Cubicle to the cage Blog #3 Episode 102

Cubicle to the cage
Blog #3 Episode 102


Let me tell you a little about Peter (Poppa) Martell. I have never seen anyone so calm in the face of complete calamity. On any given day he spends time with his family, works (2 jobs), trains professional fighters, runs fitness classes for soccer moms and couch potatoes, promotes MMA events, and does God-only-knows-what-else with the 15 minutes that remains in the day. Rumor has it he plays the cello. I have personally been choked into submission by Peter… while he was taking a call on his cell phone. So while I felt like the sky was falling when Team TITANS lost its gym, Pete was over it and on to finding a new location before I had too much opportunity to get upset. While Palooka’s was an absolutely beautiful facility and we would have loved to do the whole Cubicle to the Cage program there, our move to the new location taught us an important lesson.

The new gym:

The new location was an abandoned autobody repair shop. The place was absolutely filthy and smelled of diesel oil. It was blistering hot in the summer, while we had ice on the mats in winter. It had one bathroom that worked only some of the time and no locker room. In short, it was a shit hole. That didn’t phase Peter and (most of) the other TITANS one bit. The long time TITANS fighters said it reminded them of a place they trained in Brazil years before. For me, it showed me very quickly that the most important thing you need when you want to become a fighter is within yourself. If you have a knowledgeable instructor, training partners and a flat surface suitable to roll and spar on then you have everything you need to become a fighter. All the fancy equipment you see advertised on the Internet and in the latest MMA gym to pop up in your neck of the woods is all just unnecessary fluff. So, never judge an MMA gym by what you can see through the window. Take a free class, sign up for a month, and get a feel for the people who teach and train at the gym. All the Thai bags, kick pads, boxing rings, cages and shiny gym equipment in the world is not going to make you a better fighter. Find a trainer you respect and some training partners you trust, and all you have to do is work hard and embrace the grind. The rest will take care of itself.

Tryouts, round 2:

For me, the long wait between the first and second round of tryouts was a blessing in disguise. I was still suffering from injuries I’d gotten in my initial training session at Palooka’s Gym. There was, however, a downside. I had gotten woefully out of shape. I had always been a reasonably fit guy, living an active lifestyle, playing recreational sports, running, etc… but between the two rounds of tryouts I did little more than work a desk job, eat and drink beer. By the time the tryouts came around, I’d gained nearly 20 pounds and my cardiovascular conditioning was probably the worst it had been in my entire life. So, I was enormously relieved that I would not have to do the tryout this time around… or so I thought.

The moment the second round of tryouts started I could tell Peter was much more serious about ‘thinning the herd’. The party-like atmosphere that characterised the first round of tryouts was noticeably absent. Rather than a positive, excited energy, the second time around everyone in the gym seemed to be filled with a quite dread. Maybe it was the knowledge that more than half of these folks would be cut at the end of the workout. Maybe it was the claustrophobic nature of the new gym. Whatever the cause, everyone seemed aware that this was NOT going to be a pleasant experience. In the very first group to begin the fifteen minute physical tryout, nearly half the participants had quit, collapsed or mentally checked before they hit the 10 minute mark. It was quite horrifying to then see the potential cubes, totally exhausted and barely able to breath, being mauled on the mats by the fresher and more knowledgeable TITANS fighters. Have you ever seen that nature show where the killer whales are playing with the baby seals before they eat them? Well, the TITANS were the whales and the cubes were the seals.
While this test did not give us a great sense of how skilled any one potential cube might be, it gave Peter a very clear idea of who had the heart and mental toughness he was looking for. Some of the young and outwardly fit prospects were in many cases the very first to bow out of their respective groups. While others, who looked to be the absolute furthest from professional fighters, simply would not bow out. They fell down, but they got back up, their arms and legs failed them but they rallied for one more flurry, they threw up (several times in my case) but they dragged themselves right back out on the mat to continue. That kind of grit and determination was the number one characteristic Peter was looking for.
While every one of the 30 plus people Peter selected to join the program exhibited this tenacity, I remember being particularly impressed with: Byron Fillmore, Colin Muise, Jacobe MacDougall, Jock Hiltz, Robin Smith, Nickie Cleroux, Sonny Adamski, Steve Goodfellow, Jerome and Sonny Wilson, and Norm Ferguson. These folks, if you saw them on the street, you would never in a million years think they had the potential to be professional fighters. But, Peter could tell instantly that they had something special about them.
The most important thing I took away from the second round of tryouts? Do not eat fast food and drink coffee before MMA class. Just trust me on this.
Before exposing the thirty six prospects to a full MMA class, Peter felt it was best that they come watch his pro fighters train. Several of the pros were in the final stages of preparing for an upcoming MMA event so their conditioning routine and sparing were, shall we say, spirited. Nobody was scared off. But, let me be the first to admit, watching someone spar or fight does not accurately convey what it FEELS LIKE to spar or fight. If we knew then what we know now, I’m sure a lot of us would have been out the door the first time we saw someone get leg kicked, slammed, thrown, or knocked down from a hard head shot. In blissful ignorance, we all watched the pros train and told ourselves, “I can do this! No big deal.” Even when one of the fighters, Aaron Mayers, tore his knee in a freak accident while sparing, we were not deterred. What we failed to realize that night is that MMA training is often times far harder than MMA fighting. The expression “train hard, fight easy” is one of the most overused, but also one of the truest, mantras you will ever hear in fighting. If we’d only known what was in store for us.
Being in the gym, seeing the equipment and the fight posters, smelling the sweat, and seeing the fighters train, it pumped us up. Every one of us was anxious to get started. But, as he will often do, Peter pulled us up short when he said, “I’m going to drive you guys to the edge and beyond, and we’ll see who breaks. In 3 months, I’m guessing half of you will be gone.” Gulp!
Tune in next week as we join the cubes as they get their first up-close, backstage look at a live MMA event. Training begins as Peter pushes the cubes to their limit to see who will quit first.

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