Thanks for joining on me on my journey through the martial arts. Over the past 15 years training, teaching, competing and learning martial arts has been my greatest passion. I’m using this page to keep guys updated on the latest news and events surrounding myself, my students and my academies as well as a chance to share my MMA philosophies and techniques. Hopefully, this will be a medium to interact with like minded martial artists who share my passion.
Over the course of any athlete’s career there will inevitably be moments he wishes he could redo. Missed opportunities, off days, miscalculations, zigging instead of zagging – those salty recollections that lead to sleepless nights and the ever present longing for a second chance to rewrite history with the clarity of hindsight. Andy Main knows that feeling all too well. He was given the chance of a lifetime with The Ultimate Fighter. However, he was in the right place at the wrong time. Barely 21 years old, Andy was the youngest cast member in TUF history and being just a year into his professional career he was also one of the greenest. After earning his place in the house with a first round submission he fell victim to crafty veteran Kyle Watson and he was quickly erased from the collective memory of MMA fans and UFC matchmakers alike. In the years that passed Andy would achieve many accolades – earning his Brazilian Jiu-jitsu black belt, opening his own academy and collecting MMA victories both locally and internationally. However, despite these successes he was haunted by the worst three words in any athlete’s vocabulary – woulda, coulda, shouda. Although time travel is still reserved for the realm of science fiction, occasionally fate will smile on us and offer a second chance. Andy would be afforded his shot at redemption at Pancrase 270 as he would face a familiar foe in the organizations featherweight champion Nam Phan.
Main first met the heavy handed Vietnamese fighter as a fellow member of team Koshcheck on TUF 12. Andy and Nam developed a friendship bonding over their mutual love of martial arts, Dragon Ball Z and Japanese culture. Unlike Andy, Nam was a battle tested veteran when he joined the cast of TUF. His experience lead him to success in the competition. Nam scored multiple TKO victories and became the sole member of team Koshcheck to advance to the semi-finals and ultimately earned a spot on the UFC’s roster. For years Main watched as Nam grew in popularity and earned multiple fight of the night honors in the world’s top MMA organization. The two would reunite when Nam reached out to Main with a unique proposition, a chance to fight for “team Nam Phan” in Pancrase. Andy jumped at the opportunity, fighting in Japan had been cluttering his bucket list for years. I joined Nam and Andy for the Pancrase adventure. Andy would go on to earn a stellar victory and be invited back to compete against some of the top fighters Pancrase had to offer. At the time, the idea of Nam and Andy squaring off seemed like a virtual impossibility. Andy was fighting at lightweight in Pancrase and Nam at bantamweight in the UFC. However, after each shuffled weight classes and Nam moved on from the UFC they found themselves on a collision course.
After his first bout in Pancrase Andy had told the organization’s president that he would one day be fighting for the King of Pancrase belt. Pancrase did not make Andy’s journey to the title easy, throwing successive top contenders his way. However, after four trips to the cage Andy remained unbeaten and earned the number 1 contender slot and a title shot, a title held by Nam Phan who had captured the crown just months earlier. The prospect of fighting Nam presented conflicting emotions for Andy. On the one hand, Nam was an acquaintance and the one who gave him the opportunity to fight in Pancrase in the first place. On the other hand, this was Andy’s shot to prove he was more than what he showed back on TUF 12. A chance to remove that bad taste from his mouth that lingered since his exodus from the Ultimate Fighter and the perfect litmus test to see if he was indeed worthy of fighting in the UFC. To his credit, Nam has never been one to cherry pick opponents or shy from a challenge. Nam accepted the bout and it became the main event for Pancrase 270.
This would be Andy’s toughest fight to date. Nam had been through wars with some of the toughest fighters in the UFC. Additionally, he was riding a win streak and looked to be resurging. However, Andy was as confident as ever. He knew there was one massive comparative advantage – jiu-jitsu. Although Nam was a black belt himself, Andy knew he had a few tricks up his sleeve that Nam wouldn’t be ready for. If he could avoid Nam’s trademark bodyshot and overhand right Andy was certain he could bring the bout to the ground and execute his game plan.
In preparation for the bout Andy ramped up his aggression. In his eyes, winning alone would not be enough. He wanted this to be his showcase fight, a performance that would make everyone in the upper echelon of mixed martial arts stand and take notice. Halfway through his camp he discovered that the event would be broadcast on UFC Fight Pass. He would finally have the platform to show why he deserved to be mentioned among the top featherweights outside the UFC.
A nice part of fighting in Japan is the sense of camaraderie you develop with the other North American fighters. This time around we shared our trip with the CSW fighters Colleen Schneider, Victor Henry and their legendary corner man Josh Barnett. Being around a fellow English speaker who is facing the same adversity is a source of comfort. Victor and I exchanged Bill Burr jokes while Colleen and I discussed black metal while she pointed out the best spots for vegetarian entrees. I’m not someone who is often apprehensive, but meeting Josh Barnett was certainly intimidating. He has a look of intensity and a stern gaze, so serious it made me wonder if his former moniker of “baby faced” was supposed to be ironic. Adding to his mystique was the still fresh bruising from his grueling battle against Roy Nelson which took place just days earlier. In reality though, once he felt comfortable around us, Josh was very friendly. He told us old stories of backstage confrontations at Pride, his experiences training across the globe and his iconic fights with legends of the sport. While back stage he even took the time to answer my questions about leg locks and give me a mini seminar of sorts.
The weigh-ins were interesting. I randomly ran into two old training partners, one from Connecticut and another from New York. We hadn’t seen each other in years; Japan was the last place I thought our paths would cross. Nam was cordial at the weigh-ins, even joking with the Japanese press telling them Andy was notorious for stealing women’s underwear. There was an uneasy moment when Josh recognized the American commentator Dan “The Wolfman” Theodore the two had a less than pleasant exchange about some online claims and remarks made by Dan. Cooler heads prevailed, but had things escalated I don’t think there was anyone there who could have restrained Josh, despite the room being populated wall to wall with professional fighters.
Fight night we had a new addition to our entourage. Andy’s brother and fellow stud BJJ black belt Mike Main would join us in the corner. Mike is notoriously relaxed and easy going. His calm demeanor helped settle my growing anxiety. I also had someone to drill leg drags and heel hooks with to pass the time. Backstage Josh provided a soundtrack which ranged from blistering speed metal to the best of James Brown. The fights began and we were off to a great start. Colleen earned a decision victory in a back and for the war and Victor easily cruised to a submission victory. Following his victory, Victor was unexpectedly greeted by his father, who on a whim decided last minute to book a flight from California to Tokyo. His father said he made the decision after thinking about how many of his friends had suffered heart attacks and he didn’t want to go to his grave never having seen his son fight in Japan. The positivity in the room made us grow in confidence.
Before final preparation Andy, Mike and I went over strategy. The game plan was to stick and move on the feet and look for an opening for the takedown. We assumed Nam would expose his back immediately in an effort to get back to his feet. Andy was very confident he would be able to use that opening to transition to the twister, a move he was certain Nam would be unprepared for. Nam is a dangerous, but predictable fighter. We knew he would bring hard hooks and big overhands and look to rip the body. Although there was danger, we had no fear of the unknown.
The fight began and Andy began executing the game plan perfectly. He was confusing Nam with his movement and picking his off with shots from the outside. A well timed single leg resulted in Nam immediately giving his back. Andy locked in his control and although the twister didn’t present itself he was able to land hard clean shots at will. Due to Pancrase’s open scoring we knew all judges had given us the opening round. Nam came out like a ball of fire in the second round; desperate to keep his title he began throwing heavy shots. Nam landed a hard head kick which made us jump out of our seats for a moment, but Andy’s chin is strong and he shrugged the shot off with little sign of slowing down. Once again Andy was able to get the takedown and work Nam over on the ground earning him the round on the judges’ score cards. In round 3 Andy really began opening up and landing at will. He even scored a brutal standing elbow from a set up I showed him just an hour earlier while killing time in the back. He once again took Nam off his feet and began to lock in the twister. As he locked around Nam’s head everything seemed perfect. He began cranking and contorting Nam’s spine, but Nam refused to tap. In 14 years as a pro Nam had never once been submitted and he made it clear he would not go gently into that good night. A grimace and a brief yell of pain were all we could get before Nam willed his way out. We would see round 4. At this point Andy had won every round, a decision loss was a mathematical impossibility. However, slowing down was not in the cards. Andy marched forward aggressively and Nam looked completely exhausted. In a surprise moment Nam initiated the takedown. Andy locked in a kimura on the way down and seamlessly transitioned to the triangle. There would be no grandiose escape this time. No amount of will or determination could keep Nam breathing. Recognizing the end had finally come, he tapped out. Andy Main was now the King of Pancrase.
Overwhelmed with emotion Andy soaked in the moment and was near tears as the belt was placed around his waist. This was simultaneously the final realization of a hard fought goal as well as the funeral song for the regrets of the past. Andy had shown that now his time had arrived. Gone was the wide eyed kid who bit off more than he could chew and in his place stood a battled hardened champion who now sits upon the thrown of MMA royalty. In his post-fight speech Andy made clear his intentions. He demanded to fight in the UFC. In the interest of all parties concern it is best that his demands be met.
There are few forces in this world stronger than the power of belief. Unwavering steadfast conviction is perhaps the most crucial ingredient in the recipe of success. According to the law of attraction, hoping for triumph is not enough; one must adopt victory as a foregone conclusion and act as if their dreams have already come to fruition. Andy Main has embraced this philosophy. The object of his desire is one of the most historically relevant titles in all of mixed martial arts – The King of Pancrase. The background of Andy’s phone is a photo shopped a picture of the infamous title with his name and the year 2015 strewn across the center, a daily reminder that he is the rightful heir to the throne.Although his next fight was not for the title, a stellar performance would place him at the front of the line.
Andy’s journey towards this title of mixed martial arts nobility would not go unchallenged. Standing in his way was Tamura, a well traveled veteran who has worn the Shooto crown and even submitted the great Rumina Sato. Tamura’s fighting style mimicked my own with his affinity for the rubber guard and straight forward style. The familiarity of the style afforded us a clear road map towards victory. However, getting a win in and of itself would not be satisfying. Andy was on the hunt for a higher level performance, a fight that would showcase his true capabilities. In a way this is the dragon that every fighter is chasing, the opportunity to not only be a winner, but an artist. Andy’s recent fights had left a bad taste in his mouth and thrown his trajectory into a sort of purgatory. A majority draw followed by a controversial split decision defeat would not be erased by a pedestrian performance. This fight had to be spectacular if he was going to ascend to the heights of his lofty expectations.
There is no such thing as a perfect fight camp. However, the 6 weeks prior to Pancrase 262 were about as close to flawless as one can ever hope to achieve. I wasn’t the only one who noticed, every sparring partner was keenly aware that Andy had become a higher breed of fighter. Half way through camp Andy alerted me that we would have a familiar face joining us on our third journey to the land of the rising sun – Jonathan Brookins. Andy of course knew Brookins through their time together on season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter. Over the years Andy would often remark on how strong an impression Brookins had made on him and how he hoped that one day their paths would cross. Knowing Andy to be a good judge of character I was excited for the reunion.
At this point Tokyo had become familiar. Everything was accounted for from the Jet lag and miniature hotel rooms to the silent crowd and futuristic toilets – there would be no surprises this time. We stepped off the plane and met with Brookins and his cornerman Ivan Menjivar. Ivan was always one of my favorite fighters. A man who submitted Joe Lauzon and despite his diminutive stature stood toe to toe with George St. Pierre. Our first meeting was made all the more memorable by Ivan’s choice of wardrobe. He wore Jeans and sneakers with an oversized hotel provided pinstriped pajama vest. The airline had misplaced his luggage forcing him to don the fashionable ensemble.
The next day Brookins and Ivan toured the city while Andy and I went to train at Hearts MMA. The fighters in Japan have a distinct style of training. Their movements are fast, loose and constant. They thrive on transitions and all seem to have limitless cardio. Americans, on the aggregate, are different. There is more strategy and counter fighting, more pressure and pinning. The American style is more grueling, the Japanese style more tiring. Like the difference between an uphill climb and a downhill sprint. The change of pace was invigorating. After the session we exchanged techniques. On the mat our communication difficulties ceased, jiu-jitsu became our universal language.
Open workouts and media day were next on the agenda. Andy is typically very soft spoken in front of the camera. His prototypical interview carries a tone of reserved humility, but this time around he was more audacious. He made it clear that he was going to win this fight and demand a shot at the title after his victory. Brookins was more introspective. He spoke about this fight as part of finding his place in the world, he noted that his former wrestling coach was Japanese and that he always felt drawn to Japan.
Brookins is an anomaly within the mixed martial arts world, a free thinker who exudes an abnormal level of honesty and sincerity. Defying the MMA stereotype, he is without bravado. The reluctant celebrity, Brookins is a peace-loving yogi who doesn’t even own a cell phone. In conversation he spoke openly about his shortcomings and personal battles. It appeared that for him fighting was simultaneously the easiest and most challenging profession. Physically Brookins is gifted. His movements are intuitively precise, his dexterity and flexibility are unmatched; his learning curve and athleticism are of the highest order. Brookins’ struggles are mental and philosophical. He confessed that in the past he experienced cognitive dissonance between his peaceful lifestyle and his violent profession. He wondered if by fighting MMA he could be in some way desensitizing people to violence and thereby contributing to society’s malevolence. He admitted that while his will to fight was ever present his allegiance to training waxed and waned and had it not been for Ivan’s diligent supervision he may not have been able to return to form. Brookins had a tall task ahead of him. He was taking on the best Japan had to offer – the bantamweight King of Pancrase Shintaro Ishiwatari who had made his intention clear – he wanted to get to the UFC and use Brookins as his stepping stone. Despite these crucibles Brookins was in high spirits. Japan had energized him. He felt like he was destined to be there and relished the chance to perform in front of this new audience. Fighting had become a form of self expression and this bout was an opportunity to tell a new story.
The session concluded by checking the fighters’ weight. After a hard training session Andy was on weight. Brookins had 10 pounds to cut. By general MMA standards losing 10 pounds the day before weigh-in is standard operating procedure, but in Japan things are different. The Pancrase representative chastised Brookins for being so heavy and assured him if he missed weight the consequences would be dire. Brookins laughed off the concerns and told the man that for all the grief he was put through he demanded to be taken to the finest Japanese restaurant after he made weight.
Weight was made without issue. Fight day was now upon us, with Brookins headlining and Andy fulfilling the co-main slot, which meant we would have some time on our hands. Sitting in the locker room I took the opportunity to pick Ivan’s brain on all things MMA. He spoke about how the sport of MMA had changed over time. He noted that when he came up the ranks he didn’t turn down fights or hand pick opponents. His intention was to test himself and compete. A true throwback, he would take on anyone at anytime and do so with a smile on his face. He spoke about how the sport needed to move away from weight cutting and the misery he endured starving himself down to 135 pounds. He was critical of fighters who refuse to discuss their compensation, noting that without the information being made public there is too much wild speculation and young fighters can’t accurately create a roadmap for their careers. Ivan’s perspective is unique since he has experienced the sport on every level since its inception – fan, student, elite competitor, coach and cornerman, he had seen it all. Through our conversation it became apparent that Ivan’s aspirations and concerns lay beyond his personal glory, he wants to better the sport for all athletes.
Finally fight time neared. I wrapped Andy’s hands, he warmed up and he began his pre-fight pacing. I used to take his faceless expression and silent marching as a signal of nerves and insecurity, but now I recognize it as a sign of readiness, the final ritual before entering center stage. The fight begins and Andy stalks forward. Tamura begins firing kicks with full power, asserting himself and letting all in attendance know he has bad intentions. After a series of strikes Tamura presses Andy up against the cage. As the minutes tick away a moment of worry creeps into my mind. Andy is seemingly allowing Tamura into the fight, standing in front of him and acquiescing to being pinned against the fence. Just as my fears begin to culminate Andy silences them with a well timed takedown. He quickly advances his position until he is in full back mount. Time is not on our side so I tell him to look for strikes rather than submissions. Andy responds and lands a series of hard blows at the bell. I look at Tamura’s body language as he walks to his corner. He shows all the trappings of a man on the brink of defeat – slow to rise, fatigue written across his face, an ever so slight stagger as he stands. Conversely, the air of confidence so present in training camp is once again alive in Andy.
I instruct Andy to circle away from Tamura’s power as I expect him to enter a desperation mode. I urge him to be less calculating and more aggressive in his striking, to capitalize on Tamura’s inability to fight moving backwards. The judges indicate that the round belongs to us. Pancrase utilizes an open scoring system, taking the guess work out of assessing a fighter’s performance in the stanza. Andy nods his head in agreement and readies himself for the second round.
As expected, Tamura races forward throwing heavy shots, but Andy’s footwork provides him with no target. Andy is more aggressive now, landing heavy shots at will. Just as it seems we have victory in our crosshairs Tamura lands a perfectly timed superman punch, the cleanest strike of the bout. There was a palatable disappointment across Tamura’s face as he realized Andy was unfazed by the blow. Andy unloads a fierce combination and Tamura drops to the canvas. For a moment I thought Andy had scored a knockout, but Tamura would not go so quietly. Tamura desperately fights to tie Andy up from the guard as Andy works his passing. Finally, he achieves the full mount. There are only 30 seconds left, but Andy has the finish on his mind.
He postures tall and lands fierce punches, but in his haste Tamura begins to work his legs in. I scream for Andy to get closer and switch to elbows. He listens and the strikes begin accumulating in fierce succession, the only question now is if he can beat the clock. Tamura begins to turn away and abandons all defense, the ref mercifully steps in with just moments left on the clock – victory.
Andy is elated, he rejoices the moment and exudes the satisfaction known only to those who realize a hard fought goal. I begin yelling “King of Pancrase” to the crowd petitioning for Andy’s shot at the title as the referee raises his hand. Walking out of the cage Andy is greeted by a wave of adoring Japanese fans. The fans in Japan are more respectful. In America spectators will often aggressively shove merchandise in a fighter’s face with little tact or etiquette – American fans will often not
even know the competitor’s name, but feel it is their right to secure his signature for their benefit. In Japan the fans often bring gifts to the fighters, small tokens of their appreciation to show how much they enjoyed the combatant’s performance. This time there was an artist in the crowd who gave Andy a portrait he drew of him to commemorate his time in Japan, a remarkable memento that illuminated the cultural differences in the east vs the west.
After attending to his fans, Andy and I turned our attention to Brookins as he made his way to the cage. Ivan told me that although Brookins is seemingly more pacifist than pugilist, once the cage door closes he changes and the primal side of him takes center stage. As Brookins squared off with his opponent I could see the transformation was in full effect. The fight was a complete barnburner. Brookins would dominate the round and then somehow find himself in a firefight where it seemed both fighters could be knocked out at any moment. There were several momentum switches and reversals of fortune and the fight became more of a test of wills than an athletic competition. Brookins’ wrestling proved to be the difference though and he took home the unanimous decision. Although he had defeated the champion the bout was a non-title affair, undoubtedly setting the stage for an epic rematch. Brookins was like a new man following his victory. He was energized and enthusiastic about his future prospects and looked like he was ready for fight another 3 rounds right then and there.
Andy was reflective after his bout. He told me he used to be nervous before competing, afraid of disappointing people – his friends, family and students. Until he realized that his support wasn’t predicated on having an unblemished record. Those who cheer for him do so out of admiration for his daring struggle for greatness. Competitive fighting is a metaphor for the struggles of life. We don’t win every battle, but we appreciate those who have the courage to continue in the face of adversity.
Andy and Brookins had traveled long roads to reach this point. Andy had been a hot prospect when he joined the Ultimate Fighter, but injuries and illness forced him into a two year hiatus. In that same span Brookins went from the exclusive fraternity of Ultimate Fighter winners to being unemployed and contemplating retirement. There is indeed life after TUF though. Both Andy and Brookins have climbed new mountains and reclaimed the spotlight half a world away from home. They are two fighters who believe in themselves and it won’t be long before they make believers out of everyone.
Need more than words to bring the story to life check out the videos below:
See the Japan experience through Andy’s eyes here
Brookins’ Japan footage
Pancrase 262 Highlight
Train with Andy at his gym Pure MMA in Denville, NJ
Hudson Valley martial artists check out Brian’s school Precision MMA in LaGrangeville, NY
The fighters I train are really a special breed. Their discipline, sacrifice and passion inspire in all aspects of my life. There is no greater group of human beings I could ever hope to corner
Changed the format over at Learn to Grapple and went more in depth with a longer technique – enjoy