Trevor Wittman is the Head Coach at Grudge Training Center in WheatRidge, Colo. He works with a fight team that consists of such roughnecks as Shane Carwin, Eliot Marshall, Duane Ludwig, Brendan Schaub, James McSweeney, Nate Marquardt, Paul Buentello, and Justin Wren, to name just a few.
Probably the biggest win the Grudge Fight Team has recently experienced, was Carwin’s first round knockout of Frank Mir at UFC 111 for the UFC Interim Heavyweight Title. This put Carwin in the batter’s box to face one Mr. Brock Lesnar at UFC 116 on July 3 for the undisputed heavyweight title.
ProMMAnow.com recently spoke with Coach Trevor Wittman about the freak of nature that is Shane Carwin. We had already talked with Carwin himself, but I wanted to talk to the man responsible for his boxing, to get his opinion on the knockout power this man possesses. We also discussed Justin Wren, Brendan Schaub, and the teaching philosophy Wittman has used to put together one of the top gyms in professional mixed martial arts today.
How are you doing today Trevor?
I’m doing great, enjoying life.
Thanks for speaking to us at ProMMAnow.com. I was speaking to one of your fighters, Shane Carwin, the other day and talking about his recent knockout of Frank Mir, which was his sixth first round knockout in a row. He’s finished all eleven of his opponents in the first round. Have you ever seen anyone do what Shane has been doing to people?
I’ve never seen anybody but Mike Tyson in the boxing days. I believe Tyson had 19 knockouts with 16 of them in the first round. His first 19 fights he was just putting down a path for greatness. I love working with Shane and it’s such a pleasure to be working with a guy of his caliber.
What makes him such a devastating puncher?
His leg strength. A lot of guys lack the leg power. And with those short punches like you saw him do against Frank Mir, all that leverage came from his calf muscles and his quads. If you saw him, it looked like he was kind of bouncing or doing jump rope and that’s what the old time heavyweights used to do, like Holyfield. You see them kind of cover up and then bounce up with two or three uppercuts and man those are vicious punches and I don’t see a lot of boxers using that nowadays, using a lot of leg power. I see them using their squatting legs like their squat power with their quads, but not using their toes. And that bouncing power is so so incredible. And to have a guy with his strength be able to throw punches technically correct is amazing.
It seems not a lot of people focus on those short punches, ya’ know?
There’s a lot of things I see missing nowadays and it’s not just MMA, it’s in the boxing world too. You see the heavyweights laying on each other, and they’re just not using that explosive power. And short punches, if you keep them attached to your body so you’re using your whole body and not just your shoulders, and when people wing punches you’re winging them using their shoulders instead of getting your whole body behind it. Shane does a great job of getting his body behind his punches.
How much of that punching power would you say is strength, and how much is technique?
Probably 95% natural strength. Some people are just born heavy hitters. There’s some things you can teach to make people hit harder, but some people are just born with these lead fists. I remember in amateur boxing days you’d get hit by the Mexican fighters and it didn’t look like they were throwing them technically correct at all, but man when they hit you, you were like, “What the heck?” He’s just born with that power man. There’s just some things you can teach to make people hit harder, but you can’t teach natural power like Shane has. He was just born genetically strong.
Do you think Shane will stop Brock Lesnar in the first round just like he has everyone else?
You know, I never plan on the first round for Shane. It’s great that we’ve had all these first round knockouts but I never go into a fight saying it’s going to be a first round knockout. I’m confident that he can do it but we always plan for distance. We train for distance, and at some point there’s gotta be someone that’s gonna be able to last through it. But who knows, if Shane can keep touching them on the chin and touching them in the right area, he might go like this for his whole career. But I always try to expect the worst and expect the guys to be able to take the shots, but man he’s just got this unique power to him that when I hit mitts with him it’s completely different. When I was on The Ultimate Fighter, you hold mitts for a guy like Shane, and then you go on the show and you’ve got all these big big guys on the show, and you’re just like man, what a difference in punching power. You can really feel it on the mitts.
Did you see Brock after Shane’s fight with Mir, did you notice anything, if he looked a little worried or anything?
Brock’s a talker, I expected him to come into the Octagon and talk ya know. I really expected that from Brock, but I think he was kind of in awe to see how easily Shane dismantled Mir. I think he was just kind of in shock and didn’t want to talk to Shane. Brock did look bigger than Shane but they weigh the same. Shane cut down from about 285 lbs. in this fight and Brock looks bigger, but I think Brock’s a lot thinner in the legs. Shane’s got big features. He’s got big toes, big fingers, big hands, I mean he’s big everywhere. That guy is just super strong.
I wanted to talk to you about another one of your fighters, Justin Wren. Where do you see him at in his career right now?
Justin is a pleasure to have at our gym. I love having him around. His personality and everything about him is great. I think he’s young in his career and young as a fighter, so we’re going to kind of take it slow with him. He’s so unbelievably talented. And I want him to grow with the sport and not be pushed too fast. Being on The Ultimate Fighter was a great thing for him to help build his name and expand his fan base, but I kind of want to slow him down a little bit and take the right path because he’s in no rush. He’s very young. He’s one of my youngest fighters. I just want to take the correct path with him and tighten up the little holes that I see. And with his wrestling background and the striking he already had, he’s got a huge huge future.
I thought he looked really good in his last fight at “Ring of Fire 37” against Josh Henry back in March.
Yeah, the last time he fought against Jon Madsen, a lot of guys come to our gym because we’re such a striking-oriented gym. A lot of people come here wanting to strike, but I try to keep people in their realm. Kind of like when Rashad came out for his last fight, we went right back to his roots with the wrestling, and we just worked on position with his wrestling. And I felt that Justin was getting away from his wrestling, going out there and wanting to strike with guys, so we just went back to his roots and said let’s do what you do best, get out there and take people down, and then ground and pound them, and he did a great great job of that.
Brendan Schaub got back to his first round knockout ways in his last fight. Any word on what’s next for Brendan?
We haven’t heard anything. We’re just kind of sitting back and waiting to see who they put in front of us, but it was a good win for him, he needed it. One of the biggest things Brendan has is confidence, and going into that fight he was a little weary from losing that fight to Roy and to be able to get back out there and see that confidence come back right as that bell rang was very good. I always want to see how people overcome a loss. Some people have trouble coming back from a loss and some people come back stronger, and I felt Brendan came back stronger, and I really look forward to his next couple of fights.
Would you have any interest or has he voiced any interest about maybe getting a rematch with Roy Nelson somewhere down the road?
Oh I think that would be a dream come true for him. I definitely think he wants to fight Roy again. I know that he knows he was beating Roy in that fight, and he just made a little mistake, and Roy’s a veteran and if you make those little mistakes Roy can change the fight at any point, he’s got that good overhand. And by turning his head a little bit it gave a little opening in that back of the neck area and Roy was able to get that and I don’t think it will be the same in the next fight. I think Brendan will go out there and pick him apart and wear him down and beat him. We love that fight. If it happens, it happens, but we’re not really set on trying to focus on that. We’ve just got to do what they UFC tells us and fight who they put in front of us.
Grudge seems to be the gym for heavyweights right now. What is it about you or your training that attracts the bigger guys?
I don’t know. I think it was just the big guys that we had and having the opportunity with Rashad to go train the heavyweights, I met a lot of heavyweights out there, so I think it just kind of fell into place. I don’t think it was anything special we were teaching here that would be great for heavyweights. You know, we had Shane Carwin here, we had Brendan Schaub here, and I was able to go on the show and work with Brendan and James and then meet all these other guys on the show. I think it all just kind of fell into place on its own.
What is your stance on teammates fighting each other? With so many heavyweights it seems a possibility down the road that might come up.
I’ve heard Dana talk about they’re going to make it mandatory and if they make it mandatory then the guys are going to have to fight each other. And if that happens, you know, go out there and make each other some money. The main thing is martial arts is all about respect, so you go out there and fight each other and let the best man win and hopefully no one gets injured. This is a business and I’m sure at some point… In the boxing game I had two guys that were going to fight for the number one in the IBF. It was Verno Phillips against J.C. Candelo, and I was training them both at the same time, and that was a tough situation I was put in, but when you have two separate promoters and two separate managers managing the guys, they don’t care about that you know. They want their fighters to fight for the world title so you’re not going to pass up a number one position in the IBF so they were going to have to do that. So I’ve been put in that situation before, and it was tough on me because I was going to train the guys but I wasn’t going to work their corners. I was going to watch and be a fan and watch the guys perform. So if it happens to our guys, I’ve been put in that situation before so I’ll be ready to deal with it. I know it’s tough for the guys who are like brothers when they’re in here training but this is a business and everybody’s out here to make money, and everybody wants to know who is the best in the world. So if it gets to a point where you got one guy holding the belt and another guy on the team wanting to fight for it, you don’t want to waste the opportunity. I’m fine with it. As long as the guys can keep it business and don’t let it get in each other’s heads. Every time I’ve fought someone in the ring you hold a respect for each other and become closer afterward. I don’t think it’s a bad thing.
Justin told me you are the most positive person he’s ever met. So, how were you raised, were your parents like that, and where does that positivity come from?
You know, I had a real tough time growing up in high school and junior high. I always had negativity in my life. I had ADD and never knew it until I was supposed to be in eleventh grade. I had teachers tell me I was never going to be anything, and just had all this negativity around me, and I was a negative person at that time and wasn’t making the right decisions. And then I met a coach, Mr. Day, who changed my life. He was so positive to me. He was actually a wrestling coach, and I never wrestled, but he was just one of my teachers and the wrestling coach for my high school. He always talked positive to me and made me feel good. He always made me feel like I could successful in something that I do, and then when I’d go to the boxing gym my boxing coaches were always negative… “Hey, you punch like a girl.” And I remember I wanted to fight my coaches more than the guy who was across the ring from me. So what I tried to do was bring positive motivation into the gym when I was a trainer when I was injured. And I really feel when you talk to someone and you talk to them at their level, they’re going to respect you and they’re going to listen to you. And the way Mr. Day talked to me, it made me respect him. It made me feel oh this guy, he thinks I’m a person. And every time he talked to me positively I would listen to what he said. He would tell me what to do and I would listen. So I try to use that when I’m coaching guys and when I’m working their corners. If someone comes back and they’re losing the round I always try to bring something positive in like, “Hey you’re jab looked really good. I love you’re jab, but you’re bringing it back to your hip and that’s why you’re getting countered with the right hand.” And they look at you and they listen and they feel like they are still in the fight. If someone comes back to you in the corner and you’re all “What the hell are you doing?” I remembered that happened to me in the ring and it would almost break me down, and I would be thinking, “God, I’m losing the fight that bad?” I remember those thoughts and emotions and I really feel like positive motivation will help people feel like they are still in the fight, make people feel comfortable and wanting to go back to those hard training sessions when you talk to people like that. And it’s a lot easier to have them respect you.
Do you have a particular philosophy or teaching or anything, like a religion or school of thought, that you live your life by?
No, not at all. The thing is, I think every person is different and every human has different characteristics, it’s how you bring those characteristics out. I really try to become friends with my fighters as deeply as I can, because then I know what buttons I need to hit when I need to. I know how to piss them off, I know how to cool them down. I really try to understand the mental aspect of fighters and understand their psychology. It’s a tough thing to do and it takes a lot out of me. That’s why I try not to take on too many guys. I really want to have that relationship with the fighters that I understand them deeply and not just tell them technically how to win fights. I got to know how to push their buttons and piss them off and get them stronger in a fight. And I have to know how to cool them down and not make those rash mistakes when their adrenaline is going. The philosophy when it comes to training is I think every fighter is different, and you got to teach people different, and you’ve got to talk to people different, and understand that stylistically everybody fights differently. So, it’s a fun game for me. I enjoy it, and try to understand people on that deep deep level. I don’t know if it’s a philosophy, I’m just passionate about what I do and I try to get into everybody’s mind to help them accomplish their goal.
Thank you Trevor for taking time to speak with us. Is there anyone you would like to thank, or would you like to send any shout outs?
Whenever it comes to shout outs and thanks, mainly I’d like to thank the MMA fans, because without the MMA fans supporting this art that I love so much, I don’t think our sport would be where it’s at, for everybody following the sport and not thinking of it as just people going out there and hurting each other. It’s a sport and I really appreciate all the fans paying attention to our sport, and without the fans we would not be where we’re at.