Possibly one of the biggest highlights of our Phuket and Dubai trip was the opportunity to train and experience fight culture in other parts of the world. Besides my love affair with combat sport and the need to move my body during the holiday, as gym owners, it’s always good to get a feel for how things run internationally.

Phuket is well known for attracting a slew of fight tourists who lap up the opportunity to train with bodies from around the world and world class trainers. Dubai is possibly less known for its world class trainers, but nothing in Dubai is done small and the gym facilities were out of this world!

Our first stop was Phuket Top Team where Mike got stuck into some boxing and Muay Thai while I sampled Thailand’s BJJ scene.

My first class was the NoGi class with Erik Uresk, a USA National Level Greco Roman Wrestler who trained under Soviet Olympic Coach Yuri Valensky. Erik is has a Black Belt in Judo and a BJJ Black Belt under Neil Melanson *Randy Couture’s grappling coach.

We worked taking the back from side control and I enjoyed being forced to move in a different way to what we are taught at home. I partnered up with Simone Julie from Switzerland, a badass, pierced and tattooed, vegan beauty who kicked my ass properly in our roll after the technique.

Me next class was the Gi class with fourth-degree black belt under Carlson Gracie, Olavo Abreu. While I found the warm-up drills mostly the same at all the gyms who visited, I enjoyed the energy of Olavu’s class as a whole. His warm-up included a ball makeshift rugby ball that was chucked around the mat by the class at random. If you missed catching the ball, even one bounce, you had to drop and do 20 push ups. It kept the class alert during what can often feel like the most mundane part of the session.

We worked side-control to north-south, ending in a kimura or armbar, again it was nothing I had not drilled before, but the way it was taught and then few extra details from a different coach was very cool. I partnered with a high-level blue belt from Chicago whose name I can only remember from her Instagram handle, @Mstek. She trains at Carlson Gracie World Headquarters in Chicago and recently placed second in the IBJJF London Fall International Open.

It was my first time on a foreign mat with my very fresh blue belt and I was intimidated as all hell! She tapped me a few times but complimented my speed and movement (She is a good 10 kgs heavier)

Another part of  Olavu’s class that I really enjoyed was that he did positional rolling after the open roll. Higher belts (Black and Brown and Purple) had to stay on the mat, while the lower belts rotated and had to attempt to standing guard passes on the higher belts. He also ended his class with a solid, fast sprint around the mat which I thought was a simple, but effective way in getting the heart pumping as a team again after individual rolling.   

Every part of our short time at Phuket Top Team felt like home. Each trainer and student made us feel welcome and like we belonged while we were there. I would say it was very much like the family dynamic we have worked hard to create at home, except with new students coming through the doors each and every day.

In Dubai we stopped by the UFC Gym in JBR as it was closest to where we stayed. It us very much a commercial gym with the focus being more on fitness than serious MMA or BJJ training.  The facilities were out of this world however and Mike and I were both imagining the fight community we could build with these kind of facilities.  Think Virgin Active with an pro event size cage, 30 full length boxing bags and a 80 m plush grappling space with mats I could sleep on.

The managers and most of the trainers seemed clueless on MMA and the gym is used mostly for kids and posing with a rather cold energy about it. Having said that, we were very fortunate to meet and do a NoGi class with Fabiano Silva, another Carlson Gracie Black Belt. As it happens we had booked tickets to watch Phoenix 5 , a pro MMA event which was taking place a few days later and Fabiano was on the card. Turns out he had picked up a serious knee injury and had to pull out of the fight, but even injured, we picked up some awesome half guard to the back tweaks from him in what turned out to be a semi-private class due to the holidays.

Our next stop post the fight event was Team Nogueira, about 20 minutes outside of the area we were in, in a large warehouse in an industrial area. In their defense, we came the day after Phoenix5 and just before Christmas, but found the trainers lacking interest in their classes with a low energy (I say energy a lot) We decided to come back in the evening and after Christmas in the hopes of a better second impression.

Mike had booked a private with legendary Davi Ramos for the next week and I coincided it with their ladies-only gi class. While the class was a very basic beginner class, I was lucky enough to meet and train with two very awesome high level, competitive purple belts.

Paula Ralph, a Welsh South African and Yara Qaqish from Jordon. Paula is a personal trainer and BJJ coach who works full time at Team Nogueira. She is my age and size which allowed me to really test my skills when the strength and weight playing field was even. Yara, a marketing manager who made the move to Dubai with her husband a year ago amazed me with her sneaky guard passes.  Both ladies gave me a hard roll and were so friendly. Because of them, the gym felt like home within an hour.

*On a side note, at Phoenix 5 we were not only treated to a world-class MMA fight production but got to meet UFC fighters Davie Ramos (Who mike did some training with) and Valentino Shevchenko (featured with me in the featured image of this post)

I thoroughly enjoyed the expereince of meeting and training with new people and coaches in both countries and am planning to include more of this is my life in 2018.