Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Matt Lee was born to become a mixed martial arts fighter.

By Michael Fensom

Growing up in South Korea, Lee trained at his uncle’s boxing gym and began practicing martial arts at a young age.

When he moved to America at age 18, Lee continued his martial arts training. In 1996, Lee began training for mixed martial arts, a discipline that allowed him to combine his boxing skills with kick-boxing, wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

“Mixed martial arts fits my personality,” Lee said. “I’m not a violent person by nature, but I love this sport because it’s the most physically demanding on the body. You must be strong and fast, technically sound in many areas, muscular and explosive, and able to survive under the pressure — that is all very attractive to me. I love challenging myself as much as possible.”

Lee explained that the constantly evolving nature of the sport precludes arrogant athletes.

“If you are arrogant, you will get left behind. The sport is always evolving, so you need to be open-minded — there is always someone better than you to learn from.”

Since he began practicing the sport, the 35-year-old Clinton resident has become the USKBA professional MMA United States middleweight champion and won the WFL welterweight title.

On Friday night, Lee will fight Dale Hartt in the main event of Untamed 11 at the Boxboro Holiday Inn.

Lee enters the fight with an 11-3-1 professional record. Although neither of his titles will be on the line Friday, Lee’s nine-fight unbeaten streak — a run that began four years ago — will be, along with his dream of becoming a national lightweight champion.

“It motivates me being the champ and knowing guys are coming for me,” Lee said. “I’m very close to being in a big pay-per-view show. With a loss, everything goes down the toilet.”

Hartt has a lot riding on this fight also. A rising star in the New England MMA scene, Hartt confronted Lee in his locker room requesting a fight immediately after Lee defeated one of Hartt’s teammates last month.

“He was very respectful, but he really wants to fight,” Lee said of Hartt.

Though eight years older than his opponent, Lee does not believe his age will be a problem.

“I train very hard, and I don’t think he will be able to match my pace,” Lee explained. “No one around here is training as hard as I do and not many people can do what I do in the gym.”

Lee spends an average of 30 hours training per week. His weekly regimen includes training twice daily for 2-1/2 hours, six days a week.

His morning routine includes weight lifting, cardio and running, while he spars, wrestles or hones his boxing skills at night with local boxing coach “Rocky” Gonzalez. When training for a fight, Lee adapts his routine to prepare for the style and strengths of his opponent.

“I can sprint for a minute and a half with my heart rate at 180, rest for one minute, and then sprint again,” Lee said, noting he repeats this process 10 times. “So, I can give my full effort for a whole fight without a problem.”

Lee’s conditioning is enhanced by his self-proclaimed “clean lifestyle.” He does not smoke or drink alcohol and monitors his diet closely to keep his weight near 170 pounds at all times.

His fitness can also be attributed to the relatively new nature of his sport.

By the time MMA fights became more organized and popular, Lee was in his late 20s and had therefore had not amassed the physical punishment or major injuries that plague boxers and other fighters at that age.

“When you start boxing, you are roughly 14, so you are pretty banged up by your mid-20s and over the hill by your early 30s,” Lee said. “But I started competing in my late 20s, and I’ve never been hurt in the ring, so my ‘ring age’ is different from my real age because my body has never been abused. I’m in the best shape of my life.”

In addition to his accomplishments in the ring, Lee is the owner and head trainer at the Massachusetts Submission Academy in Clinton, where he trains about 80 people, 10 of whom are serious fighters who compete on a regular basis.

“You learn a lot when you teach,” Lee said. “When you start talking out loud, you re-evaluate what you think, and it makes you more refined. It’s very rewarding too.”

Lee uses his opponent as motivation for his training, but also admires athletes from many different sports — not only their skill, but also for their heart and ability to overcome obstacles. He considers boxer Micky Ward, wrestler Dan Gable and cyclist Lance Armstrong his role models. Lee often watches Ward’s first fight against Arturo Gatti before his own fights as motivation.

“I use my opponent as a motivational tool, but I never go into a fight trying to hurt him,” Lee explained. “I’m trying to fight the best I can and be better than before. This is what I do; it’s my passion. Everything is for MMA and to win fights.”


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