When Dana White wrapped the belt around Kamaru Usman’s waist at UFC 235, the victory extended beyond an individual accomplishment. After years of being one of the best coaches in the world, Henri Hooft finally had a UFC champion, and his team, Hard Knocks 365, could finally claim they won gold at the highest level.
The moment was a powerful one—not only for “The Nigerian Nightmare”—but his training partners as well, including Missouri’s Evan Elder.
A relatively new member of Hard Knocks 365, the 21-year-old lightweight was deeply inspired to see the ultimate success of a friend who he battles inside the gym.
“For one, it was awesome knowing I train at the same gym as that guy,” Elder told FloCombat. “Number two, that guy is an awesome guy anyways. It even made me a little emotional seeing how emotional he got after the fight. Just like all of us, we put so much time and effort into all of this. It’s awesome to see that pay off.
They had their bout of trash talk before the fight, but Kamaru Usman and Tyron Woodley were nothing but respectful towards one another after the conclusion of their title fight at UFC 235, which saw ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ dominate ‘T-Wood’ in the co-main event to win the welterweight title.
Usman was very emotional after the fight, and the newly-crowned welterweight champion shared an intimate moment with Woodley’s mom backstage.
The 31-year-old started crying when he hugged Mrs. Woodley and, although no words were exchanged, Usman appeared to be apologizing for winning the fight.
Woodley’s mom, real name Deborah Woodley, reassured Usman that it was his time to shine on Saturday.
His sparring partners have felt the bone-crunching shots. And Aung La N Sang is adamant that he possesses more power than ever before as he prepares to put his ONE Middleweight World Title on the line.
“I feel it when I grapple and I feel it when I hit,” the ONE Championship star said of his new-found strength.
“The shots that I throw are a lot stronger now. We gauge it (strength) with my sparring partners. They tell me ‘man, you’re hitting me with some good shots. You’re hitting so hard’.”
A dual world champion, simultaneously holding the ONE Middleweight and Light Heavyweight World Titles, Myanmar’s Aung La revealed he had made a conscious effort to increase his power and explosiveness while honing his technique.
“We’ve been doing more weights and more footwork drills,” explained Aung La, who is based at Fort Lauderdale’s Hard Knocks 365 gym in Florida.
The two most notable entries to the UFC’s rankings both happen to be in the welterweight division and in the build-up to UFC 235, both men shared a heated rivalry. After his outstanding performance on Saturday, Kamaru Usman has entered the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings at #9, in between Conor McGregor and Stipe Miocic. Given the sheer dominance of his performance against Woodley, it does not seem unlikely that the Hard Knocks 365 fighter will advance up these rankings further with other victories over the likes of Colby Covington, who he is likely to face next, and other welterweights such as Darren Till and the streaking Santiago Ponzinibbio.
Another man who he is likely to face down the line is Ben Askren, his fight-week rival who, following his UFC debut, has entered the UFC’s welterweight rankings at #6 behind Rafael Dos Anjos. In his post-fight press conference, Askren revealed that he would be in London for UFC Fight Night 147, where Darren Till faces Jorge Masvidal, with intentions of facing the winner next. Till is currently #3 in the rankings while Masvidal, who hasn’t fought since November 2017, currently sits at #11.
Tial Thang may not be a familiar name to Myanmar’s mixed martial arts fans, but it should not be too long before the “The Dragon Leg” starts becoming a regular topic of conversation.
The 25-year-old bantamweight has just signed a contract to compete in ONE Championship, the world’s largest martial arts organisation.
“I’ve been working so hard to get this opportunity,” he said in an interview with www.onefc.com. “I’m just so happy and excited to show the world what I’m capable of doing.”
Born in the city of Hakha, capital of Chin state. Tial Thang emigrated with his family to the U.S. when he was 14 years old. He had already developed an interest in martial arts during his early years, after taking up nanban, a form of wrestling.
However, his interest soon became his calling after he competed in his first amateur mixed martial arts bout at the age of 19.
“From that moment, I knew it was something I wanted to do for a living,” Tial Thang said
The road to becoming a professional athlete is never easy, and no two journeys are ever the same.
“And I got to start from the ground up. Basically, I could barely walk. Then it was just like start building, start from scratch. How can I get better?”
While some would have fallen into a dark place, with a UFC comeback months, if not years, in the distant future, Lawler took on the challenge of every day. He had surgery to repair his knee Jan. 10, 2018. The following day, he couldn’t walk under his own power.
Now, fewer than 14 months after surgery, Lawler is ready to get back into the Octagon. He’ll be facing undefeated former Olympic wrestler Ben Askren at UFC 235 on March 2 in Las Vegas. Lawler is healthy now, he said, and feels strong than he ever has. But the process was a drawn out one and not easy.
Lawler said he went step by step — not wanting to rush — first learning how to walk on crutches. This is not an unusual injury for athletes. But for Lawler it was brand new. For all the wild fights he has been in, this was one of the worst injuries of his career, if not the worst. And the first time he has blown out his knee.
“The rehab process was slow and tedious, but I just remembered to get back at it and working on straightening my leg, then working on bending it, then getting to the weight-bearing,” Lawler said.
In the early going, when he couldn’t walk at all, Lawler said he relied on a device called Power Plate, a platform that vibrates 25 to 50 times per second. Lawler said he’s been using it during workouts for almost a decade and it’s currently being used by most NFL teams and Division I athletic programs. Lawler said he did isolated work outs on it, in between physical therapy sessions, and stretching.
“You’re getting a lot more work in than you realize, because the vibration kind of forces your muscles to work a lot harder,” Lawler said. “Just made it easy. I wasn’t very mobile, but I was doing a lot of iso stuff and just doing holds. And that really helped kind of get the ball rolling to get my strength back early on.”
Lawler said he had physical therapy three times a week, but in some cases that wasn’t enough for him. He’d have sessions on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, go home and do the same workout again. Then do it again midday the following day.
“I made sure I stayed busy,” he said. “When you’re not very mobile, you kind of keep plugging away and do what you can.”
In May 2018, Lawler started working with Mike Barwis and that’s when he says he took things to the next level. Barwis is a longtime strength and conditioning coach, who currently hosts the show “American Muscle” on Discovery Channel and holds a senior advisor position with the New York Mets.
Lawler said he’s been able to look at his body’s strengths and weaknesses, including even what might have caused him to tear up his knee. He’s been focusing on stability and making those weaknesses better. Lawler believes he has accomplished that.
“My body is stronger than it’s ever been before,” he said. … “I would say I’m a better version of myself. I’ve had room to grow. I’ve just had time to reflect and I’m building. I’m trying to get better in all aspects, not just fighting. I’m trying to learn and trying to develop different parts of my life. That’s what I’ve been doing the past year and that’s what I’ll continue to do it. It’s just evolution and trying to get better in every way.”
What is motivating him heading into a big welterweight fight with Askren? Nothing specific other than this is what Lawler does and what he wants to do. Lawler held the UFC 170-pound title from 2014 to 2016, but doesn’t get up for the possibility of getting back to that spot. It’s simpler than that.
“Obviously, fighting is very fun,” Lawler said. “I love competing and I love pushing myself every day. Goals? I want to enjoy myself and have fun and beat some people up while I’m doing it. I actually really love training with fighters and helping them get to the next level, too. Me being in the room getting myself ready is kind of showing them maybe they should do a little bit of the stuff I’m doing. Then I look at them and I’m like, ‘Oh, I like what they’re doing.’ So, it’s just like a give and take. I love being in the gym and just the camaraderie and getting better with all my friends and training partners.”
Lawler has been working this camp down in Lantana, Fla., at Hard Knocks 365 under coaches like Henri Hooft, Kami Barzini, Greg Jones and others. Logan Storley, a Bellator prospect and four-time former Division I wrestling All-American, is one of his main training partners. So is Kamaru Usman, who is challenging Tyron Woodley, the man who knocked off Lawler, for the UFC welterweight belt.
It’s a good group and Lawler gives them, as well as those who have helped him with rehab, a ton of credit for this comeback. Lawler is no stranger to having a top-notch team around him. He basically grew up with the famed Miletich Fighting Systems team and then reinvented himself at American Top Team en route to the UFC title.
Now, Lawler is trying to write another chapter in his fighting life, 18 years after it all started. Many of his contemporaries back then are long gone. But “Ruthless” is still here. Working.
When asked if he could ever imagine he’d still be doing this when he started about two decades ago, Lawler laughed and said the question was “hilarious.”
“I was pay check to pay check, workout to workout,” he said. “And that’s pretty much still how I try to live my life. If you’re thinking too far ahead, you’re gonna miss what’s going on right in front of you. I was just grinding, getting better and just keeping my eye on the prize. I wasn’t thinking 20 years from now. I just wasn’t.”
Those nearly 20 years have come now. They are here. So is Lawler. “Ruthless” as ever.
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CAPE TOWN – Stand up Africa! Stand up and support your “Boi”.
It’s time for yet another African athlete to carry the continent’s fighting pedigree proudly, as Kamaru Usman takes on one of the most elite MMA athletes the world has seen.
The ‘Nigeria Nightmare’ will challenge the UFC’s welterweight king Tyron Woodley (19-3-1) on Saturday night at UFC235 in Las Vegas, in one of the most exciting cards the billion-dollar organisation has produced so far.
In the last main event, Israel Adensanya (16-0-0) raised the motherland’s name proudly as he got the ‘W’ over arguably the best MMA athlete the world has seen yet after beating Brazil’s Anderson Silva (34-9-0) down in Australia.
Following that victory, Israel made his desires known that it’s time the UFC heads to Africa soon.
And a title win for Usman tomorrow night could turn the volume up even more, encouraging the biggest MMA organisation to make their debut in Africa.
It’s been years since Usman has been ‘home’, but he still feels a very strong connection to his place of birth.
“Absolutely, all my extended family is there, while my parents are in the US, along with my brothers and sisters.
“Growing up in Nigeria, I always knew I was destined for something great.
“Once we emigrated, I had to assimilate and partake in the sports that were big in the US, and I found wrestling, and that is when I realised what I wanted to do,” said Usman.
Volkan Oezdemir is going back to his roots in preparation for Dominick Reyes at UFC on ESPN+ 5 on March 16.
The 29-year-old is training back home at his old gym in Switzerland and it’s not by choice. Legally, the Hard Knocks 365 member can’t enter back into the United States until his visa issues are sorted out.
“I decided to go back to do my camp back [home]” Oezedemir told MMA News. “Waiting for my return to the U.S., it’s just going to be a while waiting on my visa right now. I’m back to my roots right now, I’m training at the same gym I’ve been doing most of my fights with. It’s kind of an old school vibe around me and it’s really cool.”
It’s enough to strike fear in fighters across the globe.
Aung La N Sang is adamant he’s more powerful than ever as he prepares to defend his ONE Middleweight World Title.
“I’m going to be the biggest, the strongest and fastest, the most explosive and most athletic I’ve ever been for this coming fight,” declared Myanmar’s Aung La, who will fight Japan’s Ken Hasegawa on the historic ONE: A New Era card in Tokyo on March 31.
“I took some time off and I worked on getting stronger and stronger and I feel I am,” said the “Burmese Python. “All my injuries have healed up and I feel sharp. In the last fight I was pretty banged up, but all my injuries have gone and I’m going to be sharp, I’m going to be fast and I’m going to be ready.”
More staggeringly, Aung La claims he hits harder than ever before.