MERRILLVILLE | Justin Mora doesn't mince words.
"Training sucks," he said. "There's no other way to describe it.
"That's why the most important thing is not necessarily one's athleticism, but their mental approach ... how much hard work they're willing put into it."
Mora is a former Lake Central wrestler who was a 145-pound state runner-up his senior year (2003). He continued his wrestling career at Michigan State University, but was hampered by a bladder disease that may have been sparked from "training too hard" and a sometimes dubious diet.
With help from a nutritionist, Mora was able to recover from the disease and return to the mat -- or rather octagon -- as a mixed martial arts fighter.
"I still have something to prove to myself," said Mora, who has a 3-0 MMA record -- his last win was a first-round TKO over James Clayburn at Hoosier Fight Club 13 last November. "My high school and college wrestling career didn't turn out they way I planned. Maybe I can go further with (MMA) and help teach people not to make some of the mistakes I made."
Five months ago, Mora founded and opened up Next Level School of Strength in Merrillville.
"Since I love wrestling ... it's given me so much ... I wanted to start a gym that caters to high school and college wrestlers as well as (MMA) fighters," said Mora, who has already attracted several local wrestlers as well as local cagefighters for clients.
"We're not into body sculpting," Mora said. "We focus on human performance, and how to properly train and (in competition) how to move and use your body most effectively."
Mora said that he has helped a local fighter from Duneland Vale Tudo, where Mora also trains, strengthen his core so his formidable upper and lower body could work in better concert.
"He was already a great athlete, but now with him better able to transfer the strength from his legs up through his body, his hands have become much more heavier with more dropping power," Mora said.
One thing Mora has learned from his wrestling days is that maintaining a relentless incline in quest for improvement doesn't always lead to optimum results.
"I used to try to approach things at 200 percent, always moving up, up and up," Mora says as his hand pantomimes a steep graded ascension. "But often, that's how you get hurt and get sick.
"You've got to taper your training as you go up. That's the best way to reach peak performance by competition time."
Mora's training stresses proper nutrition.
"I have some weaknesses, like doughnuts," he said. "Other than that, as a general rule when I go grocery shopping I stay to the outside edges of the store where the fresh produce, meats and fish are located. Yeah, you sometimes have to go more inside to get stuff like cooking oils, but all the processed food usually stocked there are what I stay away from."
As expected from a former wrestler who works with current wrestlers, Mora was relieved when the International Olympic Committee reconsidered its decision to drop wrestling from the 2020 Games.
"It's one of the original Olympic sports with countries all over the world competing in it," Mora said. "It really didn't make much sense to drop it. It would have just hurt all the high school and college wrestling programs, and USA Wrestling (the sport's governing body in America) would have shriveled up and gone extinct in a matter of years."