Dodging Denniston Sutherland

Denniston ‘Mad Max’ Sutherland is a name that those of you in the MMA World will know.  For those of you that don’t, read on to find out more about the six times title winning champion fighter.  I spent the day with Denniston to find out a little about Mad Max the fighter and Denniston the person.  I then go beyond the realms of comprehension and undergo a few hours of technique training. 

At age 16 Denniston started boxing, inspired by the legend that is Mike Tyson and whilst still in his home country of Jamaica, joined a local boxing club.  Of his first lesson, Denniston tells me that he spent hours standing in a corner, just him and a punch bag, practising his jab.  As I found out, practising movements in any form of MMA discipline is the key to success. 

Denniston is a dedicated family man, married with one daughter aged six.  On September 11th 1999 he moved over to England and found himself in Harlesden before moving another three times between Wembley and Birmingham.  He eventually settled in Harrow where he still lives.  When Denniston started boxing, he trained until he was eighteen or nineteen but he has only been training in MMA since the age of 32.  He originally got into it after watching UFC and he tells me that in Jamaica it was unheard of to have events such as UFC broadcast on the television but on this particular night in November 1993, something unusual happened with the Jamaican television and the very first UFC was broadcast straight into his house.  From that moment on, Denniston tells me he was hooked and really got the bug for MMA. In Jamaica there were no opportunities to get into the world of MMA so it wasn’t until he moved to England that he had the chance to pursue his dream.  Although being the family man that he is, Denniston knew he had to get a job and dedicate time to his family before he could commit fully to training and fighting.  Having worked various jobs such as, a gardener, kitchen and floor fitter and also as a drivers mate, Denniston has lots of skills which still come in handy although now he can say that his day job is as a fighter and no longer as a lorry driver.  He finally gave up driving in February 2010 to dedicate to MMA full time, although he had been training since 2005. 

Of his first training session with Mark Chen, Denniston says he literally went in to the session at 115kg against Mark’s 68kg and found himself beaten up.  Maybe some would run a mile but Denniston said he fell in love with it there and then.  He had been secretly yearning to give fighting a go for many years but he knew he had to wait until the right moment.  Denniston attended a class being taught by Dave Waters and Mark Chen and they also brought in Dave Scarborough who Denniston did some Muay Thai with.  In October of 2009 Denniston went to Jamaica but on his return in November 2009 he started teaching grappling classes for the gym.  And by December 2009 he was working part time within the gym, as by this time, his full time job said he was taking too much time off and he was given the choice of driving the lorry or dedicating his time to Martial Arts.  So in January 2010 Denniston made the decision to give up driving and by February was concentrating his efforts full time on Martial Arts and working at the gym. 

He runs classes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 6.30pm until 8pm undertaking an hour of stand-up and pad work and half an hour of kick checking and jab crossing for MMA fighters.  On a Monday and Wednesday he also runs a Grappling class from 8-9.30pm which concentrates on wrestling, take downs and ground work.  Saturdays at 3pm and Sundays at 10am is an open mat where anyone can go along and have a go at sparring.  The open mat sessions are £5 and all other sessions are £7, although there are payment options for people who would rather pay monthly.  Denniston also offers private lessons and trains other fighters such as Crazy James Caird.  He says he enjoys training the guys and cornering them as he loves, amongst other things, teaching them how to conserve energy levels before a fight. 

Of the people who say MMA is a dangerous sport, Denniston simply says there are a lot of people out there just looking to make money and these are the ones that you want to stay away from.  There is nothing wrong with people fighting and after the controversy over the ‘Kids Cage Fighting’, Denniston adds that grappling for children is fine but it should not be carried out in an adult environment. 

Although Denniston is happily married, his wife does not get involved in the fighting side of his life.  When he originally told her that he wanted to pursue his fighting, she thought he was having a mid-life crisis and would grow out of it. When he returned from his first professional fight against Neil Groves, Denniston had damage to his face and his wife literally said to him ‘do not come home like that again’!  Nowadays, other than not being too keen on the time he has to spend away from home, Mrs Sutherland plays a passive role in the Mad Max side of her husband.  And as Denniston has such good coaches and has learned to parry, he doesn’t get hit as much as he would of back in the beginning so his wife isn’t faced with a battered and bruised husband after each fight.  Denniston’s daughter actually loves what her Daddy does but she doesn’t like it when people hit him although she can often be found giggling when the tables are turned and it is Daddy doing the hitting. 

Denniston tells me that as a fighter he has his own style that works for him, especially being very active with his hands but as he respects lots of different fighters, he also takes pieces of different people and brings those skills to his own game.  Looking back to Denniston’s first professional fight, he tells me that he fought at Heavyweight against an opponent 30kg heavier than him.  Denniston managed to slam his opponent and ended up breaking the cage!  He ended up losing the fight in the second round but says this only made him strive harder and from April 2008 to May 2009, Denniston was on a seven win streak.  Dennistons next fight is on 29th October against Andrew Punshon.  He will be fighting for the Middleweight Title for ‘Made For The Cage’ in Sunderland so at the time of this interview, being three weeks out, he is well into his pre-fight training regime.  From the third week out he trains technical and then moves onto cardio two weeks out.  The last week of the three is spent managing his weight, healing up and resting.  He is confident he will weigh in at the 84kg required for this title fight and is conscious of the fact that if fighters don’t weigh in at the correct weight, the fight can easily be called off or someone has to fight a heavier opponent.  Will Denniston be adding a seventh title win to his already amazing achievements?  Take a look at the list: 

Pride & Glory British Light Heavyweight Champion

Survival FC British Light Heavyweight Champion

Fx3 World Light Heavyweight Champion

Ultimate Force British Light Heavyweight Champion

Total Combat British Middleweight Champion

Ultimate Challenge (UCMMA) Middleweight Champion 

I am sure that come October 29th Denniston will be wearing the Made for the Cage Middleweight belt.  So watch this space. 

Having sat down and learned a little about Denniston the fighter, husband, father and person, it was now my turn to become a pupil.  I lived to tell the tale and here is my account of my time being taught by the champion and wonderful person Mr Denniston ‘Mad Max’ Sutherland.  Wearing my UFC oversize training top and leggings, I think I look the part and being armed with a bottle of water, I was ready for my meet.  We eventually arrived at HMA after getting lost on the M1 but as usual, we were early so that gave me time to sit down with Denniston and get all the factual information and then it was time for my lessons!  Was I nervous?  I actually get nervous about a lot of things but for once I felt calm and excited.  Maybe because I had met Denniston prior to this day or maybe because whenever I had spoken to anyone about him, all I heard were the most wonderful things, or maybe it was just a mix of the two.  Whatever the reason, I was looking forward to giving something a go. 

At first Denniston talked about me having a cardio workout but I had to stop him there.  I am unfit and do not exercise at all, plus I am a smoker.  So being as I wanted to get through the session and live another day, I steered it round to learning some techniques instead. Denniston said to me ‘so you don’t want to sweat then’?  I don’t mind hard work and I am very determined to complete things once I get going so although a cardio workout was off the card, I wasn’t scared of sweating with the technique training and sweat I certainly did. 

Firstly, I had to get padded up which was quite amusing, there I was with shin guards covering the whole of my lower leg.  And then the boxing gloves came out.  I struggled to get them on as I usually use my fingers and thumbs for tasks but obviously once one hand was in, I was having trouble getting the other one in the glove! I got there in the end though. Dressed for the part and ready to start the first lesson, I was feeling a little self-conscious.  I knew I had random photographs being taken and I was very aware that I wasn’t messing around in my lounge with the children or my partner, but being taught by a champion fighter.  This wasn’t helped by me totally fluffing the first question that Denniston asked me.‘Where does a fight start’?  Simple question right?  So what do I go and say?  ‘In the middle’!  I think poor Denniston probably realised that I was going to be one of his toughest pupils albeit not in the strength sense of the word!  We soon established that what I actually should have said was that an MMA fight always starts on the feet! 

The first thing I learned was the different ranges within a fight.  The first thing a fighter will do is use a kick to test his range and then they will come in with hands.  So our first bit of training was in kicking and boxing.  The first most important thing was to get the correct stance which took longer than I thought, purely because it is vital to get the right balance.  Once I managed to more or less get in the correct position it was time to learn some kicks.  I am a huge fan of kickboxing and always have been so I was excited to be learning how to kick.  I learned how to pivot on the back foot, bring up the front leg and turn it into a kick.  I also learned early on that kicking with the toe is not the way forward and to avoid injury and to maximise the effect, you have to land using the shin.  So I spent some time practising the actual moves to get my leg in the right place for outside leg kicks and then went on to practise the inside thigh kicks.  Where I was trying to remember the way to actually place myself, I found I was too slow at putting the pivot, lift and turn together in a fluid movement but being as it was my first time, I wasn’t too hard on myself.  I also learned whilst kicking that it is important to keep your hands up at all times to protect yourself.  On numerous occasions I dropped my hands, so in the end Denniston made me put them on the top of my head rather than to the side of my head, so I didn’t automatically drop them!  And then I had to drop one hand back whilst I kicked keeping the other one up as protection so my arms and hands were in a confused state!  My brain was whirling with all the information but it made sense totally and as the awful picture of me shows, I think I actually managed to get the whole move right, more or less, just the once! 

With regards to punching, we moved over to the punch bag and here I tested my reach and checked the stance was again okay.  And then I got the chance to punch and kick Denniston for real!  The only trouble with that is I have no power in my punches, or kicks for that matter, but I still didn’t want to hit him because and yes you can laugh, I didn’t want to hurt him!  I know I wouldn’t have hurt him but hitting and kicking someone for me is alien but I gave it a go.  We went round in circles and I attempted some punches and kicks.  I am sure I heard Denniston say ‘well done’ for one of my kicks as I may have landed one at least.  I found doing the moves in that scenario was easier than doing them slowly.  But then Denniston told me to go at him hard so I got into it and started punching and punching and punching!  I tried to be angry and let rip but these arms of mine are just not strong at all and every time I threw a punch I’d drop my other hand leaving myself wide open.  But what did I learn from this?  I learned that the kicking and punching side is not just a free for all, waiting to see where you can land shots, it is as technical as every other part of an MMA fight.  You need to balance, protect yourself, throw kicks and punches that reach, be fast on your feet and also you need to know where to look.  I spent the whole time looking straight into Dennistons eyes until he told me to concentrate on his chest, just below his chin.  As he rightly pointed out, by looking in his eyes, he will give me false signals as to what his next move will be and I will instinctively go to protect/block that move when really, he will be coming in at an angle I haven’t got covered.  By looking just below the chin, I can see the movements from his arms and legs, therefore making me more alert to the moves.  I will always love kickboxing but whether I would ever be able to do it myself, is very doubtful.  It is hard work and requires a lot of power and me being a weakling, it probably isn’t the discipline for me, although I still loved my lesson and would definitely like to give it another go sometime. 

After a quick drink and a few notes taken, it was time to move on to the Trapping part of the MMA game.  I have to say I really enjoyed this part. With the gloves off, one of the first things Denniston taught me was how to do the Hubud Drill.  It isn’t something you literally do in a fight but it teaches you how to block effectively.  I’d like to say, being as I am quite intelligent that I got this straight away but sadly I think I have to admit that my co-ordination isn’t quite what I thought it was.  I found myself feeling really embarrassed about not being able to master something, that in slow motion was quite simple.  For those who do not know what it is, I will attempt to explain it.  Denniston asked me to pretend he was stabbing me.  I then had to block his right arm coming towards me, with my left hand.  I then, with my right forearm push his arm up and then with my left hand grab his elbow and push his arm down.  I do not let go of the elbow until I then repeat the process with me as the aggressor and him as the defender. One thing I noticed when I blocked the incoming aggression, was that instead of just using my palm to block, I actually grabbed the wrist.  Denniston explained that I needed to relax but I had demonstrated how different twists/techniques are used by people and when you are experienced it is about understanding what works best for you.  We spent a lot of time on this movement and eventually I managed to understand it and do the movement start to finish.  Since being home and using my thirteen year old as a guinea pig, I think I now have the Hubud movement mastered although the next time I see Denniston I am sure he will let me know! 

After the Hubud drill, which incidentally you can find on YouTube for a better understanding, we moved on to learning about under hooks.  All fighters want to be in the position of having double under hooks.  So we started out with a scene resembling Strictly Come Dancing, with both of us having one under hook each.  The next part of the drill was for me to attempt getting double under hooks.  For some reason I really found my aggressive streak and went hell for leather, trying to get doubles.  Obviously, I wasn’t going to manage it against Denniston but I did not give up and felt myself gritting my teeth in determination.  Even Denniston commented on how I really went for it and once again my poor teenage son has had to practise with me and I am pleased to say I am unbeaten when it comes to him! 

The next part was learning how to throw your opponent.  I have seen the guys thrown in fights and I have to say I wasn’t looking forward to taking a tumble, soft mats or not!  This must have shown in my face as Denniston was quick to tell me not to worry and that he wouldn’t hurt me!  So I put myself in the position of him having my back which was my back against his front.  I then had to hold on to the under part of his left arm, bend so my bottom was just beneath his groin and then stretch up lifting him off of his feet.  This movement unbalances your opponent and you are then able to throw them over, still holding onto the arm.  I did throw Denniston but I am not naïve enough to think that I did this with pure strength; I think I managed to get the positioning right so as I went to throw, Mr Sutherland probably threw himself for my benefit.  I did end up on top in half guard though so I did something right!  We tried this a few times and I understood this better than all the drills and boxing!  I was beginning to think my game was going to be wrestling. 

But then we moved onto the ground game.  For the purposes of the drill, Denniston used my partner David aka Photographer for the day, to demonstrate what he wanted me to do.  David was on his back with his knees up and hands in the T-Rex position.  The name of the drill is the Star Drill.  This basically takes you round your opponent starting off in a very ungainly position with knees spread as wide as possible and heels together.  Being face down laying across your opponent, holding on to your opponents elbow, still on your knees, you then have to bring the furthest leg through and under the other leg so you are laying on your side almost.  The next step is taking the furthest leg from your opponent and stepping over their head so your torso is on top of their head and your arms pinning their elbows to their sides.  You then have to step round in the same way so you have side control on the other side all the time holding the arms down and from this position you have the chance of many different submissions, such as an arm bar, wrist lock, foot lock and a choke. 

So with all the practising over, it was time for Denniston and me to have a go at the ground game.  He lay down and asked me to take a position on him.  I spared him the torso on the face one and went for the side control.  We then went the other way, with Denniston on top and me having to get out of it.  Well I battled and battled, tried bridging and rolling to get him off, wriggled a hell of a lot and grabbed his arms and legs.  But still he had the top position.  Having a foot phobia, when he attempted a foot grab, I literally screamed and kicked!  Did I end up on top?  Don’t be silly, I ended up with Dennistons full weight on me in side control and ended up in an arm bar above my head!  Obviously, all carried out in a gentle fashion!  So I lost but then I didn’t expect it any other way.  All I can say is I did try, I did learn a lot and I did enjoy it so much.  I definitely love the wrestling and ground game and found that I understood that a little better.  Will I ever be fit?  Will I ever be strong?  Will I ever be a fighter?  I know it is down to me to get fit and I know I can improve my strength but as for actual fighting, I think I will stick to journalism. 

I would love to train some more and my only regret of the day is that Denniston lives so far away from me, which he is probably secretly pleased about, for had he lived nearer, I think I would have signed up for more lessons.  Anyone who wants to start in MMA or indeed established fighters should go to HMA and train with Denniston Sutherland.  You won’t meet a better teacher and I am proud to have spent the day being taught by not only a champion fighter but also one of the nicest guys I have ever met and all that is left for me to do is cling on to my memories, giggle at my photos and thank Denniston for all his time, patience and effort with me.  But I will say, if he ever offers again, I for one would definitely love to grace the mats of HMA again one day!  For more information on HMA (Hemel Martial Arts) please contact Denniston on his email


Posted on October 29, 2011, in A Day In The Life Of.... Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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