Australia · Interviews · My MMA Journey

Things to Know About Boxing and Martial Arts in Sydney

An Interview with Uro Pavi of Darkside Gym

Back in Sydney after two months of travel, I’ve finally found time to sit down and write up an interview I held back in April with Darkside founder and head coach Uro Pavi.

“Maybe it’s inside human nature: no matter how civilized we get, there’s always that animalistic urge to at least explore our aggressive side.”

I’ve taken a lengthy intermission from my MMA journey to focus my attention elsewhere. Despite aspirations to try judo and kickboxing in the Netherlands and catch some jiu-jitsu classes at my gym in Manila, my time has been entirely occupied by travel, family, the enjoyment of good company, and keeping up with work. One must be realistic, after all, of how much they can expect of themselves.

That being said, I’m excited to be in Sydney again and eager to jump back into the fighting world. As a first step in that direction, I’m excited to share some of what I’ve learned from the man behind Darkside Gym.

As far as my own background is concerned, I’m still very new to the combat sports scene and there is a lot that I don’t know. Though I have developed a recent fascination with boxing and mixed martial arts, I’d never watched UFC and only caught a few boxing fights in my lifetime–mainly Pacquiao’s while in the Philippines because they were such national events.

I hadn’t heard of Muay Thai until I got into it from boxing (my arms were getting muscular and my legs felt left out) and although I went to high school in the Netherlands it wasn’t until recently that I learned how famous the Dutch are for their kickboxing style. I knew kids who did judo and Dutch athletes who won medals but can’t say I had more than a vague idea of what the sport was.

Since I first slipped into boxing gloves nearly two years ago, I’ve had the opportunity to practice Muay Thai, yaw-yan, grappling, jiu-jitsu, a bit of wushu, and MMA at an array of gyms. I’ve had the pleasure of talking with lots of different coaches and I’m starting to better understand how fighting styles differ and come together in various combat sports.

Certainly, the gym that has provided me with some of my most valuable learning experiences to date is Darkside. Therefore, with no further ado, may I present the passion, stories, and insights of the gym’s very own Uro Pavi:

How did you first get into combat sports?

I started when I was a kid in Yugoslavia and then we came to Australia and there was boxing at the local PCYC. I started boxing and progressed into MMA.

PCYC, is that like the YMCA?
Yeah, very similar. It’s the Police Citizens Youth Club. I went there to do some wrestling and the coach, he was praising me a lot, [saying] “Hey, good job, good job!” and I thought, this guy is really being nice to me! Because the coaches I had in Yugoslavia used to beat us. So I found it really strange that he was really nice. So I went into the boxing gym [here] and it was a brutal first session but I fell in love.

“We’re one of those gyms that does a lot of physical application of the theory.”

That was in Yugoslavia or here?
Here. The boxers were very, very rough and I thought, wow, this is normal.

So you did wrestling in Yugoslavia?
Yeah, wrestling, as a kid.

Boxing and wrestling were popular sports here in Australia?
It was just more what was available at the time. Australian boxing, we’ve had Lionel Rose; we’ve had the homegrown guys–Jeff Fenech. At the time, Jeff Fenech was boxing and he was winning so it was exciting to watch. We had Kotsya Tszyu. [He] was Russian and he came to Australia to pursue his professional career so he wasn’t really a native Australian but there was a lot of buzz around boxing at the time.

Around what time?
Ah, 20, 25 years ago. Wow.

Can you tell me a bit about how the fight scene has developed in Australia?

This is a sporting nation so we’ve had boxing for a long time. I think Lionel Rose won the [1968 world cup] and sort of put Australian boxing on the map. (Lionel Rose was the first indigenous Australian world champion boxer.)

“I think everyone in Australia went, ‘Wow, what the hell just happened?’ and that spurred on the next generation of fighters.”

We also had one of the biggest fights in the world here at the turn of the century in 1908. Look it up; it’s a fascinating fact. We had a young champion as well around 1920 or 1930 so boxing has always been a part of the sporting culture in Australia; it really has.

As far as wrestling or martial arts, I think the biggest influence Australia had was through kickboxing and then Muay Thai–us being so close to Thailand.

So that came from South-East Asia?
Yeah, from Thailand! I remember watching, what’s his name, “the hurricane”, Paul Briggs. I remember he was a kickboxing champion and they brought in two Thai fighters to fight our best guys in kickboxing. Briggs was saying, “As soon as he comes, in I’ll work my hands because I know his kicks are great.”

I would have been 15 or 16 at the time; I was watching and thinking, yeah, we’ll win by knockout, we’re better boxers; we should win, right. And then this Thai guy came in and chopped his leg down; in less than one round the fight was over and I thought, wow. I think everyone in Australia kind of went, wow, what the hell just happened?

That spurred on the next generation of fighters. In Australia, especially in Queensland, the Muay Thai community is quite big; I don’t know about New South Wales so much. I know in the 90s there weren’t any Muay Thai gyms.

My coach back in the Philippines was telling me that Queensland is known for Muay Thai.
Yeah, they’re very, very good. [In the] Gold Coast you have one of the best Muay Thai practitioners in the world, John Wayne Parr; he trains out of Boonchu in Queensland and he’s still fighting. He’s got his own promotions there but he was in the Muay Thai Contender series. He lost to [Yodsaenklai Fairtex in the finale]. I watched the whole Contender series; I think that community grew from there.

As far as MMA’s concerned, I think Larry Papadopoulos [of] Boxing Works was a pioneer. He used to do the Shooto contest in Japan; when I was younger, I used to go and watch.

Judo?
Not judo, Shooto: no-holds-barred fighting. And [there is] also Pancrase. He was the king of Pancrase, which [comes from Pankration] a Greek MMA fighting style I suppose you could say, from the ancient Greeks.

I’ve noticed that there are a couple of Greek gyms and trainers here in Sydney.
There are; there’s one just down the road [with] a bit of a legend. He’ll tell you how much of a legend he is; he’s very good at saying that. But he’s very good; he’s a good coach at what he does, and that is Pancrase, so they win a lot of tournaments. I think he’s one of the most decorated masters in the world I think; I’m pretty sure, and he’s 55.

So Pancrase is like MMA?
There are no strikes to the head you but it’s very close to MMA.

Sambo is probably more aggressive–the Russian style–but my experience with Pancrase has been [that] there are trainers who really teach brutality in terms of what you would expect, and there are others that stick to the traditional Greek warrior sort of mentality.

Is it in any way related to, for example, Krav Maga, where it’s about doing serious damage and not fighting for sport?
You know, it’s funny. I met Itay Gil, the Krav Maga guy–he came upstairs. I was actually hiring space off a guy who ran Krav Maga upstairs at the time. Itay, he’s a legend; I remember watching him on Fight Quest. He’s like the grandfather of Krav Maga.

“Ultimately, a violent encounter is more emotionally scarring than physically. So, I feel, if you’re not getting that first emotional rush of being brutally hit and punched and kicked, you kind of miss the point.”

He comes up to me on the bag and he goes, “I see you; I watched you sparring: very good! Very good kicks, very good punches, very good elbows and knees. Very, very good, but I specialize in knife and [live breech?]. If you come down to Israel, I’ll run you through a two-week…” He was a scary man. I’m like, “Listen, this is what I do, I do a sport.”

Was that when you started Darkside?
That was when I started hiring space, which would have been 8 years ago now. Upstairs, yeah. I met Itay and he ran it differently from a lot of Krav Maga schools. It was very brutal; it really was.

What’s the difference between self-defense and fighting for sport?

You know how I feel about self-defense? I feel about self-defense in two ways:
It’s good to get self-defense; it is very good to go and do it with anybody because that introduces you to a flow of what might happen. But ultimately, a violent encounter is more emotionally scarring than physically. So, I feel, if you’re not getting that first emotional rush of being brutally hit and punched and kicked, you kind of miss the point, you know? You’re not really getting the full self-defense [experience].

You mean, for example, what you’ll get with sparring?
Yeah, exactly. Sometimes you go to a Krav Maga school and they’ll go, “Alright, now eyes.” or “Hit to the throat.” but you’re not really getting hit; nothing’s really happening.

And Itay had the guys get dressed in full gear, [from] one side of the cage to the other. They had a nice fake knife each; he’d say, “Alright, go!” and they’d run at each other, literally, and start stabbing each other.

Like a battlefield?
Literally. It was amazing.

And he’s training them for what?
Self-defense. What they were doing was Krav Maga in terms of how he would teach it in Israel to the special forces.

It certainly doesn’t sound like a casual class.
No, it was pretty full on. I was like, “Wow, this is what Krav Maga is.”

What I was experiencing at the time was that Krav Maga was a little bit of “Well, I grab the throat here and do this.” Then I saw Itay run [a class] and I thought, “Wow, this is what I saw on Fight Quest. This guy is crazy.”

And you know he had these small women that I’ve seen do the Krav Maga. He’d get them in there and get a big guy and go, “You’d better attack them.” He’d say, “See, it’s not what you think! It’s not what you think. Get up!”

But you’re paying for something: you’re paying to at least be woken up. After that class I remember a few girls were sitting there–a few guys too–[with] tears in their eyes [from] that confrontation.

It can be quite shocking.
I was really impressed with that Krav Maga.

Let’s go back to Pancrase and MMA. The trainers have different approaches?
[In] Pancrase, some trainers. But again, it’s the same thing with MMA. I’ve been to some MMA gyms where it’s a lot of theory, a lot of technical stuff. A lot of technical stuff. And they’ll teach you a particular move or a way of doing things. Then you’ll go to other gyms where they’re just like, you know, bash each other, and you figure out that most of the stuff you learned is rubbish. Just to perfect the spinning back heel kick takes years and years. You’re not going to [use] it.

At some gyms, I’ve noticed they do a lot of theory and at other gyms, I’ve noticed they do a lot of physical application of the theory. I think we’re one of those gyms that does a lot of physical application of the theory.

I think you have a pretty good balance here. You’ll learn a new move and start using it right away.
You have to. Obviously, there are tiers. With the guys here, especially. They’ve been with me for two or three years; they understand [the] sequencing they have to do and it takes a long time; it’s not quick. It takes a couple of years to develop that sense of when to throw a round-house kick; when to counter with a certain something.

It takes getting it wrong in a fight–in an actual fight. You get it wrong and then you walk out saying, “Yeah, I saw it! I know what you were saying!” And I know, going into the fight, their weakness–especially for my fighters. I’ve had fighters go into a fight and I’ve seen their weaknesses and I go, “Hopefully, this guy isn’t going to exploit that.” And they go to exploit that and I’m sitting there and I’ll laugh in the corner; there’s nothing else I can do: it has to click.

I remembered Andy saying you don’t really have roots in MMA here so whatever comes is from different cultures.
A hundred percent. And with MMA, if you take Brazil out of it, there are not a whole lot of grassroots. It’s just a new thing; it’s just been happening over the course of the last fifteen years with the UFC. Then gyms started to teach MMA specifically and that started to flourish. For young fighters, they could become good at something. But in reality, there’s not a lot of background in it. You’ll do one sport and then you’ll do a bit of another sport and before you know it you’ve combined them.

I suppose any MMA gym would use different influences. It’s not just the standard boxing, Muay Thai, MMA, but it might be judo or jiu-jitsu?
A hundred percent! You know, to date I’ve had probably about a hundred black belts come to the gym and train with us. Whenever I ask them, “Have you done any martial arts?” they’ll say “I did Kyokushin (Karate).” and I’ll say: “You must be a black belt?” “Ah, yeah, but it’s not fighting.” Yeah, it is! Not all that they do is going to be effective but there’s going to be stuff that they do that is amazing.

Or with Taekwondo?
A hundred percent! With Taekwondo, even with Kung Fu. I’ve noticed that Kung Fu guys punch really hard when you teach them how to throw a right cross; their hands are like rocks. Just a slight modification and you get an amazing result. So, yes, there are a lot of backgrounds that come into martial arts.

Do you have wushu here?
Yeah, we do. If you can think of a sport, we’ve got it. In Sydney, the martial arts community that’s not MMA is huge: Karate, Kung Fu, it’s huge. Almost every kid has done some sort of martial arts. I think parents recognize–in Australia in particular–the need for their child to do martial arts, to build their self-esteem and to build confidence. They just shy away from the combat side of it [and stick to] the more traditional stuff.

For example, a mother would come in–this isn’t a mother’s type of gym–[and say] “I’ve got a son who wants to do boxing; I don’t want him to get beat up.” It’s like taking your son rock climbing and then saying to the instructor, “I don’t want him climbing Everest.” There are a lot of steps to get to that point.

The idea then, for a lot of mothers, is to put their children in a traditional martial arts [school] where they’re very uniform, rather than a gym like this which is obviously very confronting for a lot of people.

Not that it isn’t a respectful environment.
No, not at all. But it’s a perception. Anybody that watches boxing [has it]–I don’t single out mothers; it’s just that I’ve found it with mothers predominantly, but there are fathers out there who don’t like it at all.

What compelled you to open this gym?
(Laughs) I ask myself every day. You know what, when I was younger I was OK at boxing and there was an opportunity for me but I realized how little I knew in terms of martial arts. We didn’t have YouTube; the internet was just a fledgling thing so for a young [person] who wanted to be a boxer, you had to find the right coach and that was, in itself, an absolutely painful experience.

And then on top of that, I think WBA or WBC or PBA, any organization would issue you a book that you had to actually pay for; I don’t know what it was, 1500 per year. Promoters would have these books and match up certain fighters. [They] would be printed once a year. It was just such a long, drawn-out process.

I remember when I was 19 I thought, “You know what, I can’t ask my coaches anything.” Either they don’t know or they don’t want to talk about it or they don’t want to tell you. My thought process was, perhaps maybe they don’t know enough so they don’t want to discuss it. [They had] limited access too. But I figured what I see and what they tell me are two different things.

[I thought] I would like to have a gym one day where the actual students can ask anything and if they want to achieve the highest level of the sport. I want, at least, to be able to facilitate the ability for them to be able to go to that level. I didn’t have the skill, but if a kid comes along [that’s what I want to be able to do].

“I do not foster an environment where the ego takes over. A fighter had to walk through the gym doors at some stage as a fresh-faced beginner. Somebody took the time and the care to show him things–spent time with him even though they didn’t think they were going be anything special. I think that’s something they’ve got to pay forward.”

And I love doing this; I love martial arts; I just love it. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

When you set up fights, who is your main competition?

If you ask any promoter, you will get the same thing: 99 percent of the time, I do not pick and choose our opponents. Honestly, I’ll put my guys in the ring with anyone; sometimes we lose, sometimes we win. That’s just normal; it doesn’t bother me when we lose just like I’m not overly celebrating when we win.

It’s nice to get a victory, but in reality, at the end of the day, it’s not my win or my loss; it’s the fighter’s. So I can’t claim their victories and then blame them when they lose. And it happens a lot; you’d be surprised how often that happens.

But at the end of the day, that part of it is pretty much for fun?
Well, it depends. People take it very seriously. Like there’s an ego element to it.

But not too many careers being made or broken?
Not for the fighters but for the coaches.

I don’t know what it is. I mean you think about it, right, we’re in a sporting country that does have a huge boxing background in terms of [our] history. If you look it up, Australia and boxing, you’ll see it. We have never won a gold, silver, or bronze in the world games. Which tells you that there’s something wrong with our boxing program at an amateur level.

We’re world champs in rugby union, cricket. There are nations that are much bigger than we are, yet we’re one of the superpowers. At some point, a kid will come through and should be good enough to be a world champ but they seem to rob the kids.

I’ve met a lot of the people that are responsible for boxing and there’s a huge war going on right now between the official ones and the new system that’s sort of set up and I’ve found that the ego that’s involved is just, it’s breathtaking.

And that’s on the coaches’ part?
The coaches; not the fighters.

Are there a couple of major gyms here that train most of the fighters or lots of little gyms?
Lots of little gyms. There are a few main gyms–Bondi Boxing is one of them. I’d say they would have to be one of the most successful ones. There’s Bodypunch at Lakemba, as a boxing gym they’re also very good. Muay Thai gyms: you’ve got Luis Regis, he’s not far from here and there are a plethora of other gyms.

For MMA, there’s really only Australian Top Team, Perosh, and a few others that are quite good–as far as training competitive fighters. For every amateur fighter that you coach, you’re looking at ten, fifteen, before you get one professional. So a lot of it is just people having a go, doing a sport that they love or trying to test themselves and compete.

“The most damage you can achieve in  a grappling sense is picking somebody up and slamming them. That’s more than a kick, more than a knee, more than a punch: more than anything else.”

Over the years, what sort of people have been coming here to train and what tends to be the greatest motivation to learn a fight sport?

I ask myself [that] a lot. Sometimes they come just to get fit or because they watch boxing or they don’t like going to a [regular] gym, or they just want to try something different. The ones who do want to compete–and I have a lot–I don’t know what it is. Why do you do it?

(Now I’m nervous because I’ve been put on the spot) Haha. Uh, lots of reasons?
You know what I mean? I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s just inside human nature: no matter how civilized we get, there’s always that animalistic urge to at least explore our aggressive side.

It’s a curiosity: what would it be like to actually do it.
Yeah, to go in there and fight and get punched in the face for real. You know what I mean? It’s a real feeling when you’re fighting. People are watching; you see different faces in the crowd and there is a–I don’t know how to explain it–there’s a very primitive feel to it when you’re in there and you’re fighting and I can see how a lot of fighters fall in love with that concept. Even when they lose, they don’t mind.

I think MMA, unlike boxing–well Muay Thai was actually the original one–there’s no disrespect if you lose. Your career is not ruined; if anything, it means that you fought someone. Now you’ve got a loss on your record: that means you fought somebody good; that’s taught you a lesson. Boxing is a bit different: as soon as you lose all of a sudden you’re no good; it’s absurd. Boxing has never been like that. Maybe it’s a Mayweather era; I don’t know.

Even Mayweather: there’s been one particular fight where he definitely lost; there’s no doubt about it. I mean, he came back and he beat the guy pretty badly. But Castillo, in that first match, he definitely beat him. You could see it in Mayweather’s face: he was running; he barely landed any punches; he got beaten up pretty bad. Bob Arum was the promoter and they gave it to [Mayweather]. I remember thinking, “My god, that’s pretty bad.” but then he rematched Castillo and he beat him real good.

I guess it’s also that boxing is a money game?
A hundred percent: the oldest combat one. There’s money in so it matters.

Most gyms I’ve been to have separate classes for advanced fighters and casual practitioners. This is the only place I’ve been where you can walk in as a beginner and train and spar regularly with serious fighters. Why is that?

Because I do not foster an environment where the ego takes over. I know people say “no egos” but it’s bullshit most of the time: “I’m a fighter; why do I have to put up with beginners? Why do I have to teach a beginner something?” That is an ego already. The thought process: “I am a fighter thus I can’t be bothered” is an absolute ego trip, automatically.

The idea is, a fighter had to walk through the gym doors at some stage as a fresh-faced beginner. Somebody took the time and the care to show him things–spent time with him even though they didn’t think they were going be anything special. I think that’s something they’ve got to pay forward. I think that’s the most important thing, that a fighter should pay that forward. And if they have an issue with it, they can go somewhere else. I don’t need that.

It’s one of the things I like about training here.
And another thing: you get a beginner and they start a class and they’re moving around with a fighter; “Oh my god, you’re really good!” and the fighter goes “Yeah, you better keep your hands up!” and this and that and you go “Yeah, I’d better listen!” and before you know it, six months down the track, nobody can tell it’s only been months.

It’s interesting when you’re sparring: you’ll go with someone new and you’ll think yeah, I’m pretty good and then you’ll go with someone who makes you feel like an absolute beginner.
I’ve also found when people rehash what they’ve learned by teaching somebody new it reinforces in their own head. If they say, “You’ve got to keep your hand up when you jab!” they’re thinking “Why am I not doing that?”

“It starts standing up; it starts at striking range. Striking has to occur; you cannot be afraid of the striking.”

And you have to remember what you’ve learned in case you need to explain it to somebody else.
Exactly.

It’s going to sound funny but I find that for coaches who have a very high ego, the fountain of knowledge for their sport resides in them: all the answers come from them.

Everybody coaches a little bit differently here and I’m fine with that because sometimes they might be wrong in what they say, but that’s their interpretation; I’m alright with it. As long as it’s effective for them, it might be effective for the next person. I can’t have that mindset where everything that I do is right and everything that everybody else does is wrong.

It does get confusing if you go to different gyms that have different trainers and one person will say “Absolutely, this is the way to do it” while another says “Absolutely, that is the way to do it.”
I know, it’s so confusing!

You know, Andy would come here and teach a Muay Thai kick after he came back from Thailand. It was very rigid and upright. And doing the practice with some people, [say you’re] coming back with a left hook, [and a student says], “Yeah but Andy showed me how to do a kick like this or do a switch kick like that.” Yeah, OK, that’s not wrong, but I don’t want you to do a kick like that for this class.

The way the Thais throw a kick is not wrong but there are different kicks; there are different ways of kicking. I’m not flexible at all; I can kick you in the head, no problem, but if I try to do it Thai style, I can barely get passed your hip.

So it’s about finding what works for you?
Exactly right; that’s the most important point. I would prefer that people …my philosophy is defense first. And then offensively, Jesus Christ. Basically, I’m a teacher here teaching people how to be artists. So I show them the canvas, I explain the colors and I say these are the sort of rules how you mix the colors and then there you go, do your thing. Once they’ve reached that next level, you see it in them; the things they do are just magic.

Watching Ty (“the Trigger” Telford), he’s one of the only guys I’ve ever turned pro, watching Ty do what he does in the ring, it’s like watching… And everyone says “Good job, Uro!” I can tell him anything, I can say whatever I want to, “you should’ve done this.” It’s not me that’s doing it, it’s him. He’s absorbed his lessons well and now, just, boom! It’s amazing. Watching him, [he’s] flawlessly defensive and offensive; it’s just amazing.

Even Eden, who is now fighting again: hopefully, it all clicks in but if it doesn’t that’s fine. We’ll go again and again. (Eden Fordham is fighting on July 8 in Hurstville; check it out!)

But if it clicks in, I know I’ll just love watching it. She’ll come to the corner and I’ll [say] “Hey, that was great! Just throw the jab, alright! Anyway, see ya!” That’s what I’d love to do. Not “Oh, you’ve gotta do it this way; she’s coming at you, sprawl here, do that.”

A lot of the coaches that do that. It’s fine, I don’t criticize them–that’s their mentality–but I prefer to be calm in the corner. I prefer to talk to my fighter; to be a skill set and not an emotional thing.

I’ve had to get worked up over certain fighters. I’ve had to yell at them and get angry but it’s usually when I haven’t worked with them closely enough. So [with fighters like Ty and Eden] I’m not worried.

I have sent a few guys to other gyms. I’ve said, “I don’t want to coach you anymore. Good luck to you.” They’ve won titles, they’ve done things as professionals–one guy signed up with the UFC but he didn’t want to go do it. It’s just not on me to coach them anymore; I realize we didn’t have that bond.

“Have we really won? Sure, we won because you managed to pull it off but it was her aggression that caused you to win, not your skill set.”

I’ve heard you say that you’d rather someone lose a fight than win by submission. When you train a fighter, why do you so strongly emphasize winning by knockout?

When I do grappling here, we do a lot of standing stuff because it starts standing up.

There’s no analogy you can use. Some people go, “What if it was a fight and I could kill you.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but if I pick you up and I suplex you on the head, on cement, you’re dead.” That’s the end of it. The reason you can suplex somebody on the mat and they survive is because it’s soft.

In a grappling sense, if you know your submissions, you win, but you’ve got to get to that point. You have to get on the ground; you have to get in that situation; you have to work for that. The mats are designed to be soft so you don’t break your spine but the hardest thing you can do in a grappling sense is picking somebody up and slamming them. That’s literally the most damage you can achieve. That’s more than a kick, more than a knee, more than a punch, more than anything else.

If you look at it from that point of view, what’s the most important thing in grappling? It is the standup phase. The standup phase of grappling is making sure you can work pummeling; sprawl; get a single leg, look for a takedown; control the top position. Not scramble on your back, hoping [for the best]. I’m just talking strategy: if you take me down and you’re on top of me, I have to start working for an armbar. You have to make a mistake for me to catch you in that armbar.

Now there are systems being used that force you to make that mistake. So I can learn how to do mission control with Kempo and Jiu-Jitsu; then I start to work that arm and trap that shoulder. There are systems out there that work like that; but why be in that positions in the first place?

There’s no better explanation than this: You get a freestyle wrestler walking in here. A world champion freestyle wrestler goes to a no-gi grappling tournament, picks a dude up, slams him on his head, walks away. He’s won. So your grappling doesn’t work if that’s the issue.

So you emphasize being in the dominant position where you’re getting the takedown and you’re on top?
Always. Now [let’s say] you get into a situation where you’re doing an MMA bout and I’m like, “Oh, you’re great at submissions, Flo. You’re amazing at submissions, right. So when you get in there, work, and then go for a takedown.” So you’re like, “OK, I’ll go in there.”

She’s really good at striking. You go in there and she starts jabbing you; you try and grab her. She hits you with the right hand; you go “Oh, Jesus, I’ve got to get ahold of her.” You start to get more and more desperate; she’s beating the shit out of you, she drops you. You hit on your back; she’s on top, hitting you. You’re working, working. She’s over-committed to an elbow; you manage to get that elbow; you get the arms, legs over, all of a sudden you’ve got an armbar: “Oh my god, I’ve won!”

Have we really won? Sure, we won because you managed to pull it off but it was her aggression that caused you to win, not your skill set.

“With boxing, after six months of training steadily, I let my guys go into a fight. Even if they’re not ready,”

Yeah, I get it. You’re just surviving.
Surviving and hoping that at some point she’s going to make a mistake.

Now there are guys that are taking it to the highest level in the UFC and they’re amazing. But then they go up against an average or a good wrestler and if they can’t take him down, all their Jiu Jitsu, all their game, everything they’ve spent ten, fifteen years developing, is gone. And it comes back to the striking; it always comes back to the striking.

So I want a mentality in this gym that is striking based. I’m gonna stand there; I’m gonna trade. That doesn’t mean that we can’t go for the takedown–we drill takedowns, we drill groundwork; we’ve got BJJ here. This is all important; I’m not saying that it’s not but when you are talking strategy and the anatomy of a fight, it starts standing up; it starts at striking range.

Striking has to occur; you cannot be afraid of the striking. So if I drill it into people’s heads over here that they have to be excellent strikers then that’s step one to our advantage, automatically. It’s the same thing on the ground: first, we get up, we try and sweep; then the submission.

How long would you say it takes, on average, to get a beginner ready for their first bout and how does it differ from boxing to Muay Thai and MMA?

It’s hard. I had one guy: he went with us for nine months before he got his first fight. He got his first two wins by knockout against guys from great gyms–guys who were more experienced than him and very good. He got two knockouts very quickly.

Other people have been doing it for five years and they’re still not ready. On average, I’d say about two years: consistently training for two years, at least three times a week. But you know we’ve got back-to-back classes here so it’s not like you do one and piss off; you can do all of them. So you can do three, three times a week, a couple of sessions each time and you should be alright.

It depends on what [you’re doing]. Boxing fights: very easy. I’m not taking anything away from boxing. Actually, boxing is the hardest sport to coach but very easy on your body; very easy physically. Then it goes kickboxing, very tough on your body; Muay Thai is very tough and then MMA is the most brutal of all. But I do notice that Muay Thai fighters or kickboxers tend to get more brutalized than any other ones so, with kickboxing, it takes a bit longer than it does with boxing.

“We’ve got a rivalry but one thing I love is that all the coaching staff and all the gyms are one big family. “

With boxing, after six months of training steadily, I let my guys go into a fight. Even if they’re not ready, it doesn’t matter. If they know their defense I know I can put them in and not worry.

Because you can’t do that much damage? And the amateur fights they’ll use the headgear as well?
Yeah, all amateur fights–unless they’re MMA. But boxing, kickboxing, and Muay Thai, are all with headgear. In wrestling, obviously, there’s no headgear.

So I’d say about two years, on average. And then there’s the rest of your life.

Out of all the pros that have come through here, most of them quit. They stayed with me for two or three weeks and then they quit altogether. There is a high demand [as far as] what I expect. I figure, if a person is ready to turn professional, they should be ready to mix in with the best in the world. [That’s why] I turned Ty pro.

And if they’re falling short, we’re just kidding ourselves. People go, “They’ll develop in time.” Of course, they will; I’m not saying that they [have to be] mentally ready to fight the best in the world; I’m saying that they should be, physically and skill-wise at least, ready to take on the best in the world. Mentality can be built over time, that’s fine. That’s how I feel; I turn somebody pro, that’s how I would do it.

You have a pretty high standard, then?
Yeah, it’s funny that you should say that but I never thought of it that way until I spoke to Ty about it. And I was thinking, of all the [fighters] I’ve coached, how many have actually turned pro? Only one. I’ve only ended up turning one person pro and that’s Ty.

Eden is going for pro?
Amateur. She’s going to have to get a license. This is one fight that has to go well for us in terms of, I’ve got to see where she’s at. She’s such a lightweight fighter; there aren’t many girls (in that weight class) in the world so we might have to turn her pro for her next one.

I want her physically ready and mentally ready, which she is. But whether she switches on or not, that’s up to her. Skill-wise, I love watching her sparring here with James and the other fighters; I mean it looks amazing. I’m ecstatic just watching.

What’s one thing you love and one thing you hate about competitive fighting in Sydney?

One thing I love is that in most cases–take boxing out of it but for the rest–we’re one big family. All the coaching staff and all the gyms, we’ve got a rivalry but we’re all [in it together].

There are not enough students to go around [because] we’ve got so many different sports. And I think anybody who’s coaching in Sydney–whether that’s martial arts, fighting, or any sport–is doing it for the love of it. We’re doing it for the passion; I think I like that part of it.

There are very few people like myself who can actually make a fulltime living out of it.

The part that I don’t like–same issue: there are not enough people. That’s the positive and negative. If there were more people, there would be more fights; there would be more interest in professional fights.

In Ty’s weight division, there are only 39 registered boxers in New South Wales. That’s not many. To get somebody to fight Ty is almost impossible. These guys keep pulling out; they don’t want to touch him.

With MMA it’s a bit different; MMA fighters will fight anybody but even then I’ve had an issue matching up James with some of the best fighters from other gyms [because they] would say no. Even though he lost one fight, it’s the way he lost. He didn’t lose getting by getting knocked out or anything; he got stopped but it was four rounds of [pure] brutality and he was fine at the end of it.

“We’re doing it for the passion; I think I like that part of it.”

2 thoughts on “Things to Know About Boxing and Martial Arts in Sydney

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