Hiroshi Allen has spent 34 years studying, practicing, accomplishing, and living Shotokan Karate. It's in his lineage. His mother was a 2-time world Champion and his father was a captain of the US National Team. Hiroshi's achievements, other than being a 4th degree black belt, place him in the upper echelon of his sport, having been on the U.S. National team from 1995-2007. He was also a 7-time National Champion and a 2-time Shotokan World Champion. He ain't no rookie and he's a formidable opponent for any striker on the planet. Most recently, he played the role of Lyoto Machida, helping 6-time UFC champion Randy Couture prepare for his last and final fight against the former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion this weekend at UFC 129. I had the opportunity to speak with Allen about the time he spent working with Couture and much more. Check out what he had to say.
SD: Hiroshi, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me today.
HA: It's truly my pleasure. I'm happy to do this.
SD: So how long did you train with Randy for this fight and where?
HA: I trained with Randy twice a week for 6 weeks at Xtreme Couture. Prior to the sparring, I watched two weeks of Machida fight videos to understand his style, movements and tendencies.
SD: Did you discuss or game plan what you were going to do ahead of time?
HA: No. I just came in and sparred with him as though I was Machida, duplicating his style and habits.
SD: Did you talk to him afterwards to discuss what you did or how he reacted?
HA: No, but what I believe is that his boxing coach [Gil Martinez] would get together with him afterward and they would work on combating what I did.
SD: Were you just more or less point fighting or tagging each other?
HA: No, it was intense. It had to be in order for us to understand if what I was doing and what he was doing was really going to be real and effective. In other words, if I landed a kick or a punch, but I didn't land it full force, then we wouldn't know the reality of that movement.
SD: So how did it go?
HA; Well, that's why I'm so impressed with Randy. With most people, a coach can tell you something to do, but it takes a long time before you can do it when you're fighting. It's one thing to do it in practice, but when you're reacting and you need it to be right in the moment, then it takes time. For most people, it takes a lot of repetition before it becomes reactive or instinctive, but that wasn't the case with Randy. In the first session, I was giving him Machida's moves and trying to beat him to the punch. It was easy to catch him at first, especially to the head. A week later, when we would spar, he would adapt and I would have to use new techniques and different set-ups in order to land. His adaptability and learning curve to adjust was so fast.
SD: Was there anything else about him that surprised you?
HA: His conditioning. I mean, you hear about it, but until you see it, you really can't comprehend. He would train five 5-minute rounds on mitts with Gil and then I and another fighter [Cesar Ferreira] would rotate rounds sparring against him. We would do another 6 rounds with him and we were resting, but all Randy had was a 1-minute rest between rounds. So he would do about 11 rounds and then he would work for another round of footwork with Gil. I never saw him fatigue. I never saw him lose the snap in his punches that you see when a fighter's exhausted. He never gassed out!
SD: Can you reveal anything about Couture's game plan for this fight?
HA: What I can say is that Randy has put together a good game plan to negate Machida's strengths as opposed to just putting together a plan of just what he wants to do as a fighter.
SD: What's in that game plan?
HA: Machida is a great fighter, that's for sure, and I appreciate and admire him. However, he's also predictable. There are certain techniques he uses a lot.
SD: Did Randy work on any Karate offense? Did you teach him how to use any specific Shotokan kicks or punches?
HA: We worked on lines and angles a lot. Karate fighters use angles and lines a lot to take advantage of other styles of fighters. That's what Machida has done a lot to other UFC fighters.
SD: Okay, so here's the big question. You have to be torn a little bit here because your life is Shotokan Karate, but who do you objectively see winning this fight?
HA; you're right. Machida has always been my favorite fighter. My honest opinion is that I didn't give him much of a chance when we first started training, but after the last week of sparring, he pretty much kicked my ass. I used all of my techniques and he was seeing them and was able to react and defend or counter them. Six weeks ago, I wouldn't have given him a chance to beat Machida, but I think how far he has come in such a short period of time, in my opinion, Randy's pretty much evened the playing field.
SD: Any idea if Randy's planning on trying to take the fight against the cage for some dirty boxing or going to try and take Machida to the ground?
HA; That part I don't know. I only sparred with Randy in the standup. If we clinched, we broke that up pretty quick and I never trained with him on the ground. I also never knew the full game plan. I think that Machida would want to stay away from the cage and the ground though. His advantage would be in the standup.
SD: Was there anything else that you saw with Randy that would give him an edge, or that you thought was interesting?
HA: This past weekend, Randy was the guest of honor at the U.S. Open [Karate] and Jr. Olympics. It's an event that is sanctioned by the US Olympic commitee. We had over 2,000 competitors and it's the highest level of competition. Randy was such a hit at the show. Everyone loved him. What was most interesting was that you could see him using it for more training. He was studying the fighters for hours, watching and assimilating timing and distance. He has a complete appreciation of the sport.
SD: Hiroshi, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience with us.
HA: My pleasure Stuart. When I come to Miami, we need to train together.
SD: Or when I come to Vegas, we'll do the same. That would be both an honor and a humbling experience.