Billy Rush: MMA's Mad Scientist
A mad scientist.
For many, those words conjure up images of a bumbling brainiac with thick, horn-rimmed glasses toiling over some crazy technology designed to promote some diabolical scheme.
Billy Rush, however, certainly isn?t some bumbling mad man with crazy eyewear. He is actually a former professional fighter with a 2-1 record turned strength and conditioning guru. And if the man is trying to promote some diabolical scheme, it is nothing more than having his fighters dominate the world of mixed martial arts, oftentimes at weights lighter than most deemed practical due to his approach to diet and weight cutting.
In fact, it is the latter sentiment, the one dealing with diet and weight cutting, that thrust Rush squarely into the sport?s spotlight, ostensibly prompting UFC commentator and host of NBC?s Fear Factor Joe Rogan to dub him ?The Mad Scientist.?
What is unique, however, about Rush?s situation is that he stepped into the spotlight playing a role that is often anonymous and thankless. Sure, trainers certainly get credit when a fighter wins. But name five strength and conditioning coaches in the industry. Exactly, it is almost impossible, unless you?re a fighter. Even then, it is extremely difficult.
Let?s face it, Rush was a household name among hardcore fans long before the Joe Riggs weight controversy at UFC 56. Otherwise, the story wouldn?t have caused such uproar in the industry.
Just how did he find his way to the spotlight? And what exactly is his approach to diet and weight cutting that has sent such a buzz through the industry?
It is a story that started back in 2000 when the former personal began dabbling in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
?I started training in jiu-jitsu back in 2000,? Rush told InsideFighting about his introduction to the sport. ?In 2001, I met Rich Franklin and Jorge Gurgel. The three of us sort of formed a team. We all had our separate roles. I handled the strength and conditioning aspect, as well as teaching them how to lose weight. Jorge did the jiu-jitsu, and Rich did the standup. We got as aggressive with our roles as we could.?
For Rush, that meant focusing hard on everyone?s physique. The former personal trainer was a firm believer in not only becoming a great fighter but also looking like one.
?I?ve always been emphatic about not carrying any subcutaneous water,? he explained. ?A guy can be lean, but if he?s so super hydrated on the subcutaneous level that he looks smooth and not very good at all. There?s no functional reason to get rid of subcutaneous water. It?s all about vanity. Think about it: If you?re Zuffa and you want to hire a fighter, would you rather hire a guy with Rich Franklin?s physique or Matt Lindland?s physique? It?s about vanity and perception. Some people may argue with me, but these guys are employed by the UFC and Pride. Part of their job is to look good. When I first got into the sport, I loved Frank Shamrock. Not because he was the best fighter, but because he had a great physique.?
Point taken. But just how does an athlete rid themselves of the unwanted water beneath the skin to maximize their appearance?
?We like lots of potassium, which hydrates the muscles,? he answered. ?And we don?t want any sodium at all, which gets rid of the subcutaneous water.?
It was an approach to the sport that current UFC Heavyweight Champion Rich Franklin bought into long before he first entered the Octagon. It is an approach that seems to be paying huge dividends for the elite fighter. For example, Franklin is featured in the current edition of Men?s Fitness, and his shredded physique certainly played a big role in him landing that gig.
According to Rush, however, Franklin wasn?t always quite so ripped up.
?When we first hooked up, he weighed 204 pounds with 12- or 13-percent body fat,? Rush remembered. ?He looked good at the weight, but he wanted to get even bigger, more muscular. He said he couldn?t gain weight no matter what he did. I thought he should fight 185 pounds, but he wanted to walk around at 215 and fight at 205. So it took us about two months to get him up to about 218 pounds so that he could cut to 205. Then, he got more aggressive with the diet and got very lean. Now, he walks around at about five-percent body fat and weighs between 205-210 and cuts down to 185. He looks fantastic.?
So what is Rush?s secret to achieving that magazine-cover look?
?I get emails from people asking me all the time to send them a diet,? he admitted. ?It doesn?t work that way. There isn?t one particular diet that everyone can use. Your body needs a certain amount of calories per meal. Within that meal, you?ll need certain percentages of protein, carbohydrates, starches, fat, fibers and even some fruit. There are different percentages for everybody. Then, as your body changes, your caloric intake has to change. It?s a scientific thing. It?s not something that you can get out of a book. You can?t buy the Atkins book and all of a sudden look like a bodybuilder.?
Keep in mind that eating properly isn?t just about looking good. It is also about maximizing a fighter?s performance, both in the gym and in live competition, something former UFC Heavyweight Champion Tim Sylvia learned from Rush, though he was reluctant, at first.
?With Tim, it took months and months of him asking for a diet,? Rush said. ?I?d say, ?No, if you want me to train you, you have to come spend some time with me.? That?s basically what happened in June when we met out in Salt Lake City, Utah. We stayed in a tiny 300-400 square foot apartment. I controlled single thing that he put into his mouth, and he saw the power of food. I prepared every single one of his meals. Plus, he got to cheat one day a week. So you really don?t deprive yourself. You just have to hold off until your cheat day. Tim saw the power of food and how it impacted his performance.?
Yes, everyone read that correctly. Rush either has his fighters come out and live with him (if they aren?t based locally) or he heads out and stays with them.
?What you eat fuels your body,? he added. ?If you have a racecar, are you going to run it on 87-octane gas or are you going to use 110-octane airplane fuel? If you put crap in your car, it will run terribly. If you eat poorly, you?ll perform poorly. I?m a huge opponent of steroid use. My guys don?t even take supplements, aside from a multivitamin, an electrolyte vitamin and potassium. We don?t use supplements like creatine or anything else. It?s all food.?
When that isn?t possible for short periods during training camp, he provides a detailed regimen to follow and maintains constant contact to ensure things are going well. Rush is that fanatical about his approach to diet.
?For instance, Joe Riggs had this week off because I had to go to the UFC, so he flew home,? he continued. ?But he has an exact schedule to follow. He weighs in at certain times of the day and calls. He tells me exactly what food he?s had for the day, what meal number he?s on, how much cardio he did and how much he weighs.
?In fact, I talked to Joe just before you called me. He said he was eating a salad and wanted to know if he could add some crumbled bleu cheese on the top of it. Of course, I said no. I think he now understands the importance of food and that will be one big difference for him going forward.?
Of course, not every fighter requires such a micromanaged approach to dieting. Franklin, for example, keeps a detailed journal during each training camp, so he knows what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat it.
?With Rich, it?s easy,? Rush said. ?He does everything on his own now because I?ve worked with him for so long. Rich is the most precise person you will ever meet. If I say that he needs to weigh exactly X amount of protein out for a meal, he?ll sit there and shave away at the food until it?s exact. He?s always been that way, so it?s super easy with him. I don?t have to make his meals.?
Tremendous diet and amazing physiques are both great, but that isn?t where Rush truly started to make a name for himself. He did that in the area of cutting weight.
It?s no great secret that cutting weight is an important part of the sport. Take a look at the three non-heavyweight UFC champions ? Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes and Franklin. Each of them competes 20 pounds below their walking around weight. The fact remains that cutting weight is a necessary evil of competing at the highest level.
Whereas many wrestlers wait until the last 24 hours before the weigh-ins to squeeze out anywhere from 10-15 pounds of water, severely dehydrating their muscles for only a few, brief hours; Rush cautions against that practice.
?We never cut that much weight the day before the weigh-ins, absolutely not. Cutting a ton of weight in 24 hours affects you more psychologically more than anything,? he argued. ?You feel terrible ? like you?re going to die. When you cut too much too quickly, your body doesn?t rehydrate properly and doesn?t get all the proper nutrients. That?s one of the worst thing that people can do is cut too much weight the last day or so.?
The Cincinnati-based guru, therefore, takes a very different approach to the often whispered-about practice.
?We have a system that we use where our guys are usually within 10 pounds a week from the fight. We try to get rid of all the subcutaneous fluids and get rid of as much fat as we can during training. Then, during the week of the fight, all we?re doing is dehydrating the muscles. It?s all mathematics from there.?
What sort of mathematics?
?It?s all planned out on paper what we?re going to weigh on each day leading up to the fight. Each day, we?ll sweat off about six pounds of water,? he continued. ?We?re very careful to only put four pounds back in. That way there is a two-pound deficit daily. That way, weigh is never an issue the day of the weigh-ins. We start dehydrating a little earlier, so they?re a little uncomfortable for four or five days instead of just 24 hours leading to the weigh-ins. But it?s a lot easier to cut weigh our way.?
And then after the official weigh-ins, what then?
?We eat every two hours, small meals with lots of starches,? Rush revealed. ?We do that throughout the night, too. We drink absolutely as much water as we can and take in lots of potassium and lots of electrolyte vitamins with every meal leading up to the fight. Then, 8-10 hours before the fight, whatever they weigh is what they weight. The body naturally hydrates really well that way.
?We don?t really have a target weight after rehydrating. For example, for Joe?s last fight, he weighed 196 pounds four or five hours before the fight. After the fight, he went to the hospital because he was having some back pain, and he weighed 201 pounds. So the guys swell back up pretty well after the weigh-ins.?
It?s an approach that seems to work very well for Franklin and others who follow the advice of the red-hot trainer. Nevertheless, many would be surprised to hear where Rush learned his craft.
?It?s nothing that I?ve learned out of a book,? he said. ?I?ve learned it from trial and error with myself. When I started fighting in 2001, I walked around at 185 pounds and I fought at 155 pounds. So, everything that I did to cut weight, I just apply to everyone else. I had a ton of amateur fights, so I was doing it on a regular basis, which is how I learned the ?dos and don?ts? of cutting weight.?
A self-taught man finding success in an exploding industry, no wonder Rogan refers to him as ?The Mad Scientist.?
First two photos courtesy of BillyRush.net.