Roy Hibbert finds his training groove in mixed martial arts

The NBA season has only been going for a little more than a month, but Roy Hibbert(notes) has already made himself a top contender for Most Improved Player honors. Averaging 16.1 ppg and 9.5 rpg for the surprising Pacers, Hibbert has proven that you can still be an effective pure center in the league at a time when the position is being folded into the more ambiguous term "big man."

How has Hibbert gotten himself to be such a better player? Sam Amick explains for FanHouse:

After last season, Hibbert had his lungs tested in an eight-hour process at an Indianapolis-area hospital in which he breathed into a machine to get a reading on his windbags. When it was deemed what Hibbert called "athlete-induced asthma," the prescription for an inhaler quickly followed and Hibbert was on his way to an unexpected rebirth.

Suddenly, the breaths came easier, the frame felt lighter, and Hibbert went to work shedding weight so as to take full advantage of his new physical circumstance. He accepted an invitation from a team trainer and joined the world of Mixed Martial Arts fighting in the pursuit of peak condition.

The new-and-(most) improved Hibbert has gone from 278 pounds to 255 while seeing his body fat decrease from 14 percent to eight percent.

"Those ( MMA) guys, I feel like, are the best conditioned athletes, so three days a week, I did punching, knees, everything you see those guys do on (the Ultimate Fighting Championships), I was doing that," Hibbert said. "It got me in tip-top shape. I'd go to Fortville, Ind., drive like 40 minutes after my (basketball) workouts (in the summer) and trained there."

Ah yes, a perfectly normal combination of techniques: find out you have the breathing problem most commonly associated with nerds, and then train in the sport of muscle-bound punching machines with little regard for finesse.

It's a little odd to think of Hibbert in an MMA fight. He has always seemed like one of the more reserved players in the league, more content to plug away at his craft than get emotionally rattled or have many ups and downs. But here he is, punching and kicking like a beast.

Many basketball players have boxed in the offseason to improve their fitness, but Hibbert is the first player I can remember who has trained in MMA exclusively. With the popularity of boxing fading and MMA on the rise, it will be interesting to see if more follow Hibbert's lead and train like their favorite fighters in the octagon.

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