So You Wanna Be a Fighter?: Part One

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It’s been a while since I’ve contributed an article to this site and so much has changed. I relocated to Ottawa last June, changed careers (although not for the better), and most importantly, changed sports. For a long time, I knew my passion was in strength sports, but something else lingered inside.

The speech

“Let me explain something to everybody. This is a very—and when I say very, I mean very—unique opportunity. If you’ve ever wanted to really be a fighter (and when I say a real fighter, you wanna be like some of the guys on the wall in here), this is fuckin unbelievable. It’s an amazing opportunity, right? You don't have to worry about paying your fucking bills. You really don’t have to worry about whatever’s going out on in the real world right now. We’ve gotten some of the best grappling, boxing, muay thai coaches there are. You have nothing to fucking worry about every day except coming in and getting better at what supposedly you want to do for a living. You understand what I’m saying? How bad do you want it?

We picked who we believe are the best guys in the country right now. We did. And you guys are it. Fucking act like it, man. You are gonna fight in front of a lot of people. A lot of people. You have no fuckin clue at the opportunity that you have here. Any questions? Does anybody not want to be here? Does anybody not want to win this fucking thing? Does anybody not wanna fight? Is that a no? Talk to me. Do you wanna be a fucking fighter? Do you wanna be a fighter? That’s the question.

It’s not about cutting weight. It’s not about living in a fucking house. It’s about do you wanna be a fighter. It’s not all fucking ya know, signing autographs and banging broads when you get outta here. It’s not. It’s no fucking fun man. It’s not. It’s a job just like any other job. Being a fighter isn’t all fucking girls and signing autographs. It’s fucking hard work, but you have the opportunity to fuckin make money, be famous, and do something for the sport here. That’s what this is all about.
So the question is not did you think you had to make weight, but did you think you had to do this? Do you wanna be a fuckin fighter? That is my question. And only you know that. Anybody who says they don’t, I don’t fucking want you here. And I'll throw you the fuck outta this gym so fuckin fast your head will spin. It’s up to you. I don’t care. Cool?

Have a good night gentleman.” —Dana White

The answer
Rewind to 2005—the Ultimate Fighter debuts on Spike TV. This is my introduction to the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA), and it’s the UFC’s launch into the social conscious of North America. Watching those guys sacrifice everything for an opportunity to actualize their goals was intense to say the least. At this time, I fell in love with MMA. To fight in the UFC meant you had to be the most athletic, strongest, fastest, and most flexible, not to mention have a mastery of the multifaceted disciplines of the stand up and ground game. People tend to see the mediocre fighters as “cans,” fodder for the top dogs of each weight class. What they forget is that each fighter isn’t just the best in his gym. He’s the best in his city, his state/province, and his country. These are bad mother fuckers.
Fast forward to 2008—I made a decision to give up a job with a decent wage to move to Ottawa, pursue my passions, and begin my journey to self-actualization. Arguably, this wasn’t the best decision financially, but the holistic benefits outweighed the risks I knew I was taking. In case you don’t know, Ottawa is Canada’s capital with half the population of Toronto. However, it is a hot bed of MMA talent and strength athletes. We have several current and former nationally ranked powerlifters and Strongmen gyms in the area. After reading Martin Rooney’s Training for Warriors book on my train trip to Ottawa and an email consultation with Alwyn Cosgrove, I decided to switch sports. It was time to answer the question burning inside. Was I going to be the guy in the stands cheering or the man on the mat listening to the audience?
I’ll save the transition story from powerlifter to MMA athlete for another day. After making the decision to become a fighter, I chose to train under professional fighter Craig “Farmer” Brown at FIT MMA (#). The school is a mix of experienced guys, a few professionals, and a lot of potential talent. It’s a small school compared to many in the city, but I have never felt such a part of a team or a family as I have at FIT. Craig is a hell of a coach and a great fighter in his own right, with a recent title fight on June 13, 2009 with W1 MMA.

The goals

Why am I writing this article? Well, on June 28, 2009, there was a sport MMA tournament held in Gatineau, a neighboring city to Ottawa just across the Quebec border. Now, for those unfamiliar with the MMA scene, sport MMA is more of a “points” based system for fighters to work under live sparring and watered down rules. The rounds are shorter, and the striking is softer to avoid injury. Our school has a philosophy that every fighter should work through a farm league before getting a professional fight. There is no reason to rush anyone into a legit fight who hasn’t been battle tested first.

My primary goal was to win my weight class and division with “just medaling” being a less than satisfactory alternative. Any other result constituted a failure in my opinion. If the fights went well, I intended to request a legit amateur fight later this year. Needless to say, I had high expectations, and my plan to become a professional fighter was tied to the outcome of this tournament. This represented step one in a journey to reach my potential.

Brief overview

My strength background is in the Westside method of powerlifting, and I was incredibly deconditioned. It has been an ongoing process, but using Martin Rooney’s Training for Warriors conditioning sessions, I’ve made dramatic improvements. Hurricane training is brutally intense but ultimately satisfying in a way that I can’t describe. Check out his website and YouTube channel for more information (#) or you can purchase his book and DVD on this site. I highly recommend that you purchase both the book and the DVD as they complement each other and give you a better understanding of the system together.

After months of experimentation with my strength programming, I stumbled across a satisfactory methodology that improved my work on the mat. Anything that detracted from performance was eliminated or modified. It’s been an incredibly difficult process of changing my philosophy regarding balancing weight lifting and MMA training. I still want to squat, pull, and bench as much as possible, but that isn’t necessarily going to help me on the mat.

Martin’s system is responsible for my conditioning, and a modified version of Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 pendulum is the basis for my strength program. I needed something that didn’t promote an incredible amount of volume and wouldn’t be too taxing on my central nervous system but at the same time would keep me strong.
Training schedule
Sundays: Rest day
Monday: 2–3 hours of BJJ and MMA training
Tuesdays: 1 hour of MT, weight training session “A” two hours later
Wednesday: 2–3 hours of BJJ and MMA training
Thursday: 1 hour of MT, weight training session “B” two hours later
Friday: Open mat session (this is unstructured and may include sparring, rolling, boxing, or rest)
Saturday: 1 hour MT followed by 1 hour MMA training (or rest), 1–1.5 hours hurricane/conditioning session

Notes: All weight training is performed wearing a heart rate monitor with the goal of keeping my heart rate above 160 bmp. I moved on to the next set as soon as my heart rate dips below that point (within reason). Longer rest periods were required when removing plates from the bar, etc. All conditioning work was performed while wearing my competition mouth-guard. I find this made an incredible difference in my “gas” on the mat, as I was adapting to my limited oxygen intake. This is also a great way to monitor how the conditioning work impacted my sport-specific work as I eliminated a “variable.”

Program outline

“A” session

1. Sprints
2. Deadlifts
3. Main upper body, dips, dumbbell floor bench
4. Olympic lifts, cleans, high pulls
5. Rows
6. Lower assistance/rep work, front squats, Zercher squats/lunges
7. Ab work
8. Foam roller

“B” Session

1. Sprints 3. Upper body lifts, military press, dynamic medicine ball passes
4. Chins, chin-ups or pull ups, series
5. Lower assistance/rep work, box jumps, dumbbell grappler’s lunge
6. Weighted ab work
7. Stretch

Detailed breakdown
Exercises noted as “1” will be performed for the first two weeks of the program, and “2” indicates exercises performed on weeks three and four.

Weight session A
A) Treadmill sprints: After warming up on the treadmill, I performed a series of sprints on a 10% incline with 30 seconds of rest between runs.

Round 1: 9, 10, 11 mph at 10% incline X 20–30 seconds
Round 2: 12, 13 mph at 10% incline X 15–20 seconds
Round 3: 14, 15 mph at 10% incline X 10–15 seconds

Notes: The sprints were waved by raising the time by 2–3 seconds per week leading up to the tournament. All sprints were performed wearing my mouth guard to adjust to the oxygen intake deficit that would be encountered while on the mat.

B) Deadlift

Week 1: 60% X 5, 65% X 5
Week 2: 70% X 5,75% X 5
Week 3: 80% X 5, 85% X 3
Week 4: 90% X 3, 95% X 1

Notes: I find that the volume is a bit lower with this progression but less taxing on my system. It allowed me to easily hit my goal of getting stronger and filling out in my weight class.

C1) Dumbbell floor press: Weights were performed in the 8–20 rep range with goals to increase the weight in every cycle.

C2) Dips: I either attempted to set a body weight only record or performed weighted reps based upon a 2RM.

D1) Cleans: Every rep was started on the knees to promote hip speed and flexibility. Reps were 6–10 or more X 2 sets. Week one was performed with a lighter weight for a greater number of repetitions (e.g. 135 X 10) with the next session being a heavier session (185 X 8 X 2)

D2) High pulls: This follows the exact template as the cleans in terms of reps and sets.

E) Rows: These can be any variation of a row (barbell, hammer strength, dumbbell, or dumbbell power clean). Reps are 8–30 (used the “Kroc” L.A.T. method at least twice a month) for 2–4 sets.

F1) Front squat: This was repetition training with less emphasis on increasing weight by volume. Reps were 8–10 X 2 sets minimum.

F2) Zercher squats or Zercher grappler lunges: Thus used the same rep/set template as front squats. Zercher grappler lunges were intended to mimic shooting in on an opponent for a takedown and were done in a squat rack.

G1) Medicine ball abdominal series: There are many different exercises to choose from, and I performed them with little rest using a medicine ball as resistance. The final exercise was standing on a half Bosu ball to develop some balance.

G2) Grappler twists and grappler Thai knees: These were very simple exercises performed in a superset. The goal was to gradually increase the weights used in the 20–25 reps X 2–3 sets.

H) Foam roller work: This was performed for 5–10 minutes (as needed).

Weight session B
A) Treadmill sprints: These were performed in the same method as previously described.

B) Squats

Week 1: 50/55/60% X 2 X 8–10
Week 2: 65 X 5, 75 X 5
Week 3: 80 X 5, 85 X 3
Week 4: 90 X 3, 95 X 1

C1) Military press: Week one was a 5RM, and week two was a 3RM.

C2) Standing medicine ball: The goal was to set a rep record for time (30 seconds set X 3–4 sets, 30 seconds rest between sets).
D) Chins/pull-ups: One session a month was a body weight series consisting of chins, pull-ups, half rep chins, leaping alternating grip chins, chin side-to-sides, and finally grappler hand walks. (Visit this video for examples of the last two exercises). Another session was performed for a body weight record, and the remaining sessions were weighted chins/pull-ups only.

E1) Box jumps: I am limited to using a 20-inch box, so I sat on a half Bosu ball spaced 18 inches away from the box and performed a set of body weights jumps for 10 reps as a warm up. Then, I did weighted jumps for 10 reps X 2–3 sets.

E2) Dumbbell grapplers lunge: This is a traditional lunge with a Training for Warriors’s twist—the dumbbells are brought together under the knee before ascending. Check out Martin’s YouTube channel for an example.

F) Weighted ab work

Week 1 and 2: Standing cable abs and leg raises
Week 3: Spread eagle sit-ups and leg raises
Week 4: Barbell crunches and leg raises

H) Stretching

In my next article, I will outline the specific conditioning drills I performed to develop and increase my level of conditioning.

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