Chann McRae, the director of Garmin-Transitions' U23 development squad Team Holowesko Partners, has proven himself as a professional cyclist with a USPRO national road championship, two top-10 finishes in the elite men's road world championship and a top-20 finish at the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana as highlights of his eight-year career. The 38-year-old McRae, however, has embarked on an altogether different physical challenge having taken up mixed martial arts.
"I've just gotten into it in the last 16 months. It's truly for hobby [purposes] after I've stopped racing Ironmans and as a professional on the road in cycling," McRae told Cyclingnews. "It's just something I find intriguing, developing my skills to be a better mixed martial artist."
McRae made his amateur mixed martial arts debut earlier this month in New Braunfels, Texas. Scheduled for three, 3-minute rounds, McRae suffered a TKO 0:52 into the third round.
"I don't have tons of time to put into it. If I was 18 and could do it over again maybe I'd like to do it professionally. I definitely have respect for the pros."
While travelling with the Team Holowesko Partners squad McRae finds it easier to train on the bike or via running, but when he's not on the road he focuses on a mixed martial arts regimen.
"I study Muay Thai and Jujitsu," said McRae. "Muay Thai is a standup striking technique where you use kicks, knees, punches and elbows. Jujitsu is more working your ground game, you learn different positions about how to tap a guy out from the ground. You can become a black belt in Jujitsu, which is a ways off for me, but that can be a goal as well."
While the training required to pursue a professional career in mixed martial arts is a world away from that of professional cycling, there are analogies regarding the rise through the ranks.
"It's a lot like cycling with its various categories, starting out as an amateur and working into bigger promotions," said McRae. "Once you get to be one of the best amateurs and you're winning on the regional circuit then you'll start to think about turning professional.
"Once you turn professional there's the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), the WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting) and Strikeforce. Those are the three biggest promotions. and that's where amateur fighters aspire to be."
As in professional cycling there's definitely a window of opportunity regarding the ability to achieve peak fitness, but each sport also has it's elder statesmen who are still a potent presence.
"It's kind of like cycling in that you peak at the same time, between 27 and 32 years old," said McRae. "In addition to the fitness element it's very skill based. There's a guy named Randy Couture and he's one of the best in the world and he's 46, although he's definitely an anomaly."
With one amateur fight under his belt, McRae is leaving his options open for future opportunities.
"If something comes up and a promoter wants to put me on a card and I feel like I've been doing enough training to get ready for it then I'd accept it," said McRae. "I'm not saying that I'm setting a schedule for myself."
In the meantime, McRae will be busy with Team Holowesko Partners, having just completed its season opening San Dimas Stage Race in California. The squad will turn its attention to the Redlands Bicycle Classic, Tour of the Battenkill, and Tour of the Gila. The development team will then undertake a five-week stint in Europe, competing at the 6-day Olympia's Tour in the Netherlands and the U23 Paris-Roubaix.