Step Inside the Ring


By Zach Schepis

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Octagon used for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is an icon that resonates in our minds. Even for those who don’t enjoy the furious entangling of limbs and sweat that take place within its caged walls, the 750 square-foot arena remains a symbol of dedication, veracity, and obstacles surmounted.

MMA came to the United States in 1993, at the offset of the extreme sport, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). UFC has since developed into the premier organization of MMA that hosts more than 40 fights annually and features some of the world’s top-ranked fighters. Practicing to become an MMA fighter requires extraordinary discipline and a rock-hard will to persevere.

BTR takes a moment to talk with Peter “Quickdraw” McGraw–an MMA fighter well on the path to a successful career–about what it takes to become a fighter, and fitness tips he advises.

BreakThru Radio (BTR): Briefly describe what your path was like to becoming an MMA fighter.

Peter McGraw (PM): I started out just interested in learning all the different techniques involved in the sport. I remember thinking the actual fighters in the gym were light years ahead of me, and that I would never be as good as them. I dedicated myself to training and eventually I knew I wanted to fight. After a few years, I found myself succeeding against seasoned fighters and knew that I could do it. I took my first fight after discussing it with my coach and won it by decision after three rounds.

After experiencing the feeling of winning an MMA fight, there was no looking back. I’ve now had seven fights and hold a record of 6-1.

BTR: What do you love most about it?

PM: It’s a challenge to pick one thing I love about MMA. I love the competition of it. To me, MMA is the purest sport out there. There is so much adrenaline running through you during a fight that the highs and lows you feel are indescribable. I love the camaraderie of the sport. Even though I have entered a cage with the intent to hurt my opponents, I often become friends with them after the fight is over. A lot of the people I have come across in the sport are very friendly and supportive of each other.

Lastly, I love the fact that MMA is both a team sport and an individual sport. We train as a team, prepare each other for fights, and push each other to our limits but when fight time comes, it is all on you win or lose.

BTR: What’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome along the way?

PM: While it may not be traditionally seen as a “challenge,” I had a very difficult time keeping training consistent when I started law school. The workload from classes made it really hard to make practices and continue training full-time. I have since gotten acclimated to the situation but at first it was very frustrating being out of the gym and I was questioning my ability to keep competing.

As far as MMA-related challenges, it has definitely been opponents pulling out of fights last minute. I generally spend at least eight weeks leading up to a fight cutting 45 or more pounds to make my fight weight of 170. I have had multiple experiences where an opponent has backed out of our fight less than a week before.

Peter McGraw mid-fight. Photo courtesy of Peter McGraw.

BTR: What did it take to get into shape for it? How do you continue to work out and stay fit?

PM: We usually do what is called “fight camp” leading up to a fight. They typically range from 8-10 weeks and focus specifically on preparing you for competition. For the majority of the time, we ramp up intensity of our training, spar harder than normal, and our coach pushes our cardio to its limits.

Aside from sparring and technique drilling, we’ll usually do a lot of exercises using weights, or even our teammates, to activate the muscles we will need once the fight rolls around. We also do workouts to increase out VO2 max and make our lungs more efficient…

The last week, we focus more on tying up loose ends, working technique, game planning, and cutting the last of our weight. When outside of fight camp, I just continue regular training at least six times a week. While it doesn’t keep me in fight shape, it still serves as a great workout and improves my ability as a fighter.

BTR: What is an example of a workout routine or two for readers to try for themselves?

PM: While we do a lot of unique workouts thought up by our coach Duff Holmes, my favorites are our pool workouts. We often go as a team to the competition lap pool at a local college to get some cardio training in. We start out with 25-30 laps underwater with 30 seconds rest in between each… [which] trains your body to operate efficiently even with a lack of oxygen in your blood.

We follow this up with circuit training. Each station lasts about 90 seconds and we typically go for at least 20 minutes. The first station is treading water with a 15 pound weight; the second station is continuous jump squats from the bottom of the pool (about 9 feet) with only one breath between each one.

The third station is swimming laps as fast as possible. Every 90 seconds, we switch to the next station and keep rotating until the 20 minutes is up. If we are in fight camp, we have to wear a 45 pound vest for the duration of the workout.

After the circuit training, we rest for five minutes before the next exercise. For this, we get in groups of three and tread water. One person has the 15 pound weight and must shoulder press it once with each arm before passing it to the person on the left. That person must do the same thing and the person next to them follows. This process continues for 15 minutes and sometimes goes longer if we are preparing for a fight. We get a three minute rest after this and then do something fun for a cool down.

A common cool down is a game of tug of war where we start in the middle of the pool with a four foot rope. Each person must try to swim to their edge of the pool with the other person pulling against them. This is more difficult than it sounds and is an entertaining and competitive way to end the routine. Ever since I started adding these workouts into my routine, I have felt a significant improvement in my cardiovascular ability and endurance.

BTR: How about some words of advice for those looking to follow a similar path?

PM: Go for it. The sky is the limit in this sport. I have seen people come in brand new and become viable, legitimate fighters in less than a year. If you have a passion for the sport and aren’t afraid to put in the work to pursue it, you will be successful. All it takes is hard work, persistence, and dedication.