UFC 249: How 18 fighters ready to battle throughout a pandemic

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Dan Lambert sits on the entrance desk of American High Group in Coconut Creek, Florida, ready for legislation enforcement to stroll via its doorways. Though it isn’t open to the general public, the MMA gymnasium has its share of exercise as fighters put together for his or her upcoming bouts.

“I in all probability get it three to 4 instances every week,” Lambert says concerning his current interactions with police. “I’ve to stroll them inside and inform them what is going on on and clarify why we’re in compliance with regardless of the codes are at that specific time.”

Whereas gymnasium homeowners steadiness complying with new tips associated to the coronavirus pandemic and serving to fighters practice, the athletes are searching for the very best methods to organize with fewer coaching companions than regular. That is one of many predominant storylines for UFC 249 on Might 9 in Jacksonville, Florida — discovering out which fighters have been in a position to get essentially the most out of their coaching throughout these unprecedented circumstances.

Solely fighters who’ve upcoming bouts can practice at ATT, and the usually busy mats at the moment are used sporadically and sometimes cleaned.

“For me, it is really type of good, as a result of I get very specialised, particular coaching from my coaches,” ATT’s Charles Rosa stated earlier than leaving for Jacksonville to face Bryce Mitchell at UFC 249. “It isn’t like I am in a category with 10 different individuals in there getting the identical quantity of consideration from one coach. It is nonetheless a bit of bizarre, although — like, did they clear it ok? It is a danger I’ve to take to take this battle.”

As a substitute of coaching at Jackson Wink in Albuquerque, New Mexico, fighters are coaching outdoors within the mountains, hitting mitts or coaching at residence. In response to the gymnasium’s common supervisor, Michael Lyubimov, the distinctive nature of the preparation may result in some unorthodox fights.

“It isn’t going to be fairly at first,” Lyubimov says. “I do not understand how good of coaching you may get if you’re remoted from everybody.”

Donald Cerrone, who faces Anthony Pettis on Saturday, agrees with Lyubimov. Cerrone expects cardio to be a significant component.

“There’s going to be a variety of early stoppages and never very lengthy fights, persons are going to get drained fast,” Cerrone says. “I do not know what a variety of these guys are coaching, or what they’re doing. … Is everybody simply coaching of their backyards, their storage, or wherever they’ll? I simply do not know. Who’re their coaching companions?”

ESPN spoke to greater than a dozen fighters on the UFC 249 card earlier than they traveled to Jacksonville and realized in regards to the artistic coaching strategies they’ve used to cope with this unprecedented problem. From sparring with their partner to transferring into their gymnasium, listed below are their tales.


Tony Ferguson, who was coaching in Costa Mesa, California:

I am nonetheless residing my similar life. I am nonetheless doing my factor, which is coaching. I am bettering myself each single day. I really feel nice.

The previous month has been busy. I began MMA sparring once more. So I am padding up all people. And I have never sparred like this in years. I am having enjoyable once more doing what I like.

I have been coaching since December. I’ve peaked I do not know what number of instances. I’ve bought this factor all the way down to an artwork.

Even after UFC 249 was canceled the primary time, Ferguson nonetheless made weight on April 17.

Justin Gaethje, who was coaching in Denver:

I can not take shortcuts. I can not not have teammates right here. Kamaru Usman is right here, Beneil Dariush is right here, and we’re all remoted in my home, understanding collectively. Neil Magny is in right here — he can push the tempo. I simply want individuals to push the tempo proper now.

As an athlete it is on or off. Inexperienced mild, pink mild. I actually belief the individuals round me, my coaches. I’ve by no means apprehensive a couple of recreation plan, I’ve by no means requested if there was a recreation plan. Trevor Wittman instills one thing and I am going out and battle, and afterwards say, ‘Oh, we have been engaged on this.’ I actually belief the people who find themselves main me.

Dominick Cruz, who was coaching in San Diego:

I haven’t got lots of people within the gymnasium, particularly now with the quarantine. We have all been having to coach with minimal individuals, like 4 to 6 individuals, max, in order that no person’s getting contaminated.

It has been fairly silent in there. So I believe battle night time within the empty enviornment goes to resemble coaching within the gymnasium, and in addition just like The Final Fighter. You had all the opponents on the groups in The Final Fighter gymnasium, however it nonetheless was eerily quiet.

Henry Cejudo, who was coaching in Scottsdale, Arizona

If something I believe this quarantine time has been a blessing. Having the gymnasium all to myself. Being much less distracted. I actually do not know when the distinction between being in quarantine and being in battle got here. It is all been the identical. My shoulder is healed up and I am able to rock ‘n’ roll this Saturday night time.

Francis Ngannou, who was coaching in Las Vegas (as advised by his coach Eric Nicksick)

If you concentrate on it, we have been purported to battle in March. We had a full camp of sparring. We had eight weeks of that. So, when the battle was postponed, we took every week off. Then when it was purported to occur in April and bought postponed, he took one other week off.

The one factor we’re in full management over is our cardio, so that is the one factor we have been attempting to emphasise, is being in good condition. Francis has been doing a variety of good issues cardio-wise, however what that does not equate to is wrestling cardio and grappling cardio. So we have been attempting to make up in these areas the place we will, as a result of we’re quick on our bodies. So, once we get [fellow heavyweight] Blagoy Ivanov within the gymnasium, I prefer to see Francis wrestle a bit of bit extra throughout sparring than regular, to make up for these grappling rounds we have been lacking all through the week.

We’re mixing it up and going to the park. We have now to remain contemporary mentally.

Yorgan De Castro, who was coaching in Massachusetts

Having the battle canceled a few instances actually burned me out for some time. I felt like I used to be in the fitting spot, bodily and mentally, proper earlier than it was canceled the primary time. I used to be feeling good. My cardio was good. Then the battle was off, and I took a few days off. I bought proper again to coaching when the battle was again on, however then it was off once more. I simply advised myself that it’s what it’s. At this level, it is a psychological problem greater than bodily.

Now I’ve extra time to coach. I nonetheless go to my two gyms. Each are closed, however my coaches opened the buildings for me. I work one-on-one with my trainers.

Michelle Waterson, who was coaching in New Mexico

The gymnasium is closed down, so there is no coaching there. They’re nonetheless attempting to restrict the quantity of those that collect collectively right here in Albuquerque. Fortunately, we now have a really candy setup right here at my home.

We just about have all the things we want at residence. Josh Gomez, my husband, has been primarily holding mitts for me. We have been working a variety of boxing. We have now actually candy trails up right here to run. So I have been doing that for cardio. However we even have a row machine, an assault bike, a treadmill inside our residence gymnasium. All the burden gear that we want. We have now tons of free weight stuff from Onnit. We have now a sauna, a chilly plunge. We have now a swimming pool. So, we have got all the things we want.

Josh is letting me tee off on him. Which is nothing new; he is at all times been a sparring associate for me. However the state of affairs has positively allowed me to work my boxing with him. He began to study jiu-jitsu a couple of 12 months and a half, two years in the past. So he is been rolling with me.

Every day we now have one in every of our predominant coaches come down. So coach Mike Winkeljohn will come down and maintain mitts for me on the residence gymnasium. My jiu-jitsu coach Rafael “Barata” Freitas will come down and roll with me one-on-one. Similar with coach Joey Villasenor. He works MMA, the bottom stuff and the wall stuff. Simply relying on the day, a special coach comes down and we simply work. It isn’t the identical, however I believe as fighters it’s a must to be snug with being in uncomfortable positions. That is what coach Greg Jackson at all times talks about.

Carla Esparza, who was coaching in Irvine, California

We’re not purported to go to the gymnasium in accordance with California laws. Loads of the fighters dwell in a home collectively. It is nearly like your personal Final Fighter home. I have been coaching with them, like small, personal classes. You do what you’ve got gotta do. Within the combating world, typically you’ve got gotta battle with accidents, typically you’ve got gotta battle if you’re sick, typically you’ve got gotta battle after coping with private tragedies. The state of affairs is new, however bumps within the highway and loopy new issues aren’t new.

I believe I am having a ok coaching camp. I haven’t got entry to all my coaches. I might say that is in all probability the largest a part of it. It is simply not gaining access to all of the individuals I usually would. My energy and conditioning coach, Mike Saffie, has a new child child, so he is been staying at residence. I have never been doing sure issues. It has been powerful.

Charles Rosa, who was coaching in Coconut Creek, Florida

ATT is open for skilled athletes. They’re very strict about it. There’s sure instances that fighters can are available with sure coaches and sure coaching companions. So that they unfold it out so there’s no more than two or three individuals on the mat at one time. There is a cleansing crew that is available in after and cleans up after you practice.

I am cooking each single meal, which might be higher. It retains my food plan extra in test. I graduated from culinary faculty. I went to Johnson & Wales College. Earlier than I used to be gonna be a fighter, I used to be a hockey participant and I went to culinary faculty to turn out to be a chef.

The most important factor, if you do not know about meals, is the components. Recent components are key. It is so big with the ability to prepare dinner and meal prep for myself with high quality meals. I discover once I see different individuals, like my teammates. I see what they’re consuming. Like two weeks out from the battle, they’re consuming dry items of rooster and lettuce and I am consuming sautéed scallops and white wine with garlic and pink peppers. They’re like, ‘Man, how did you get to eat that?’

Donald Cerrone, who was coaching in Edgewood, New Mexico

I’ve a complete gymnasium right here, so I’ve no excuse. I bought John Wooden from Vegas, he drove in. Jafari Vanier drove in. I bought a pair guys right here on the ranch who’re right here full time.

The great factor is I am old-school. I’ve taken one million punches. So the times of getting in there and grappling and putting, I do not really feel like I mentally have to do this to organize for a battle. The cardio and simply touching up on my luggage, the wrestling drills — stuff like that’s what I would like.

Jacare Souza, who was coaching in Orlando, Florida

I believe we’re doing good. I will likely be prepared. My camp is excellent proper now. I am coaching arduous, I am resting good, I am consuming good.

I lived within the gymnasium for a few years once I was younger in Brazil. Now, I am again. For me, I am again to regular. My house is my gymnasium. It is just a bit bit unusual for me, as a result of I’ve a household now. I’ve youngsters and a spouse, Larissa. However my coach comes to assist me and I’ve coaching companions come to my residence, too. I have been working rather a lot with Josuel “Distak” Silva. He educated Paulo Filho when he was among the finest on this planet.

I’ve weights. I’ve my spouse’s Crossfit stuff. I can not go away my residence proper now. Perhaps it is higher for me, as a result of I can not go away to eat hamburgers or not practice arduous.

I do not like this, however proper now I am robust as a result of she forces me to coach arduous. I do not like once we practice collectively, as a result of she kills me.

Calvin Kattar, who was coaching in New England

We’re simply able to go at this level. We have been coaching since Jan. 5.

Issues are just a bit extra distant. The teams are a bit of extra unique and restricted. However nonetheless the identical quantity if no more work. And simply dialing in with the blokes we now have. Everybody is targeted. It is a good distraction from what is going on on.

For many of this camp, we traveled throughout like we might do in a traditional camp. We educated in 4 states — Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island — and two international locations: the U.S. and Canada. Because it bought nearer and nearer, we tightened it up.

I’ve additionally been working remotely with the UFC Efficiency Institute in Las Vegas, utilizing Omegawave expertise for restoration. There’s an app on my cellphone and a tool they gave me. I hook up EKG pads to my thumb and brow, wire it to the system and it connects to my cellphone app. It sends the information to a extra in-depth database the place UFC director of sports activities science Roman Fomin is. He is in control of this sort of stuff. He analyzes all of your information extra in-depth and provides you suggestions on the way you’re recovering.

Him and Heather Linden, the UFC’s director of bodily remedy, have been superior. They’re each monitoring our workload for coaching optimization. I have been listening to what they’re saying and sending video to Las Vegas boxing coach Jimmy Gifford and Joe Valtellini. I really feel like we have got a variety of good suggestions on the work we’re placing in. We have got a variety of eyes on the camp. We’re simply dialed in at this level, able to go.

Uriah Corridor, who was coaching in Dallas

I do know I wished to get a bit of bit uncomfortable, so I made a decision to maneuver into the gymnasium on April 6. It is like that ‘Rocky’ mentality. I’ve a blow-up mattress. I’ve all the things I would like right here.

My teammate Ryan Spann has bought a spot from Airbnb. He is really combating on the cardboard. He is bought a giant home, he is bought room and all the things. He advised me to return down and stick with him. I selected to not. It is snug. I am not within the temper to be snug proper now.

I do what I’ve gotta do. My boxing coach Clayton Hires will likely be flying in from Las Vegas. We’ll be working collectively and he’ll be in my nook.

Lots of people are snug, whether or not it is your self or no matter you are doing. I ain’t bought time for that. I’ve locked myself in with my demons. I sat all of them down and I am giving them directions.

Ryan Spann, who was coaching in Dallas

We’re taking further precautions to ensure we hold it actual low key and keep secure and wholesome whereas we practice for this. It is a bit of completely different. There are some changes, however we’re making them work. We’re having the gymnasium cleaned, cleansing up after ourselves, showering and ensuring we’re clear once we get there. We’re getting some good work in. The those that I work with, like UFC fighters Alonzo Menifield and Geoff Neal, are there on the gymnasium. We’re getting the identical work. It is only a smaller group.

It is actually the stop-start half that has been the largest problem. I do not care who I battle or the place I battle them. I have been going so lengthy at this level with the stop-start. We have been purported to have Ovince Saint Preux at UFC 247 on Feb. 8, however he bought harm. Then, it was going to be Paul Craig at UFC London on March 21 and that card bought canceled. Who am I combating now? Oh, Sam Alvey. They moved the Alvey battle from April 18. Simply the start-stop.

I minimize a s— ton of weight for the unique battle with Alvey on simply two and a half weeks discover. I misplaced about 13, 14 kilos.

I am on monitor, although. Despite the fact that I minimize a variety of weight a couple of weeks in the past, I used to be on monitor to have one of many best cuts I’ve had. I believe this time it is gonna be actual straightforward, too. My energy and conditioning coach Mike Scaccia is sort of a mad scientist and he is coming on the market to Jacksonville with us. He is gonna assist me with the ultimate steps of the method and the rehydration and all the things. It is gonna be nothing. It will not be enjoyable, however it’ll be nothing.

Sam Alvey, who was coaching in Temecula, California

The most important distinction for me is I haven’t got to show any of my youngsters’ lessons or my group lessons at Dan Henderson’s Athletic Health Middle in Temecula, California. That is actually been fairly useful. I’ve had extra time to do different coaching. It is actually been the simplest finish of a camp I’ve had, as a result of I did not have to show something. That is the primary time I’ve ever had that be the case.

I have been in a position to get to a bunch of various gyms. I’ve had loads of coaching companions, a variety of them who simply journey with me. We get to work collectively, simply at completely different areas on a regular basis. I have been working with Tom Gallicchio, Joe Stevenson and Dan Henderson, he is been giving me a hand. However I’ve had fairly a couple of coaching companions.

Anthony Pettis, who was coaching in Milwaukee

The primary week all people was skeptical. I made everybody ship me their temperatures earlier than I cleared them to return to the gymnasium. Because the weeks went on, it simply type of felt extra regular. I really feel like I am in a coaching camp with out the distractions. I personal companies. Once I’m in coaching camp normally, not solely am I apprehensive a couple of battle, I’ve to ensure my gyms are doing proper and are afloat. My barber retailers. My sports activities bars. I’ve a variety of s— happening. With this one, nothing is occurring as a result of my companies are closed. I actually simply have to fret about combating.

This time, I used to be actually compelled to reinvent my coaching camp. In the event you simply take a traditional week on knowledgeable battle group, you all practice at 1:30 p.m. There’s 20 individuals on a group, in all probability 10 high-level guys. That observe is made for 10 guys, versus one man. This entire coaching camp, each single observe was catered to what I would like particularly to win. It feels good to be on this spot mentally. It is the simplest coaching camp of my life. It is bizarre to say that. This quarantine opened up my eyes. It made me decelerate. I needed to decelerate, pull again and have a look at my life from the surface. It made me simplify.

I believe for me, truthfully, this was a blessing to do coaching camp this manner, as a result of it compelled me to reinvent it. I personal my very own gyms. In order that’s a blessing for me. Coaching companions, I needed to be very selective and that is what I cherished about it. This time, it is like, ‘OK, I would like this man, I would like this man, these coaches.’ Any longer, I am going to do my coaching camp this manner. My predominant coaching associate has been my little brother, Bellator fighter Sergio Pettis.

Fabrico Werdum, who was coaching in Los Angeles

The tempo of coaching is excellent, though it’s not regular with out the same old routine of going to the gymnasium.

Grasp Rafael Cordeiro is doing on-line coaching with me, on Skype, on Zoom. Cordeiro can be coming right here, touring two hours from Massive Bear.

Ricardo Tesfai is right here and it is serving to me rather a lot. He is my sparring [partner]. He comes and goes, typically he stays for a day or two.

And my brother is true right here with me. When there isn’t any one to do the sparring or something, he does the gauntlet.

I am operating too, operating on the mountains or streets. I am simply not understanding, you understand? I can not do weight coaching, however the remainder is ok.

In fact it’s completely different from all the things we now have lived via. Do on-line coaching? I by no means imagined that I might do a web based coaching with the trainer, however it’s been good.

Vincente Luque, who was coaching in Brazil and Florida

I’ve good teammates, good coaching companions, however we’re managing and limiting the individuals within the gymnasium to only me and one different man. We’re within the gymnasium, however the gymnasium is closed. No person else can come. We work, simply the 2 of us.

I studied a variety of my opponent’s fights. I am in touch with my psychologist, my bodily coach, my battle coach, Daniel Barros Evangelista, who’s my head coach, my coach right here within the Cerrado, Durinho and Henri Hooft who will likely be in my nook in Florida once I go there.

So, I am feeling very nicely regardless of the state of affairs. I am ready to battle.

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