On fight night, Andreas Michael may be the most serious man in mixed martial arts. The head coach of the Allstars Training Center in Stockholm, home to one of the men in Sunday’s UFC Fight Night main event, Alexander Gustafsson, Michael isn’t joking with his fighters before they make the walk to the Octagon or grinning ear to ear just before a bout begins.
“My job is to worry, the fighter’s job is to be positive, taking the task at hand and destroying whatever comes in his way,” Michael explains. “But I’m the one that does all the worrying, all the planning, all the things behind the scenes. There are a lot of puzzle bits that have to be sorted out before we even get to the point where the fighter can get his foot in the cage. And it’s not just me. There’s a whole team of fighters, coaches and staff that help, and family and friends are a big influence too. We’re all in it together and working to create a winner. And he’s not just my fighter. He’s one of my closest friends and a family member.”
The relationship between Gustafsson, one of the best light heavyweights of this era, and Michael, is a long one and, as you can tell by his description of “The Mauler,” unlike most between coach and athlete. So when Gustafsson loses, Michael feels it just as much, and in the 205-pound contender’s last fight in Stockholm in January 2015, he suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Anthony “Rumble” Johnson.
But that was a long time ago.
“In this training camp, he hasn’t got any injuries, and that’s one of the biggest factors,” Michael said when asked the differences between the camp for the Johnson fight and this one against Glover Teixeira. “He’s not injured and he can actually do his cardio. He’s also been training much earlier this time as well. He’s been helping Jimi Manuwa, so since January he’s been sparring and doing 10 to 15 rounds of sparring per week.”
That doesn’t mean there isn’t pressure fighting in his hometown, especially against a fellow top contender in Brazil’s Teixeira.
“Glover is about the same level where Anthony Johnson was when Alex was going to fight him last time,” Michael said. “So it’s not any less pressure. It’s always pressure when you’re fighting at home, but this time, he feels prepared. When you’re not feeling like you’ve done everything you could do because of an injury and different problems with your body, then you get stressed and get these skeletons in your head.”
This time around, Gustafsson is healthy and he’s got a gang of top-notch fighters getting him ready for battle, including Manuwa, Phil Davis, Ilir Latifi and Attila Vegh. As for Michael, with “only” Gustafsson and Reza Madadi on the card, it’s a lot less hectic than when he has several of his fighters competing on the same night.
“It’s always an honor having a lot of guys on the show at home, but it means more work and more pressure as a coach because you want everyone to win,” he said. “But life doesn’t work that way, so it’s a little less pressure from my side, but it’s still a big event at a sold out arena, and every time Alex fights, there’s a lot of pressure and stress from my side, but he’s done everything he could. The only things a coach asks from his athletes are focus, discipline and desire. They have to have the will to want to win more than what the coach has. When someone has that, it’s easy to train a fighter like that. And when you don’t have that, it’s a struggle. Every coach wants someone who can come into the gym, give it his best and then get out of there and rest.”
In Gustafsson, Michael has that fighter, and the results have proven that the Swedish star is an elite fighter. The coach is proud of that distinction, but not as proud as he is that the new father is living a quality life outside the Octagon.
“I cannot describe in words how proud I am,” Michael said of Gustafsson. “I’m the first one that will tell him if anything’s not going well, but I’m also the first one to tell him how proud I am, and I genuinely mean it. I knew him before he was what he is today and I know who he really is as a person. I’m always going to be his friend and be there for him no matter who he is or what he’s done. What he’s achieved is not very important. For me, the most important thing is that we have this friendship and we honor and respect each other and that we’ve got each other’s back as friends and family do.”