to bar on the guy or strangle them, and the kickboxer wants you to kick him in the head, and the boxing wants you to knock them out with a straight right. It’s like, I want to put together a whole package for you B.J. If you’re interested in doing this here’s what it’s going to look like, and I would be open. You think about that and then call me back. He called me back and said,”okay, well, how long is my camp?” I said, well, it’s going to be eight weeks. “I’ve never done an eight-week training camp.”I said, I understand you’ve probably never done an eight-week training camp. That’s fine, but we’re going to do an eight-week training camp. I’m going to lay it out for you. But first week is you’re going to come out to Oregon. I’m going to evaluate you. We’re just going to train. I’m going to see where your fitness level is. Then I’m going to send you to the Olympic Training Center. This was before I was a national coach. One of my assistant coach was a mole, who was a Olympic champion, gold medalist for Yugoslavia. He was coaching here in Colorado. He retired last year and has moved on. Now he’s training jujitsu in Kentucky and he’s 65 years old, and he just took up jujitsu. He’s pretty damn good at it. [laughs] I always told him, because we worked together from 14 through 18, we worked together. For four years I was like, coach, you need to do jujitsu. You need to put on gear, you’re 63 now, you don’t have to wrestle every day, and just go have fun. Now he’s in Kentucky for the last two years, he’s loving. He’s calling me, telling me he’s doing jujitsu, but I said, I want you to go wrestle Greco Roman for two weeks. I just want you to get in that Greco-Roman shape. I want you to feel the positions that guys are in. Just go get coached in Greco. I don’t need to coach you. I’ve got an Olympic champion there that can coach you. You know what I mean? I know a lot of the stuff he does, but maybe he knows something that I don’t too, but go get coached from really good people in Greco-Roman wrestling. Then come back here. Actually I said, go back to Hawaii for four days and then come here, take a break, come back. Then we’re going to have our training camp, but now you see we’re down to five weeks. I have five weeks. One week is a taper week. One week is fight week. What do I really have is three weeks. I evaluate him in one week, I sent him to Colorado Springs to wrestle Greco for two hopeful weeks just wrestle Greco, get these positions. I don’t know if you remember that fight, but couple strikes, double under hooks, little unbalanced, grackle on balance, but he also used a little foot hop with it, which was a little judo sweep and took his back, I think it was like 30 seconds or something. It was a great fight. I had an opportunity to coach him the first time he fought Georgia NPR as well. I thought we won that fight, but it was lost a split decision. One of the areas that we talked about, and I don’t know if you– You’re a fight nerd. You’d probably do remember these. B.J likes to put his back against the cage. He uses that knee between the body to create space. He takes away space to slow the guy down and control him. He pushes him away with that knee uses the strikes in the clinch very effectively with his back against the cage. Well, if I was in a room fighting and I’ve learned. I’ve learned this, it’s like, the best position is to push a guy against the cage for support. But if I was in a real combat situation, I’d want my back against the wall, against the cage so I can see everything that’s going on around me. That’s more real life combat and real martial arts, not just sport, but I explained to B.J., I said, if you have your back against the cage, it looks like he’s controlling. He has the octagon control. That’s one of the main criterias that the judges– These guys aren’t real martial artists, they don’t understand the sport at your level. They’re just looking at it and going look at Georgia, he’s pushing B.J up against the cage. Yes, B.J is doing well in defending himself in there. But that’s not what was happening. He was actually dominating the position with his back against the cage, doing way more damage. But to the judges, they couldn’t recognize that. What they can recognize is who’s on top? That guy’s winning. Who’s got their back against the cage? If I’m forcing that guy to get his back against the cage, well, I’m controlling where the action is. I didn’t agree with that tactic and tried to push back against it a lot. But it was one of those areas where he’s like, I’m really effective in here. I see that. But do the judges see that? In fighting, unless you’ve tapped the guy out or knocked him out, it’s going to go to the scorecards and you’re going to have judges that are going to determine who they thought won that fight. You got to give them more evidence to say, I won the slide, I control these positions, and so I just wish he would have swung them around a few more times, pushed his opponent up against the cage, and done more damage that way. You learn.

Sonny: I think you’ve probably touched on there the same thing with about changing people’s instincts maybe how hard it could be to change a fighter’s instincts in only a short amount of time of the fight camp. I think we see it often that people can game plan for a fight, but it’s very difficult to make someone fight a completely different style than they have been in the past. Is that something that when you’re game-planning for fights or is that something that you would think is relevant as well?

Matt: I think that’s very important as an athlete to be open-minded and be flexible. I’m not at all saying B.J wasn’t open-minded. We had good conversations. He just philosophically disagree with me on that one situation and I didn’t have the ego to say, “Well, this is the way you’re going to do this.” It was like I could see how that’s effective, too. I could see both sides. Again, I haven’t more trained higher than you do and I’ve sported with you. I’ve pushed you against the cage because that’s one of my strengths and I see how difficult you are to deal with that. You’re almost impossible to take down. When you get your back against the cage or BJ does. Not everybody do. When B.J had his back against the cage, he was damn near impossible to take down. I could see why you like that position. You’re much more stable. You’ve got a barrier to your back. I can see the damage you’re doing because I’ve sported with you and I’ve been in those situations. All I’m saying is from one perspective, we’re looking at this from the judges perspective. How do they see it? That was only that situation, particularly. Like I said earlier that I still felt like he won the fight and it was a split decision. That’s one example. It is hard habits die hard man. The habits they die really hard with athletes it’s like I’ve had success with this. It’s like, Yes, but you’re at another level. There’s levels. There’s so many levels in wrestling it’s like, you start out in this kid’s club in the Pee Wee League. Then maybe you wrestled at the state tournament. That’s a new level. God forbid you went to the national tournament at your age group but then you got out of that age group. Now you’re in high school. Now it’s a whole new level. We see attrition at every level. I think the attrition comes from us as coaches not teaching the enjoyment and the joy of the sport and the love of learning and failing and just the whole experience. I think what we do is we say, “You want to win,” and we just keep putting more pressure and more pressure. Like winning is so important. Winning happens when you enjoy what you’re doing so much to the point that you’re obsessed with getting better. Getting better requires you to put yourself in situations to where I’m at a disadvantage. Like I said, for me sometimes especially early in my MMA career, it was like, the stand-up thing, this getting punches and kicks thrown at me, I’m going to spend as much time there as I can because I already know if this was a fight, I wouldn’t probably stand in front of you. I’m going to close that distance and get to my control positions, my positive hip angles, and put you on the ground. I’m going to control you and I’m going to do damage until I can find a way to submit you. It’s like, how many guys when they’re just rolling in Jiu-Jitsu, or don’t give up their back. There’s especially if you have maybe a partner that you can beat in your guard all day long. If he’s in my guard, I’m going to triangle him. I’m going to hit a drag. I’m going to take his back. I’m going to triangle armbar whatever. I know if this guy gets to my back, he’s really good there. What am I going to do with this guy? I’m going to let him get to my back as many times as he can in that training session, because that’s where he’s really strong, and he’s really good. If I keep him in my guard, well, my ego is going to win. I’m going to have a really good practice today. What’s the definition of a good practice? Did I grow? Did I improve? Did I learn or did I kick somebody’s ass in the gym? It doesn’t really matter. That’s why we see that attrition. I think it could come from coaches just teaching more. It’s okay to fail. I expect you to fail. What we are attempting to do here is really difficult. Wrestling at a high level or martial arts at any high level is a very tough task to take on. Somebody’s trying to kick the shit out of you. They’re trying to choke you, pin you, punch you, or whatever that is, in whatever artwork we’re practicing that day. You got to redefine what enjoyment is of the sport and it shouldn’t all be about did I win every situation today because if you did, you probably didn’t get much better, because you weren’t going with good enough guys or even if you have guys that aren’t at the same level of you well, give me your back every time. Start with a triangle choke. Let them walk it up. Then Figure out how to get out of that. Put yourself in the worst positions possible sometimes and then start the drill from there.

Sonny: I hear that and I think about in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu side of things how much more difficult that is made potentially by having the ranking system. If you’ve got someone just one rank below you who you’re supposed to– That puts you above them how much extra pressure that might put on someone to be risk-averse in that situation which wrestling doesn’t have. Do you think that could be a contributing factor?

Matt: You know what, I still don’t have a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Not because I haven’t been offered a black belt just because I’ve chosen not to be a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I’m okay. My wife’s like, “Why haven’t you ever gotten a black belt?” I was like because I still study Jiu-Jitsu. I love to go to other places and learn and study. It’s like, it doesn’t matter because that’s just somebody’s opinion that says, “You’re good enough to have a black belt.” I don’t know. I think you just got to take the ego out of that and say it doesn’t matter. We’re all white belts. Shouldn’t we have a white belt mentality as we go into the gym? We hear that ad nauseam, like, “Oh, I have that.” As you as soon as you go on against the guy that’s a belt color above you, you’re going to go harder. You just see those guys are [unintelligible 00:57:36] and they’re breathing and it’s like, “Dude, I’m not going to hurt you.” You know what I mean? It’s like I’m just here to train and get a little flat. Roll around and have fun but it’s serious. I call them the head squeezers or they’ll squeeze anything. Anything they get a hold of, they’ll just squeeze, squeeze it. You’re like, “Okay. Go ahead and squeeze that and then you’ll be done here in three, two, okay. Now I can roll with you because you’ve depleted all your energy systems.” A big thing about martial arts and coaching is how to control that energy management too. Energy, there’s only a certain amount of it that you have. Whether the bout is six minutes or 25 of it in a title fight or whatever, you got to think about how you’re using those energies. Putting yourself in positive hip angles and control positions allows you as the guy that has that position, allows you to almost recover in those positions. We’re still in the fight. The fight is happening but I’m not tense. I’m relaxed in those positions, and he’s tense. How many more times can I put my opponent under threat where he’s using that energy, that nervous energy, like I can’t be here much longer, because something bad’s going to happen because you start to realize, “Okay. He’s controlling me. I can’t score until I free this arm. Now he’s got a positive hip angle.” Now that guy is going to start using way more energy when you’re letting off the power and you’re waiting for that moment to explode and use that energy. I’ve always tried to use an acronym for MMA. I said, minimize the amount of energy you expend, maximize the amount of energy you’re imposing on your opponent, and attack effectively as possible. It’s all about when do I exert and when do I not exert? The head squeezers, they’re just going to burn energy till it’s done and then you just see a *crack* because they don’t understand that how to use that energy throughout whatever the given timeframe is.

Sonny: I think that’s really good, solid advice about utilizing energy and making sure the way that you’re using it is putting your opponent into a deficit and you’re getting the advantage over them by that. I think that’s really strong advice. Speaking of then of some of the pressures of MMA and dealing with maybe athletes in MMA who are more confident in themselves and maybe sure of their own way. Then the additional pressures that could put on someone, coaching and just experience of coaching in general. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind just maybe finishing off with your thoughts on Robert Follis, who was coach at Team Quest and just, he tragically passed away by taking his own life. Just your thoughts on some of that or just even a valuable lesson you learned from him.

Matt: I can tell you, I learned a lot of lessons from Robert Follis. It was very surprising that such a positive influence on so many individuals. You would have never thought Robert was depressed. Apparently he struggled with this for a long time but didn’t share that with anybody. If there’s anybody out there that is dealing with that depression, you need to talk to somebody. Recently this week I actually talked to somebody, I’m not going to tell you who but this guy was a world champion in two combat sports, literally a world champion. He’s transitioning out of the competitiveness and trying to figure out what’s next. What’s next in his mid-40s and it’s like, “I’ve been an athlete. I’ve been a combat athlete my whole life. I’ve been a world champion my whole life. Now I got to figure out what I’m going to do.” A lot of guys go into coaching or whatever. There’s only so many of those jobs out there. There’s only one Greco-Roman national team coach in the United States. There’s one in Sweden and one in Finland and Norway and Russia. Those jobs they’re just not there and you got to create those things. If somebody’s dealing with that, first of all, I think they probably should find Jesus because I think that gives a lot of people a lot of peace and knowing that there’s something greater than this life. There’s an eternal life. I think that’s an important lesson there. I think one of the things Robert, he didn’t have Jesus in his life but I think he was always looking. He was looking for what the next thing like that. He loved to go to Tony Robbins and listen to him and he loved to be inspired by people. I can be inspired by history and reading a good book and find out what others have done. Robert treated everybody very well. He was a very good coach as far as open-minded about bringing new skills in. I think that was probably one of the greatest things that he did is he always would help us like Randy or me or we would invite different people in whether I fought them or trained with them or against them, even if I could have fought that guy in the future. It’s like, “Come into our gym. We’re going to both compete. It doesn’t matter if we’ve trained together a year ago or six months ago. We’re going to bring our fight to the game.” Robert did a good job of bringing in a lot of different ideas and outside influences, different instructors that maybe– You wouldn’t believe the names of guys that have been in our room and coaches and athletes that I’ve got to learn from. I’ve talked to you about I’ve spent a lot of time with BJ and spent a lot of time with Marcel Garcia and John Hackleman was one of my great mentors and Matt Hume and Maurice Smith and I love Maurice. What a great boxer. His coaching style for me was more of that, “No, you need to do it like this. You need to do it like this.” It’s like, “Yes. This was working. Maybe this one is okay.” Because I’m not trying to knock the guy out. I’m just trying to land this punch to get to the clinch. I get it, but if I land that punch and then I got a slip and I got to duck or move my head, he might punch me back. I might get knocked out. That isn’t my strength. What if I just land that punch and I close the distance. You’ll find people that are saying, “That’s okay,” versus guys that are like, “No, you need to do it this way.” Being exposed to everybody gives you such a wealth of knowledge. Then I can even tell you Dennis Hallman was one of the guys that I’ve learned so much from. Jeff Monson, those guys are our neighbors. They’re just up the street from us. I am forgetting names after names of all the great people that have come through our gym and I’ve been able to be coached by or been able to share things with and just that brainstorming of like, “Well, this is how I do it.” There’s something simple like taking a double wrist lock and going above the elbow or below the elbow and having these philosophical discussions on leverage and pressure and strength. It’s like, “If I go against this, that part of my arm is a lot stronger than this part. This part here, I’ve got more leverage points.” You’re like, “Yes, but this coach showed it this way.” It’s like, “We’ll try it this way,” and being open-minded and willing to say, “All right. I’m going to try it and see if it works.” Also you’re like, “Wait a minute, that’s better. I’ve been doing it this way all along.” You know what, I’m going to start doing it this way because I feel like that’s going to be more effective. I could take that for a million situations. I used to do this technique on the front choke, where a lot of guys they love this Gable. They call it the Gable grip. Dan Gable gets a lot of credit in our country as the master. I call it a butterfly grip because it looks like a butterfly. I was using this grip here. I don’t know if you can see it but it’s a really awkward grip. I can only pull a Gable grip that tight. I can push that thing all the way through the back of his throat and changing the leverage points. I called it a chokeslam because I started when I let a guy shoot a single and when he’d start to drive I’d get out the way and let it head slam into the mat, give him a concussion as I was slapping a choke on to him. Everyone’s like, “Ozzie guillotine or you’re not doing it right.” It’s like, “I’m not doing that move. I’m doing something totally different that I just stole this little piece for Marcello. I took that piece for BJ and I figured out how to do this lock because that’s what I did when I was wrestling Greco was– I know I can push it more than I can pull it in and just taking bits and pieces. Like all great artists, you got to steal and take what works and call it your own. I just think Robert was really good at saying, “Show me. I want to learn that. All right. Let’s do it your way,” or “You know what I think this way is going to be better. Why don’t you try it? If it doesn’t work, let’s unmarry it, let’s get rid of it. For a month let’s just work on it this way.” Being open-minded not saying that my way is the only way, but saying, “I think this will work or I think this won’t work. Why don’t we experiment? Why don’t we try it and try it on next time. You got that on Shale. Try it on Randy. See if it works on him.” Which nothing ever worked on Randy. I tapped Randy one time in the room one time in my whole career. You know what I tapped him with, guess the move.

Sonny: I don’t know. Peruvian necktie.

Matt: It was the toehold.

Sonny: The toehold. [laughs]

Matt: That was because he was standing on top of me beating me down. I swung around got his leg and I was like, “This is working. Wait, wait, wait. It’s going to work.” All of a sudden he tapped. I was like, “That’s it. I’m done for the day.” It’s the only time I’ve ever tapped the natural out but now it’s just taking those and trying on the next level guy and seeing, “Does this work here? Okay. It works at this level, but will it work at the highest levels against the best guys?”

Sonny: I like that. It’s really beautiful. Some of the things that you’ve gone through there and it’s very important. What you said to reach out and speak to people if you’re going through something like that and to have those conversations. Of course I’m loving this conversation on technique and coaching that we’re having too. The conversations of reaching out to people for help if you need it that’s also very important and even something that I myself should be doing more often. I’m sure it’s probably something everyone should be doing a bit more than they normally are. To make things a bit more personal, I guess if we’re going that route and keeping it in wrestling, and the last question would be, well, we’re trying to grow wrestling out here in Australia, me and Gary Jones the wrestling foundation, wondering what tips, with Brazilian jujitsu it does seem that the ranking system is very good for student retention in getting [crosstalk] provided?

Matt: Oh, it’s great for gym owners and it’s great for retention and I think there’s a lot of positives in both sides of that like you said, I think we lose a lot of athletes to wrestling because maybe we don’t have that system to where they can see if I do these things, I can get to that next level. There’s always a next level for them. It’s like you’re either winning or you’re not winning with wrestling and that’s hard. Like I said, are you growing? Are you improving? Are also important. I don’t need somebody that’s maybe got a higher belt rank than me to tell me if I’m at the next level, I have to feel it and I have to know it because I’ve done it and it’s not just because somebody else’s their opinion and that’s really all it is, isn’t it? Am I wrong? Is there more to it than I’m missing out?

Sonny: On any given day, it’s the same with anything else. You could say there’s more to it and people could have that debate for ages, but on any given day, anything can happen and you might be caught sleeping, and then what does as the old saying goes, the belt only covers two inches of your ass.

Matt: That is true. Now that’s good and I think if we as coaches instill the love of the sport into our athletes and stop putting so much pressure on doing things perfect or doing things this way and just saying, show me how that works, you’re having success. I want to know what you’re doing, it makes it work and maybe I can learn from you and I could coach you better because I don’t want to change anybody that wrestles far as obviously they’ve gotten to this level because they’re doing something right. When I get to a guy that’s making a world or Olympic team, I’m not trying to make these gross adjustments. I’m just trying to make micro-adjustments maybe work on their training prioritization plans, or their mental skills or some small technical adjustments and just everything is an add. How can I add to what you’re already doing? It’s not how can I change you or how can I mold you? It’s like, how can I just add on to what you’ve already built because you built something pretty damn good to get to this level, and what are your strengths, and what techniques should we try to work into your strength areas. I think that’s important.

Sonny: Yes, I like that and that is something that I think Gary Jones has done by implementing a level system within the coaching of wrestling to give the students level one, level two, level three system to work through with techniques to try and encourage that side of things so I think that’s a good place to take things for sure. Look, Matt, it’s been a wonderful conversation.

Matt: Thank you.

Sonny: I’ve really enjoyed it. I hope you have–

Matt: I developed a belt ranking system for Team Quest and it was for retention. It was from my students that were young. It wasn’t for guys that are competing like your belt is what are you fighting in Strikeforce, UFC or that’s your belt, but for the young athletes and in 20 years I’ve promoted four black belts and two of them are still training at my gym and see one of them, she was the only female out of the four. She’s 25 years old and she’s also my daughter and the other one who just turned 16. He started with us when he was five and he got his black belt just a year ago. He got his black belt and then Isaiah and Kaitlin, they’re still doing martial arts. Kaitlin took up some stick fighting, but he blew his knee out doing football, American style football, and Isaiah, he’s 19 now and he’s just trying to figure out what he wants to do in life. I think that martial arts definitely gave all of these young people, good base a foundation. They’re all having success in other areas and like I said, two of them are still really heavily involved in martial arts. Robert is a 16, he’s trying to make the U-17 world team. My daughter, she’s not a competitive martial artist, but she’s in the gym daily training and staying fit and running our fitness side of our programs at Team Quest and she’s a very good martial artist too. I’ve gone back and forth on women in martial arts and whatever the opinions are and I think it’s really a great thing for all young people, whether it’s a young girl, it builds just that confidence and self-esteem and for men, I think it’s critical. I think all men should be required to do martial arts of some sort or some kind just to develop that resiliency that somehow we’ve lost as a society because right now we’re locked up in our houses and not even going out because we’re so riddled with fear that we might get a bug. I understand that coronavirus is real and it makes certain people sick and if you feel like you’re compromised and you’re unhealthy, well you should not go out in outdoors, but you should not try to mandate what somebody else should do and how much risk they should be able to take with their own lives. Where does it stop with taking risks, I think we all know that risky behavior and we still do them, we still get in our car and get on the highway and more people die every year from car accidents than have this year from coronavirus, and we’re still driving.

Sonny: Yes, I think that being able to evaluate risks and learning sometimes the hard way sometimes the easy way I guess if you’ve got a coach there to help guide you with those risky decisions is such an important thing that can be taken from the training room and then used hopefully lifelong in a lifelong practice of martial arts is probably the best and ideal goal for the young guys. You mentioned stick fighting, I think that one could become huge in with the social distancing going on. The stick fighting might come in handy and could be the one that could be the next big thing I tell you. [laughs]

Matt: I tell you what, and if I had the time and there’s a couple of martial arts I wouldn’t mind trying, that’s one of them and then what’s that other one that’s like really meditative and like the ones that old people do, I’m 50 now-

Sonny: Tai Chi.

Matt: -so I might have to do Tai Chi. That one looks very interesting to me.

Sonny: Do you know Tai Chi is pretty much, they have a competitive side of it?

Matt: Oh, I’ve read that book.

Sonny: The Art of Learning, have you seen his matches?

Matt: Yes.

Sonny: They’re pretty much Greco-Roman. I think you’d be pretty good at it, Matt.

Matt: I think you’re right and I’ve also trained in Thailand and Muay Thai like the Thai do it is very close to Greco-Roman as well. Head up, hips in. The only difference is you’re slamming knees and elbows into the guy’s body instead of shoulders like Greco and Thai fighting are so similar. Well Sonny, thank you for having me on your show and keep up the great videos and appreciate that one you did on me and stay safe dude.

Sonny: Thank you very much for your time, Matt. I’d love to have you back on some other time to talk about your career and all the technical sides and maybe that time that Fedo held the ropes when you were fighting against him.

Matt: It’s all good. Thank you, brother.

Sonny: Thank you.