Speaking to the world’s top mixed martial artists can provide us with insight and a behind the scenes look into MMA, but sometime it’s nice to get other perspectives and points of view that you can only get when speaking to executives, fans, agents and trainers.
Trevor Wittman is one of the sport’s top coaches and has led some of the best fighters into combat including Rashad Evans, Shane Carwin and Nate Marquardt. He has an impeccable reputation and has helped Grudge Training Center become one of the sport’s top gyms. By joining forces with Greg Jackson, Wittman is able to offer fighters a bevy of great fighters and coaches to help prepare them both mentally and physically. Wittman joined Mitch Ciccarelli and I as a guest on Rebellion MMA Radio and showed us a different side of his personality and shared with us some information on Carwin’s return to action and what young, up & coming fighters we should keep our eyes on.
“The good thing with Shane is he has been training for the last few months,” Wittman told Rebellion Radio. “They just gave him clearance to begin contact again, so he just began sparring. This is the first time in about 3 or 4 years that we’ve been able to work on technique because every time he’s come back from an injury the UFC gets him right back into action. The UFC looks at him as a star so they want to get him on a card as soon as possible. You don’t get a lot of opportunities to work on your game when you are in training camp because you are preparing for that specific opponent.”
Sticking on the subject of Carwin, Wittman discussed the possibility of Shane jumping over the Strikeforce to challenge Daniel Cormier who recently won their Heavyweight Grand Prix by defeating Josh Barnett.
“Shane fighting Cormier is up to him and his manager and what they feel is best for Shane,” Wittman said. “It’ll come down to who Joe Silva wants to match him up with and when you are a top ranked fighter you have to kind of go with the flow. As a trainer I would love it, watching Shane win the SF title and bringing it back to the UFC would be an industry changing event. I love Shane in every fight; it depends on which Shane comes out. If he goes 100% then he can beat anyone, but against JDS he let off the pedal a bit and he needs to keep the pedal to the floor.”
Another heavyweight who is under Wittman’s tutelage is Brendan Schaub who has lost his last two fights via knockout. There is no denying the talent Schaub possesses, but something seems to be holding him back and Wittman told Mitch and me what he thinks Brendan needs to do to fulfill his potential.
“Brendan went through some struggles, but I feel he’ll come back from them.” offered Wittman. “I really feel he beat himself in those two losses to Nogueira and Rothwell. He’s one of those guys who always wants to learn and try new techniques, just like the spinning elbow he threw in the Rothwell fight. I think he needs to stick to the basics and stays behind his right hand he can beat anyone. He really encounters problems when he throws his combinations.”
An interview with someone from Grudge or Jacksons just isn’t an interview if the Jon Jones-Rashad Evans situation isn’t brought up. Wittman has been close to Rashad for a long time and feels as though he could’ve performed better in their fight at UFC 145.
“I spoke to Rashad before the fight maybe 4 to 5 times,” Wittman admitted. “I didn’t talk to him about his game plan because I don’t know what’s going on down there. In both the Tito Ortiz & Phil Davis fights he looked amazing, that was Rashad at his highest level. With the Jones fight I don’t understand why he wanted to strike with him. We know Jones is the best striker at 205 and we know wrestling is Rashad’s best asset. He’s at his best like he was against Thiago Silva where he uses his footwork to get in your face and take you down. I feel it would have been a different fight had he utilized that type of attack, I’ve seen him do it in the gym when he got under Jones hips, he can run through him.
Outside of that he fought Jones fight for four rounds and then tried to use his wrestling in the fifth which wasn’t going to happen. He told me after the fight that wasn’t him and he could do better than that. I’m not trying to critique their game plan because it’s always easier said than done. I would love to see then fight again as I feel there’s a better Evans that can be brought to the table, but you also have to tip your hat to Jones. He made Evans fight his fight. I can’t wait to see what he looks like in 3, 4 or 5 years from now. The scary thing is he has a lot of room to grow, but he already has the mind of a champion.”
Wittman was asked whether or not he thought Evans would ever be able to return to Jackson’s gym,
“I think he was very hurt by what went down,” offered Wittman. “There was a team at the beginning of Jackson’s that really grew. You had Diego Sanchez, Rashad, Marquardt, Villasenor and Keith Jardine and it was a tight crew. When Jones came in they made a pact that they would never fight & I was the guy thinking if you’re at a certain level you can’t turn down fights. Jones told Rashad he wouldn’t fight him and then went out and said he would fight Rashad because Dana made him. That’s where it started and Rashad & Greg got into it, but I don’t think either one of them did anything wrong. I could see where both Greg & Rashad were coming from.”
“When you own a gym you are running a farming system. You are going to have champions, but that doesn’t mean he’s your only champion. You are grooming younger guys who are coming up behind these older guys and part of the next run. It’s hard to be a fighter when you are coming up to the point when it’s not your time anymore. Now you’re the guy sitting on the outside watching the guys who were brought into to spar with you and now they are the top guys. To me that’s a great thing and as a gym manager when you have all of these top guys it speaks highly of the work you are doing.”
One of Wittman’s longtime fighters is Duane Ludwig and “Bang” was recently knocked out by Dan Hardy at UFC 146. Wittman gave his thoughts on the fight and how much more Ludwig has left in his gas tank.
“It was a hard loss to watch, the one thing with Duane is he always wants to go out & put on great fights,” offered Wittman. “With me being like a brother to Duane I have to look at the fact that he has 100 professional fights and as a coach it’s hard to hear him after the fight ask the same question over and over again. I know he wants to fight again, but if he has one or two more fights like that I will ask him as a friend to pull back a little bit.”
Now it was time to look towards the future and some of the younger lions that Wittman was talking about before. He was just as proud of the up and coming stars in his gym as he was of the established stars who have helped make his gym one of the best spots in all of MMA.
“I look at all the guys I train as fighters who can make it to the top,” Wittman said matter-of-factly. “I never have a ranking system in my gym, if they are ranked in certain organizations I believe that’s a great thing, but we don’t do that at Grudge. I do have some guys who I think are going to make some huge waves. There’s a guy who fought on June 2nd named Justin Gaethje he is 4-0 as a pro and beat Marcus Edwards who was 9-0 as an amateur. He’s a two-time division I All-American wrestler fighting at 155lbs. He’s got three knockouts from armbar slams; he has some of the coolest throws I’ve ever seen. Look him up on YouTube and one of the guys he slammed peed himself. We poured water over the guy so no one would know what happened!”
“Justin Salas is another guy who puts it all together. He’s 1-0 with the UFC and will be fighting on the UFC on FX 3 card next week. We had Joe Warren in the gym and Salas kept taking him down. Warren kept saying he never gets taken down. He puts everything together so well. Brandon Thatch is a guy who fights for Instinct MMA and is 7-1. He has won his last 6 fights with none of them going any longer than 4:12, five of them he’s finished in under a minute. His father Clarence Thatch is a two-time boxing champion. The sport has become second nature to him; he is so calm and relaxed. He really loves the sport and you can see it clearly. I love that as a coach, that type of mentality will take you a long way.”
By: Bryan Levick