by Felix Falcon
MMA fighters have two fights. The first with the scale and the second with their opponent. For as long as I have been covering MMA events, I’ve been obsessed with the time in between these two fights. The 24 to 30 hours from when a fighter steps off the scale to the time they get to step into the cage.
Most people only get to see a fighter as they walk out into the arena and enter the cage to fight. So, I’ve enlisted three VA pro fighters to bring us some behind-the-scenes insight into what might be the longest 24 hours in a fighter’s life.
Disciple MMA’s Kenny Gaudreau has had 8 pro fights with a record of 5-3. A long and very well rounded fighter, he has the ability to stop a fight with both his striking and submissions. Gaudreau was part of our 2014 Pro Fight of the Year.
Kaizen MMA’s Kevin Chung was one of several young breakout pro fighters in the State in 2015. Chung climbed to 3-0 after making his pro debut last February.
8 Corners MMA’s Robbie Lillard recently won his pro debut after a very successful amateur career. He is a fresh new addition to the large stable of Lightweight pros we currently have in the State.
Alright, so you step off the scale, stare your opponent down for the press, promotion, and family/friends’ photo ops. When you start to get fluids back in you, do you have the same routine every time? If so, what is your preference?
Gaudreau: In regard to replenishment, it’s typically the same process, but changes slightly depending on how my body feels. First couple hours I’m looking to replenish electrolytes, potassium and sodium levels.
Chung: The rehydration and refueling process is just as, if not equally important, as the weight-cut process itself. I’ve done a lot of research and learned what works for my body through trial and error. Immediately after weigh ins, I will sip on room temperature water and then have an ice-cold shake which consists of BCAAs, potassium, electrolytes, and a bit of salt. You’ve just sucked your body dry, so you want to create leeway to get these nutrients back in your system before you eat. Although I have a general idea of what works for me, there is always room for improvement, especially in light of new anti-dehydration guidelines implemented by both ONE Championship and the California Athletic Commission which look like great solutions to the weight cut epidemic in combat sports.
Lillard: I’ve tried a couple different methods as far as rehydration goes. The method that works the best for me is coconut milk, GA Gatorade, and water. My last fight was probably my hardest weight cut (I don’t cut nearly as much weight as others). I did this method and I felt pretty good after 20 minutes or so.
You’ve had the sweet taste of something liquid back into your body, are you eating something that night? What kind of foods do you like to put back in your system the night of weigh ins?
Gaudreau: I will eat small easy to digest foods first, then work my way up to a large meal about four hours later.
Chung: I eat foods that will be easiest on my digestive system and keep me fueled until the fight. These are not exactly the same meals I eat the 6-8 weeks leading up to the weight cut. I have made the mistake of taking in way too much protein after a cut and wondered why I felt so bloated and full. I have small baby meals that consist of greens, carbs, and some fats. I love to have a small steak after being fully hydrated.
Lillard: I know I shouldn’t, but I eat pretty bad after weigh ins. After my last weigh in, I went to Red Robin and got myself a bacon cheeseburger, two orders of sweet potato fries, and a vanilla milkshake. I still have pleasant daydreams about that meal. My next weigh in I am going to try to go the healthier route though…. No promises.
The pomp and circumstance is over, you’re no longer in your underwear in front of strangers obsessing over how much you weigh. You’re most likely in a hotel room thinking about tomorrow’s game plan. Are you able to get any sleep that night?
Gaudreau: I usually sleep well the night of a fight. I sleep in as long as I need to.
Chung: I don’t think about the fight too much. It’s just another fight, and I’ve been thinking about it endlessly for weeks and weeks already. I’ve put in the hard hours and worked out my game plan during training camp, the day before the fight is all rest and relaxation. Throughout the night and before bed, I’ll make sure to have one or more gallons of water and coconut water.
Lillard: I sleep like a baby koala bear after weigh ins. Between depleting my body of nutrients and a full tummy, I am out. I usually don’t think about the fight very much, or I try not to, at least.
Morning of the Fight
Rise and shine, it’s fight day! You’re up and ready for the day ahead. Are you grabbing some breakfast? Hitting the hotel gym to stay loose? Staying in bed and slumming it? What does your morning look like?
Gaudreau: The day of the fight usually kicks off with Cracker Barrel. I look to meet the same level of macronutrients as I would on a regular day of the camp. I like to get a little cardio in the morning and spend the rest of the day lounging in and out of naps.
Chung: I try and sleep as late as possible on the day of the fight. Some people advise against it, but I actually like to go to the gym and get a quick jog in when I wake up. Nothing hard at all, just to get the body loose and ready for action. I’ll go get a tiny breakfast, some caffeine, and wait several hours before fight time for my bigger meal.
Lillard: The morning of the fight I try to sleep in a little bit because the fights last past my bedtime. On most occasions, I don’t sleep in at all. I usually pop out of bed abnormally early on fight day. My beautiful wife cooks me an awesome breakfast. To kill time I just play video games or shadow box in the mirror in my tightie whities.
You get to the arena. You check in with the promoters. You’re told the fighter’s rules meeting is at 3:00, but you know it’ll probably be more like 5:00. What do you do to kill time between getting there and actually getting ready to fight?
Gaudreau: Once at the venue I find a nice corner in the warm up room to rest in and continue napping. About 4 hours before the estimated time of fighting I have one final small meal. From that point, I will snack on banana chips, chocolate and water until the fight.
Chung: Facebook. Music. Sleep.
Lillard: I talk a lot. At this stage I’m not nervous, but I’m very excited. When I get like that I become very talkative. Other than talking, I make up a lot of scenarios in my head on how the fight might go. I also take mini naps. Surprisingly, for me, this stage flies by pretty quickly.
7 o’clock hits, the doors open and the show is about to start. You’re hands are wrapped and you know go-time is around the corner. How long before you have to fight do you start warming up? What is your mental state at this point?
Gaudreau: About 30 mins before called out to fight, I wake up and start getting the body loose. Sometimes I have a routine warm up and sometimes it’s winged. It all depends on the camp and how I feel that day. I work the body up to a good sweat, until the first shortness of breath comes. Then I just stay warm until it’s time to walk out. The team is often shooting the shit, involved in their own dialogue. The cold air outside the warm up room is always daunting. The time between leaving the, literally warm, comfort of the warm up room, and stepping into the cage is the worst. I prefer those who stand silent during this time of discomfort, these few are usually my corners.
Chung: Generally, I will be wrapped and in gear an hour before my fight time. I get warm, stretch, drill, and have pad sessions at 2-3 minute intervals about 45 minutes before I walk out. At this point, I’m focused on one thing and it is how I will have my hand raised at the end of the night.
Lillard: At this stage, I’m a wreck. Not many people see this side of fighting. The mental warfare before the fight is actually a lot harder than the actual fight in most cases. You don’t have butterflies in your stomach, you have eagles flying around in there. When there’s about three fights before my fight I begin to warm up. I usually like to get beads of sweat on my forehead before I walk out.
Finally! All the preparations are done, you are all gloved up, warmed up, and ready for combat. Your walk out music starts blaring and you start making the walk to the cage. What kind of music are you choosing? Are you looking for something to hype you up? Keep you focused? Lighten the mood? Or does the music not really matter? What, if anything has changed in your mindset in going from the locker room to the last cageside inspection?
Gaudreau: Even with how prepared I am, I stand behind the curtain questioning myself more than ever before. Once the song starts, all thoughts are erased and a reassuring excitement rushes over. I enjoy the song on the way to the gatekeeper. I’m finally warm again. All the feelings I was having behind the curtain have now been erased and replaced with the opposite. I am a machine, a warrior, and this is my cage. From there, I have a clear mind and just focus on breathing.
Chung: Fighters normally choose their walkout song weeks before fight day. I usually tend to go with a Korean song, just because I have Korean-American pride in me and Korean Hip-Hop is on the rise. The only thing on my mind during the walkout is knowing once I step foot in that cage, I will do anything to finish my opponent within the time allowed.
Lillard: For me, all the nerves disappear as soon as I walk through the curtain. My music is always funky, and sometimes I even boogie to the cage. Most recently, I’ve been driving down the road and I hear a song on the radio. When I hear it, I know it is the one.
Vaseline? Check...Mouthpiece? Check...Cup? Check…
The cage door closes. The referee inquires, “Fighter, are you ready? Fighter, are you ready?”
The combatants touch gloves and finally get to do what they have been waiting for all this time, fight!