An All-American Training Session with ‘The Pool Boy’
NOTE: This is a repost from the death panel blog @ http://death-panel.blogspot.com Author - Texas Michael
Summer in Texas is a very dramatic season. One day it can be a bone-dry inferno, the next there can be torrential monsoon like rainfall that leaves behind steaming concrete and an overactive amphibious population. The latter was the case on the day I was to train with professional MMA fighter Josh ‘the Pool Boy’ Smith.
We rendezvoused at an indoor soccer complex on the outskirts of North Dallas. The far north tentacle of Dallas is slowly changing from farmland and cattle ranches to suburban sprawl. Many of the early suburban arrivals have been plowed over to make room for more up to date, trendy coffee shops and haberdasheries. The indoor soccer complex seemed to be a relic of Northward expansion that surely must have a grass roots following that ensured the doors stayed open.
I arrive about 30 minutes early. As I sat in my slightly aging Pontiac I wondered how I was going to complete this workout with the blisters I sustained on my hands from a previous day’s work out with an aspiring fighter and self-proclaimed fitness yogi. Perhaps walking on my hands on the searing concrete was not the wisest of ways to burn calories, but I had to try and keep up. After careful treatment and copious amounts of Neosporin my hands were as ready for whatever the pro fighter could throw at me, or so I thought.
I called the fighter to let him know I had arrived and to see what his location was. As soon as the phone started to ring I realized the type of character I was about to deal with as he replaced the normal outgoing ring tone with the Superman theme song from the popular 1980’s Christopher Reeves series.
He answered the call with a quick, ‘Hey man.’ I was caught a little off guard. I let him know that I had arrived a bit early. He informed me that he was down the street, and within a few moments he arrived.
Standing at nearly six and a half feet, Smith is immediately recognizable. He has a very healthy build with sharp lines that define his jaw and brow. He inquired, ‘what’s wrong with your hand?’ I informed him I had bandaged my right hand due to one of my recovering blisters. He nodded in recognition.
We entered the indoor training center and I could not help notice all the American flags and red, white and blue decor. It was at that moment I noticed that Smith’s training shorts, aside from different sponsors, was donned with red stripes and huge blue sections with white stars. It was a very patriotic realization. His height and appearance immediately made me think that he must be the closest you could get to the antithesis of Drago from Rocky IV. Five minutes in and I was already very close to a U-S-A chant.
Smith’s last fight was May 20th, 2010 on the Bellator XIX promotion in Grand Prairie, TX. He competed at 185 on the untelevised undercard as the first fight of the night. The Pool Boy came out as a fan favorite as he was no doubt a very popular fighter in the Dallas/Fort Worth MMA community.
The fight went the entire three rounds, but was never in question. Smith utilized his wresting ability and extremely large frame to pin his opponent against the cage and drop him occasionally with crisp single and double leg takedowns. He always landed in a favorable position for dizzying ground-and-pound sessions. In the waning minutes of he fight, he began throwing a tight jab that always hit target and kept the fighter at a safe distance from any last second heroics tried by his opponent.
After we signed in at the workout facility, we wound our way past the indoor soccer fields, over some scaffold style stands, and arrived at a weight room. The weight room was also was trimmed in the colors of Old Glory, and was carpeted with the same artificial grass that covered the soccer pitch. There were no saunas here, no hot tubs, no smoothie stands. The room was littered with power lifting gear and those individuals that frequented the gear. At just shy of 200 pounds, I was easily the pip-squeak of the room.
We started our work out with a ‘jog’ on the treadmill. I promised Josh that I would do my best to keep pace with his workout. He promised that if I kept my promise, I would throw up. Fair trade.
Our initial pace was brisk. Every time Josh’s treadmill beeped in acknowledgement of a speed increase, I verified the increase and matched it.
While this quick of a pace did not lend itself well to long questions and answers, I used the opportunity to begin getting a background on the Pool Boy. Smith grew up in Indiana as a two-sport athlete. He took football and wrestling very seriously, as most youth of that region did. In his later years in high school Smith decided to focus primarily on football as he bulked up to a solid 270. He had a decided advantage on the football field as he still utilized his wrestling quickness and leverage, much as he did in his Bellator fight. In college Smith became disinterested in football. He alluded to a politicized system that would ensure he would not see the field. After deliberation, Smith decided to leave college in Indiana and join his brother in Texas.
In Texas, Smith worked for his brother as a pool cleaner in a family owned business. This was around the time he decided to get back into combat sports. He began training mixed martial arts before and after work. Students and coaches all began to recognize Smith’s skills and dubbed him ‘the Pool Boy’ as he always arrived and left wearing his pool cleaning uniform, which smelled strongly of chlorine.
In his first year Smith trimmed down from a hefty 300 pounds to a svelte 215, which is typically what he walks in to competition at after cutting down to 185 for weigh-ins.
Our treadmill obligation increased in speed up to 10 miles per hour, and we covered somewhere around 6 kilometers. With the help of deep panting and divine intervention I was able to remain upright after the warm up. We now moved on to the strenuous portion of our session.
Dante must have accidentally left out a level of hell as I recognized right away that we were about to enter undocumented planes of suffering. We were on a circuit that would include flipping a tractor tire the length of the building, medicine ball tossing, wrestling sprawls, football style rope runs, one handed dumbbell cleans, pull ups and shadow boxing with rubber bands.
I was struck at the size of the tire, and the fact that they had a tractor tire at all. As I further inspected my surroundings, I began noticing other odd objects. Next to the tire was the very same large spherical stones used in strongman competitions, which were typically referred to as Atlas Stones. There were other implements that were used for training in various events such as the odd shaped cylinders with handles for the farmer’s walk and barrels for the keg toss.
We began with the tire flips. After three I started checking the clock as if I was on a schedule and began looking for an out. I promised I would keep going, and after my first go through the circuit I was shaky and light headed.
In our brief moments between drilling, when I was able to catch my breath, I would ask Smith about his thoughts on mixed martial arts as it is now. I was curious about his take on the pay scale of fighters. Outside of a couple fighters, a mixed martial artist in the States can expect at most a couple thousand dollars in prize money. This is a large discrepancy from athletes in other major sports and is undoubtedly a far cry from some of the many defunct Japanese promotions’ pay scales that would see fighters get paid in the millions.
Smith would respond stoically with a raised eyebrow and a shrug. ‘Fighting is almost never a way to get rich. I’m just lucky to be able to train and keep feed.’ I could not help but to feel a bit silly for continually bringing up pay scales, and purse money. Smith undoubtedly embodied the American ideal; it was not just a fashion style for him. He truly liked hard work and was happy that he was able to sustain himself through it.
Smith continually alluded to his newfound appreciation of boxing, as he has been training more acutely on his boxing skills. Many fighters with a wrestling background move in this direction. His explanation seemed very logical.
‘My boxing coach is teaching me to keep my front hip back more, and it combines well with keeping low for a takedown.’ Styles make fights, and mixing styles is the true alchemy of MMA.
We continued our work out. As I was on a particularly difficult set of dumbbell power cleans I began thinking of skipping my last couple reps so I could move on to the next station. No one would catch me, but I somehow felt that cheating the workout was being dishonest to the Pool Boy, and that drove me to complete the set.
After what seemed to be hours of training, we cooled down by chatting as we watched a lop-sided soccer match unfold from metal bleachers as heavy raindrops beat down on the tin roof of the structure. We discussed current MMA events, including James Toney’s entrance into the world of MMA and his fight with the legendary Randy Couture. He obviously was not following along with the UFC religiously as was apparent by his next two questions.
‘Randy Couture is still fighting?’ he asked.
After I assured him that ‘the Natural’ was still fighting, he asked ‘Who is James Toney?’ Priceless. Smith only seems to concern himself with the things most immediate to him and his career, and the UFC is not currently in his scope.
We parted ways and I started my journey home. I felt happy with myself having made it through the workout. With the muscle soreness in my forearms, I was having a difficult time holding on to the steering wheel, and only now was able assess my level of fatigue. As I pulled onto the entrance ramp of the 190 tollroad, I noticed a familiar, and dreadful abdominal spasm. I pulled over, leaned out and vomited all that I was storing in my stomach. I wiped my mouth with my shaking hand and gave the world a smile. I felt better knowing that both Josh Smith and I were men of our words.
Josh ‘the Pool Boy’ Smith’s website is http://www.thepoolboy.tv/