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MMA Coach -To the Fight and Through the Fight

MMA Coach and Fighter Checking in
By Ricardo Robles
Chingasos MMA Writer, Editor and Talent Scout

What does it take to be a coach? Do you think you have what it takes? What does it take to be an MMA coach? Do you have what it takes? Are you sure? Can you handle being an MMA coach and the rest of life's duties?

Daniel "El Leon" Hernandez is a pro MMA fighter and an MMA coach. He is also the owner of The Vault MMA & Fitness located in Monrovia, California. Not only is he the owner and the MMA coach,  he is the head coach at The Vault. If that wasn't enough, Daniel also volunteers as the Monrovia High School wrestling coach as well as being a full time father and husband.

On Friday July 26, Chingasos MMA followed El Leon as he coached Jose "Monster" Rivas for his pro MMA debut at Pandemonium 9 in Pomona, California.  I met Daniel at The Vault prior to the fight. I arrived there early, so I got to watch part of the wrestling practice. The boys were working hard on basics before they got some live rounds in. This is the off season, yet Daniel gives his time to help out the high schoolers who want extra training.

Daniel closes up the wrestling workout, and we're off.  He drops off his wife and daughter at home, and he makes a quick stop at the store to buy gauze. We get on the freeway  and as we're driving to the venue through rush hour, we talk about his busy schedule. "I coach my daughter's soccer team.  There are some coaches out there that get too competitive."  Daniel goes on to recount how a coach was chewing out his own daughter for allowing a goal. "I don't even do that to my pro fighters. If my guy gets knocked out, I help him up and let him know that it happens and that things will be ok."

When we get to the venue we hear a voice yelling, "I need everyone to go out".  MMA fights tend to be a circus act. You'll get a hodgepodge of individuals who feel the need to assert their "authority". You get everyone from the officials of the state athletic commission to the event security trying to get people to do as they say.  Everyone, fighters and their corners, gets ushered out. Another security guard yells at everyone to form a line.

We all get checked in and allowed to go to the dressing room. As it turns out, the dressing room is located at a horse stable. The dressing room itself is the dressing room for jockeys. No one ever said that fighting was always the glitz and glamour you see for the pay per view events.

Crail Chris, the fight inspector, walks in to let Monster know the basics and to check on his equipment. Chris  leaves and Monster offers Daniel a piece of gum. "Fuck you," retorts Daniel. Daniel had his mouth wired shut following his most recent fight. He's been on a liquid diet, and he already weighs 15 pounds less than his normal weight.

Monster puts on his earphones and sits down to wait. There is a lot of pre-fight waiting.  6:15 comes around and  Crail Chris wants the fighters for the first five fights to have their hands wrapped already. Brandon Michels, Monster's official first corner, wraps Monster's hands. Michels finishes, and Monster puts his earphones back. Everyone goes back to waiting.

Michels is also a pro MMA fighter under Daniel. Daniel talks to Michels about a possible next fight. "Here me out." Being a pro fighter is not necessarily a lucrative career when you're an up and coming fighter. The fight promotion that is interested in Michels isn't offering much. They go back and forth discussing the details, weighing the pros and cons. "It might be worth it, but you'll have to sell a lot of tickets." Having to sell tickets is one part of a pro MMA fighter's life that most people don't know about.

In the meantime, Monster is sitting listening to music, still waiting.
"MMA fighters! Rules meeting," a voice yells  from outside the dressing room. Everyone walks out and makes their way toward the front where Big John McCarthy is waiting. Crail Chris takes roll. Everyone goes back to waiting.

The unified rules of MMA are going to be used. The referee goes over basic rules, no hair pulling, biting eye-poking, etc.  However, the brunt of the rules meeting is dedicated to fighter safety. "If you scream like a twelve year old girl, we'll stop the fight."

Everyone goes back to the dressing room. Monster is the second fight on the card, and amongst other things, they have to figure out what time to start warming up. "They probably won't start on time, but we'll start warming up on time anyway."
Daniel goes over fight strategy with Monster as well as giving him some words of encouragement. "Put it on him.  It's your fight. Just go out and have fun. Do your thing."

It's time to start warming up and Daniel gets out his stopwatch. Michels holds the pads while Daniel gives out instructions. The first round is dedicated to basic striking combos.  "You're made to knock people out. Just go out and do it," Daniel says to Monster before they go back to warming up. As the warm up continues, Daniel has Monster throw combinations that are more geared toward fight strategy. Monster is now throwing elbows, knees, and upper cuts from a low position. Daniel is expecting Monster's opponent to rush in and go for a takedown.

It's past 7:40 now, Monster is warmed up, and there is no announcement of the fights starting. Monster goes back to the dressing room to sit down and wait.
Finally at 7:45, the fight announcement comes over the PA system. Chris comes in the dressing room to do a final check and let the guys know that he'll be walking them out.

Daniel gets his latex glove on and double checks his fight supplies. After making sure that he has everything he needs in the bucket, he gathers Michels and Monster at the center of the dressing room and says a prayer. 

The first fight is a 4-round boxing match, and Daniel keeps an ear out.  He hears a bell, "That's the end of round two. Two more rounds."  Monster paces around, getting his head straight.  Finally, the boxing match end , and it's Monster's turn to throw chingasos. Monster's walk-in song comes on, and Monster, Daniel, and Michels head towards the ring. Since there are both boxing and MMA fights, they are using a ring instead of a cage.

When the fight starts, Monster touches gloves with his opponent. Immediately, they start throwing chingasos and it is non-stop action. Monster's opponent gets a body lock on him and gets the takedown. Monster is at the bottom, holding his opponent in half guard, and Daniel is concerned.  Monster's strength is his stand up.  Although, Monster gives up his back, he is able to get the fight back to standing. Monster's opponent goes for another takedown, but it is Monster who ends up on top. Monster starts throwing fist from the top then starts raining down elbows until the referee finally steps in to stop the fight. Monster uses scary ground and pound to earn the TKO victory.

When the ref steps in to stop the fight, there is a huge cheer from the crowd, as Monster has a good amount of fans show up to watch him throw chingasos, and Michels and Daniel jumped in the ring to congratulate him. Monster, in MMA's customary show of camaraderie, goes to shake hands and show respect to his opponent. After all the smiles and pictures are done in the ring, Daniel accompanies Monster to the mandatory meeting with the doctor. The doctor clears him, and everyone goes back to the dressing room to gather their belongings.

Monster makes his way back to the crowd to meet with his fans. Daniel goes with him to say thank them for their support and to take pictures. He then digs his hands in his pocket, finds and takes out his car keys, and he rushes off. Daniel could not stay to enjoy the rest of the fights or to join in the rest of the celebration. Daniel's wife is pregnant and  due to deliver at any moment. No rest for the weary. Daniel's next job is to be in his wife's corner as she gives birth to their first son.