Mark DellaGrotte has trained some of the best MMA fighters in the game – Kenny Florian, Frank Mir, Patrick Cote, to name a few – but one trainee in particular amazed DellaGrotte with his passion and dedication: Kevin James.
Yes, the pudgy star of goofball Hollywood comedies like Zookeeper and Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
“It was crazy,” said DellaGrotte, who served as James’ trainer – both in real life and onscreen – for the MMA flick Here Comes the Boom, which hit DVD and Blu-Ray this week.
“I normally put a fighter through 10 to 12 weeks of training camp. Kevin went through more than two years of preparation for this movie. I’m talking about training, dieting, sweating, hitting pads, rolling with Bas Rutten, doing jiu-jitsu – we were pulling out kitchen sinks and throwing them at this guy. He trained just as hard as any fighter I’ve ever trained for the Octagon.”
That’s not to imply, of course, that James was transformed into an elite-level fighter like the many other Octagon warriors DellaGrotte has trained at Team Sityodtong Boston.
But James so thoroughly impressed DellaGrotte during preparations for the movie, the trainer suggested James might want to test his skills in a real amateur MMA fight.
“It’s actually an idea that he entertained,” recalled DellaGrotte, in his trademark Boston accent, during an interview with FightLine. “He will probably never do it, but I think he could.”
Here Comes the Boom is loosely autobiographical, since James wrote it after years of being an avid follower of MMA and trainee of the legendary Bas Rutten, who also stars in the film.
“Anybody who has trained for years with Bas Rutten has got to know what he’s doing,” said DellaGrotte.
While the movie didn’t exactly win critical acclaim, DellaGrote says it portrayed MMA in a more positive light than other recent films based on the sport – something he feels was needed to “get away from the darkness and the images of blood and guts and skulls and crossbones.
“Other movies have given the wrong message,” he said. “What Zuffa has done, and what Dana White has done, is legitimize the sport and bring it to families, to households, so you now have soccer moms doing mixed martial arts.”
There’s a trade-off, of course. Because Here Comes the Boom is a lighthearted comedy, it doesn’t quite capture the rigors (and the associated agony) of real-life training at Sityodtong or any other serious camp, DellaGrotte said.
But the film did provide many glimpses at the real camaraderie that exists between fighters in the facility, such as a scene in the film in which they all eat dinner together.
“Kevin took that directly from the gym,” said DellGrotte. “He thought it was so cool how the guys would kick the crap out of each other, then a wife comes out with a big bowl of past and they all sit around like buddies and eat. That’s how we run things here. Kevin said it’s like we were a big functional, dysfunctional family.”
That family continues to grow, thanks in part to the exposure provided by the movie, and DellaGrote says plenty of his hungry, young trainees are poised to burst onto the MMA scene.
He named Tateki Matsuda, Greg Rebello and Robert Font as a few to keep an eye out for in coming months.
“We’ve got the next generation of homegrown fighters – not necessarily fly-ins from other camps, but actual homegrown fighters,” said DellaGrote. “They’re going to be ready for big things soon.
In other words: here comes the boom.