It was September 2009 and John Allan had just seen the future. Allan, the head trainer and owner of the Wai Kru gym in Allston, MA (home gym of John ‘Doomsday’ Howard), had a newcomer visit his establishment - a very big, very athletic newcomer. This newbie was 6’9” and weighed around 300 pounds, but was incredible agile and nimble with great natural instincts. Best of all, he was only 23-years-old.
Only one problem – this mountain of a man had a full-time job that was going to interfere with him becoming a MMA star – he played for the Boston Celtics.
"Initially I was salivating because I was like, 'Oh, I have the next big heavyweight star,' "Allan told the Boston Herald at the time. "It was close to the end of the lesson that someone informed me that I was actually training Glen 'Big Baby' Davis from the Celtics."
But you can’t dispute Davis’s choice to play hoops – so far in his young career he’s already been a high school All-American, a collegiate All-American and Final Four participant at LSU, and earned a NBA championship ring with the Celtics in 2008 (not to mention pocketing almost $14 million in career salary thus far). But you also can’t dispute his true love for mixed martial arts – this isn’t just some passing interest for him.
“About five years now,” Davis responds when asked how long he has had the MMA bug. “I caught it on TV. I fell in love with Ken Shamrock in an early age. That’s before not really doing the workouts. After I started really working out that’s when I really started having a passion for it.”
After years of carrying too much bad weight on his frame and having his conditioning called into question, Davis gravitated towards MMA workouts as a means to get into better shape. It worked – he dropped 25 pounds once getting involved with the sport. And that’s allowed him to be more productive for longer stretches on the court – look no further than his career-high 33 minutes per game he is playing this year for Orlando.
“It’s helped me lose a lot of weight,” Davis says of his MMA training. “And just the mental aspect – to stay calm but at the same time having a sense of urgency. You got to have that sense of urgency when you fight but at the same time you can’t be all crazy and wild because you’ve got to watch for all types of tricks. So you’ve got to keep your composure and that’s kinda helped me. Playing basketball you’ve got to think – you’ve got to be calm but at the same time the sport is fast – you’ve got to go up and down (the court).”
But it’s not just the conditioning aspects of MMA that has helped Davis on the basketball court.
“Hand eye coordination,” Davis answers when asked how he has benefited from MMA training. “Also, positioning on the offensive rebound. You can always do little things to get guys to move where you want them to move. Take a knee to the outside thigh (laughs)!”
Through his friendship with Dana White, Davis got the opportunity to train at the UFC’s headquarters in Las Vegas. And he’s become a regular cageside at UFC events, where he isn’t just there as a fan – he’s there as a mixed martial arts student.
“You get to see corners – that’s what I like to see,” Davis says about attending live MMA events. “I like to hear the corners. You really can’t hear the corners on TV much.”
So Big Baby is a student of the sport, has great natural ability and an extraordinary size/athleticism combination. You can see why his first MMA trainer fell in love with him from the jump.
“He’s pretty (darn) good. I’m not going to front,” Allan admitted to the Boston Herald in 2009. “At jiu-jitsu, he’s such a natural beast. He’s such a beast and has such good balance and strength. In Muay Thai, he’s so tall and long and he’s really coordinated. He really pops (punches). His hands are fast and he has a really powerful leg kick. He could be a really good fighter.”
And the scariest part is Davis thinks he’s improved greatly since he first took up the sport three years ago.
“Ya, especially my ground game,” he says about his improvements in the sport. “Jiu-jitsu – I did a lot of work on that. And also my striking – I would say my striking too has gotten better.”
But Junior dos Santos, Cain Velasquez and the rest of the heavyweight class (not to mention the Orlando Magic) have no need to worry – this Big Baby plans on sticking to the hardwood and not the Octagon.
“I get the urge sometimes (to compete in MMA),” he admits. “But basketball is a handful.”