Training camp for my fight against Hatsu Hioki started like any other: with a weigh-in to see how much I would have to cut over the course of the next six weeks. Care to guess my weight? It was 175 pounds, heavier than I’ve ever been to start a training camp in my entire career.
Which normally wouldn’t be a problem. But there’s a little wrinkle this time around: For the first time in my six-plus years in the UFC, I’m going to fight at featherweight instead of lightweight, which means I have to make it down to 145 pounds by January 26, not 155.
Why do this? The answers are many, but it really came down to a group decision that I landed on after speaking with my brother Jason, my coaches at Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA, and my management team at VFD Sports Marketing. As we looked at where my career has been and where it’s headed, we saw that I had beaten some of the best in the lightweight division and lost a few close battles, including my last two fights against arguably the two toughest dudes at 155: current champ Benson Henderson and Gray Maynard. Both of those losses were close decisions and could have gone either way, but at the end of the day, I can’t rewrite my own history. It became time to create a new destiny, and, simply put, that destiny is to be a UFC champion.
Serious weight-cutting is something that virtually every fighter outside of the heavyweight division has to go through. But not me. A guy my size would normally fight in the featherweight division, but when I came into the UFC in 2006, there was no featherweight division, so I fought at 155. I would have fought at 170 if I had to.
Starting over at featherweight has given me the vigor and excitement that I felt when I first entered the UFC years ago. My focus has never been better and I feel like a jolt of energy has hit my career and is ready to catapult me into a huge 2013.
But, in the meantime, there’s the issue of all this extra weight. Since I’ve never cut serious weight before, the first thing I did was go about cleaning up my diet. It’s not that I ate like shit before, but this time I had to do away with the fancy cheeseburgers and skip the sushi bars and BBQ joints after long practices. Do I miss that stuff? Hell yes! Anyone who knows me knows that I could fill in for Guy Fieri tomorrow. There’s nothing that sucks worse than finishing a long practice and having to stare at four ounces of salmon and eight almonds instead of a chicken burrito. But that’s simply not an option anymore. Realizing that there was no way I could do this on my own, I decided to reach out to my friend George Lockhart, the diet guru over at FitnessVT. He’s helped a bunch of my teammates like Jon Jones and Brian Stann get ready for their bouts, and he explained to me that as a result of this diet, not only will making weight be no issue; I will also be stronger than I was at 155 pounds and recover faster. George laid out a plan for me, and I’ve had to stick with it, even though there have definitely been times I've wanted to forget it all, break down, and run to Rudy’s BBQ joint just a few minutes from our gym. God, I miss that place.
As many of my fans know, I live in an RV, and as any RV owner knows, just about the last thing you want to be doing is constantly turning on your gas oven and stove just a few feet from where you have to sleep every night. I realized that I had a big dilemma on my hands: I needed to follow this diet plan, but there was no way I could pull it off given my living conditions. It just wasn’t possible unless Martha Stewart herself knocked on my RV door and decided to move in with me (and trust me, she would not approve of my lack of fanciful doilies). This is where Momma D comes in. She is my conditioning coach and owner of Momma D’s Dungeon in Albuquerque, and now has become my personal chef. Every day, I pick up meals from her and now I don’t even have to think about what I’m putting into my body. Plain turkey or chicken for one meal, four ounces of salmon for another, twelve walnuts here, two cups of spinach there: It’s all ready to go.
Granted, this is no In-N-Out burger, but at the very least, I’m eating throughout the day, something I never really did before. During a normal camp, I would just stuff myself after training and not really eat again until I was hungry. Now it’s about following an easy plan and making meals and snacks a scheduled part of my overall training plan, much as I would do with my striking or grappling.
The good news is that because I’m eating smaller meals five or six times a day, I’m not really hungry and have plenty of energy for practice and all the conditioning work I do. The other benefit is that I don’t crash like I normally would after having a big post-practice meal. Do I miss certain things? Of course I do. Albuquerque is known for having amazing Southwestern food, and unfortunately most of those things do not fit into The Dude’s meal plan. The thing is, if you are able to mentally get to a place where you can step in a cage and fight another man who wants to bash your brains in, you can also mentally get to a place where you watch what you eat. Nobody likes going to the gas station to fill up (especially when you own an RV), but now food has to be nothing more than gasoline to me. I put it in as needed and burn through it until I need more. I don’t focus on the ribs or enchiladas that I may be missing down the street because I know my opponent is probably skipping them too. We are just focused on kicking the crap out of each other in three weeks.
I’m proud to say that all of this work is beginning to pay off. My weight as of January 6: 155 pounds, and that is with 3 weeks to go until my fight, and before the serious cutting begins. Guida 2.0 is being built, and I can’t wait for my hometown fans in Chicago to see the finished product!