EXCLUSIVE | DellaGrotte Talks Coaching TUF Live, New Movie with Kevin James
BJPenn.com: This is George Deutsch with BJPenn.com and I’m honored to be joined today by legendary Muay Thai trainer and Sityodtong gym owner Mark DellaGrotte out of Boston. Welcome, Mark.
Mark DellaGrotte: What’s up guys? AKA DellaGrotte karate! What’s happening? What’s going on, George, man? It’s good to be on with you. I’ve been looking forward to this all week.
BJPenn.com: Mark for those who are new to MMA, please give us a little background on your Sityodtong USA gym and how you got started in martial arts.
DellaGrotte: I got started in martial arts through my uncle Joe at a very young age. I slowly but surely developed as a martial artist very young and wanted to pursue a competitive background, a competitive style. I found a love in Muay Thai, and I made my way over to Thailand and ended up staying at Sityodtong Muay Thai Academy.
Basically Sityodtong is a legacy, Kru Yodtong has developed a legacy … 50 years, generation after generation of champions in Thailand, and I had the pleasure to learn and study at this camp. I lived and trained and fought there as a pro, and went back and forth all the way back from 1997. Little by little, I earned the respect of the Thai people there and Kru Yodtong, and I was given permission to use the name Sityodtong, and I opened in 1998 or ’99, I opened Sitoyodtong Muay Thai Academy here in Boston.
And little by little, these fighters started coming through, looking for Muay Thai to better their MMA skills. And one by one they came in and we developed a jiu-jitsu program, and before you know it, we had guys in the UFC and we were off to a running start.
BJPenn.com: Mark I want to get right to some big news. I hear you’ll be leaving to join The Ultimate Fighter Live house as a guest coach for Team Faber next week. Tell us about that.
DellaGrotte: Well that is big news, you know. There’s a chance you might see me on the show; you’re going to have to stay tuned on Friday nights, George. You know what I mean? But there’s a good connection between me and Urijah Faber and Team Alpha Male. I’ve known them for a while; we’ve had a friendship for a while now.
Urijah’s always wanted to bring me in with the team to work with him. And you know, those guys are out there grinding it out right now and filming the show, and doing a great job. But of course, Urijah and Team Alpha Male and his coaching staff are all fighters, and they’re all training as well.
So the primary goal was to bring me out there to work with Urijah and Team Alpha Male to get him ready for his fight. And also there’s a chance you might see me on The Ultimate Fighter, and you’ll have to stay tuned Friday night to watch that. I look forward to that, and if Urijah plays it out like that, there’s a chance you’ll see me on the show.
BJPenn.com: Without giving too much away, what’s it going to be like working with Urijah Faber and Dominick Cruz, and being in that environment where you’ve got guys doing pranks and they’re away from their families for several weeks? It sounds challenging.
DellaGrotte: Yeah. The format that they have is very demanding. These guys are away from their families and friends and everything. They’re locked up in a house with fighters. The coaches have to move away and have to live in Vegas and do this, and see each other every day. The dynamics of the show are very unique. That’s one of the reasons why the show’s been so successful.
I’ve been in that environment before, and I enjoy it. You know what I mean? I enjoy it when I’m coming in for a week or two, but I’m not sure I wanna be in it for the long haul! These guys are out there for months. It’s tough on them, but it’s a unique environment. I love working with fighters, especially high-level fighters, such as Urijah or Dominick Cruz. And I always rise to the occasion and look forward to any opportunity to train guys like that.
BJPenn.com: What do you see your role as being as a guest coach? What are your goals and what do you hope to achieve with the guys you train on the show?
DellaGrotte: Well, again, if you catch me on the show, you’re gonna see me probably running them through team practices and coming out and giving them my knowledge and my staple, which is basically Muay Thai for MMA. I’ve been able to adapt traditional Muay Thai and modify it in my own eclectic way through my extensive background in martial arts, and kind of find how Muay Thai is the alternative, is the other art of the world, and kind of blend it into MMA.
We’re planning on giving them my style and giving them some of my tips and some of my secrets. And ultimately the goal would be to develop them all as people and as fighters and as students of the martial arts.
BJPenn.com: Coaching on TUF is not new for you. You were a coach on TUF season four, which featured guys like Matt Serra, Chris Lytle, and your protégé Patrick Cote. Talk to me about what you think the legacy of The Ultimate Fighter will be.
DellaGrotte: It’s a legacy, that’s exactly what it is. These ultimate fighters have been such a great way to, not only educate and entertain the fans and have people following and believing in our beloved sport, but it’s found and developed some great fighters.
Look back at some people who were Ultimate Fighter season winners, guys like Michael Bisping and all these guys who came up. These guys have developed into professional MMA fighters contracted by the UFC, and their dreams came true. They’re doing it. It’s great.
The show is not only entertaining and educational for the fans, but it develops champions is what it does, and everybody wins. The fans win, and the entertainment value is there, and it’s a reality show. The ultimate goal is to actually find the ultimate fighter, and I think some of the best fighters that the UFC has today have come out of that show.
BJPenn.com: I want to touch on a hot-button issue that’s gotten a lot of press lately. On the first episode of TUF Live, fighter Dakota Cochrane was eliminated from the show. It had been widely reported that he’d starred in some gay pornographic films earlier in his career. What are your feelings on possibly training a gay fighter?
DellaGrotte: To keep it simple. As plain as it gets is that I don’t discriminate toward any human being. If it’s a fighter they want to be, it’s a coach I am. If I can develop them as a person and as a fighter and as a martial artist, I would take them on as a student for sure. I don’t discriminate toward anybody.
BJPenn.com: I’m going to switch gears here. I understand that you were featured on the UFC Personal Trainer video game. Talk to us about the experience of making the game and if you’re a game player yourself.
DellaGrotte: I’m not much of a gamer, to tell you the truth, but if I’m going to play a game, it’s going to be something like that, like UFC Personal Trainer. Something educational, something fun. And if I can exercise at the same time, I’m all for it.
I actually have it for the Kinect system at the house. My son and I use it all the time, and people come over. It’s a blast. I love the game despite the fact that I’m not a huge gamer. Something like this is very unique. It teaches the fans; it’s educational for the fans. And you can actually get fit using the game. UFC Personal Trainer was a blast to make.
It was a unique opportunity for me to get involved in the project, and it was fun as well. You wear the green suit and you move and it shows up on the screen. The accuracy was amazing, and how the end product turned out was just fantastic.
The whole experience was great, and I’d do it again in a minute. Not only was it fun for me to do, but it’s another push toward educating the fans and promoting the sport, and combining that with fitness and well being, it’s a win-win.
BJPenn.com: You might be the king of all media. I see that you’re going to be in a movie coming up. It’s going to be called “Here Comes the Boom,” starring Kevin James, Salma Hayek, Henry Winkler and Joe Rogan. What was it like working on a major motion picture?
DellaGrotte: That again truly was an amazing experience. I grew up watching The Fonz, and then I actually got to play in a movie with him. How cool is that? I was blown away when I was given that opportunity.
I’ve known Kevin James; I actually met him — oddly enough — with Georges St-Pierre when we were filming The Ultimate Fighter season four. Me and Georges St-Pierre were coaches at the time and we had gone to see Kevin James’ stand-up performance, and he was a GSP fan and brought us back to the green room. And I had the great opportunity to meet Kevin and we became friends after that. Little by little he started reaching out to me to work with him. So I’ve been training him for a while leading up to the movie.
Again, I’m not a movie star. I’m very serious about what I do; I’m a trainer. It was a unique opportunity for me, and it was not only a memorable experience, but something that I would like to, perhaps, do again. To pursue that and maybe do something else. The opportunity to work with people like Salma Hayek, people like Henry Winkler, and to have a friend like Kevin James is just … I feel truly blessed about the whole experience.
BJPenn.com: How much face time do you get in the movie? Are we going to see a lot of you?
DellaGrotte: Yeah! You know, it wasn’t that difficult. I played Mark DellaGrotte. So I think they gave me the easiest role. I played myself, so I didn’t have to do much acting. I have a significant role. You’re going to see me in a big chunk of the movie. I play Kevin’s trainer and I helped him achieve his goal of fighting in the UFC. Not to give much away about the movie, but the movie is a classic Kevin James movie: it’s funny, it has a great storyline.
I think everybody is gonna be blown away with not only how Kevin looks and the shape he got in, the transformation of his body, but also his training and his performance in the movie. I think in between the stunt coordinating in the movie and the fight scenes, everybody’s going to be blown away. If you’re a fan of mixed martial arts, you’re gonna go see this movie and you’re going to be satisfied when you come out of that theater.
BJPenn.com: I’m looking forward to it. I read online that it’s coming out in October, so that’s something we’re all gonna look for.
BJPenn.com: Now you’ve trained some big names in MMA: Kenny Florian, Frank Mir, Rich Franklin, Stephan Bonnar, Marcus Davis, Jorge Gurgel, Jorge Rivera, I mean the list goes on and on. What’s it like having trained with so many legends of the sport?
DellaGrotte: I’m honored. It’s as simple as that. I’m honored to have pursued the path that I’ve pursued and been given the opportunities to work with some of the best coaches in the game and some of the best fighters in the game. Guys like Kenny Florian, Jorge Rivera, Patrick Cote, Marcus Davis — all my staple guys originally when my camp was first put on the map — it’s an honor.
I enjoy working with fighters, but what I really enjoy doing, George, is I enjoy teaching, and I look forward to the next generation of fighters training here at Sityodtong. We’ve got a whole slew of amateurs and pros that are up-and-coming, that you guys don’t even know about. And that’s what the camp and myself have always been about: teaching and tradition, and the core values of martial arts. So, it’s always an honor to train a fighter — big name or small name — but what it’s really all about is teaching and passing the honor, and continuing the legacy, not only of Sityodtong, but of myself.
BJPenn.com: You talk about teaching, but don’t you also pick things up from the guys you train? You really strike me as someone who’s always learning and trying to improve themselves.
DellaGrotte: It’s funny that you say that, because I like to consider myself one of the few old school kind of coaches that actually gets in there with the fighters. So a lot of these guys are not only students of mine and fighters that train under my tutelage, but they’re training partners for me as well. I’m gonna be a sparring partner with anybody I train. I’m still very active in the gym, in sparring and in coaching.
And I learn just as much — from not only those high-level guys, but also from guys that come in the gym on the amateur level. Like you said, I have a knack for learning and a love and a passion for the sport. And I end up sharing knowledge as well as getting knowledge. So, to train with guys like Kenny Florian, Frank Mir, these guys … I learned probably more from them than they learned from me. So it’s always a give and take.
BJPenn.com: Frank Mir, who you’ve worked with, fights Junior Dos Santos later this month at UFC 146. What are Mir’s keys to success in that fight, what advice would you give him, and who do you think will win?
DellaGrotte: Well, I’ll tell you what. I’m always gonna root for my boy, so I think Frank’s gonna win the fight. And I feel truly that this is a unique opportunity for him, and the phone call came at a perfect time, and things happen for a reason. He’s in a good spot right now. He’s trained hard to position himself to be ready for that title fight and seize the moment, seize the opportunity.
He’s a good friend of mine. I haven’t done much work with him in the past couple of fights due to scheduling and me traveling back and forth, but I’m still very close with Frank and very active as a trainer, being strategic with his head coach now, Jimmy Gifford. He’s one of his head striking coaches, Jimmy Gifford out of Las Vegas.
In terms of strategy, we don’t want to, obviously, give too much away, but we’re confident that Jimmy Gifford and Frank Mir’s team out there at Suffer have done a great job at preparing themselves. I’ve been kind of giving a little advice here and there with the guys out there. I think Frank’s gonna not only prepare, but I think he’s gonna surprise everybody and he’s gonna come out with that belt. I’m not a betting man, but my money is always on my boy, and my money’s on what I feel comfortable with. And I would say Frank’s gonna come out the winner.
BJPenn.com: Same type of question but for Rich Franklin. He fights Cung Le at UFC 148 in July. How would you advise him to approach that fight and who do you think is gonna win?
DellaGrotte: I think that’s a unique fight for Rich. I think it’s a great fight for Rich. I think that he’s got to be a step ahead of Cung Le the whole time. Cung Le is definitely a tough and durable fighter, a very talented fighter. But I think that Rich Franklin’s just gonna have the edge on him; he’s gonna be one step ahead of him.
I think that Rich is gonna be a little better everywhere. I think Rich’s striking work is a step above. I think his ground game is definitely a step above. I think it’s not only a great fight for the fans, but I think it’s a great opportunity for Rich to put another notch in the belt and beat a big name in the sport, and that’s Cung Le.
BJPenn.com: Talk to me about the MMA scene in Boston. Obviously you’re out there, the Florian brothers are out there. What’s the Boston fight scene like?
DellaGrotte: The Boston fight scene is hot, to tell you the truth. You’ve got promoters around this area, gyms around this area … it’s on and popping like every Saturday in this town. There’s tons of mixed martial arts shows on the weekends. There’s tons of gyms in the area. You’ve got a lot of big names, as you mentioned Kenny Florian’s gym is here in Boston … ourselves. So, it’s competitive.
It definitely sometimes feels a little oversaturated because of the volume of shows that we have and the amount of schools that are popping up everywhere. But it’s great to see that the sport’s taking off and it’s still flourishing, and if that’s what’s happening, then that’s what I’m all for. I’m all for promotional events every weekend. I’m all for schools opening up across the country. My true passion is in mixed martial arts, and I love to see that the Boston scene is so vibrant with the sport here.
A lot of people don’t realize that you have guys going far back … doing events here and promoting the original show Mass Destruction. We were doing open-hand slap matches back in the ‘90s. The sport has history here in New England. We’re fighting people. We don’t have sunshine 24 hours a day. We’ve got callused hands. We have to shovel snow to move our cars in the morning in the winters. So I think New Englanders are just generally hard workers and that shows in the sport here in Boston.
BJPenn.com: You’re known as having a very distinct style. You’ve got the Boston accent, the hat, the glasses, the sideburns, the chain outside your shirt. What’s it like having a reputation and personality that precedes you?
DellaGrotte: (Laughing) It’s a double-edged sword. Sometimes I enjoy it, and sometimes it works against me. But I’ve been fortunate and I do have a unique look. I’m a typical Boston type guy: I’ve got a Boston scally hat on, I got a funny accent, a little Jersey Shore flavor with the tan, and maybe the chain hanging out. But it is who I am. And it’s unique in me, like everybody else. And it’s enjoyable. I wouldn’t trade any of it. I’ve been very fortunate to achieve what I’ve achieved in my life, and I’m fortunate that people even recognize that I have my own style, so to say.
BJPenn.com: I know you’re a family man, with a son and a daughter, and I know a lot of professional fighters are as well. Talk to me about balancing MMA and family life, and the challenges fighters face with that.
DellaGrotte: That’s often overlooked. I run the gym here with my wife, and my kids are always running around here on the mats. You know, it’s a unique dynamic; work is always with us. But that’s what’s made us who we are. And a lot of fighters can take advantage of that. I think that having stability in your life and having people around you who love and care for you is obviously good for the fighter.
But like you say, fighters become torn, and guys like myself are always on the road, traveling from show to show and working so many hours in the gym. It is very demanding and it’s very tough to balance that. But like anything else in life, life is a balance. I think finding the right way to balance it … a good fighter and a champion has a solid home life and has a solid family behind him. They’re loved and nurtured and supported through their family and friends. That’s the best thing for a fighter, and I’m fortunate to have that.
BJPenn.com: What do you hope Mark DellaGrotte’s legacy will be when all is said and done? What mark do you hope to leave on the world of MMA?
DellaGrotte: That’s a great question. I’m grateful, and all I could ask for or hope for is that people will remember me for the contribution that I’ve made to the sport, and kind of bridging the gap of Muay Thai into MMA and blending the two. It’s been a long road, and I’m sure — I hope and pray — it’s gonna be a lot longer.
But when it’s all said and done, all I can ask for is that people remember me as making a positive contribution to the sport and affecting their lives in a positive way. If I can, for lack of a better term, touch as many people as I can in my life and interest them in the martial arts and get them started and get them on their way, and just play a positive role to the world, then that’s all I can ask for.
BJPenn.com: Mark, I’ll give you the final word. Are there any shout outs you want to give or anything you need to promote?
DellaGrotte: All I want to say is thanks for everybody for always having my back and believing in me and following my teachings. And all my students and family and friends that have been there along the way to support me, [to them] I’m forever grateful. [I thank] the fans, of course, and guys like yourself George, that are out there promoting the sport and taking the time to listen to what I have to say, and the listeners. I couldn’t say it enough, it’s been just a tremendous road, and I look forward to what the future has to offer.
BJPenn.com: Mark, thank you for joining us and taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to BJPenn.com.
DellaGrotte: Always a pleasure. BJPenn.com is where it’s at! Thank you very much, George.
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