The International Writers Magazine: MMA Fighting
Fighting Fit at K-1 Fight Factory
Preparing for an MMA Fight in Phnom Penhp
On day six of training, with two K-1 Fight Factory instructors pushing me, I broke my personal record, 10 sets of Randy Couture speed weightlifting routine, each in just under a minute. On the first day, my average had been two minutes.
These are the kinds of insane results you can get training three times a day, in a scientifically-designed, well-thought-out training regime. In the first seven days I lost 2kgs of fat, but the real transformation was in both endurance and fighting ability. Sparring was always the last exercise of the day, and on the evening of the day I broke my Couture record, I sparred five rounds of English boxing and four of grappling.
I’m preparing for an MMA fight in Malaysia, called Mayhem 2, to be held, September 10,11, sponsored by Muayfit. I could have chosen any country to prepare in, but I chose Cambodia, and David Minetti, owner of K-1 agreed to put Team Mineti on the task of getting me, the Booklyn Monk, fit for his fight. Of course, there is no guarantee I’ll win, but I’m certain I won’t be breathing hard.
The first day I walked in, it looked like I had an impossible task ahead of me.
“You’re so fat.” Said Alvaro Lealdela Torre, the lead grappling instructor at K-1 Fight Factory, Phnom Penh. “And you want to fight in 30 days.” He asked if there was anything else he should know. So, I told him, “I’m 44 years old. This is my first MMA fight, oh, and I don’t know how to grapple.”
Alvaro shook his head. “Two months would be better.” He finally said. “We can do it, but we can’t start gradually. We have no time for that. We start hard training tomorrow.”
The schedule Alvaro made for me was heavy on cardio and also on strength. Although I am 10 kgs overweight, I am still 87 kgs of muscle, so you wouldn’t normally see strength training as a priority. But, the way they explained it to me, strength for MMA training is about developing explosive power. Which is very different than long, static weight lifting sessions I was used to. All of the strength training was done with timed weight lifting exercises, with one minute rest between sets. The sets had to be done as fast as possible. And when you are doing them, it definitely feels like a fight.
Although this is my first MMA fight, I have had boxing fights in the past. In a fight, you get so tired, but you still have to keep throwing hands. Also you have to move out of the way of punches. I have had the experience of being so tired that it was less effort to get hit than to move. And as any good trainer will tell you, it is when you are out of breath, on your last legs, that the knockout comes. The same punch, thrown in the first round might not even ring your bell.
In MMA, you can get equally as tired as in boxing, but you may find yourself exhausted, panting for breath, with a huge 90 kg guy sitting on your chest, punching you in the face. That’s when you need the cardio and explosive power to escape, or you will simply give up, tap or get knocked out.
Preparing for a boxing fight, you do a lot of boxing and running. And it all looks like boxing. But preparing for an MMA fight is a lot more like going to boot camp. Probably 80% of the training is fitness and strength, rather than fighting. Each exercise is designed to push you beyond your limit. I frequently collapse in the gym. Then, after a minute’s rest, or no rest, they tell me to get up and do the next exercise.
In a typical morning session, I have to do wind sprints on the exercise bicycle for 45 minutes. This is followed by hundreds of ab reps. Then I go home, rest, and come back in the evening for boxing and MMA. Each session starts with more abs and more cardio exercises. At the end of the very long training day, I have sparring. Often, before we start, I am already beyond the limit of what any sane person would do. I can barely stand, and I am just starting the sparring rounds. When the boxing sparring is over, then we have grappling. Every muscle screams. Everything burns. You just want to quit, or beg the trainers to let you out early. But in your heart, you know that if you quit in training, you will quit in the fight.
So, you push on. You finish the session.
Last night, after five rounds of boxing and four of grappling, I couldn’t stand. I just lay on my back, in a puddle of sweat, while the coach stood over me and told me what I had done wrong. Then he said, “Just one more thing.” He sat on my chest, punched me in the face, and explained how I should have escaped. I was so tired the explanation was going in one ear and out the other. “And another thing…” He began, showing me how I should have used my leg to lift my opponent’s leg and flip him off of me. And another thing, and another, and another….
When I left the gym, I looked at my watch, only eleven hours till I had to be back for my next session of bicycle sprints. And all of this was achieved in just over a week.
September 20th Update: The MMA Championships
The first fight went off like clock work but I can’t take any credit. I had a really soft opponent and felt confident. When they introduced him they said his martial arts were tae kwan do and Jiu Jitsu. My plan was just to box with everyone, regardless of their skill set but particularly if they were a grappler.
I came out throwing leather but didn’t land a single punch. Instead, he shot and tried to take me down, but I sprawled and caught him in an almost guillotine. I was trying to choke him, but realized I wasn’t going to get it. Also I was worried that he was a BJJ guy and I thought it would be better to let him go and box him. So I began to turn him lose. As he was standing up, I pushed him against the cage, and tried for a standing choke. Still couldn’t get it, so rather than waster energy, I was just going to release, walk off and strike. As I was backing off, he lunged at me. I caught him around the head and threw him over my hip. I landed on top of him in side control. Then I mounted him and sunk in my grape hooks.
I was still thinking of escaping, and fighting stand up, but there was a world title holder, named Daniel, who was in my corner shouting advice. He yelled for me to keep him on the ground.
I took out my grape hooks and sat on his chest, and began ground and pound. Daniel yelled, “Put your weight on him, so he can’t breath.” So, I slipped back a little, to sit on his stomach. And I kept punching his face and head. He kept trying to cover up, obviously, but at K-1 they showed me how easy it is to just move the guy’s arm out of the way first, then punch. Then he puts his arm back, you move it and punch. He kept trying to buck me or turn me, but the K-1 training came into play. I had a good wide base on my knees and kept my balance the whole time. When he bucked, he just used energy. At one point I also used a technique that the trainers had done on me which was, setting my knee on the guy’s bicep, to hold it down, and then easily punching him in the face.
At first, even in the mount, and punching him, I was afraid that he would use BJJ or that this was a trap, but slowly, I began to realize it wasn’t. Daniel yelled, “don’t do anything stupid and you will win.” I thought of going for a can opener or submission, but decided that qualified as doing something stupid. So I stayed on top, punching. Most of the blows weren’t punches, instead, I was throwing hammer fists, to keep from hurting my hands. The strategy paid off, because the next day, my hands were fine.
I started to feel badly for the guy I was fighting. He looked really young and probably had no idea what he was getting into. I hope the experience doesn’t discourage him from continuing with MMA. Daniel was yelling encouragement to me, but I think it was a psychological strategy to break the kid. He yelled, “He’s getting tired.” Then he yelled, “He has no idea what to do here.” Next, “He’s going to tap any second.” And finally, “He’s about to cry.”
Eventually, Daniel said, “I think there’s only ten or twenty seconds left.
Keep doing what you’re doing, and you will win.”
When the bell rang, I fell down on my opponent and just gave him a huge hug. I was so grateful for the win. But what I liked most of all was that everything went according to training, if not to plan. ALL of the K-1 training came into play. All of it came instinctively. I only had one month of grappling with K-1 and yet I knew how to sprawl, choke from the sprawl, press against the cage, throw from he head, land in side control, move from side control to full mount, to grape hooks, to sitting on the chest and punching, to riding the bucking bull, and pounding.
In training, the teachers would ground and pound me. And I would ground and pound the grappling dummy, but I had never done that to a human being before. So that was new, but it worked, I guess I learned from being done-to, rather than from doing. The cardio training also paid off. At the end, I wasn’t even breathing hard. In fact, I was simply warmed up.
Daniel came up to me after and said, “You told me you are not a grappler, but you looked like you’d been doing it for ten years. You looked like Tito Ortiz up there.”
A lot of what happens to you in a tournament is based on luck, the luck of getting an easy or a hard opponent. And I know that the kid I fought was not a tough opponent, and that he didn’t know as much as he thought. BUT, what I am proud of is that I used the technique. And in all honesty, I didn’t USE the technique, the technique just happened and I was lucky enough to be standing there when it did. Luckily I wasn’t over-thinking. The minute he tried to take me down, my game plan was gone, so I was working on instinct. And the instinct was the training.
I learned it all in one horribly intensive month. K-1 Fight Factory, K-1 Fight Factory, K-1 Fight Factory! I can’t say it enough times.
My three Khmer training brothers had varying degrees of luck. Tun Serey was matched with a muay Thai guy who I know in Selangor. The guy is famous for practicing lots of martial arts, especially Muay Thai, entering competitions, and losing. I pretty much knew Tun Serey could take him standing. And if the guy wanted to go to the ground, his skills wouldn’t be as good as his Muay Thai.
Tun serey roughed him up a lot standing. They went to the ground and Tun Serey continued to fight like a lion. He won a fairly easy victory.
Kong Ravy, on the other hand, had the misfortune of having been matched with Raymond Tiew, the San Da champion of Malaysia. He is also my good friend, and I knew that he had joined an MMA team and spent three months doing nothing but ground fighting, to prepare for the competition. He beat Ravy fair and square, but it was no cake walk. And Ravy was in the fight the whole time. He fought well against an opponent with a lot of skill and experience. I was very proud of Ravy.
Say Tevin also had a tough match. He had to face a fighter from Kazakistan. Those Kazaks all seem to be very tough and have excellent grappling skills. Once again, Tevin fought very well, but in the end, he was outmatched.
Going into the semi-finals, Tun Serey met a good all-around fighter, with an apparent background in both striking and grappling. All of the Khmer guys are good on their feet, particularly with kicks and elbows. They lack boxing, but so do the Malaysian fighters. Tun Serey roughed the guy up standing. The opponent pushed Serey against the cage where they kneed and elbowed each other, but for the most part, the fight went boring. Eventually, Tun Serey went for a throw, but the opponent had better training and landed in a position of advantage, namely, he had Tun Serey in a guillotine choke.
From where I was sitting, actually from where everyone was sitting, it looked like the choke was in solidly, and Tun Serey would soon be tapping out. We hadn’t practiced too much how to get out of the choke, and as I said, the choke was tight.
Training pays off for everyone and Tune Serey was the only one of the three Bokator fighters who had turned up every morning for grappling practice, with me and Sarin, our grappling coach from the French Bokator team, during my first week of training, before I went to K-1.
Suddenly, to the disbelief of everyone, myself included, it looked like the opponent was tapping. At first, I thought he was shooing away flies. Next, I saw the choke. Tun Serey had applied a US Army choke that I had taught him during our week of grappling. It is one of the chokes that can be done from the front, rather than the back. In this case, it was being done from inside of a guillotine. The tapping became so frantic that the referee finally stopped the fight and awarded the win to Tun Serey.
After the fight, Serey told us, “He tapped, but no one saw it. So I applied it harder and harder, and I was worried he would die before the referee stopped the fight.”
Cambodia now had three wins. And Tun Serey would be fighting again in the finals.
My second fight was less glorious than my first. Where I did everything right in the first one, everything went wrong in the second. My second opponent weighed 107 kgs, the heavy-weight judo champion of Malaysia. He was much taller and bigger than me. And I have to admit I got scared when I saw him. The plan had been to throw heavy leather, punching him in the face and trying to avoid a take down. When the bell rang, I ran forward to punch and he threw the slowest, hardest, most powerful kick I have seen. I easily avoided it, but realized when he threw those cement legs at me, I needed to avoid them, rather than block them, because blocking would hurt too much.
Now my game plan was out the window. I didn’t realize he would be kicking. Originally, I thought I could stay away and just come in to punch, but now, staying away was dangerous, he kept throwing these huge elephant kicks and I managed to avoid them. Daniel shouted, “He is fat. Make him busy and he will get tired.” I decided to just keep sort of jumping in and out, to make him chase me and throw kicks to wear him down. But I was worried it would look like I was just scared. And since I was scared, I wanted to push myself to go in and fight. So, I ran in to punch him, and he kicked me in the head. The kick landed on my left ear. It was so hard, my knees buckled and I almost went out.
Once again, K-1 training paid off. At K-1 we frequently did an exercise, where I had to spin around in a circle for a minute, then spin the other way for a minute, till I was dizzy and nauseas, to simulate getting almost knocked out. When the coach gave the signal, I had to come out of the spin and hit the pads. I would be on wobbly legs, not knowing left from up, but the coached wanted me to throw hard, frequent leather, just to keep the opponent off me.
In a fight, if you get hit hard enough to get a standing 8 count, it takes between 6 and 8 seconds to recover. If you get hit on the jaw again during that time, you will go out. By throwing punches, even if they don’t land, you will keep the guy off of you. There is also the possibility that if he rushes in, with his guard down, hoping to score the knockout punch, you may get lucky and lay him out.
When that kick hit the side of my head, everything went black, my knees buckled and I almost hit the floor, but as a former boxer, I have been there a million times before. The K-1 training kicked in, and I did exactly what the coaches taught me to do. I charged forward, on unsteady legs, punching.
Unfortunately, this must be when the guy took me down. I was still groggy, when I found myself on my back, with my right arm in an armbar. I tried to escape for about two seconds, but the guy has is legs over like two stone pillars. I could do nothing. So, I tapped, but either he didn’t realize I was tapping, or he was too excited by the fight, but instead of releasing, he pulled harder. I felt something just about to give in my arm. I cried out in order to alert the ref. He arrived a fraction of a second too late, and I knew my arm was injured.
I had lost, but what bothered me most was that I just hadn’t been in the fight. I never hit or kicked the guy, even one time. I had already defeated myself mentally before the fight started.
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Antonio Graceffo is self-funded and needs donation to continue his writing and video work. To support the project you can donate through the paypal link on his website, www.speakingadventure.com
Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.
Warrior Odyssey, the book chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia is available at amazon.com. The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army. The book is available at http://www.blackbeltmag.com/warrior_odyssey
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