When the offseason hits, many baseball players concentrate on recharging. Reed Johnson, on the other hand, puts the batting gloves away and puts on another type of gloves.
Living in Las Vegas is the best of both worlds for the former Cub who recently became a free agent. During the winter, Johnson engages in MMA training with many UFC fighters. Forrest Griffin, Frank Trigg and Frank Mir all have showed Johnson what it takes to enter the Octagon.
Johnson talked with Redeye about how he was introduced to mixed martial arts and how it gives him an edge on the diamond.
How did you get introduced to MMA training?
Well [former White Sox outfielder] Aaron Rowand and I both train at a physical therapy office in Las Vegas and a lot of MMA and UFC fighters come to the same location to rehab or get things looked at. Frank Trigg was the first guy that introduced me to the training and I watched him do his strength and conditioning for an upcoming fight.
I always enjoyed the way the fighters prepared for the fights and how they pushed themselves mentally. Watching the fights is always fun, but seeing these guys build themselves up to their fight is pretty miraculous.
How has the training helped you gain an advantage in the outfield?
I think the mental side of things is a big part of what I believe in. With the mental edge in hitting and feeling that you have the advantage over that pitcher is something that I’m sure every player wants to have. I think in MMA they train and work their butt off leading up to a fight feeling that they worked that much harder and nobody can beat them. Both sports I think mentality is a big part of how to succeed and the training helps me feel like I can be that much more successful than my opponent.
How do you balance your schedule in terms of training with a 162-game schedule?
Mostly the heavy training I did is in the offseason, because during the season you can’t do anything heavy in terms of building your body up. It’s really hard to lift and be sore every day and go out there and perform. I used a lot of the same exercises the fighters use during their training sessions, but I scaled back the intensity during the season to make it more of a maintenance session. A lot of the core work I do keep the same and when the winter months come around, I really hit the gym hard.
Is there any player who has picked up the training from you?
Well Marlon Byrd does a lot of that and I know it was boxing at first. He does have a few buddies that train MMA and I know that is becoming more and more of his training. A lot of these guys are in the best shape of their lives and want to continue to be that, so they want to explore other avenues of training.
What is your opinion about MMA becoming more mainstream?
I love it. A lot of those people who say that it’s dogfighting and humans don’t have a clue what the sport is about. Those guys whose lives have been wrestling and MMA their entire lives know what the true meaning of the sport is. With the sport becoming bigger and bigger every day, hopefully the new fans realize the sport isn’t about the blood and beating each other up but what it takes to become a successful athlete.
How many of the events do you get to watch?
I try to watch each and every one of them. Being in Vegas, you are way more exposed to the fighting and things going on relating to the sport. During the season if we have a day game on Saturday, I will definitely turn the fights on and watch them with the few other players. The best part is seeing the fighters at the [physical] therapy office and then seeing them fighting to know what they have gone through.
I know you see a lot of fighters going through that office. Who are some of the fighters you root for?
Well Forrest Griffin is a big one. He is the kind of guy that won’t hide anything and the way he fights. He has this attitude that doesn’t make any excuses and if he got his butt whooped, he will tell you that. He’s straightforward and that’s why I think a lot of people like him as a fighter.
T.J. Lavin is another guy from Vegas that is another good friend of mine and usually on fight days him, Frank Trigg and Frank Mir all come over to the house and get a professional’s insight on what is going on during the PPV card.
Ted Gruber blogs about mixed martial arts at chicagonow.com/mmadisputed.