Step into Jay Glazer's Gym
The MMQB by Robert Klemko
July 23, 2015
The Fox Sports NFL insider has a second career: He’s building up players with unique MMA-style training.
Photo Credit Mikey Williams for The MMQB
WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — In Jay Glazer’s Sunset Boulevard Gym, the one tucked above the Pink Taco restaurant and framed by multi-million-dollar homes that litter the hills above, there are three flat-screen televisions displaying recorded Ultimate Fighting Championship bouts at all times. On a Thursday morning in July, 19 NFL players who pay a sizable monthly fee to train at Unbreakable gather around Rashad Evans, the former light heavyweight champ, and Glazer as he works both a remote and his mending sandpaper voice.
It has been five days since Robbie Lawler successfully defended his welterweight title against Rory MacDonald in one of the best and bloodiest fights in UFC history.“For those of you who didn’t see the fight last week…” says Glazer, pausing to find the right words and the pertinent frames. “The end of the fourth round epitomizes what the f— we do here.”The five-round championship fight started going MacDonald’s way sometime around the third round. With several well-placed elbows he opened a deep gash in the champion’s upper lip, and despite having suffered a broken nose early in the fight, MacDonald seemed on the verge of collecting a knockout and the belt. Then something strange happened late in the fourth. Lawler, 33, bald and dripping scarlet, landed a counter-hook, then another. MacDonald, the 25-year-old Canadian, backed off. His high kicks fell flat. The bell rang, and the defending champion nicknamed “Ruthless” pooled an ounce of blood in his mouth and spat it on the ground in between them. Both fighters stood their ground and locked eyes. The referee stepped between them as Lawler took a step forward and MacDonald a step back.“Right there,” Glazer says, pausing the recording, “everything f—ing changes. That’s exactly why we do it—we are trying to change you guys into that. Most people play sports because they are bigger, faster, stronger, naturally talented. A lot of guys you go against don’t really want to do it. So if you’re like that, the man across from you is going to want nothing to do with you.”
As the 32 NFL teams convene for annual training camps beginning Sunday, some players have had a training camp before training camp: Glazer’s exhaustive workouts here in the shadow of fortune and privilege in southern California. In the past month, Glazer says he has had 30 players in-house for workouts. Some, such as Eagles tackle Lane Johnson, are trying go from starter to Pro Bowler. Some, such as veteran 49ers running back Reggie Bush, are trying to prove they still have it. Some, such as burgeoning Giants star Odell Beckham Jr., are working on very specific skills. All say the workouts in the 5,000 square foot gym are unlike anything they’ve done.
It’s a marvel to see Glazer, 5-foot-7 and built like a beer keg at 45 years old, work what is essentially a four-car garage full of NFL players. During the season, beginning with training camp in late July, Glazer is an accomplished reporter, NFL scoop king and MMA TV host. But here, in West Hollywood, Glazer is a teacher, and these are his pupils. This offseason, the regulars include a mix of established stars (Eagles RB DeMarco Murray, Cardinals DE Calais Campbell), veterans looking to break through (Lions RB Joique Bell, Falcons DE Tyson Jackson, Washington S Dashon Goldson), young players hoping to build Pro Bowl futures (Eagles TE Zach Ertz, Giants OT Justin Pugh, Falcons DT Ra’Shede Hageman) and role players aiming to climb a depth chart (Giants DT Markus Kuhn, Washington S Jeron Johnson, Jaguars LB LaRoy Reynolds).
Unbreakable offers a unique training opportunity in a unique setting: the Hollywood hills. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is among Glazer’s regular clientele. At one point last February, Goldson ran a foot race against P. Diddy. (Diddy won, albeit with a significant head start.) Glazer likes to see players rub shoulders with celebrities and local business moguls, because, as he says, “success breeds success.”
There’s a sign-in sheet and a records display celebrating the accomplishments of the best students. And Glazer is not the doting, forgiving kind of teacher. He’s a bulldog who has all but forgotten how to stop barking.
In the gym, as in his first career, Glazer is constantly searching for angles. Out there he probes for information; in here he probes for weaknesses others can improve upon.
“He’s always going,” says Marcedes Lewis. “I feel like he is always on coffee. He’s always trying to help people get better. He’s always been like that as long as I’ve known him.”
On this Thursday, Bush showed three hours earlier than the 11 a.m. start time to stretch and work with speed coach Jamal Liggin. The coach held a resistance band fastened around Bush’s waist while the 30-year-old running back leapt atop three-foot tall wooden boxes spaced apart on the narrow running space. Later, Glazer asked a staffer to stand outside the front doors to make sure no oncoming traffic interfered with Bush’s back-and-forth sprints, which started inside and ended on the steep driveway. Hours later, after Glazer and Evans got the group started on stretching, Bush joined Glazer in the half cage built against a back wall.
“You ready to start working?” Glazer asked.
Bush: “Start? I’ve been here three hours.”
Glazer: “Sure, but all you did was stretch.”
Later on, Bush Joked with Evans: “Jay will have you believe you wasn’t doin’ s— until you met him, but I love him though.”
A typical day at Unbreakable consists of an unorthodox hip-focused stretching session with David Honorel (inspired, he says, by the movements of bears, crocodiles, frogs and gorillas), speed training with Liggin, weight training with an emphasis on safety, MMA work including boxing, wrestling and hand fighting with Glazer, Evans, Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner John Lewis and former UFC stars Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture. Glazer co-owns the gym with Brian Urlacher and Lindsey Berg, an Olympic volleyball player who now plays professionally overseas. Their faces are painted on a gym wall with the word “Unbreakable”, but it’s Glazer who runs the show, transforming fighting drills into football drills. Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham showed up this summer to work on beating press coverage.
“When I am out in space, fantastic,” Glazer says Beckham told him. “My issue is getting people’s hands off me.”
After hours and hours of striking a coach’s padded, outstretched arm, Beckham transformed from an ineffectual arm slapper to a violent opponent of bump and run coverage. Hand fighting is a workout staple practiced across all position groups.
“If you’re going to put your hands on someone,” Glazer repeats, “might as well make it hurt.”
Free agent running back Chris Johnson worked with Glazer and crew for the first time this summer, and vomited during each of the first two days. When he came back in May with a bullet wound in his shoulder from a drive-by shooting that claimed the life of a friend, Unbreakable physical therapist Jen Paolucci helped him recover, then set a personal best at bench press.
The rise of Glazer’s training practice from a part-time MMA operation to a full-scale business mirrors a growing emphasis on offseason training around the league. EXOS, the biggest name in the industry, reports increased enrollment year over year as players begin to connect the dots between training camp injuries and laissez-faire May workout plans.
Dan Quinn’s Falcons asked Glazer and several members of his staff to work with players on MMA technique during minicamp in Atlanta, and two defensive linemen followed him back to Hollywood—Ra’Shede Hageman and Tyson Jackson.
“This is the hardest s— I’ve ever done,” Hageman said between speed and weight training on Thursday. “I’m here to make football easier.”
Glazer has been taking on NFL players each spring and summer since 2004, when the longtime NFL reporter gave up a professional fighting side career at the request of his boss. Convinced MMA could help NFL players develop, he took on friend and then-Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen in 2007. When Allen went from 7.5 sacks in 2006 to 15.5 that fall, other players began drinking the Kool-Aid.
But it wasn’t until last March that he and his partners found a permanent space for a gym. Glazer was still reeling from a near-death experience after complications from routine back surgery. He came down with aspiration double pneumonia after vomiting while face down during surgery. At one point during the first day, his oxygen levels dropped below 70%, near fatal levels, before stabilizing later that night. Gabe Rangel, now Unbreakable’s strength coach, and Fox NFL Sunday co-host Curt Menefee helped nurse Glazer back to health, assisting on walks down the hospital corridors to build lung strength. To add insult to injury, the tube that doctors inserted to clear his lungs clipped and damaged Glazer’s vocal cords.
When he returned home after two weeks at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, friends ferried Glazer to and from potential sites for the gym until they discovered the second floor of the Pink Taco, which the owner was looking to rent.
The space is big enough for about six weight racks, a plot of carpet for running and box jumps, a wrestling space, a cage, a chryotherapy machine which users say replicates the benefit of 20 minutes in a cold tub in two minutes, a Phoenix Thera-Lase system (developers say the laser therapy accelerates healing and reduces inflammation related to soft tissue injuries) and 30 or so trainees at a time. The tight quarters lent to the exclusivity Glazer had in mind. He didn’t plan on turning players away, but he knew the intense nature of the workouts wouldn’t be for everyone.
Every first-timer hears the same words from Glazer on his first day at Unbreakable: “If you are looking for a place to hang out and work out, it’s not for you. Our goal here is to make 10 Pro Bowls. Our goal here is to make $120 million. Our goal here is to get a yellow jacket. So don’t come in here thinking, I just want to get better. You are here to be a Pro Bowler.”
He tells a story about Saints quarterback Drew Brees to drive the point home. One weeknight several years ago, Glazer was out at midnight with a Saints coach who suddenly realized he’d left something at the office. Glazer accompanied the coach back to Airline Drive in Metairie where there was but one light on in the facility. It was Drew Brees, watching film in the tight ends room.
“What are you doing here?” Glazer asked him.
Said Brees: “Sometimes trying to be great is lonely.”
NFL coaches regularly communicate with Glazer to keep tabs on players working at Unbreakable. On Thursday, Ravens offensive line coach Juan Castillo called to check on the progress of fifth-round rookie Robert “Snacks” Myers, a guard out of Tennessee State.
Snacks was progressing, Glazer said, and slowly understanding the singular, overarching mission of the gym, expressed best by Evans after watching the Lawler fight: “It’s more about a testament of will. Lawler felt tired but he made his opponent think that he wasn’t going to stop. He kept coming forward. It’s just about breaking that person with every single thing you do. It’s not about beating collectively the whole team; it’s about picking on that one person.
“Physically speaking, you guys are just separated by a fraction—it’s not really much. What it has to come down to is that little extra thing that gives you the edge. You have got to bring a sick, demented mindset. Once you can break somebody with your mindset, people are not willing to go the extra mile. They have self-preservation inside them, built in, and they say You know what, I can’t go no more. If you can push past that you will be surprised at what you can do.”
Glazer likes to say his clients aren’t football players, they’re fighters. The distinction amounts to a rejection of the enabling characteristics of team play. The assignment, and the man standing in the way of completing your assignment, becomes paramount, even life or death. He stresses 12-second rounds over four quarters.
“The mindset is totally different,” says Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis. “It’s one-on-one, and once that cage calls, there ain’t no teammates. You mess up, you get knocked out.”
Accordingly, they’re encouraged to exhibit body language that might give them an emotional edge over a weary opponent. No hands on hips and no sitting, like an MMA fighter who stands between rounds in order to mentally break the other fighter. No exhausted expression upon completion of drills. No breaks. And no complaining.
“We’ve been doing a lot of hand fighting,” says Jackson, who’s been at it for a month, “and it gets so intense that you want to go tape up your forearms. But you can’t.”
While the rest of the 19 maintained ‘neutral face’ for the entirety of the session, Snacks struggled with fatigue.
“Hands on hips, Snacks,” Glazer shouts. “Don’t let that mother—— put his hands on his hips! He’s gotta grow up today.” Some have called initial encounters in the gym “emasculating.”
“It’s never at the expense of others,” Lewis says, “once you know who he is, you know he isn’t joking around and you appreciate him.”
John Moffitt, the former Denver Broncos guard and now potential Eagles starter, came to Glazer after a nearly two-year hiatus from the sport during which he admits to letting his body go to a degree. He weighed 283 pounds, down from his playing weight of 320, and had the biggest gut of his life. The initial sessions were exhausting. Today he’s back above 300 pounds and slimmer than he was at 283.
“You keep hearing him say, ‘neutral face’ or ‘get your hands off your hips,’ ” Moffitt says of Glazer. “It’s very annoying when you first start that, but after a while it makes you stronger. It makes you used to being tired and used to being in pain and you don’t fight it anymore so it makes you more resilient. It just stacks on itself, on itself, on itself, to where you become a stronger individual.”
The players who know Glazer’s story find it easier maintain a neutral face while he’s doing the same. He leaves each session physically exhausted, as he has yet to achieve full use of his lungs—he says the highest lung capacity he has reached is 70% of what it once was. He participates in the Greco-Roman wrestling inspired pummeling drill with players like Lane Johnson, the 6-foot-6, 310-pound Eagles tackle. Arms grasping at each other’s shoulders, they methodically fight for leverage with alternating shoulders digging into the other man’s sternum. When it’s finally over after several five-minute rounds, he stares up at Johnson with that contagious neutral scowl, then welcomes the next group.
You can’t help but wonder what Glazer, a divorced father of one 12-year-old boy, gets out of pushing his body to these limits. For starters, he’s friends with many of the players he trains, a line which many traditional journalists avoid crossing, something Glazer has been challenged on numerous times since his training relationships came to light. (The short answer: He doesn’t care.)
It’s not for the money; Glazer says he doesn’t personally profit from the gym, and he’s open to free enrollment in special cases. Brian Banks, the former prep star whose career was derailed when he was wrongfully accused and convicted of rape, trained for free. Ditto new Seahawks long snapper and former U.S. Army Green Beret Nate Boyer (“Because he helps keeps us safe,” Glazer says).
Part of him gets a kick out of holding his own against 300-pounders. His biggest motivation seems to be watching his players transform into fighters and having something to do with it.
“We are going to build you up,” Glazer says, “but in order to do this, we are going to take you to a dark f—ing place, dude. We are going to take you to a dark place and come out the other side and you are going to be a different human being.”