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Reporter recounts going through UFC training gauntlet

Mike Pyle, Daniel Cormier among fighters coaching Case Keefer through workout


Leila Navidi

Las Vegas Sun reporter Case Keefer rests after participating in a mixed martial arts style workout for members of the media at The Ultimate Fighter Gym in Las Vegas on Wednesday, July 4, 2012.

Case Keefer's MMA Workout

Las Vegas Sun reporter Case Keefer participates in a mixed martial arts style workout for members of the media at The Ultimate Fighter Gym in Las Vegas on Wednesday, July 4, 2012. Launch slideshow »

As UFC Vice President of Communications Caren Bell welcomes about 100 media members to their first workout with stars of the octagon, she gives a subtle smirk.

She may claim it was a smile, a sign of excitement for the world-class athletes she works with having the opportunity to train those who cover them in a fun environment at The Ultimate Fighter Gym. I contend it’s a smirk, a quasi-malevolent expression knowing anyone in the room who’s ever given the world’s largest mixed martial arts promotion negative publicity is about to receive payback.

My fears are confirmed within 15 minutes. After a grappling session that goes worse for me than Kimbo Slice’s one fight in this same venue, middleweight contender Alan Belcher directs my group through a short conditioning circuit.

I’m on my eighth or ninth or 10th squat thrust when the man who brutally beat down Rousimar Palhares less than two months ago seemingly shifts his eyes toward me.

“Don’t quit,” Belcher yells, “you (expletive) reporter.”

Just what I needed, someone to treat me like my high school football defensive coordinator did during a practice’s final wind sprints. I take slight offense to the suggestion because I’m not quitting.

As a photo on page 5 proves, I’m actually putting in more effort and jumping higher than some others. I’m just helpless when it comes to the jiu-jitsu.

That’s how my training partner, Sean Reynolds from ESPN Radio 1100, describes my comical attempts to secure guillotine chokes and arm bars. It feels like Reynolds, on the other hand, breaks my jaw as he transitions to submit me.

Maybe I’m just not used to having the circulation to my head cut off.

“You’re uncoordinated,” Reynolds bellows.

Appreciate the reassurance, buddy. It’s not until we reach the next station that I realize how much I erred in partnering with Reynolds despite being five weight classes heavier than him.

Local welterweight Mike Pyle, who’s won five of six fights over the past two years, immediately recognizes him.

“You’re in the media now?” Pyle asks Reynolds, who nods his head to confirm.

Turns out Reynolds trained for a while and logged at least one professional bout against an “Ultimate Fighter” veteran. Hope someone caught the clip of him dominating me for his highlight reel in case he makes a Randy Couture-like comeback.

For the most part, Pyle’s striking workout goes much better. He teaches us a jab and two combinations — jab-jab-knee and jab-jab-hook — and we essentially play a game of “Pyle says.”

My technique is probably on par with a gorilla’s, but at least I’m listening and not confusing the commands.

“Good job,” Pyle tells the group after throwing a knee. “See, you wobbled him there.”

Actually, as hard as I try to use my imagination, I’m not seeing it. I can only envision my fictional opponent countering with an overhand left that sends me to the ground, my head colliding on the mat like a bowling ball hitting the lane to knock me out.

But the Brazilian media member to my right is pummeling the invisible man standing in front of him. He’s ignoring Pyle’s directions, throwing right hands like he’s Junior dos Santos and knees from the clinch like he’s Alistair Overeem.

Good for him. After some work with former Olympic wrestler and Strikeforce heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier in the octagon to finish the day, he’ll be ready to fill in on UFC 148’s preliminary card Saturday in case of injury.

Cormier’s wrestling station proves as daunting as it sounds after already working out for 40 minutes. He walks us through how to get into a wrestling stance and shows us how to properly sprawl.

Combining those tasks with high knees and push-ups makes the wrestling part the most physically demanding of the three basic MMA lessons.

“Now you know why wrestling is the toughest sport in the world,” Cormier says at the end. “That’s our warm-up. That’s easier than our warm-up.”

I’ll try to remember that before I criticize a fighter for his game plan or performance next time, but I’m not making any promises.

Either way, I’ll stay on the other side of the cage. I’ll keep my spot on press row.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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