'Can ya fight?' Superstars dish on their unique training styles
The first rule of Superstar Fight Club is you don’t talk about Superstar Fight Club. But if you have to talk about it, don’t sell yourself short. The sports-entertainment world is ripe with big personalities and bigger muscles and in order to survive, you need to be more than a little tough. So it’s probably a good thing for WWE Superstars that they didn’t just waltz into a wrestling ring without some true hardscrabble fighting under their belts. Riding a wave of uncommon bravery we haven’t felt before or since, WWE.com stepped into the locker room and sought out a handful of these individuals for their training, their tips, who they wouldn’t want to fight and which among them channeled Triple H on the amateur mat. (Hint: It’s not who you’d expect.)
WHAT’S YOUR TRAINING? Since the age of five I’ve been doing some form of wrestling, whether it’s been collegiate style, freestyle or Greco-Roman.
TECHNIQUE, TECHNIQUE, TECHNIQUE: You’re training your body specifically for seven to 10 minutes of constant push-and-pull on the body, and so you’re always doing everything to push your body to the limits. Technique and cardio is the name of the game. A guy could be better than you, but if you have the cardio, can push him over the edge to where he’s tired and can’t lift his arms, then you can really break him down [with technique] and take advantage of his weaknesses.
The first time I saw a WWE ring in person was when I went out for my tryout. I was very surprised at how similar a lot of the basic techniques are, so even though I’d never wrestled before in the sports-entertainment world, I felt like I had a foothold above everyone because I had that wrestling technique and background since the age of five. That really helped me advance and learn it faster as far as arm drags, hip tosses, and getting right back up after being taken down. I was able to pick that up very fast because of the technique.
BORN INTO GREATNESS: I was very fortunate to grow up in Perry, Okla., which is considered the wrestling capital of the world. Perry has the most state championships, most individual state champions across the nation anywhere, so the whole town just kind of eats, sleeps, breathes wrestling. It’s funny; I wasn’t a very successful wrestler until I got into high school. In junior high I was mediocre, but I had a very good high school coach. He was more than a coach, he was also a friend. He cared about us. You could trust him. That was really important, to have a coach you could believe in. When he told you you were slacking, you could believe him. And on top of that, he was my friend, so I didn’t mind hanging out with him as much as we did, which was a lot.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF FLAIR: One of the moves I wouldn’t have without my training is the double-leg takedown, where I pick an opponent up on my shoulder and put him down on his side. In the amateur wrestling world that’s called a flair. I just call it a double-leg here; no one else knows how to do it. The toughest part is to figure out what you did in the amateur world, in the fighting world, and incorporate that into sports-entertainment and make it just as impactful. There’s a lot of stuff you can’t do from amateur wrestling. The double-leg was always my takedown in high school and college, but it took a couple of years to make it as powerful as it should be in WWE.
WHO WOULD YOU WANT TO FIGHT ALONGSIDE YOU? The one guy I’d want on my side is R-Truth.
Bad News Barrett
SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS: I didn’t really go to a school for bare-knuckle fighting, I just had a natural aptitude for it. I was a rough kid growing up, I used to get in a lot of trouble, and I wouldn’t back down from fights. Even after I began bare-knuckle fighting, it wasn’t something I trained in, it was just something I did for a little while until WWE came along. I know a lot of places have boxing schools, but for the most part my training consisted of me on my own, going out and running, in the gym working a punching bag or getting into fights. That’s generally how I got better at it.
TOUGHER THAN THE REST: I think the fact that I’m naturally fairly tough allows me to take a lot of punishment. I can deal with a lot of bumps and bruises, I’ve broken my nose in a match before — black eyes and stuff like that. Whereas a lot of guys would crumble under that kind of attack, I’ve been able to carry on. I do a lot of strikes, both with feet and knees, my fists and elbows, too. I suppose it’s a very big part of my intimidation factor.
KISS THE KNEE: One move I really like is the one where I tie the guy up in the ropes and start kneeing him in the face. I used a lot of knees to the face when I was a bare-knuckle fighter. It’s kind of a dirty move, but the rules in bare-knuckle fighting can often be pretty relaxed.
BIG BAD: I think if there’s one guy I wouldn’t want to fight it would probably be Big Show, based on the fact he literally weighs twice as much as me. He’s got a huge punch of his own, and when you get a guy who’s that big, you can hit him with your best punch and there’s a good chance you might not even rock him. If you get someone your own weight, you can knock them out.
BAD NEWS TIMES TWO? For someone on my side [in a fight], I’ll probably go with Ryback. He’s someone who’s a naturally strong, a naturally tough guy, and again, he’s someone I’ve been through a lot with. I trust him a lot, he’s one of my good friends in the locker room, and I really don’t have many people I’m close with. We came up in WWE’s developmental system together, and to this day, I’m still very tight with him, so he’s a guy I’d definitely want on my side.
ROARING BACK: In 2010, in my very last match, I broke my back. I had a compression fracture in my L1, so the first part of my leave of absence was taking care of that. Since then, my dream after leaving WWE was to fight, but because of the injury, I had to put that off.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE ANIMAL: It’s weird how my love for martial arts came to be. I actually started doing a bit of Kali, which is a Filipino martial art, while I was still with WWE. Then I suffered a really bad injury and to recover from that [and regain conditioning], I started taking up Muay Thai. I always thought amateur wrestlers and fighters were the best-conditioned athletes and I did a bit of amateur wrestling when I was young. But I really wanted to pursue MMA because I just fell in love with it. And I was always comfortable on the mat, so I started picking up jiu-jitsu.
LEARN FROM THE BEST: Cesar Gracie is a very well-respected person in the MMA world. The Gracie name alone just stands out. But Cesar, in particular because he had such a successful fight team, I really wanted to work with him. I was lucky enough, through a friend, to hook up with Nick Diaz, who’s one of his fighters. He invited me to come out to the Gracie Academy. I think at first they didn’t know what to make of me. I think they thought I might come through the door with a bit of an attitude and ego, and I think they were surprised to find out I didn’t at all. I wasn’t there as a WWE Superstar, an actor or anything else other than a student. I just wanted to come in and learn.
They put me through the ringer a bit. I got tapped out a lot. But I think it’s when I came back the next day that they finally started opening up a bit and said, “OK, this guy really does want to learn.” So Cesar, right away, I think it was that second day when I finally showed back up, he started opening up a bit and seeing I was really eager to learn; I participated, and I didn’t come through the door with an ego at all. The rest is history; he’s been there for me through the years. He’s trained me, I’ve moved up in his belt system and here I am today getting promoted, getting another belt, and I’ll continue to come to Cesar until I’m a black belt in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.
YOU GET WHAT YOU GIVE: My purple belt is something I worked really hard for. We did a couple hard days of training, and I got my promotion today. The promotional ceremony is you walk through all the students and, you know, you get whipped. [Laughs] It’s just part of the process, part of the brotherhood, the team mentality. It’s just one of those things. It’s painful, but it’s worth it.
(Editor's note: These quotes were taken from an earlier interview.)
Alberto Del Rio
BRED FOR GLORY: I have been fighting my entire life. I was part of the Mexican national Greco-Roman wrestling team. And because of that, I had the chance to go against incredible fighters like Randy Couture and Randy Coleman. When I made the transition from amateur wrestling to professional wrestling, I was working in Japan. A [mixed martial arts (MMA)] promoter saw me and invited me to participate in one of his shows, and the rest is history. I won my first fight, they offered me a contract, and that’s what made me go to California and try to learn some more techniques to be a better fighter.
CARDIO IS FOR PEASANTS: Every time I’m home, I have jiu-jitsu sessions and boxing sessions. That’s the way I like to train. I’m not into weightlifting anymore, and I hate to do cardio on the machines, because it’s pretty boring. So what I normally do when I’m home or on the road is try to find a fighting gym. It’s boxing, jiu-jitsu or Thai boxing. When I’m home I always get to go to my friend’s gyms. So when I’m there, I do one hour of pure jiu-jitsu or one hour of pure boxing after that. When I’m on the road, I combine all those techniques and fuse them into a one-hour or two-hour workout. Wrestling and MMA are really similar stuff. Most of my moves come from jiu-jitsu, Thai boxing or amateur wrestling.
ABOUT THAT ARMBREAKER … My finisher is 100% pure jiu-jitsu. I learned it when I was in Brazil training for one of my fights in Japan. I saw this tiny little guy doing it and immediately I went to his corner and asked, “Can you teach me? That move is fantastic.” So he did, and 15 years after, I still use it.
SO, WHAT SUPERSTAR WOULDN’T YOU WANT TO FIGHT? Oh, I will fight everyone. They wouldn’t fight me. But I would love to have Big Show on my side in a fight.
LOTS OF DATES, LOTS OF WEIGHT (CLASSES): In college I wrestled at 165 pounds, all four years. I cut a ton of weight in high school. I was on St. Edwards High School (Lakewood, Ohio) wrestling team, which was a national championship, multi-time, crazy awesome team. A couple of guys went to UFC. One guy was an Olympian. It was an awesome team.
“WHERE ARE THE ROPES?” This is legit true: My dad took me to the Richmond Coliseum for a WWE show when I was five years old, and I loved it. We sat in the farthest possible seats, I had a blast, and I told my dad I wanted to start wrestling. Maybe two, three months later I started wrestling, and when I walked into a wrestling practice the very first day, I asked my dad where the ropes were.
A SMALLER GRANDEST STAGE: I came to love this sport. A bunch of my friends were doing it. It was something where, if you’re good, you wrestle no matter what. Since I wanted to be a WWE Superstar my whole life, when I got to high school one of my goals was to break some records when I got to college so I could get my foot in the door at WWE. And in college, I broke some records, became the all-time winningest wrestler at Kent State University. One season, I weighed in at 165 and bumped up to 174 to beat another 174-pounder, who was a returning Mid-American Conference champion, so my team could win the MAC Championship.
We wrestled against the University of Oklahoma (O.U.), so I came up with a t-shirt for it. We usually had like 10-15 people in the crowd and it was mostly parents or girlfriends — I had a few girlfriends, it was no big deal back then. For O.U., we let the school paper know it was going to be a big deal. We had a pep band playing, basically cut one-third of our basketball court down to fill it with bleachers, and stacked the entire gym top to bottom with fans. Everyone had the shirts, which was awesome. Long story short, they beat Central Michigan and we lost to Central Michigan by one. It came down to if we won the last match, we would beat O.U. This was at the time when you were picking the order of weight classes out of a hat. And randomly, 184 got picked first, which meant 174 went last. I bumped up from 165, and it came down to me and their 174-pounder. It went into overtime.
It was 30 of the longest seconds of my life. Luckily, I’m a master of the riding deal and making it look like I’m working, so I locked in my legs, cranked a half nelson and kept him down. That match won the entire wrestling meet for us, we became champs, and the Kent State newspaper front page was me celebrating, looking jacked and falling down, overwhelmed. It was so great, and such a fun time for us. We had a stacked, blowing-the-roof-off crowd, so it was pretty cool. We made it like a WrestleMania; that week was so fun. I wish I still had my shirt.
TIME TO PLAY THE GAME: I got entrance music played for all of our home dual meets. Our 157-pounder wanted Rob Van Dam’s ECW theme music, which was Pantera’s “Walk.” I always wanted Ric Flair’s, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but it didn’t fire me up enough. I was our Flair. So, at the time, I had to go with Triple H’s theme. I even had a sleeveless shirt. We’d get 45 seconds of the clock for music. All of this was against NCAA rules. Somehow, we got it for three to four home meets. I poured the water all over myself, like Triple H. I would wait till the clock hit zero and then I would walk out there casually.
YOU WISH YOU COULD GO THIS LONG: The whole game of amateur wrestling is to not show any weakness, injury or facial expression. A lot of times you were tired and had to play it off. I’ve always prided myself on my work ethic. I can wrestle for an hour, and no one would know I was tired. I still have the stamina from St. Ed’s High School because we would work so hard that our bodies would taper off a couple weeks before the state tournament, and I would still run three sets of stairs with a guy on my back after practice was over. I still have that athletic ability from disciplining myself in high school. I live to not be tired and to be able to wrestle anybody for any length of time. I cannot be tired out and I won’t be tired out.
BEWARE THE EUROPEANS: I wouldn’t wanna fight Antonio Cesaro. He’s very strong. He’s also a gentleman, but I feel like if anyone made him mad, he would kill them. To have someone on my side, I guess it would be the same person, Cesaro. Normally he’s wearing some European handbag over his shoulder and sipping tea. He’s a gentleman, but if I needed someone who needed to bench press a bear and throw it out of the locker room, my money would be on him.