Monday, November 21, 2011

Behind the Cage: Steven Siler

Steven Siler is a 24-year-old Orem-based fighter who participated in 11 amateur fights before even stepping into a gym for training. He began his training more than six years ago in Ogden then moved to Orem to train at Throwdown (now The Academy), and hasn’t looked back since. Since he began training, Siler has gone from a local champion to a UFC fighter, which is the ultimate goal for MMA fighters. Siler made his mark on the UFC world by trying out four times for Spike TV’s reality show “The Ultimate Fighter.” After making it on the show, he was sent to live in a house in Las Vegas with 16 other fighters and no connection to the outside world. Since the season of “The Ultimate Fighter” he is on is still airing, Siler cannot fight, but he is hoping to be able to fight in the Ultimate Fighter Finale on Dec. 3; you have to watch the show to find out if he makes it to the fight.

Becoming a UFC fighter • “UFC to MMA is like NBA to basketball or the NFL to football. UFC is the mainstream of MMA. When I got on the reality TV show, that’s what the show is, is to be a UFC fighter. You’re on TV for 12 to 13 weeks straight where everyone gets to see you every week. The reward is a UFC contract, which is every fighter’s dream. I tried out four times just to make it onto the show and I have been fighting six years just to make it into the UFC. The perks of being in the UFC is that they pay the most, you get the most recognition and fan support. This has been a dream come true for sure.”

Misconceptions about UFC fighters • “It’s definitely not as easy and glamorous as people make it look. They think everyone in the UFC is getting a big-time paycheck and living this awesome life, and in reality, you don’t really make that much. You only have three or four fights a year and unless you’re the big, big names, you don’t really make that much. The majority of fighters are struggling every day and just trying to get by. Training takes a toll on your body, it hurts. Every day you wake up in pain, just trying to make it and hoping you have a fight coming up. Now that I am with the UFC, I could lose one fight and they would cut me. It’s definitely a stressful lifestyle.”

The draw to watching MMA • “It’s a fast-paced sport that two people are just in there trying to go at it. And people love violence. People love seeing people get knocked out. The majority of time there are a lot of knockouts and people like seeing that.”

Favorite part of being a fighter • “I feel like the lifestyle [is my favorite part], I am able to choose when I wake up and train. I get to get my aggression out. Since I started fighting I am not an angry person at all. I have had people try to pick a fight with me on the street or try and throw a punch at me and I’m just able to block and be like, ‘Dude, I’m not going to fight you. There’s no point in trying.’ I have no anger anymore. I don’t yell as much and I’m just a very calm guy ever since I got into the sport.”

His future in fighting • “I hope to be going till I am 40, but we will see how my body holds up. I don’t want to be 50-60 years old and not be able to walk the way I should. I want to make sure to stay healthy at all times and make sure that I can do things for my kids, when I have kids.”

The fighter’s reputation for partying and violence outside of the cage • “There are fighters who might get into drugs or might drink a lot at a party or things like that, but it’s not all fighters. I rarely drink. If I drink, I feel horrible the next day and that makes it harder for training. I haven’t been in a street fight since I started doing this. A lot of guys that fight are probably the nicest people I have ever met. They’re very calm and relaxed. A lot of times when people do find out you’re a fighter, that’s when they try to size you up and try to fight you. I have never engaged in it. I have nothing to prove — a lot of fighters I know try to keep it quiet and try not to stir anything up.”

(Photo by Francisco Kjolseth for Now in Salt Lake)

Behind the Cage: Jordan Smith

Jordan Smith, a 26-year-old Layton-based fighter, was a science teacher at West Point Junior High for three years before he retired to dedicate his time to fighting. Since making MMA fighting his full-time job, Smith has traveled all over to train. He has gone to Los Angeles, where he trains as a member of the Black House Fight Team at Black House in Gardena, to Brazil, where he spent more than two months over the summer training, and at One Hit MMA in Layton, where he trains locally. Smith has won 15 fights, has only two losses and one draw.

His attraction to MMA • “My brother took me to a live fight in St. Louis while I was playing college football. The sport was so pure, one man versus another, I just knew that I was going to fight someday. So, when I finished my last year of college football, I found a gym and started training.”

Leaving teaching to fight • “I enjoyed getting the opportunity to be a teacher. The relationships you build with colleagues and students is something only people who have teaching experience understand. But it was very difficult to train as hard as I needed to for fights and keep a full-time job. It came to the point where I needed to decide on one career, and while I’m young and healthy, the choice was fighting. So, I decided to retire from teaching so I could be free to travel and train anywhere in the world.”

On MMA fighting misconceptions • “People often describe MMA as human cockfighting as if it is a barbaric sport. In reality, MMA is the purest form of sport that there is. You have no teammates in the cage with you, no ball, little equipment, and it is your skills matched against another man’s skills to see which man is better. It’s often comical to me when I’m watching other sports, such as hockey, and the players get so frustrated with each other, they will always turn to fighting. This is almost always the most exciting part of the game for fans. I believe that the sport of MMA brings the most exciting form of sport to the fan better than any other sport in history.”

Being in the cage • “I think every fighter experiences a fight differently. For me, being in the cage is the most alive any person can ever feel. Nothing else I’ve ever been involved with has given me the same feeling. There are thousands of people watching you and another man fight to see who is the better man. The pressure, the adrenaline, the fear and anxiety all combine, and when you can overcome and rise above them all to defeat your opponent, you can never match the feeling of triumph MMA gives you.”

MMA fans • “The fans are what makes MMA the best sport in the world. People who love MMA are the kind of people who can be true to their own human nature. They know, whether it is subconsciously or instinctively, that the winner of the fight is the one who is more suited for survival. I think people who hate MMA just don’t understand the sport. To be able to watch it taps people into their own human instinct of survival, and it makes for the best entertainment that you can get out of sports.”

Hopes for his future • “Every fighter’s goal is to make it to the UFC. There is no higher level of competition in MMA anywhere else, and I’m no different than other fighters in this respect. I am fighting to test myself against the best in the world, and the UFC is the best. Making it into the UFC and being able to compete against the best would be the greatest accomplishment of my career.”

(Photo by Leah Hogsten for Now in Salt Lake)

Behind the Cage: Jesus Herrera

Jesus Herrera, a 32-year-old business and family man, is also a fighter. The owner of local restaurant La Palapa (two locations: 1824 W. 3500 South and 5600 W. 6200 South), Herrera has been training as an MMA fighter for the past five years. Currently, he trains with Griffen Reynaud at MMA 21, and is getting ready to fight in the Nov. 4, fights, which he had a little over three weeks to train for. When he isn’t spending time with his family or working endless hours at his restaurants, Herrera is training four days a week, 2-3 hours a day, and though his wife may worry just a little, he plans to continue his hobby for as long as he can.

Why he started MMA training • “I wanted a sport where I can be physical. I was training at Gold’s Gym and I needed my body to work out more and get in better shape. That wasn’t working out. I always liked MMA, so I enrolled in one of the schools here in Salt Lake. It’s very challenging and I wanted to see how I felt going into the cage.”

The feeling of fighting in the cage • “It’s almost like being in a car accident. Everything goes like that fast, in seconds. You start the round and by the time you notice, five minutes are gone. It goes really fast. Each round is five minutes and there are three rounds.”

Being a hobby fighter • “I wake up every day at 6 or 7 in the morning. I go and work, come here [MMA 21] at 11 a.m., go back to work and come back and bring my kids [who take kids classes at MMA 21]. That’s right now while I am training for a fight but on a regular schedule, it’s the same, seven days a week I work from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., then come and train, then go home because I don’t have the energy to do anything else.”

Training through the exhaustion • “[I get discouraged] when I’m super tired out of excessive work and excessive training but I love it. I come here and I feel sleepy and tired and I do my workout and all the stress from the business, from the family; it helps a lot mentally. It’s a good medicine. A lot of people that have the same routine that I have, they are big and overweight, they always have medical problems.”

Encouraging someone to try the sport • “The first thing is they have to like the sport. But it makes you feel good. Your body gets in good shape and it just relaxes you. I feel like that, it relaxes me a lot. And if they like to be challenged then this is the place.”

(Photo by Scott Sommerdorf for Now in Salt Lake)

Behind the Cage: Griffen Reynaud

A lifelong athlete, Griffen Reynaud is a black belt in jiu jitsu and the co-owner of MMA 21, a gym in Sugar House that specializes in mixed martial arts. It is here that Reynaud takes nearly 20 years of MMA experience and passes it on to eager fighters who want to learn from one of the best, how to take down an opponent in the cage. Reynaud also teaches Muay Thai boxing, which he has been involved in since 1999. Before he became a world-renowned trainer, Reynaud was a fighter who fought in Utah's first MMA event.

On his MMA experience • "I became interested in the sport shortly after I started training. My instructor had the "Gracies in Action" videos, which were taped challenge matches that the Gracie Jiu Jitsu family would record at their dojos. The Gracies had a standing challenge that they could defeat anyone from any other martial arts style, and naturally people took the challenge. Gracies were out to prove how powerful Jiu Jitsu was, and that was the beginning of the UFC and MMA. I was training in a martial art, what better way to see if what I was learning was practical and effective. There is something primal about one-on-one combat that is undeniable. All sports have metaphoric combat, but MMA is as real as it gets, as real as it can be and still be a sporting event. I think the most important credential is my experience. I have been in the gym learning, teaching and coaching for nearly 20 years. I have a black belt in Jiu Jitsu, but what I really have is a PHD in unarmed combat; I know more about how to incapacitate another human than your doctor knows about your cold or sore shoulder."

Training fighters around the world • "I've been lucky to develop solid relationships with fighters in other parts of the world. When you go and compete in another country, you have some opportunities to train with those guys and they like what you do, or how you coach and want to learn something that they aren't being taught where they are. I've had 14 or so Japanese fighters come to Utah to train with me, four Finnish fighters and fighters from all over the U.S. It's a cool brotherhood most fighters share; we relate to each other in a way that is unique. You may get along with your co-workers at work, but you have different interests outside of your job; our job is our life, it is our interest. It's pretty well all-consuming to someone that makes a living fighting."

MMA's popularity in Utah • "I think Utah is pretty blue collar and MMA is championed by the blue collar. I think average people can relate to the guys that fight, they look at a guy and say, 'I knew a tough guy like that in high school.' We have a really high level of wrestling in this state, and I don't think there is a better base for MMA than wrestling. Wrestling is an individual pursuit, as is MMA, and it teaches the work ethic it takes to become a fighter."

His training techniques • "I believe I have a high fighting IQ that not everyone has, but the most important difference is the care I take in teaching and developing people. You have to genuinely care about teaching or it shows in the development of your students and fighters. There are different levels of fighters and preparation for the different levels. One of the best things I ever learned was told to me by a former UFC champ: As an up-and-coming fighter you need to be prepared to fight on short notice, you should be ready to take an opportunity on a week's notice. So unless you are the UFC champ, you should be training as if you have a fight coming up all the time. It's rare, unless you are a contracted UFC fighter, that you will have six weeks to get ready for a fight, so I try and keep guys at a high base level of conditioning at all times, and when you have a fight, SPAR, SPAR, SPAR."

What a fighter learns • "It is not for everyone, but you would find out more about yourself in five minutes than you would in five years of therapy!"

(photo by Scott Sommerdorf for Now in Salt Lake)

Behind the Cage

I have been wanting to do a story for Now in Salt Lake on MMA fighting for quite some time now. In fact, it's been since March of this year since I did my first story on MMA 21, a local gym that is owned by Griffen Reynaud, a jiu jitsu black belt who trains fighters around the world. Reynaud told me back then that there are some stigmas attached to MMA fighting that are just not accurate. Some of the things that he mentioned that stood out to me are that many of the fighters have bachelor degrees, are family men and are anything but aggressive, something that seemed strange to me given the nature of fighting.

After meeting Reynaud, I decided to take some classes at his gym because I wanted to learn self defense. It has been eight months and I have learned a lot. And I finally got to write my cover story. For the story, I interviewed Reynaud, a fighter that he trained for an upcoming fight (at least it was upcoming when I wrote it), a full-time fighter who used to be an eighth grade science teacher and a UFC fighter.

I had taken nearly five weeks off from working out at MMA 21 but by the time I finished my story, I was reminded of why I love it so much. So, I am back at it. And it feels good.
I will post each story separately. And you can read the article here.

(Photo: Local fighter, Jordan Smith, taken by Leah Hogsten for Now in Salt Lake)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Jumping on the Maynard James Keenan Bandwagon

Sometimes, I wonder why I am so late to catch on to things. This blog is a great example. Another example is that it took me until last night to realize just how cool James Maynard Keenan is.

Tool fans would be yelling at me right now about the genius of Maynard if they were anywhere near me. I should have realized this a long, long time ago.

I saw Maynard perform with A Perfect Circle over the summer and it was good, but I wasn't overly excited by the show. But then there is Puscifer. Last night's show was really, really good. Amazing. I felt hypnotized by Maynard's magic and realized that evening that he is a true artist. The review that I wrote for Now in Salt Lake is posted below.

If you happened to be anywhere near the Capitol Theatre Wednesday night, you may have been a little confused by the huge crowd of leather jacket-wearing, tattoo-bearing and cigarette-smoking people hanging around outside. Puscifer's show was a far cry from a ballet -- though anyone who is familiar with frontman James Maynard Keenan knows that a Puscifer ballet is not so far-fetched.

The Puscifer show started promptly at 8:30 p.m. and began with Keenan donning a cowboy hat, cowboy shirt, jeans and big glasses, setting up a camp onstage while talking to audience members. The stage was set with a picnic table (which Keenan covered with a checkered tablecloth), camping chairs, another table set up with wine glasses and two bottles of wine that band members drank throughout the show (a plug for Keenan's wine, Caduceus), an Airstream trailer and a fake rattlesnake that Keenan placed at the front of the stage.

Keenan went to the trailer and opened the door to Carina Round, a dark-haired British singer/songwriter who served as the opener for Puscifer. Round helped Keenan set up, pull out an uncovered trailer with a drum set on it and then the two took their places behind microphones.

That's when the magic began. The stage had a large screen behind Keenan and Round that went from ceiling to floor and throughout the evening had various images flash across it, ranging from desert landscapes, to oceans, to weird colorful bubbles, clouds and more.

Keenan stayed to the rear of the stage, a shadowy figure for most of the show, with only the outline of his cowboy hat visible as he danced back and forth with Rounds, who accompanied him on every song. The pair make sweet music together. Round's voice perfectly harmonized with Keenan's and had me wishing she was on all the songs on his new album, "Conditions of My Parole," which she does appear on.

This show was to promote the newest release and that was quite evident. Keenan's performance, musically and theatrically, was outstanding.

The two-hour show left fans sitting in awe.

Some standout moments: "Oceans," "The Rapture (Fear Is A Mind Killa Mix)," "Telling Ghosts" and "Toma."

At the end of the show, Keenan thanked the audience and reminded everyone that Puscifer is a DIY project, one that embodies everything he brought to the stage that night, including the wine. "It's grassroots, bitches," said Keenan. Then he took a bow, grabbed a glass of wine and left the stage.

Diehard Tool fans may have hoped for a different kind of concert, but I left feeling inspired, knowing Wednesday's show will be emblazoned on my memory for some time to come.

(photo taken by Rick Egan for Now in Salt Lake and The Salt Lake Tribune)

Rockstar Mom

Last week I talked to a musician who by the time I finished with our interview, had me completely smitten with her way of band life.

Kori Gardner is half of the husband-wife duo, Mates of State, who are currently on tour promoting their album, "Mountaintops." Gardner and her husband, Jason Hammel, have been making music together for over 14 years. They began as friends and then became lovers, then got married and later had two little girls. Throughout the course of their time together, the Mates of State pair has grown stronger in their relationship and has changed the face of touring.

What makes this pair different than many other bands is that they bring their children on the road with them. In fact, the band is pretty much known for having two girls in tow at all times and according to Gardner, anyone who comes on tour with them knows that the kids come first.

After talking with Gardner, I was in awe of how much this lady rocks. She is a wife, a mother and a rockstar. She talked to me about finding herself again after becoming a mom and the business that she started for musician moms on the road called "Charter Nannies."

I want to be just like Kori Gardner when I grow up.

Check out my interview with her here.