Pros vs. Pros
How two top NFL players get into fighting shape
Created by a UFC legend and an NFL reporter, MMAthletics training gym in Las Vegas makes top athletes stronger, better, and tougher. MF got an exclusive look at how NFL players Matt Leinart and Patrick Willis got in fighting shape last summer.
Matt Leinart, Patrick Willis, Jay Glazer, and Randy Couture at MMAthletics
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There are plenty of pro football players who would relish the opportunity to step into the Octagon and throw some punches at a reporter. But on this scorching 100-degree day in Las Vegas in late July, trapped in an MMA gym with no air-conditioning, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart isn't one of those guys. He leans against a wall with his hands on his knees, panting furiously as FOX Sports' NFL Insider Jay Glazer barks at him. "Go get your gloves," he shouts.
Leinart complies, instead of punching Glazer's lights out, because the TV guy isn't the TV guy today. He's the co-founder, along with UFC legend Randy Couture, of MMAthletics, the first mixed martial arts training program for pro athletes, which operates out of Couture's Xtreme Couture facility just off the Vegas Strip. The pugnacious Glazer, who regularly breaks the biggest NFL stories, has always been a fan of mixed martial arts. On this day, he bounds around the matted floor on the balls of his bare feet, then intermittently strikes a row of heavy bags with thunderous leg kicks. Before breaking into journalism, Glazer was even an MMA fighter, notching a 1-1 pro record in 2003. "Football is my career," he says, "but MMA is my love."
Knowing the benefits of MMA training, Glazer believed pro athletes could enhance their physical gifts with the endurance, flexibility, and strength training that UFC fighters like Couture routinely undergo when prepping for fights. In 2007, Glazer persuaded NFL defensive end Jared Allen to join him for off-season training at Arizona Combat Sports, an MMA gym near their homes in Scottsdale. Allen lifted in the mornings, then trained in jiu-jitsu, which greatly improved his hip flexibility. Later in the day he practiced either kickboxing or wrestling to help build explosiveness. By the time he arrived at training camp, Allen had dropped 25 pounds of "bad weight." He says his improved mobility helped him get a better jump on the line of scrimmage.
"My core strength and cardio went through the roof," says Allen, who led the NFL in sacks for the Kansas City Chiefs (15.5) in 2007 and made his first All-Pro team before signing the largest defensive free agent contract in league history with the Minnesota Vikings the next off-season. Allen still trains in MMA as often as he can, bringing his Thai pads with him on the road. "I've never been in as great shape," he says. "I don't even run anymore. All I do is fight training."