Latest UFC Fighting News

Of the last nine rounds Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard have fought, Edgar has won the significant majority of them. The rounds Gray won were obviously the most dramatic (outside of their last round to conclude their trilogy), but no so much so that we forgot Edgar’s brilliant and technical acumen required to overcome the deficit.

Following Edgar’s success, I wrote a bit of an essay regurgitating a recent article in the New Yorker on the importance of coaching. I felt like Edgar’s boxing coach, Mark Henry, was a key player in both victories, knowing how to offer the advice Edgar needed. Mark was kind enough to reach out to me via email, and was subsequently kind enough to give me several minutes of his time.

Edgar’s a special fighter. I don’t need to list the reasons. You know the reasons. While he still doesn’t get the respect he deserves on “P4P lists” (in whatever sense they’re meaningful to begin with), the fact remains that he’s the best fighter at 155 in the world, whether he should be fighting below LW or not. And Mark has been a big part of that. His name isn’t as familiar a, say, Greg Jackson, but he deserves as much acclaim when you look at his contributions in Edgar’s last two fights especially.

David: How did you get started in this business, and how did you ultimately get connected with Edgar?

Mark Henry: I wasn’t looking to get started in this business. My son was doing wrestling, and at the time I wasn’t looking to train anybody. I had fought in the army, fought in the clubs, and to Europe a couple of times for the US Army team. After that, I was just looking to be a father, and own a pizzeria. But Steve (Rivera) asked me a couple of times, I said ‘no’, and then one day I did, and Edgar and I hit the pads. At first he was a mess, but I could tell he was something special, given his speed, and athleticism. In the beginning I would only train with him once a week. It wasn’t until the Maynard loss that we just put a lot more time into it.

David: I think what’s interesting about your approach with Edgar is that under your tutelage, he seems to have worked his way from the ground up. You seem more concerned with the fundamentals of boxing than with how to take bits and pieces, and put them in an MMA context? Is that accurate? Do you stress boxing for the sake of boxing as opposed to boxing for the sake of MMA?

Mark Henry: No, I gotta tell you. Since the Sherk fight I’ve become more of an MMA guy. Frank got the knockout but I’m more proud of the leg kick when he grabbed Maynard in the first round. I worked on that with him. In the second Maynard fight I worked with taking Gray down off his right hand. Also kicks, also something we emphasized. I’m more into that other stuff, because I’ve never done it.

Even with Gil (Gil Martinez, Gray’s boxing coach), right before Frankie took him down, I said ‘Gil, he’s gonna tell him to throw a right hand when Frankie turns southpaw’. And sure enough the minute Frankie went southpaw, Gray threw a right hand, which led to the takedown, and then he threw that uppercut which knocked him down.

David: I noticed what I thought were improvements in Edgar’s punching, mainly in his power, and the development of his left hook. Was this-

Mark Henry: Yea exactly. That’s what we worked on a lot. This last camp, or two camps rather. We worked on him not moving so much, and sitting down on his punches. Then we had to get him moving again because he enjoyed rocking people so much in camp. So that’s what we worked on: getting him to sit down on his punches, knowing when to step in, and when not to step in. When to shorten up your punches. Like that first round, he threw that short right hand, and he never threw that short right (he’s talking about the right Edgar lands on Gray shown on replay after the first). And that’s what he learned how to do this past camp.

And now it’s just a matter of what to add. We also worked in switching to southpaw a lot. Sky’s the limit for this kid. Especially when you consider he’s only been doing this for three years.

David: Speaking of boxing, is there any one particular fighter you look up to in terms of who you’d like Edgar to emulate? Is there any one fighter you and Edgar watch a lot of tape on, and study?

Mark Henry: No, not really. It’s basically something we have to create from scratch. Mainly because of Frankie’s style. I mean I watch everybody though. I watch Marquez a lot. I love his trainer.

But for Frankie we had to come up with a different style because Frankie weighs so much less than everybody. He can’t stand in front of somebody the way others do. People don’t understand that Frankie basically weighs as much as Dominick Cruz. Dominick weighs 160 come fight time. Frankie weighs 158. Frankie’s basically a small 145′er. Florian probably weighs about 175. Aldo weighs 170, so he’s got Frankie by 12 pounds. If Frankie went to 145 he’s probably the smallest 145 pounder.

David: Does that kind of bother you guys? Hearing people demand Edgar move down. Isn’t the gold around his waist evidence enough that he can do this, and that despite his limitations, he can still be the best?

Mark Henry: Ya know, Dana comes from a boxing background. He’s been in the sport a long time, in boxing as well. And he knows the sport well. And he understands Frankie’s a small 145′er. He knows how hard it is. Because usually you just don’t fight guys two weight classes above yours. And Dana knows you just can’t stand in front of someone for too long when they outweigh you by 20 pounds with 4 ounce gloves. Honestly I think it’s just that nobody really knew how much Frankie weighed. But when you look at all these other guys, in other weight classes, they’re not willing to take those fights in other divisions. When Adnerson fights at 205, he weighs more than 205. When Frankie fights at 155, he doesn’t. That’s why I personally think he’s the best. Pound for pound.

David: Which is just all the more impressive. And also I think maybe you can’t really blame these guys either. Like when you look at GSP, who seems hesitant to move up to fight Anderson. The weight discrepancy is simply massive.

Mark Henry: Absolutely. Absolutely.It used to be discrepancies of 10 pounds, but now we’re talking discrepancies of 20 pounds and more. It never used to be that you needed an IV just to cut weight. But it’s not that they’re doing anything wrong. I’d be right there with them if I could. But that’s what makes Edgar so special. Other guys cut 10 pounds. Now it’s 25 to 30 pounds. Or now it’s Anthony Johnson. You know what I’m saying? The regular guy is at least 15 pounds over his weight. George (St. Pierre) walks into the cage at 190 Firas says. If you need a more dramatic example of these bloated weight classes just consider that Frankie Edgar is only one weight class below Georges St. Pierre. But who wants to see that fight?

Look at BJ. He weighs in the 160 range, and I remember seeing him in the cage against GSP and thinking, ‘wow’.

David: I kind of hate asking you about Aldo because I’m not one of those that feels like Edgar needs that fight right now. You see this a lot with other fighters, like Jon Jones who’s had just one title defense, and already people are talking about Anderson Silva, and a move to Heavyweight. Are you cool with this attitude, or do you think it’s more interesting to see Edgar try to establish his own legacy at 155? Especially with so many fresh opponents.

Mark Henry: To be honest, it’s up to Dana. Whether it’s a fight with Aldo, or more challengers at 155 it’s really whatever the UFC wants. But Frankie doesn’t back down from anyone (Mark gave a more extensive answer but my damn recorder ran out of memory).

David: One of the reasons I was so interested in getting a word with you is that I think your coaching paid real dividends for Edgar. Of the nine rounds in the last two fights he’s fought with Maynard, it could be argued Gray has only won two. You made a real effort to articulate for Edgar what kind of adjustments he needed to make after the first round in their last two affairs. Why do you think other coaches have a hard time making mid-fight adjustments? Where do you get that eagle eye?

Mark Henry: (again I missed a portion of Mark’s answer here thanks to that godawful recorder). Practice. And doing things differently. Sometimes we’ll practice what to throw in different languages. One fight we did Japanese, one fight we did Korean. In another fight we mixed the languages. I always wanted to do it because I remember BJ talking about Florian, saying how with Florian, his corner would scream (he couldn’t possibly be talking about Keith could he?) what combos to throw and so BJ would listen and react to the combos before Kenny would throw them.

So that’s what we did when he first fought BJ. Except against BJ we’d use Frankie’s sons names. So we’d have one combination named after his son, another after his wife, and things like that. And so everything is in a different language and he listens. It’s like playing a video game and having a cord stuck up his butt.

Whenever Frankie fights somebody, I don’t know if you remember that old Mike Tyson boxing game, but you’d fight a guy with a different skill set every time. So sometimes it’s the tall, skinny guy. Then it’s the shorter, stocky guy. And so this gives us the chance to take out the personality of the fighter, as we did against BJ, and just focus on technique. We’re not fighting Gray Maynard, we’re fighting the style. And guys like Ricardo and Renzo have helped out with that as well.

And that’s what I think makes us so good. We have a great team. Guys like Ricardo, who has rubbed off on me especially, and of course guys like Renzo treat each other and us with respect. And it’s basically a great family that we have. So it allows us to treat the fighter first. Frankie’s like a brother to me. So when he gets hit, it’s like my little brother getting hit. And I’ve gotta tell him what to do so he can hit the other guy that much harder. But he really is like a brother. We go to church together and that’s important. Especially for me personally. God’s always first. And I try to pay my respect to that. Ya know. I read the Bible in the octagon. Something we did in Abu Dhabi..which was a dangerous place to do it (laughing). But I try to put God first, ya know.

David: That’s what I found so interesting, which is that you’re giving him specific advice, but despite the adrenaline going in the middle of a fight, he’s still listening and responding-

Mark Henry: Oh yea, yea. I mean we’re the ones that are blessed. Frankie and Gray are like Ferrari’s. Even a busted up old man from Jersey like me can look good in a Ferrari. And as coaches, we just gotta get in those cars and drive them. Thankfully Frankie is a fighter that listen.

And that’s the thing too. Which is that fighters don’t get enough of that one on one. Some guys just don’t listen like others. I train Frankie five times a week. And that definitely contributes.

David: Do you think that’s part of it? Fighters move from gym to gym, and lose a little bit of that “intimacy”, you might say-

Mark Henry: When I’m with Frankie, we’ll do almost two hours with just pads. I don’t tell him to go hit the heavy bag. Or the speed bag. I know he does his cardio with his personal trainer, but when I train him, we’ll hit the pads and then go over different scenarios. We’ll go over what Frankie has to do if he gets rocked, for example. If you’re doing good, you have to do this. And we’ll go over every potential scenario.

I have a whole list of these scenarios. In the gym I’ll have a huge board that’ll say just jabs, and then another one will be combos to takedowns, or how to take someone down from a right hand or jab. The next board will saypower punches. So we really do have it down to a real science.

David: I’ve gotta ask you a hokey question, so here it goes. I consider you an important part of Edgar’s success, as such, I think the UFC owes you your own walkout song-

Mark Henry: (laughing) Oh man. I’m just a coach. Dana doesn’t owe me a thing.

David: (laughing) But hypothetically, what would be your walkout song?

Mark Henry: Oh man, I don’t know. It’d have to be some gospel music. Like the music Evander Holyfield walked out to (laughing). I don’t know…honestly I like Vitor Belfort’s walkout music. He comes out to a Christian song that I like.

David: So you wouldn’t be coming out to Biggie like Frankie did? (laughing)

Mark Henry: No man, I wouldn’t. I’d have to come out to something godly (laughing). Like Vitor.

David: Not even Creedance, or Stones in your life?

Mark Henry: Nah. I mean I won’t lie, I listen to some of it. Not that it’s bad but I try to stay away from it, and keep to my own interests. I do generally listen to everything. I mean when Frankie and I work out we listen to hip hop. It’s cool I got that IPad that my wife bought me for Father’s Day, and it’s such a phenomenal tool. Like I remember when Ricardo and Frankie got their flip from Dana for Christmas, like 2 or 3 years ago. That’s when we skyrocketed, and I just started filming everything. So for example I’d film our training on Tuesday, and then I’d call him up the next day to talk about what he did wrong and what we need to work on.

I’ll watch that kind of film for two hours just to see what we need to work on, and use what we study on film. That’s another thing too. Frankie spars with a fellow named Dennis Douglin, who is a phenomenal kid. And that’s the thing. If you spar with someone who isn’t as skilled, and say, runs away a lot, you don’t learn. You can’t learn what’s wrong with the fighter. So when he’s in there with Dennis, it’s Edgar who has to back up. And we get to see if Edgar is leaning back too much, and we get to see what we need to fix. And we can look at whether or Edgar’s head is down, and his shoulder his down…to where we wouldn’t have saw that if he was just beating up a guy all day.

So the main thing too is to find guys that can beat his butt. So we got Ronald Cruz as well, who is 16-0 as a pro. And when he trains jiu jitsu, he’s up there with Renzo and those wolves. When he trains wrestling, we go down to Rutgers, just to try to get rid of all the danger points Frankie has, say if his head is leaning back, or if he’s leaving his leg out there for a shot, or if he’s not lowering his level enough.

So we constantly bring in the absolute best. Frankie’s like a diamond. A diamond looks pretty good, until you put it under the microscope and see the imperfections. And that’s what we do with him. We put him in there with great talents, and see what imperfections arise that way we can fix them. And that’s pretty much how we’ve done it.

It’s something I did with Frankie after the second Maynard fight. We got guys who got in there and we focused on nothing but left hooks. For example, I got a guy that used to fight for Lou Duva, was a five time Golden Gloves champ, and who just threw a million left hooks at Frankie. Getting Frankie to learn how to relax, stiffen up his hips, stiffen up his hands, and so forth. We want Edgar to be offensive and defensive at the same time.

David: Also, I hear you run your own pizzeria. For me, Jersey’s a long way from Texas, but for anyone passing through your part of town, what would you recommend from the menu?

Mark Henry: Probably the marinated chicken wrap. It’s just marinated chicken in balsamic vinegar with roasted peppers, sun dried tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, a little balsamic on it in a fresh tortilla wrap.

Stay tuned for regular updates on UFC Fighting…

Leave a Comment

Comments are closed.