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UFC: Behind the athlete

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Being a UFC fighter isn’t just about what you see on fight night — it takes years of preparation, twelve weeks of training, dieting and mental preparation for just fifteen-to-twenty five minutes in the Octagon.

There are many extreme routines that a fighter goes through to be fight ready; from bathing in nearly-scolding water to practicing on wooden posts to toughen nerve endings.

We spoke to four UFC athletes, including Brad Pickett, Forrest Griffin, Ross Pearson and Alexander Gustafsson to find out what the best fighters in the world go through.

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Alexander Gustafsson

16-2-0 (win/loss/draw)
Nationality: Swedish
Age: 27
Height: 6' 5" ( 195 cm )
Weight: 205 lb ( 93 kg )

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Training

Fighters in the UFC typically spend up to 12 weeks preparing for a fight, and during that time, it’s all that they think about.

Lightweight fighter Ross Pearson explains: “My mantra is to train hard and fight easy, and that’s all there is to it.” Pearson admits that it’s an ethos that has sometimes driven him to extremes, though. “I can’t have an opponent in the training camp doing more than me,” he explains.

“If I’m relaxing on the sofa watching TV, I’m thinking about my opponent out hitting bags, or sparring or running. He’s getting five miles on me now, and I need to catch him.”

Overtraining is something that former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Forrest Griffin sympathises with: “I actually overtrained for confidence, to know in my head that there’s nothing more that I could have done [in the ring]. Sometimes that makes you worse. It’s a fine line.”

train hard, fight easy Jon Jones

EA SPORTS UFC cover athlete and current light heavyweight contender Alexander Gustafsson agrees about the importance of training in preparation for the Octagon. “You do so much training that you approach the Octagon with no thoughts, no feelings. It’s all about instinct--you’ve gone through everything and you just follow a game plan.”

Many fighters talk about repeating moves so often in training that by the time you get to the Octagon, it’s all just become natural, like riding a bike. Ross Pearson also talks about some of the lengths he’s gone to in training camps to be the best fighter he can be, including making his limbs less susceptible to pain. “I used to roll aerosol cans up and down my legs to kill the nerve endings. We kick wooden posts, to kill the nerve endings in our shins,” he says.

Jon Jones

21-1-0 (win/loss/draw)
Nationality: American
Age: 26
Height: 6' 4" ( 193 cm )
Weight: 205 lb ( 93 kg )

MMA incorporates

Boxing / Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Sanshou / Freestyle wrestling
Jeet Kune Do / Judo / Karate
Muay Thai / Tae Kwon Do

Ways to win

Knockout / Submission / Decision

Knockout

Submission

Decision

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Rarely in life do we ever get to live in the moment

Pre-fight

Behind the scenes before a big fight, you can imagine the pressure that the fighters are going through before they enter the Octagon. Brad Pickett sums it up best: “When I’m backstage, it’s the worst for me - in a way it can feel like a death sentence. I can’t keep still, I’m pacing and I’m very nervous.”

The final countdown

[What it's like to enter the ring]

Griffin describes the feeling more like agitation rather than nervousness, though. “[Before the fight], I’m actually irritated. I want to be fighting now. I wanna get to the cage, I wanna be fighting, I want to get to that zen moment where you’re not nervous anymore.” He compares the feeling to an earlier skydiving experience.“In college, I went skydiving, but it was a discount skydiving site. It seems pretty stupid, but I was on the plane, looking out the window thinking, “This is horrible, why did I do this?”.

So I went first, I just wanted to get it over with, and as soon as I was in the air, I was free, I loved it. All the nerves went away--it was only a minute, but it was a beautiful minute. It’s the same way in the locker room before a fight, you’re like, “Why did I pick a job where I get beat up in front of people, I should have gone to school!”. But when you get out there, it becomes a clear moment, there’s only that moment. Rarely in life do we ever get to live in the moment, and that’s what
I love about it.”

 
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The fight

Being a UFC fighter means three months training for fifteen to twenty five minutes in the ring, and sometimes even shorter. However, for the fighters in the Octagon, that short amount of time brings a moment of clarity that they rarely, if ever, achieve in the rest of their lives.

“I love fighting because it erases everything else in the real world,” says Forest Griffin. “When I’m in the cage with another person trying to do me harm, I focus on that. I don’t think about the bills, my girlfriend fighting with me, my cat having cancer. None of that matters, all that matters is the guy trying to hit you. It’s a moment of purity. Fighting is the one thing that causes you to focus.”

Recreating the fight

[Jenny Freeman UFC Art Director]

Pearson describes the feeling of being in a fight in a different, more addictive way. “I’m addicted to it. I’m addicted to the feeling of fans screaming your name. I’m addicted to the ecstasy of winning a fight and you get that adrenaline, dumped into your heart. I’m addicted to the feeling when you walk backstage and you’re like “let’s see what happened”, because once you’ve done it, it’s over, and it happens so fast, you don’t remember what you’ve done or what combination or how it’s happened, you just want to see it again, and everyone wants to be a part of you. It’s the best feeling in the world, there’s nothing in the world that compares to it, and once this is all done and gone, that’s what I’ll miss about it.”

 

MMA Weight classes

Flyweight / Bantamweight / Featherweight / Lightweight /
Welterweight / Middleweight / Light Heavyweight / Heaveyweight

Respectively, these are:

116 lbs - 125 lbs / 126 lbs - 135 lbs / 136 lbs - 145 lbs / 146 lbs - 155 lbs /
156 lbs - 170 lbs / 171 lbs - 185 lbs / 186 lbs -205 lbs / 206 - 265 lbs

 
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Injuries

While the sport of fighting can appear pretty brutal, the fighters we spoke to unanimously described how they don’t feel pain in the ring. Brad Pickett explains “everyone asks you the question ‘Oh it must really hurt?’. No, you don’t feel anything. You have so much adrenalin going through your body, pain’s not an issue. Next day, don’t get me wrong, you are like limping around thinking ‘Ahh what’s that?’, you’re bruised here and there,” he continues “But when you’re fighting you don’t feel anything, you know, you could get hit really hard, you could get knocked out, you don’t feel it, you’re just knocked out. The next day you may be like ‘Ohh my jaw hurts’ or ‘Ohh’ this or ‘Ohh’ that, but adrenalin takes over a lot of things.”

Adrenalin & the body

- Increased heart and respiratory rate
- Pupil dilation
- Stimulates sympathetic nervous system
- Vasoconstriction and vasolidation
- Muscle contraction
- Elevated blood sugar levels
- Perspiration and goosebumps

Of all the fighters we spoke to, Griffin had the craziest injury-related stories. He famously sustained serious injuries in the ring, but still went on to win.

“I was fighting in South Africa,” he recalls. “There was this mean South African wrestler who drops me on my shoulder, and my shoulder pops out. I stop, and I can see my shoulder down [on my chest] like a little prepubescent breast, and the guy is still hitting me! My first thought is to look up at the guy and and [motion to stop], because I’d only had three or four fights at the time. But I stood up, popped my shoulder back and I rolled it back in, and I ended up catching him with a knee to the head and getting him on the ground. As I was hitting him, I took my good arm, and I pulled it across and held it with my broken arm, and I put my forehead in the back of his head and I just pulled it as hard as I could because I couldn’t really create any force with my right arm.”

He then went on to win by submission. “After the fight, I immediately began rolling around in pain,” he adds. “In South Africa, they wouldn’t give me any drugs, so they gave me some aspirin. It’s a good story, but I wake up every day and I ache and I think, “man, I wish I didn’t have that good story”.

Getting real

[With Richard Burgess-Dawson, UFC
Technical Art Director]

Building the fighter

Simulating the experiences these fighters face in the ring has been a task for the EA SPORTS team in Canada, who got complete access to the UFC’s best fighters for its upcoming game, which is exclusive to the next-gen Xbox One and PlayStation 4 platforms.

Technical Art Director Richard Burgess-Dawson explains: “Getting a true likeness of a fighter starts with a scan. We capture every pore, every wrinkle, even the scar tissue that these guys have. We were always able to capture a lot of data, but it's also about being able to use a lot of that data, and with the power of Xbox One, we can really do that. That means an unparalleled level of realism in the game that’s never been done before. We show the progression of the fighter by the veins popping up, the redness of the skin, the sweat, the blood, the bruising. There's layer upon layer of detail,” he says.

 
 

Of the fighters we spoke to ahead of UFC Fight Night 37 - Gustafsson and Pickett - both went on to win their respective fights in London. All fighters will be appearing in EA Sports UFC, which will be out on

Xbox One and PlayStation 4 20th june 2014.

Alexander Gustafsson def. Jimi Manuwa

TKO (knee and punches)

Brad Pickett def. Neil Seery

Decision (unanimous)