In-Depth Look At A Day Of Training For Marcus Aurelio

Tony Ortiz of sent along the following …

Do you hate your job? Do you wish you could be doing something else for a living? Have you abandoned your dreams of becoming a professional athlete? Well, if you are sick of your nine to five and want to know how the other half lives, here is your chance to decide whether or not the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence. Marcus “Maximus” Aurelio is a professional MMA fighter with a record of fourteen wins and four losses. He has recently signed a contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship that will cover his next four fights. Marcus will be making his debut against Clay Guida on August 25th. I recently caught up with “Maximus” to observe how one of the best in his profession goes about a typical day.

Aurelio begins his day at 8 A.M. The first order of business is his morning cardio. A forty-minute run on an empty stomach is the usual jumpstart to a busy day. After working up the first of many thorough sweats, it’s time to eat. Breakfast usually consists of egg whites, whole-wheat toast and coffee. After eating, Marcus tries to conserve as much energy as possible by resting until the next workout. Thirty minutes before beginning the next portion of his training, Marcus drinks a pre-performance shake for energy.

Most of Marcus’ training is done at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida. Today at noon, training will begin for the professional fighters. Those in attendance include Kalib Starnes, Jorge Santiago, Rafael “The Claw” Diaz, Denis Kang, Thiago “Pit bull” Alves, Gesias “JZ” Calvancanti, Wilson Gouveia, Mike Brown and, of course, Marcus Aurelio. The trainers consist of Master Marcus “Conan” Silveira, former Muay Thai champion Mohammed Ouali, and strength and conditioning coach “Benkei.”

At roughly 12:15 P.M. the fighters begin prepping for training by wrapping their hands, along with stretching and talking as they do independent warm ups. A job started is a job half done. I remember a teacher telling me that in high school. Apparently the same holds true for group training. It’s seemingly a chore just to get everyone focused on even beginning. Before organized warm up begins, Marcus tells me “Let me know if you need anything. I’ll be here.” He also foreshadows the arduous training ahead as he shakes his head and states, “Today is a hard day.” As Marcus walks to the warm up area, Gesias notices me and greets me with an accented “Hey, my friend.” As I shake his hand, I ask if he is still going to be fighting in the upcoming K-1 Heroes tournament. His response is a confident “Oh yes!” As the reigning tournament champion, why wouldn’t he be?

Its 12:30 P.M. as organized warm ups begin. It is evident by his loud voice and constant talking and joking that JZ is a source of energy that the others can feed off of. Warm up consists of running around the biggest mat in the gym and bending to touch the ground after an interval of a few paces. This is followed by heel touches, high knee lifts, sprinting and running backwards. The warm ups complete, and the fighters are told to place their headgear on and get water if needed. At this time, the trainers apply Vaseline to the faces of the fighters to help prevent cuts in training. Meanwhile, Conan Silveira makes one last loud reminder that “everybody wears head gear.” Silveira also issues somewhat of a warning: “Everybody goes 100 percent.” Then, everyone partners up, and the specialized drills begin.

The first drill consists of one person placing his back to the wall or cage and the other person going for the takedown. The object is mainly to help the person being pinned against the fence or wall to prevent takedowns. Marcus had been in full Muay Thai gear up to this point and asked me to help him take off his shin pads. Marcus and Thiago start things off in the cage. Thiago Alves who normally fights at 170 pounds and is in the weight class just above Aurelio’s, is naturally the bigger and more muscular of the two. JZ and Rafael Diaz are in the ring behind me while all others are on the main mat. Early in the drill a loud takedown can be heard throughout the gym. I look over and see JZ is now in Rafael’s guard. Instead of doing the drill, Marcus and Thiago spar. No head gear is used since both of them have upcoming fights. A common training method is to do some sparring without head and get more accustomed to being hit as the fight approaches. Once Conan notices that Marcus and Thiago are mainly sparring he urges Marcus to perform the drill. He then goes for a takedown. As he is met with resistance by Thiago, Conan calls for time and allows everyone a one-minute rest. At this point Marcus gets his shin pads back on. After sixty seconds have passed, the second drill begins.

The second drill is a striking-only drill. The focus is on striking and avoiding strikes. Mohammed Ouali is a bigger part of this drill. In the cage at this time along with Thiago and Marcus are Wilson Gouveia and Denis Kang. All are without head gear except for Denis Kang. After a bit of feigning and evading punches and kicks, Conan urges Thiago to shoot in. Marcus stuffs this takedown attempt and the one that immediately followed. Time is once again called but no rest is given. Conan instructs the fighters to now switch roles in the drill and begin again. Marcus is now shooting in on Thiago. Thiago sprawls well and avoids the takedown. On his last attempt at a takedown, Marcus is stone walled by Thiago, but he then reverses his momentum and performs a beautiful judo throw as time expires and Conan allows another water break.

Once again, it’s time to switch up partners. Now it is “JZ” against “Maximus.” Gesias is a 155lb fighter with great wrestling ability and aggressiveness. Although both fighters are in the lightweight division, Marcus has the size advantage of the two. JZ is slightly getting the better of Marcus in the stand up sparring battle. Even though this was an all stand up drill, JZ instinctively goes for the take down on the unsuspecting Aurelio and gets it easily. Benkei yells “No takedowns!” Aurelio, being in his element on the ground and on his back, wants to continue and not lose the momentum gained in this training session. This is a classic match up of wrestler/brawler vs. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu expert. Although on his back, “Maximus” traps Calvancanti’s right arm and attempts two arm bars. JZ defends the submission well, and with his gloved left hand begins punching Marcus in the face as time is called.

Marcus must now train with Denis Kang. Denis fights at middleweight, which is two full weight classes above Marcus. He is also ranked 6th in the world in his weight division. Marcus is showing definite signs of fatigue at this point. Denis is getting the better of Marcus who appears to be on the defensive. At Benkei’s urging, Marcus shoots in and scores the takedown. Soon afterwards, Marcus transitions to Kang’s back to attempt a rear naked choke. For the sake of the drill, which is sparring and takedowns/takedown defense, they agree to stand it back up. Towards the end of the drill, Denis scores the takedown on the weary Aurelio and transitions to the mounted position as time expires.

As this drill ended, I noticed a bit of commotion coming from the ring area. As I looked over, I noticed Rafael Diaz being attended to. He is speaking loudly in Portuguese with his hands around his face and a trail of blood coming from his nose. I’m still not sure whom he was sparring with at the time. A week later, I saw Rafael and I can confirm his nose was broken in that exchange.

Now the fighters are instructed to switch to MMA gloves for the last drill of the group workout. Aurelio is now partnered with Wilson Gouveia. Wilson competes in the light heavyweight division at 205 pounds. He has a solid standup game and is also a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt. The focal point of this drill is takedowns and submissions. Striking is held to a minimum due to the four-ounce MMA gloves being used. Marcus takes the fight to the ground and secures a solid arm bar. At this point of training, almost everyone except Marcus and Wilson, who are currently in the cage, are doing individual shadow boxing and sprawl/takedown defense drills. Aurelio and Gouveia continue the drill even as their teammates wind down. Marcus is so tired at this point that Wilson is loudly urging and encouraging him to continue and finish strong. Time is called for the last time and Marcus lays out flat on the floor. All participants shake hands as the training session ends mercifully at around 1:30 P.M.

There was a weird silence in the gym at that time. It reminded me of the day after a hurricane when it’s usually one of the nicest and calmest days you will have in south Florida. It’s mainly a result of the devastation that has just happened. You need time to compose yourself and get things together. The same vibe was present at the gym. Slowly everyone starts having side conversations that get louder and louder and soon gym life is back to normal. A small group of fighters and trainers are still on the main mat but few have the energy to stand. The fighters that remain are Jorge Santiago, Wilson Gouveia, Thiago Alves, Marcus Aurelio and two trainers. Wilson, who is now laughing and joking loudly, seems to have taken over for Gesias as the energy source. Conversations conclude as everyone goes their separate ways.

This is a rest period for Marcus. He heads home, takes a recovery shake and winds his body down. He tries to at least get a 90-minute nap during this time. Before leaving to begin afternoon weight training, Marcus gets a jumpstart by downing two shots of espresso. Weight training begins at 5 P.M. and today, consists of mainly Olympic style lifts such as the clean and jerk, the snatch and power cleans. There are also exercises included to improve muscle endurance and grip strength. Weight training lasts an hour under the watchful eye of Benkei. He remains within 5 feet of Marcus at all times, motivating him while lifting, and helping him stretch after sets are completed.

There isn’t much down time for Marcus as Muay Thai training begins shortly after 6pm. Maximus does make time for another pre-performance shake. However, as Marcus wraps up his hands in preparation, he carries on a conversation with Thiago Alves and gives another gym member some training advice. Mohammed Ouali has not arrived yet so I take the opportunity to pick Aurelio’s brain a bit. I want to see what’s on his mind as he embarks upon this new chapter in his career.

I begin on the subject of his next opponent, Clay Guida. “All that he has is wrestling and gas. If my gas tank is full I’m not going to have a problem. I know I’m stronger and my striking has gotten a lot better. My confidence is very high right now. I’m working on my hips for Jiu Jitsu. It’s all in the hips. If it goes to the ground and he throws a punch, I’m going to slip it and catch his arm. What else is he going to do? Hit my face? The way that I train, if Pit bull and Denis don’t knock me out, then Clay Guida isn’t going to hurt me. Strong Jiu Jitsu also builds confidence by knowing that you can turn a fight around and win in 10 seconds with a submission. You get that way by being `in the shit’. Rolling until it hurts and when you want to stop you go for another 30 minutes.” Marcus is traveling to Miami twice a week and rolling with other black belt masters to get that “in the shit” training.

Aurelio’s career defining moment was his defeat of Takanori Gomi, the number one ranked lightweight fighter in the world. Gomi had been on a ten-fight win streak that spanned three years. Marcus left him sleeping in the middle of the ring to claim the first round victory. The two would meet again seven months later. The rematch was a close, split decision win for Gomi. As it turns out, MMA fans aren’t the only ones clamoring for the rubber match. I tell Marcus that it appears as though Gomi will be signing with the Japanese based Hero’s promotion soon. With visible disappointment in his face, Marcus states the following:

“I really wanted to fight him in the UFC. The rematch was my last fight and it was my last loss. In the second match I wanted to do the same as the first. I had been training with Mohammed Ouali on my stand up. He makes it seem so easy to understand, improve and feel confident. I feel I wasted too much time standing up with Gomi. There were only two rounds in that fight. If I were to fight him again today, believe me things would be different.”

I wanted to get his ideas on the rest of the competition in the UFC lightweight division. BJ Penn? “I like BJ a lot. Not just as a fighter but as a person. He’s a good guy and a fun guy. I like that laid back Hawaiian attitude. I think he is the best in the division right now. What do you think of the potential Penn vs. Sherk fight? (This was before Sherk failed his post fight drug test.) “I think BJ will win. Do you remember when Matt Hughes fought Sean Sherk? He took him down time after time. When Matt Hughes fought BJ Penn, he had a hard time getting him down, and when he did, BJ submitted him the first fight and then almost submitted him again in the second fight. That’s why I think BJ would win.”

I asked how Marcus thinks he would fare in a fight against BJ. “Oh it would be a good one. It would be a great Jiu Jitsu match.” I bring up the fact that it might be a standup battle since both have respect for the others’ Jiu Jitsu skills. Marcus replied, “At first yes, to feel each other out, but it would end up going to the ground.” As he points to a vein in his inner elbow he states, “It’s in the blood.”

I mention two other names, up and comers Joe Stevenson and Roger Huerta. In regards to Stevenson, Aurelio had this to say. “Yeah, Stevenson, I like him. He’s good. Good Jiu Jitsu. The division is full of tough guys. I mean everyone is tough. Huerta, I like his heart. He has an in-your-face style. He’s really tough. I want to see how Huerta does against a strong Jiu Jitsu guy. He’s done well against wrestlers and strikers so far, but like I said everyone is good in this division.”

I was interested in Aurelio’s approach to weight cutting. He told me. “I’m 183 pounds now. I want to gradually drop down to 175 and stay there until about two weeks away from the fight. Then I will begin dropping another 15 to get to 160. I will save the last 5-6 pounds for the day of the weigh in. The important thing about cutting weight is getting back what you cut. Most guys can cut twenty pounds to make weight for their fight, but some might only get back 7 when they re-hydrate by fight time. In my last fight I made weight at 163 pounds. By the time of the fight I was back up to 183 and felt great. I got it all back. Don’t get me wrong. When you are cutting weight you are miserable. You’re cramping. You’re weak. You feel like dying.”

Now Muay Thai training begins with Mohammed Ouali. By the time they get started it’s about 6:45 P.M. Ouali warms up about as much as Maximus does. Marcus is in boxing gloves and Ouali is wearing the sparring pads. Mohammed places a lot of emphasis in this session on Aurelio’s footwork. Making sure that as Marcus approaches his opponent he doesn’t open up his stride too wide. Ouali constantly reminds Marcus to relax and stay calm and breathe. He does this not because Marcus isn’t doing those things but as a reminder. If you hear something enough times, you will hear it in your head and do it when you’re on your own in a fight.

At 7:15 P.M. the drill now focuses on handwork and hand speed. Ouali has to take a break due to the fact that there wasn’t a timer/buzzer being used. He asks another gym member to retrieve it and the novice comes back with a stopwatch. Someone else gets the real timer and training continues. The focus on the last drill is using knees, kicks and avoiding takedowns. This is important because you are most vulnerable for a takedown when using these kinds of strikes. Training ends at 8 P.M. Ouali and Marcus share a hug in the cage. It’s more of a celebration for Marcus now that the day’s work is over. He sees me waiting outside of the cage and rolls his eyes a bit realizing he may have to field questions when all he wants to do is go home.

Marcus informs me that he will have a recovery shake immediately. Dinner later on will consist of vegetables and white, breast meat. No starchy carbohydrates at night. With all of that work it makes you wonder what time does Maximus have for himself? Well, he always finds time for fifteen minutes in the Jacuzzi. He also usually winds down every day with a movie. I asked what his favorite movie was. “I know it’s a little old now but it’s such a great movie, Gladiator.” Midnight is the latest he will allow himself to be up if he isn’t training for a fight. These days he’s in bed between 10:30 and 12:00. But not without one last protein shake 45 minutes to an hour before he plans on being fully asleep.

Lastly, I tell Marcus what my plans are for this article. With one last handshake to end our day, I watch as Marcus carries all of his gear and heads out of the gym. His hands are full and he leans slightly backward to be sure to balance his items. I get the feeling that if anything dropped it would have to stay there due to a lack of sufficient energy to bend and retrieve it. He turns to me and humbly responds, “I hope I have given you enough.” I think to myself, and reflect upon how observing his work ethic up close and the manner in which he carries himself has left an impression on me. I respond back, “You have given me plenty. Thanks.”

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