MMA champion Alberto Mina is ready for his fight with Shinsho Anzai
As MMA champion Alberto Mina braces for the biggest fight of his life, he tells Kylie Knott how he stays in top shape
Alberto Mina knows what it's like to push the mind and body to the limit. The 32-year-old Brazilian-born, Hong Kong-based MMA fighter has been practising martial arts since he was five, "initially in judo then Brazilian jiu-jitsu when I was about 12".
By the time he was 21, Mina had black belts in both disciplines. But he was still hungry for more.
"I wanted a new challenge, and that's how MMA came into my life. Being a fighter is like being any other pro athlete - you have to live a disciplined and controlled life, which suits my personality," he says from London, where he's undergoing intensive training ahead of his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) showdown with Japan's Shinsho Anzai in Macau on Saturday.
The fight at the Cotai Arena will be the biggest of Mina's life, a milestone he should have reached in March when he was scheduled to become Hong Kong's first fighter to compete in the UFC. Mina was pumped and ready for battle at the Venetian Macao but his opponent, American Zak Cummings, failed to make the weight.
Left frustrated but not beaten, Mina turned his focus to this weekend's bout and he's ready for redemption.
"Yeah, I'm nervous but I haven't met anyone who's not nervous before a fight. I'm in an alert state but the years of training also bring a calmness to this process. When the bell rings, everything fades."
Weighing just over 77kg and 180cm tall, Mina is a well-oiled fighting machine. But while physically toned, Mina - who holds a bachelor's degree in sports science and a postgraduate degree in physiology - is fully aware of the importance of mental preparation.
"It's the pinnacle of all preparation. I concentrate on training and on my strategic plan that I've developed with my team. I also visualise parts of the fight," says Mina, who has yet to lose a fight (his score card is 11 wins, zero losses).
The only fight he's "lost" was in the film Unbeatable, last year's hit starring Hong Kong's Nick Cheung Ka-fai in which Mina had a cameo. And while he loved the film, he hated the feeling of losing.
"I tasted fighting in small movie projects in Brazil, but the experience didn't compare with Unbeatable. The actors in this movie trained for their part - I mean, they really trained. They were committed to performing as realistically as possible. The scenes were really intense and the director [Dante Lam] struck a good balance between the real and the artistic," he says.
"But losing the fight in the movie made me feel bad, even if it was just a movie. I've never lost inside the cage and I intend to keep it that way. I want my only loss to be in the Unbeatable movie. I will work hard to keep it this way because I really didn't like the feeling," he says.
Determined to keep a perfect scorecard, Mina follows a strict training schedule that intensifies about eight to 12 weeks before a fight. He trains two, sometimes three, times a day, developing something that many try to avoid - a routine.
"I get into a pattern before a fight. My day revolves around my training sessions and my rest periods. Nothing else. Maybe just a movie at night. I live to prepare for the fight."
Diet also plays a vital role. "I can't stress enough the importance of diet during training. You have to fuel your body with the nutrients needed to assist performance and recovery. When training is so intense, it's also about adequate supplementation to stay healthy and strong," he says.
"I keep things simple. All meals include some lean protein and vegetables: lean fish or meat and vegetables either cooked or raw. Before training I take BCAAs [branched-chain amino acids] and after training a whey protein shake and glutamine. I take fish oil with every meal and a green shake in the morning.
"At the level I compete, I have to make sure I keep a strict nutritional protocol, so I don't sacrifice my health, my body composition and my performance."
Mina teaches at the Epic mixed martial arts club in Central, a job he took up two years ago after he visited the city and fell in love with it. Those youngsters lucky enough to have Mina as a mentor should heed his advice.
"For kids wanting to get involved with MMA, it's important to train with the best you can afford. The difference in progress is huge," he says.
Mina looks to the heavens for support, which led to his nickname, "The Soldier of God". "The nickname was a tribute to my faith, and I guess a thank you to God for allowing me to perform and compete, while keeping me safe."
To relax, Mina practices traditional yoga at Epic, as well as antigravity yoga. "It is the best thing for decompression and deep stretching. Some of the antigravity sessions are for relaxation and you feel cocooned in the hammock. If people haven't tried it, they should because it does wonders for the body and the mind."
Mina plans to take the future a step at a time. "My aim is to perform the best I can at all times. I want to make my Hong Kong fans happy and proud - after that, the rest will follow. My goal is to challenge the championship belt but at this point I'm focusing on my next opponent."
He has high hopes for MMA in his adoptive city.
"Epic has lifted the profile of MMA here, and it will work in Hong Kong's favour. I've been well received, and I feel at home. I'm representing Hong Kong."
How MMA fighter Alberto Mina sheds those kilos
Reducing weight is one of the most difficult parts of Alberto Mina's preparation, and essential in combat sports.
"It's a gruelling experience because you don't want to cut too early and yet you don't want to have too many kilos to lose just a few days before a fight," he says. "Keep in mind that one to two days before the weigh-in I have to lose 5kg to 7kg. I pretty much gain it all back the night after the weigh in."
To reduce calories and water, Mina will spend a lot of time in sauna and bathtubs a day or two before a fight. How long he stays depends on how much weight he has to drop.
"I'll stay in a bath or sauna for at least two to three hours, on an intermittent basis, on the final days of weight cutting. I stay until I've hit my desired weight. I don't eat or drink much over these two days. After the weigh-in I have to rehydrate properly and eat lots of carbs to restore energy without taxing my system." Kylie Knott
Epic MMA Club, 1/F China Building, 29 Queen's Road Central, tel: 2525 2833. Tickets for Saturday's fight at cotaiticketing.com