It’s early July, and I’m sitting in a suite at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas watching a most remarkable scene.
Even in digital form, Faber is all flowing hair and California vibe. Digital Faber makes you feel relaxed and ready to do some work, even when “work” consists merely of throwing punches, knees, kicks and elbows in the air. Digital Faber implores you to work harder and credits you with a “nice one, bro” when you push the pace.
It’s a good feeling to make digital Faber happy with your performance.
But I’m not the one performing. Standing in front of me, and in front of the television screen, is Urijah Faber. The real version, not the digital one. He’s shadow-boxing with the virtual version of himself, throwing what seems like hundreds of punches in the space of mere seconds, and I suspect that he’s gotten quite into this Kinect game. He’s just two days away from his shot at Dominick Cruz and the UFC bantamweight title at UFC 132, and yet Faber is not taking this easy. He’s actually working up a sweat.
He’s also providing running commentary, telling me how he changed up the standard dialogue provided to him by the development team. He has a point. Nearly every other fighter in the game says the same thing and offers the same words of encouragement, but Faber sounds authentic. He calls you “dude” and “bro” and all of the other things that Faber would actually say to you if you held a conversation with him, and that makes training with the virtual Faber a pretty fun experience.
Faber asks me if I’ve played the game, and I tell him that I have. What I do not tell him, however, is that the 20 minutes I spent earlier that day going through the various workout modes made me tired and ready for a nap. Knowing Faber as I do, he would probably encourage me to give it another shot, to set goals for myself and not give up on my dreams, and then I would feel obligated to immediately work out and attempt to run several miles.
I do not do this. Instead, I am reminded of my first experience with UFC Trainer earlier in the day.
When I first fired up the XBox 360 and turned on the Kinect, I was a little concerned that the technology that allows the Kinect to recognize me in a room filled with people actually existed. I consider myself a man of the future. I love gadgets and I love technology, but I’m not sure how I feel about a little black box that actually recognizes my face and greets me by name.
I’m also not sure about a little black box that puts me through a workout equal to just about any cardiovascular effort I can muster in a gym.
I tried every mode the game had to offer. A virtual Greg Jackson took me through some warm-ups and stretches, and then the virtual Javier Mendes took over. Mendes instructed me to throw punches in the air, and I started thinking that this game probably wasn’t meant for me, that it was meant for people who literally never work out. But after the 50th or so right hook, I realized something: I was tired. Not only was I tired, but my right arm was mustering a revolt, and I was pretty sure it would stop working at any moment.
I hit pads with Cain Velasquez. I listened as Forrest Griffin berated me for not giving enough effort (In all fairness, he was right. I was slacking). I worked on knees, elbows and uppercuts with Frank Mir, who encouraged me to give more of myself when training, and did so in a very polite manner. I appreciated this.
This seemed to be a popular theme; I was not working hard enough, and the virtual fighters were kind enough to point this out. And in the end, I think that’s what makes UFC Trainer so effective. Is it going to turn you into a UFC fighter? No. It won’t even set you on the road to an amateur career. It probably won’t teach you how to throw a hook like Rampage Jackson or how to take down an opponent like Georges St-Pierre.
But it does make home fitness fun, and I think that’s the ultimate goal. You can turn on your video game system of choice in the comfort of your own home and train with fighters who you know and love from television broadcasts. It’s not designed to improve your mixed martial arts game; it was created to make fitness fun for fans of mixed martial arts, and in that respect, it’s a wild success.