Build UFC power with Jimi Manuwa

For MMA fighter Jimi Manuwa, the path to the top of the UFC goes right through some of the most pow­er­ful men on earth. MF finds out how the Bri­tish star is ris­ing to the chal­lenge

Men's Fitness - - Front Page -

On some level, it’s the same in ev­ery sport: to sur­vive at the top, you can’t af­ford to make mis­takes. Ten­nis play­ers live or die by their un­forced er­ror ra­tios; the best base­ball play­ers don’t so much swing for the fences as refuse to strike out.

The dif­fer­ence in the UFC is that even one slip might be enough. Zig when you ought to zag, take a chance in an ex­change against the fence or maybe even just blink at the wrong time, and you’re out of ti­tle con­tention for the fore­see­able fu­ture. This is es­pe­cially true in the rar­i­fied air of the sport’s mar­quee light heavy­weight di­vi­sion, where fight­ers have the per­fect ra­tio of power, speed and en­durance to make al­most any shot a knockout. And that’s where Jimi Manuwa makes a liv­ing.

“The higher up you get, the more skilled you have to be and the more mis­takes you can’t make,” says Manuwa, in between rounds of blast­ing a heavy bag with his trade­mark left hook as

MF ’s pho­tog­ra­pher tries to catch the per­fect shot. “The guys at the top might be born ath­letes, but they’re also the hard­est work­ers. They don’t mess up.”

Manuwa knows this from ex­pe­ri­ence. But he’s also been on the re­ceiv­ing end of a pair of knock­outs him­self: one from Alexan­der Gustafs­son, who gave for­mer cham­pion Jon Jones his most com­pet­i­tive ever fight, and one from An­thony “Rum­ble” John­son, who throws ev­ery shot with ter­ri­fy­ing in­tent. They’re Manuwa’s only ca­reer losses – be­fore he came to the UFC, he was un­de­feated – but he’s san­guine about them.

“I learn from ev­ery fight, but es­pe­cially my losses,” he says. “I’m still get­ting bet­ter ev­ery fight. Me and Rum­ble John­son are the two hard­est hit­ters in the di­vi­sion, but there’s more to it than that. I’ve learned to be more pa­tient – it’s about hav­ing that

“The guys at the top might be born ath­letes, but they’re also the hard­est work­ers. They don’t mess up”

con­fi­dence. I know that I can knock peo­ple out – I don’t need to throw ev­ery­thing into ev­ery shot, but I don’t waste my shots. I don’t need to throw fours and fives, I can throw one or two and I know I’ll hurt peo­ple.”

POWER MOVES

Now Manuwa’s shifted the em­pha­sis of his work­outs slightly, to cap­i­talise on his strengths. “With my old coach I was more fo­cused on my car­dio and mo­bil­ity, but that comes with good train­ing,” he ex­plains. “I need to fo­cus more on my power, be­cause that’s the type of fighter I am – an ex­plo­sive, pow­er­ful fighter. It took me a cou­ple of losses and a cou­ple of hard fights to re­alise that: ev­ery fighter’s dif­fer­ent.”

But he’s got no in­ten­tions of be­com­ing a grap­pler or a more timid puncher. “I haven’t changed my style, I’ve tweaked it. I came into the UFC with ten knock­outs. I’ve car­ried that on through­out my ca­reer. I’ve al­ways been a knockout artist.”

Does he worry about the va­ri­ety of fight­ing styles on dis­play at the sport’s high­est ech­e­lons? Jones, af­ter all, has been known to throw spin­ning back el­bows and fly­ing knees, while Gustafs­son isn’t afraid of the oc­ca­sional hook kick. “Not so much,” says Manuwa. “As a striker, it doesn’t mat­ter – it’s about those years of train­ing and spar­ring, of rep­e­ti­tion and prac­tice. You can’t just go in and hope for the best. I know how to lure peo­ple in. It’s not just hit­ting the other guy, it’s get­ting him to do what you want.”

FIVE BY FIVE

Maybe the big­gest shift is just how much tougher fights get as the stakes get higher. Once you’re fight­ing for the ti­tle, or in a card’s main event, fights last for five five-minute rounds in­stead of three, turn­ing an al­ready-gru­elling or­deal into a fe­ro­cious test of legs, lungs and heart.

“My coaches have a lot more fun with it,” laughs Manuwa. “They like try­ing to kill me in train­ing and see­ing if I can sur­vive. I hate it, but when it’s done I love it – I know I’m fit­ter, stronger. I’ll be al­most on the floor and they’ll be there go­ing, ‘Are you gonna give up?’ and I’m jump­ing up go­ing, ‘No! No!’”

Fight camp is a grind: a min­i­mum of two ses­sions a day, in­volv­ing ev­ery­thing from spar­ring (strik­ing starts first thing Mon­day) to weights to wrestling and Brazil­ian jiu jitsu. Manuwa takes a slightly dif­fer­ent ap­proach to fight camp from most fight­ers, opt­ing for a three-weeks-on, one-week-off ap­proach that gives his brain and body time to recharge between his hard­est ses­sions. “I’ve got a good fam­ily who un­der­stand and who sup­port me,” he says. “When it’s not fight time I try to make the most of it. I stay home a lot and en­joy my fam­ily, I’ve got young kids. Break­ing the camp up just makes it eas­ier to cope.”

It also helps that Manuwa doesn’t sub­scribe to the boom-and-bust pat­terns that plague some fight­ers when it come to fit­ness: there’s no bal­loon­ing up in weight between bouts here. “I still eat healthy pretty much all the time. Af­ter the fight I eat the bad stuff, but I al­most have to force my­self,” says

“My coaches like try­ing to kill me in train­ing. I hate it, but when I’m done I love it – I know I’m fit­ter, stronger”

Manuwa. “I might have a few burg­ers, but I’m still in fight mode – I’m not eat­ing a whole load of junk food. I eat pretty much the same in fight camp as I do in ev­ery­day life. A lot of salmon, a lot of chicken, a lot of sweet potato and healthy carbs. I’ve trained my­self to en­joy healthy food.” His one weak­ness? “I don’t cook any­thing: I don’t even boil eggs. For­tu­nately, I’ve got a great wife be­hind me.”

MAK­ING WAVES

Now, as Manuwa makes his way up the billing, this stuff is more im­por­tant than ever: train­ing right, eat­ing smart and – es­pe­cially in the post-Conor McGre­gor era - be­ing will­ing to ask for the big fights. For­tu­nately, for the man nick­named “Poster­boy” this last part is sec­ond na­ture.

When we speak, Manuwa’s 24 hours out from fly­ing to watch champ Daniel Cormier fight John­son for a sec­ond time at UFC 210, and he talks con­fi­dently about his fu­ture in the di­vi­sion. “I live for this. This is what it’s meant to be like for me, fi­nally get­ting the recog­ni­tion that I’ve worked so hard for. I’m go­ing to con­tinue mak­ing big waves and do­ing big things. I’m big­ger, stronger faster, I’ve got bet­ter car­dio than I ever have. There’s a lot more good stuff to come.”

Two days later, he’s ring­side as Cormier – de­spite suf­fer­ing a bro­ken nose in the first round – chokes Rum­ble into sub­mis­sion in the sec­ond. Then there’s a sur­prise: John­son, af­ter his sec­ond loss to the champ, an­nounces that he’s done with fight­ing and head­ing else­where. That’s Manuwa’s shot at aveng­ing his big­gest loss gone – but he’s al­ready on his feet, look­ing at the cham­pion.

“Sit down, young man,” grins Cormier, who only has eyes for for­mer champ Jones, set to re­turn from sus­pen­sion to what’s sure to be a box-of­fice bust­ing ti­tle match. Manuwa just smiles back. In this game, at this level, it’s all about mak­ing fewer mis­takes than the other guy. And un­der­es­ti­mat­ing Manuwa might be the big­gest mis­take any ri­val could make.

Watch Jimi Manuwa in ac­tion at UFC 214: Cormier vs Jones 2 live on BT Sport on Satur­day 29th July

“I eat pretty much the same in fight camp as I do in ev­ery­day life. A lot of salmon, chicken and healthy carbs”

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