By Rick Coates
Mess with Christos Piliafas and youre asking for a whoopin -- either
that or some good advice on how to get in shape: Christos was voted Best
Fitness Instructor by Express readers in a recent poll.
Piliafas is a Mixed Martial Artist (MMA cage fighter) who competes in the
ring and also trains other athletes at his gym Great Lakes Mixed Martial
Arts in Traverse City.
He currently holds a Brown Belt in a Brazilian form of Jiu Jitsu and is
also a certified Russian Sambo instructor.
He grew up in Flint where he was an all-state athlete in several sports at
Flint Central. After graduation he moved to Traverse City (he had family
living here) and managed a sporting goods store before eventually
opening his own gym. Piliafas is not only a promoter of MMA but of general
physical fitness and good health.
He sat down and gave an overview of his training philosophy and why MMA is
enjoying so much popularity.
Northern Express: Whats new with Great Lakes MMA?
Christos Piliafas: We are moving to a new 6,500 square foot facility on
Park Drive in Traverse City near Art Van. This is more than twice the size
of the facility we are currently in. We just outgrew our previous
location and a big part of that has to do with all the kids that are
signing up for our programs.
NE: So kids are participating in the Mixed Martial Arts?
Piliafas: Well, classes like Brazilian Jiu Jutsu that will eventually help
them if they decide to compete in MMA events. But you have to be 17 to
compete in MMA events.
NE: Do you think MMA is going to replace boxing someday?
Piliafas: Well it is hard to say. Soccer is popular all over the world,
but in America football still rules, despite soccer growing. MMA has grown
lots -- at first it was not socially accepted -- but that is changing and
now people are actually looking at the sport and starting to understand
that. This sport is not about two guys in a cage trying to kill each
other; there is a lot of technique involved. This is essentially a human
NE: To what do you attribute all the growth in MMA?
Piliafas: Well, from a spectator standpoint I hear from people all the
time there is no way they ever would attend a match -- that it is too gory
and it is just a bunch of thugs trying to kill themselves. Then typically
what happens is they might see it first on TV and they start getting
intrigued and before you know it they come out to a match. Once they see a
match live they are hooked. They see these fighters as athletes and that a
tremendous amount of skill and training is required to be successful.
NE: Take us through the training process.
Piliafas: Cardio is king. There is an old saying that it doesnt matter
how fast a car is if you dont have the gas to drive it. The training is
intense -- it is a lot of roadwork -- you are putting a lot of miles in, a
lot of running. The cardio kick-boxing and the MMA crossfit training is a
lot of circuit and kettle ball work. A lot of hand and foot work. Jumping
rope and more. It is about several different exercises that you do
repetitively. You have to be 100% totally dedicated. You cant come in and
just learn how to fight -- you have to condition. There are so many
aspects that you have to be dedicated to from the physical to the mental.
NE: How much do you train?
Piliafas: You train three to six hours a day to get ready to fight. You
dont take days off -- you simply mix up your workouts. So you work
different parts of the body and give another part of the body a day to
I have a fight coming up on April 16 and I am doing two workouts a day. I
come in in the mornings and do cardio and circuit work and the second time
I will do my weight training and something else with a five-hour break in
NE: Is there an age when you are too old?
Piliafas: No, we have guys in their 50s that are MMA fighters. We have
people who do the training and never fight; they just want to be in the
best physical and mental shape possible.
I am working with a guy who needed to lose weight. He has lost 150 pounds
in nine months and never had any intention of getting into the cage and
now he feels so good he wants to give it a try.
NE: What is the biggest stumbling block for people getting themselves in
Piliafas: I think it gets down to dedication. Some people just do not
understand what it takes to be a MMA fighter. If you want to get into this
kind of shape, the way you live your life has to change. You have to get
on a routine and be strict with yourself.
I have people every week come in and say they want to be a MMA fighter --
that they are the baddest street fighter I have ever seen. Then when they
go through one workout they find out it is not easy and they never come
back. You have to take it one day at a time and remember it is so hard to
get into shape and it is so easy to fall out of shape. I think what
happens is one day you wake up and you say, wow how did this happen to me?
Christos Piliafas may be found daily at the Great Lakes MMA gym in its new
location at 1757 Park Drive in Traverse City or by calling 248-755-9979.