They brought us into the UFC training center the first day one group at a time and every group that came in, we would all be shaking hands as some of us had known each other from previous events, etc. When Corey Hill walked in, we all stopped what we were doing and was like, "Damn, who the hell is that?" He had a big jacket on so we were thinking no way could this guy be 155 lbs., but he is truly an animal in the gym and, well, likes to bark a lot. He was a JUCO national wrestling champion in Kansas somewhere, and ironically had beaten the wrestling coach Jens brought with him, Kirk. Rooming with him was great, I felt like I had an attack dog on the prowl every night...nobody would be messing with us while we were sleeping, that's for sure!
Soon after that we had fighter evaluations. These were the training sessions that would allow the coaches, BJ and Jens, to see and evaluate for themselves the talent available and help them pick accordingly in the team selections. I was in the second group to go and worked out with Jens first. There was a positive energy surrounding Jens and I liked him right away. I got the sense that he was taking this gig seriously and wanted to separate the men from the boys right away, so he told us to wrap our hands and we'd be banging the heavy bags right away. We then went into stand-up sparring followed by grappling sparring and they took notes as we went along.
We were pretty tired after this workout, but most of the guys showed up in good shape so we were looking forward to working with BJ later that night.
On the way home, some of the guys mentioned that they had dogged the evaluation with Jens on purpose, in hopes of not being picked by him and further increasing their chances of being selected by BJ. The overwhelming sentiment was that BJ would be able to teach us more and was the more well rounded of the two. We went to go practice with BJ a few hours later and he could tell right away that we were a bit tired. He had us do some guard passing drills and then stopped the session short and told us that he had seen enough and was ready to cut us loose.
That night, all the fighters were very anxious about the selections. We were all pretty cool with each other, but we knew that the serious business was right around the corner.
As the fighters lined up for the team selections, we could feel the animosity right away between Jens and BJ. The team selections...one word, WOW! On TV it came off quick, but we were actually standing there for a good 30 minutes while the coaches, Dana and even some of the fighters starting arguing back and forth. None of us had expected it at all! It's true; the day leading up to the selections a vast majority of the fighters had confided that they would rather be with BJ. One person did not, and that was Wayne Weems. During one of the fighter evaluations, BJ started out by saying, "Is there anybody here that knows 100% that they would rather be on Jens' team?" Wayne raised his hand and BJ was cool with it, just had him sit on the side while we practiced. But the team selections was HEATED and Jens had made some comments like, "If anybody who raised there hand ends up on my team, I'm gonna work them to death" and things like that. Joe Lauzon was the most worried out of everybody because he did not know how Jens would be if he ended up on Team Pulver. He was worried that Jens would either beat him down everyday or put him on a shelf somewhere and not give him enough work.
Since I was in the front row center I could not really see who put their hands up or not. I just remember how serious it was and tried to look straight and not laugh...but I believe it was Nate Diaz and Manvel that had their hands up and then dropped; both of them told me how they kind of misunderstood the question as it caught us all off-guard.
The coaches picked the training times so BJ went with 7am and 6pm or so. His reasoning was that he wanted to give us as much rest time in-between practices as possible, but it was HARD work as we trained twice a day virtually everyday we were there. The very first practice we walked in the gym at 7am and BJ and the coaches put us on the grinder. We had cardio stations and had to go from 40 minutes on the treadmill to lunges/squats with weights to hundreds of sit-ups and push-ups and exercises like that. I got the feeling that BJ wanted to set the pace right away and let it be known that we were going to work hard from the get-go.
The practice routine was very, very difficult as the coaches did not want to look soft on TV, the fighters did not want to get tapped or their asses kicked on TV and so it was hard work from Day 1. Add in the fact that everyone in the house is a potential opponent and you have a very interesting experience all-around.
BJ is one of the funniest guys you will meet off the mats but very serious on it. The best thing about training with him was: he is a wealth of knowledge. You could ask him about any position, top or bottom, standing, wrestling, etc. and he always had some ideas and techniques that would blow you away. He stressed from the very beginning what he called "advanced basics", which is keeping the core move simple but constantly adding to it.
Tune in next week for my summary and thoughts of Episode 2; believe me when I say the season will only continue to get more entertaining as we go along!