By: Rich Wyatt
I first saw Joshua Lening fight at a Ruckus in the Cage show in Charlotte last Spring.
A heavyweight fighting out of Shelby, Josh is quickly gaining a reputation among those that follow MMA in North Carolina. In the year that has passed since, I've followed Joshua's progression. His amateur record now stands at a perfect 7-0 mark. The first thing that one notices is that Lening is a fairly big heavyweight. Although his 6'1 height is average for a heavyweight fighter, he has the frame to easily carry an in-shape 250 pounds. The thing that has stood out the most to me, however, is how fundamentally sound he is. He appears well-coached and doesn't seem to carry a lot of bad habits in the cage. Lening does not allow himself to get too sloppy either, something unusual for most young heavyweight amateur fighters. In the fights I've seen his approach is textbook: Chin tucked, he walks his opponent down behind a nice, solid jab and throws good (crisp but not wild) combinations with bad intentions. Although most of his wins so far have come by way of knockout, you'd be mistaken to take his ground game for granted. Lening finished second in the Intermediate division at a NAGA regional tournament held just last year in Georgia. I caught up with Josh to get a profile of the man who appears to be shaking things up in the heavyweight division:
RW: Can you tell us a little about your background, and how you got into MMA?
JL: I played college football for Gardner Webb University, a D-1AA school. The coaches there liked to see the offensive linemen stay between the 270 to 300 pound mark. After graduation, my weight ballooned up to around 360 lbs. I knew that I needed an outlet to stay in shape. Myself and a good friend, Chris Harrison, had both wrestled in high school. We began training and working cardio. One thing we had in common is that we were both fans of MMA. I began quickly seeing the weightloss results and decided to continue training. I sought out a Jiu-Jitsu class at a local gym, Ray Rice Karate. I had absolutely no idea what to expect, but began feverishly working out, hours a night. I also began training some in Boiling Springs, SC. My first nights there I got tapped repeatedly early on, but it was a learning experience and the beginning of my education in the sport. I was hooked and began to train with them more and more. A mutual contact informed me of the Ruckus in the Cage event in Asheville in April of '08 and I was put in contact with the promoter and the rest is history. With determination and help from my team, I was able to cut to 245 for this fight and that showed me just how dedicated I really was to fighting. One thing I've learned is that this sport takes a team. It's one on one but it's really a team effort to prepare and gameplan.
RW: You just fought a couple weeks ago. How are you feeling now?
JL: I came out of the fight fine. Fighters stay injured to some degree. Rolling in practice, it's like football, you're never 100% healthy. No fighter is. I'll do what I need to do to get my body ready for the next challenge.
RW: Ideally, when would you like to be back in action?
JL: I like to stay busy. I was right back into practice after my last fight. I'll take a few weeks off to recoup now and get my cardio back to where it needs to be. I would definitely like to be back in there by the end of the Spring.
RW: Is there any particular heavyweight out there that you'd like to fight in an upcoming event or does it matter?
JL: I'll fight anybody. If they're better than me, so be it. Chico held the Ruckus belt for so long and it was a challenge that I wanted. I'll take anything that anybody wants to throw at me. I'll only get better fighting great competition and that's what I want. If you stop learning, your career is over. I want to keep challenging and pushing myself. I'll fight anyone.
RW: Where do you do most of your training and what does your typical workout consist of?
JL: Right now my team trains out of Harris, NC in Rutherford County. We've normally got anywhere from 6 to 12 guys, including three active fighters. We work hard in practice every day with the same effort that we'd bring into a fight. We'll hit bags for 6-9 rounds for cardio. We transition to the ground and go for about 45 minutes. Wrestling, then straight Jiu-Jitsu. Practice usually runs 3 and a half to 4 hours. Afterwards we'll discuss how practice went and talk strategies and gameplans for upcoming fights. We definitely approach practice with the same effort that we put into fighting.
RW: Now, I understand that you have a brother that currently competes. What's that like working his corner and watching him fight?
JL: Man, I'm more nervous when Jacob fights than I am for my own matches. You literally can't hear the crowd for my screaming. I'm coaching the entire time. My voice is shot for a week after. And he's the same way when I fight. I'm like that with all my training partners, as well. It really is a team sport. I'm definitely a lot more nervous when my teammates are competing. Dan Terry, one of our training partners, he's fighting this weekend and I'll be the same way with him. On our team it's like we're all brothers.
RW: Tell me a little bit about your full-time job at Harvest Works in Shelby. How did you get started there and what do you do there?
JL: While at Gardner-Webb, some of us had a chance to work with elementary school kids in Cleveland County. I studied Sociology so that I could work with kids and troubled youth. I did a work study to work with a teen group that consisted of kids with special needs. I knew I wanted to work in that field. A month after graduation I had a job working with Harvest Works. What we offer is like a modified Big Brothers, Big Sisters setup. The individuals that we work with have their own customized program. We help find the best way to help these kids learn and develop cognitively. I'm currently one of two program coordinators. We are in charge of administering the programs for approximately 50 individuals. We hope to help these young people reach their potential. A lot of these kids don't understand that it's okay to be themselves. Their self-esteem is often extremely low initially, but with this support setting they're allowed to have fun, grow and develop in a safe environment.
RW: Are there any fighters out there on the North Carolina MMA scene that you'd like to mention that we should be keeping an eye on?
JL: I obviously want to mention my brother, Jacob. He's currently 1-0 and he's an up and coming fighter. Daniel Terry is a lightweight with a 1-0 record. That guy has a tremendous devotion to the sport. He's a high motor guy who works harder than anyone. He won recently in Tennessee in just 28 seconds. His standup is phenomenal. I truly believe that he's someone that everyone at 155 pounds needs to look out for. But I've got to tell you about Jimmy Fowler. He's a 125 pounder who is, I believe, is 7-0. I promise he'll be in the WEC within 18 months. Brandon Beach, a former collegiate wrestler, is a fighter with a 2-1 record who experienced an injury recently, but if he's able to come back he'll be someone solid to look out for. I try to keep guys around me that have my same mindset and work ethic.
RW: Who do you like in the Silva vs. Leites and Rua vs. Liddell fights this weekend?
JL: I like seeing Chuck getting back in there and trying to improve his game. I think he'll win convincingly. As for Anderson Silva? I think he might be one of the most unbeatable SOB's out there. I've never seen anyone in this sport with Muay Thai skills like Anderson. His standup is incredible. Unless Leites gets him to the ground quickly it could get ugly.
RW: Any parting thoughts or anyone that you'd like to thank?
JL: I want to thank my team. We each have our own strengths and unique knowledge and we all benefit from each other. We're dedicated to making each other better. My wife is very supportive and even tapes all of my fights. The devotion I put into training is ridiculous and without her I wouldn't be able to do this.
*Rich Wyatt will be a special contributor to MMA4Real. We thank him for his efforts, and would like to thank Joshua for taking the time out to speak with us.