Eye Of The Tiger #3

4 min read
Eye of the Tiger #3
Rashad Evans spars with Keith Jardine
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For my upcoming feature story on cage fighting in Albuquerque, I’ll be training at Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts gym. This the third installment of my training blog.

The other day I finally entered the Octagon—the eight-sided cage that is the arena for mixed martial arts (MMA) fights. I wasn’t there to fight, just to take a grappling class from legendary technician Coach Greg Jackson. The day’s focus was how to escape the mount, in which one fighter is lying on his back while another fighter sits on his chest. The top fighter is the one with the mount; the guy on the bottom is the one with the problem. Serious problem. Mounting your opponent offers unparalleled opportunity to shower punches upon his face, which, in the Octagon, is a good thing. It’s a classic MMA technique called ground and pound.

I was paired with Lance “Grizz” Evans, a professional MMA fighter who weighs about 220 lbs. Grizz is not the guy I would have chosen to ground and pound with. Even his name gave me pause. Every fall I hunt elk in the grizzly bear infested mountains of Montana, and I know better than to get into a cage with a grizzly—especially without a can of bear spray. But while there aren’t too many rules about what you can do in the Octagon, bear spray is not allowed. Luckily, although Grizz looked like he could tear a grizzly in half, he, like most of the fighters I’ve met at Jackson’s MMA gym, is a really nice guy when he isn’t trying his best to destroy you.

Coach Jackson explained that when you’re the victim of a mount, you have few offensive options. You can’t reach back to “chamber”—i.e. load—a punch, and the best you can do is avoid damage and look for an escape. Grizz and I took turns escaping each other’s mount. In one escape, called the Power Shrimp, both hands push hard against the hips and then the knees of your opponent, giving you a window in which to turn onto your side and hook his leg. It’s a powerful escape, but exposes you to some serious ground and pound, because you can’t use your hands to defend your head while both hands are pushing your opponent off of you.

“Take you’re time quickly,” advised Jackson. “As soon as you’re pushing down on that leg he has do deal with your escape and can’t keep punching you ‘til Tuesday anymore.

Another move, called “buck and roll,” employs a knee to the back, which launches your opponent forward and allows you to clench your hands behind his back and hug him so tightly he doesn’t have space to chamber a punch. I never would have though a bear hug would be the best defense against ground and pound with a Grizz.

After my grabbling class, I relaxed outside the Octagon and watched Grizz’s little brother, UFC light-heavyweight Champion Rashad Evans, spar with fellow light-heavyweight Keith Jardine. Their friendship, and shared elite status illustrates a delicate balance the fighters who train at Jacksons must navigate. All of Jackson’s fighters agree to never face each other in competition. Never. Even if one or both fighters leave Jackson’s and train elsewhere. The reason, explains Julie Kedzie, who moved to Albuquerque from Indiana to train at Jackson’s, is to create an environment of total and unconditional sharing. “We have to be able to give to each other,” she says, “and help each other be the best we can be, and not withhold anything from anyone because you think you might someday fight them.”

So what does this mean for the “Dean of Mean” Keith Jardine? He’s beaten many of the same top-ranked fighters Rashad has, including former light-heavyweight champions Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell. But as long as Rashad holds the title, Jardine won’t get a title shot in his weight class. To win a title he’ll either have to move to a different weight class, switch from UFC to a different MMA organization, or wait for his friend to lose. Neither solution is ideal. But it’s the price all of Jackson’s fighters willingly pay to train there.
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