I just got off the phone with a gentleman who spent roughly fifteen minutes asking me serious questions as to how to become a fighter. His enthusiasm was catchy and he was determined, but when I asked where he was training he said he had some bags hanging in his garage and some friends who have fought in some small shows teaching him.
People contact me like this almost daily, wanting to know how to get in the fight game, and become fighters, or promoters or to add MMA to their dog show, drag show (racing, but wouldn't that be a hoot) or bring it to their bar, or this or that. I love all the ideas and some of them are really good ideas, and some of them....not so much. With the rapid growth of MMA as a sport, the entrepreneurial spirit came with it. And hell, that's what America is all about isn't it? I mean what other sport can you create your own Tshirts and put a cool name like "Night Night Fight Gear" or "Tap or Bleed" or insert brutal name here, and have a real (although risky) chance at building a brand...? I don't see that many "Jesus didn't Intentional Ground" shirts, but hey, what the hell do I know.
My favorites are the one's who want to be promoter's just so they can have their own grand entrance in to the arena or be the star of the show. And I honestly don't judge them, it just seems like the wrong reason to put yourself through this treacherous business, there must be an easier way to 15 min of fame. MMA is a very very tough and risky business.
I am writing this post for serious people looking to get in the fight game to fight. Although this sport looks brutal at it's worst times, it is actually safer with less injuries than nearly every other Major League and High School sport. As a matter of fact, from a google search I could not find a single top ten most dangerous sports that listed MMA as one. If danger and injuries is what you seek, strap yourself to a one ton hunk of wild beast and call yourself a bull rider. With that in mind, it is highly possible and probable that an untrained Joe getting in the cage with the likes of a trained athlete cage fighter, will be in great danger of injury or worse if he is not properly trained himself. Emphasize the word Properly.
I'm not talking about your ability to beat up guys at the local bowling alley arcade as a teenager, or that time you took on three guys when you were drunk in college and managed to brawl your way out and even look good in the process, only because the three goons were a bit drunker. We are talking a totally different calibre of human being here. Trust me I know from experience, as a matter of fact I will tell you a little story of my own. Cue the blury wavy stuff with the sparkling sound effects.
I went to a gym here in Atlanta not too long ago, thinking my three year old unpracticed blue belt in BJJ would be able hold it's own while sparring with real cage fighters. So I was put with an amateur fighter, who I outweighed by roughly 15 pounds,outreached by nearly a foot and had to look down to see eye to eye. I was also given shin guards and head gear, didn't know why, probably to prevent law suits. Lucky for this guy we were told to go lightly on each other. I mean after all, I had watched every UFC and Pride in history and owned a few Affliction shirts so what more did I really need.
When the bell rang I danced around a bit and visualized myself as Anderson Silva and thought back to his lighting quick and laser accurate striking, and calculated all the moves I was gonna do. My opponent wouldn't even look me in the eye. Poor sap just stared at my chest the whole time, must have been nervous, he had no idea the amount of punishment I was about to unleash on him. As I scanned for unprotected area I remembered how leg kicks can dramatically affect a persons game. A few of those will get them thinking more about their leg than their own game plan, and your good as gold.
So in one swift motion with nearly all my might I swung my leg like a whip toward the meaty part of his thigh, I knew when this made contact he would be thinking twice of leaving himself open again. As my leg swung in almost slow motion I noticed my opponent adjust his knee slightly turning toward my oncoming leg. When I finally made impact, through shin pads, I was overwhelmed with one of the most painful feelings I had ever felt. I immediately fell to the floor holding my shin, and distinctly remember thinking how much I'd have rather kicked the steel beam I could see sticking out from the wall than do that again.
In misery I stood again, adjusted myself and pretended it was no big deal. I felt the pulsing of the golf ball size knot just above my foot and muttered something about playing rough as I limped back toward him. We circled each other again, although this time at a much slower pace and minus the dancing for me. I kept staring at his legs hoping he wouldn't use them in any way other than to stand, and sure enough I noticed movement and a foot moving toward me. I closed my eyes and dropped one hand to shield to certain doom headed toward my knee. To my surprise the pain kind of skipped my knee and jumped right to my face as he proceeded to execute a combination that I swear I saw a guy do in Tekken once that ended with a fireball fist. By the time I opened my eyes I had been hit so many times, I looked around to see who else had jumped in... That hour long 3 minute round couldn't end fast enough.
I could barely walk for a week after kicking an amateur fighter who was wearing shin guards, in the leg, while I was wearing shin guards. I realized very quickly the drastic difference in a well trained fighter, and well knowledged fan. There bodies are accustomed to being hit, twisted, slammed and kicked. So to make a long story semi-long, get real training. Sure, my results are not typical, I am far less athletic than what you might be, but real fighters train with other machine like athletes three to six days a week depending on where they are in their career. Some camps have dorms and barracks where a fighter wakes up and trains, eats and sleeps. Some fighter's rarely come in contact with people who aren't fighters or trainers for weeks at a time. And yes like you they were captain of the football, wrestling, lacrosse, rugby, soccer or whatever team.
So that being said where and how do you get started? Well there is no shortage of MMA gyms, I mean MMA is the new Tae Bo in many places. Lots of workout gyms are putting MMA on there signs to draw in customers. I went to a fitness club that tried to sell me a membership and just to test the water I asked if they had an MMA program and he enthusiastically walked me to a room with hardwood floors, mirrors, and some punching bags and his idea of MMA was a step class involving kicking and punching the air. I also know of some schools where people have mysterious black belts that can't be tracked, and the instructor teaches methods that could be very wrong, and when you get in the cage or in a tournament you can get yourself seriously injured, or at the least cost you a lot of time having to relearn proper techniques.
My suggestion is to do some research, if MMA is what you really want to focus on, find a teacher that has an MMA based reputation, a former UFC fighter, or a school that has a big name fighter there. An example would be The Hardcore Gym in Athens, which is full of current and future superstars and is ran by former UFC fighter Rory Singer and his brother Adam. Any gym with the American Top Team logo on the door you probably can't go wrong with. ATT Atlanta is ran by Roan "Jucao" Carniero, a five time UFC veteran who I have personally trained with and has a strong fight team. Another budding gym that is coming up fast is Iron Clutch Fitness, where you can learn from some of the Southeast's finest, Warren Thompson a striking specialist and Ethan Garrison one of the best ground fighters to come out of Georgia both undefeated and have made it through finals for The Ultimate Fighter reality show.
One big question I get in these phone calls are "How will I know I am ready?" And my answer is always the same... "Thats what a coach is for." When you have trained enough your coach will tell you when he thinks you have what it takes to get in the cage, until then just keep training. The good thing about Georgia, besides the peaches, is there are amateur rules in place to protect fighters who are just learning. Some states let brand new guys get elbowed in the face, and don't use extra padding which can help you adjust to the sport while you practice and become more competitive.
One major mistake a lot of fighters seem to make is letting money dictate their fight career. To be quite honest, I don't know very many if any fighters who can support themselves on fighting alone. Going pro does not mean big money. First time fighters generally only make a few hundred bucks in there pro debut, and much like every other sport, it doesn't increase all that much unless you make it in the big leagues. And even then you have to factor in paying for high quality trainers, supplements and management. If you are going to get into the fight business and your serious about it, get some experience as an amateur, even when you lose, you learn more about holes in your game which you can improve from there, so you can get better and lose less as a pro. Which in turn will help you get to the next level.
Mixed Martial Arts is in my opinion the purest sport in the world, direct combat where survival of the fittest becomes nearly literal. It is growing faster in popularity than any other sport in the world and what separates you from the best in the world five years from now is practice. So do your research, find a gym, get some training and have your coach call me when your ready.