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MMA nutrition guru talks 'tremendous' opportunity (and responsibility) to help Cris Cyborg realize Ronda Rousey fight

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Famed MMA nutritionist George Lockhart hits on all topics regarding Invicta FC featherweight champion Cris "Cyborg" Justino's ongoing journey to battle UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey ... and everything between.

Former Strikeforce Featherweight champion and current Invicta FC 145-pound titleholder Cris "Cyborg" Santos has been a thorn in the side of the face of female mixed martial arts (MMA), Ronda Rousey, for quite some time.

Even before Rousey strapped the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) belt around her waist, talks of a potential fight between the two biggest stars in women's MMA were simmering. The only obstacle in the way of a bout between the two bruising champions has been 10 pounds.

Enter famed MMA nutrition guru and FitnessVT creator George Lockhart who has trained everyone from contenders to champions, including current clients Rafael dos Anjos and Beneil Dariush. The one-time fighter and former serviceman has worked with other female fighters before, so getting Cyborg to the 135-pound mark at some point in the next 12 months will be a relatively easy trip if all goes as planned.

"I've been working with female fighters for a while now. I actually started when I was in the Marine Corps. One of the first fighters I had, she fought at an XFC event. It was definitely educational," says Lockhart. "I work with Sijara Eubanks and DeAnna Bennett in Invicta. I've been working with them for a while. Their bodies are so different. It's funny because there's a lot of women that miss weight because people don't understand -- they try to attack everything the same exact way that you would a man and they're completely different."

The 32-year-old Lockhart recently began helping the stout Brazilian. Prior to Cyborg's tilt with Charmaine Tweet, Lockhart had conversations -- on the word of good friend Brian Stann -- with her manager George Prajin. After mapping out his plan to Prajin, he flew out to California to meet with the fearsome featherweight's team.

"I just told them this is exactly how I'm going to do it and this is exactly how it's going to go down. I stick with the science, just facts and not theories," Lockhart says. "Initially, there wasn't any hesitation. She's always been awesome, she's such a sweetheart.

Tweet lasted all but 46 seconds when she met Cyborg at Invicta FC 11 in February this year. The 29-year-old Brazilian bomber will make one more stand at 145 pounds, presumably before tightening things up in her diet with George and then making the drop down to Bantamweight to challenge "Rowdy" Ronda.

There hasn't been quite a buzz surrounding women's MMA and a lot of that is owed to what Cyborg and Rousey have accomplished in the cage. The pair have collected finishes in 22 fights combined.

Lockhart will play an intricate part in helping the two meet, though, behind the scenes (she is already under contract).

"A lot of people can make somebody make weight. But, to have somebody going down an entire weight class and increase their performance -- that right there is science. It's hard to explain how difficult and amazing that is," says Lockhart. "Cris, because she is so powerful and that's her style of fighting -- to increase that power or keep that power the same at 135 -- we have to make sure that everything is on point."

For now, there are a couple of obstacles in the path between a potential showdown between the two giants, notably Bethe Correia and Faith Van Duin. If both Rousey an Cyborg are to make successful title defenses in July and September, respectively, than a superfight will become all the more realistic.

MMAmania.com spoke with Lockhart recently, who will begin his preparations for the Van Duin fight with Cyborg starting this week in Orange County, regarding his relationship with the champion, her nutrition and impending move down to 135 pounds and much more!

Besides Cris, who are some of your favorite Brazilians to work with?

GL: It's funny, so I train here in Georgia. You have "Jucao" Roan Carneiro, Douglas Lima, Dhiego Lima. I'm working with a lot of guys at the time and I've got like four to five guys in UFC and they're Brazilian; Rafael dos Anjos. We're doing so many at one time right now. It's great. Definitely a plethora of people.

Being that your base is in Georgia, do you have a relationship with Raphael Assuncao?

GL: Me and him have actually trained together. I haven't been here -- I haven't talked to Raphael in a couple of months now. Sometimes he'll come and hit me up and it's funny because it's a lot different when you've got someone on your actual team because it's not like 'Write me a program.' People will ask me questions, my team will ask me questions. A lot of times it's just tips. We kind of use the system and they have me there. It makes things real simple.

Is Cris the first female fighter you've worked with?
GL: I've been working with female fighters for a while now. I actually started when I was in the marine core. One of the first fighters I had, she fought at an XFC event. It was definitely educational. I work with Sijara Eubanks and DeAnna Bennett in Invicta. I've been working with them for a while. Their bodies are so different. It's funny because there's a lot of women that miss weight because people don't understand -- they try to attack everything the same exact way that you would a man and they're completely different.

You have been working with her since the Tweet fight or before?
GL: I've been working with her since the Tweet fight. We went out there initially for two weeks to get an assessment. Kind of see what her build was like, training, to see how well her body responded to the types of foods I was giving her. Then, they flew me out there for the final week for the actual cut part for the Tweet fight to see how her body was and how she cut.

Did she call you as a last resort, as a result of a bad pre-cut, or was it different?
GL: It was different. We initially knew that we were going to work together and I think in the back of our head that it's very likely she's going down to 135 pounds and to do that we have to see what she's capable of. I need to see exactly how her training and nutrition synergistically work together; if that was feasible and keeping her performance up. It was a big test. It wasn't that she needed it. It wasn't that she was in dire straights to make 145, it was more for me and my knowledge to move forward.

What intrigued you about working with Cris?
GL: Her athleticism and the thing is -- a lot of people can make somebody make weight. But, to have somebody going down an entire weight class and increase their performance; that right there is science. It's hard to explain how difficult and amazing that is. When we do this and apply our principles and fundamentals to fighters, you've got guys like Brian Stann, Kenny Florian, Jeremy Stephens, Dustin Poirier; not only do they lose the weight but they cut weight classes. Their career's did really well off of that. Sijara, went down to 125 pounds, but started I want to say at 180 pounds when we started working together. With Cris, she's going to be the biggest. Deanna had the frame to pull off moving from 135 pounds to 115. Cris, because she is so powerful and that's her style of fighting -- to increase that power or keep that power the same at 135 -- we have to make sure that everything is on point.

Did the challenge of being the guy that helps Cris drop down to bantamweight make this opportunity all the more important to you?
GL: Absolutely. When I got the phone call, it was huge. The opportunity is tremendous. On a different note, if things don't go the right way, the pros and cons are equal. Everybody will know you as the guy that helped her get on weight and fight great, or the one that didn't help her make weight as people had planned and she didn't fight the way that she could've. I love that challenge. The cool thing was, was when I went down there. It's not just the fighter. Any group of individuals that I work with, like when I go down to Kings MMA and work with Dos Anjos and Beneil Dariush, they have an amazing team that will be like 'Hey, you know you're not supposed to be eating that. You're supposed to be eating this.' They push each other and do what they need to do. To see that from her team, it's awesome. It's phenomenal. You know, Rob Emerson. Her freaking manager, the guy is awesome. George Prajin, he helps her in every form of fashion. He basically backs me up and helps me out with everything that I need and making sure that she's doing everything. If they do everything they're told, it's amazing the results that you can get.

Can you talk about how the partnership came about?
GL: Me and George we talked. He had gotten information from Brian Stann. Brian's like 'This is the guy you need to go with.' George called me up and I guess that had talked to [Mike] Dolce and they weren't exactly pleased with the information they were given. I just told them this is exactly how I'm going to do it and this is exactly how it's going to go down. I stick with the science, just facts and not theories. It's hard to make a plan off of hopes and dreams. They were like, 'Alright, let's give this a shot.' I went down there and worked with them and got to meet Cris. The funny thing is, George knew me from Brian and I think that had a lot of weight. Cris initially when we met -- it's hard because you've got this guy you never met before trying to make you do things totally different than what you've ever done. She's putting her career in my hands. She's got big things coming up and has to put 100 percent trust in me. Initially, there wasn't any hesitation. She's always been awesome, she's such a sweetheart. You'd never guess it from the way she fights but she's like one of the nicest ladies out there. Once we got that trust in, when I went down that second time, she was just like 'Alright George, what do I need to eat? What do I need to do?' We made weight and obviously she won in 45 seconds in the first round.

In an past interview with Bloody Elbow, Mike Dolce had said she had been poorly managed in earlier parts of her career. Based upon your first couple of visits, do you necessarily agree with that statement?
GL: I don't know if she was poorly managed. I don't know about her early management, but somebody who has done the things she has done, I would expect her to be higher up on the totem pole. George is the one getting that done. He's one of the best managers I've ever met. I call him constantly for advice and things like that. He's help me out to do what I do. I think that she's on the cusp right now. Honestly, the woman is -- what does she have 12 or 13 knockouts -- that's insane. Not everybody knows Cris Cyborg. Someone brought this up to me, she's one of the few people -- like anybody in the UFC, they're known because they're in the UFC because they promoted them. Cyborg didn't have that and she's still pretty well known. She's one of the few people that did it on her own. She made a name for herself based upon the way she fights. I think things are definitely going to turn around.

In terms of her training, she's got the greatest coaching out there. BJJ and like Kings for striking, it doesn't get any better than that. In terms of nutrition, it wasn't so much that it was bad habits as much as it was just zoning in. I can help people at the elite level. Those small things that make the biggest difference, that's going to make the biggest difference in the camp, having to cut 10 pounds the day or having to cut two pounds the day of the weigh-ins and reloading, making sure everything is on point.

Does moving down to bantamweight successfully make or break her career?
GL: I don't think she's going to stay. She's the 145-pound champion. I never step outside. I'm not saying Ronda should go up or whatever. I'm the nutrition guy, I tell people what to eat. I just tell people what they need to be doing. With that being said, if she makes 135 and wins, does she stay there? I think it's up to Cris. I really do. I just think that this is a fight everyone wants to see. Ronda's not coming up so that leaves the ball in Cris's court and that's why I'm here. That's where we're going to meet.

You obviously had a mixed martial arts career, so you should have a say in whether a fighter moves up or down in weight, wouldn't you agree?
GL: When I talk to guys, I'm still fighting. Like I'll be out in camps training for a fight -- it's cool because I get to train at all these different camps -- so why not still fight? The one thing I say, I'm not going to give any coaching advice. I'm not going to talk to them about BJJ or striking. What I will tell somebody that comes to me and says they want to move down a weight class is, sometimes my job is like, these are the facts brother. I'll do what you want. I'll get you wherever you want, but these are the facts. Sometimes they do it as a last stitch effort, they're like 'Oh, my career is not going so hot, so I'm going to go down a weight class.'

Sometimes it is a smart thing, if you're the fastest one in your weight class and that's your strength, well if you go down a weight class, where everybody is faster and speed is your strength, that's not necessarily going to help your game. A lot of times, looking at fighting styles, there's so many different things to take into account. Don't do this because you think it's going to be easier, because it's not. It doesn't get easier as you go down weight classes because you have to remember, you aren't going to be as big as you're now. You're doing great because of your speed and now things are going to get a lot rougher for you. I just point that stuff out. Dustin wanted to go up in weight and gaining weight is so much harder than losing. It takes so much more time to build than it does to lose.

Because women can only sweat so much as opposed to men, how will you ensure that she maintains her knockout power on the eventual cut to 135 pounds?
GL: My big thing is, and they're going to be a ton of things that we're going to address, is when you take a look at somebody's style; everybody has muscle. When you take a bodybuilder for example, and put them up against a national wrestler. The bodybuilder looks 10 times more powerful. In that weight room, he might be. When that wrestler gets a hold of that bodybuilder, he's going to swing him around like he's a toy because he has muscle in the right place.

There are certain exercises and drills I put the people that I train through and every time you do something you have a stability muscle and a mobility muscle. What happens is when you throw a kick or punch for the very first time, the body doesn't know what muscle to use and which one not to use. That's why guys, when they first start boxing or kickboxing, they're exhausted very quickly because their bodies don't know which one is the stability muscle and mobility muscle. The left leg is for stability and the right is for mobility. The more time you do that with kinetics, the easier it's going to be; the less energy you're going to use to perform that specific exercise.

With that being said, it's not about the size of the muscle, it's about the proficiency of that muscle. We increase the proficiency of the muscle, but we have less muscle. Some muscle we don't need, it's really aesthetic. Certain drills we'll be doing are sport specific where she'll be holding onto muscle that she needs and getting rid of the muscle she doesn't. If I started a caloric deficit diet, if somebody does that, all they do is push-ups all day long. The body is like well, we need this muscle in the chest so when it loses weight, it's going to lose weight everywhere else. You're going to have a stick leg guy with a big chest because the body holds onto what it needs.

How do we ensure a fighter holds onto what they need?

We make sure that they're doing nothing but sport specific movements. The next thing that's really awesome about Cris is she does have so much muscle. Muscle is mostly water so it's going to be easier for her to cut that weight. We don't want to get rid of that muscle. She might have a little bit of body fat, but we don't want to go to low with a woman. She has a little bit more weight that she can lose on the body fat and after that, we just prep her with the cut a little bit differently to make sure that the body releases that water from the muscles.

What will the first couple of weeks be like working with her this camp, how will you make this cut easier?
GL: Now that I've seen what she does and how she performs, what I'm going to do is add calories. We're going to add calories and boost the metabolism. What happens is the body starts realizing oh, I'm getting all this food and you're able to perform at a higher level. A lot of people don't realize, the body does what it needs to do based upon the fuel you give it. Some people cut back when they do a great workout and then the rest of the day they're dragging.

The cool part about the body is it's going to slow you down and preserve energy based upon the fuel you give it. If you give your body more calories than you can move around and have more energy throughout the day. You train better, you go into practice and you're excited more. That means your body and mind is recovering. You're getting all the fuel that you need.

With that being said, if you give the body more calories, your body performs better and you're losing the same exact amount of weight. Now the cool thing about that is, if I'm eating 3-4,000 calories instead of cutting my body down to 2,000, I'm performing better and we're losing weight at the same rate, when the cut actually comes and we do cut calories the drop is so much more drastic.

How will you be maintaining the salt and water balance? What types of foods will you use to give her salt?
GL: There are certain times with our guys, when I put electrolytes into certain things. When you're working out, your body creates a ton of acidity and we want to get rid of that as quickly as possible when we're done working out. The reason being, when I eat meat, my body has to have a high level of acidity to break down my meat. That's why sometimes it takes a little longer for us to break down that meat. When I eat greens and carbohydrates, it's more alkalinity. If I'm telling my fighters to replenish their carbohydrates post-workout, but they have tons of acidity in their body because they just got done working out, it will be more proficient if they increase their electrolytes. Right after the workout, we give them a ton of electrolytes. It drops their acidity down but it also helps increase the proficiency of how the body synthesizes the carbohydrates.

Salt isn't really a big priority. If we're giving plenty of it to them in their post-workout, they'll get more than enough with the food, the flavoring and the seasoning we give her during meals. Never cut back on the salt. Water weight it's not a big issue. I just don't want her being bloated.The biggest thing is balancing the amount of potassium and the sodium. That's why we'll do salt for meals and we'll do potassium for snacks.

Can you talk about some of the foods she might be getting and what the plan is for protein?
GL: When they wake up in the morning, they'll end up having a meal. Now if they worked out early in the morning, then it's going to be more of a snack. For snacks, I usually put a lot of kefir into the diet; a lot of berries. We monitor the amount of Omega-3s versus Omega-6s. They have to be balacned as well. When they have snacks, they have more Omega-3s and for meals they have Omega-6s. One of the leading causes of inflammation is Omega-6. Omega-3 kind of gets rid of it. Your body, organs and nails all need Omega-6. If you don't have balance between the two, you kind of get clogged up and get a lot of inflammation.

Where will Cris be getting her protein from, is it plant-based or something else?
GL: Most of her protein will be coming straight from lean meats; chicken and salmon. In terms of supplementation, like whey-protein and whey-protein isolate; she'll be getting an isolate. I do get some things from Vega, but most of that stuff we actually don't implement at all. The reason being is, when you take protein after a workout, it isn't really replenishing anything. It's helping with the synthesis of carbohydrates. When you have a cell membrane, it creates a pathway for the carbohydrates to go into the cell. Not actually for recovery. Most people take a bunch of protein when they're done working out, thinking that they're replenishing their muscles when actually the muscles don't need that much more glycogen. She's getting protein through her meals, not through supplementation. The only reason for supplementation is for the synthesism of carbohydrates. In terms of that, we use a lot of BCAA's (branched-chain amino acid).

Do you have a meal plan all mapped out for her?
GL: We use the FitnessVT program. It's great, it's really easy for me, man. We input her weight and see how her body responds to the foods. How she's leaning out and based off of her activity -- like how hard her training sessions are, quality of sleep -- it'll change day-to-day.

Do you have a target weight for her to come in at fight week?
GL: It would be 160.

From there, begins the majority of the weight cut?
GL: Yeah, the actual cut. Her body will be prepped for the cut. It should be relatively easy.

Cris stated in an interview with Bloody Elbow earlier this month that she still wants a catchweight bout with Ronda at 140 pounds. Do you still think that she wants this fight bad enough?
GL: I think that she wants this fight so badly, I think no matter what happens she'll do it any weight. I think she does. She wants it. The one thing about Cris is that she loves to fight. I think that a lot of people are very good at fighting and I think they like the winning, but Cris is one of the few people that I've met that truly loves to fight. I think she would truly love to fight Ronda. There's a lot of talk and I've been in the game long enough to see the build-up to fights. I think Ronda has really gotten under her skin and Cris is one of the few people that can perform better when that happens. It's not a lack of desire, I think that she's trying to play it smart and I see that. It just makes sense. The girl has fought at 145 more times than she's fought at 135. She really wanted to fight Cris. If the tables were turned, I think Cris would fight Ronda at 140 in a heartbeat.

Do you have any closing comments on how you see her cut to 145 pounds going?
GL: Cris has started training for 10 days. She's already lean; the girl is an athlete. When I talk about her as a fighter, she runs. When I first met her, I told her to do a light jog and she a little over 5-and-a-half miles in 40 minutes. It's like, that doesn't happen [laughs]. She swims -- as an athlete, she's very well-rounded, has the right mentality and I think that me coming in and just putting in a little more that extra advantage so that the cut isn't actually something that they think about. They think about the fight and that's it.

If Cris beats Faith Van Duin and Ronda defeats Bethe Correia at UFC 190, would a superfight close to the end of the year negatively impact her body and performance after two previous fight camps?
GL: My preference would be to do that [fight over the winter]. Could Cris do that? Like I said, she's a fighter and has the mentality 'I can do this.' There's tough and then there's smart and honestly when you do a whole new weight class, the longer that she has to do it; the recovery and so forth -- the better it is for your body. The less impact it is going to have and we can come in stronger. My preference is that it is later on rather than it being this year. Like I said, if I get that call then we'll make it happen either way and she'll be top notch.