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SportsMixed Martial Arts

UFC 205: Striking coach Mark Henry busy and devoted

Trainer Mark Henry, center, shows former UFC middleweight

Trainer Mark Henry, center, shows former UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman a replay video of his workout in New Jersey on March 16, 2016. Credit: Jeffrey Basinger

As the morning begins, the previous night’s rain gives way to fog.

A dog, not his, barks loudly in the backyard which, again, is not his. A family, someone else’s, begins its day. Breakfast is made. School bags are packed. Coffee is stirred.

He is, in a sense, a stranger in another man’s home, a couple hundred miles away from his own Dix Hills home and family. But as Chris Weidman shares a cup of coffee, this is what he wants.

He is the former UFC middleweight champion, a once undefeated mixed martial arts fighter who does not enjoy in the least the new adjective that precedes his name and description.

Weidman begins this March day in the Millstone Township, New Jersey, home of Mark Henry, a well-respected striking coach who guided Frankie Edgar to the lightweight championship and several successful title defenses. He was preparing for a rematch against Luke Rockhold in June before a neck injury forced him to have surgery and pull out of the fight. Rockhold lost the title that night to Michael Bisping.

Henry and Weidman continued working together for UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday against Yoel Romero. Weidman is one of four fighters Henry will corner on the UFC’s first card in New York City.

“Intensity, passion, excitement,” Weidman said when asked about what Henry brings to his team. “Lots of studying of tape, game planning, 4 a.m. text messages with video clips of what I should be doing in the fight.”

Henry will spend almost as much time cageside as the broadcasters and officials as he also corners lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez against featherweight champion Conor McGregor, Edgar, who beat Jeremy Stephens by unanimous decision, 30-27, 30-27, 29-28, and Katlyn Chookagian, who lost to Liz Carmouche by split decision, 29-28, 28-29, 29-28.

So Weidman’s phone isn’t the only one buzzing before the sun can even start to think about rising on the East Coast.

“He’ll definitely send quotes or clips and stuff to group chats and text messages at like 3 in the morning,” Chookagian said. “I wake up like, ‘Oh my God, when do you sleep?’ And he’s got a family and a business.”

Edgar has been with Henry for so long, he’s used to those quirks now.

“I don’t respond to them anymore,” Edgar said. “I can’t keep up with the guy.”

Henry has to make time for all four of his fighters during fight week.

“We were at Renzo Gracie’s [Fight Academy Tuesday] night,” Chookagian said. “I’m at 6 o’clock, Frankie was at 8, Weidman’s later and then Eddie was at 12. He stays there the whole time. We each have our own set times. You don’t feel like you’re getting cluttered in.”

And there Henry was Wednesday night, walking briskly through the hotel lobby before darting through traffic like a running back across Seventh Avenue to make up for being a few minutes late.

He’s like that — dedicated and devoted to his fighters.

“I’ve been with a lot of great coaches my whole life and he stands out as maybe the best guy,” Edgar said. “He just cares about his guys more than the next. That’s first and foremost. Forget all the technical stuff he’s great at. He really wants to see us win. When we lose, he’s more upset than we are. He’s in there with us. To have someone who cares that much about you, you know you’re in good hands.”

That’s part of the reason why Henry fits in so well with Weidman and his longtime trainer, Ray Longo.

Longo is still very much in the picture. Heck, he told Weidman to work with Henry. Longo and Henry have known each other for years. They are fight game veterans, from MMA to boxing to kickboxing.

“That dude has his heart in the right place,” Longo said. “He’s been a great asset to the camp. He’s a guy who’s in the sport for the right reason. He loves the people he trains. He loves being a part. He loves to share in their success with them. Just a great dude. Infectious energy.”

The connection also shares a branch on the fight family tree. Edgar came up under Ricardo Almeida, Weidman under Matt Serra. Both are Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts under Renzo Gracie.

“It makes it very special,” Edgar said of that Gracie bond in full force at UFC 205. “Between myself, Katlyn, Eddie, Chris, [Rafael] “Sapo” [Natal], we’re all kinda under that Renzo umbrella. We’ve all trained next door to the Garden at Renzo’s for many years and we could not fight here. To be here on the first card, it’s fitting.”

The addition of Henry to Weidman’s team of coaches, which also includes former welterweight champion Matt Serra and jiu-jitsu black belt John Danaher, has given the Baldwin-raised fighter another set of eyes for to him improve.

“You could teach Chris Weidman anything,” Henry said. “For me working with him in the time that I have, you can teach Chris anything because he’s that athletic.”

Henry fit in quickly and easily with the Serra-Longo team and the fighters in their gym. And for Longo, it was something of a no-brainer bringing in Henry.

“I always like to do everything myself,” Longo said, “but if I really look, I’ve learned from so many different people, it’s only fair he’s afforded the same opportunity.”


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