Me looking dorky with Bantamweight contender Urijah Faber
After talking about it for a long time, I finally got the chance to train with Alpha Male. Now, I report back to Mania to tell the story.
My family and I left Jersey on Saturday and arrived in Sacramento later that night, where we stayed with an older Japanese man named Hank, who lived next to my parents in the '80s. The flight, predictably, was long and boring. I'm pretty sure I listened to both The College Dropout and Late Registration at least three times, while half-sleeping through either at least once.
Since the gym and college (I had to hide my true reason for the trip under the guise of a college visit) were closed on Sunday, we visited San Francisco. Aside from eating my first In-N-Out double double, which is the closest I'll ever come to a religious experience, we did the common touristy things like visiting Fisherman's Wharf, the Golden Gate bridge, etc. The highlight of the day was clearly seeing approximately 300 sea lions at Pier 39.
Not my picture, but you get the idea.
Anyway, Monday came around, and I finally got to visit the gym. At 9:30, the first teams session began. After a 15 minute warm-up, led by TUF winner Chris Holdsworth (who looks way different in person), Coach "Bang" Ludwig arrived and was closely followed by Faber himself.
Faber, running late, did not have any quarters to pay for the meter and asked his gym manager to go fill it. Since the manager was also out, my dad stepped in. That's correct: my family paid for Urijah Faber's parking. I have no issue with bribery.
Moving on, Ludwig is an intense guy. The man speaks very fast and can be difficult to follow. Luckily, my instructor at home does as well, so I was semi-prepared. We partner up, and I work with a fighter named Niko. I never found out whether he was a pro or amateur, but he was fairly new to Alpha Male as well. Niko, one other group, and I climbed into the boxing ring, where we drilled different combinations as Ludwig instructed, worked striking to takedown set-ups, and eventually sparred.
After that sparring, "Bang" calls everyone into a boxed off mat area. After switching to MMA glvoes, we begin to work drills against the "fence," or in this case, a wall. One person starts with over-under, eventually gets a takedown, and then the bottom man must get to his feet. After the bottom man is standing back up, the drill starts over, except he is now looking for the takedown. Ludwig insists that everyone constantly land strikes as we do this. I do my best to comply with his wishes.
With about fifteen minutes left, we begin mount drills. It's a good thing that my defensive jiu-jitsu is pretty solid, because starting on the bottom in mount with striking sucks when you're tired. At this point, we had switched partners. My new partner was significantly larger/stronger, but I think I managed to defend myself pretty well.
On a side note: watching Mendes and Faber spar out of the corner of my eye was pretty incredible.
At the end of the pro class, we got together for a group picture, something the Team does every session. Before that, we circled up, put our hands in the middle, and chanted "TJ!" a single time. Some names you may recognize include Faber, Ludwig, Holdsworth, Chad Mendes, Andre Fili, and Lance Palmer. Later that day, I saw Danny Castillo working out in the second pro practice.
The only other names I knew but didn't see were Benavidez, Dillashaw, and Buchholz. TJ and Buchholz were in Georgia for TJ's fight with Easton, and Ludwig caught a flight out there not long after the session I was at.
After lunch and a college visit (ZZZZZZzzzzzz), I was back at the gym. Unfortunately, the college tour went late, so I couldn't make the second pro practice. Instead, I took a 2 hour boxing class. It was a very different style of boxing then I train at home, so I didn't do particularly well until the sparring session at the end. Regardless, it was a solid class, and the instructor seemed like a nice enough guy.
The original plan was to visit San Jose and AKA on Tuesday, but I decided I'd rather just train at Alpha Male again. Plus, I didn't feel like fighting California traffic.
The next day began with a kickboxing session that was a lot of fun. After working on checking kicks, the class hit the bag with various strikes for three minute rounds. The class lasted an hour and ended with defensive drills.
During the kickboxing session, Faber was on the side of the mat working with Master Thong. Faber's cardio and speed are incredible, the dude moves like lightning and wasn't at all tired at the end of the workout. It really is something else to see from a dozen feet away.
My final training session was later that night, the team jiu-jitsu class. Again, we did about twenty minutes of warm-ups (I hate warming up) before head BJJ coach Dustin Akbari began showing moves from the half-guard. First, he showed a butter-half sweep and then demonstrated how to transition to X-guard from there. Since the butter-half is my instructor's favorite guard and I love the X-guard, it went perfectly.
With about 45 minutes left, we did non-stop five minute matches until the end of the class. This is fairly routine for me as well; my gym at home does a ton of live rolling, and I don't really take water breaks. Here are some highlights from the matches:
- The first guy I wrestled hadn't trained in a while and wasn't particularly good at jiu-jitsu. Normally, I'd take it easy, but I was the new guy and had an impression to make.
- A few matches in, I wrestled a guy who was near my size and clearly skilled in BJJ. Very soon into the match, he tried to jump on a guillotine. I slipped out and immediately sprung onto his neck with one of my own. He escaped as well. It's always nice the wrestle a fellow guillotine person.
- At some point, I wrestled a much larger and very explosive tan guy. This dude had incredible balance and would routinely jump into the air to escape my sweeps. I threatened with submissions and swept a couple times, but he passed my guard a few times as well. No submissions for either side, but it was a fun match.
- Next, I wrestled a Brazilian looking guy. After a couple minutes, he surprised me with a heel hook and finished it. At first, I was mildly annoyed, as it's a fairly serious breach of BJJ etiquette to attack someone you don't know with heel hooks. Then, I remembered that I fucking hate BJJ etiquette and did my best to secure one of my own. Alas, I ran out of time while still in a 50-50 guard battle.
- After the class, I wrestled a guy I met with 1.5 legs. I don't like referring to him by his handicap, because he was a really nice dude, but I can't remember his name for the life of me. It's not easy trying to remember 100 names across two days. Regardless, the dude was a very solid grappler and had a crazy strong upper body. It was also strange to wrestle him; he hit guard passes a fully-limbed person can't do and was difficult to guillotine choke from the bottom. I eventually locked in a naked d'arce, then we traded kimura finishes.
Everyone at Alpha Male, from Faber to the gym manager to random athletes, was extremely welcoming and willing to train. I couldn't have had a better experience and would recommend the gym to anyone in the area. I plan on traveling out there again soon.
On a final note, I may have accidentally convinced my mother that sending me across the country to train with a professional fight team isn't such a bad idea. At Hank's house, we all watched a replay of Faber beating down McDonald. During the post-fight interview, Faber thanks his mom, which my mom thought was adorable... she also liked his abs. Anyway, during one of my training sessions, my mom got to meet his mother, and they talked for a while. Motherly bonding or something. I'll accept that as a minor victory.