Article By Coach Dog Balzarini
Even though I recapped every one of my 12-week experience (Start here), I wanted to share some final thoughts. I’ve been home for a week now and, while I’ve been going non-stop with client training, meetings, and moving to a new apartment; I thought it would be interesting to look back on the experience after a little time had passed to see what continued to stick out in my mind.

Here is a free-flow of some of the highlights as I reminisce:
Initial meeting with the UFC staff

Great, hard-working people. If you needed anything – Rambo was your man!
We got tons of UFC apparel…shirts, shorts, pants, sweatshirts, hats, rash guards, you name it. I’ll be a walking billboard for UFC back home (which, I suppose, is the point).

* Initial meeting with the athletes
For the first show there were 16 fights which means there were 32 athletes on set. We were randomly assigned 16 fighters to corner for this first night of fights. We literally only had 5 minutes with each fighter before helping them warm up and then walking them out to the cage for their 5-minute fight. That first night was a whirlwind! 16 fights…each fight only 1 round. I remember our first two athletes won and our locker room was all laughs and smiles, and then we lost the next three and the mood changed quickly. To say the emotional ups and downs of this sport are intense is an understatement. From our locker room, even before the first fights, I remember being impressed by Joe Proctor, Vinc Pichel, James Vick, and Mike Rio. Turns out they all made the show and performed well throughout the season. Maybe I should become a talent scout in my spare time.

* Meeting ‘Team Cruz’ for the first time
Just an awesome experience. These guys all appeared extremely eager to learn and very excited to be at the ‘TUF gym’. Getting to know these guys was a definite highlight for me. Each one brought something unique to the table…from James Vick’s sweet southern twang and great sense of humor to Tickle’s ‘ain’t takin’ no crap’ attitude. For the record, I’m a huge Chris Tickle fan and we’ll definitely be keeping in touch. I really felt the team was just that – a team. They pushed each other and helped each other out each and every practice….great chemistry and a great group.

* Strength & Conditioning Sessions
I love my job. Helping people to realize and reach their goals is what gets me out of bed every morning. And to be able to help these athletes get faster, stronger, and more powerful on a large-scale TV set was just icing on the cake. I kept the sessions fairly basic and made sure to incorporate a few primary pieces:
–> Injury prevention – shoulder joint integrity, strong glutes, mobile hips
–> Power – both upper and lower body plyometrics
–> Full body strength – push, pull, hip hinge, trunk work every session
–> Cardio – included interval training every week
–> Core – focused on torso stability every week

* The W’s and L’s
I’ve been playing sports my whole life; I was kicking a soccer ball around the field as soon as I could walk. All the time in the world, however, does not make losing any easier. I supposed I’ve become a little less competitive in my “old” age…but losing still sucks. And call me sappy or soft if you want but I really felt for these guys after they lost. When they would come back into the locker and break down it was hard for me not to cry with them. I saw how hard they worked in practice and understood how badly they wanted to win; and to fall short of that goal was a crushing blow for them. Having been around the sport for a few years now I understand that a loss or two on their record is not going to ruin any chances of making onto the UFC stage. In fact, a couple losses will most likely help them learn and grow as a fighter…however, they don’t want to hear about ‘learning from losses’ minutes after being choked out. The emotions in that locker room definitely went all over the board throughout the 12-weeks. The wins were huge highs and the losses were deep lows. But, like I said, I truly think there are positives to take from the losses. Each fighter can use their loss to become a better fighter down the road.

* Life outside the show
Sadly, I wasn’t all that impressed with Las Vegas. Of course, the Strip is awesome….for a weekend maybe. We were living in condos 15 minutes outside of Las Vegas Blvd. They kept us away from the madness – which is a good thing. However, once you get away from the strip, you are surrounded by track homes and strip malls. There really isn’t any culture or anything unique or interesting about the area. The desert just doesn’t do it for me. When we weren’t filming, the Alliance Fight Team was in Vegas training as well. We trained at a number of different facilities early on before settling on Throwdown Training Center. They had a solid facility with a really cool staff. Between the TUF show and the Alliance Team training, there wasn’t a whole lot of time to explore much of Vegas so perhaps there’s more to it than I give it credit for.

* The 8 Athletes
At the end of the day, the 16 fighters are what this show is all about. A bunch of athletes with one common goal. I’ve said it before but the eight guys I got to work with were truly my highlight of the whole experience. They made it worth while. I thank the UFC and the Alliance team for this opportunity, but I also want to thank each and every one of those guys who made this 3 month experience worth it. Justin, Sam, Myles, Mike, Vinc, James, Chris, Jeremy – thank you.

* Randomness
Dominick Cruz eats like a heavyweight. One of my responsibilities during this experience was to monitor and help Dom out with his nutrition. It’s no secret that, in the past, it hasn’t been the healthiest. He may be able to get away with it right now…but it’s definitely going to catch up with him. I worked in the restaurant business for 8 years and cooked for 4 of those so I was happy to help him out. What I didn’t realize is that I would be cooking for 4. I exaggerate a bit, but that dude can eat. He’s a calorie-burning machine. There were days when I was easily putting 6,000 calories of food in front of him and he ate it no problem. Impressive for a guy who, at the time, was walking around at 155lbs.
The first time I met Forrest Griffin was during one of my training sessions…he didn’t say anything to me, he simply jumped right into the circuit and started working out with us…pretty random. We spoke after and he’s an awesome guy. I was a big Forrest fan before meeting him and now I’m an even bigger one.

Vitor Belfort is one of the few UFC guys that was on my short list of people I’d love to meet. I first met him on the TUF set, however, it was real brief. Luckily, he was really impressed with ‘Team Cruz’ and our training approach and he and his training camp joined the Alliance team while he training in Vegas. Training with Vitor and his fellow Brazilian animals was a true highlight of this event.

Sadly, I never got to officially meet Dana White. I had a 100 opportunities but never wanted to bother him. But I just have to say that every time he walked into the locker room he immediately commanded your attention. He’s one of those few guys that exudes this energy that just takes over the room. He may rub some people the wrong way but you can’t deny his business savvy and his passion for this amazing sport. He’s got a supporter in me.

Make sure you all follow and support the 8 “Team Cruz” athletes as they train hard and work towards their ultimate goal of earning that strap!