MMA is touted as the fastest growing sport in the world, yet there is still resistance by people who don’t understand it. While a percentage of the MMA fan base train MMA, or components that it comprises of, it isn’t all that common for fans to practice the sport they love to watch. People tend to look at high-level MMA athletes and determine that because they’re nothing like those athletes they have no place training.

This couldn’t be further from the truth; not everyone is destined to be a world champion but that shouldn’t stop anyone from participating. We have hundreds of thousands of people playing sports in Australia, and the vast majority of them will never compete at a high level. MMA need not be any different.

Earlier in 2016 we spoke to Richie Cranny, creator of ‘Wimp 2 Warrior’ (W2W), a web-based series that takes ordinary people through a 6 month MMA training camp, run by Richie and a host of high-level MMA athletes and trainers. At the end of the camp participants are matched up with each other and compete in an amateur MMA bout. Aside from physical and mental benefits of training, Richie told us that one of the goals of W2W was to expose people, who would never consider training MMA, to the sport. By understanding MMA one can look past the blood and welts, to see the technique, art and respect that underpins the sport.

 

Chris and Richy Walsh

Chris & UFC Welterweight Richard Walsh

We spoke to Chris Graham, a man participating in season five of W2W, about why he signed up for W2W, his new found understanding of MMA, and how training MMA has affected his life. By his own admission, prior to signing up to W2W Chris wasn’t a hardcore MMA fan.

“I wasn’t that into MMA other than watching it on the TV or at the pub with the boys. I didn’t know the technical side of it. I just watched the main cards and stuff like that; it was just an all out brawl to me.”

But now, “It’s totally different. Watching a fight is a completely different story; I’m looking for where they’re putting their feet and arms, how they’re moving…I can figure out where the respect is in the sport a lot more now. I used to follow traditional boxing, rather than MMA. I thought MMA was much more brutal, you know, throwing knees and stuff…but the last couple of months have changed my mind big time.”

Like many of the W2W participants, Chris was looking for change in his life.

“I had a few things going on in my life…a breakup with the girlfriend, a few things like that. I was quite down and lost all my confidence. I just needed a change, something to pick me back up again, have goals to set and see how far I can push myself.”

 

The Ten Week Round Up from S04 of W2W Earlier in 2016

 

Today’s society is surely one of the safest and most prosperous in human history but in this safe society people make little space for activities that involve, what could be perceived as, violence or aggression. Shunning places that teach people how to channel their energy definitely isn’t a good way to minimise violence; it’s a good way to push violence into uncontrolled settings. It’s no secret that martial arts can instil discipline and respect to students…Chris hoped that signing up to W2W could change an aspect of his life that has affected him since he was young…

“I sort of grew up with a bit of a fiery temper and that’s got me into a bit of trouble in the past. In the past couple of years I’ve been trying to turn that around and this [W2W] has opened up a whole new window…I’ve realised that a temper isn’t going to get me anywhere really. Being cool, calm and collected is a lot better. It’s teaching me a lot of respect for others and how others can get hurt in bad situations.”

By redirecting energy to a positive channel, positive changes are already manifesting…

“I’m up for training at quarter past four to get there at 5.30am. It’s a really big struggle; I’ve never really gone to bed religiously at 8.30pm. It’s hard to be disciplined with that, I’m normally used to going out and playing poker during the week, hanging out with mates…It’s hard to sit at home and be, y’know, disciplined.”

However, due to exhaustion sleep often comes easily. Training and working a labour intensive job at the same time definitely isn’t easy, but give it a couple of months and he’ll be a machine.

“I’m getting a lot fitter than I’ve ever been in my life. I used to go to the gym and thought I was fit but this is a completely different ball game. The core definitely gets a good workout…It’s getting better now but I’ve dropped a bit of weight – I’ve had a bit of a flu thing going on the past week. Now I’ve gotta battle to get it back on again, I’m eating lots now.”

 

Image: Chris Graham

Chris in front of the W2W cage. Image: Chris Graham

 

Beyond the physical challenges, those who have never tried their hand at MMA will find that the sport is just as much, if not more, of a mental work out. A deep understanding of a multitude of techniques from many different styles is required in MMA, but that shouldn’t scare you off. The techniques and movements are strangely intuitive, almost as if this is something humans have done for thousands of years…Once he got a taste for it, Chris wanted more.

“There’s just so much more I want to learn in MMA and I think it’s going to carry on for a lot longer than just December. I’d really like to continue training at the gym. It’s definitely a family; everyone’s so tight and close down there. No matter how hard it is, I’m learning so much that it’s…it’s so hard to describe…I want to live there [the gym].”

When asked about how he feels about going into a cage in (essentially) his underwear, in front of thousands of people to fight another man Chris explained…“at the moment I’m really excited. I don’t feel like I’m going to get too nervous, but we’ll see what happens on the night. Just thinking about it now…it’s all getting really real…”

Looking past December and the W2W finale, I asked Chris if he would like to continue competing in MMA…

“I’d love to have at least one competitive fight to see how I go. I guess it all really depends on how I feel in the finale. I’ll know for sure then. At the moment I’ve got the fire in my belly and I want to do it, but I’ll know for sure after the finale.”

One of the more important aspects of W2W is changing the attitudes of people towards MMA. Talking to Chris it became clear that even one person competing in this competition has had a ripple effect, especially after he started posting on social media.

“I have a few friends who have asked me about it [W2W], had a chat about what it’s all about…they’re interested in taking it on. It’s definitely getting out there and a lot of people are asking me about it. I’m getting a lot of support from friends and family.”

 


 

Chris’ Mum was initially against him participating because, “she didn’t want me to learn how to beat somebody up”, but after seeing videos of the training sessions and Chris’ progress, is now supportive of his endeavour.

Epiphanies like this are happening the world over. W2W has expanded from its humble beginnings in a small Sydney suburb, to putting on competitions throughout Australia and the rest of the world. W2W is now in six countries including; Ireland, New Zealand, the UK and the US – A testament to the growth and intrigue of MMA.