Aug. 28, 2009

By Amy Farnum

There wasn’t anything typical about Saint John’s University offensive lineman Cody Socher’s off-season training regimen, but he is hoping that it yields some stellar results as he enters his sophomore year.

Socher spent the summer as a sparring partner for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar, which entailed a little bit more than running and lifting weights.

Also the starting heavyweight for the Johnnies’ wrestling team, Socher first met Lesnar before entering high school. Lesnar, who won the 2000 NCAA Division I Championship at heavyweight, spent a few years with World Wrestling Entertaining, claiming three WWE titles before leaving the organization in 2004 and eventually making the transition to mixed martial arts.

“(Lesnar) lived in my hometown at the time, and I figured what the heck, I’ll write him a letter and see what happens,” said Socher.  “He had just left the WWE.  My letter just said that I was interested in working out with him, and I was wondering if he would take me under his wing for my high school career and preparing for college.”

Socher wrote the letter in the fall of his eighth grade year, but it was not until months later that he received an answer from Lesnar – in person.

“In the spring, our baseball team was doing a door-to-door fundraiser,” said Socher.  “I knew where he lived so I took his route, and went to his door.  When he opened the door, before I even said anything, he asked which one of the guys was Cody.”

Lesnar opened the letter just one week prior, and had planned on calling Socher to have the young man train with him.  He told Socher to be at his house at 5 a.m. that Monday.  Socher has worked out with Lesnar every summer since then, but this year he stepped up his role and became a sparring partner.

As one of Lesnar’s five sparring partners that helped the UFC heavyweight champion train for his last title bout in July, Socher kept busy between lifting weights, cardio training and sparring.

“Training is definitely intense – we mix it up.  It depends on how long it is until his next fight,” said Socher.  “If it’s a ways out, then we build up to it and peak at the right time.  When he gets closer to a fight, then we start tapering down.  We spar almost every day.  Sparring consists of either a striking day or a grappling day.   On a grappling day, you work on your wrestling.  It’s still the UFC-style, but you work on your ground game.  On striking days, it’s all on the feet – you hit a lot of bags and mitts and do some shadow boxing.”

Socher admits that fighting is a tough sport, and is thankful he and the other training partners suffered no serious injuries during Lesnar’s last camp.

“There were a few minor ones during this past camp,” said Socher.  “There are definitely some punches being thrown and some guys getting their bells rung a little bit.”

Although Socher cannot really gauge how this summer’s training will affect his upcoming football and wrestling seasons yet, he is excited to see the progress.

“Come wrestling season, I’m definitely looking forward to see how much improvement I’ve made,” said Socher.  “This is the most wrestling I’ve done over the summer, and it’s definitely helped my conditioning for football season.  I feel good and I’m not struggling to run.  It’s going to help my wrestling a lot, especially technique-wise.  It’s always good to keep the muscles that you are not usually using in shape.”

One day, Socher hopes to compete in his own mixed martial arts fights, but it’s something that is on hold until after college.

“I definitely wanted to do it this summer, but Brock pulled me aside and said I should wait until college is wrapped up to be sure,” said Socher.  “It’s definitely something I really want to do, but I have to look at the reality and see if it’s something I could succeed at.  I guess I have to try before I make that decision.”

Right now, Socher is focusing on competing for a starting offensive line position for the No. 13 Johnnies, and believes the program will once again challenge for a Division III championship.

“There’s no reason we can’t,” said Socher.  “We should make a run for the national title.  There are really no holes in our team this year – I don’t see why we can’t do it.”