IT’S 48 hours since it finished, and I can just about pick up a pen now and my legs no longer feel like jelly... The reason for all this pain is a session of MMA, or mixed martial arts, a combination of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai kickboxing and Greco-Roman wrestling. MMA?is rapidly growing in popularity, especially among young men who have lost interest in boxing, and who feel that martial arts classes have been diluted to fit onto gym timetables and that boxercise is no replacement for kung fu.
So I was delighted when John “The Hitman” Hathaway offered to give me a taste of the sport. An undefeated 23-year-old mixed martial arts fighter and former rugby player, John fights in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the American-based, mixed martial arts promotions company that hosts some of the world’s best fighters. If anybody knew about MMA, it was him.
So off I toddled to the legendary Shootfighters Gym in West London in my Sweaty Betty Om pants, pretty sure I knew what to expect – something like kickboxing but a bit sexed up, surely? – and even more sure I would suffer no after-effects. How wrong I was.
Hathaway is a real athlete. The fitness required to last a five minute round in the Octagon (the eight-sided UFC cage where fights take place) is phenomenal. John spends four to five hours a day, six days a week engaging in various different forms of training, ranging from cardiovascular training at altitude to sparring in the cage.
My time training, however, with John was short and sweet in comparison – thank God – and we spent it practising the basic punch and kicks, and attempting to grind and pound the grappling dummy, a heavy stand-alone bag.
In the ring we did some easy kickboxing combinations. I’ve done a little Muay Thai before (and have been instructed in pad-holding for my personal training qualification), but with John it was more about getting some power into the punches; I definitely got up more of a sweat in the time I spent with him than anything I’ve done before. Also, we did more repetitions – it was “and again, and again...” rather than the odd punch and then a nice little chat about technique. I guess this is down to the way he trains. I’d never done the stuff on the floor with the grappling dummy which was basically holding the dummy with one hand and then striking three punches to the other side and then one to the head. It was exhausting.
I had lots of questions and John was able to answer them all – we talked plyometrics, core and agility. The finale was five minutes on the VersaClimber, a climbing/stepping machine used by the fighters to improve cardiovascular fitness. As a 20-minute 5K runner, I thought I’d have this covered, but no such luck. I staggered off, barely able to feel my legs with a pathetic 563 feet covered. John covers more than 1,000ft in five minutes. I won’t give up the day job just yet.
The UFC120 event takes place at the O2 on Sat 16 October, while the Fan Expo is at Earls Court on the same weekend.
WHERE TO TRY MMA
Visit a specialist martial arts gym to get the very best fad-free advice and teaching.
London Shootfighters Gym
At 35,000 sq foot it’s the largest mixed martial arts training gym in the world;
New, state-of-the-art gym in Kings Cross for mixed martial arts, conditioning and fitness; urbankingsgym.com.
Chain of East End-based gyms
HEALTH BENEFITS OF MIXED MARTIAL ARTS
Regular practice of any martial art will sharpen your mental state and help to improve your concentration.
You’ll become a lean, mean fighting machine pretty quick – useful for defending yourself after a night out on the tiles.
MMA and the training that goes with it does wonders for your cardiovascular health, taking you a few steps further away from nasties such as heart disease and diabetes.
As far as your muscles go, the list is endless as to what mixed martial arts can do for you: you’ll improve power, muscle tone and strength, and you’ll be amazed at the improvement you see in your flexibility too.
An excellent outlet for stress and pent-up aggression, mixed martial arts are a must for any City worker who’s ever needed a release after a hard day at the screen.