Enjoy 🙂

Dana vs Oscar

Lately there has been a war of words between Oscar De la Hoya and Dana White. These two promoters have big personalities and consequently may not appreciate it if the other comments on the way they do things and recently, the fight between Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz kicked off an ill feeling.

Personally, I am not a big fan of Dana White and how the UFC treat fighters. So, I am glad that someone is looking to upset the silverback of the MMA world. Other organisations have been made to tip toe around the UFC in fear the organisation will squash them. In both the Bellator and WSOF promotions, they have an ‘out clause’ within contracts allowing fighters to leave if they get an offer from the UFC. This more-or-less makes their shows a second division where former UFC fighters go to finish their careers. What makes De La Hoya different is that he formed the promotion company ‘Golden Boy Boxing’, named for his nickname during his boxing glory days. In his career, De La Hoya won multiple titles in 6 different weight divisions – so ‘Golden Boy’ seems to fit. Golden Boy Boxing has been going since the early 2000’s and has become a true powerhouse in the boxing world. As De La Hoya was a former fighter, he is all about looking after the fighters and has done very well in this regard. De La Hoya has now stated he plans to add MMA fights to his promotional experience; the first being Liddell v Ortiz. This is where the war of words with Dana White started as White criticised De La Hoya for allowing Liddell to fight again. Dana stated that Chuck Liddell should not fight again as he has been knocked out too many times, De La Hoya replied by stating that if White paid his fighters more then they wouldn’t have to keep fighting.

Liddell v Ortiz II had 929,000 pay per view buys. In the US, they pay $49.99 per view x 929,000 = $46,440,710.00. If you look at how much fighters got paid around that time, around $200,000 per fight for the top people. You do have to ask yourself, if you are headlining a pay per view that sells over $46 million then why would you only get paid $200,000. I am sure putting on a UFC show is expensive but $15million would safely cover the overheads (at a guess) so what happened to the other $30 million? Does it go in to Dana White and the other owners’ pockets? What seems sure is that is does not go back to the fighters. From my standpoint it looks like the fighters could have been paid ten times more for the main event fight ($2,000,000).

Think of a fight world where the fighters choose between the UFC and Golden Boy (for example) and each company is competing to bring the fighter into their ranks. This can only make the conditions better for the fighters in terms of how they are treated and how they are paid. As of right now, fighters will give up a lot for a chance at UFC glory, as it is the name in MMA. There are some people who even think the sport is called UFC and not MMA. The UFC have done wonders for the sport and deserve all their success, but they do treat fighters badly. A recent example is Mighty Mouse, one of the best fighters on the planet who was the undefeated flyweight champion for years, has one loss and the UFC trade him. Jose Aldo was champion and undefeated for 10 years then lost to Conor McGregor and never got a rematch as it was financially better to have the belt around McGregor’s waist – the list goes on with how they treat fighters. In defence of Dana White however, he did show that he has paid Chuck Liddell nearly $2 million dollars since he left the UFC, the payments ranged between $250,000 – $400,000 a year – so there is a lot more to this story.

I would like to see the fighters have some of the bargaining power, not just the UFC. All going well, Golden Boy Promotions will shake things up a bit. In the short term it could get messy with verbal warfare and other games. However in the long run if there are more top level organisations for MMA fighters to make a living then that has to be good for the sport and more importantly the fighters.

Gareth Lewis
Head MMA Instructor

Good Day vs Bad Day

What determines a good day or a bad day at training? Is it caused by your day at work? An argument with your partner or how you slept? What you ate, or didn’t eat? What is the cause of a good or bad session? Since MMA comprises largely of three different disciplines, all of which can be practiced individually, it is easy to have a good or bad session within these disciplines which make up MMA.

A good night of striking usually involves avoiding your opponent’s strikes, reading them well and generally just enjoying yourself. When you get hit you don’t really notice as everything else is going so well. Mostly, you are relaxed and not forcing anything – just going through the process with success. In opposition to this, however, is a bad night; everything you try just does not seem to work. Your head movement seems to be letting you down as you find yourself moving into more punches than avoiding, you have a metal head and they have magnets in their gloves. You see a jab coming so you move your head to the right, the jab is actually a left hook and you move right into it. At some point you get angry and try to force things and throw harder, but all that happens is you get tired and get hit more often.

On a good night, you are moving well, your feet feel light, your hips are heavy, and your timing is on point. When you go for a move it doesn’t seem to matter if you get it or not as you automatically move on to the second phase and eventually get the takedown. Or at worst, end up in a stalemate position where you can start again. On a bad night, your feet are stuck in mud, when your opponent attacks, you see it, but your feet don’t seem to move. When you defend a move, you go for a transition and get caught and get caught in moves that you never get caught with. When attacking, you slide off the leg when going for a single legs, slide off arms with under hooks and hit your head on their shoulder when they do a fake double leg.

On a good night, you roll, and your opponent just falls into submissions. If you don’t get a submission, you win most of your transitions – it is easy to get a high percentage of your sweeps. When rolling, you just seem to be doing the right move at the right time and end up in good positions. On a bad night you are tapping more than Fred Astaire. You are being controlled by people you usually beat then when you do escape, they do something that puts you back in another bad spot. Then you get tapped out by that person on the mat who you just hate tapping to.

On a good night your level changes are on point, you’re dictating where the fight goes while getting takedowns at will and defending takedown attempts well. You control the rounds while dictating the positions and distance that you want; nothing is forced. On a bad night however, you are getting hit with small gloves by people you usually beat, so you go for the takedown and they defend it. This makes you a little confused and angry, so you force the takedown and try something different which does not go well. You lose position and you start over again, just with more frustration.

Over the years I have had many good nights and even more bad nights. There doesn’t seem to be a common factor that causes it either. I have been in a great mood with good energy and had a shocker, I have been in a bad mood with energy as flat as a pancake which turned out to be a good session. Therefore, energy and mood, in my experience, haven’t affected my sessions dramatically, so other factors play into this. From a technical point of view, how do you go from one night picking up transitions, avoiding attacks, getting a lot of success to a night where you are missing transitions, getting caught and getting owned against the same people that you were against 24hrs earlier? Is it simply the fact that your opponent is having the opposite to you (your good night against their bad night and vice versa?). To get some kind of control over good and bad sessions, I try to set the tone and get a good warm up round. For example, one thing that can work for me is going against someone I can trust in the first round, whether that be in wrestling, striking or BJJ. This allows me to warm up and work things without the worry of the other person being a dick. I find if I go against a beginner for a first round in sparring, sometimes they feel they have something to prove and because I am just getting into things, I usually get hit a lot then get angry and frustrated. As they are a beginner you can’t just fire back as that is a dick move on my part. On the flip side, if I go against one of the good guys that wants to go hard, I get hit and try to fire back but as I am not warmed up (sparring mentality wise) this fails as well. Both of these will get me in a bad mood. Therefore I am looking for my first round guy to just get the work in, then after that I am fine. Lately there has been a change in my mentality with bad nights, they used to really get to me down and I would ruminate on what I did wrong (to put it politely). Now, after a bad session I look back on what I did and what I can change. The most important thing when you are having a bad session is to understand what it is – a bad night. A bad session is nothing other than a bad session, it just happens sometimes, so when it does, look at what you can control and place your effort there. Anyone can keep pushing when things are going well, but think how much you will improve when you give it everything for every round when you are having a bad session rather than sit out rounds. On the flip side, think about a good night, make the most of it and work your skills as much as you can. If you are really dominating against people then back off a little and let them have some good positions and work your defence/escapes as on a good night you are not going to have many problems, and if you do have problems, they don’t seem to bother you as much on a good night. These thoughts are all doubled when training for a fight, the highs are higher (I am the champion of the world) and the lows are lower (I am the worst fighter in the world). Keep your head level and your effort up no matter how the session is going.

Gareth Lewis
Head MMA Instructor

A Different Sandpit

At Lockdown, I always recommend that people train at other clubs and get perspectives from other trainers (in addition to Lockdown) as I believe it can only help them improve. If you train only with one coach, you tend to only get one perspective and no matter how good they are, it is still just one point of view. Training with others gives you another set of eyes, often a fresh set of eyes, different perspectives, opinions and approaches. Trainers, like everyone else, have specific biases, different body-types and strategies developed through years of training and in most cases, this is very helpful. Therefore, I recently went to different club for BJJ; it was a one-off and it was just to do some rolling. I thought it would be good to play in someone else’s sandpit, and I was right.

I am also a personal trainer and one of my clients who I get along with really well who also trains in BJJ but at a different club. During our sessions we often talk BJJ and one day he said I should come to his club for a roll. I made the usual bullsh**t excuses. But then thought “come on, let’s do it” – practice what I preach and all that. Since I’ve only recently gotten back into rolling with a gi, I said to give me a couple of weeks and it’s on. I wanted to feel a little bit better about my rolling with a gi after having a few weeks off due to school holiday parental duty. I also had to put some stupid/arrogant thoughts aside; thoughts like they might know me because I am an MMA instructor (I had a disagreement with one of their instructors), more-or-less, my worries were mostly about rumours and reputation. As the date got closer, my approach to it changed to “just go along and let them make their minds up about me”. The agreed day arrived, and we walked to the club. We turned up and in the changing room a couple of people were in there with the ‘new guy’ look, I then put my belt around my waist and more assumptions were made. The guy I went with introduced me to the instructor, we both knew each other by name but was good to have a face to face meeting. He was very welcoming and pleasant, he asked some questions just to get a feel, like anyone does with someone new. He got the class going and let me know that we would be rolling together first. I began thinking “oh great, is this going to be a point-proving roll?” I was not sure how hard to go, intensity wise, as you don’t want to make a bad impression. We started rolling and it definitely picked up as the roll went on, but nothing crazy, just a good roll. The instructor was a skilled black belt, so I had my hands full to say the least, but it was fun. There was no point-proving of any kind, just a good roll. I then rolled with the fellow who invited me to the club, another black belt, a brown belt, a blue belt and finally a purple belt. They were all good rolls, some more skilled than others but the attitudes were all very good and no one did anything dumb or dangerous (including myself) – just like a normal BJJ club, go figure. At the end of the session I went and thanked the instructor who welcomed me back. Everyone I rolled with had a little chat which all made me feel welcome. I plan on going back for another roll just to keep things fresh.

What did I get out of it? The club I usually go to has some very good guys who tie me up in knots. However, as good as they are, it is the same people week after week and the club has an overall feel/style (just like any other club). Therefore, it was great for me to roll with some different people in a different environment who presented different challenges. The feel of the rolling was different, not better, not worse, just different. They had other escapes to one of my favourite positions which added a new challenge, they favoured other submissions and most importantly, the experience was filled with varying styles and approaches; something that I was hoping to encounter there.

Putting aside my silly concerns, I found it was great rolling at another club. You always have doubts if your belt will hold up against other clubs, especially if you have had a big break from gi rolling. But at the end of the day who cares? Everyone has two arms and two legs; some will be better, and some will be worse so make the most of these opportunities to train with different people as it works out for the best (most of the time).

Gareth Lewis
Head MMA Instructor

43 v 48

Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell had their trilogy fight over the weekend. While conventional wisdom indicates that one should be excited about two legends clashing fists again, the age of these two men brought up some serious concerns. Ortiz is 43 and Liddell 48; their fight demonstrated why most pro-fighters retire before 40.

It should be stated however, that the number of birthdays you’ve had is not the main indicator of success, for example, Randy Couture was kicking ass into his 40’s. The real problem is the time spent as a pro fighter. I have said this a few times before, but it seems that you have ten years of high-level MMA success, then your performance really drops off. While Randy Couture had fought successfully in to his 40’s, this was assisted by him only starting a pro MMA career in his 30’s. Most pro fighters start in their 20’s so by the time they are mid-to-late 30’s, it comes time to hang up the gloves.

Using Bas Rutten as an example; Rutten was on a 20-fight win streak when he retired at age 33 in 1999. He retired due to constant pain and various injuries received from training and competing. Then in 2006 he had a comeback fight at 43 years of age. His logic was that he had 7 years away from fighting so surely the injuries would’ve gone away, or at least, affect him less. When he started training for his fight however, the injuries came back with a vengeance and he picked up a few new ones along the way. Rutten is a fighter through and through so there was no way he was going to pull out of a fight, so he went through with it and got the win. However, he would tell anyone of that age looking at a comeback to rethink it, after all, the body can only take so much damage.

Chuck Liddell is one of the UFC’s legends; he was one of the fighters that helped the sport go mainstream. Liddell had his last fight 8 years ago after a horror end to his career. He was on the receiving of one of the nastiest knockouts I have seen thanks to Rashad Evans. He then got knocked out by Shogun and following that, by Rich Franklin. The most troubling part of the loss to Rich Franklin was that Liddell didn’t take a big hit, rather his brain just seemed to shut down; probably a consequence of taking so many punches over the years. It was a sad end to a popular career. After having his career end in such devastating fashion, Liddell decided it was a good idea, at the age of 48, to get back in the cage against Tito Ortiz for their third fight (Liddell had won the 2 previous fights). At the peak of his career Liddell was a feared striker with huge knockout ability. Liddell has fast punches, which he threw from weird angles, great reflexes and good movement and footwork. However, all these attributes fade with age; speed, reflexes and movement all seem to dissipate with time. So what we saw in the cage was merely a shadow of his former self. His left hip looked damaged and walking looked uncomfortable for him. Additionally, in the training leading up to this fight, I never saw him throw a kick with his left leg. Liddell couldn’t rotate in to punches like he used to so his punches were shorter, less powerful and slower. His hip also made his movement very sluggish and awkward.

Tito Ortiz is also a UFC legend. Throughout his time in the UFC, he received huge popularity and success. He has continued to fight, however, with mixed results. In regard to this recent fight though, he didn’t have a big lay off like Liddell. Ortiz’s style usually consisted of securing a takedown and then moving to ground and pound; he was one of the people that took GnP to the next level. Ortiz was well known for his effective and brutal attack, especially from inside guard. He had two fights against Liddell and lost both via ko. Going in to this fight, I thought Ortiz would win. This was based on the fact that Ortiz’s style was more likely to still be effective rather than Liddell’s. When I say this, I mean that wrestling and control is easier to do as you get older, compared to striking. Whereas Liddell’s striking is hard to maintain, as speed and power decrease with age.

Despite knowing each man’s history and attempting to view the fight as a high-level competition… the fight was terrible. Liddell moved back the entire time with his right hand cocked for a punch he never threw. Ortiz stalked him, taunted him and Liddell didn’t do anything about it. Ortiz pressured Liddell up against the fence and threw straight while Liddell looked for counters, trying to see anything that could land but nothing did. Ortiz landed the fight ending right hand and it was lights out for Liddell.

For me, it was sad to see two former champs fighting like this, Oscar De La Hoya promoted the event, (his first MMA bout). It was a sideshow fight, everyone was happy when Liddell retired 8 years ago, and we all hope that he finds something to do outside of the cage because his fighting career is definitely over. What is it that brings these fighters back? Is it the only thing that gives them worth in life? Do they need the attention? Perhaps they don’t know how to do anything else or they are just competitive. For Liddell, I don’t think he has anything else in his life outside of fighting. They might just want the money and attention again (perhaps nostalgic of their glory days) or just the money. Once their fighting days are over, couldn’t they find something else to put their competitiveness in to like BJJ, car racing, darts anything apart fighting? BJ Penn has a fight coming up and it sucks seeing these once great fighters looking well past their best and getting knocked out. I realise promoters like these fights for the money, but for the rest of us who would rather see the top fighters in the world against each other, it sends the wrong image. To all the top retired fighters out there please stay retired, it is not pleasant seeing a legend getting whooped.

Gareth Lewis
Head MMA Instructor

Gypsy King

After listening to an interview with Tyson Fury, I was left with a new appreciation of the man. Previously, I have seen him only in fight build-up mode and I feel this is not the best way to judge someone. Since fighters tend to have at least two dramatic parts to their personality (fight mode – normal mode), it was interesting to see Fury in a more ‘normal’ context; perhaps a more honest depiction of who he is.

Within this interview, Fury came across as a thoughtful, well-spoken individual. I found some of his perspectives and opinions regarding the heavyweight division quite interesting. Fury stated that both he and Wilder attempted to get a fight with Anthony Joshua, but neither were successful as Joshua made it too difficult. In Fury’s opinion it is because Joshua is a money-making machine that can fill stadiums of 70,000 – 90,000 people. Therefore, it makes business sense to keep the machine running and keep it safe. By keeping Joshua safe, Fury is referring to opponents; it is argued that Joshua faces opponents that do not necessarily create a credible threat of dethroning him. The time Joshua’s camp took a gamble was when he faced Klitchsko, and Joshua got through by the skin of his teeth (would like to go in more detail about the fight but that is for another day). It makes little sense to face either Wilder or Fury as they are both very dangerous fighters – if the money-making formula is to be followed. Fury’s opinion about this strategy is that at some point, it has to be about more than just money; by the time you have won 20 plus pro fights, you have money. There has to be a point where you want to prove that you’re the best. Apparently, Wilder and Fury became tired of chasing Joshua and decided to fight each other, even though the fight does not bring in as much interest as other big PPV fights, it has been a long time since two undefeated heavyweight champions will fight. Off the top of my head, the last time two undefeated champs fought was Tyson v Spinks. Fury said that it was the easiest negotiation he has had, Wilder and Fury both had requests, they both said yes – the deal was made, and the fight is now on.

Throughout the interview, the topic of Fury’s toughest opponent was brought up, this honour went to Steve Cunningham. Cunningham was a cruiserweight who had moved up to heavyweight. Fury said that Cunningham was a better boxer and Fury was trying to use his size, trying to out box-him and losing. Fury likened the fight to trying to catch an eel with your hands, but no matter what you did, it would always get away. Fury got knocked down then decided to fight him rather than box and knocked him out with a big right hand. When he talked about his fight with Klitchsko, he said that no one gave him a chance, his only way to win was to be elusive and not give Klitchsko a chance to land that right hand. Basically, he was going to be more boring than Klitchsko (in his words). The fight plan worked, and Fury won. Fury tried to watch a replay of the fight but was bored after the 2nd round and said no wonder people didn’t like the fight. He did what he needed to win.

They talked about the heavyweight division and he said that Klitschko killed it. As great as he was, people found Klitschko boring. He was robotic and never had the ‘people’ behind him. In Germany he was famous but outside of that, no one really liked him. There are others in the division that draw attention to the heavyweights, but the division has still struggled to regain the ‘glory days’ of the past. Wilder for example is flamboyant, a good showman and knocks people senseless. The guy has 40 odd fights with 39 knockouts and no defeats – all big parts of what makes you famous – but Wilder is not that well known either. Even Joshua, who is massive in the UK is still not nearly as big outside of this fan base. Previously, the heavyweight division was very blessed to have Muhammad Ali who was closely followed by Mike Tyson. Two fighters that everyone on the planet knew and they both had very rare ability to transcend their sport. Now the heavyweight division is seeing a resurgence but still not near the heights of the past.

Fury was very open in the interview, he even delved into his own battle with mental illness, which must be very hard to talk about. Saying that one of his opponents was a better boxer, that one of his fights, his biggest fight, was boring as hell – these are things that you usually do not hear from a fighter. I am not a fan of Tyson Fury but after that interview my opinion of him improved drastically.

My perspective on the Wilder v Fury fight? I think Wilder will win. It is a very close fight but Wilder just seems to have that ability to finish fights. Also, I really want to see Wilder v Joshua, that is a fight that will get people talking about the heavyweight division again. It is a shame that heavyweight boxing has lost the lustre of the past, all it took was a couple of champions that were great but were not exciting (Lewis, Klitschko) for it to enter into a relative decline. Hopefully, the excitement will come back to the heavyweights and it just might happen with the trio of Fury, Joshua and Wilder, assuming that Joshua will step up to the plate.

Gareth Lewis
Head MMA Instructor

What Am I Missing

With the tragic death of a competitor in a recent corporate boxing event, I have been going over and over in my head trying to figure out why this type of injury occurs more frequently in corporate boxing than other fight sports.

I had been concerned with this very topic a few months ago (, in this blog, I highlighted the dangers of corporate boxing and my personal concerns regarding the event and the competition itself. One of these dangers is having two 40 year olds, who both weigh 105kg compete against each other; on paper it looks even as their physical statistics match up, however, it starts to differ considerably when you view their backgrounds. One competitor has sat in an office his whole life and the other played league for 10 years. Considering these variables, the fight begins to look unfair. Sadly for Kain Parsons, this was me predicting his future and tragically, the end of his life. Kain was 37, a builder who had transitioned into office-work. His opponent on the other hand, was a former halfback for the Tasman Mako’s. Right away you have an office worker against a former semi-professional athlete (red flag). In the fight, Kain was knocked down twice (standing 8 count in the 1st round) then knocked out in the 2nd round. If this was an isolated incident it might be considered a tragic accident. However there is a history of events similar to this occurring: April 27 2018 – Man knocked unconscious for 20min, April 29 2018 – 31 year old woman died after sparring, Kain Parsons died 5 Nov 2018 and there was also another death in 2016. Adding to this point, sports host Steve McIvor has come forward stating he was hospitalised after one of his fights. McIvor did the fight-for-life event and was one of the worst I have ever seen, which made it amazing that he had three fights. When he stepped in the ring for his third fight, after getting his as kicked badly in two pervious fights, McIvor fought an Australian reporter. With his two previous fights being very one sided matches this was quite an even fight and he got a victory. Afterwards he had a brain bleed and spent time in hospital. During his time in hospital, McIvor became aware of how dangerous these events can be, and decided that he would never risk it again and hung up his gloves. There would be numerous stories like this from corporate boxing and similar events from around the globe – but why?

At face value, the answer seems simple; these people are over matched, competing against better fighters/athletes, they get punched and this causes brain trauma. However, I am still not convinced this is the only factor as there are people in boxing, kickboxing and MMA who are outmatched and take a beating, but don’t seem to suffer in the same way. Some people might say that is “because they are trained”, which may be the case, but then why don’t people die from a scrap in rugby or street fight. In a street fight most damage comes from hitting your head on the ground or getting kicked when you are on the ground, but not just getting hit (not including king hits). There has to be more to it. Of all the martial arts I have seen and trained, not once have I been shown how to take a punch better, you get told to keep your chin down and then train for years on how to avoid getting hit. So if you think training is the difference, the advantage you have is being able to avoid getting hit rather than dealing with getting hit, hence why the best fighters in the world get knocked out. Then is it the amount of times they get hit in a fight. Again, I am not fully convinced this is the cause of this problem, because if you look at Gatti v Ward or Velasquez v Dos Santos II, getting hit a lot doesn’t seem to result in immediate fatal brain trauma. That is not to say that doesn’t lead to long term damage however. Then is there other factors like their emotional state, how hyped up they are? Is it because they are revving so high that any extra pressure makes a gasket blow? What I do know is that these fights are overrepresented in the injury statistics and I am still seem to not be able to connect the dots as to why.

There is a flip side to these fights though. I read an article by a woman that runs these events, she wrote about the person that lost 35kg, the person who got so much confidence during the process, the person who met their husband during the training and so on. She was going to continue running the events as she can see the good it can do for people. However boxing NZ have pulled any backing and/or support and the media are giving these events a very tough time right now (rightly so I must add). Of course I can see how these fights get people hooked, you are just about to turn 40 you have spent the last 10 years focusing on family and career and you want to do something for yourself. During training they feel good, lose weight, get fit and so on – you can see the appeal. The reality of a fight seems to be quite different for a lot of these fighters. In addition to these issues, people often talk about head gear and bigger gloves – neither of which protect the brain, just like an NFL helemt –

As one boxing trainer said: “you can play cricket, you can play tennis but you can’t play boxing”, and I think that hits the nail on the head. Fights sports are not something you just ‘give a go’, when you get in the ring it is a big deal and it hurts, no matter if you win or lose. If you lose a game of tennis, rugby or cricket it is not the same. Even a loss in wrestling or BJJ is not the same as a sport where you can get knocked out. There are emotions you get from fighting that you do not get in any other sport. Maybe that is what is behind the unfortunate injuries to these people. Either way something needs to change, because, corporate boxing as it stands now, is flawed to say the least.

Gareth Lewis
Head MMA Instructor

Head Damage

Head damage is a genuine concern and possibility in the fight game. Throughout my years of training, there have been various ways in which I have dealt with it personally and in relation to my fighters. Recently, I took a big shot during sparring; it was accidental, but still a big shot. It was one of those moments that you couldn’t plan or avoid. Regardless of how it happened, I took a very solid hit to the head.

When I look back on my time in combat sports, I realise that a few years ago, in this situation, I would’ve gotten angry and tried to hurt someone. Despite the possibility of having a decent head-knock, I would repeat the same dumb cycle at the next session and the next and so on (this is why I don’t make many friends). This time though, I felt a bit fuzzy, but rightly or wrongly, kept sparring. I was surprised that the shots following the initial big knock had little effect. While watching another round of sparring, I noticed that another guy had taken a decent shot (he managed to disguised it well at the time). After training I had a chat to him and asked how his head was. He said a little fuzzy so I kept communication up with him, mostly to monitor his head throughout the night. We then proceeded to have a funny conversation about how both our heads were feeling fuzzy. Since that session though, my brain felt swollen, not painful, but just didn’t feel quite right. Think of a big bruise on your shin, most of the time it doesn’t bother you but you know it’s there; that is how I felt.

So, what did I do about this? Firstly, I decided to do no striking sparring for a couple of weeks and have no hard sparring sessions for the rest of the year. At Lockdown we’ve have made an effort to look after each other’s brains and from what I can see, it’s working. The hard sparring still happens but not nearly as often and when it does, it is between two consenting adults. Since I had been sitting out striking sparring, I would often get questions as to why I wasn’t sparring. I would explain why and for me, it was a very interesting experience. Years ago I would’ve been embarrassed that I was hurt / injured and didn’t want people thinking I was soft. Now, I want them to know that it is ok to protect your brain, especially if it doesn’t feel right. I understand my role as a head instructor and understand that if I don’t look after my brain, why the hell should anyone else at the club do it? Brain trauma is still quite difficult in fight clubs because it is perfectly acceptable to turn up to training with a big bruise on your shin and say “no kicking for me tonight”, you can display the bruise and there will be few questions about how it happened. Since we can’t see a swollen brain, it still takes some effort and courage to actually say “no sparring for me”, well at least it took some effort for me. Life isn’t all bad, when we did MMA sparring I was on the mat with everyone, but I was just grappling – win-win for me as everyone else was tired from MMA sparring.

I am pushing protection of the head more and more at Lockdown and when I look at fights like the Gatti v Ward, I can’t help but think of all the damage being done to their brains. Then I see those corporate fight nights which, to me, should have its existence re-examined, or, should at least be more regulated. People boxing or fighting, I obviously do not have a problem with, but I’ve recently read about a guy in critical condition after a corporate boxing match in Christchurch. This is only a few short months after a guy died from his injuries sustained in a corporate boxing match in Auckland. In my opinion, there needs to be stricter rules. For me, I do not think that a TKO / KO should be the goal, if someone gets caught with a big shot they should get 20 sec recovery or even longer. After landing the big shot the attacker should not try and land the second and third shot to get the knock down. I realise this would not be such a spectacle but fighter safety is what is important. These participants are often not fighters, they have not trained as a fighter and have not had the mental shift that accepts what a fight is which is often emboldened by a desire to win at any cost. I would like to see the ref control the fights a lot more harshly as the fighters will have the adrenaline flowing. Nobody wants to receive 6mins of damage in order to get through the fight and have this seriously affect them outside the ring for a lifetime. Isn’t it worth having better protection in place for people who have only trained 3 months for a one-off fight? If they want a serious fight then that is fine, go to your local fight gym and train up for an amateur fight.

Broken bones and torn ligaments are things that people recover from every day but we only have one brain and recovery is not the same when that gets damaged so we need to look after our and our training partners heads. It is a delicate balance in fight sports as you have to train and train hard, but there is always a risk with fighting. However, we can still minimise the risk and look after our brains in a smart way.

On a side note and somewhat contradictory to what I have been writing, well done to Israel Adesanya for his big win in the weekend over Derrick Brunson. Adesanya has that ability to look like he is going half speed when everyone else is going full speed. Adesanya makes striking looking easy, if he gets his shot against Whitaker then I think Adesanya will win. However I have written Whitaker off against Romero, Jacare as well as others and have been wrong every time so I hope the fight happens, would be great to have a NZ UFC champ

*A lot has happened on this topic since I wrote this, the next blog will go in to more detail on the Corporate boxing following the tragic death this week of Kain Parson.*

Gareth Lewis
Head MMA Instructor

Where to From Here

MMA has massively evolved over the years. It is now at such a high level that I can’t quite figure what will be dominant in MMA in the next five years. We will look at the changes that had the biggest effect in MMA since it’s inception.

Evolution 1: “The back”

I was lucky enough to see UFC 1 and, at the time, I thought I knew a thing or two. I had heard of the Gracie family and their jiu-jitsu but had no real idea of what it was all about. The Gracie family sent the smallest of the brothers to fight in UFC 1. By sending the smallest, they intended to demonstrate the effectiveness of BJJ. Royce Gracie went in to UFC 1 and beat all three of his opponents via submission. However, the most important aspect of his victories was that in every fight he was on his back. In his second fight, his opponent was Ken Shamrock, a muscular shoot fighter who could wrestle and knew submissions. Shamrock took Gracie down with a double leg and Gracie pulled guard, Shamrock went for his heel hook, lost position gave up his back and got choked out by Gracie (who only used one arm). This showed the world that you could beat a bigger stronger opponent off your back. Even though the fight didn’t finish with Gracie on his back, he showed offence from his back and proved that it was not just a defensive position where you get your ass whooped. Due to seeing the ‘small’ guy beat these bigger fighters, BJJ’s popularity soared across the world and from that moment on, if you did not know BJJ you would struggle in MMA.

Another important moment for MMA is when Frank Shamrock (Ken’s half-brother) fought Kevin Jackson. Jackson was an Olympic and World Champion wrestler. At the time, people thought MMA was a side show, so they were looking forward to seeing an elite athlete from an established sport compete in the cage. The fight started and Jackson took Shamrock down right away, Shamrock got the arm, looped a leg over and get an armbar off his back to win in 14 seconds. Those 14 seconds were the most important in MMA as those seconds changed the way MMA was viewed by many people.

Evolution 2: “GnP”.

Mark Coleman is considered the god father of ground and pound. ‘GnP’ is the art of keeping someone on their back and punching them from top position until they can’t continue. Mark Coleman was a high-level wrestler that used his wrestling to take people down, gained a controlled position and punch them to get a win. Other wrestlers saw this and thought “hey MMA gives me something I can compete in after college” – as wrestling stops for most people at that point; it is either the Olympics or a life without high level wrestling competition. One of these wrestlers that chose this the MMA path was a guy named Matt Hughes. Hughes would become one of the most dominant welterweights of all time with his simple yet effective style. When Hughes fought the famed Royce Gracie, onlookers assumed once the fight hit the mat, it would be an easy victory for Gracie – they were wrong. Hughes got top position and started throwing punches, he got hold of Gracie’s arm for a submission and in attempt to defend the submission, Gracie rolled into a bad position. Hughes took advantage; he secured back mount and punched Gracie until the referee stopped the fight. The events of this fight highlighted a change in MMA, a competitor now needed more than a high-level ground game to be at the highest level of MMA.

Evolution 3: “The all-rounder”.

People had figured out that you need to be good at more than one thing to succeed in MMA competition. Then along came Georges St-Pierre (GSP). His stand-up game is good enough to stand with most, his wrestling style very worked well in the sport and his ground game is high level. This means that when he fights, he decides where the fight takes place. If you could out strike him he would take you down, if you are a threat on the ground he would keep you standing and pick you apart. He fought Matt Hughes, a guy who at the time seemed unbeatable. GSP lost the first fight, stating that standing in front of his hero, he grew more and more intimidated, unable even to look Hughes in the eyes prior to the fight. In the rematch however, GSP was just on another level. He made Hughes look average in a very decisive win. Then they had a third fight and GSP was so much better that Hughes it was scary. This took MMA to another level, a level where people had to be good everywhere to stand a chance of breaking through to the top level. MMA had truly become its own sport.

Evolution 4: “The Freaks”

The ‘freaks’ are the people who just seem to make it look easier than everyone else. The best examples of the freaks are Anderson Silva and Jon Jones. Both fighters had that ability to do things that no one else. They can make elite fighters look very average. It almost seemed as if they were seeing everything in slow-motion. A prevalence of MMA freaks was where I thought the sport was heading, however, I was wrong. These ‘freaks’ look like they are just having fun and it’s easy for them – I never liked them. This never really took off like I thought it would and I was proven wrong.

Where to from here then?

It seems what is working in MMA now is to be elite in one area and good at the others. When I say elite, I am talking Olympic wrestler, ADCC champion grappler or elite striker. There are people out there who have this on their CV but haven’t quite made it. For example, Jacare, one of the best grapplers in MMA; Alastair Overeem and Mark Hunt are both K1 world champions and none of them have got to the champion status in MMA (which counters my argument, but I still think this is where the sport is heading). I just think that as everyone is so good at the individual parts now, you need to be elite in one of the areas to stand out. Some people say that the UFC is all about the striking now and to a certain extent that is true. The UFC seems to market the better strikers over others as they are deemed more exciting. When the last time a ground fighter was heavily pushed by the UFC? To further emphasise my point; there are guys like Francis Ngannou who get a title shot simply because he hit hard and has a list of devastating knockouts.

Back on point though, MMA has evolved and shown us what really works in the world of Martial Arts. In my opinion, in terms of martial arts competition, if it doesn’t work in MMA then it doesn’t work. Yes, there are fights on a battle field and street fights where the factors are largely different, but in terms of two trained people going head to head and hand to hand, MMA has shown us what works and what doesn’t. I am looking forward to seeing where MMA goes in the next five years and what fighting style is dominating then

Gareth Lewis
Head MMA Instructor

Where’s The Line?

With what happened after the Khabib Nurmagomedov v Conor McGregor fight (Khabib jumping the fence to attack McGregor’s corner and the ensuing brawl), one has to ask the question, what caused a usually very respectful fighter to act so out of character? The answer is trash talk.

First off, Khabib is the one fighter right now that looks very difficult to beat, and his record is evidence of that statement. He has destroyed top strikers and top grapplers, displaying a devastating ‘ground and pound’ game which has not been seen in a long time. For me, Khabib is the #1 MMA fighter on the planet right now and it was great to see him put a beating on McGregor, especially in ‘Khabib-dominant’ fashion. However, what happened after the fight took away from what he did in the cage as most people who talk about the fight speak of what occurred following the actual competition.

Khabib said that he did not start anything, rather, he finished what McGregor had started. Nurmagomedov stated: “He [McGregor] insulted my family, my religion, my country what do you think is going to happen?” Let me state clearly, I do not condone what Khabib did, but I can understand such a reaction after continued personal insults issued by McGregor. Why is it ok in fighting to insult someone’s religion, family and country? If this occurred in any other sport that person would be banned. For example, in cricket there have been fines for players calling a member of the other team a terrorist. Fans in crowds around the world are now being held accountable for racial comments directed at players, even resulting in lifetime bans. Yet McGregor can say what he wants and act how he wants, crossing any line he deems necessary all for the sake of ‘hyping’ a fight. McGregor is a master at trash talk, I do not dispute that, as right now, there is no one that does it better and I understand that they want people to watch the fight. Dana White loves eyes on the UFC, but there must be a way the organization can still have trash talk but place controls on the content. Say what you want about the fighter but leave, family, religion and culture out of it.

Muhammed Ali, the fighter most people turn to when referencing good trash talkers, would tell his opponents how he would knock him out in 8, to prove I am great. Ali called Liston a ‘Big ugly bear’, Frazier ‘the Gorilla’ and Foreman ‘the Mummy’. All of which were aimed at criticizing the way these men fought. Ali said to a reporter that Liston was so big and ugly that he must be a bear; Ali would say “have you got close to him he even smells like a bear”. This trash talk was funny, inciting laughter as it wasn’t designed to offend people at a personal level, just professionally. If the UFC do not put some restrictions on trash talk then incidents, like that following UFC 229, will keep happening. McGregor has changed MMA into a competition to determine who is the most entertaining, often outside the cage, rather than the better fighter. Fighters now feel like they have to trash talk in order to hype the fight. Both McGregor and Khabib have had 11 fights in the UFC, McGregor has 9 wins from 11 UFC fights and Khabib 11 wins from his 11 UFC fights, yet hardly anyone I talked to had heard of Nurmagomedov before this fight. Even after the fight people told me that they were shocked that a ‘nobody’ beat McGregor – I set them straight. It is a real shame that fighters as talented as Khabib (who I view as best fighter in the UFC at the moment), get less recognition outside of die-hard MMA fans due to his quiet, humble and respectful nature. The UFC have prioritised fighters who use trash talk and this encourages more of it and creates an expectation for it among fans.

Trash talk is part of sport in general and will most likely always be there. I have talked to people in the ring during fights, on the mat in wrestling and in BJJ comps. However, I always waited until I was wining before I opened my mouth. In cricket I was on the end of some good trash talk while I was having a rough day batting. The wicket keeper said ‘there is a piece of sh!t on your bat, so I turned the bat around to look at the bottom, without missing a beat, the keeper said ‘no the other end’. Another act of trash talk worth a mentioning is the famous rugby call, the player stated: “excuse me ref can I get penalised for thinking?” The ref answered with: “no”, the player ended this exchange by saying: “good, because I think you are a f*&#@n idiot”. I view these as legitimate and clever forms of trash talk as they are attacking the player and their ability, not anything else, especially nothing personal. McGregor’s team mate Dillon Danis was a big instigator in all of this as he is a big online troll and aims to wind up anyone who will engage with him. Danis stood up and gestured to Khabib post fight “c’mon then” and that is what tipped Khabib over the edge and the melee began.

Khabib’s actions were wrong but it was his way of retaliating to all of McGregor’s insults. Although, one would assume that giving the guy a beating and making him tap would be enough. Even during the fight, while winning, Khabib was talking to McGregor, encouraging him to “talk now”. It was obvious Khabib did not take very well to the trash talk that came from McGregor. Just because it is a fight and you are hyping it, doesn’t mean that you are free to insult your opponent in every way possible. I realise that they are professional sports people, and some might say that it is all part of what they signed up for. To a certain extent yes, pro athletes do have to put up with more, however it should still be kept about the sport and their performance and not anything else. Put some parameters on the trash talk and go from there. One more thing, McGregor should get a small suspension and fine with Khabib receiving a larger fine and suspension for starting it on the night. The guys that jumped in and attacked McGregor should be dealt with harshly – leave it at that.

Gareth Lewis
Head MMA Instructor

Sakuraba v McGreggor

Recently there has been the top 200 Fighters in the UFC on TV. I was happy to see the great Kazushi Sakuraba on the list, as he fought in Pride not for UFC. Then within a few seconds I was in shock as Conor McGregor was ranked higher at 37. If you know your MMA history then you will know that these two are not in the same league.

Sakuraba’s most memorable fights were in Pride, since UFC (Zuffa) brought Pride he has been included in the UFC rankings. How he became a legend is by beating 4 people with the last name of Gracie at a time when they were unbeatable. Sakuraba was a former pro wrestler who got in to MMA, he had great cardio and a fantastic mind for fighting as he always managed to stay relaxed during fights. To put his achievement is perspective at the time (1999 – 2000) the Gracie’s were the top name in submission fighting and next to unbeatable in MMA. Then Sakuraba who was unknown at the time went up against Royler Gracie and won via kimura (arm lock), so not only did he win he managed to beat one of the famed Gracie’s at their own game. Next was Royce Gracie and won via TKO (corner stoppage). Then Renzo Gracie was another victim to the kimura, Renzo had too much honour / Pride to tap and got his arm broken, and finally was Ryan Gracie who lost via decision. He made the unbeatable Gracie’s beatable, which at the time seemed impossible and earned the nickname ‘The Gracie Hunter’.

Conor McGregor on the other hand is great at trash talking but his actual fighting is nothing that the sport has not seen. He has not transformed striking in anyway. However what he has done is change the way that people build up fights and made it more like boxing, with all the trash talk. Now people believe that you have to ‘talk’ to get the big fights, one of the worst examples was the attempted trash talk by Ben Rothwell after one of his fights. Conor has made a lot of money for the UFC with his talk and brought new fans in to the sport as well as having all of Ireland behind him. However at the end of the day he has only had 8 fights in the UFC with 7 wins and 1 loss. His fighting ability does not put him in the to 50, or even the top 100.

I am not sure who is doing the voting for the rankings but the hype seems to have swayed the voting for McGregor even after he got knocked down with punches then tapped out in his last fight. The guy just has not done enough to be among some of the legends of the sport, yes he is talented but being the unquestioned best trash talker in the sport does not make you a legend, just good at talking. Time will tell what Conor McGregor legacy will be, a big mouth or great fighter with great trash talk, either way he has not done enough to ranked ahead of the great Kazushi Sakuraba.

Gareth Lewis
Head MMA Instructor