“What these guys are starting to realize is that their gas tank sucks… If a full play from the snap to lining up for the next play is, like, thirty seconds, we want them to have enough gas to go two minutes. It’s like when we train fighters that have a five-round fight. We train them like they’re getting ready for a ten-round fight. That way, they go into round five thinking, ‘I’m not even gassed.’ That’s why Fred never gets off the field.”
Mujeed “MJ’’ Hamid, a founding member of Combat Sports Academy, understands this might just be his biggest impact on one of the league’s premier players. I mean, you don’t end up the top-rated Madden linebacker with an empty gas tank after all.
If you’re plugged into the Niners year round and have an Instagram account, you almost certainly recognize MJ. This is because he personally trains the gym’s most valuable clientele.
You can spot him with his thick-framed glasses and ever-present black shirt, usually taking blows from some of football’s fiercest hitters. You might also know him from a recent video in which he predicted that Deebo Samuel was about to get paid.
His reputation and experience have made him incredibly in demand in the world of fitness, especially among athletes competing at the highest level of their sport.
Combat Sports Academy, located in Dublin, California, might just be the finest monument to fitness in the Bay Area, if not California or the whole West Coast. For Hamid, it’s 50% office and 50% playground.
The cavernous 20,000-square-foot gym doesn’t waste an inch. High ceilings sit atop walls plastered with larger-than-life-size posters of world champion fighters, mats cover the floors upon which any conceivable type of punching bag rests (reflex, speed, heavy, etc.), and every corner or cubby seems to have gloves, pads, and all the other necessary tools to jump into the ring on a moment’s notice.
Over the past several offseasons, a steady stream of Niners have all taken up residency at the gym as part of their personal training regimens. Fred Warner, Deebo Samuel, Javon Kinlaw, Talanoa Hufunga, Maurice Hurst, Alex Barrett, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, and Josh Hokit have all logged time there in just the last couple of weeks.
The 43-year-old Hamid has an easygoing demeanor off the clock and the vibe of a cool vice principal you never actually want to see angry when he’s working in the gym. As you can tell from his time in the ring with the likes of Javon Kinlaw, he has a formidable stature and physique of his own that can still deliver a combo of powerful punches and kicks at will.
The Bay Area native transitioned away from a career in finance to open a small MMA/boxing gym thirteen years ago, deciding to return to what had been his true passion all along.
Since then, his business has steadily grown, upgrading from the original 5,800 sq foot space to 8,500 to 13,000 until they finally moved into their new home that’s nearly four times the size of the original, while also opening another location, Hook’d Gym, in Walnut Creek.
After seeing multiple videos of him with 49ers players, I reached out, and Hamid was more than happy to take a half hour to talk about the guys who walk through his doors, how his training brings something different to the table for them, and whether or not commenters on his videos have any idea of what they’re talking about.
The first thing that MJ stresses about his work is that it goes beyond each day’s drills. It’s about forming a bond with players, providing an outlet for the pressures that come with their high-profile profession, and lending an ear for them to voice the accompanying annoyances. Simply put, it’s about mental health.
Hamid cites Solomon Thomas as an example. When the defensive lineman first came to him in the wake of a personal tragedy, his only goal was to get his hands faster. Ultimately, they came to form an emotional connection. “We develop relationships, and with me, the bond goes farther than just, you know, holding the pads for them.”
He points to a more recent example in Javon Kinlaw, who’s become a devotee of the gym, as someone looking for not just a way to improve his explosiveness on the football field, but a way to channel his frustrations about the entrenched media narratives surrounding him. Hamid says, “People don’t think that these people have feelings,” he laughs before adding, “they can be some of the softest guys you’ll ever meet.”
Beyond providing an emotional release, these workouts serve a different purpose for professional athletes. Hamid explains, “All they know is football. Football, football, football, and all these coaches out there push them. And they push ‘em to say, ‘Hey, you know, what? Football is life.’
When football is life, all they do is: they lift, they run, and they hit. That’s what they do, and to them, it becomes tiring. It becomes boring, and they need a new fix. They need something else to do, and for them, it’s mentally very, very, very good.”
Breaking up the doldrums of a long season saddled with repetitive practices only represents the tip of the iceberg. Hamid saw the benefits of his training when speaking with one of the first Niners to put on the gloves with him.
Michael Wilhoite, a backup linebacker and key special team contributor on the 2012 Super Bowl roster, laid it out simply. “I don’t like to be lifting heavy weights. This is what helps me become better. I hit harder, I run through my blocks faster, and it helps with injuries.”
Hamid understands that focusing on the areas which often get overlooked by other trainers presents a huge upside. “A lot of the stuff that we do, the lateral movements, side to side, the back and forth, really helps because they don’t really go side to side. That’s where you see a lot of ACLs come up and the roll of ankles and all that. That’s how what we do can be so beneficial.”
Alongside the improvement to the lateral range of motion, Hamid sees another massive boost that directly relates to their play. “You have hands flying in your face, whatever position you’re at, offensive tackle, wide receiver, defensive back… There’s hands that come to your face constantly, and your eyes have to be open.
“What’s one of the most important things that they teach in boxing? Gotta keep your eyes open. You close your eyes; you flinch, you’re gonna get knocked in the face. You know, the hands move the feet, the feet move the hands. You gotta have your eyes open for that.”
Hamid sounds proudest when discussing the aforementioned Fred Warner and his growth within the gym as well as on the football field, like a teacher beaming over his dedicated student. “Fred doesn’t miss a day with me. He comes in twice a week. He messages me to make sure he gets in and does his work.”
Most importantly, Hamid has put a lot of time and thought into tailoring his training to Warner, so it can best help him excel at his position. “Fred, he’s got to kind of fall back into coverage. So when we’re doing pad work, I’m attacking, I’m going forward. He’s got to be able to punch going backward. His hands got to move forward while he’s going backward.”
He’s provided the same custom service for Kinlaw, who has undergone a huge physical transformation. “He’s faster; he’s leaner, he’s looser, he’s a whole different animal... He was really top heavy before, so now he’s not as top heavy, and his legs are humongous, and that’s what we were trying to do. Also, we’re trying to make his hands faster. So, when he goes through that offensive lineman, those hands are moving fast.”
This is when MJ took a second to clarify that he occasionally goes through the Instagram comments on his videos and knows that the second guessers sitting at home on their couch don’t understand what he’s trying to accomplish.
“Some of these people are just [expletive] idiots… Oh, his hands are too slow? His hands are this? I’m, like, okay, well, he’s not trying to become a boxer… We’re trying to speed up his hands.” Hamid chuckles, “Not everybody is as gifted as Bosa.”
That all being said, I did wonder something. Even with all those pads on, what’s it like taking a punch from the 320-pound, 6’5” Javon Kinlaw? The answer is obvious, “It [emphatic expletive] hurts. It really hurts. I mean, I put on a little weight right now, I’m about 240 when I’m usually a 220, 225 guy, and I can tell you it still really hurts...”
Hamid elaborates that the punishment he takes isn’t for naught. Like all his other drills, it serves a purpose. He could have Kinlaw punching up high on hand pads, but, as he notes, that’s not how pros carry a football.
“They are gonna hold the football right there at their side. That’s the positioning of his hand and where he’s punching. When a running back comes down the hole, you gotta be able to punch that ball out. You gotta have your hand in the right position because those guys know how to hold the football. They train to hold that football as tight as possible. You can’t slap that ball out. You gotta have your hand in a fist in the right position. Just watch how many fumbles happen this year.”
As we wrapped up, MJ sounded ready to tackle another day of directing his clients on and off of stationary bikes before having them take shots at a speed bag, wrapping resistance bands around their waists to make throwing punch after punch more strenuous, and calling out where they need to land the next flurry of blows in the ring...
But first, he let me know that I had a standing invitation to come by to check out the operation anytime. He even offered to hold some pads for me. I told him I might have to train just to start training with someone like him. He laughed and said, “Everyone’s gotta start somewhere...”