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Catching up with the H.I.T. SQUAD: PRO MMA gym spotlight

In this edition of PRO MMA GYM SPOTLIGHT, we are focusing on the H.I.T. SQUAD located in Granite City, Illinois. Among other fighters, the H.I.T. SQUAD is home to the most dominant welterweight champion in the history of the UFC, Matt Hughes. Hence the name: Hughes Intensive Training = H.I.T. SQUAD

PRO MMA (promma.info) had the privilege of speaking to one of the founding members of the H.I.T. SQUAD, who was also assistant coach for Team Hughes on “The Ultimate Fighter” season 6, Marc Fiore. Marc is not only the Head Trainer at the H.I.T. SQUAD, he is also the main Wrestling/Grappling Coach, fighter manager, corner-man, bus driver, and much more.

Marc brought us up to date on everything going on with the H.I.T. SQUAD including the team going undefeated this past weekend, the gym, classes they offer, their up and coming fighters, Matt Hughes preparing for his upcoming fight with Matt Serra, Robbie Lawler training for his upcoming bout with Jake Shields, if Robbie would ever fight an old rival, and much more.

PRO MMA: So you are on the road today. I understand you had some of your guys fighting in Ohio this weekend. Who did you have fighting on what card and how did it go?
MARC FIORE: That’s right, Columbus, Ohio. The production was “Shine.” Dorian Price is the promoter. I actually coached him on “The Ultimate Fighter.” They ran a good show, quality fights. One of my guys Mario Stapel, was the co-main event. He fought Harris Sarmiento and he [Mario Stapel] won. Mario beat him with a guillotine. I also had Brian Foster, he won, he beat Kyle Baker. Kyle is coming off a win over Drew Fickett. So it was nice for us to go out there and bump Foster’s record to 14-3. We’re just waiting for the phone call from Joe Silva, and get him in the UFC.

PRO MMA: For those who don’t know, you are one of the founding members of the HIT SQUAD gym in Granite City, Illinois. How long has the HIT SQUAD been open now and how did you guys get started?
MARC FIORE: It’s been open probably fifteen months. What happened was, Matt Hughes and I and Robbie Lawler were taping “The Ultimate Fighter 6″ show and had a business man approach me, myself, and wanted me to open up my own gym and I said, “Do you mind if I get Matt Hughes and Robbie Lawler involved?” And of course he said, “That would be great.” With us coaching together on “The Ultimate Fighter” show, we knew that we could run our own gym, get successful fighters and run a successful gym. So that’s what we’ve been trying to do for the last year-and-a-half. We picked Granite City, Illinois. It’s literally right by St. Louis. We’re four miles from the St. Louis Arch and we’re less than fifteen minutes away from the airport. We want to be known as one of the best gyms in the world and that’s a work in progress. It’s a fighter’s gym but any one’s welcome.

PRO MMA: Is this your first gym Marc? Is running a gym what you expected?
MARC FIORE: Yes. Yeah, we’ve got good people helping us run it. We’ve got Todd Laux, he’s the General Manager. He’s in charge of the gym, he’s in charge of the members, and then I’m in charge of all the fighters, pro and amateur. I’m also the head trainer and also the fighters’ manager, so I get fights, I get sponsors.

PRO MMA: So are you enjoying it? Is it everything you thought it would be?
MARC FIORE: Yeah, love it, love it. You know, you have your ups and downs. You have a weekend like this, of course you’re loving it, you go 2-0, but I’ve had weekends where you go 0-4, and I’ve had weeks at the gym where practice is great, and I’ve had weeks at the gym where practice is shitty.

PRO MMA: Are you on the road a lot taking your fighters to fights?
MARC FIORE: Almost every weekend I’m pretty much on the road. I’m on a plane almost every weekend, and actually this trip here to Columbus, Ohio, we could have flew out there but we wanted to make it a road trip and have fun and that’s what we did. Me, Robbie Lawler, Matt Veach, Jeremiah Riggs, were the corner-men, and we had Brian Foster and Mario Stapel. So we had six of us, it was a good atmosphere. It was a good seven hour drive and we pretty much laughed the whole ride there and back.

PRO MMA: What kind of classes do you offer at The H.I.T. Squad?
MARC FIORE: Of course we have our regular members who just do cardio. We have cardio and then we have a weight-lifting facility area. Members can come and do that and if members want to come and do classes we offer boxing, we offer MMA, amateurs, beginners, advanced. We offer jiu-jitsu. And then my pro fighters are mandatory for two classes a day. Some gyms just kind of let guys do their own thing. Our gym is kind of like a professional team. They have to be there for 9:00 AM practice in the morning and they have to be there at 5:00 PM evening practice. And if they don’t show up, then I just don’t get them fights. That’s just what they have to do. And then they have to train on their own in-between those times too.

PRO MMA: Who are the pros you have in there right now?
MARC FIORE: Our pros are Matt Hughes, Robbie Lawler, Matt Veach, Clay French. I have a heavyweight Jon Madsen. I’ve got Brian Foster, Mario Stapel. I have a 45-pounder D.J. Fuentes. I have a young 55-pounder D.J. Thomas. I have a UFC vet C.J. Fernandez. I have a 185 ex-Green Bay Packer’s player Whisper Goodman. I’m just going off the top of my head here, I know I’m missing a handful of guys. I’ve got around fifteen amateur fighters too.

PRO MMA: Tell us about some of your up-and-coming fighters we should be on the lookout for?
MARC FIORE: Brian Foster. He’s 14-3. He’s got some good wins under his belt. He’s beat Sport Fight’s, Matt Lindland’s organization out in Oregon, he’s beat their champion. Nathan Quarry, he’s beat him. He’s got good wins so he’s my next guy I’m pushing to get in the UFC. Another one of my pro fighters I forgot to mention is Kyle Watson. He’s got a 16-6 record so I’m trying to get him on either Strikeforce, UFC, Bellator, a bigger organization, trying to get him a contract you know with some organization. He’s one of my up and comers. D.J. Fuentes, he’s 21, he started off 4-0 and then he had a couple of losses, three in a row, so he’s 4-3. So we sat down and talked and now he’s got the hunger and that’s what he was missing. He was missing the hunger but now he comes to practice fired up ready to go and ready to learn, so we’ll get him back on track.

PRO MMA: The HIT SQUAD has two BIG fights coming up; first with Matt Hughes vs. Matt Serra on May 23rd at UFC 98. How’s Matt doing and does he seem ready?
MARC FIORE: Yeah we’re good. Matt’s training hard, he’s gonna go in this fight probably strong as he’s ever been. He’s really thick right now. His strength is good. His knee is doing better, his knee is doing great. We’re ready to go. Obviously there’s a little bad blood in this and Matt’s gonna go in there with some bad intentions.

PRO MMA: How do you see that fight going?
MARC FIORE: I see that fight going, I don’t know, first, second, or third round, doesn’t matter, I just see Matt Hughes getting his hand raised by ground and pound, or by the referee just pulling Matt [Hughes] off of him.

PRO MMA: For awhile there it kind of seemed like Matt was starting to fall in love with his hands and boxing a lot. Is he trying to get back to his wrestling roots or does he still like that style of standing?
MARC FIORE: He’s always trying to work on his weak points and that’s no secret his hands were his weak points and he’s come a long way and we’re going to use them both. Now you have to be ready for anything. On your feet, that’s the great thing about being a wrestler, if you want to take them down, you take them down. If you want to keep it on the feet, that’s being an MMA fighter and having a wrestling background, that’s the benefit, you can keep it on the feet or take it to the ground.

PRO MMA: What is your opinion of Matt Serra, do you dislike him as much as Matt does?
MARC FIORE: Yeah, I can’t stand Matt Serra. I can’t wait for May 23rd for Matt Hughes to freakin’ just shut him up and make him freakin’ go back to 155 where he belongs. He’s just a freakin’ short fat 170-pounder.

PRO MMA: Were you ever around him or have any run-ins with him when you were on The Ultimate Fighter?
MARC FIORE: Sure. Yeah, we had run-ins. It wasn’t like the Tito Ortiz / Ken Shamrock. We did our passing in the halls and saw each other at fights. We didn’t go any smack talking. I’m sure the production wanted us to, but we just kind of kept to ourselves cause we thought that fight was supposed to happen right after the show so we were going to do our talking then.

PRO MMA: Then it came out that he had gotten hurt, I’m sure that was a disappointment.
MARC FIORE: Sure it was a disappointment. Injuries happen, so Dana was like, “Who do you want to fight?” So Matt knew the fans wanted George St. Pierre so that’s who we took and Matt knew that’s what the UFC wanted, so that’s when we fought George St. Pierre. That didn’t go our way, and then Chuck Liddell got injured and they needed a min event for that UFC in England where Matt lost to Alves; and that was Matt helping the UFC out. So it’s kind of nice, Matt’s actually fighting this next UFC for himself, it’s kind of nice. It’s a lot easier to train when it’s someone you really want to fight and doing it for yourself.

PRO MMA: Some people seem to maybe think the bad blood between them two is contrived but it seems pretty genuine to me. Is that fair to say?
MARC FIORE: This is as genuine as it gets. This started back from that “Ultimate Fighter – Comeback” when Matt [Hughes] was a guest coach on there. I think that’s when Serra started disliking Matt Hughes. Matt Hughes and myself and Matt Serra do not like each other. There’s no sugar-coat about it. I think he’s an idiot and he thinks we’re an idiot.

PRO MMA: Maybe you can squash some of that after this fight huh?
MARC FIORE: Nope. It’s not going to happen.

PRO MMA: The next big fight after that coming up for the HIT SQUAD is Robbie Lawler on June 6th against Jake Shields in Strikeforce. How’s Robbie doing and is he anxious to get back in there?
MARC FIORE: Yeah of course. He’s had that long lay-off, he’s had some contract problems with EliteXC and yeah he’s hungry. Robbie’s young, he’s a gym rat, he lives at the gym. If he’s not training he’s at the gym. He loves training, he loves fighting, he loves competing. He’s 25, 26, somewhere around there and he started this sport when he was 18, 19, and now he’s on top of his game. He’s matured and learned from his mistakes and he’s ready to go. We feel comfortable going against Jake Shields and we’ve got a good game plan and we’re going to go in there and use it.

PRO MMA: What is your opinion of Jake Shields and how do you see Robbie dealing with him?
MARC FIORE: Jake’s a great fighter. He’s done well and beat some good guys. There’s no secret, we want to keep it on our feet and Jake wants to bring it down on the mat, so he’s probably working on his weaknesses and we’re working on our weaknesses. But the thing is Robby’s no slouch on the ground. Everyone sees Robbie on his feet knocking people out. He’s really athletic and he’s good on top and good on bottom, he’s a good scrambler too. We’re ready for the fight. Jake’s coming up from 170 so we’re definitely going to have the weight advantage, we’re definitely going to have the strength advantage, so if you use it right in a match it’s in your benefit.

PRO MMA: I had heard Frank Trigg say not long ago that if he could have one fight back he would like to fight Robbie again. What do you think about that?
MARC FIORE: Why, so he can taste his own blood again?

PRO MMA: So you don’t think anything would be different?
MARC FIORE: No. It would be worse. Robbie’s ranked number two in the world for a reason.

PRO MMA: Now your wife has a women’s MMA clothing line called “CAT FIGHT MMA.” Do you help her out with that or is that all Annie? How did she get into that?
MARC FIORE: No, that’s all hers. Of course I will help her out with my contacts and things like that but she’s a hard worker, she’s enjoying it. That’s her gig. I’ve been in this sport a long time. I’ve been in Matt’s corner for about ten years now and she’s been with me the whole time. So she’s been involved in the sport more ways than one so she’s familiar with sport and she’s trying to land some stuff to get her product out there, the CAT FIGHT MMA. Annie’s like a mom to all these younger fighters. They all love her and they treat her good and with respect. She’s part of the team.

PRO MMA: Do you have any girls training at the H.I.T. SQUAD right now we should be on the look-out for?
MARC FIORE: They come and go. Helena Martin, she’s from England. She comes and trains, then goes back to England. Right now we got full time, Meghan Wright, she’s a 110-pound pro. She trains there. But yeah, we’re a little thin on the females.

PRO MMA: Any plans to open any more HIT SQUADS in the future?
MARC FIORE: Yeah, that’s in the plans. When, I have no idea. Are we looking to do it right now, no. We’re just looking to focus on this gym. It’s a big facility, it’s 15,000 square feet. We’ve got barracks, we’ve got dorms 100 yards away from the gym where our fighters live at the gym. So they pretty much live, eat, and train there, that’s their life.

PRO MMA: Thanks Marc. How can people find out more about you guys?
MARC FIORE: www.thehitsquad.com is our website. There’s prices and schedules and stuff like that on the website.

PRO MMA: Thanks a lot Marc. I really appreciate your time. Take care.
MARC FIORE: Thanks a lot Jack, bye.

If you would like PRO MMA (promma.info) to do a profile on your gym, contact us at info@promma.info.

By: Jack Bratcher

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