|More Body Shots|
Distak's relationship with some of the fighters who come through X-Gym is complex. Fighters like Anderson Silva and Fabio Maldonado -- fighters who are regulars at his gym, but don't always do full camps there -- he maligns for not letting him train them full time. He is quick to point out that guys like Anderson and Andre Galvao always have their best performances when they're with him for a full camp, but that it's their choice who they ask to train them, coach them and corner them.
The third round begins. It takes Maldonado all of 48 seconds to lay waste to the fatigued McSweeney. I turn around in the car.
"Maldonado derrotou McSweeney," I say in my atrocious wannabe Portuguese. "Nocauteu, 48 segundos, terceiro round. Body shots."
Distak nods, smiling as I reveal the details.
"Fabio, body shots," he says, putting his fist lightly into my guts again. He then puts two thumbs up and smiles, and celebrates with an "Eyyy!" from the backseat.
We sit in the car, waiting to take the Brazilians to train. Today, Fernando Bettega will run some dreadfully steep steps in Pacific Palisades while Josuel Distak and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza crack the whip on him.
As we wait for "Jacare" -- a happening that prompts even his trainer Distak to start making jokes about “Brazilian time” in English -- I notice that the UFC 120 prelims in England are getting underway.
First on the card is Greg Jackson-trained Brit James McSweeney and late replacement debutant Fabio Maldonado. Maldonado is a regular at Distak's X-Gym, as a training partner for the Nogueira brothers, Anderson Silva, Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante and "Jacare" himself.
"Fabio Maldonado is fighting now," I tell him.
"UFC?" he replies.
"Yes, yes, in England," I say.
I keep them posted with play-by-play while we keep our eyes peeled for "The Gator." After McSweeney's solid opening round, I tell them that Maldonado is turning the tide, and McSweeney is getting tired. Bettega relays the information to Distak in Portuguese. Before I can explain how Maldonado is doing it, Distak is already two steps ahead of me.
He taps me on the shoulder, and puts a light punch to my ribs. "Body shot?" he asks.
"Yes, Fabio is hurting him with body shots," I tell him, nodding in affirmation.
|It's About Feeeling Good|
In the hotel, I'm indulging in my atrocious eating habits. Mike and Ikes are being crammed into my gullet at a speed which probably isn't socially acceptable.
Fernando Bettega sits across from me. He's not judging me. In fact, I think he actually looks rather jealous.
"You want one?" I ask. I'm not trying to tease him, I'm being genuine. Surely, one Mike and Ike won't kill him.
"No, no," he shakes his head. "I can't."
"It's just one," I say, resorting to 14-year-old peer pressure tactics.
"I can never eat just one, you know?" he says. "My wife, she can do this. After dinner, one chocolate, and that's it. She can stop. When I have one, or something sweet, I just want more and more. That's why I stay with salad and water."
This kind of asceticism, more than anything else, is what I admire and envy about the fighters I cover.
"If you were sentenced to death, and you had one last meal, what would you have?" I ask Bettega. "Your weight doesn't matter any more at that point. It could be anything."
He laughs, squints, and thinks about the question.
"I think maybe sushi. Sushi with salmon," he laughs.
"All the food in the world, and you choose sushi. Do you think they'd let you cut a couple pounds in the sauna before they gave you the lethal injection?" I chide him.
"It's not just about looking good," he tells me. "It's about feeling good. Even if I was going to die, I want to feel good before they kill me."
With so much travel all over the state of California, and the considerable amount of training, the Brazilians -- well, "Jacare," anyway -- ask us if they can have just a few hours to rest and decompress.
Yes, it seems we've done more to tire out the BJJ, ADCC and Strikeforce champion than our up-and-comer, Fernando Bettega.
While the three Brazilians relax in the hotel for a spell, my cohort Greg Savage, Crave vice president John Keefer -- the big boss of this operation -- and I sit in the Crave offices, trying to figure out how to get the trio back into the grind.
Josuel Distak has mentioned to us that he'd like to get Fernando Bettega into the weight room. Bettega is not a small 170-pounder -- he started his career at 185 and, right now, weighs in the high 180's. However, he is not a physical powerhouse, and Distak is confident he can help him add power to his game.
It's a staple of X-Gym. Distak's partner, Rogerio Camoes, serves as the strength and conditioning coach for all the fighters at the gym when they're working there. The likes of Anderson Silva, Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante and "Jacare" all credit him with helping them to become better athletes. Part of it is his ability to watch fighters spar and compete, then instantly divine how a particular weight program would help their games. It's something Distak wants to offer Bettega.
We take turns cold-calling gyms all over Santa Monica and Los Angeles, looking for any kind of gym that will let us film for 45 minutes while Bettega pumps iron. It's difficult: no nearby MMA gyms have the amount of weight equipment necessary, while your Gold's Gyms and other such spots are looking for payment to film on site, or don't have time to clear it with their managers.
The calling goes on for the better part of three hours. We've been defeated. Fortunately for us, defeat in this case only means that the fighters will get a bit of a night off, and they might actually start to like us again.
|All In Stride|
For our Brazilian trio, it isn't a particularly good start to their time in Los Angeles.
After leaving San Jose in the dark of night to catch an 8 a.m. flight, their hope was to be able to head to the famous Wild Card Gym of Freddie Roach, the stomping grounds of Manny Pacquiao and a host of the boxing world's elite. In addition, the likes of Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva and Andrei Arlovski have all laced up the gloves to train in the gym.
We know ahead of time that Freddie Roach and his brother, Pepper, are out of town. When we arrive, we're greeted by boxing promoter Steve Bash, who shakes hands all around, and introduces us to some of the in-house Russian fighters. We climb the tall wooden steps, bypassing the homeless man who has set up shop with his hat held out on the stairs.
Wild Card is twice as hot as the outside temperature. The smell of stale sweat is familiar in a gym, but the aroma is tenfold here. Fernando Bettega, Josuel Distak and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza all look around the gym, trying to process the hustle, tussle and cacophony of the gym.
The amount of yelling and genial in-fighting in the space is astounding. There are constant spoutings of "We've got one more round in here!", "You can't be in here!" and trainers barking at their charges as they spar and smash the heavy bag.
It's not a day of "Who's Who" at Wild Card, but naturally, notables abound. The hope is that Bettega will be able to spar with former IBF 154-pound boxing world champion Roman Karmazin. Unbeaten super middleweight prospect Peter Quillin is also in the house. He's cheery and shaking hands; my secret hope for the day is to see him spar with Bettega.
Our trip ends in failure: we're told that the gym has signed an exclusive deal with HBO which permits only the premium cable network to film inside. We discuss amongst ourselves the veracity of this -- we've all filmed inside of Wild Card before for both MMA and boxing content -- and are highly dubious of the claim. The phrase "if Freddie was here" is heard repeatedly.
Bettega, Distake and "Jacare" take the news in stride, but their disappointment is not hard to perceive.