Mark DellaGrotte is the owner and operator of Sityodtong gym in Somerville, Massachusetts. Having trained professional MMA fighters like Kenny Florian, Marcus Davis, and Stephan Bonnar, the well-known Muay Thai teacher was a natural to help train Kevin James in preparation for his role in the recently released film Here Comes the Boom (10/12/12). Lucky for us here at About.com Martial Arts, DellaGrotte was able to take the time to talk with Robert Rousseau about Kevin James, his role in the film, his martial arts background, philosophy, and more.
Check out what he had to say below.
On his Muay Thai beginnings.
"I come from a martial arts background. My uncle Joe, my father's brother, started me at a very young age. I consider him my first teacher. (I) started with traditional martial arts. Tae Kwon Do, Shotokan Karate, things of that nature. I was given the opportunity by a friend of mine, Tom Woods, who actually was going over to Thailand and said, hey you want to come, you want to check this place out- I've been there a couple of times. And away I went to Thailand, (where) I found my love and my passion in Muay Thai."
On what makes Muay Thai special.
"I'm glad you asked that. I often say that mixed martial arts- it's mixed, there's no culture necessarily behind it. There's many cultures, I guess. But there's nothing that drives it, so to say. What I thought about Thailand and Thai boxing was that it was derived from the culture, it was derived from Thai people, as all martial arts are. What I truly enjoyed about learning Thai boxing as a martial art was the fact that it that was so in depth when it came to religion, even Buddhism and the way of the Thai boxer and the way of Thai people and how they've used it to protect their borders against foreign invaders.
That's what truly amazed me. You go around to these local mixed martial arts shows and you don't know who's the teacher or who's the fighter everybody's bro- hey what's up bro, hey how you doing bro. Anytime you see a Muay Thai teacher or you see practitioners of Muay Thai....they take a bow....And the culture and respect and the discipline that comes from that is what intrigued me the most."
On meeting Kevin James
"I was actually filming the Ultimate Fighter Season 4 with a coach, with GSP and Randy Couture as well as Marc Laimon, and one night GSP said I'm going to a Kevin James' comedy show, you want to come with me? I said absolutely. So I met Kevin James and Bas Rutten that night with GSP for the first time and we began our relationship. Then further from that, Ryan Parsons actually reached out to me said that Kevin's going to be doing a movie in Boston (he's worked with Kevin extensively), and was looking to train. He's a huge fan of the sport, so he wanted to spend some time with me in Boston while he was filming and continue his training. Ryan Parsons put that together. So if it comes down to it, I met him (James) for the first time with GSP, and Ryan Parsons was the man who put this whole thing together."
On training Kevin James.
"As far as training Kevin goes, it was just like training a fighter. I credit Kevin for the discipline that he had for making this movie. A lot of people don't know, he didn't use camera angles and high speed and stuff. He put in the work, he lived like a fighter, he trained like a fighter, and it's going to show in the movie. He actually put in probably about a year and a half, close to two years to get ready and to lose weight and to gain the skills that it was going to take to pull this off. He didn't want to just make it a Hollywood thing and come off wrong. He wanted to accurately depict the sport, the UFC brand, and he wanted to represent it well; he's a huge fan. I've trained fighters for two-three months at the most for a camp, (so) for Kevin to eat right and to work with the nutritionist and a coaching staff for almost two years was impressive to me."
On honoring his Muay Thai teachers and background through his role in Here Comes the Boom.
"A lot of people perhaps could be misled by the fact that I'm in the movie and my brand is in the movie and it's about me and the brand. It really wasn't. To give back to the people from Thailand who gave me the right to even bear that name was the best payout. I thought to make my teacher in Thailand- Kru Yodtong the owner and master of the camp in Thailand- to make them proud, was the biggest reward, over monetary."
On James as a person.
"Kevin is a remarkable person. He's down to earth, he's one of us. You know, a lot of people have this image of Hollywood celebrities being different, being stuck up or having a certain image that they put off. But Kevin is one of us. And what connected us the most is that he's a huge fan of the sport.....What I was most impressed with was the fact that he was down to earth. He truly had a passion for mixed martial arts and was truly a fan and an advocate of the sport. So that's why we connected so easily. He's the type of guy that anyone would get along with if given the chance."
DellaGrotte's philosophy on martial arts.
"Obviously, the martial arts, a lot of people say they're not for everybody, but I believe different, I think they are for everybody. I think a lot of people that practice martial arts think that it's just about fighting and perhaps that if you're gonna do mixed martial arts you need to pursue a career as a fighter, and that's not the case at all. Martial arts bring awareness, they bring discipline, they bring self confidence, and those are the core values of martial arts that I think are often overlooked nowadays. It's become a Burger King MMA have it your way and a TapOut contract and I wanna be in the UFC. Martial arts was never like that originally. That's the only image I try to steer clear from. I like to encourage anybody coming into the gym whether they want to be a fighter or not that martial arts has something positive they can benefit from."
On image in MMA and Sityodtong's training focus.
"We offer classes for men, women, children.... That's again, the image that we try to get rid of (that MMA is only for fighters). That's why guys like Dana White, Lorenzo Fertitta, Frank Fertitta, the people at Zuffa and the UFC pushed so hard to legitimize the sport, get it into everybody's household, make it acceptable, show people that there is a martial arts side to mixed martial arts. A lot of people overlook that. They think it's dark, they think it's just about fighting in a cage. That's really not the message that I put out, that's really not the message I want the fans to get."
On recognizing potential fighters.
"Recognizing talent is part of being a good coach, and part of running a gym and leading a team of fighters. The gym is located in a pretty rough part of town. It's predominantly a Latino, Brazilian community. The gym is not downtown Hollywood, with neon lights in the windows. The gym that I run has always been fighter based. But now we're breaking off and we're actually appealing to more of the children, the women and everything. But when I see talent...or if I see somebody that comes into the gym that has athleticism and has ability and I think that they could potentially become something, I let them know that right away."
More on Here Comes the Boom
"This movie is not just about martial arts, it's not just about MMA, it's not just about the UFC. We know and love that. The fans in this sport are just unique and they're diehard, so to say. But I think what I'd like everybody to know is that there is so much more than mixed martial arts in this movie. There's Kevin James, there's comedy, Salma Hayek's in it, there's romance. I mean, the movie was well written and put together very well, the fans are going to appreciate it not just for the MMA."