MMA fighter Max Bohanan keeps rolling with the punches
For Max Bohanan, it all started with a broken finger.
The 24-year-old Bordentown resident played basketball growing up, but when he injured his finger playing the sport as a freshman at Bordentown Regional High School, he decided to take up another activity.
“You know, I’m not going to the NBA, so I tried boxing and kind of fell in love with it,” he said.
He settled on boxing after watching a reality competition show called The Contender, which followed a group of boxers week to week. He thought the sport was something he could do.
And he was right. Bohanan is now on his way to a professional Mixed Martial Arts career. He is undefeated in four amateur and three professional fights, and he will face Lashawn Alcocks in his fourth on June 5 at the Tropicana in Atlantic City.
He lost his first boxing match, but he stuck with it. As high school went on—and MMA started to grow in popularity—Bohanan watched more and more MMA on television and, as a result, took up jiu jitsu and started wrestling for the high school team. His father, Jim, also taught him basic techniques as a child.
Boxing, jiu jitsu and wrestling were all very different from the team ball sports he was used to, but he liked that.
“I wasn’t selfish, but I always felt like I was more independent than a team player,” he said. “The reason I got into wrestling was because I didn’t have to worry about my teammates losing. I don’t have to count on anyone except myself. If I lose, it’s on me.”
Bohanan enrolled at Hamilton’s Ricardo Almeida Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy during his senior year of high school in 2009, and that’s when he started to take fighting seriously. He had his first amateur MMA fight later that year, a win over Chris Fredericks.
He had three more amateur fights in 2010, and will have had four professional matchups since May 2014 come June 5. He would have had another in April, but a shoulder injury during training sidelined him.
“He’s getting a little bit more mature from the first amateur fight,” said Bohanan’s mom, Bobette. “He was fighting all older guys, 25 and 26, when he was 17. I can go back and maybe see a clip of the first, second or third fight and see how much more confident he is.”
MMA often combines the skills Bohanan learned while wrestling, boxing and training jiu jitsu. Fighters are usually trained in all three, though some may specialize in one over the other two.
“That’s the hard part, trying to incorporate [all three],” he said. “Sometimes, you just have one style where you’re more of a boxer. Now, MMA is so involved, you have to know how to wrestle, you have to put your punches together, be able to take it down. You’ve got to be able to incorporate it, which is hard to do sometimes.”
That’s where Almeida’s coaching came in, Bohanan added. Using skills from all three sports at once was tough at first.
“I was trying to combine them, but I just wasn’t putting them together like I should,” he said. “I knew I needed all of them, but I didn’t know how to put them all together. That’s why having a coach really helps. They’re not doing it for you, but they give you the guidelines.”
A normal day for Bohanan, who also coaches at Almeida’s, is busy enough. He gets up, trains around 10 a.m., teaches a noon class, and trains a little bit more after that. After a meal and a nap, he returns to the academy to teach and train again at night. But when he has a fight coming up, he’ll add in something like boxing in the morning and a cardio session at night.
He also has to follow a strict diet in the weeks leading up to the fight in order to get his weight down—egg whites and distilled water are key. Bobette said it can be stressful on both of them.
“It puts me over the edge,” she said. “I’m like, ‘You can’t even have a piece of fruit?’ It’s tough to see him go down like that.”
Bobette also gets nervous during the actual fight,which is something that started when he first decided to pursue MMA.
“When the fighting thing was coming in, I started stressing,” she said. “I’m taking it as it comes. This kind of builds up your resume if you want to have your own [gym] someday. Now that we’re at the fourth fight, it’s an exciting time.”
Bohanan said she’s “the biggest fan.” She always studies up on his opponents, learning their stats and what skills they have perfected. She helps him keep up with his diet and has been to countless boxing, wrestling and jiu jitsu matches. She also brings a crowd of friends and relatives from all over the country to watch Bohanan.
His last fight was a particularly memorable one, she said.
“They were in this corner, and nobody knew what was going on because they were all in this ball,” she said. “Everybody was screaming, and all of a sudden, it was over. He got up, and I’m like, ‘What just happened?’ When I know he feels good and confident and it’s over, that’s when I can breathe deep. Everything’s good.”
Bobette said the two have had many conversations about what Bohanan will do when his fighting career ends, but for now, he’s not sure how long it will last.
He initially wanted to start fighting as a way to support his family, and that is still a possibility if he keeps winning, but he did say he feels a little bit “like a starving artist” right now.
He also hopes to do something like open his own gym or training facility somewhere down the line, because he enjoys his current instructor role, and Bobette approves. She sometime sits in on the classes he teaches, and the reaction is always positive.
“I have parents telling me that they love what Max has done for their kids,” she said. “He keeps them squared away and focused. He loves training the kids. Once, they didn’t know I was his mom, and they were all getting in line and getting ready for practice. One was helping put the gi together, others were taking their shoes off, and all of them were listening.”
It’s just a reflection of his personality, she said. Bobette recalled a recent incident when some friends reached out to her all at once and asked if Max was running down Route 206. She had no idea what they were talking about, but she soon learned that he was helping a man in a wheelchair down the road.
She said she never would have known if her friends hadn’t seen him, because he never would have told her.
“He is a person who is very humble,” she said. “If he had a million dollars, you wouldn’t know he had a million dollars.”
He stays humble right up until he gets in the ring or on the mat. When he fights, though, he blocks out everything but his opponent. And he hopes to keep that going as long as possible, even if he doesn’t like to think too far into the future.
“I have a lot of people saying, ‘You’re going to be in the UFC, you’re going to be somewhere,’” he said. “I don’t like to think that far ahead. I just want to take it fight by fight. I do have faith in myself that I could be on a big stage, maybe in a few years.”