Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Synergy and the anatomy of a game plan

“Synergy - The potential ability for individuals to be more successful working together than on their own”

Saturday 22nd November 2008 saw the culmination of months of hard work in the form of Andy Krlic’s foray into the world of MMA @ The Champions III show in Bradford.

Knowing he would be facing unbeaten fighter Paul Durber from Caged Steel, a guy who can hit hard as witnessed by his KO victory in his first outing then followed with a submission victory in his last fight after using his striking to good avail, Andy’s match perfectly demonstrated good preparation, the execution of a good game plan, good team work and a whole lot of heart.

It all started months ago with the match being agreed upon (which is weird in itself as Paul is a great guy and we have a good relationship with Caged Steel, me and Neil go waaaaaaaaaay back)

Paul was going to be a good test for Andy as Paul is bigger, stronger and can bang so we need to start right at the beginning and make sure everything is in place to give Andy the best chance of winning possible.

We assembled a good team to help Andy through all ranges, Andy sought out a good boxing coach to work his hands, had personal trainer Gaz Vause build a sick conditioning regime, whilst Pete Hill, Ben Mallows, Rob Lawlor and I took care of the sparring, clinch and ground.

Assessing Paul’s attributes and likely game plan we started working the counter game plan to help put us where we needed to be, we felt this would be the clinch game. Right from day 1, everything was geared around clinch as I feel that the key to MMA is clinch range. If you are mainly a striker you need clinch and takedown defence to keep you on your feet, if you are mainly a grappler you need clinch to take the fight to ground. A simple strategy that is so often overlooked in my opinion.

I anticipated that Paul’s team would be telling him to watch out for Andy to shoot, break the clinch and take the fight to his comfort zone, his striking, so we worked on an upper body clinch game where Andy could get the takedown inside rather than shooting from the outside.

Also paying close attention to the very real possibility of a guillotine, Paul has long limbs and a height advantage so if Andy is not careful he could get caught. The guillotine defence and takedowns from the guillotine were drilled until they no longer represented a threat, if one came we would use it to our advantage.

So as you know, then the hours and hours of drilling began, implementing our A game and working a few “what if” scenarios along the way. The work was really paying off as Andy was feeling more and more comfortable all the time.

Rob helped develop Andy’s ‘box to clinch’ game, really conceptualising it even putting it down in writing so Andy had it with him all the time, to constantly read and get into his psyche until it was second nature.

Taking a little time away from our gym he decided to go to the Quannum Training Camp weekend to get a little extra help from the Butlins, who are quality MMA coaches in their own right. Andy came back with a few more tricks in his bag of boxing to clinch; anything that helps is always gratefully accepted.

Fast forward to fight day, Andy made weight easily (there’s a story behind that too, maybe another time) then got some down time to focus on the task ahead.

Onto the worst bit of any competition, the waiting and the anticipation. So we are in the dressing room, waiting, watching other guys go down to the fight area and come back up either elated or dejected, just waiting for our turn. Spenna wraps Andy’s hands real well, we warm up, Andy gets a massage then a last minute talk, keep him calm, keep him focussed and don’t expend any unnecessary energy now. I try to convince Ben to carry Andy down to the ring but …………..

Some guys like to get really pumped up, really aggressive but I feel that can be counter productive, I would much rather see our fighter calm and collected but each to their own.

Finally the runner is here and we are on next.

We get to the entrance and wait for our music, it didn’t come, damn they are playing the wrong song. Oh well, lets get in and get it over with, we didn’t come for the music. We get into the ring first and wait for the opponent, an eternity later the crowd roars and Paul is making his way to the ring, now it’s very real.

The crowd are singing and chanting for the “Durbanator”, I have to remind Andy of Leo’s Law number 7 “Keep out the white noise” Don’t listen to how popular he is, how many supporters he has, just let it go. Andy remains calm.

Paul and his team face us from the other side of the ring, surreal to see guys that I sometimes train with and always friends with looking back across. Paul looks huge, way bigger and stronger than Andy. I hope the game plan is good enough!!

After a few last words of encouragement and reminding Andy of plan A, hands up, chin down, he meets Paul in the middle of the ring and it’s on.

A tentative start as both guys throw out some jabs then the inevitable clinch happens, Andy fighting to stay close and Paul trying to make some distance to strike with both guys having some success in a back and forth battle. Paul lands a couple of hard shots, Andy replies with a couple of his own as he works back to upper body clinch.

The round was getting into the later stages when Paul, using his height advantage, reached around Andy’s neck to take a guillotine as they went to ground. Andy pulled his head free, passed guard and took mount. From there he threw down some shots, keeping his position despite my best efforts screaming at Andy to take an arm as there was only 20 seconds left to go but he didn’t hear me over the crowd which was deafening. End of round 1.

Close round, too close from my point of view, depending on the judge, it could go either way. We need to stamp some authority on round 2.

Round 2 starts off as round 1 did, Paul throws some shots, a nice leg kick, then goes straight to clinch again. Both guys now start to turn on the pressure, Paul, again with the height advantage, reached around for the guillotine as they went to ground. For the second time, Andy pulled his head free, passed guard and took mount. This time he was close enough to hear me shouting for the Americana which he took, getting the submission win half way through the second round.

A really good match and, as I thought, was a real test for Andy. He was understandably concerned about taking a shot from the MMA gloves but he passed the test admirably because Paul does hit hard and landed some clean shots.

Down to the bar for Andy to get a celebratory Coke (although other cola beverages are available) then out to watch the final couple of matches, finally being able to relax a little and enjoy the rest of the evening, especially Helen pointing out to a guy that just got subbed that he really isn’t a good grappler despite what he thought and Pete Hill..….well, Pete is just Pete and is really funny.

In conclusion, this game is hard and you should only enter into a match if you seriously want to test yourself, be prepared to make sacrifices, all the bases have to be covered, your weight management has to be disciplined and your all round game has to be tight. Get yourself a good team, structure a good plan and stick to it. Oh, and be prepared to get hit. Hard.

The key to the success, in my opinion, is the psychology that we used every step of the way. It’s true to say that the mental aspect of a fight is the most important to master but that would take a whole other article to explain.

As a footnote, I would just like to add that I really like Paul, he is an ‘older’ guy willing to fight whoever in the ring or cage, just doing what he wants to do and for that we salute you. So many people make excuses about how they would do it if only [insert your favourite excuse] but he is in there and win lose or draw, you can bet he will be in there for as long as he possibly can.

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