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MMA Coach’s Corner: Our UFC 159 fight experience

Ovince St. Preux UFC 159

Coach Eric Turner looks on as Ovince Saint Preux gets his hand raised in his UFC debut at UFC 159.

I know it’s been a while since my last blog, I kept meaning to write some stuff and there’s a lot I want to say… I just failed to make the time. No one is exempt from goal setting and having written down goals – this definitely includes me.

Anyway, on to the show!

Ovince Saint Preux

This last weekend, it was my pleasure to coach my student Ovince Saint Preux in his first UFC fight. I have been the chief second three times before with Rafaello Oliveira, but this was the first time I had taken a guy from zero martial arts knowledge all the way to the UFC. In fact, as far as I know, KMAA is the first gym in the state to be able to do that. We are definitely very proud of that.

Anyway, I figured I’d give everyone a day-by-day break down of what happens at the UFC. First off, before you get to the show, a very nice lady named Sarah takes care of all of the logistics of your travel. Normally the contract is for the fighter plus one corner person, but she can make arrangements for way more people than that.

Travel & Hotel

The travel logistics include travel to and from your home city via flight and then transportation to and from the host hotel from the airport. So when you get to the airport, a guy with a UFC sign and your name on it meets you, helps you get your bags and then flags down a black Escalade that takes you to the host hotel.

When Vince and I got to the host hotel, there were 30-40 people standing outside that were waiting on autographs, that was pretty cool. Keep in mind that we arrived on Tuesday in the middle of the day so these guys must have been die-hard fans.

Before we checked into the hotel Burt Watson, THE MAN at UFC logistics and organization had us check in with the UFC, sign our paperwork, receive some great UFC swag (shirts, backpack, etc.), get our per diem, sign posters (there were 170 posters and every UFC fighter signs them and gets one signed plus three unsigned posters) and check our weight.

After the weight check comes his, “Don’t put anything, *ANYTHING* in your body or in your mouth that you aren’t 100% sure is clean and legal unless you ask him.” Burt really is great and I’m sure there are a few interviews floating around here from him. He really is the guy that runs the UFC pre-fight, backstage and before people get into the cage.

After checking in with the UFC we checked into the hotel and it was funny that we were checking into the hotel next to Michael Bisping and the people behind the desk had no idea who he was and kinda gave him a hard time before realizing he was “important.” It was kinda surreal, but funny at the same time.

Finally, around 5 p.m. we got to our room and after travelling all day it was nice to finally have a place to crash. Just as an idea about our hotel, we were a block from the Holland Tunnel. Across from our hotel was the Hudson River and then Lower Manhattan. Suffice to say we were really close to New York City.

And what does a hotel go for that close to New York City? Well, I don’t know what the sign on the door means but it said that the room rented for $950 a night with dual occupancy. It was a nice room The UFC really is first class when it comes to stuff like that.

Cutting Weight

At our gym, we have a rule: “If someone is cutting weight and you’re with them, then you cut weight too. What they eat, you eat. What they drink, you drink. When they sweat, you sweat.” It’s kind of a solidarity thing, but it helps when your fighter is hurting from cutting weight for him to know that you’re hurting too.

Maybe it’s just my puritanically austere side, but everyone at the gym has embraced it and it seems to really build morale. Mostly though, it’s just Joey [Zonar] and I starving ourselves a couple times a year; it keeps us young I guess…

Anyway, the point of the story is this. Vince was a little heavy coming in on Tuesday and so we had to get super strict on the diet very quickly. So for the next two days his diet varied a bit (no weight cutting secrets here!) but my diet consisted of 1 tablespoon of honey and 4 cups (measuring cups, not actual cups) of water a day. Friday, obviously there’s no water and food until weigh ins at 4.

During this time we worked out twice a day, sat in the sauna for 20 minutes at a stretch for a couple hours. At the end of the week I was down almost 13 pounds total from where I started… I was starting to look good and feel like crap at the same time

By the way, I did learn a new weight cut trick that is probably illegal and is highly dangerous. In the sauna, there’s a sensor that tells the sauna how hot the room is and not to get above a certain temperature. You can trick that sensor into never telling the heat to shut off… so the sauna gets STUPID hot, which makes you sweat FAST. Under no circumstances am I telling anyone, at any time to do this… just an FYI that I learned last weekend.

Anyway, during this food-induced penitent fasting and weight cutting you also have responsibilities like photo shoots, video shoots and interviews. Those are all pretty easily done and the UFC staff is very polite, professional and quick. One cool thing we did at the photo shoot was some photo and video capture of Ovince for the next UFC game. How cool is that? It’ll be the first fighter I’ve ever had in a video game!

On Friday morning you have to recheck your weight, check your shorts and check your banner. The shorts and banner are to ensure you’re in compliance with the UFC sponsorship agreements, the weight check is to make sure you’re either on or very close to weight.

Vince did great on his weight cut, so we were only 4 pounds off on Friday morning. So after a quick sit in the sauna, we were back in the room by 11:30 then it’s just sit and chill until it’s time to go to the weigh ins.

One thing I learned a while back, never watch TV when you’re cutting weight. You’d be surprised how many commercials there are for food and when you can’t eat that’s when it makes every McDonald’s commercial torture. So instead, I brought a bunch of movies and we watch violent, aggressive movies to pass the time. Or we sleep. When you’re asleep you don’t know you’re hungry.

Weigh-ins & IHOP

Finally, we met downstairs at 1 p.m. to head over to the venue and weigh in. Every fighter packs their clothes, their fight clothes that they have to wear and a LOT of food. We get to the venue, and are supposed to fill out our athletic commission stuff, but they’re late and get rescheduled until tomorrow.

So we sit around for two-and-a-half hours while the UFC crowd gets warmed up by some Q & As with fighters, a comic at one point and the UFC pre-fight video roll (the behind the scenes stuff you watch on FX).

Finally, everyone gets there (Joe Rogan, Dana White, etc) and the weigh ins are like a rock concert. Super loud music, a couple thousand people cheering and a bunch of guys and girls in their underwear. Vince makes weight and before he gets off the scale he’s got a Pedialyte in his hand…

So we (all!) start re-hydrating and head back to the hotel. Do more, A LOT more re-hydrating there and then head off to the IHOP at 9 p.m. Vince has made weight 31 times (10 amateur, 18 pro and 3 pro fights where he made weight and the guy no-showed the day of the fight…) and 30 times we’ve eaten at IHOP where Vince has always had the same meal: T-bone steak and eggs. The one time we didn’t eat there was in Aruba, where they don’t have IHOPs apparently… Anyway, to say that fighters are creatures of habit is a huge understatement.

On a side note, we got to eat with a guy from the UFC logistics crew who we’ve seen at a lot of fights and he was hilarious. He had a million stories about UFC zaniness and was a super-cool cat.

Back to the room, sign some autographs and take some pictures with the crowd of people inside and outside the hotel that grew increasingly larger every day and then go to bed. Next morning we meet up with Adam “Primetime” Townsend who is in town with Dustin “Hands of Stone” Long for the UFC fights and go grab breakfast.

Fight Day

Back to the hotel, pack up, clean up, put on our sponsor gear and then head to the venue. The UFC sends fighters over in shifts: Facebook fighters at a certain time, prelim FX fighters at a certain time, then main card PPV fighters at a certain time. So we leave at our assigned time. Do our Athletic commission stuff and then sit in the locker room until it gets close to show time.

In our locker room was Sheila Graff and Pat Healy so we sit around BS’ing with them until it’s time to go and then we warm up and do our thing. At some point before the fight, the ref who is officiating your fight will come up to you and go over the rules with you. It’s fairly informal since if you’re in the UFC you know the Unified rules already. That’s always a nice touch and I appreciate it when refs do that.

Burt Watson has a very familiar yell when it’s your turn to fight, so when you hear him you know it’s time to perform. He’s got to be in his mid 60s but that guy has more energy than 10 teenagers when it’s time to perform.

I’ve had fights in the UFC before, but I’ve never had a fight where almost the whole arena was filled walking to the cage. Seeing 17,000 people is a RUSH let me tell you. If you watch the fight when Mr Buffer is announcing Vince’s name, you can see him forcing out his breath trying to control his breath – that’s a tactic to control adrenaline/excitement – there’s a TON of it in the UFC.

When my guys/girls get in the cage I always say a prayer with them and ask God to bless them as they compete. Then we run up, stand on a camera stool and hang our banner over and then the show is on.

Fight Time

Vince had a couple strikes against him going into this fight: 1) adrenaline – that’s tough to prepare for 2) ring rust – vince had one fight in 2012 and his fight was going on 10 months since his last one 3) he was fighting in Villante’s home town; we figure that would give him an advantage (boy were we wrong!).

Anyway, he did fine in the first round but started to get away from the gameplan a bit. In the second, the adrenaline dump occurred for both him and Villante and he just couldn’t perform the way we wanted. So I figured since the round was close it was one round for Vince and one round for Villante.

I’ve seen Vince get frustrated and tired before (the Britt fight is a good example), so instead of coaching him on “what” to do, I knew it was time to tell him “why” he needs to do it. So I gave him the Knute Rockne speech.

It’s always good leading up to a fight to plant seeds about bravery, courage and ferocity in the conversations you have with fighters. That way, when you need those things to come out you can use cue words that will force them to recall much bigger themes.

Leading up to the fight, Vince and I talked about Joshua leading the Isrealites into the Promised Land (from the Bible). In the first chapter of the book of Joshua, there are 18 verses but 4 times in those 18 verses is Joshua admonished to “Be brave and have courage.”

The Promised Land, the land everyone wants to get into and the land flowing with milk and honey, isn’t easy to reach. Without bravery and courage you’ll never reach it and even if you did, you wouldn’t be able to enter it and claim it as your own without bravery and courage.

So when I was talking to Vince I reminded him that THIS, the UFC, is the Promised Land for him. I told him to be brave and have courage. God brought him here, God will see him through and that Vince had 5 minutes to change his life. This last part is what Rogan noticed, but honestly the theme of the discussion was more inspiring IMO.

Eye Poke

Then the fight ended in the weirdest possible way… A way I’m sure will be called the Villante rule from now on.

When I saw him go down with the eye-poke, I wasn’t sure what had happened so I told Vince to pounce on him and hit him a lot since the ref didn’t step in (in all fairness, when Vince got poked in the eye, the ref didn’t step in and I told Vince to circle FAST and protect himself since Gian was under no obligation to keep from killing Vince).

When the ref stepped in he cross-waved his arms and I wasn’t sure if I should be elated because we won or if I… heck, I didn’t know what to feel but I knew that was the end of the fight. It was surreal.

Talking to Kevin Mulhall in the cage, he said that the fighter said he couldn’t see and by New Jersey Athletic Commission rules he was duty-bound to stop the fight.

I was unaware that they went to a judges decision, but that was also surreal as when Mr Buffer started announcing scores both Gian and Vince turned around with a WTF look on their faces. We won a Majority Technical Decision, which was a real shame honestly.

Gian Villante is a classy guy and a great fighter, he deserved to be able to finish the fight. Vince deserved to be able to finish the fight as well. Villante got screwed out of a win, but from what I heard he wouldn’t be cut – good on the UFC.

Vince got screwed in a way that it looked like he was saved from finishing the fight since he was out of gas – way, way, WAY less screwing that Villante but it looks bad. We never, ever wanted a win like this and look to perform much better in our next fight.

Post-Fight

Anyway, after the fight we do some interviews. Vince goes to the hospital as a precaution since he banged his foot into Villante’s elbow sometime in the fight (no serious damage). And then we get back to the room at 5 a.m. and go to sleep for a few hours before heading home.

Objectively: the trip was a success, we got a win. Subjectively: it was a weird ending to a huge build up.
Either way I feel very blessed to have been the coach at 11 Zuffa fights (7 Strikeforce and 4 UFC), again something else no other coach can say in the state.

I’m very glad that the last two trips I’ve had to the UFC have resulted in wins (alright, I could say it, but I hate tooting my own horn this much ). I’m feel enormously blessed for sure. Now it’s just time to go back to work, fix the errors in Vince’s game and prepare the next crop of fighters we’re going to take to the UFC.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Be sure to check out our UFC 159 post-fight interview with Ovince Saint Preux to get his perspective on the fight and the whole experience of making his UFC debut.

Coach Eric Turner is the Head Instructor at Knoxville Martial Arts Academy in Knoxville, Tenn. He is the author of ProMMAnow.com’s “MMA Coach’s Corner,” a bi-weekly blog in which he shares insight and knowledge gleaned from his years training and working with fighters at all levels. You can learn more about Coach Turner and Knoxville Martial Arts Academy at www.knoxvillemartialartsacademy.com

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