In this age of callous self promotion and cheap provocation designed to sell a few more units, it is understandable to cast a doubtful eye towards a New York Times-bestselling author talking about training in mixed martial arts. However, Tucker Max is no fake and especially not when it comes to MMA.
In a recent Forbes article by Michael Ellsberg, Max very briefly credits MMA as an integral component towards his journey towards being a better, healthier person than the womanizing thrill-seeker who went out and did the things that make up the autobiographical comedies that power the book phenomenons I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell and A**holes Finish First.
The relevant quote from the Forbes interview is as follows:
"I've learned more about by myself from training MMA, than from any other thing in my life, except psychoanalysis."
Because Ellsberg is more interested in the psychoanalysis tangents and relaying how he keeps comparing himself to Tucker, the Forbes article spends almost no time on MMA. I reached out to Tucker in hopes of getting a few quick blurbs about the positive mention of MMA in a mainstream media publication and then mashing the whole thing together as a short post here on Bloody Elbow.
Tucker ruined those hopes by bouncing back and forth with me in a Q&A session that ranges from describing his discovery of the sport, the move to direct participation and the many connections he made with professionals and friends. The five-part interview is nearly 4500 words long and is interspersed with many highly passionate and profound thoughts at the positive experiences and values combat sports have for him and their applicability to others.
Of course, this recent media surge is in support of his latest books, Hilarity Ensues and Sloppy Seconds, yet the interview is 100% Tucker, 100% relevant to MMA and there is no advertising or review thing going on here. Max was genuinely surprised by me reaching out and by my questions and welcomed the chance to talk about something other than his debauchery. I present his answers exactly as written (minus the bleeping out of a few cuss words). The books hit stores on Tuesday (2/7/12) and can be ordered online as well.
Hit the jump for the first of five parts encompassing Tucker's experiences and views on mixed martial arts, as told in his unique voice and featuring brief glimpses of some very proment MMA fighters and figures.
Ben Thapa: How did you come across mixed martial arts? What clicked you over from a viewer to a participant?
Tucker Max: I got into MMA in early 2007. I hadn't watched it much on TV or anything; my impressions of it were similar to a lot of people who didn't understand it at the time, I basically thought it was just sweaty dudes rolling around hugging each other. I had moved to LA in 2007 to work on a movie, and I hated everything about LA and the entertainment business.
After watching me explode about something ridiculously inconsequential, my buddy suggested I find something to help me deal with this s**t. He was rolling at Rickson Gracie's place in Santa Monica at the time, so I joined him there one day. I played football, basketball and baseball in high school, I thought I was in great shape and would just whip these losers in robes rolling around on the ground. Well, we all know what happens to people like that: I got my a** handed to me.
I didn't fall in love right away. In fact, I almost never went back, but I was too arrogant and prideful to give up after one day of getting my a** kicked. So I went back and got my a** kicked again, and again, and slowly stopped getting pissed about losing, and started to engage BJJ some. The only thing was - I didn't like jiu jitsu in a gi. Everything we did, I kept thinking to myself, "I could just punch you in the f***ing face. What are you going to do then?"
Of course I understand now that's kinda silly, but I didn't understand that then. I decided I wanted to try full fighting - real MMA - not just grappling, so after a few weeks as a guest at Rickson's, I went to Legends. This was when it had just opened and was at the original location, on Hollywood and La Brea, and Randy Couture and Bas Rutten were still actively teaching there.
I liked BJJ, but I fell in love with MMA right away. I liked everything about it; the physicality, the intensity, learning a new skill that was applicable to real like, testing myself, all that stuff. I think the thing that really clicked with me about MMA was how much more honest and real it was than anything else I'd ever done as an athlete. It just made sense to me on a deep, primal level.
Basically from the first MMA class, I thought to myself, "THIS is what sports is about. Everything else is bulls**t," and I knew this was going to be what I would do sports wise the rest of my life, and I could never go back to any other sport.
Don't get me wrong, I still love to watch football and basketball, but once you get into full contact and start trading punches and submissions, you understand the raw truth of Joe Rogan's quote about sports just being "an elaborate substitute for a fight."
BT: What was your first year or so of training like? How did you progress?
TM: I trained at Legends for my first year, and it was great. Randy and Bas are both the coolest motherf***ers on earth, and great teachers, but the guy I learned the most from and trained the most with was Mac Danzig. Mac taught the MMA class that I took most of the time, and he was just a f***ing phenomenal teacher. He understands how MMA differs from straight BJJ and straight striking, and really stressed the fundamentals and worked my game until, in less than a year, I was good enough to train full speed with the mid-level pros there (guys like Vic Webster, Chris Brady and Chris Sepulveda), and even good enough to roll some with the bigger pros (like Mac, Dan Hardy, Amir Rahdnavardi, Scott Epstein, Conor Heun, Mayhem, guys like that).
As an aside, you're going to die laughing at this: Even though Jeremie Williams was the main boxing coach at Legends then and I learned a lot from him, you know who I did the vast majority of my stand-up work with? REGGIE WARREN!! No s**t, he is a real fighter and grew up with Spencer Fisher and taught a lot of striking classes at Legends. His ground game is about the same as mine--which means its basically dogs**t--but his striking is legit. He got me from no experience to being able to get in the ring and do well against MMA guys in six months. He's a great teacher.
Let me be clear: I am NOT putting myself in the league of any of those guys AT ALL. I never did anything but get my a** kicked by them. This should give you an idea of my skill level: My greatest MMA moment at Legends was--one time--I went a full round with Mac and he didn't submit me. Mind you, I didn't take him down, or land a good shot on him, or almost sink a submission, or put him in any danger at all really. I just stayed alive for five minutes, but I was ecstatic. Like an idiot, I made the mistake of bragging about it during the round break, which made Mac mad, and he submitted me approximately 50 times the next round. It was funny.
Seriously though, the fact that within a year I was good enough to roll to some extent with top level pros, and go safely go full speed with mid-level pros (they all kicked my ass too, of course) is a testament to Mac's teaching ability and the other people teaching at Legends then (Gary, Jeremie, Amir, Chris, etc). I haven't been to the new location (because I left LA), but I'd still recommend that group of guys as trainers, they were great for me.
End of Part One
Stay tuned to Bloody Elbow as Parts Two to Five will appear daily until the end of the week (2/10/12).