April 27, 2011: An MMA Fighter’s Daily Grind


A ragged group of Muay Thai students shuffles across the floor at Elite Training Centre in Mississauga, throwing one-twos as their instructor shouts commands.

The kick-boxers are hobbyists but the guy in the nearby ring is a pro, warming up for his third workout of the day.

As the students take on imaginary opponents, 30-year-old Claude (The Prince) Patrick, the gym’s top dog and co-owner, is preparing for a real one. On Saturday night at UFC 129 he’ll face fellow welterweight contender Daniel (Ninja) Roberts.

On this frigid Tuesday night in late February, that bout is still two months away, but it’s never too soon to fine-tune.

Patrick and wrestling coach Luigi Bianco practise how to react when an opponent dives in for a takedown: Deflect the blow, lean on him, push his head down as you slip a hand under his neck and pull him where you want him to go.

On most nights, Patrick, who is 13-1 as a pro, teaches classes at Elite but today he makes mental notes like a straight-A student.

“When you and I go full speed you’ll get a feel for what you have time to do and what you don’t, ” Bianco says. “Right now we’re just trying to drill that motion.”

The rapid growth of mixed martial arts owes mainly to the UFC’s spectacle, but for Patrick the sport’s essence lies in the small details of the skills he hones with Bianco.

Thriving in the industry of pro MMA, however, requires a different set of techniques, such as business savvy, perseverance and creativity.

While UFC welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre pulls in $500,000 purses and premium corporate sponsorships, life is much less glamorous for the majority of MMA pros. On the undercard and out of the spotlight, fighters such as Patrick rely not just on fight purses but on a variety of sponsorships and side hustles to patch together a decent living.

In February, the Star spent a week in Patrick’s training camp, learning first-hand about a quickly growing sport, a rapidly expanding MMA industry and how Patrick reconciles both those realities with his traditional martial arts roots.

Which are on display as he shows his wrestling coach a little jiu-jitsu, wrapping Bianco in a bear hug and pressing a shoulder into him.

“This is my money takedown in all my fights, ” Patrick says.

Then he wraps his leg behind Bianco’s knee and tips him over.

* * *

If you want to get rich, MMA probably isn’t the game for you.

Sure, Patrick makes exponentially more now than he did for his pro debut in 2002, a bout in Quebec that paid him just $600. After licence fees and other costs, he cleared just $66. Or lost it. He can’t even remember.

Either way, fighting wouldn’t pay the bills on its own.

Patrick grossed $12,000 for his most recent bout, a UFC win last October. But given that MMA fighters rarely compete more than three times a year, purses like those are just big enough to keep a fighter broke after expenses.

To help fill the income gap, Patrick relies on a network of roughly 20 sponsors – many of them small companies that contribute gear in exchange for a logo on the banner that hangs from Patrick’s corner on fight night.

This year Patrick added HMV to his roster of sponsors while also receiving support from Wild Wing, a sports bar whose owner, Rick Smiciklas, sponsored boxers before taking on MMA fighters.

Those kinds of sponsors – the ones who pay cash – are essential to surviving the long stretches between fights while still paying coaches and other expenses. “These fighters absolutely make nothing, ” Smiciklas says. “All the expenses, without sponsorship you’re done.”

Still, Patrick’s chief source of beyond-the-octagon income is teaching martial arts, a business whose growth has mirrored MMA’s soaring popularity.

Seven years ago, Patrick taught classes at “The Dungeon, ” a converted squash court in the basement of a physiotherapy clinic near Mississauga’s Trillium Hospital.

Back then eight people constituted a crowded class, and when Patrick reached 12 students he thought he was set.

After outgrowing The Dungeon and a local fitness club, Patrick and business partner D.J. Dallaire gambled, renting out a building near Dundas St. E. and Dixie Rd. in Mississauga and investing $100,000 in equipment. By February they had 140 students on their roster, with more trickling in daily.

“I figured if I had my own place, people would come, ” Patrick says. “I didn’t know so many would come.”

Among fighters at Patrick’s level, moonlighting is the norm.

Toronto’s Sean Pierson, who will also compete Saturday night, fought professionally while training to become a police officer (though Toronto police rescinded a job offer over Pierson’s use of the nickname “Pimp Daddy”).

And Roberts, who faces Patrick on Saturday, is an inventor who has patents pending on garden tools.

After the session with Bianco ends, Patrick climbs out of the ring and tidies the room as students straggle out the door.

The real life of an MMA pro.

“Fans see the night clubs and fast women, the fights and submissions, but they don’t see the broom and the dustpan, ” he says.

“It ain’t glitz and glamour, man. It’s daily grinding.”

Copyright 2011 Toronto Star

Article originally appeared April 27, 2011 in the Toronto Star

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