Early last week, I received a call from national NPC Figure Competitor, Liza Kampstra, asking me if I was interested in doing a photo shoot with her and Houston Alexander. She didn't have to ask me twice.
I said, "When and where? Definitely." She informed me Houston and a few other guys would be training at the Grappler's Edge Academy in Denver, Colorado.
Grappler's Edge is a top Grappling, Submission Fighting and MMA Academy. The owner, Sheldon Marr, is no stranger to success, he's coached a number of national and international champions over the years.
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When I arrived the day before the shoot, Sheldon gave me a tour of the place and we chatted about wrestling as well as some of the accomplishments he's had over the years.
It brought me back to the wrestling days in grade school and high school. It's been awhile since I last laced up the Asics and hit the matt but it was a feeling that doesn't leave you.
Sheldon is a nice, humble guy and he let me know Houston and a few others would be training around noon the next day if I wanted to check that out before the photo shoot. I willingly took him up on his offer.
Friday, I arrived at the training facility around 12:30 p.m. and the action was in full swing. I spotted Houston working with one of his trainers on his wrestling/grappling skills. The trainer, Mick Doyle, I had met once before while attending the 2007 Olympia.
Mick runs Mick Doyle's Kickboxing and Fitness Center in Omaha, Nebraska. Mick's an Irishman who is the kind of guy you want in your corner.
He wasn't letting anyone on the mat slack from the time I arrived till they hit the showers. Aside from Houston and Mick, I didn't know the other guys. I broke out my camera and started shooting away.
I figured I'd meet them all after their training was complete for the day. As it turned out one of the smaller, scrappier guys was Ryan Roberts who would be making his UFC debut. The others were trainer, Desmond, who is a phenomenal wrestler.
The other brute putting the guys through a killer workout was Malcolm Hayes. Malcolm is from Parker, Colorado and placed first at the 2007 World Grappling Championships in Antalya, Turkey. The skill level that each possessed was obvious.
The guys did a number of drills ranging from wrestling, to hitting the pads and working on their ground game. The training was done in a circuit training style where they'd rotate every 30 seconds for 5 minutes at a time.
I was impressed by the level of conditioning each had and how they were able to recover from only a couple minutes of rest.
Houston has been criticized for his conditioning in the past. Two of his UFC fights have ended in less than a combined, two minutes. His fight against Keith Jardine went 48 seconds before being stopped.
Houston unleashed hell on Jardine and the world saw how hard the man can hit. Houston's fight against Alessio Sakara lastest 1:01 before being stopped, again due to his heavy hitting.
His last fight against Thiago Silva, he ended up on the losing side of things when the referee stopped the fight in the first round. It remains to be seen in the octagon if Houston can outlast his competitors but after seeing him train, I wouldn't bet against him.
Houston had been hitting the pads for a few minutes when Mick yelled, "Let's go! Let's go! All out!" It was then you see what the wrath of Houston "The Assassin" is like.
I was flinching just snapping photos, I can't imagine what it would be like on the other end of an Alexander punch. After seeing the explosive power he possesses, I hope I never do.
Houston will be facing James Irvin on Tuesday night who is also known for his heavy hands. We'll get a chance to see how Irvin holds up against his lethal blows.
The rookie, Ryan Roberts, is no joke. He possesses great wrestling skills and calls Nebraska home. The guys were referring to him as "lil sherk" because he bares a striking resemblance to Sean Sherk, one of the UFC's top fighters.
Tuesday night fans will get a chance to see if he is another Sherk in the making. He's a well-conditioned athlete and will battle against Marcus Aurelio.
Their bodies are finely-tuned machines and like any machine you need to have the right gas in the tank to operate at full-strenth. It was an honor and a privilege to watch them train. We ended the day with a photo shoot that had Liza and Houston posing together.
Houston was a good sport and was a joy to work with. Having never shot with fighters before I didn't know what I'd be up against but I can only hope they are all as easy going as Houston in the future.
The next day, Saturday, I caught up with Team Doyle as it got in a little conditioning training at Red Rocks. Red Rocks is known for its amazing concerts as an open air Amphitheatre with incredible views of Denver.
The stairs at Red Rocks serve as a killer workout to simply walk up. Many fitness enthusiasts use the stairs as a creative way to train outdoors.
The team walked around the facility as a warm-up and then Liza and Mick took them through a few exercises on the stairs. I was out of breath walking in the high altitude much less running. After an hour of dips, running and sprinting they called it a day.
You know the UFC is no longer an underground sport when fans recognize Houston and ask for a photo. It happened on a couple of occasions and Houston was a humble, gracious professional. Those fans will probably remember meeting him for the rest of their lives.
It was great to see Houston and Ryan talking with people and giving them encouragement in their own training. They didn't have to stop and say anything but again proof you're a professional when you take the time to address fans.
It was an awesome experience getting to be around this team of fighters for a couple of days and experience their training. The high altitude didn't seem to have an effect on either of them throughout either day.
This is a class act team that will undoubtedly continue to have success. We'll see how Ryan does in his debut and how Houston rebounds from a loss in his last fight Tuesday.