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Back in a Gi

Just recently I have dusted of the gi stepped on to a mat of a pure BJJ club. Since I have been away from BJJ things have changed.

A little history of I got in to BJJ: I was in my kickboxing stage and a MMA fighter came along to get better at striking as he was mostly a ground fighter. We started working together and even had a roll (where I struggled to say the least). That is what motivated me to get in to BJJ, so I went along to my first session at GSW with a gi (think karate uniform) full of patches and a target on my back. From there I worked on BJJ, wrestling and striking every week to get better so there were not many nights in front of the TV. I progressed through to purple belt in a relatively short time. Then things changed through various factors I ended up having a falling out with the instructor and then my grappling was done through MMA only. Since 2013 (approximately) 99% of my grappling has been done at Lockdown and no-gi (shorts and t-shirt).

What brought me back? I buried the hatchet with the instructor years ago so that part was easy for me it was just a time thing, ie I didn’t have enough of it. As I start work early in the morning night time training is getting harder (I am old). One of my clients was talking about lunch time rolling (BJJ sparring) on a Friday at his club, which is not the club I used to go to. Even though it was not my old club I thought it would be cool to roll again so I was in. On the day I was going to roll I bumped in to a guy from my old club (GSW) and he said that they roll on a Friday lunch time so I was now heading back to GSW. I told the other guy that I was more comfortable going back to my old club and sorry will not be rolling with him. But mostly what brought me back is I wanted to get better at rolling.

My first session: When I steeped on the mat, with my purple belt and gi covered in patches from years ago, people just left me alone and I was sitting there thinking what am I doing. Then the rounds started and white belt asked me to roll, phew good way to start. He was quite a big white belt and was strong but was a good first roll. Then came the brown, purple and black belts and that was a different story. The gi makes a difference and the higher belts know how to use it. Moves that are my bread and butter in no-gi where not nearly as effective with a gi and I was found wanting both technically and physically. There is a purple belt about my size and has a very open game, opposite to my style. His open guard is sharp and difficult to pass and I continue to look forward to battles with him as he has the upper hand for now. I had a roll with one of the brown belts, who was below me before I stopped. I went in to the roll with that mind-set that he was a lower rank – bad idea as he had got better (lesson learnt). Overall I was glad to back on the mat, got a good sweat up and lost some skin on my toes but I was back and was looking to improve.

What has changed? The game has changed a lot since I was there, there are two big influences and one is the introduction of leg locks. Leg locks were always part of GSW but now they have been given more importance and are a big part of people’s offence. What that means for me is that my guard that wasn’t great in the first place is now under more threat from leg / ankle locks. I can feel the set up but my brain is a bit slow so I became a spectator and watch as my ankle got extended or twisted until I tapped (a couple of times).
The other change is Pat, he has had the biggest influence of anyone at GSW (except for the instructor Geoff Grant). When Pat started he didn’t show up with any more ability than anyone else but at some point something went click. When I say click I mean that BJJ become methodical and systematic for him and from that point on Pat become something to behold. Pat is one of the best if not the best competition black belt in the country. He has brought a very systematic approach to GSW and his talent sets a bench mark that other clubs would be envious of.

Where I am at: It has been a long time since I have rolled with purple, brown and black belts so I am rusty. I am ok with maintaining positions but my attacking / finishing is lacking. Even with passing guard I am dealing with the legs ok but establishing the next position is not quite there. I find myself going to positions that are good for ground and pound but not good for submissions, so I have to let go or change position, which I find funny. With submissions I am getting in to position and getting arms / necks but the finish is not tight enough. I am looking to sort out that last 5% of my game that is the finishing and just overall tightening up. One weird thing is that when I get tapped I am ok with it. To put that in perspective I used to hate taping and I would want to throw someone through a wall if I tapped out. But now I even compliment the person on a good move, my how times have changed. I am also looking forward to be able to roll without ripping the skin of my toes.

I am glad to be back on the mat and there are some old faces that I recognise and lots of new ones. There are also a lot more coloured belts and that makes rolling more fun. One thing I found quite funny is that back in the day when we rolled no-gi we would wear shorts and t-shirt. Maybe a MMA/BJJ brand or logo included however that has changed. There is matching colours with shorts and tops. There are tights and rash vests all coloured and matching and even the most basic top will have a clever saying or some sort of BJJ related animal on it. I feel I am wearing analogue gear in a digital age. GSW still has a relaxed feel and Geoff has managed to keep the mats full over the years and was very welcoming when I walked back in. His style of relaxed but very technical teaching really works and all the talent on the mat is proof of his ability as a coach. This is the second stage of my BJJ journey and I look forward to seeing where it takes me.

Gareth Lewis
Head MMA Instructor
http://www.Lockdown.co.nz/

When to Pull the Pin

Recently there have been a few big name retirements from MMA, Michael Bisping, Rashad Evans and Josh Koscheck. All of them ended their careers with a disappointing loss does this mean they stayed in the game too long?

Reading interviews after they announced their retirement there seemed to be a consistent message that I will paraphrase ‘the desire was there, but the body wasn’t willing’. They said that they felt great in training but could not pull the trigger when fighting. After years of fighting the body takes a beating and there is only so much you can take. All three of these fighters are all very skilled and their skills have not diminished, rather their speed, strength and durability have all decreased. Add that all up and they are going to struggle against a fighter who is only a few years in their career. They all seemed to be going through the motions in the cage, they didn’t seem to have the hunger any more. Getting older is a real thing and as much as these guys wanted to compete their bodies can’t do what it once did and it was time to hang up the gloves. Take a minute to think how hard this decision is for them, for their entire adult life they have been fighting, their life revolved around training and fights. This is how they earnt money, now what their life has changed a lot and they have to be ‘regular’ people. There would be many reasons why they want to keep hold of the professional fighter lifestyle, but they had to let it go and hang up the gloves.

Michael Bisping: Had his first fight in the UFC on the 24/6/2006 which was the Ultimate Fighter Finally. He had a steady career and never was a big name, but was just about there. Then towards the end of his career he got his title shot – and won the light heavyweight title in a massive upset against Luke Rockhold. He has numerous UFC records and has a win over one of UFC’s greatest fighters – Anderson Silva. He always came across as a guy that was tough rather than talented, but damn he came to fight each and every time. Bisping’s last win was 8/10/2016. Following that he had two more fights, one ending in with Bisping being choked out and the other being knocked out. No one wants to end on a loss but having two losses at the end seems like a good time to pull the pin on a career.

Josh Koscheck: Josh was also in the Utimate Fighter series, this lead to his first UFC fight which was on the 9/4/2005. Josh was a very good fighter and worked his way up the ranks and finally got a title shot. However his title shot was against GSP, GSP used his jab with pin point accuracy to break Koschecks eye socket – after that he was never the same. His final win came on the 4/2/2012 and ended his career with 6 straight losses, 5 of which inside the distance. Judging by his record it would seem that he kept fighting too long.

Rashad Evans: Come on the scene in the Ultimate Fighter as a heavyweight then spent most of his career at Light Heavyweight. He was not a natural heavyweight he then made the shift to light heavy weight his career went to new heights and went on to win the UFC title. His first fight in the UFC was 5/11/2005. The first part of his career was as good as it gets, he went in to his title fight undefeated (one draw against Tito Ortiz). He had also knocked out a legend with one of the most devastating ko’s in UFC history when he knocked out Chuck Liddell. This meant that Rashad was 13-0 when he won the UFC title from Forrest Griffen. After the title win things mad a turn for the worse as following his title fight he won 6 and lost 7, including losing his last 5 fights. It seems he also fought too long.

At the end of the day it was father time that beat these fighters. The body can only take so much punishment, let alone the brain. Even in their victories these fighters would’ve taken a fair bit of damage. Out of these three fighters Bisping had the most fights (39) which included some very hard fights and brutal losses (KO via Hendo). For me I never like seeing fighters go longer than they should but sadly it seems all too common. Some of MMA’s biggest names have had too many fights and take a brutal beating in their last few fights. It seems unfair for a legend to end their career with a pile of losses. It just seems that regardless of what age you start fighting you have a maximum of 10 years at the top. Let’s hope as we understand brain injuries better that more fighters will look after themselves more at the end of their careers and now when to pull the pin, rather than trying to stay in lime light.

Gareth Lewis
Head MMA Instructor
http://www.Lockdown.co.nz/

King of Kings

For this first time in UFC history we will see the Heavyweight Champ against the Light Heavyweight Champ, Stipe Miocic v Daniel Cormeir. It will be an interesting fight and I will break down who I think will win and why.

This fight is interesting as they are both very intelligent fighters and will do what needs to be done to win the fight. Do not expect this fight to be a slugfest, this will be one for the purists. I will break down each area to see has an advantage.
Striking: You would have to give this to Miocic, he has fought against 2 K1 Champions (Mark Hunt, Alistair Overeem) and fights at heavy weight where anyone in that division will put you to sleep with one shot. Miocic had some trouble with Overeem but made Hunt and KO artist Ngannou look very average. Miocic has also KO’d some big names 14 of his18 wins are due to strikes, his one submission win was even due to leg kicks. In a nutshell the guy is a top level striker and Cormier will not want to stand at range with him. Cormier is no mug on his feet but does not have the power and skill of Miocic. Usually Cormier closes the distance and tries to either dirty box or get a takedown.
Wrestling: Cormier has the advantage here as he is a two time Olympian. To make the US Olympic Wrestling team is no mean feat. Wrestling is a massive part of the American culture and you have to be a beast to make the national team, especially for the Olympics. On top of that he got a medal at the world champs. Cormier is a good a wrestler as there has been in the UFC. Miocic was a Division 1 College wrestler so they guy knows what he is doing. Miocic has used takedowns to gain top position and unleash ground and pound. Against Hunt and Ngannou it was Miocic’s wrestling that got him the win. He took both of these feared strikers down and just controlled them. However there is a difference in class so Cormier has the edge in wrestling.
Submission / Grappling: This also has to go to Cormier as he has more wins via submission. Cormier is great at wearing his opponent down and sinking in a choke to finish the fight. With his wrestling background once he gets someone down he just ‘rides’ them (making them carry his weight on the ground). He uses the physical side of making his opponent carry him around then adds in punches and pressure to open up his submissions. Miocic is different on the ground, he uses wrestling to get top control and is more methodical as he looks to set up his ground n pound. He doesn’t do anything flash just does the basics really well and has hands of stone, which makes his ground and pound lethal. So who gets the nod here, yes Cormier has the better submission but Miocic’s GnP looks deadly. If I were to choose who I would rather be stuck on my back against in a fight, I might have to go Cormier as you are less likely to get your head punched in, Miocic would turn your head in to tomato soup. So I will have to call that one draw between the two.

Over All: Miocic wins, to put it bluntly.
This is why, he is younger, heavier and taller. This may not be the scientific reason you were after but they are similar fighters and I am going for the bigger younger guy. They are both very smart and will not get caught up in a brawl. Miocic has the advantage standing and will make Cormier work hard in the wrestling department. Therefore I believe he will keep the fight on the feet and look to defend the takedown, Miocic’s first option will be to stay on his feet with his defence. If Cormier gets Miocic to change levels then Miocic will have to make sure that he has the top position and will have to make Cormier pay. This will make Cormier think twice with his takedowns if he ends up underneath an opponent that is bigger than himself. Miocic will have to work like hell if he gets put on his back. Micoic will look to keep the centre of the cage, keep Cormier at range and just pick him off and look for a chance to land the big shot. Cormier on the other hand has to close the range and either get Miocic to the ground or up against the fence then work his punches and pressure game to open up a chance to finish the fight. This means that Cormier has to close the distance as he is the smaller fighter which means he is putting himself at striking range against a very heavy hitter every time attempts to engage. This makes it a very hard fight to Cormier to win.

This is big fight for the UFC, but it seems it takes these types of fight to get people talking and watching these days. For me this is a bit sad that we have been so saturated with MMA that it takes some sort ‘special’ fight to get us excited. In that regard I am both looking forward to this fight but also a bit disappointed.

Gareth Lewis
Head MMA Instructor
http://www.Lockdown.co.nz/

Fighting a Blind Man

One thing I go on about at Lockdown MMA is ‘if you stay still and blind man can hit you’. When you stay in the same place during a fight then your opponent doesn’t need to change anything or need much skill to hit you. To really simplify it they don’t even need to be able to see you to hit you, as you are right in front of them staying still.

When drilling striking techniques I continuously say two things, ‘don’t be in the same place after throwing the shot’ as well as ‘once your technique is complete do not go back in front of your training partner’. To break those down a little more – don’t be in the same place after throwing a shot. If you throw a punch at someone and you stay exactly where you are then it takes no skill for your opponent to hit you as all they have to do is throw a straight punch. If you throw a right hand then step to your right at the very least your opponent will have to turn to hit you. Then if you step closer to them with a little shoulder roll they have to move their feet to land a good shot. In striking you live and die in split seconds and the more time you can create for yourself the better off you will be and movement is what creates that time for you. Even if you move your head but stand right in front of someone sooner or later you will get hit. Before you think ‘what about Mike Tyson’ his head movement seemed to work for him. Tyson’s head movement did work because he did not stay standing in front of someone (in his prime anyway).Tyson would combine foot work and head movement to close the distance and then knock people out. It doesn’t matter how good your head movement is, if you do not change your position with foot work sooner or later you will get hit. The second point I go on about in training is a real frustration for me. Once your technique is complete do not go back in front of your opponent. This is when you have drilled moving out the way either through offence or defence, to leave you in a place where your opponent has to move to hit you and you step back right in front of your opponent. This may seem silly, but to me all I see is people learning to follow their opponent and to stand in front of them ready to be hit. By following your opponent I am talking about the opponent leading the movement around the ring and you reacting to it, this puts you on the back foot from the beginning. You have undone all your hard work if you move off line against an opponent only to step back in front of them 1 second later. We want to be leading the movement, if we step right your opponent steps to the left (your left) as they want to stay in front of you, we affection ally call this the puppet as you are ‘making the puppet dance’ by making your opponent go where you want them to go. If you have a puppet you can use movement to set the up for shot’s, you step left so they step right (your right) all their weight is on their front leg (orthodox fighter) and you have a free leg kick. By controlling the movement you are controlling the fight, Lomachenko is a master of this. You never want to practice moving back in front of someone as that is the only place where they can hit you with both hands.

These two rules may seem obvious but no one walks in to a fight gym doing them naturally, therefore I enforce them from day one as it is never too early to learn good habits. Our old habits are really hard to change (I still get them wrong in sparring) as we do them all day long as ‘a person’. That is when we are talking to someone we stand directly on front on people, if you are talking to someone and they move for whatever reason you will follow them to be directly in front of them again. There is a natural distance where you feel comfortable talking to people as well, as no one likes the close talker. I get new people to practice on their friends, doing little movements when talking to them to move them around as they please. This may seem like a very weird form of entertainment but I think it is important to see how ingrained this behaviour is in people. If they are aware of it then it is more likely that they will be able to combat it. To me this is the start of learning how to move people around the ring and get them in to the corners, plus it is entertaining moving friends / co –workers around while talking to them.

They person who is the best at this is Lomachenko, as soon as you set your feet to punch he either moves his feet to move away or moves his head then feet to most likely hit you. The top level fighters make this look very easy but it isn’t. For me it takes years to make this a habit rather than a thought. It always bugs me as it just seems so simple to throw a punch move my feet, or your opponent throws a punch move my head and move my feet. As simple as it sounds I don’t get it right and I still find myself standing in front of my opponent in perfect position to get hit by the blind man.

Gareth Lewis
Head MMA Instructor
http://www.Lockdown.co.nz/

Two Fighters, Two Brains

Listening to two fighters talk at training I found it very interesting hearing the difference between their two mind sets. It reminded me that everyone has a different approach.

First off I would like to say that I am writing this on how I see these two fighters and what I think goes on in their heads, after all you can’t be sure what other people are thinking.
One of the guys has natural gifts and maybe because he was born with them he doesn’t realise how good they are. His timing is bang on, he seems to throw the right thing at the right time (which pisses me off in sparring, but love it as a coach). To balance his timing out is the fact he is not sure if the punch will land so he can be a little tentative. When he is not worrying if the punch will land or not his brain relaxes and he is a real handful. The other thing he has is speed and when combined with timing it becomes a very dangerous combo and used well it is very hard to beat. When this fighter is on I find him hard to beat, to put that in perspective I outweigh him by 25 – 30kg and I am a head taller than him – the man has some skill. However his belief does not match his skill, hearing him talk the other night was a great insight. He fights to match his opponent and has trouble taking it to a level to beat his opponent. When he his fighting the thought of the loss looms largely over his head and I can only imagine the weight of that in the ring. As a coach I only wish he could see himself as we see him. We physically give him a hard time in sparring because he is at that level. He can match it with anyone that has set foot on the Lockdown mat. Then what sets him apart is that he is a genuine nice guy and is great at making new people feel welcome (something I am not good at). He is always happy to help out new people as he remembers what it is like to struggle and breaks things down really well. If he unlocks belief the sky is the limit. As a coach you can forget that talent does not equal belief.
How I see it: When he fights getting in the ring is the battle, not so much the opponent. Winning is not a natural state for him so it becomes a struggle. To make his life hard in sparring I put pressure on him, as I know he puts pressure on himself so with the pressure I put on sooner or later it will wear him down. He has all the ability in the world and has strength of someone 20kg heavier. As a coach I need to make him see his talent and ability and then believe in it and he will be a real force.

The other fighter in the discussion has a different mind set as he has the belief. He will keep running at the brick wall as he has 100% belief that he will knock the wall down, even if sometimes he can walk around the wall. Part of this belief comes from his size (I know because I have this as well). When you are bigger and stronger you are going to get success more often than not. When training those wins add up and helps with your overall self confidence. Where it becomes a double edged blade is when you are have someone that can match you technically then you go straight to strength and rely on that to get you out of trouble. Being bigger you can rely on strength to get you out of trouble, I can tell there is no one that can match this guy with strength at Lockdown. I am not saying that all he has is strength because that is not the case, but as with most big guys strength is a big part of their game and sometimes they don’t realise. So when the going gets tough he looks to power out of things and he is very hard to stop. Now where it gets really weird is that he has to hold back a lot as he is bigger and stronger than most, imagine training at 70% for most of your training life then every now and then you get the chance to open up and let it fly. Therefore he is looking for a fight so he can unleash 100% and see what happens. I have been in the corner for his previous fights and he has won all of them. He has nerves like anyone else but the interesting thing for me is when he gets in to fight mode his 100% on ‘go’ there is not much room for anything else. To make it simple you basically point him in the direction of the ring and let him off the chain. From the outside perspective he is not worried about too much while fighting, he is in there trying to avoid getting hit but more focused on the destruction of his opponent – very simple.
When sparring and we pick it up I use that to my advantage, I use that fact that when the intensity picks up he gets 100% focused on trying to knock my head off and doesn’t think about much else. Therefore I stay right in his face and keep him focused on knocking my head off, this way I more or less know what is going to come my way – big solid punches. Part of this is a pride thing (on both sides) as neither of us want to back down.
How I see it: Physically he is gifted with strength and power and has belief in his ability. When the intensity lifts he can get too focused on one thing and lose sight of other options. If he could relax a bit and look to ‘walk around the wall’ he would go to another level (which is a scary thought).

I have cornered both these people for fights and have spent many hours training with them and find them both challenging in the best way possible, as I have to get better to make them better. Both have given permission for me to write about their respective mindsets and I have found it very interesting. Everyone has both positive and negative aspects in terms of mindset and no one is perfect (especially me). Another thing to keep in mind is that your greatest strength is your greatest weakness, once someone matches your strength it effectively takes it away so you had better have a backup. As a trainer I do forget that not everyone thinks the same as me, so it was so beneficial to listen to these two to get more understanding of what makes them tick.

Gareth Lewis
Head MMA Instructor
http://www.Lockdown.co.nz/

You Have a Year

For the second time in his pro career C M Punk got made to look like a fool and just got outclassed and got beating – but it is not as bad as it seems.

C M Punk is a former pro wrestler with WWE, he was one of the top ‘entertainers’ and would’ve been on a multi million dollar contract. He gave all that up to follow his dream of becoming a pro fighter. This is where it gets a little interesting he had one year to get ready for his first pro fight. If you think about this for minute that is a very difficult thing, what sport could you train for a year and then compete against a pro?

Personally if I was 10 years younger and had all the time and money for as much training as I wanted there is not one sport that I could get to a pro level in a year. I have good hand eye co-ordination but Roger Federer would be safe after I had a year of tennis lessons. If we break the sports down we can see how far C M Punk actually got.
BJJ – after one year most people would have done very well to get to blue belt. At the blue belt level you can survive on the ground and you are starting to learn what works for you. However you have not developed a game and have no real plan except for ‘tap them out, don’t get tapped out’ (or was that just me). Within the first 6 months it is all about learning what not to do and stop things you think are a good idea like ‘don’t grab their head, don’t give them your arms and so on. There is a big difference between blue belt that has just come from a white belt to a blue belt that is just about to get their purple belt, which takes 2 years at least for most people. In that time frame you get to find out what really works for you and you start building a plan. Basically going against a pro MMA fighter you need more than a new blue belt or a high level white belt to be competitive.
Wrestling – If you are a good athlete, which CM Punk is, then you have an advantage with wrestling. However there are a lot of good athletes in wrestling so it will only take you so far. In a year you will learn a single leg, double leg, sprawl and clinch work. You would have options from each position but your wrestling brain would still be working slowly. What I mean by that is you only have one go to move from each position and you have to think about it. When you are good at whatever you are doing you just do it without thinking about it is natural. The scramble in wrestling is a very important and without experience you are just playing catch up against a more experienced competitor. Take Yoel Romero for example, a great wrestler in MMA, and he just has more time in the wrestling exchanges than his opponent. It takes time in wrestling to link moves together and to be effective.
Striking – We will use kickboxing here. The first thing with striking is it takes time to get used to being hit. People think they can take it but you have to get punched a lot before you don’t think / worry about it. Most people cower when they take a take a few shots and it takes hours and hours of training to change that natural response of turning away from a punch. So you have to be able to deal with being hit while you are thinking about blocking and countering your opponents strikes as well as foot work cage position and technique. All this take experience so you are going to struggle after just a year of training.

When you think of it like that C M Punk had to learn all those things, make them work together and go in there up against a person who had been training for years and had amateur fights as well. Also keep in mind that C M Punk was a not a fighter in his younger days. This means he actually did quite well to get to the level he has in just a year. For C M Punk to be competitive he needs a lot more training as at the moment he is at the amateur level trying to match it with professionals and he is not up to standard. The UFC have now released C M Punk, it was publicity stunt that did not go well, move on to something else Mr Punk.

Gareth Lewis
Head MMA Instructor
http://www.Lockdown.co.nz/

Just Turning UP

Within the kiwi culture are we just happy that we got there rather than wining?

This has come to mind after Joseph Parker’s fight against Anthony Joshua, there was so many people that seemed happy that he had got there. Shouldn’t we all be disappointed that he didn’t win or at least give it 100% to win. When I say give it 100% to win Parker said after the fight that he strayed from the fight plan. (Turns out that he did not continue with the double jab, hope there was more to the fight plan that that). He also mentioned that he was conservative and should’ve gone for it more. You would think that in a situation like that if you know you are down on the cards and you have two rounds left wouldn’t you rather loose trying to win than just trying to survive?

I am guilty of this thought process, when the NZ born Australian Robert Whitaker was working up through the ranks in the UFC I kept on writing him off. He was matched against Jacare, who is one of the best grapplers in history. When I heard about the match I thought Whitaker was done for, how could someone from this end of the world beat one of the best ever. Turns out as Whitaker said about Jacare that “he is just a man” and he beat him by TKO. Then he fought Yoel Romero who is one of the best wrestlers in the world and the same process, he won again.

Does this come from our up bringing where we have to be humble and not stand out? Does NZ have the Tall Poppy syndrome, where instead of wanting to get better and be the tall poopy we try to cut the tall poppy down. NZ’s sporting culture is strange one, with the All Blacks we expect them to win by 20+ every game and if another team comes close then the All Blacks get a ‘Poor Performance’. Then heavens forbid they lose then the nation feels let down and can’t believe it. Compare this is the Olympic games when a Kiwi does not get in to the final but almost makes it then there is ‘well done’. Then just like the All Blacks if a medal favourite fails then they get dragged over the coals for their poor performance. Is this a case of what is expected rather than the actual performance? The culture of making a big deal of failure is not a good one. Take the 2016 Olympics where the greatest sprinter of all time in Usain Bolt pulled a hammy in the 4x100m final – and no one cared that he failed.

On a personal note in the late 90’s I was in the final for the karate nationals, I remember thinking ‘cool no matter what I have got a silver medal’ then surprise I walked away with the silver. I never thought I would get to the final. In those days the prelims where during the day then they would have the final at night. There was one mat and plenty of people watching. I never thought I would win and I was right. Then on the way home I was angry, the other guy didn’t beat me I just did not turn up and I vowed that I would not let that happen again. 20 years later I was in the final for wrestling up against a Commonwealth Games wrestler who had more national titles that I had had matches. I gave him everything I had and tried everything and anything to win. However I walked away with the silver again. This is the one and only time I didn’t mind losing as he was better and I gave him 110% and there was nothing else I could’ve done.

In the famous words of Conor McGregor – ‘I am here to take over not take part’ that is great and I think more kiwi’s need that mentality. At the end of the day for a NZ athlete to compete on the world stage needs to get overseas early in their carer and compete against international competition as often as possible. I realise that is hard as NZ is so far away from other countries but we just do not have the population for sustained competition. Take boxing for example once you have had 20 – 30 fights in NZ you have exhausted your weight division. If you compare that to a European boxer who can drive for a few hours and be in another country they have 200 fights and there are still more people to fight. I love watching Kiwi’s succeed on the international stage, I just wish we were there to take over not take part.

Gareth Lewis
Head MMA Instructor
http://www.Lockdown.co.nz/

1.5 Billion

ESPN has brought the rights to show UFC events for 1.5 billion. Fox was where we have seen all the UFC fight nights for 7 years they have gone to one of the biggest sports networks on the planet. Is this a good thing?

As a business perspective it seems to be a very smart move for the UFC, what business would turn down $1.5B from 1st Jan 2019 to 31st Dec 2023. If you look at the UFC over the past few years they have done very well financially. The Fertitta brothers, ZUFFA, sold the UFC to an WME – IMG co for $4B in 2017. The Fertitta Brothers, Dana White and other share holders would’ve done very well out of that little deal since they brought the company for $2M. With that deal come some changes, like how all fighters and their corners have to wear Reebok gear. The Reebok deal, in my opinion, is crap as fighters can no longer be individuals and look a little different with their fight gear. The fighters also lost out on all the sponsorship that they were getting from all the logos on their fight shorts. Then the companies that made the fight gear lost out big time as well, TapOut, Dethrone, Venom, Death Clutch just to name a few, as they didn’t have people seeing their products worn by top fighters any more.

If we go back a while to when Fox brought TUF (The Ultimate Fighter) and the finale of the first season put the UFC on the map. The first season had one of the most entertaining UFC fights of all time between Stefan Bonner and Forrest Griffen. Bonner and Griffen just stood and traded for 15mins, it was back and forth, there was blood and it was great. When I say great it was great in the way that it showed the average person that MMA can be very exciting. The average person understood boxing but, at the time, MMA was weird and boring as they kept rolling around on the ground. Then these two put on a massive slugfest and stole the show and made the UFC prime time entertainment. Without this fight and Fox who took a punt on this sport who knows what would’ve happened to the UFC and MMA in general.

Back on topic, the ESPN deal. ESPN are a juggernaut and have made massive deals with organisations such as NBA, NHL, MLB, NFL just to name a few. Now they have got in to the world of MMA / UFC and I hope I am wrong but I just am not sold on it going well. For me the UFC is boring right now, the fights are all generic and there is no super star. There is not been a change in the sport for a while and it just seems all the same week in week out. I have asked 30 people in past week, some that are in to fight sports but all are sports fans and only 2 could name any of the current UFC champions. Going back 3 – 5 years the average person could name at least one, this is when you had names like, GSP, Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey. Now the champions are great fighters yes but they are either a little boring or they don’t have the UFC marketing machine behind them. Stipe Miocic is the current heavy weight champ and is the only heavyweight in UFC history to defend the title 3 times yet the UFC don’t market him. Then you have Tyrone Woodley who is also a champion who is very talented but I just find his style boring as hell. With ESPN in charge they will show more fights and it will become watered down. Just like boxing is, they show Friday night fights and so on but people do not really watch them, people want to see Anthony Joshua, GGG or Lomachenko fight. MMA needs to make a change something needs to reignite the interest in the sport as most people I have talked to seem to find their concentration waning for the UFC.

I have said in earlier blogs that something needs to change in MMA, I like what Bellator did with the heavyweight 8 man tournament. It is sad that the UFC are looking to super fights / side shows (depending on your point of view) to get people watching. Now it seems that people need some side show fight like Mayweather v McGregor to get interested. The UFC are even talking a massive deal to get Heavyweight Boxing Champ Anthony Joshua in the cage. There is even talk of Mayweather v McGregor in the cage, with now kicks, no takedowns and limited clinch, so more or less boxing in a cage with 4oz gloves. I realise that at the end of the day the UFC is a business and they get their money from these fights. I can’t see why they keep doing them, especially the boxing v mma fights as history dictates the boxer always losers. The other fights that they seem to like is the comeback fights, I don’t want to see 48 year old Chuck Liddell get back in the cage. Or the champions of two different weight divisions fight (Miocic v Cormier). I just want to see the good old MMA fight that get people talking and that comes from having a great champion and the sport is lacking a great champion these days.

Overall ESPN will make business decisions to make money (like the Reebok deal) that may or may not help the sport of MMA. I am very worried with ESPN that the MMA landscape will be to saturated with fights and the interest will go as the fans can’t keep up with it all, like in 2014 when the UFC had 46 shows. This has already happened with people I know. Even the keen fans can’t keep up with the events and who are the fighters on the card, this is only going to get worse and I don’t like it.

Gareth Lewis
Head MMA Instructor
http://www.Lockdown.co.nz/

Traveling Talent

Recently Lockdown was lucky to have a Pro Fighter from the Czech Republic visit for a couple of sessions while traveling around New Zealand, and he personified what it means to be a professional.

A week ago I received an email from a name I could not pronounce that asked if he could train at Lockdown while he was in Wellington. In the email he mentioned that he was a fighter from the Czech republic. He mentioned that he had fought but did not mention how many fights he had had, just a very simple question about training. In my history I have seen many fighters walk in to clubs and list their C.V which has the same effect as painting a target on your forehead. Usually the people who do this are not very good anyway or just young and / or inexperienced. When the Czech fighter came too Lockdown he walked in came over to me introduced himself, we had a little chat, he then went and had a little stretch before we got the session going. We did a basic wrestling warm up, some forward rolls, backwards rolls and cart wheels (maybe a gymnastic warm up) with these movements you could tell he was an athlete. We then separated in to pairs to drill some technique. I put him with one of our fighters who was about the same size. Watching him drill the technique instantly you could tell that he was good and could wrestle. We drilled a few techniques then went to a bit of live training and he was impressive he flowed from one technique to the next and made wrestling look easy. We then went to wrestle to submission, and this is where he showed what a class act he was. When he went with one of our new guys he went at the exact right level with them. He let them have a simple position and let them work, even give them some success, he would beat them but did it in a way that did not make the other guy feel or look bad. Then when he went against a better guy he matched their level as well and won. He had some trouble with the bigger skilled guys as they out weighed him buy 30kg+, which is understandable. If anyone gave him some wrestling advice, judging by his technique he most likely didn’t need, and he took it very graciously and thanked them for it.

After training I had a little chat to him and he had a big smile on his face and was joining in on the banter that goes on. He was obviously very skilled and was a good guy as well but did not feel like he had anything to prove. From my perspective it was great to have someone who had nothing to prove and was just looking from some good training. To give you an idea on how rare that it is, most fighters a dicks (in terms of training) they are selfish and it is all about them (I was guilty of that). A fighter needs to gain experience before they are good training partner they have to have been training for years to learn it is not all about them (some learn quicker but it took me years). For some fighters they have to get beaten, so they know that they are not the best that they are not invincible. Once you have been humbled then you find that you have nothing to prove as you know that there are people better and there are people worse. Once you have been humbled it means you just make the most of any training partner. When you have nothing to prove all you want is to get the most out of training and your training partner.

As a trainer it is very important to be able to trust the talent on your mat, and if you have done your job correctly then there is no problem, that is until talent from another gym steps on the mat. I have seen many talented people walk in to other clubs and try and prove a point (again I am guilty of this). I don’t mean just going hard, but just going at the wrong level with the wrong people. So when we started sparring I had my eyes open to see if our friend from the Czech republic would be different with MMA sparring. Turns out he was good in both skill and attitude so I just left him to it. I would’ve have been more than happy to answer any of his questions (if he had any) but just left him to it as his technique was sharp, I even picked up a couple of tricks from him. He had some transitions in wrestling that I had not seen, and had some different defences to some of my submissions. I had a chat and tried to pick his brain a little and had some very interesting things to say. I really enjoy seeing variations on techniques and why people use that method also the same with different sets ups. Just seeing a different style and seeing how he made it work is something I enjoy seeing as a trainer and as a fighting fan.

I always welcome people from other gyms to train at Lockdown as I think it is great for people to train with different people with different styles. You get used to your training partners and their moves, so someone fresh does a world of good. There have been people who have come in from other clubs that have been a real pain in the ass, know it all’s or just bad training partners. Our friend from the Czech Republic was a great reminder of how useful it is to have some new skilled blood on the mat. It was also great to for the young guys to see what a pro fighter is like and what skill level you need to be successful. An open door policy is a must for any martial arts club but especially a MMA club. None of us know everything and adding in someone new to a training session is great for the other students and just having another skilled person added some excitement to training and it was a lot of fun.

Gareth Lewis
Head MMA Instructor
http://www.Lockdown.co.nz/

When To Pull The Pin

In the main event of UFC 224 Raquel Pennington fought Amanda Nunes and lost via TKO, however that is only half the story.

Raquel Pennington was losing the fight and was getting hit in the face rather often, enough that her nose got broken. At the end of the fourth round Pennington said to her corner that her nose was broken and she wanted to stop summed up in two words ‘I’m done’. Her corner replied ‘change your mind set and give her everything’. Did the corner do the right thing? We are going to look at the situation from inside the mind of a fighter and inside the mind of a trainer to get to the conclusion.

As a fighter you constantly train to go through pain, the pain of getting hit, the pain of pushing hard in training, the pain in the morning from training the day before. Basically you are always sore and you just learn to live with it. When fighting you get hit and hurt and you just do not stop, you push the pain aside and just keep going. It must be said that adrenaline helps a lot with dealing with the pain. I can’t tell you what was going through Pennington’s head in the fight but I will take a damn good guess. Pennington has an iron will and has shown no signs of giving up in any of her previous fights. To be a professional athlete you must be physically and mentally tough so obviously there is a high level of toughness to be pro fighter in the UFC ranks. This means we can rule out the fact that she just had a bleeding nose and thought she would stop. As a fighter Pennington would not want to stop, I can only assume that her nose was broken well before telling her corner and she had just reached her limit. Think about what hell she went through to reach her limit, she gets hit and her nose breaks the pain right then is not that bad but she knows that her nose is broken. It is hard to explain but when fighting you know your body is damaged and you know what is wrong but thanks to adrenaline you can’t feel it. She knows her nose is broken and she can taste the blood in her mouth and is trying to wipe the blood coming out the nose, doesn’t want to the ref to know and more importantly doesn’t want her opponent to know she is hurt. She gets hit on the nose and the her body goes in to protection mode and she can’t help but move her head away from the pain, making it very hard to close the distance. After this going on a few times the thoughts creep in to her mind ‘should I stop, I don’t know if I can do this’ then she has an internal battle. One voice saying stop protect your face there are always other fights. Another saying you can’t stop you are fighter, you are in the main event, you have sponsors, your family you can’t let them down you can’t let yourself down just keep going. The pain was greater than all those thoughts telling her to keep going and she had to stop. Then the hardest thing telling your corner that you want to stop, which she did and they told her to change her mind set and get back in there to get your ass kicked – how would you feel?

As a trainer did they make the right move, your number one priority as trainer is to do what is best for your fighter. The trainer (Jason Kutz) has gone through all the hours of pain sweat and tears with Pennington and has been there to push her to (and past) her limits for the entire training camp. Her trainer knows how she ticks and knows how to get the best out of her. He knows what she needs when the going gets tough. They have worked together to get a main event UFC title fight, which is a big deal. This is the biggest fight of her life and may be her only title chance she has to give this fight everything. So the trainer can see that Pennington is losing, he is doing everything to get her mind set right and the tools to get her back in the fight. Then at the end of round 4 he gets told that her fighter wants to stop. His mind goes to thoughts like: this is her opportunity she has to keep fighting, Raquel only has one more round, she can do, she is tough. So the trainer thinks she can push through it he gives her a few encouraging words and sends her back out. As fighters listen to their trainers Pennington went back out for round 5 she rallied at the start then got taken down and was taking elbows until one landed on her nose, she went to all fours and Nunes took her back and bashed her until the ref stopped it – There was also a nice pool on the mat.

As a fighter you go in to the ring knowing that the only person who stops a fight is the ref. For me I would not let my corner throw the towel, I did not want to put that on them. However the corner is there to protect the fighter, sometimes you need to protect the fighter from themselves. Fighters do not want to stop and the corner needs to step in from time to time (The second Valesquez v Dos Santos fight is a great example). For a fighter to say they want to stop in a massive fight you know something is up and you need to be there for them and for their best interests not yours. When a fighter says they are done because of a broken nose then what good is sending them out to a fight that they are already losing and to just get more hurt? If you know your fighter and know that they do not quit, they do not stop then you know something is up should you pull the pin? Pennington did nothing wrong, her trainer should not of sent her out for the last round that did nothing for her physical or mental state or longevity of her career – with the benefit of hindsight I can say it was the wrong decsion.

Gareth Lewis
Head MMA Instructor
http://www.Lockdown.co.nz/