The Atlanta Falcons went 9-7 last season and didn't make the playoffs. After their surprisingly hot season the year before, this disappointment didn't sit well with the team. To change up their fortune, they've turned to MMA training.
Jay Glazer, a fixture on the fight scene and football reporter for Fox, teamed up with UFC Hall-of-Famer Randy Couture and UFC veteran Frank Trigg to create MMAthletics, a group that helps professional athletes incorporate MMA training. They've worked with individual athletes, but now they're working with the entire Falcons franchise.
Linebacker Curtis Lofton says that though the workouts have made him want to vomit, he already sees how they will help him come this fall.
"There’s a lot of carryover to what we do on the field. We do some Muay Thai [for core-muscle and hip development], wrestling, working on our hands and getting guys off you. We work on body leverage, too, which is important. Whoever is the lowest man controls the other man. ... It’s really intense. This is our second workout for the day. Some of this is just pushing it to do whatever else you’ve got to do to get better."
The Falcons want their athletes to pick up more than just the physical skills that MMA will bring. They also want their football players to pick up the mental mindset of successful fighters.
“When you’re in that cage and you break someone’s will, you can actually hear it,” said the 47-year-old Couture ... “It sounds like a twig breaking. We’re trying to get our guys to have that same mentality when they go into a game — impose their will and try to break the will of the players they’re facing.”
Plenty of football players have turned to MMA to help their gridiron skills. Matt Leinart worked with Glazer in Arizona, while Jared Allen credits his MMA training for making the difference in his career. Before he started with Glazer, Allen averaged just over nine sacks a season. With MMA, he's averaging just under 15 sacks a season over three years. In fact, Allen is so enamored with the sport that he will be in the corner when his good friend Alex Karalexis fights at WEC 48 on April 24.
The crossover between MMA and football doesn't end with training. Former football players have tried MMA in retirement. Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker won his MMA debut in Strikeforce in January. Rex Richards, once a lineman with the Indianapolis Colts, says fighting is safer than playing football. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Marcus Jones lost his UFC debut before retiring from the sport.