For Dave “Pee Wee” Herman, training used to consist of hopping off the couch, walking over to the weight bench in his living room, pumping a little iron, then going back to “Goodfellas” on AMC for the tenth time in a month.
“I just got some weights, some equipment, and worked out in my house,” Herman said. “Then I’d go out and fight whenever I got a call.”
I break more of a sweat with my Nintendo Wii than this guy did before professional fights. To say Herman, a former Indiana University wrestler, wasn’t taking his fighting career seriously was an understatement. He won his first thirteen fights, all but one in the first round, but the lack of training was holding him back from his full potential.
“It definitely did. I did not have a Nintendo Wii or I probably would have played it. But I did just lay around and watch a lot of movies instead of working out,” Herman admits. He brought the same relaxed attitude into the actual fights themselves too. “I just kind of do what the other guy wants to do in general. And most heavyweights just come out swinging.”
A trip to Japan changed everything. In January he traveled to Tokyo for the biggest fight of his career, a tussle with Asian Games Greco Roman Bronze Medalist Choi Mu Bae at Sengoku VII. At 6-4, 250 pounds, Herman made an immediate impression on the Japanese.
“Everyone was staring at me,” Herman said. “It was winter there, but it was 60 degrees! Everyone had on big fur coats and scarves. It’s 60 and sunny. If it was five degrees warmer, I’d be at the pool. More than my size, my shorts and t-shirt really stood out.”
Herman started strong, despite a night out on the town before the fight, knocking Choi to the mat with a punch in the first round. But the years of partying left him with no reserve in his gas tank.
“If I had been in shape I would been just fine. If I had been in shape or just a little bit technical, if I had actually known what I was doing. Either or, I would have been all right,” Herman said. “I’m actually glad. Had I not lost I would still be partying and drinking and just kind of showing up.”
The new and focused “Pee Wee” Herman (“I threw it out there as a joke,” he says about his despised nickname. “Next time I’m going to keep my mouth shut.”) trains at Ed Clay’s Nashville MMA. He’s rededicated himself to MMA. Scratch that. Dedicated himself for the first time to MMA.
With several offers on the table, Herman went with Bellator, signing a contract that will keep him with the promotion for 6-8 fights. The only problem? After a critically acclaimed first season of ESPN Deportes, Bellator is in limbo. Two new seasons are coming, but even the fighters don’t seem to know exactly when. In the meantime, they’ve been permitted to pursue other fights.
“It sounded like a good opportunity. They seemed like an up-and-coming promotion. I thought I’d be getting more fights than I am though,” Herman said. “I had heard the next season will be in January, February, and March. But I have no idea at all. After my last fight for them I was told they were doing a heavyweight tournament this fall, like right now.”
It’s the idea of the tournament, a staple of early MMA, that drew Herman to Bellator. “It’s what I thought I’d be doing. If you win all three matches it’s $175,000. That’s not bad for 12 weeks of work.”
Instead, he’s fighting a legend, this weekend at Shark Fights 6 in Amarillo, Texas. Don Frye, a 43-year old grizzled cowboy, fireman, and fighter has been in some of the sport’s greatest battles. There’s one in particular that interests Herman: Frye’s 2002 fight with Yoshihiro Takayama. Frye and Takayama went at it like cartoon characters, like a live action Street Fighter game, for six amazing minutes.
“I thought it was awesome. I watched it again recently,” Herman said. “It was great. The guy’s tough as hell and just goes out their slugging. I almost kind of want to do that just because I’m fighting Don Frye. He’s done it so many times. I’ve at least got to try it once. If nothing else, the crowd would love it.”
Herman plans to do more than ape Frye’s patented Rock Em Sock Em Robots fighting technique. He is planning to steal his look too.
“Somebody already tell you I have a mustache right now?” Herman asked. “For this fight, I am Don Frye. If you saw me right now you’d believe it, with the sweet ‘stache I have going on.”