Ring of fire

As the only fighter in Ultimate Fighting Championship history to hail from Calgary, Nick “The Promise” Ring holds the crown as the city’s greatest mixed martial arts athlete. With an accomplished history that includes victories in both Bellator MMA and the UFC, Ring has proven to be one of the most dominant professional athletes Calgary has ever produced, compiling a 13–2 professional record in which he went undefeated for the first nine years of his career.

Sipping on a post-workout coffee and fresh off an hour-long cardio session at the University of Calgary, Ring’s face lights up as he launches into an explanation of the body’s ability to use its energy efficiently. Despite having trained and fought all over the world, Ring has embraced Calgary as his home base, not simply for the nostalgia attached to walking down his own streets, but for the tremendous resources the city — and the University of Calgary specifically — provides.

“A lot of people don’t realize this,” Ring said, “but here in Calgary, this is one of the premier high-performance gyms in all of Canada.”

The U of C’s facilities are some of the many Ring uses to hone his craft.

“I’ve found out how to get the best out of this city,” Ring continues. “I train at various gyms. I train with the University of Calgary Dinos wrestling team. I train at Bowmont Boxing. I’m at the Olympic Oval. I run around basically. I do three workouts a day, and I go around and find the best partners I possibly can.”

As the most accomplished professional fighter in Calgary’s history, Ring couldn’t be happier with the support he receives from the city.

“It has been great. I couldn’t ask for anything more,” says Ring. “Had I been anywhere else, I don’t know that I’d get the kind of attention that I do.”

A fighter of his stature is not limited when it comes to opportunities however, and he relishes the chance to train with athletes like Georges St. Pierre — one of the world’s best — at TriStar gym in Montreal. Ring says that training in such an environment is not simply a luxury, but a necessity, as working with elite talent is essential in the pursuit of progress.

“This kind of sport is very honest,” Ring explains. “You’re either good or you’re not. If you’re weak in an area, that’s going to get exposed very quickly. It’s very crucial that you get out and train with some of these higher-level athletes and expose those weakness, and then go work on them.”

“For me, it’s very routine. It’s just putting in your time and getting your repetitions in,” Ring continues, whose philosophy towards training stems from an understanding of the body’s ability to take over when needed most.

“When you’re in a fight and you get hurt, you don’t have to think anymore. It’s just a part of your body. That’s what happens with these repetitions, doing these things day in and day out. Even when you’re practically unconscious on your feet, your body still knows what to do. I’ve had that actually happen, where essentially I was knocked out but my body just keeps on fighting. Your body just knows what to do, even when you don’t know what to do, just because you’ve got that background of over and over and over — and you’ve developed this environment that can carry you through those tough spots when you’re in a match. It’s incredible.”

Training for a fight is a grueling exercise in determination and resilience, but one Ring would never back away from.

“When it comes to motivation, sometimes you’re on, sometimes you’re off, but you show up regardless,” said Ring. “If you’ve got a match coming up, it’s still going to happen.”

Despite his dedicated training regimine, Ring understands that there is a level of unpredictability once the fight commences.

“Each fight that you have, they’re not all going to be equal,” said Ring. “Sometimes you train really hard and you do really badly, and sometimes you don’t have the best fight camp but things go really well in the ring. You don’t know what performance you’re going to give. It’s all about continuously working on these moves and figuring out what your style is — going with your strengths and then adding little pieces to the puzzle, little bit by little bit.”

Ring advises fighters to specialize in very few moves, but learn to execute them at a world-class level.

“There are thousands and thousands of martial arts moves, and you’ve got to figure out which five are your best, and then you’ve got to be better than anyone else in the world at those five, maybe 10, moves. That’s it. If you find something that can kind of work for you, and you can manipulate that into being a part of your game, then you go for it. That’s where the motivation comes from. How are you putting together the best fight, using your energy economically and dominating that guy?”

At this point in his career, with over a decade of professional experience under his belt, Ring has embraced the chance to serve as a mentor to Calgary’s next class of great fighters.

“There are a few guys coming up under me that I think have tremendous potential,” said Ring. “I’m helping them as much as I can. It’s more about me drawing from my experience in how to get there. With the UFC, you get there, but you also have to stay there. So what it’s going to come down to is hard work, being persistent and being very diligent about your training sessions.”

“I love what I do, and if I can help any younger guys come up and give them the lessons, it’s going to help them have longevity in their careers,” said Ring. “I don’t mind it at all. I like sharing my wisdom.”

That wisdom and experience goes far beyond the cages of the octagon, as Ring’s UFC experience has taken him on a wild ride, stretching as far as a military bunker in Afghanistan.

“The weirdest and most dangerous place I’ve ever been is Afghanistan,” Ring recalls. “I went as a guest, me and a couple other UFC fighters, to go over and say hi to the troops. After six hours of being in Afghanistan, we got rocket attacked by Taliban. So scary. The alarms went off, we had to hit the deck and run to a bunker.”

“We’d leave the bunker and everything, thinking the coast was clear, and then another rocket would get lobbed over and we’d hit the deck again and go back into the bunker. We did this five times. Every time we would leave, there would be another rocket. I thought I was going to die.”

Ring made it back home safely and is now preparing to make his long awaited return to the octagon, taking on Caio Magalhaes on Dec. 7, 2013 at UFC Fight Night 33 in Brisbane, Australia.

“I feel great going into this fight,” said Ring. “I have not fought since March. It’s very boring for me to sit here on the sidelines. I’ve had a bad year, and I’ve been wanting to punch somebody for so long. I’m excited to finally get that release. If you’re a fighter, you do have that element of an adrenaline junkie, and for you to be sitting out that long, it kind of stores up.”

That being said, when he does finally step back into that cage, it will not be a matter of simply swinging his fists looking for release. Ring understands the importance of mastering his own mind, energy and body.

“This is where you can’t be focusing on things that are happening in your life,” said Ring. “You have to be very present and in the moment to secure that victory. I find that the guys that are champions, they’ve got that ability. They’re able to tune everything out. They’re able to be just within their own reality.”

The art of fighting, as Ring explains, is not only about acting but reacting. The fight is won not by simply overwhelming your opponent with a barrage of physical attacks, but by being very attentive to the mental back-and-forth taking place.

“It’s about noticing — if you hit him in a certain way — did that hurt, or is he faking it?” said Ring. “Sometimes you’ll hit a guy hard and he’ll come back at you harder, and you know that that hurt because they’re trying to pay you back. Sometimes you’ll see the guy actually cower or wince. You’ve got to balance it out. Is it time to go in for the kill, or is it something he can bounce back from?”

“Then you’ve got to reserve your energy because sometimes you’ll go in for the kill and it didn’t kill him. Now you’re out. You’ve exhausted your energy, and you’ve got to dance around and restore it again. You’ve got to be careful how you do this. This is where the game is dangerous. There is danger as far as timing. There is danger as far as wearing out, not using your energy efficiently and burning yourself out. There are all sorts of miscalculations that can happen.”

Ring believes that a successful fighter must not only master his own mind, but his opponent’s mind as well.

“You’ve got to be very aware of what’s happening with this opponent, where he’s at in the fight,” said Ring. “You need to switch him from being the aggressor to being the guy who’s defending himself. It’s about taking action. It’s about taking control of the tempo and the pace of the match. When you can get inside of his head, where you start seeing him second-guess himself, that’s where you can start going in for the kill. It’s beautiful.”

Ring is truly dedicated to the cerebral nature of the sport. An open-hearted mentor and a diligent student of the art, Ring is a true fighter in all senses of the word — someone a city can rally behind. Calgary will do just that when Ring sets his sights on Magalhaes in Brisbane.

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