A day in the life at the Wolfslair - January 2006 to March 2007
Without going into chapter and verse about the circumstances surrounding me join the Wolfslair Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Team in 2006, I'd like to show a glimpse into the daily routine, perhaps grind, of how a nobody from nowhere, (to use the Henry Rollins term) would subject himself to, whilst challenging myself both physically and mentally at one of the UK's finest mixed martial arts gyms.
Mixed Martial Arts at the time was a fairly fledgling sport in the UK. It enjoyed a bit of a cult status in certain circles and circuits, rather than the mass commercial status that it enjoys now. It is often thought that the inclusion of British fighters, Ross Pointon and Michael Bisping in the 3rd series of American MMA reality tv show, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), started to increase the mainstream popularity of the sport.
For fans of the show or indeed of British MMA, they will know that Bisping was successful in winning the Light Heavy crown on the show and has gone on to bigger and better things, including the most prestigeous prize of all, the UFC World Middle-Weight Championship Belt .
But what I'm going to describe in this short article, is a time when British MMA was only a small blip on the MMA map.
When I joined the Wolfslair in 2006, I'd been training fairly regularly since around 2000 after a friend introduced me to a local Japanese Jui-Jitsu coach from our local town. I had my first competitive fight in 2002, at a show imaginatively titled, XFUK, which i guess was the acronym for Xtreme Fighting United Kingdom. But as anyone will attest to, getting the chance to sublimely use the work 'FUCK' in the public domain would offer up a certain edginess. It was 2002 after all and the internet was only in it's early development too. The show was staged at a club house in an out of season holiday camp in Cornwall, where the punters were still permitted to smoke inside. The result was a great one and I managed to 'submit' my opponent via arm bar in the first round.
By the time I joined the Wolfy in 2006 I'd clocked up 10 fights with a 6-4 Win-Loss, ratio. Hardly anything to set the world or even the UK on fire.
Although to be fair to myself, I had been (using the benefit of hindsight) severely over matched in some contests.
For example, my first loss came after winning my first 3 fights and thinking I was unbeatable. I loved the competitiveness of the sport and wanted to compete on a regular basis, unfortunately this meant I organized some of my own fights where it could be described that I was used as cannon fodder. My first loss came during a show in one of the roughest nightclubs in Essex, called the Circus Night Club, at the fists of a far more experienced French gentleman who, from all I can remember, after allowing me to take the fight to the floor, subsequently reversed the dominant position and proceeded to bounce punches off my head, ricocheting it off the canvas. So much so, that my recollection of that particular fight has disappeared from my memory bank. It was a very long drive home, especially as the driver of the car we got a lift with had some form of crazy insomnia and didn't catch a wink of sleep for the whole weekend. For most of the journey home I was too scared to sleep in case that fucker nodded off and compounded the nauseating weekend by wrapping us round a tree or something equally as torrid.
I had always been a competitive soul and I would hazard a guess that the chip on my shoulder that was firmly planted there during my teenage years and early twenties helped me to maintain focus, drive and consistency in physical hobbies and past-times.
At the time of joining the Wolfslair MMA Team, it could well be considered to have been the premier MMA gym in the UK. It was like joining a premier league football club which had at it's disposal all the means necessary to provide fighters with a solid foundation on which to pursue a successful MMA career. It was lavish, in gym terms, to say the least. It provided living quarters for visiting or semi-permanent guests, a huge matted area, a full size octagon cage, a full size raised boxing ring, weights, kettlebells, sauna as well as the very best coaches in Boxing, MMA and Brazilian Jui Jitsu. The fighters provided the rest.
A good start to the training day would mean rising around 07.30 taking myself out for a jog, either along the banks for the Widnes canal or along the roads of the industrial estate depending on the weather. The industrial estate was adjacent to the main road so god knows how unhealthy that was jogging along there during rush hour traffic taking lungs full of car fumes. Although to be fair, the car fumes would pale in comparison from the stench of the abattoir during the hot summer months. The canal was always a preferred option for a relaxing run, but it took a little longer and you also had to dodge the dog shit and the puddles on occasions.
Once back from the jog, it was straight into the gym for weights. It wasn't a weights sessions as perhaps a layman may think of it. It was purely a gradual strength builder. The exercises were minimal, usually only 2-3 exercises, commonly Deadlifts followed by Bench Press and/or Squats. Each set was anything between 2 or 3 sets of 5 reps or if the weight was getting towards the top end of my ability, it would be 5 or 3 x 1 reps. Very rarely during my time at the Wolfslair did I venture into the aesthetic weight lifting zone.
After the weights, it would be breakfast, and shower time. By now it would be around 09.00. Time for an hours chill before the chaos of full training at 10.30.
Around 09.30 - 10.00, the rest of the guys would start to arrive at the gym and everyone would start to get ready to start the MMA Class, usually taken by Head Coach, Mario Sukata. This class was always a lot of fun due to the variety of drills, techniques and positions you could learn. It was also very intense on a hard day. Take down drills were by far the most taxing exercise. Fighting one on one, either against a padded wall, fenced cage or in the middle of the mat to try and get your opponent down was real dog work. If you were lucky enough to be in camp for an upcoming fight, it was your duty for 'in the middle'. A drill that everyone in the gym hated, except Michael Bisping, who used to love it.
The are no secrets about 'in the middle' (or shark tank as some gyms call it), it is basically a test of your physical and mental preparedness for your fight. It would usually consist of 3 x 5 minute rounds of MMA sparring (no elbows or knees to the head) with a fresh opponent at every 1 minute interval. It was a pretty daunting experience, especially with the line up available in the Wolfslair. It could make or break fighters mentally. Generally there was no place to catch a break as if you thought you could stall for one opponent, a new fresh set of lungs and muscles would be launched at you making you work passed the point of, in some cases, severe fatigue and self doubt. But that was the idea, for you to think and perform under serious pressure and to take you into deep waters that would reflect the worst possibility of the actual fight. Generally, if you were put through the torture of 'in the middle' during the MMA class, you were allowed to sit the rest of the class out, if so required.
Of course standard sparring still took place, even if you weren't preparing for a competition. We were all expected to spar in order to condition the body and the mind. Whilst I believe we may have done too much sparring during these times - with the benefit of hindsight, it was just part of the routine back then and it made you resilient both physically and mentally.
Usually to finish with the MMA session, there'd be a 'roll' or a grapple at the end. A little less intense than the MMA sparring, but still as competitive between the lads competing on the mat. The Brazilian lads who were lodging there, were extremely good practitioners of the ground game so you knew that you were in for a big lesson. But that is how you become better. You start at the bottom of the pile being whooped constantly, taking the small victories and keeping the faith and slowly but surely you see improvements in your own performance. I think this is reflected in anything that you endeavor to overcome or to achieve greatness in. Perseverance, consistency, drive and focus.
3 days a week we would have the boxing class - instructed by Tony Quigley, whose sons competed at a professional level. The class followed on almost directly from the MMA class. So it would be around 11.30 by the time we finished up the MMA class, Tony would already be in the gym and shouting at us bythis point. Boxing plays a huge part in MMA, although it is not as directly transferable as that from a typical boxing match as the range, distances, timing and useful combinations are all different between the two styles.
The boxing class was always a tough class. 60 to 90 minutes of graft on top of what we had already undertaken during the MMA class. It makes my bones ache just thinking back to it. There were times I have to admit I would dread what awaited us in the Boxing class. There was one thing though, Tony knew how to get the best out of somebody. A fearsome looking guy with a barrel chest - he was surely a viking in a previous life.
The class would always start with a rigorous warm up as the majority of the lads had probably sat down for a few minutes after the MMA class and cooled down slightly. Depending on the day, or whoever had fights lined up, would determine the session. So it would differ between a technique session with some sparring to finish, some sparring followed by, what can only be described as torture, Tony's blitzkrieg of a fitness routine. This would usually consist of 5 x 5minute rounds of a specific fitness routine. There were times when the gym attendance was sparse to say the least. Quite regularly for a month, maybe two, there was only two of us training. There was one common denominator - and it was me. As a semi resident of the gym, I had no excuses for missing training other than injury or illness... But I was still the determined twenty something young man, who at the time still enjoyed the vigorous training regimes we were subjected to.
A disgusting training session that I particularly remember with Tony, was when I was the only one on the mat. The MMA class was cancelled for the morning and nobody had turned up for the Boxing. Unfortunately for me - that meant torture. I can honestly say that the session that followed was the toughest 25 minutes I have ever endured. Don't get me wrong, without trying to blow my own trumpet, I have endured some pretty gnarly workouts both at the Wolfslair gym, at my time training Nottingham, as well as back home. But the aftermath on this particular day left me seeing black spots for hours afterward. I couldn't focus my eyesight properly for hours, I had pins and needles in my fingers and toes after we'd finished, in fact, i thought he'd taken me close to death...
After the boxing sessions had finished, it was shower, feed and afternoon nap.
Come 6 o'clock in the gym was when the commercial side of the gym opened and most of the public classes started. Gym fighters were encouraged to attend the Brazilian Ju Jitsu classes or to set up their own training sessions in order to drill techniques or pad work etc. I used to run two grappling based fitness classes a week, but would also try to attend a BJJ class at least once or twice a week. Although this was particularly hard during the winter months as the gym area was like an ice box in the evening. It actually felt like your toes were going to drop off...
That was a fairly high level view of a typical day in the Wolfslair Gym. The name by the way was taken from the name "Wulfschanze", which was the name of Adolf Hitler's headquarters in Poland during the war on the eastern frony in World War 2.