|Soaking It Up|
TJ De Santis
The workout has wrapped up, and our fighters are rewarded with a late lunch of fresh Thai cuisine. Bas Rutten walks the team to a quaint and authentic Thai restaurant less than a block from his gym.
The Sherdog MMA Fighter Exchange is all about the global sport of mixed martial arts. Between the Dutch being spoken between Rutten and the Mousasis, and the pungent smell of curry, I feel like we are nowhere near southern California.
Gewik Mousasi is hungry after participating in training alongside his brother, Gegard, and young lightweight Max “Payne” Martyniouk. He digs into the family-style bowl of Thai chicken soup.
“Hey, leave a piece of chicken in there for me,” Rutten jokingly chides as the elder Mousasi goes for a second helping. Gewik smiles and plops a piece from his bowl back into the communal pot. The whole group bursts out in laughter.
Over the course of the meal, Rutten shares stories of his journeys in Japan. Mousasi asks questions and Bas answers while Max looks up from his meal, just listening.
Max chats with cameraman Dave Mandel in English while Gegard and Bas speak Dutch. I can only assume they’re talking about Mousasi's bout with fellow Exchange Program fighter Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza as Gegard throws air punches. He mentions the Brazilian’s name, and the only other word I understand is “upkick.”
All fighters have stories from the ring and the road. Max Martyniouk is soaking it all up, as one day he’ll be telling the story of his lunch with Bas Rutten.
|Another Day In L.A.|
TJ De Santis
Only in MMA do people get excited at the prospect of being choked.
Sherdog’s MMA Fighter Exchange has brought mentor Gegard Mousasi and protégé Max "Payne" Martyniouk to West Lake, Calif., to train with the legendary Bas Rutten.
The former champion is on the mat, demonstrating guillotine chokes for Martyniouk and Mousasi. Gegard gets choked and smiles after tapping. Martyniouk does the same. A moment later, Gegards's brother, Gewik, is tapping after willingly getting on the mat with Rutten.
The fighter’s mentality may seem odd to the casual person, however, these three fighters are just enjoying another day of training in southern California.
|Strike Drop And Roll|
TJ De Santis
Bas Rutten was a good MMA fighter because he could strike. He was a great MMA champion because he could grapple as well. As such, the second part of today’s training with Bas focuses on ground training.
Max Martyniouk circles his coaches, Rutten and Gegard Mousasi, as they roll on the floor. The lightweight is focused on everything playing out in front of him.
Two of the best combat athletes to ever come out of Holland are rolling in front of the Estonian-born lightweight. Hidden inside of an office complex, Rutten’s Elite MMA is just another spot in southern California where one can find world-class MMA instruction.
Mousasi and Rutten go over kimura setups and finishes. Both fighters show Max different ways to finish the shoulder lock from guard. Gegard stops to ask Bas a question while he is teaching. Mousasi is not only a mentor in this program, but a student as well.
|Actions Speak Louder|
TJ De Santis
The first thing you see when you walk into Bas Rutten's Elite MMA gym is a cage. Beyond that lie a pair of title belts which “El Guapo” captured during the course of his illustrious MMA career.
The Dutch expat explodes with enthusiastic greetings when he spots Gegard Mousasi and his brother, Gewik. The three men engage in conversation, speaking Dutch as Rutten gives us a tour around the facility, then shows us to an empty mat room.
It isn't long before Gegard, Gewik and Max Martyniouk have worked up a decent sweat, joining Bas in a few rounds of Rutten’s MMA conditioning.
“Defense!” Rutten belts out, and all three men sprawl in unison. Martyniouk is smiling as he stands again to follow up with the instructed left hook.
Once the blood is really going, Bas grabs the focus mitts and works with Max on his punching technique. “Payne” has been a striker his entire life, a fact which fellow standup artist Rutten quickly recognizes. The basics are passed over in favor of more advanced techniques.
The international combat sports star tells Max to be more vocal with his punches.
“POP, POP, POP!” shouts Rutten. “If you’re louder, you will hit harder, I promise.”
Max responds with a smile and hits the pads, mimicking the sounds of his legendary coach.
The two men work together for a good while on countering kicks with straight punches and hooks to the body. Rutten tells Martyniouk to rock back and explode through with his left hook. The lightweight does just that, crashing his fist into the pad covering Rutten's liver area.
“Beautiful!” exclaims a pleased Rutten. The expression on Martyniouk’s face shows that this is a day he will never forget.
TJ De Santis
Monday morning's workout saw young Max Martyniouk climbing ropes, running and doing pull-ups.
"More explosive movement, Max," Gegard Mousasi suggests. "MMA is a sport of explosive movement."
The veteran tells his student that he needs to explode more when he does his pull-ups, getting his chin to the top of the bar. Martyniouk listens and does his next set of reps just as his new coach instructs him.
With a quick rinse in the hotel shower, the fighters hit the road again.
Their destination is West Lake, Calif., where they'll be training with MMA legend Bas Rutten.
The mood in the car is light as we head down the famously scenic Pacific Coast Highway. Max and Gegard chat about weight cutting as we head down the road.
"You know kilos, right?" asks Mousasi. Martyniouk smiles and replies, "Of course."
We pass a sign that tells us we're entering Topanga Canyon.
"I though this would be bigger," says Gegard. The Dutch fighter then reveals that he thought we were going through the Grand Canyon.
After a few moments of laughter, the conversation turns back to fighting and training.
TJ De Santis
The dynamic between Gegard Mousasi and Max "Payne" Martyniouk seems great from the start. The two men are constantly joking and having a good time during training.
“I am really looking to learn from Gegard, on and off of the mat,” says Martyniouk. The Estonian-born fighter cites Holland's Mousasi as one of his biggest role models in MMA, and the admiration is mutual.
“I love him,” says Mousasi. “He is very easy going. I would hang out with him even if we weren't doing this.”
The former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion even said that he might learn from the younger Martyniouk.
“His brother is a pro boxer. I can learn from that. I will teach him about the MMA things.”
TJ De Santis
It’s 9 a.m. and southern California’s Fighter Exchange team of Gegard Mousasi, Gewik Mousasi and Max Martyniouk are enjoying breakfast.
Martyniouk has an egg white omelette with tomato, mushroom and avocado, while the Mousasis each have do-it-yourself breakfast burrito plates.
In a few moments, the team will start their first workout of the campaign with some beach training. Max and Gegard laugh as Mousasi jokes that Martyniouk is going to have to jump off of the high Santa Monica Pier for training.
Appropriately for the trio of fighters, Santa Monica’s beach is known for being the setting for the opening theme of "Three's Company."
“Today, I woke up in a beautiful hotel and I realized I am really doing this,” said Max. “It’s really cool.”