Inside Mac Mansion with Lee Hammond

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Peter Carroll spent a week at the Mac Mansion in the lead up to Conor McGregor UFC 189 title shot against Jose Aldo

There’s no denying the ability of 19-year-old Lee Hammond who will compete in the world jiu jitsu championships this weekend. Although he’s “not done much” striking before his tenure at ‘Mac Mansion’, the witty teen has thrown himself into the standing aspect of the sport during his time in Nevada.

“He’s going to be something special,” Owen Roddy tells me after his pad session with Hammond on a heavy Monday night. Hammond is so enthusiastic about challenging himself on the amateur MMA landscape he wanted his first test to be at the IMMAF world championships alongside established teammates James Gallagher and Frans Mlambo.

Although nobody in the house is calling Hammond’s skillset into question, the fact that he would’ve been 12 lbs lighter than anyone else in his bracket did cause some concern. Thankfully, Hammond has changed his mind on the world championships, but based on his training showings in Nevada, his amateur debut is one that shouldn’t be missed.

“I’m just going to go straight into it,” said Hammond from the living room of SBG’s Nevada stronghold. “I was thinking about doing that IMMAF thing, but it’s probably better off that I wait. It’s just too much weight, 12 lbs is too much. It would’ve been a nice way to make my debut.”

Like a lot of the athletes in the Henderson household, Hammond shares the obsession for movement that his teammate Conor McGregor has shown throughout his UFC tenure.

“I see all of the successful people focusing on different movements. Conor is always at it over here. He’s so strong in them lower base positions because of it, you don’t have to look too far outside of this house to see the impact it can have.

“When you use that approach your body feels a lot better. You’re warming up different muscle groups all the time. It’s functional for jiu jitsu too, it’s like Matrix jiu jitsu or something,” he laughed. “It’s just a different style.”

“I think there are two different ways to approach the sport now. There’s the drilling aspect of it and then there is this free flowing kind of style. I like to use both of them really. I like to go to the gym with a plan. I think of something I want to specifically work on, but I like messing around with this flow stuff as well.”

There have been debates about whether training in the gi is functional for MMA for years. For Hammond, the traditional uniform of ‘the gentle art’ has its advantages, and he can’t see himself ever training without it in the future.

He said: “I love training in the gi. I think it’s important for learning how to control distance and stuff like that. Even though I really want to do MMA now, I’ll always train in the gi. If you train in the gi and you switch over to no-gi, it’s not going to affect you. Whereas if you exclusively train without the gi and then you train in it, it’s going to be completely different.

“Obviously, playing guard is a bit different in no gi because you can’t control the sleeves or the lapels. I do think it’s important to train in the gi though, even if you don’t compete in jiu jitsu.”

Surprisingly, Hammond has only been a purple belt for six months. The Dubliner commented on why he feels he has been able to improve so dramatically, given the talent that surrounds him both in Dublin and now, in Nevada.

“I’ve been a purple belt for six months and I would love to be a black belt before I’m 21. That would be sweet,” he adds as smile cracks across his face. “The people that I have to train with in SBG have allowed me to get this good. You don’t really have to focus on every little detail, you just have to focus on trying to be as good, or better than the different guys that are on the mat everyday.

“All of us are kind of trying to be as good as Tom King, you know? I think he’s one of the best guys in Europe, he’s an amazing player. So all I have to do is beat him and then I’ll be the best!”

The young Dubliner revealed the moment he knew he wanted to pursue MMA and the lessons he is taking from training so closely with McGregor.

“It just kind of came to me one day after training. Conor gave me a lift home in his Mustang and we were just flying down the freeway on the way back to the house with the wind in our faces.

“Last year we came over here to compete in the worlds and we were all sleeping on the floor of some shit apartment. Now I’m sleeping on a memory foam mattress in a mansion in a gated community. That kind of thing makes a difference.

“It’s mad because I’m used to (training with McGregor) now. I’ve known him for a few years now and we’ve always been training together. People from the outside are always asking me what it is like to train with him. He’s unbelievable, he’s just so focused. As soon as he walks into that gym he’s completely focused.

“When he needs to switch on for training, he completely switches on. It’s like five hours of complete focus and then he’s still going over things when he gets home. Seeing a guy that mentally strong has definitely opened my eyes too.

“This experience is teaching me a lot about the mentality that these guys have. I reckon I think the same as all of the guys when it comes to training, but I do like to switch off and have a little float around the place when I’m back in the house.”

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Hammond also underlined the fact that his appearance at this weekend’s world championships will not be his last soiree with the sport. In fact, Hammond claimed that he wants to bring his sports jiu jitsu style into MMA.

“This world championships definitely won’t be my last time to compete in jiu jitsu,” he dismissed. “I just love to compete in the sport. I love trying to fill all of the gaps in my game and that’s why I look forward to these tournaments. I feel like I’m comfortable in top (position) now and I’m comfortable passing on both sides. It doesn’t matter if I change over to MMA, I’ll still compete as much as possible in jiu jitsu.

“It’s hard to do because jiu jitsu has become so sport specific. You need to spend hours everyday on the mat just to know how to score advantages. You watch the black belts and ‘Buchecha’ is the only guy who seems to be submitting anyone. Everyone else is winning by two points or by advantage.

“It’s hard to submit on that level so you have to try and formulate a game that can work in BJJ and MMA. It might not work at the highest levels in both of the sports, but I want to bring a sport jiu jitsu style to MMA. I’m gonna go in there leg drag the shit out of everyone!” he smiled. “I want to hit the first berimbolo in MMA. It might have to be from the top though.”

When he comes back to ‘Mac Mansion’ from the worlds the young SBG fighter insisted that he is going to be working on getting as sharp as he can with his striking.

“I’m competing on the Friday and then I’ll probably stay to watch the black belts. I’m gonna get back here and I think I leave a couple of days after Conor’s fight. I want to use my time here to get sharper at striking while we help Conor prepare for Aldo. I want to go into my debut with my striking as good as my jiu jitsu. I think it’s nearly cheating having Roddy here because he’s such an amazing striking coach.

“I started in his kid’s class when I was about 15 and I never really wanted to do striking. It’s weird, I’d make excuses to just do jiu jitsu all the time! At home I’d always go home and think about jiu jitsu, but now, over here, all I can think about is striking when I come back from training.”

Finally, Hammond gave his thoughts on Aldo vs McGregor:

“I think Conor could win by any way he wants to. He could knock Aldo out, he could submit him too. He could crack him and follow him to the floor and finish him with a rear naked choke. The thing is, once he hits you – you’re fucked. After that he can do whatever he wants.”

@PetesyCarroll

Check out all the editions of Inside Mac Mansion here

Peter Carroll is Severe MMA's lead feature writer. He has been featured in many top publications and some rubbish ones too. He also writes for the Irish Daily Mirror and Vice's Fightland.