To be a UFC fighter, you have train (at least) five days per week, 52 weeks per year. To be a blogger, you mostly just have to type fast. So when I, a regular schlub, was invited to work out with UFC Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis -- who defends his title against Gilbert Melendez at UFC 182 in December -- I felt pretty intimidated...and man, was I ever right to be.
Ring the bell, 'cause here comes the pain.
Reebok asked me and some other reporters to join Anthony and his brother Sergio (who's also a UFC fighter) for a closed workout in New York -- I was gonna run, jump and punch right alongside the champ. Even though Anthony has been nursing a hurt knee for the past six months, he looked to be in great shape when I met him outside. I felt like a toad as I wiped the bacon/egg/cheese sandwich I ate off my chin and shook his hand with my greasy one.
"You ready to keep up?" Anthony asked. He didn't even wait for an answer before taking off in a sprint down the street. What did I get myself into?
By the time we finished the warmup "jog," I was as red as a lobster. I needed a breather for a few minutes (preferably 60 of them) but Anthony had other plans for me: A series of exercises that no average man should try alone...
20 high knees. 10 jumps. 10 sets.
20 high knees. Five squats. 10 sets.
10 pushups. Five jumps. Five squats. 10 sets.
10 pistols squats. (If you don't know what those are, they are like regular squats, but make you want to shoot yourself.) Two sets.
As I contemplated jumping into the East River, a trainer mercifully blew the whistle. Of the 10 bloggers in attendance, three made it through all the exercises. I was one of them...barely.
We then entered the UFC Gym in New York's Financial District. There aren't weight machines -- just heavy punching bags and a full-size MMA ring. This is a gym where fighters are born. Would I be one of them?! (Spoiler alert: No, I would not.)
Anthony and Sergio entered the ring to demonstrate some sparring drills, and let me tell you, Anthony's style is definitely one of a kind. "Showtime" shot across the ring with high knees, spinning heel kicks and capoeira handstand kicks. It was like something out of "Street Fighter." I enjoyed watching him so much, I forget that soon it'd be my turn.
I asked Anthony for advice on how to fight like a UFC competitor such as himself.
"Well, if it was you, I'd say run," he helpfully explained. "But if you had to fight, I would use knees and elbows. Most fights in the street happen in close range, so knees and elbows can do a lot of damage."
Robbie Flores, the UFC trainer seemingly bent on destroying me by the day's end, first ran me through some drills: Jab, hook, kick. After a few rounds, I was feeling confident. I was knocking that bag all over the gym! I might cut it after all!
Then I heard Anthony's voice: "You've got a good base, but you need to open your stance before you kick. See, like this."
Anthony demonstrated a shin kick on me, as slow and light as he could -- but as soon as he made contact, I felt a lightning bolt shoot up my leg. My left knee buckled. My eyes got fuzzy. I thought I'd been shot. I couldn't believe how much it hurt.
"Sorry, man," Anthony laughed. "I was only going 10%."
It was then and there that I knew I could never be a UFC fighter. If Anthony could barely kick me and still caused me to almost black out, I shiver to think what he could do inside an MMA cage -- if I were to ever step into the ring with Anthony, I have no doubt he'd accidentally kill me.
At least they had an icepack ready for me. I ached for the next week straight. My legs were so sore and stiff that I walked like Frankenstein. It took a helluva long time to recover, and I only got kicked ONCE. I've never been happier to be a guy who types instead of a guy who fights.