UFC dream built on broken limbs
Blood and broken bones are just a day at the office for James Te Huna. Simon Plumb talks to New Zealand's self-confessed "Injury King" of the Ultimate Fighting Championship about what it's really like to be inside the cage.
"I'VE had broken feet, broken hands, broken arms, broken noses, blown both knees out and dislocated my right shoulder over 50 times.
"I've had medial cartilage tears and been on crutches three days before a fight.
"I'm the injury king of mixed martial arts. But I always get through it."
Forget Buck Shelford, in fact, forget the All Blacks all together. James Te Huna is as tough as they come.
But, the Kiwi says, he's also the unluckiest fighter on the UFC circuit, the controversial caged cocktail of boxing, kick-boxing, karate, wrestling and a whole heap of other fighting forms.
"I've been very unlucky compared to other guys. No one gets as many injuries as me and all these things seem to happen either in a fight, or just days before," Te Huna told Sunday News from Sydney.
In fact, the latest incident in a string of bad luck happened on Wednesday, when a large shop window fell onto Te Huna's head while he was on his way to training.
"Might have to start wearing a hard hat while walking to training now. 20ft glass window falls on my head outside Bondi Junction's busy Westfields. Call me unlucky but I'm glad it happened to me and not a little kid," he wrote on Facebook.
But like Mad Max's Thunderdome, injury, blood and a whole load of suffering are exactly what fans expect. And in that respect, light heavyweight Te Huna is the UFC's Master Blaster.
The Darfield man's most infamous injury has been a recurring dislocation issue in his right shoulder, which happened in his first MMA fight in 2003 – and has since had to be agonisingly slammed back into socket more than 50 times.
"I didn't know what had happened. I managed to fight and on and ended up losing. But I was fighting with a shoulder out of its socket," he said.
"For the next five or six years it was dislocating all the time, in fights, in training, while I was sleeping even and it just got too much. I fought this Cuban guy, Hector Lombard, he's a world-class fighter and he threw me, my shoulder came out again and that was the last straw. I decided to have surgery on it and it's 100% now.
"A couple of fights before the surgery the shoulder came out in the first minute of another fight. I knew I had the guy too, I knew he had nothing, I knew I could win and then the shoulder goes. Luckily for me the referee came in but didn't stop the fight, he paused it to call the doctor.
"Fans were booing because it had happened straight away, but the doctor couldn't put it back in. He couldn't do it. So I quickly went to my corner and they put it back in, though in the worst possible way, and I kicked on with it and won.
"It's very, very painful. All up it would have happened more than 50 times. Since the surgery it's been fine though, I've been able to actually train and fight properly. It was holding me back a lot."
But while it's the injury which has seen gained most attention, Te Huna says it's not been his worst.
"That would have to be the broken arm from my first UFC fight [February 2010, against Croatia's Igor Pokrajac].
"The guy's come over and tried to kick me in the head, I've blocked it with my arm but heard a snap. It was like a wet stick breaking in half.
"I thought it was my hand at first and knew it wouldn't be long before the pain really started to set in. It was very painful but I managed to get him on the ground and finish it.
"I had a metal plate screwed in and the arm was back on the mend when it got infected and put me in hospital for a week.
"I got the infection cut out but it happened again, back in hospital.
"The doctor found out it was a bone infection so all that new growth, the bone fusion, had to be dissolved to clear the infection and fuse back again.
"The same thing happened to a couple of kick boxer friends. They couldn't fight after having their plates fitted. I'm on nine antibiotics a day, six months later. It's just my body rejecting the plate."
Moving to Australia, where MMA used to be widely illegal, was essential Te Huna says, with the sport gaining real traction across the Tasman.
And while the sport continues to polarise opinion – with critics slamming it as barbaric – whether you love it, or hate it, the UFC is thriving.
"I came across some early tapes in 2003. I was watching them with my brother Tama and we loved it. At the time boxers were going up against wrestlers and I'd never seen anything like it.
"It looked like a full-on challenge so I started training and had a fight a couple of months later.
"Back then in Australia no one really knew about MMA. At the time it was illegal in most states.
"We used to have to fly up to Queensland. It's right around Australia now.
"I think the cage and everything made it quite intimidating and not a lot of people liked it.
"But once people got to understand the sport and started educating themselves they realised it was a lot safer than they thought.
"I think a lot of people against the sport are uneducated and don't understand it.
"I'm a big fan of boxing but in that you get a 10-count. In MMA you don't get that – you just get the ref calling the fight off.
"If you're in danger in any way, the referee's got to call it.
"But in boxing you get another chance to go in there and battle on, while you're brain's being rattled."
Mixed martial arts is a mash-up of fighting styles that has taken the world by storm in such events as the Ultimate Fighting Championship. It has also introduced a new combat language to sports fans, Here's a few examples:
Otherwise known as an arm triangle, the anaconda choke consists of trapping one of your opponents arms with an underhook and clasping hands on the other side of his neck, squeezing his neck and arm together to cut off air supply.
Virtually the only submission that can be applied in your opponent's guard, a can-opener entails putting both of your hands behind his neck as with the Thai plum, and pulling his head towards you. This submission is usually applied to open your opponent's closed guard, though it can lead to a submission.
A fighter who typically utilises the clinch to stifle an opponents strikes to tire them out. In the process "maulers" will strike with "dirty boxing", knees and elbows, and possibly go for upper body takedowns similar to Greco Roman wrestling. Several Greco Roman wrestlers have found success with this style. Popular clinch maulers are Anderson Silva and Randy Couture.
From side control you pull your opponents arm between your legs and cross your legs, locking it there, and with one hand you pin down your opponents other arm, allowing your free arm to punch and elbow his unprotected head.
Ground and Pound
This style is favoured by many wrestling-based fighters. The basic strategy is to get the fighter to the ground, be on top, and grind away with strikes from a dominant position. This style is popular with wrestlers due to their natural affinity for takedowns. Elbows, short punches, and sometimes knees are all used. Popular ground and pound fighters include Jake Shields and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
A popular and dangerous submission hold, which is applied on the heel and then fully accomplished by twisting the knee at the joint. Can cause numerous injuries, including the ripping of various tendons in the legs.
Lay and Pray
Similar to a ground and pound style, but instead of striking on the floor the fighter utilises position and smothering techniques to ride out a decision. Lay and pray fighters include Ricardo Arona and Sean Sherk.
Mixed Martial Arts
A hybrid sport allowing participation by all martial art and hand-to-hand combat styles. As a result, participants must be well rounded in all techniques in order to be successful.
Rear Naked Choke
A type of choke that is applied behind an opponent upon capturing his back. A rear naked choke is one of the most advantageous types of chokes as far as positioning.
A choke or joint manipulation that is meant to cause an opponent to submit or "tap out".
Sprawl and Brawl
Fighters more comfortable with striking prefer this style of fighting. Unlike standard striking styles the fighter must adapt their techniques to actively defend takedowns and avoid the ground game. Popular sprawl and brawl fighters include KJ Noons and Chuck Liddell.
An act of submission or "giving up" in which an opponent taps the mat or his opponent in lieu of blacking out or risking bodily harm.
The parent organisation of the Ultimate Fighting Championship is an American company specialising in the promotion of MMA. It was founded in January 2001 in Las Vegas, Nevada, by Frank Fertitta III and Lorenzo Fertitta. The word "Zuffa" is an Italian word, meaning "brawl" or "fight with no rules". Zuffa is headed by the Fertittas and president Dana White.