Unless you're training for a fight, it's hard to understand the ins and outs of an MMA gym. Even people who train part-time struggle to know just how difficult the days and weeks are for fighters working full-time to prepare for a bout.
With that in mind, MMA Fighting's Ben Fowlkes decided to spend a year with Grudge Training Center in Colorado. Home to Shane Carwin, Brendan Schaub and Nate Marquardt, Fowlkes worked with head trainer Trevor Wittman to get an inside look at what happens in an MMA gym over the course of year, and chronicle it in the must-read series, "The Hurt Business."
What Fowlkes didn't anticipate was how eventful 2011 would be for Grudge. Marquardt went from a UFC contender to unemployed after failing to pass medicals for his UFC on Versus fight in June. Schaub's red-hot streak was stopped by Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in August. Carwin lost to Junior dos Santos in June and then did not fight again in 2011 because of injuries.
Fowlkes spoke to Cagewriter, and admitted he had no idea how the year would turn out when he first spoke to Wittman.
"I chose Grudge for two reasons, really. One, Denver is close enough to where I live in Montana that I could get down there often enough," Fowlkes said. "And two, Trevor Wittman was the only trainer I talked to who seemed as interested in the idea as I was. The others I mentioned it to were like, 'Yeah, that would be cool project...for you to do at someone else's gym.'"
It was in those many days spent at the gym where Fowlkes, who has covered MMA since 2006, truly gained an appreciation for what fighters do on a daily basis.
"I feel stupid for admitting this, but I think what surprised me the most was how much work fighters put in before they ever do the work that actually gets them paid. You see Brendan Schaub in the gym two months before his fight with Cro Cop, and he's at work. This is his job. And yet, no one's paying him to be there. If he decides to blow it off for a day or two, it's on him. If he does all the work as best he can in the gym and then loses, it won't even matter to a lot of fans, because they didn't see what he went through just to get to the fight. It's one of those things where you know, intellectually, that they're working hard in the gym before a fight. But until you see that grind day after day, it's hard to really appreciate."
Fowlkes originally hoped to write a book out of his time with Grudge, but decided it would work better as a web series. In the first installment, he wrote about Grudge in January of 2011, when everything seemed to be humming along smoothly for Wittman and his fighters. As the series unfolds, readers will learn about a year that was anything but typical.
"[Readers] should expect a lot of change, for one thing. Grudge at the end of the year was nothing like Grudge at the beginning. They should also expect the story to move around a lot, to UFC 128 in New Jersey in the second installment, to Vancouver for the Shane Carwin-Junior dos Santos fight, and even to Brazil for Schaub's fight with Nogueira. We're also going to get more into the economic realities of the gym, who's paying who, and how much, and how that causes friction. Of course, Nate Marquardt's whole situation with TRT and getting fired from the UFC will be covered. And there's also some stuff about the lesser-known fighters at the gym, the ones who are struggling to make their way and finding out how tough it can be."