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One moment Tony Sentmanat is laughing, joking around.
His dark eyes peering straight ahead, Tony Sentmanat zips over the crumbling potholes and jagged cracks that could mangle his ankles. In the past hour, he’s been frog-jumping 90cm hurdles and dragging a sled that weighs some 90kg across a weather-beaten car park pockmarked with puddles and oil slicks.
He sucks air in heaping gulps and exhales with such ferocity that veins pop in his temples and his puffed-out cheeks turn red above his salt-and-pepper goatee.
In one drill, he shuffles sideways with the sled in tow while catching a 13kg medicine ball and violently slinging it back from the hip, as if trying to obliterate his training partner. In another, he catches the ball just above his stomach, throws himself to the ground, and pops back up in the blink of an eye. He finishes each gutbusting burpee with a chest pass and then explodes forward with the rat-a-tat of the metal sled chasing after him like a barking dog.
Built like a bouncer but with the agility of a ballet dancer, Sentmanat has become a social media star and an object of wonder to nearly a million followers. How can a man this big – he stuffs 110kg of brute strength into skintight compression gear and looks more rugged than the Jeep Wrangler parked in the distance – crackle with such relentless energy and fervour?
The answer is simple: His life once depended on it.
For 15 years, this Marine Corps veteran
worked as a corrections officer and police officer in Hialeah, Florida, in Miami-dade County. He spent a decade on the SWAT team and always trained with one thing in mind: in a fight, the bad guys would never stop to let him catch his breath.
Sentmanat retired from the force in 2016 and focused full-time on Realworld Tactical, his fitness and firearms training company that teaches cops, military personnel and ordinary citizens how to defend themselves. But the 38-year-old still trains with a combat-ready intensity. Whenever he hits a wall, Sentmanat imagines the next rep being the difference between being able to pull someone out of a burning building and leaving him to die. “I know people from all around,” says Diego De Vera, a trainer and Muay Thai champion from Argentina who’s on the receiving end of Sentmanat’s medicine-ball slams. “Nobody can do the shit he does.”
Here are the most valuable lessons that the Baddest Man on Instagram has learned in the gym, on the street and in his new venture as an entrepreneur.
Prep for the moment
Some years ago, Sentmanat found himself chasing an armed-robbery suspect who ducked into a warehouse. Inside, a terrified worker silently motioned with his eyes and mouth that the bad guy was hiding behind a nearby wall. As Sentmanat inched around the corner, holding his gun in front of him, he was confronted by a sudden flash of movement. The suspect had about 13cm on Sentmanat, who stands 180cm, and he used that leverage to try and grab the cop’s gun.
“If you’re not in physical shape to fight for your life and fight for that gun, he’s going to take it away and shoot you,” Sentmanat says. The two brawled in a confined space surrounded by racks of shoes. Gassed, Sentmanat finally grabbed the guy’s leg, took him down, and regained control of the weapon. He didn’t holster it, though, in case the guy had his own, which meant Sentmanat couldn’t put on the handcuffs. The suspect moved between Sentmanat’s legs, broke free, and ran outside. The barking of a nearby K9 unit distracted the bad guy long enough for Sentmanat to tackle him from behind. >
After the adrenaline wore off, Sentmanat sat in his cruiser for 30 minutes, unable to move because of stabbing back spasms. The ordeal was a turning point. He’d always looked intimidating – “When you see someone like Tony walking up to you, you’re like, ‘Oh, lord, I think I should comply,’” says Sgt Richard Quintero, his friend and former colleague – but Sentmanat realised he needed to drop some 10kg to improve his cardio.
“Fear of failure motivated me,” he says. “I never wanted to be that guy who wasn’t prepared physically.”
Now, as a businessman who teaches tactical and self-defence seminars across the country, Sentmanat maintains the same work ethic to back up an online persona that screams “complete badass” in a crowded field of mixed-martial-arts mayhem. The most important lesson he imparts on his students: be ready for when all hell breaks loose.
Attack, don’t react
Sentmanat teaches his firearms students how to handle their weapons under duress. If they ever have to pull a gun, their heart rate will soar, their hands will shake, and they’ll get tunnel vision. His training incorporates those possibilities so they’ll know how to
respond. Several years ago, he learned in a dark backyard how important it is to revert to training under pressure, and how vital it can be to land the first punch.
It was after 2am when Sentmanat and Quintero separately and simultaneously identified a car carrying an armed-robbery suspect. The bad guy bailed out of the moving vehicle and Quintero was the first to chase after him on foot. The cop grabbed the suspect’s right leg as he began scaling a 1.8m fence, but Quintero slipped and could only pull off the man’s shoe. “I hear Tony running up. He’s got good speed and momentum,” Quintero says. “I go, ‘Tony, get him – he’s over the fence!’ In one jump, Tony went right over.”
Sentmanat landed on the other side into pitch-black darkness. Then he heard a thud. He went toward whatever the suspect had hit and kicked it himself: a can of roofing tar that was spilling out in all directions. Sentmanat scanned to his left and his right. Suddenly the suspect jumped out from behind an old couch and bull-rushed him.
Sentmanat, who has a black belt in Shito-ryu karate, was briefly surprised by the double-leg takedown, but he instantly reverted to his training. He struck the man in the face, which caused the attacker’s knees to buckle and gave Sentmanat the opportunity to overpower him. The suspect was eventually handcuffed. (Quintero made it over the fence to help make the arrest, but only after taking a spill in the gooey tar.)
Sentmanat later saw that the man had cauliflower ears, a calling card of the MMA profession. Disgusted but curious, he asked why such a skilled fighter was messing around with robberies. The man said he’d fought professionally but had developed a drug habit and needed to pay for it. A cop without Sentmanat’s martial arts training wouldn’t have stood a chance against this perp. “He probably would have dropped him on the fucking concrete, breaking his head wide open,” Sentmanat says. “He would have grounded him and pounded him. That’s what MMA guys do. They get on top of you and beat the fucking piss out of you.”
Don’t stop, don’t quit
One day in 2014, around lunchtime, Sentmanat and Gene Delima, now a robbery detective, were making lunch plans. “Don’t get caught up in anything before we eat,” Delima joked with him. “Next thing I know, he’s on the air and gives an address,” Delima says. Sentmanat had identified a man the
crime suppression unit had been looking for. This guy was savvy and knew police weren’t allowed to go after him if he was on a motorcycle; a high-speed chase isn’t worth the risk to public safety. So he always rode one and took off at the first sign of cops. Sentmanat waited until after the man got off the bike to turn on his flashers. As soon as he did, the man bolted through a yard, climbed on top of a pickup truck, and then placed one foot on a wooden fence to fly over it.
“I did the exact same thing. The only difference was that fence wasn’t ready to hold me,” Sentmanat says. “The fence collapsed. I went straight down to the concrete.” His radio bounced in one direction, his gun in the other. The bad guy stopped to look back. Sentmanat checked his shoulder and arm to make sure nothing was broken, and then got to his feet. The chase took them around a gazebo and through a maze of abandoned refrigerators strewn across a backyard. “It was a goddamn disaster,” Sentmanat says with a laugh. “I managed to hit everything on my way out of there.”
They continued through more backyards, over more fences, and around one house multiple times. All the while, Sentmanat was yelling that he wasn’t going to give up. Finally the suspect turned around and assumed a boxer’s stance. Sentmanat ran right into him. “The guy he was wrestling with was another big guy,” says Delima, who eventually caught up. “You could tell they’d been fighting for a while – the panting, the breathing.”
“It’s a life-or-death situation,” says Sentmanat, who took control by using a rear naked choke hold. “That guy was trying to hurt me. Even if I’m tired, I’ve done so much jiu-jitsu and ground work that I know how to use my body to disperse my energy and weight.” The chase and fight left Sentmanat missing a chunk of skin from his knee and shoulder, and his right elbow and forearm pulsated with pain. But he got his man – using the same focus and drive that he later used to launch his company.
“It doesn’t matter how many hours you have to work. It doesn’t matter how long it’s going to take. If you start something, you finish it,” Sentmanat says. He was inspired to teach self-defence after being called to a scene where a thief pistol-whipped a man and broke a woman’s fingers by ripping her rings off. “The passion that I had as a law enforcement officer, I put into my business,” he says. “You have to have passion for what you do. If you do it for the money, you’re never going to be successful. You do it because you love it.” >
I’m in the business of teaching you how to survive – and making you understand what you are physically and mentally capable of”
Leave your stress at work
The comments on his social media feeds call him “a wrecking ball,” “monster” and “the most savage human on earth” but there’s a softer side to Sentmanat that his 900,000 Instagram, Facebook and Youtube followers rarely see. “I’m two totally different people,” he says between sets at De Vera’s gym, the KO Zone in Miami. “When I train, I’m one way, one mindset, until death.”
He looks up at Patrick Ramdial, his videographer and friend, and asks, “What would you say I am when I’m done training, as a regular person?” Ramdial smiles, and Sentmanat instantly realises his mistake. “Don’t say what I think you’re going to say,” Sentmanat pleads. Grinning even wider, Ramdial quips, “If a teddy bear had muscles...”
Sentmanat, son of a single Cuban mother, has an uncanny ability to turn his vicious intensity on and off, to toggle between badass and teddy bear, to be a ferocious workout machine and a dedicated friend who, Quintero says, “will give you his last penny”.
The duality reflects a survival mechanism he adopted early in his police career. “First time I went on a call where a guy had blown his brains out, he looked like a mushroom. His whole entire face was gone,” Sentmanat says. After witnessing horrors like that, he realised he had to leave the trauma at work.
“If you emotionally attach yourself to all these scenarios, you end up crazy,” he says. “In my job, I would go into a burning building to save your life, or I would shoot you in the face and kill you – either one. And without a split-second hesitation, I’d go back into my car, drink my soda, listen to country music, write the report, go home and sleep.”
And, of course, get up in the morning and rip through the day like it could be his last. “I’d rather live like a lion for one day,” he says, “than like a sheep for 20 years.”
In my job, I would go into a burning building to save your life, or I would shoot you in the face and kill you – either one”