by Matt Wiggins – MMAWeekly.com
On Friday, April 13, 2007, professional MMA fighter Jonathan Helwig won a majority decision in his light heavyweight bout against Ken Owens at Cage Fury Fighting Championships IV in Atlantic City.
I had the pleasure of designing Helwig’s strength and conditioning program for his fight, and was able to catch up with him afterward for a little Q&A.
Wiggy: First of all, Helwig, congrats on your recent victory at CFFC IV in Atlantic City!
Helwig: Thanks a lot, Wiggy. I had a lot of guys throughout the online MMA community express support and it means a ton to me.
Wiggy: For those not familiar with you, give us a little background on you and what your training is like and who your training is with.
Helwig: Well, I’m 22 years old now and this was my third fight as a pro. As far as background goes, I don’t have elite level experience in wrestling or boxing or BJJ. I’m pretty much one of those fighters who’s really just an MMA guy trying to be as well rounded as he can. I came from a Karate background as a kid and then moved into preparing for this stuff in mid-2003.
Right now, my training is going great. I’m currently dividing my time between Endgame in Lodi, which is the place I started with. Eddy Rolon is the head guy there and he’s been a huge help is allowing me to pursue a career in this sport and focus 100% on my training. They now have a couple guys coming up the local amateur ranks, as well as a few guys fighting pro. I get in as much time with them as I can whenever one of us has an upcoming fight.
For the past 5 months or so, I’ve been up at AMA in Whippany after taking them up on an offer to workout up there. I’m beyond impressed with them. Mike Constantino is hell bent on putting together the top team in New Jersey and with an in-house BJJ black belt in Jamie Cruz my game has gotten much better in a short period of time. Plus, I’m surrounded by a bunch of guys with wrestling backgrounds so I get pushed the way I feel a pro athlete needs to be.
Wiggy: Can you describe your fight at CFFC IV for us? (NOTE – The entire event is currently being streamed at the CFFC website.)
Helwig: Well, I had to check it out on the site after to see how reality matched up with my recollection. My opponent landed a couple hard punches, but I was able to score two knockdowns with knees and threw multiple submission attempts at him on the floor. Both of us pushed the action hard and I felt like we were both there to win. I wanted to finish the fight and not let it go to the judges, but I gained some invaluable experience by going the distance. Either way, I got the win, so I just have to get better so that I can finish the fight next time.
Wiggy: You looked like you had the KO at the end of the 2nd round…
Helwig: Hah, I’ve had a bunch of people asking about that. What happened was that literally the second he went down and I charged in, the bell sounded, but the roar of the crowd made it tough to hear. I heard it though and the ref did a good job being on the ball. I have to give my opponent credit because he picked himself up and came out and fought that 3rd round. I did brood a little over not getting the fastest KO financial bonus, but I am still happy I won the fight.
Wiggy: Let’s switch gears for a minute. This was the first time you and I had worked together for a fight. (NOTE – when I designed
Helwig’s program, it was based on Program #1 from my “Working Class Fitness – The Programs.” It consisted of basic strength and
strength-endurance work, complexes for muscular and cardiovascular/cardiorespiratory conditioning, and specific fight conditioning.) How did your strength and conditioning seem for this fight in comparison to your previous fights?
Helwig: Let me just say, I don’t endorse – nor use – garbage. I have read a ton about conditioning and fight preparation and done my best to take bits and pieces I come across that I’ve seen successful athletes using. But actually getting to work with an expert in the field was night and day. I’m all about preparation. I’m not one of those “hit the bag some, roll a little bit, and jump in the cage” type of fighters. The sheer confidence boost alone from doing the exercises and drills was palpable.
I was fully prepared for the demands of that fight and knowing you can go the distance – and go hard – is a good feeling.
Wiggy: Your fight was three, 3-minute rounds (as opposed to 5-minute rounds). Just how much difference is there between 3-minute and 5-minute rounds?
Helwig: In my opinion, its apple and oranges – almost a different sport. I dont even want to think about when you’re a top guy doing five 5-minute rounds. Obviously, if you’re a finisher and are getting these guys out of there quick, it won’t have that much of an effect on you. However, every fighter has to be ready to go the distance. Besides, even the best guys can clip everybody in the first round. You can see that there are certain guys who do much better under the different round lengths. You might even go as far as to say there could be different champions in UFC or Pride if every fight was three 3-minute rounds.
Wiggy: You mentioned to me during your training that you really liked the complexes I had you doing. (NOTE – a “complex” is merely a series of exercises performed back to back without rest. A sample complex might be to load 95 lbs. onto a bar, and do power snatch x 8 reps, overhead press x 8, bent row x 8, clean x 8, and back squat x 8. Rest 1-2 mins and repeat 2-3 more times.) Why did you feel that they were so beneficial?
Helwig: I wouldn’t say I “liked” them [laughs]. But I knew from the first day, that they were going to be something I’d keep without a doubt. I think that one of the things people don’t fully realize, even some fighters, is that intensity (i.e. – how hard you have to work) is a huge factor in training. Many guys are all about how much weight or number of reps or other factors, but intensity is a lot harder to measure sometimes.
I try and look for training methods that will force me closer to the intensity I’m likely to encounter in an actual match, the type where you both are refusing to go home with the loss and willing to give your all. That’s not easy to recreate in training.
The complexes prevented me from being able to “zone out” and get lost in the reps like a super high-rep burnout set would. But at the same time, it wasn’t a “huge effort and you’re done” situation either. It was constant movement. It required explosiveness (which is my latest obsession) and produced a level of overall fatigue that assured me I was working hard.
Seeing my recovery improve each week between sets of your complexes was a clear indicator of my body improving its ability to bring me back, which is a huge factor in a fight.
Wiggy: Let’s go back to fighting. What’s next for you?
Helwig: Right now I’m enjoying the tail end of the full week off I like to take after a fight. This was my first time at light heavyweight (I had previously fought at heavyweight) and I’m pretty happy with staying at this weight for the foreseeable future. It was a bit tough on the ego and took some convincing, but I’m not getting any taller and I don’t know any gyms near me that have 6’4 240lb. guys with skills to train with.
I’m going to talk with my coaches and try and see which route I want to go: fighting fairly often to gain experience versus taking more time to train and really improving significantly between each fight (which is pretty much the way I’ve done things so far).
They each have their ups and downs, but either way I know I need to be busier. I was very happy to get on the Cage Fury card as it’s the show that all the guys in New Jersey want to get on. And that Mercer/Kimbo show is going to be out of control.
Wiggy: Is there anybody you’d like to fight or a certain event you’d like to fight in?
Helwig: When I first got into MMA, I knew the big shows better than anyone else I talked to, but knew nothing about the local level. Right now I have a pretty good idea of who is out there in Jersey. There are roughly four “top” guys at my weight class. My goal right now is to improve my record and get a little more experience. After that, I want to start going after them if they’re still around. I’ve seen other fighters that were able to move into title contention pretty quickly, but it’s possible to get in over your head and have a huge jump in competition. And I want to be ready for that when my time comes. Guys are getting called up in Jersey all the time to the IFL and even the UFC.
I’d like to fight in the CFFC again, Reality Fighting, and some of the other bigger shows in Jersey that treat the fighters professionally and pay them what is fair for this level.
Wiggy: I know you were looking for some sponsors for this past fight – are you still looking?
Helwig: Oh indeed I am, sir. I try and keep myself in touch with reality and not act like I deserve or am entitled to stuff just cause other guys have it. Sponsors can be tough to get in the beginning and any kind of help – especially monetary help – before a fight can mean a helluva lot to a struggling fighter. I’m hoping now that I’ve been on a pay-per-view show that it may open the door for some bigger sponsors and setup some relationships that will be beneficial to all involved.
Wiggy: Helwig, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with MMA Weekly. Congratulations again on your win and we wish you continued good luck in the future!
Helwig: This was a big thing for me Wiggy. You were my first real sponsor and on top of that, you helped in my success. This was my first interview and I’m grateful to MMA Weekly for the exposure.
For the guys that read this, thank you as well. I used to just click past any articles or interviews with anyone I hadn’t heard of yet and figured “if they’re any good I’ll wind up hearing about them when they reach the big show.” But I think it’s a lot more satisfying as a fan to follow guys from the ground up and decide who you like and who you don’t like before the glitz and other stuff clouds your mind and you have a bunch of fair weather fans.
There are a bunch of young guys out there in New Jersey alone who have the potential to be the future Liddells, Hendersons, and Ghettoman Charleses of tomorrow. I am working my ass off to be one of them.