Training gets wild as Josuel Distak drags out the heavy bags.
With rows of heavy bags on the floor, the fighters pair up. First, for 30 seconds, one fighter grounds-and-pounds the bag while his partner pulls him away with a rear waistlock, then they rotate. Then, they go from both sides of side control and full mount.
Everything is fair game: punches, hammerfists, knees and elbows. Distak encourages variety, imploring the fighters not to neglect their elbows and knees from side control.
For some 30 minutes, the gym is a symphony of yelling, grunting, and heavy bag percussion.
Before the final installment of the drill, Distak lines a fighter up on each end of a heavy bag, and tells them to go 60 seconds, as hard as they can, 100 percent power.
"When you're done, stand up and raise your arms," Distak tells them. "Then, you're a champion."
For 60 seconds, the entire room screams and wails on the heavy bags. The dents being put into the bags are massive, and with the constant pounding, they have no time to decompress. The bags start to look like cells undergoing mutations. After a minute of savagery, the entire gym stands up, raises their arms, and lets out a collective "EYYYY!"
Moments later, the adrenaline dump sets in. Just seconds ago, they were destroying these heavy bags with a unique ferocity. Now, most of them look like they can barely breathe.
|A Round For Bettega|
Josuel Distak is riding Fernando Bettega hard today.
As the group continues its 30-second grappling matches, Distak begins to bark at Bettega in hopes of sparking his adopted charge.
"Let's go, Fernando!" Distak booms as Bettega rolls with Lucas Pires. "Don't let him control your wrists, Fernando! Attack his knee and pass the guard!"
Bettega steps his game up. His fitness is showing, and he's attacking his training partners more and more. In one roll with Strikeforce vet Marcus Kowal, Bettega hits a far-side kneebar that would make a 1990s Pancrasist proud. But, he can't entirely avoid the crack of Distak's whip.
Rolling with Jarrod Bunch, a mammoth former NFL player twice his size, Bettega fails to secure his hooks while attempting to get Bunch's back, instead swinging for an over-the-back armbar. This draws the ire of Distak, who chews him out when the round ends.
"Take position first, Fernando! He's bigger than you!" Distak implores. "Use your head!"
The next round of grappling begins. Bettega is all over Marcus Kowal, who looks like he's caught in a hurricane on the ground. Bettega quickly takes his back and crossfaces him, threatening the rear-naked choke. When Koval is able to escape, Bettega wastes nary a nanosecond in securing a front headlock and leaping into a crushing guillotine. The choke is positively explosive, as is Kowal's tap. Distak applauds Bettega as the round ends.
Kowal remains on all fours, face buried in the mat, coughing and sucking wind.
|Distak The Motivator|
The training intensifies. Distak puts half the gym on their backs, in guard, and stands up the other half. The fighters will rotate every 30 seconds. The pairs will grapple 100 percent, all-out for a half minute, at which point they'll each move to their left, to a new partner, and go for another 30 seconds.
There is no buzzer in the gym. To signal the end of 30 seconds, Distak whistles at a deafening volume, barely even moving his lips, before yelling "TROCAR!," signaling them to switch.
Some of the pairings are intriguing. "Jacare" ends up grappling with some diminutive 135-pounders, who it seems like he could break in half at will. Meanwhile, Fernando Bettega winds up rolling with former NFL'er Jarrod Bunch, who says he has "dropped weight" and now clocks in at a massive 250 pounds.
The short, high-intensity intervals quickly exhaust the fighters. The mat is drenched in sweat. It seems the only man not in physical distress after a handful of rotations is "Jacare," who doesn't need to exert much energy to come out on top of the grappling exchanges.
Sensing the fatigue of the group, Distak becomes the motivator.
"ARE YOU TIRED?!" he yells in Portuguese.
"NO!" the gym yells back in unison.
Despite having members from all over the world, the gym is considerably fluent in Portuguese, being able to respond to all of Distak's commands as if they were all native speakers.
Today, Werdum is headed to Japan to do some seminars; thus, the aforementioned Pires is in charge of the gym. However, as practice begins, Pires cedes control of the practice to X-Gym leader Josuel Distak, a choice that will inevitably lead to a much greater quantity of sweat and lactic acid.
Josuel Distak was clearly meant to train fighters.
In social, public settings, he comes off as a wacky, crazy uncle-type that is hard to take seriously. However, the minute he's in the gym setting, he's a drill sergeant. It doesn't matter that this isn't X-Gym in Rio, as he quickly assumes a stranglehold over the Werdum Combat Team.
Distak barks instructions in Portuguese, telling the fighters to pair up on the mat. As per Distak's instructions, the fighters warm up by drilling the motion of various attacks from both sides: first an omoplata on the right shoulder of their partner, then the left. A triangle, right side, then left side. Armdrags to the back, back control armbars. Distak ambles over the mat with his head down, and his arms clasped behind his back, watching his charges out of the corner of his eyes.
Nothing breaks Distak's command over the room. When fighter Marcus Koval enters the gym late, with no free fighters for him to partner with, Distak simply points to a large heavy bag, instructing him to work with the inanimate object like a real partner. Distak doesn't even break his stride around the mat while instructing Koval.
The thought for the day was that a level of familiarity would be good for our Brazilian trio. Our thesis was definitely correct, but it resulted in some brutal training.
The location for the morning session is Fabricio Werdum's gym in Venice, Calif. Fernando Bettega has spent time training with Werdum and his team in the past, and is close with Werdum's second-in-command, Lucas Pires. In fact, when you enter the tiny rectangular prism that serves as the gym -- roughly the size of a hole-in-the-wall diner -- you can actually see Bettega on the wall, in picture form, as part of the throng celebrating with Renato "Babalu" Sobral after his May win over Robbie Lawler.
The walls are filled with virtually every medal Werdum has ever won. On the far left, there is hardware from the mid-to-late ‘90s, state championships in Rio Grande do Sul and Copa do Whatevers. As your eyes scan to the right, the medals get bigger and more luxurious, displaying Werdum's success at the Pan-Ams, World Championships and ADCC.
Pride posters and memorabilia from Werdum's global travels are all over the gym. Even his WAFF heavyweight title from 2002 is on display; it looks like some sort of 1920's boxing relic.