John Hyon Ko, The AllStar’s Senior MMA Correspondent, is conducting a training camp in Phuket. He will be documenting his experiences in this blog over the coming months as he prepares for his first MMA fight in September.
What does it feel like to fight someone inside a cage? Could I handle all the necessary components to prepare for a sanctioned fight? Would I be able to survive the physical and mental stress of training camp? How about the weight cut? Can I take a punch and keep marching forward?
Whenever someone suggests that I take a fight or arguments for requiring MMA media members to have some fight experience pop up, those are the questions that stormed through my mind.
Well, I’m taking the leap. This is a decision made with much hesitation and self-doubt. But I want to test myself. I have a need to complete a task that will knowingly take me to my limits. With the help of The AllStar and Bangtao Muay Thai and MMA, I am going to be embedded with the fight team and enter a full six-month training camp to transform into the best fighter I can be. Living in somewhat isolation and away from my daughter and wife to put all my focus on fighting to sustain a level of dedication and fervor for combat. Just breathing and eating fighting every day.
See you on the flip side!
This blog is in chronological order. To skip to the latest entry, click here.
April 4 [Day 1]
I woke up this morning at 5:00 am not knowing what kind of session awaits me at the gym at 9:00 am. Although filled with anxiety, I was calmed by the morning prayers emanating from the speakers at the local mosque around the corner from my humble abode.
Jumped out of bed with no more sleep in my eyes. Made an espresso. Drank it while I got up-to-date with all the happenings at The AllStar. Took a shower and rode my motorbike to the gym.
When I arrived, Andrew Wood and SHA greeted me with friendly smiles. These individuals are my S&C coaches for the duration of my stay here at Bangtao Muay Thai & MMA. A few other coaches were there to show some support. The vibes I get from them are always positive. But then the exercises started. That is where the smiles ended for me.
SHA put me through a warmup that felt like a full workout. Not having exercised intensively has put my fitness at extremely low levels. Got a good sweat and the burning throughout my body began to creep in.
Being 5’11” and weighing 90kg on top of being inactive has had its toll.
Eventually, “Woody” took over and guided me through the meat of the workout. At this point, I already felt exhausted. All I can think about is not having a heart attack or a heat stroke in the middle of a rep. Inside my head, I was telling myself to take it slow and drink water.
The most strenuous was the assault bike. I’ve only watched fighters incorporate this apparatus for conditioning routines but I have never used one myself. It is a death trap. I felt like my lungs were going to melt out of my chest. Accomplishing that was a minor victory in my eyes.
After the workout, I rushed home to attend a meeting with The AllStar team. That is when the soreness kicked in. It started with my thighs and upper body.
By the evening hours, my legs felt super stiff and swollen. Sat in my bed for the rest of the evening and went to sleep at 9:00 pm. The early bird gets the worm.
April 6 [Day 3]
Almost fell down the stairs yesterday.
My legs feel normal until a set of stairs appear. Going down is always the most painful. I hate stairs.
Woke up this morning a little later than normal since my workout is not until the afternoon. Did a couple of interviews, checked social media, and talked with the family.
As I sit here in front of my computer in the morning doing administration work, it feels like a normal day. The skies are filled with clouds and the rain rushes through every hour. A little sore in my upper body but nothing too substantial. Always wondered if rain does affect how a person feels physically.
I need to get up to drink some water or walk around so I don’t sit for an extended period. Once I brace myself to stand, a pain rushes through my thighs and buttocks. It takes a couple of steps to get my legs under me. Minor victory for the day.
Two days of fitness have not been easy but I am optimistic since today’s workout will be a little less intense. We will see when I hop on the bike later on today.
Had a nice hour chat with my medical specialist, Nikki Bravata, last night about my blood work. She went through the whole list and explained what I am abnormally high in and which elements I am insufficient. Nothing too alarming but I will need to take supplements throughout this process to perform better.
Well, it rained heavily for an hour around 4:00 pm so I decided to take the day off and rest my legs. Right now, it is 6:00 pm and it is still raining outside. I will make up for it on Saturday morning. Not even a week into the regimen and flaking. Luckily no one is waiting for me. Maybe that is a bad thing. I would probably be more inclined to get up and work out if someone counted on me. I guess we will find out in the following weeks. Hopefully, I don’t look like a dickhead.
April 7 [Day 4]
Today is the first day I felt any type of hunger in the morning. But it did not sway me from working out. After a day of rest, it felt good to get in a workout. When you are sweating and getting the body moving, you forget about everything that is going on around you. My mind races from time to time even thinking about the actual fight. I have visions in my head of the outcome and some of them are not to my liking.
The morning workout was strenuous and impactful. We went through a full-body workout. Both my coaches actually did the workout with me. I am really moved by the commitment of my coaches.
After getting showered and shined, I was looking for a good meal. Something with protein and vegetables to fill the stomach. I have not figured out my diet so I am doing my best with the Grab app. Feeling a little groggy and thinking about taking a nap. But I have some work to do and things to learn. Let’s see how long this lasts.
Decided not to take a nap and powered through that midday fatigue. I sat in my bed for a short period.
Sitting back and thinking about what fighters have to endure before making any kind of money really fucks me up in the mind. Think about it. They have to find time to train. They need to find a job to allow them to train. They need to earn money to pay for all the gym fees and equipment required to train. They have to eat properly to fuel the body which takes some cash. And find the energy to train. There are rarely any boosters, sponsors, or companies willing to back an unproven professional athlete. This is not like any other sport.
Going through this process has made me realize more of the struggles fighters have to battle for years. Imagined if you had a family to take care of. Unless you owned/worked a gym or had your own business, it would be extremely difficult to train at a high level especially now. The talent pool is only getting deeper and parents are beginning to understand that this could be a career path to gold and riches if done properly.
Money management is a skill needed by any up-and-coming fighter. Without proper allocation of funds, it would be difficult to live a half-decent life on top of handling all the trail and tribulations life tosses at you from time to time.
April 8 [Day 5]
Bangtao Fit class this morning had a few new faces. Compared to yesterday’s workout, it was somewhat less strenuous, or is my cardio getting better? Or maybe having other individuals next to me working for whatever goals they have set out for themselves drove me today. Whatever the case, I sweated more and went through the exercises confidently.
Still racking my brain about how I will get the proper nutrition. I am lost. But before that, I will head to another gym to have my body scanned.
I think this scan just tells me that I am fat and I need to lose some weight. But for a professional, it is very useful information.
April 10 [Day 7]
Yesterday, I rode the assault bike in the morning for a good 30-minute workout. Also added some skier machine reps of 10 over a 20-minute period. I felt great both Friday and Saturday. Probably ate some things I shouldn’t have. Controlling my diet has been a struggle.
Today is the day for fighting. An early wake-up call to watch the UFC. Immediately after, did The AllStar Live Show with Dan Hooker and then took the rest of the day off.
Weekly Vlog [Week 1]
Woke up early this morning but did not have the urge to work out like the previous week. But I know that I need to stay focused and on track. After some work on the computer, I headed to the fitness class.
We did about a 10-minute warmup and then got into a Tabata-like routine. 8 exercises, 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, 4 times. It was a rough one. The amount of sweat that permeated from my pores was disgusting.
I almost forgot. Yesterday, I went to the local 7/11 to pick up some healthy food for cheap. They sell chicken breast packets and microwavable rice. It is going to be difficult to stay on budget ordering from the Grab app every day. Thanks to Big Will for advising me on some value meals at the local convenience store.
I controlled myself and ate much healthier than last week and I want to continue to keep it that way. Was thinking, why work so hard to waste it away with instant gratification? Even though food is an addiction.
Sitting here with my shirt off and feeling my gut just hanging also makes me resist temptation.
The island of Phuket is filled with health enthusiasts, fighters, fitness professionals, Instagram models, and social media influencers. Most of them are good-looking people with desirable bodies. That makes it even worse for someone who is out of shape and low on self-esteem. At the same, it motivates if you let it.
Missed the evening no-gi class and I feel like shit for doing it. Went to bed super early.
Today is Songkran Festival. Under pandemic regulations, the holiday is not the same. I remember a few years back I was here for Songkran. The Soi in Chalong where Tiger Muay Thai and Phuket Top Team are located was packed with people spraying water guns and dumping buckets while driving by. Anything that should not get wet should be left at home.
This was when Johnny Walker was talked about as the next biggest star in the light heavyweight division. On stage in front of Tiger Muay Thai, I saw this guy just grinding away to the music. I also believe his younger brother was there. He was even bigger than Johnny. It was memorable since both of them used the platform as their own strip club audition. It was hilarious to watch.
However, this year will be tame. No water fights, no booze, no wild antics. Just stay home and catch up on work I need to get done.
Woke up around 5:00 am and couldn’t go back to sleep. Tossed and turned for the next hour so I decided to work before my interview with Rob Font which was at 8:00 am.
When I checked my phone, I noticed I got a message from Frank Hickman last night while I was in La La Land. So I was looking forward to going to the gym to see this legit individual. Frank is one of the best people I have ever met in the sport. He will be my wrestling coach and my motivational speaker. He will be my David Goggins for this journey.
You might recognize Frank from watching UFC pay-per-views. He was in the corner for Israel Adesanya and Alex Volkanovski in their last successful title defenses.
Off the plane less than 24 hours and he is doing a conditioning class with me. The man is a machine fueled by candy. This is an amazing man.
I just felt shitty today. Once the morning workout got started, my mind and body were not firing on all cylinders.
This made me think about how fighters have to get up on fight day and get into hand-to-hand combat even if they don’t feel like it, even if their body is not moving like it normally does. It must be a scary feeling to know that the other guy inside the cage will do pretty much anything to harm you and you are at a disadvantage.
Fighters pulling off incredible comebacks or competing with a serious injury and still winning has to be one of the most amazing things to watch in sports.
I imagined myself sometimes in a fight and getting slaughtered due to the fact I just did not have the strength to battle adversity.
Should I let fear drive me or will it overcome me?
I hope it will drive me. I hope.
I think I am going to try to take the rest of the day off to rest. Wake up tomorrow morning and hit some more cardio.
Weekly Vlog [Week 2]
Got up a couple of hours before the morning workout and did some work. The one thing I love about my loft is that this neighborhood is very peaceful and rarely noisy. The owner and manager of the AirBNB are tremendous people.
Did the 7-and-7 routine. More people in the class. More in shape people in the class. This means I get to see where my cardio is at against fit individuals. Gives me a look into what level I am at.
Wasn’t able to complete all 7 rounds in time but got through 5 rounds. Small victory.
The weekend was a disaster, however, it started off well.
I did get up on Saturday and rode the assault bike at a steady pace for an hour. Got a good sweat in and felt fantastic. Felt energized.
But, after that, it was all downhill.
That evening I went to a birthday party on the beach. They had some BBQ popping off and I had to test out the delicacies. Kebabs, steaks, German sausages, potato salad, and some Thai dishes. Probably ate more than I should have but it was worth it.
Sunday was watching UFC, shot The AllStar MMA Live, and then chill. Went to the beach and just roasted in the sun for most of the afternoon. Ate three Thai dishes. Contrary to popular belief, common Thai food is not healthy.
I hate the sled. That is what I came out of my fitness class this morning. Everything was going smooth, the routine was complete, then the coaches tell us we need to push the sled up and down 4 times to end the workout.
I can honestly say that I pushed myself the hardest today. Felt my lungs burning hotter than ever, my legs got flimsy like rubber bands and my will to live was tested.
After it was all over with, I had a sense of gratification. Even though I was in complete exhaustion, it cleared my mind. A difficult state to describe but many have experienced it before.
Went back home and cooked up a special meal. Smashed 4 boiled eyes into a frying pan and mixed in some soy sauce and jasmine rice. Not the best-tasting stuff but it did the trick.
Took a quick nap and woke up to go to no-gi fundamentals. Looked out my window and it was raining. Usually, there are flash showers so I thought nothing of it. It kept raining and raining and raining. I started to justify not going to class. But then I thought about being accountable so I hopped on my motorbike and drove in the rain to the gym.
It was somewhat daunting since I did not know anyone in the class. Worrying about who I am going to partner up with for drills or will I be stuck looking like an asshole with no friends.
Luckily, I was able to find a familiar face in the crowd. Alex Schild and Josh Hinger are the instructors and they are damn good teachers. Very detailed in their approach and took their time to go around to guide everyone. There were like 30 people in the class.
First session with head coach George Hickman to go over the basics of MMA striking. Hitting mitts can be fun as well as frustrating.
Once George helped me with my stance and explained the distance I want to fight at, he got moving around and mixing it up. He went over the movement for a few of the punches I will need for the fight. Correcting my form and giving me pointers on every aspect of striking.
It was a lot to digest but I enjoyed listening to him and learning. I have to be a sponge and try to absorb everything I can. Being open-minded is a necessity in this sport.
Halfway through our session, I started to form a large blister under my big toe on my back foot from all the pivoting that is involved. I hate blisters. They are evil little pockets of liquid and puss. It is super annoying.
On top of that, during combinations, I would be off-balanced and positioned wrong because my feet are not listening to me. Getting my body to flow as one fluid machine is difficult as fuck.
Guess who showed up to fitness class today? UFC strawweight Loma Lookboonmee as well as Muay Thai legend Fabio Pinca. Great to have elite athletes next to you working hard.
You really get to see what level of effort is needed to reach the highest level. Trying to keep up with them and the other people in the class has been challenging but rewarding at times.
Something I knew that would eventually become a problem was my right shoulder and lower back. I had lower back disc surgery about 15 years ago and sometimes it does bother me during exercise or even rolling in BJJ class. In addition, my shoulder has always been unstable. I think it is my rotator cuff, but not sure since I never went to a doctor to get it checked.
These are injuries I will need to carefully monitor throughout my journey. I think I will definitely need shoulder surgery after my fight. But until then, I am going to push through.
Was supposed to attend no-gi fundamentals in the evening but did not attend. I felt I needed to take the rest of the day off. My body was telling me to chill.
Another day, another baht. Woke up and headed to my fitness class. Feeling somewhat fatigued but not deterred from getting a workout in.
Today we had UFC featherweight champion Alex Volkanovski and some Korean prospects we could be seeing soon inside that Octagon.
All of us did the 5×5 routine. Some of the toughest rounds to date but felt accomplished afterward. Seems like the longer I stay here, the sweatier I get during workouts.
One thing I noticed is that I am getting more flexible and warm-ups are so essential. When I was a youngster, I played for school teams and never emphasized stretching at all. I became stiff as a board through the years. I am hoping to fix that.
Tonight, I will be attending Superbon’s seminar at Bangtao Muay Thai and MMA. I am really interested in what he will teach us. I am extremely lucky to be here at this time.
Weekly Vlog [Week 3]
Haven’t stepped on the scale since Week 1.
It has been a pretty hectic past couple of days. Sorry for the delay.
This week I have added more sessions to the schedule and it has been educational, to say the least.
On Monday, Alex Volkanovski’s head coach Joe Lopez took time out of his vacation to give me some tips and held pads for me. He showed me some fundamentals and a few tricks I can practice during my time here in Thailand. There is a step-back counter that he taught me I really like.
Joe is one of the nicest people and so knowledgeable about the sport. Working with him for that short time made me understand Volkanovski’s game a little better. The notion that fighters are meatheads with no brain is so ridiculous. There is so much going on just in the striking game that most people don’t comprehend.
The next day I had two sessions. Morning fitness and then no-gi fundamentals in the evening. My body felt great and learned a few tricks from Josh Hinger.
I partnered up with a German fellow for drills. He told me that he doesn’t really watch MMA but loves training. Most of the time, it is the opposite. I was somewhat perplexed by him. Anyways, he was a good partner to drill with. We learned some armbar and omoplata attacks.
Wednesday was the most unpredictable day of the week. Met George Hickman to work on striking and hit pads. Getting that one-on-one time with him has been so valuable.
We have a really good relationship and that goes a long way I believe. If you don’t like your coach or have a tainted relationship, it would be difficult to work together. There is something to be said about a solid bond between fighter and coach.
After my session, Volkanovski rocks up and looks to be participating in the no-gi class. I decided to stick around to spectate. He sparred with a few of the fighters and Josh Hinger as well as Alex Schild. Some good rounds to watch.
I asked him to save the last sparring session for me and he oblige. That was the first sparring session I had and I loved it even though I was getting my ass beat.
About halfway through the round, Volkanovski said to me if I wanted to feel the “Hulk” strength and I obliged. He manhandled me and I got 20 pounds on him. What a beast.
The video will be out soon.
Not the best day for me. I woke up feeling extremely sore and groggy even though I went to sleep early and got a decent amount of sleep.
Almost didn’t go to the morning fitness class but I pulled myself together and went. When I arrived I told Woody my body is not feeling good and he told me to basically shut up and do the workout.
I needed that push. 5×5 rounds and I was spent. Coaches are so valuable in that they can give you the motivation to work hard even when you are just being a little bitch.
In some bad news, I forgot my wife’s birthday. That did not go over well. Feel shitty about it because she always puts family before everything and is the best mother to my daughter. Cannot ask for a better wife.
Weekly Vlog [Week 4]
After a long weekend, I entered another week. I feel much better physically and noticed I am lasting longer in the fitness classes. People are telling me that I look slimmer and my face is less fatty looking.
The double chin is the biggest problem. I am waiting for it to disappear off my face. A few more weeks and I should be walking around without an extra chin.
Today’s workout really was a fat-burning session. Starting from 100 reps and going down to 10 reps is a fun game to play. I completed every round and did some extra at the end. Felt really good to accomplish that routine on a Monday morning.
The rest of the day is going to be spent working behind a desk.
Went to my first MMA practice. It was technique Wednesday and learn some combinations. My drill partner was Topnoi, one of the best Muay Thai turned MMA fighters in Thailand. If you haven’t seen his fights for RIZIN, I highly recommend going to YouTube and watching this madman.
We had drills that ended in a kick to the shin but your partner is going to check it. Even going as slow as possible, the sharp pain I felt from hitting bone to bone almost made me want to quit. No lie.
That shit hurt. Every time I would show any kind of pain on my face, Topnoi would just smile. He is a veteran of hundreds of fights so it ain’t nothing to him.
That night after I went home and nursed my legs, I went to Bangla Stadium for the first time in Patong. UFC veteran Will Chope was putting on a show and he asked me to judge a few of the MMA fights. This is a historic moment since Bangla has never had MMA fights in the past.
Not much judging since every fight never entered the second round. Makes the job really easy. I will be doing more judging while I am here in Thailand so I hope to learn a lot from that vantage point.
After the fights, the ride back was fun. Jumped into the back of a TukTuk and returned home listening to obscure Thai classics and 90s pop music. Speakers blasting, lights pumping and Big Will singing at the top of his lungs. Fun times.
This rib injury is really hampering me at the moment. Woke up yesterday and went to fitness. Did the workout and had no problems.
But when there is any kind of contact in a grappling exchange, the pain just shoots through my torso. I have to be very careful with it. Rib injuries are unpredictable.
Due to the fact that my ribs hurt and my lower back was stiff, I decided to skip no-gi fundamentals that night. Alex Schild, the jiu-jitsu coach, told me to take precautions but show up to technique days until the rib is healed.
Friday morning was a hectic one. Fitness at 9 and then MMA striking afterward with George Hickman. He started with what we practiced in the last session and added a few more simple tricks to the bag.
Still having trouble with the footwork and my balance after combinations, in addition to feinting to be deceptive. I have moments on the mitts from time to time when my footwork is proper so I am starting to feel more confident in my punches which is not saying much since I had zero, to begin with.
Since my shoulder is bothering me, I had to make tiny adjustments to how I throw my punches. Those little tweaks George implements made a heap of difference.
I guess I have some pop in my hooks. That is good to know. Thanks, coach!
Weekly Vlog [Week 5]
I really regret my choices from the past weekend.
Without a clear meal plan or diet, I am having liberties with my eating habits and it is unhealthy.
Saturday night I lazily ordered Burger King and stuffed my face with two chicken sandwiches. So delicious yet with the guilt of being an undisciplined individual. Then, on Sunday night I fell into temptation and ordered a pizza. Swallowed that whole.
I think I have a detrimental relationship with food which was likely developed during the numerous lockdowns over the past several years. The combination of modern convenience on top of a sedentary lifestyle being stuck at home has really messed with my mentality towards food.
I need to snap out of it and re-wire my brain to combat those cravings and deem them unnecessary. Easier said than done.
Food does really affect mood. I woke on Monday morning and felt heavy. My body was having trouble dealing with my late-night crusade on the Grab app.
Could have skipped the morning fitness class but decided to tough it out and go.
We did a circuit of 7 stations. With a total of 4 rounds and the time goes up every single round. After getting warmed up, we got after it.
Major workout, lots of sweat, and the feeling of accomplishment. Good stuff.
The rest of the day was spent working behind a desk in front of the computer like normal.
My ribs feel a lot better this week. Not as sensitive and fragile.
Smashed out the morning workout. Fitness at 9 am. A great way to kickstart the day.
Felt really good and pushed hard as hell. Every step has been tough but seeing the results has been good for morale inside my head. My lungs feel stronger without a doubt.
My right hamstring has been stiff for a couple of days but nothing serious. I think I need to add either yoga or a stretching routine because I am the least flexible person on earth.
Attended the evening no-gi class to learn some techniques. My drilling partners were a 15-year-old promising athlete and a massive human being that could crush me.
A lesson I learned was that it is so important to have a drilling partner your size. Practicing drills on someone 20+ pounds smaller or bigger seems to not be so beneficial.
Still nursing the rib as well as my lower back so I skipped the sparring sessions at the end of class. Do I regret it? NOPE.
Today was one of the best days of training I have had so far.
3 pm I met with George for a pad session. I moved a lot smoother and flowed much better. Was more fluid and chained together combinations more efficiently.
With all this pivoting, my big toes have taken some serious damage. Huge blisters have formed on both sides. Never had to tape up my toes ever but to train I need to protect those little appendages.
Immediately after my mitt session, I walked into MMA practice. We worked mostly on chaining together your combinations into takedowns. Each step, the coaches Frank and George added something. By the end of practice, we went from standing up to takedown to mount to finishing the fight.
I am really enjoying Wednesday technique. Soaking up so much knowledge to understand the game.
Weekly Vlog [Week 6]
Rocked up to fitness class on Monday morning and guess who decided to show up to put in some work….Tai Tuivasa. Looks like he will be here for a short period.
Felt like shit before the workout. My body is feeling sluggish due to the terrible choices I made over the weekend, once again.
5 stations, 4 rounds. The time increases every round. It was a battle.
Once I got warmed up, I felt like pushing and getting a good sweat in. Circuit training will do that to you. It’s like momentum. Once you get started, it’s all downhill from that point.