Behind every amazingly talented and successful person is usually a team of support. Ronda Rousey is no exception, and one of the many people behind the UFC Bantamweight Women's champion is Leo Frincu.
The 36-year-old is a wrestler-turned-trainer and life coach from Romania. Much of his early life was marked by the struggles of living under a communist government.
He overcame that and poverty to achieve success as a wrestler. He won six Romanian Wrestling Championships and several international gold medals. Frincu also went on to win the World Championship in 1994 at the age of 18.
Now he is a renowned trainer, with Rousey being the most commercially successful of his athletes.
I had an opportunity to talk to him about his clients, his philosophy on the right mental approach and his book.
Brian Mazique: Many know you best for your work with Ronda Rousey, but you work with a lot of athletes, correct?
Leo Frincu: I work with predominantly MMA and Jiu-Jitsu guys. However, I don't stop there. I work with swimmers, tennis players and other sports. But my favorites are combat sports. As a former wrestler, they just come more naturally for me.
BM: When you do work with other athletes, are you working with them on defense or combat techniques?
LF: Well, as we all know, our physical aspect and our body is controlled by our brain. The mental aspect is one of my primary focuses with my athletes. I help them understand themselves better. I help them attain their highest potential.
BM: Basically, you're helping them get the most out of what they have.
LF: Exactly. The more you drive a car, the better you know what the car is capable of. I help them uncover their true potential.
BM: You have quite the impressive history of wrestling yourself, and an interesting backstory. I understand you've written a book that talks about your accomplishments as well as some of your early struggles.
What's the title of the book and what is it about?
LF: It's called Choosing Freedom: A Journey of Determination, Setting Goals and Achieving Success (read more about the book here). If I can put this book into a paragraph, I'd say it is a book that turns into a life-changing experience.
It's not a normal read. It's a multi-dimensional paragon of one's quest for their ultimate goal.
It is for those that enjoy a great story, for example, or those that want to rise above status quo and believe they deserve better. The book will provide people with tools for self-reflection.
BM: It sounds great. It sounds as though it doubles as a self-help utensil and a way to tell your story. It is designed to draw correlation between any one person's struggles and the ones you overcame.
LF: Yes, people grow up thinking they are free. But most of us are trapped in a spiral of wrong decisions based on others' expectations or the burdens of our past.
If we don't know who we really are, the more decisions we make distance us from our life purpose and the person we're meant to be.
Choosing Freedom will take you on my emotional journey, and hopefully it will ignite something in the reader to chase their personal emotional freedom.
BM: You're still a very young man who has accomplished a lot in athletics, as a writer, coach, etc. Of all the things you've done, what are you most proud of?
LF: I'm most proud of finding a purpose. Everyone struggles to find a life purpose; I'm very proud I've found a direction and a life meaning. It's bigger than myself. My goal is to reach out to others and help them find their purpose.
BM: Are there other current athletes you're working with currently, aside from Ronda Rousey?
LF: Yes, I'm currently working with Romulo Barral, a Jiu-Jitsu world champion several times. There's also someone who I believe is going to be one of the up-and-coming stars in MMA: Ronda's best friend Marina [Shafir].
She's at the start of her career and doing very well.
The philosophy that I'm preaching is called high-performance mentality. Everything I'm telling you is about finding your goal that will pull you higher; something that you generate that will become your mantra or your religion.
I train these people. For example, Ronda, I took her to the top of her game to become the best in her field. And then I get Barral, who hasn't lost a fight since last June when I started with him.
This thing is so powerful. It brings the best out of you.
BM: When a fighter comes to you, how does the relationship happen? Is it by reference?
LF: It's mostly by reference.
Someone will say, "Hey Leo, can you take a look at this person?" For example, someone said, "Can you take a look at Ronda?" I trained her a couple times and could easily see she has what it takes. Not a lot of people have what it takes to do this.
BM: I know you mentioned Marina, and you've been training her for a while. Do you see her moving into the UFC anytime in the near future?
LF: Yes, yesterday I had like an "ah-ha" moment.
She has a really clear view of her life and her goals and how she's going to reach them. She has a good chance to become the greatest. She has the resources to reach her highest potential and she's smart enough to realize she can grow.
BM: I hear you're high on her. You said she has potential to be the greatest. Do you think she has more potential than Ronda?
LF: Well, when Ronda came, she had a clue. She had been to the Olympics. She had a clue of what it takes. Marina has a hunger for knowledge and that is rare.
She's like a sponge. Ronda didn't really have that, but Marina is just solid and thirsty, and that's a great quality in an athlete.
BM: [Laughing] How does she defend the armbar?
LF: Well, it's funny. Ronda's got the armbar, but they are in a different weight class, so that's not really an issue. But she has the strength. She's so strong, and that will be her skill that no one else has.
BM: It's funny, someone asked me after the Rousey-Carmouche bout, "What's it going to take for someone to beat Ronda?"
I understand anyone is beatable, but at Ronda's weight class, I just don't know if there is another woman that strikes well enough to get past her grappling.
At 135 pounds, I don't think there is a good enough striker to stop her. Do you agree?
LF: With me, I'm an athlete like Ronda. She learned the armbar since she was six years old. That has become her skill and part of her identity.
With Ronda against Miesha Tate, she (Tate) looked like a school girl. Although, she was really bragging about her takedown skills, but what happened when she was under so much pressure? She withdrew to a place that was empty.
For Ronda in this place she goes to her judo. A striker may be talented in striking or whatever, but that doesn't withstand the pressure from fans and whatever. The sport is so new and it's like a marathon, and Ronda is already at the 20th mile and the other competitors have just started running.
It's too much of a deficit.
BM: In a lot of ways she's writing the script for what it takes to be a dominant female MMA fighter. You're correct it is the training, but there is also a mental edge. It shined through in some of the tough moments against Liz Carmouche.
LF: Yes, when you go into the cage, it's one thing to be afraid of losing, but when you're afraid of getting hurt, that's the biggest fear.
That fear is so much deeper and it will alter the performance. So when you go there, you're not going there to win, you're going there to prevent yourself from getting hurt. And guess what? The corner is reinforcing that fear.
They're telling her, "Be scared, stay away from the armbar, stay standing." The corner is telling her to run away. In an athlete's head, that messes everything up.
BM: Yes, Ronda's armbar has garnered so much mystique. It seems people are battling not just Ronda, but they are also battling the legend of the armbar.
LF: I mean when you're afraid to extend your arm because you're afraid it's going to get broken, how are you going to perform or throw a punch? You're not going to perform to the best of your abilities.
When someone has nothing in their history, the opponent can go out there without all the layers.
BM: Now, I'm looking at the book you've written and the athletic accomplishments. What else do you want the readers to know?
LF: One thing. The message I want to send out is that most people are not aware of their comfort zone. I think that's a big mistake that people make when they try to improve themselves.
Once you experience it, to acknowledge it and believe in it, you can then use it as a platform to reach your highest potential.