Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Interview with Wilf 'Lazy Boy' Betz - professional MMA fighter

Wilf Betz is a professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter and coach (and struggling comedian!) based in Vancouver, BC. His strength coach and nutritionist is our own CliffDog (Cliff Harvey) and Wilf is also Cliff's fight coach.
This interview was conducted by Emily Beers of Human Motion's e-zine 'The Performance Advocate'.

Emily Beers: How did you get involved in Martial Arts? When?

Wilf Betz: I was never into traditional martial arts when I was younger, I liked boxing and wrestling. When I first saw the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship, the first MMA event in North America) in ‘94-‘95 I became a huge fan. I started training in 2001 at a great gym in Saskatoon called Scheers Martial Arts. Turned out I was sort of good at it, but more then that I had so much fun doing it. I now train out of a wicked good gym here in Vancouver called Universal MMA.

EB: What exactly is MMA?

Wilf: Basically the rules are set up to allow a martial artist to do what they want in order to win a fight, without fighting dirty. This means you can grapple (wrestle, judo, jiu-jitsu) and strike (Muai Thai kick boxing, Boxing, Karate, taekwondo, rexkwondo...) in any combination that you like. Illegal moves include biting, groin attacks (thank god, it wasn't always illegal), pulling back fingers, striking the spine, attacking the windpipe...really anything truly dangerous or dirty. Beyond the techniques there is an incredible amount of athleticism involved, you have to be strong, fast, flexible and incredibly well conditioned. The focus and mental side of it is incredibly important as well.

EB: How has Cliff helped you so far? What do you expect to get out of your training with him?

Wilf: Cliff does all my strength training. I am not a natural athlete, so I need alot of help in this area. I did almost no lifting or strength work before I met him. It had always been a part of my game that I neglected, but in the time that we have been working together I feel dramatic improvements in this area. My training partners are noticing a big difference in my strength and explosiveness as well. I feel if I continue to improve at this rate my athleticism will become one of my biggest weapons, instead of my biggest weakness.

EB: How old are you?

Wilf: I’m a very immature 27.

EB: Cliff tells me that you're not the typical macho fighting type, but that you're actually very humble and polite. Do you feel like people often label you as being a fighter because of your sport? Do you ever feel misinterpreted?

Wilf: Ha, well next to Cliff everyone appears to be humble (Cliff, I only joke). For realness though, I don’t stress on people labelling me a macho type. First of all I certainly don’t look the part. To be perfectly honest I’m more the norm within the sport then the stereotypical macho jerk. Of course there are a few machismos but it takes a tremendous amount of discipline and self understanding to compete and be successful in MMA. You have to check your ego at the door because there is always someone just around the corner that has the ability to check it for you. The sport can be very trying to one’s ego, so if it’s inflated you probably wont last long. MMA is the new gentleman's sport.

EB: What are your goals with your sport?

Wilf: My original goals were just to compete, you know, just get in there and do my best. Then I wanted to fight professionally. Then I wanted to somehow make a living out of it. But in the back of my head these were always just steps to reaching my dream, which ultimately is to compete in Japan. For a long time Japan was the Mecca of MMA. I plan on fighting there, even if it means paying for the flight myself.

EB:Other than martial arts, what are you into? What are your long term life goals?

Wilf: I like spending time with my girlfriend Xuan. The other thing I’m good at is relaxing, I have this sweet technique where I fall asleep on the couch/beach and don’t get up till I feel like it. I’m really pushing for my nick name to be “Lazy Boy”.
As for long term? I haven’t really figured out past feeding my French bulldog ‘Affable’ in an hour then going to the gym tonight.

EB: You coach as well, right? Who do you coach? What's your favourite aspect of coaching?

Wilf: I teach Muay Thai classes at Universal MMA. I do a 7:30 morning class at the Vancouver location on Granville and a 6:30 pm class in Richmond. I will also be doing a 7:30 MMA class starting in May. The majority of students are just looking for a fun way of getting a good workout in, there are a few students who are more into the competition side of things.
There are so many things I love about coaching its hard to put my finger down on one. Of course seeing people grow and improve is a very rewarding experience, but I think one of the best things about it for me is building relationships with like-minded people. A lot of the most important people in my life I meet through teaching/training. I feel truly blessed to be doing what I’m doing for a living.

[Cliff's note: "Wilf is a GREAT coach - I have had the privilige of being coached by several fantastic coaches who have become some of my greatest mentors in many sports - rugby, boxing, weightlifting, and Wilf's maturity, insight and knowledge put him in that category too..."

EB: I have to be honest and admit that I don't know much about any kind of martial arts. What is a competition like for you?

Wilf: Competing is a wild experience, especially the first time you do it. So picture this, you find out your fighting in two months. Suddenly your every waking thought and action revolves around this moment. You are conscious that everything you eat, every activity you do, even the things you think can affect the outcome of this fight. And it is a fight, there is someone on the other end of things training to beat your face in. So a few days before the fight you fly out to some strange city and the promoter puts you up in a crumby hotel that overlooks murder alley and has blood stains on the sheets. The day before the fight you have to cut 10 or so pounds in a sauna which is physically and mentally draining. Then you have weigh-ins where you have a stare-down with your opponent and have pictures taken of your depleted body. Come fight day you have all this built up anxiety and tension, you have poured your whole life for the past two months into this moment and your friends and family don’t want to see you lose or get hurt. All of this is sitting on your shoulders as you walk into a cage, lights blazing on you, with a few thousand spectators watching, judging. Basically you are in your underwear and you have no protection on but a mouth piece and a cup. So its just you standing inside a chain link cage and some dude who wants to beat your ass standing on the other end…. and the bell goes. This part is actually really easy, you forget about everything I just mentioned and you just compete, same as training only at a higher intensity.
After the fight you feel light as a feather due to this huge weight being lifted off your shoulders. This is a very euphoric moment. That night you either end up on your hotel bed with a bag of ice on a limb, and a pizza and bucket of ice-cream on your lap. Or if things didn’t go so well, you’re in the ER getting stitched up.
The more experience and more times you fight, the easier the process. I have very little tension or anxiety when I compete nowadays but it is absolutely unavoidable the first time you compete.

EB: What would you say is your biggest accomplishment?

Wilf: Avoiding ice-cream for two whole months before a fight,….. maybe one month, at least the week before the fight.

EB: Where did you grow up?

Wilf: Thanks for the compliment, no one has ever referred to me as a grown up before.
I spent my childhood in Saskatoon, SK.

EB: Thanks so much Wilf!!

Wilf: Thanks Emily it was nice to speak my mind. Thanks to Cliff as well, I don’t know how I went so many years without that crazy Kiwi.