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Mixed martial arts helps NFL players improve skills and deal with lockout

SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

Clay Matthews, Jared Allen and others get an intense workout, not to mention the ability to hit somebody, while working with Fox football reporter Jay Glazer.

June 06, 2011|Sam Farmer
  • Jay Glazer, center, grapples with Buffalo Bills linebacker Shawne Merriman as free-agent linebacker Kirk Morrison watches during training session at True Warrior Fitness on Monday.
Jay Glazer, center, grapples with Buffalo Bills linebacker Shawne Merriman… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

Clay Matthews is locked out of the sport he loves, but the Green Bay Packers linebacker still gets to do something that's only a fantasy for most NFL players.

He gets to punch a reporter.

"And when haven't I wanted to do that?" said Matthews, who may have been joking.

The reporter on the other end of those fists is Jay Glazer, who leads a bizarre double life. When he's not working as the NFL insider for Fox, he's at a gym in Hollywood, training some of the league's elite players in mixed martial arts. Among his clients are Matthews, Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen, and Jacksonville tight end Marcedes Lewis.

"We're getting these guys to be elite warriors in their sport, the mental and the physical part," said Glazer, who two years ago formed MMA Athletics with Randy Couture, a legend in ultimate fighting. They worked with the Atlanta Falcons and St. Louis Rams for a month last off-season and, but for the lockout, had other teams lined up for this season.

Glazer said his bosses at Fox have no problem with him mingling his business interests with those of the athletes he covers -- taboo in traditional journalism -- and that his directive is to make inroads with players however possible.

"Having relationships on and off the field and being able to work with these guys actually helps," said Eric Shanks, president of Fox Sports. "I don't think it's any different than a guy who's writing books and goes and embeds himself with these guys for months."

In his other career, Glazer's focus is helping players break the will of the players across the line of scrimmage. A longtime amateur MMA fighter who had a brief professional career, he's a self-described "pit bull" who barks out commands in the gravely voice of a drill sergeant and downs a dozen cans of double espresso per day.

Working out with him at True Warrior Gym on Monday were Lewis, Buffalo linebacker Shawne Merriman, former Jacksonville linebacker Kirk Morrison, New England safety Jarrad Page, and Minnesota center Jon Cooper.

While Couture grappled with Cooper to the lineman's balance, Glazer coached the other players on how to use their fists to hammer away at blocking hands (rather than slapping them aside), how to burst up and through a heavy bag, and how to use wrestling moves to strengthen the hips.

The goal of the training is two-pronged: make the players use their bodies in a more brutal and efficient way, and push back their psychological breaking point so they can "own their space" and ratchet up their intensity when others around them are fading.

Allen and Matthews both say they saw a dramatic spike in their performances after their MMA training.

"In weightlifting, you have some time to relax, catch your breath, and then get after it with another set," said Matthews, who was second in voting for the NFL's defensive player of the year award last season. "But with MMA, you have a guy that's pushing on you for a three- to five-minute round. It's always wearing on you so that mentally you have to push yourself beyond any place that you've been to before."

That approach seems to be working for Lewis, who has been training this way four days a week for the last two months, losing 10 pounds in the process. He figures that will give him an edge when the lockout is eventually lifted.

"We talk about that all the time," Lewis said. "The guys here are doing this because nobody else is."

Lewis said Glazer first approached him at the Pro Bowl about training with MMA Athletics.

"He said, 'Marcedes, when you're ready to step into a darker place, let me know,' " he said. "I didn't know what he was talking about, so I just laughed it off."

The two met again at the Super Bowl, and this time Glazer was with Couture and fellow UFC star Chuck Liddell, who, incidentally, worked out with the group Monday.

"They talked to me for about two minutes, and the rest was history," Lewis said. "You're talking about two guys that helped build the sport from the ground up. You can't do anything but respect it, because the sport they do, if you mess up you can get seriously hurt.

"I think that's the first time I've been star-struck."

Lewis might have been star-struck but he and his fellow NFL players get treated like everyday grunts in the workouts.

"We don't coddle these guys or stroke them," Couture said. "We don't sit around telling them how great they are."

That's reflected in a simple sign posted at Couture's gym in Las Vegas, a message that embodies the raw ethos of the training.

"If you vomit or bleed, please clean up after yourself," the sign reads. "The gloves and cleaner are under the sink."

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