Leister Bowling III is the wrestling coach for Grudge MMA and Easton BJJ. Last fall, he was an assistant coach on the Ultimate Fighter 15: Carwin vs. Nelson. Recently, he and I sat down to talk about his experience on TUF, training some of the best in MMA and Nate Marquardt's Strikeforce fight this weekend against Tarec Saffiedine.
What were your first thoughts when Shane Carwin asked you to join him as a coach on TUF?
I was honored when Shane asked. I was surprised because Donald Cerrone had asked me, as well, due to the rumors that he was coaching that season, so I was completely caught off guard when Shane called.
Did you have any reservations to going?
Anytime you have to leave your family for an extended period of time there are reservations. Also, I have a family business that I manage, so I had to make sure it would work. I was able to go as one of the full-time coaches, but i flew home every Thursday night to work Friday and Saturday and then fly back to Vegas.
How did you get hooked up with Grudge and Carwin?
I fought a little right out of college and I was coaching at University of Northern Colorado. We had a tough heavy weight at the time. I happened to be at a local fight where they announced Shane Carwin out of Greeley, Colo. He was probably 4-0 or so at the time. I reached out to see if he would be interested in coming in to wrestle with our guy at UNC. He said he would if I would help Nate Marquardt with his wrestling. I said yes.
Nate and I immediately clicked and worked well together. Nate began bringing guys from Grudge with him to Greeley for wrestling (one hour drive each way). After about a year and a half of them making the trip, I decided to quit at UNC and focus more on training MMA fighters.
What do you think helps to set Grudge apart from other gyms?
Grudge is a great gym to be a part of. We have teamed up with Easton's BJJ and Loren Landow at Steadman Hawkins does our strength and conditioning. Loren is one of our biggest assets that people don't hear about. He is the most knowledgeable strength and conditioning coach I have ever been around because he truly understands the body and the nagging injuries that go along with being a professional athlete. He has the knowledge and facility to treat their injuries and helps us structure training camps that make our fighters peak at the right time.
How has Nate Marquardt's training gone for his upcoming fight against Tarec Saffiendine?
Nate is an absolute nightmare for anyone in the world at 170 pounds. He is a new man. At 185, Nate was constantly the No. 1 or No. 2 contender. At 170 pounds, he is the world champ for a reason and I think the world is about to experience the "Nate Marquardt era!"
What do you think Nate needs to do this weekend to get the win?
Nate just has to be Nate. He is better in every aspect. When Nate fights to inflict damage, he will make a bad night for anyone standing across the cage from him. We are not overlooking Tarec in any way, but I feel like Nate will win this fight in dominating fashion.
Trevor Wittman comes across as a very positive coach who will get after fighters when needed. How do your personalities bounce off one another?
You nailed it. Trevor is one of the most positive people I've ever been around. He has the ability to always keep things light. I think our personalities mix very well for the fighters, as I am a lot more intense and don't smile nearly as much! Honestly, though, I think our team of coaches is a perfect balance. Trevor, Loren, Eliot, Amal and myself all work very well together. It is an honor to coach with all of them!
We always see the fighter’s house, but people forget that you guys are staying in Vegas, too. What were your digs like?
They had us staying in fully furnished condos a few miles up the strip from Mandalay Bay. They were very nice with a pool, tennis court, gym, etc.
Any stories you can share from the coaches’ house?
The most action we had at the coaches’ house was a friendly game of tennis. There were six of us (Shane, Marquardt and I vs. Trevor, Loren and Eliot Marshall), but there were only three tennis rackets available. We went down with a basket of about 50 tennis balls and three rackets, and without saying anything, the teams were split and a game of dodgeball ensued for 2.5 hours. All of our arms were sore for three to four days! It was madness. A crowd of people watched from balconies, there were groin shots, face shots, an all-out war!
Take me through the average day on TUF:
The average day was a structured practice from 12 to 2 p.m. As a coaching staff, we made it a priority to get to practice 30 minutes early and make sure we were ready for practice to start on time. The 12 p.m. practice was structured (wrestling, BJJ, striking, sparring). The 4 p.m. practice was more one-on-one training/open room for guys that needed it.
What is something you like that doesn't come across on TV the way it should?
I wish more of the training would have been shown on both sides. Roy has caught a lot of criticism for his "lack of coaching," but he had some great assistant coaches and guest coaches. That is something I would have liked to see compared to what we offered as a team.
What surprised you the most (good or bad) on the last TUF?
The thing that shocked me the most coaching TUF was how quickly a bond forms between coach and athlete. Loren Landow and I had talked about how we had a very short time frame to "sell" ourselves as coaches to these guys and make them believe in us and I think we accomplished that. Our guys believed in us and never questioned anything we did. We still have good relationships with them and a few have even been out to Grudge to train.
Who do you think has the best possibility for a long-term career in the UFC from the last TUF?
Based off the show alone, i would say Neil Magny and Mike Ricci. Colton Smith won the show and I think he has a bright future, as well. Neil is so young in this sport and he has been training with us full time at Grudge since the show ended. He is leaps and bounds better than he was on the show. He just keeps getting better and has a huge future ahead of him. Ricci is cutting to 155 and is a very talented guy with a great team behind him. The sky is the limit for those guys.
What advice would you give fighters for upcoming season's of TUF?
Well, since this season has already been filmed, my advice would be not to talk about it!
Guys going into TUF need to go in with an open mind and take advantage of a situation where they get to be full-time fighters. Yes, it’s hard to be away from family and friends for six weeks, but you are living in a mansion in Vegas, training in a world-class facility with world-class coaches and training partners, you get any kind of food you want daily and you get to live like a professional fighter should. Focus on that. Oh, and let's be honest; People are sick of watching grown men throw temper tantrums, so find something else to make yourself stand out!
What advice would you give coaches?
Go in with an open mind. Coaches can never stop learning either. I was learning daily from the coaches we had there and it was a great opportunity for me to be open minded and become a student again! Enjoy the experience and don't lose too much money gambling! Six weeks is a long Vegas vacation!
This was your first chance to really work closely with Dana White, was he what you expected him to be?
We didn't have too much interaction with Dana, but he was exactly how I expected him to be; real. He speaks his mind and doesn't hold back any words. I am very similar in that way, so I respect the fact that he speaks what he feels and doesn't care if you like it or not.