Mike Dolce is one of the most sought-after men in all of mixed martial arts.
The sport’s pre-eminent mind on nutrition, fitness and weight cutting grew his profile over the past five years by working with top fighters such as Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Chael Sonnen and Gray Maynard.
Dolce is so busy that he can no longer take on any new clients. So how did the 37-year-old former “Ultimate Fighter” contestant carve out enough time to develop the promotion’s first in-home fitness and nutrition program that features 12 workout DVDs and a 132-page nutrition manual?
The Sun caught up with Dolce at a luncheon with reporters to ask him about the recently released "UFC FIT," his fighters and more.
It supposedly took three years to get "UFC FIT" to the point where it was ready for a release. What was the process of putting it all together like for you?
It was a whole different system with different coaches at first, called UFC Training Camp. They brought me in while that was still running and asked me to write the nutrition book. I said, "Absolutely," and wrote the book probably the same day and sent it back immediately. They were surprised because it had been a year and they didn’t have the strength program done yet. A couple weeks went by, I came in for a meeting and nothing had happened with it. Then they said, "Listen, can you write the strength program also?" I was like, "I can, but I don’t want to get too involved and make any issues because you’ve got other guys." They said it wasn’t going to work out with them, and they also wanted to get me involved on camera. I said, "I’m not the guy, I don’t want to be that guy." But Dana (White) and Lorenzo (Fertitta) looked at me and said, "You are the guy." So how do I say no to that?
You’ve expressed some disdain for other in-home fitness programs. What makes this one different?
I’d been aware of a lot of the in-home fitness systems and even diet books out there, and unfortunately, it’s mostly all garbage. It’s all fads, marketing ploys to get people to spend $99.99 and keep them in the same situation they’re in. It’s all crash diets that are unsustainable. What I’ve done is keep the same sustainable system of eating, living, training and changing your lifestyle that yields consistent results. No one else is doing this. The P90X, Insanity, they are selling the quick and sexy. That’s it. With me, I want to change people’s lives.
When did you discover your knack for nutrition and fitness?
It’s something I was born to do. As a freshman in high school, I was the captain of the varsity wrestling team and was running the strength and conditioning portions of those practices. I was overseeing the weight cuts. We had 17- or 18-year-old men on the team and I was telling them what to do. It just came naturally. I was always a science and mathematics guy. I was a municipal tax assessor for years, which is very heavy math. It’s just the way my mind works, but my passion has always been applying it to physical things.
Which fighters are you working with currently?
I try to work with less than 10 athletes full time at this point, but I have a few career athletes. My career athletes would be Thiago Alves, Nik Lentz, Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort and Johny Hendricks. Those are the five guys who, as long as they are fighting, I will be with them. I’m also working with Jake Ellenberger, Mike Pyle, probably working with Stefan Struve and Daniel Cormier their next fights, Kelvin Gastelum dropping to welterweight right now and Luke Barnatt.
What was the toughest weight cut or training camp you’ve ever had to oversee?
Chael was 233 pounds six weeks before the Michael Bisping fight. To go from 233 to 185 in six weeks is insane. The hardest issue — I would have to say Rampage is the hardest I’ve ever had to deal with. Not because he was the biggest or heaviest because he wasn’t. I helped Duane Ludwig lose 42 pounds in 13 days to fight Jim Miller on short notice here in Las Vegas. He went from 198 to 156 in 13 days with my coaching. It took eight weeks to do the same with Quinton. Now it was so much easier with Duane because Duane is a professional; he’s a good guy with a big heart. He just got down to the business of working with no complaints, no objections, no obstacles. Some of these other guys, Rampage being one of them, everything was a challenge. He’s shown that not just with myself but with every business deal he’s ever been in.
What’s the story about your time with Rampage before the 2010 fight against Rashad Evans?
He had taken 14 months off to film “The A-Team” and “The Ultimate Fighter.” He came into camp 51 pounds overweight before the fight -- seven weeks and six days before the fight.
We weren’t behind schedule, but we weren’t ahead of schedule. But I worry. I wasn’t satisfied with it. I talked to Quinton and he said, "I’m not cheating. I’m not doing anything wrong."
A day does by and we go to train. It’s a three-story house and Quinton lives on the top floor. He forgets his gym bag, so I say I’ll go up there and get his gym bag. I go up and look and I see something that doesn’t look right inside his pillow — a purple box, or a square. I say, "What the hell is that?" I walk over and see it’s a candy bar, a Cadbury fruit and nut candy bar. There were four of them. Under the bed there were more wrappers. So what he was doing was, we would go and get gas before the gym. We’d sit in the car and fill it up. He’d go in to pay for the gas and the window would be right there, right below window level was the candy rack. He’d buy a bunch of these candy bars and put them in his pocket and go home and eat them.
I caught it and he turned it into a joke. So I say, "What we’re going to do is compromise: You’ve got a chocolate thing. I get it. I understand it. Therefore, I’ve got a healthy alternative to it." In that area in England, the healthiest thing I could find was Nutella, which is really not that bad considering the alternative. It’s a mental thing, not a physical thing, so I start making him Nutella sandwiches, telling him, "It’s the best thing in the world — toasted, warm, crunchy and with banana slices. It’s delicious. That’s what we’ll have if you train your (butt) off. You’ll get those as a reward system." We started to do that and the weight dropped immediately.
A lot of your guys have fights coming up. Anything you’re particularly excited for?
Nik Lentz is a story I keep pushing. He’s 3-0 since dropping to featherweight. I’m very excited about this kid. When he reached out to me, I was so busy that I was not taking new clients. I only took Nik Lentz because I believe he’s going to be a world champion at 145. I have all those superstars, too — Chael, Vitor, Hendricks — but Nik is one of the most exciting guys I’m working with right now. He has so much upside.
What about Daniel Cormier? He said he would like drop from heavyweight to light heavyweight before the end of the year. Is that going to happen?
What we’re doing with Daniel is just getting him healthy. My job is to get him down to 10 percent body fat with as much muscle mass as we can pack on his body. Once he’s there, we can decide whatever weight class he wants to go to. My job is to keep him healthy, fit, teach him how to eat and take care of himself. Whether he fights at 205 or not, I mean we could do it this Friday. That’s just what I do. I’ve gotten phone calls where guys are 30 pounds overweight a few days beforehand and we can do it. So we could do 205 or we could stay at heavyweight and go out and destroy everyone at that weight, too. It’s up to Daniel. I’m just happy to be involved because he’s a stud.