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Robin Black = your worst nightmare

jared k

TRIBE Member

Musician turns to mixed martial arts, films journey into the cage

Wed Dec 26, 1:27 PM

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

TORONTO - Rocker. Fighter. It's not your normal career path. But then there's little normal about Robin Black.

Needing a new challenge, the 33-year-old singer essentially put his music career on hold 18 months to two years ago and set about changing his lifestyle. Boozy late nights in bars were replaced by early-morning runs and sweaty sessions in the gym as he returned to the martial arts that had been such a big part of his life growing up outside of Winnipeg.

A second-degree black belt in taekwondo, Black fell in love with Brazilian jiu-jitsu upon his return to martial arts. And as his pint-sized body responded to the hours in the gym, Black upped the ante by deciding to enter the cage for a pro fight.

Black's unusual quest began to attract attention. And after a documentary filmmaker offered to capture his journey, he decided to partner with some familiar faces at MuchMusic. The ensuing 30-minute show "Robin Black: Cage Fighter" airs Friday (8 p.m. ET) on MuchMusic.

"It isn't really a story about a guy becoming a martial artist, it's just a story about some little guy with some big dream," explains the jovial Black, sitting cross-legged in the cage upstairs at the no-nonsense Toronto BJJ gym.

"Yes, it exists in the world of martial arts in this particular thing and it happens to be this guy who's sort of a B-level musician in Canada. But at its base it's a story about anybody trying to accomplish anything."

In his heyday as a glam rocker, Black made Ziggy Stardust look like one of the Beach Boys. The flamboyant performer had some success and two albums under his belt, include one orchestrated by top producer Bob Ezrin. But he says his musical journey and challenge had become stagnant.

"You're still at bar level, playing in a bar in Regina, going to another party at your hotel at 2 o'clock in the morning with the same people that were there on the last couple of tours and it just felt like there's more than this," he explained. "I didn't know what more was but I knew I needed a big challenge, like a big goal, something to sort of reignite that feeling that you're alive and you have a giant purpose and some big test that you need to do.

"I feel you just need some big purpose. Maybe some people are different, maybe not everybody does. But I definitely do and I don't think I'm alone. The band felt like it had plateaued or at least temporarily and I needed a new big challenge. And getting back to training martial arts for a while suddenly lit that fire and that was going to be the challenge."

MuchMusic has offered up only a taste of the show, showing snippets to critics and on YouTube. Those appetizers show Black working out with several top Canadian pro fighters: former UFC champion Georges (Rush) St. Pierre, Sam (Hands of Stone) Stout and Mark (The Machine) Hominick.

An emotional Black also deals with injury as he prepares for MMA trials in November, in effect an audition for pro MMA circuits.

The cameras began to shadow Black after he had spent enough time in the gym to be in really top shape. "At first it was neat and then it was kind of annoying and then you didn't even notice them," he said of the crew.

Five foot seven "on a tall day," Black walks around at about 140 pounds nowadays - he plans to fight as a 135-pound bantamweight. His lean body is fuelled by a menu that would bore a monk, although like most fighters he allows himself a "cheat day" every once in a while.

It's a far cry from being on tour.

"The world of music exists in dark bars, with shots of Jagermeister and drunk girls," Black said. "And the world of competitive sports or martial arts or that type of body development, that exists at 6 o'clock in the morning, running outside in the cold.

"Being a hungover singer in a small dirty van driving across Canada, you eat Wendy's four times a day. But trying to become a professional mixed martial artist, you're eating unseasoned chicken breasts and raw eggs and raw spinach and stuff like that."

Black celebrates his newfound fitness, after years of a mushroom-like existence as a musician.

"I looked like a guy who hadn't done any other exercise other than getting on stage under the influence of seven beers. That was pretty much all I had done for years. I think in retrospect I looked like it," he said. "Aside from taking this journey and doing this big test of getting in a cage, I think I look younger, I think physically I have an entirely different body. I have way more energy. I sleep seven hours a day and accomplish three times as much in a day as I used to."

He may be clad in a wrinkled gi these days, but Black still wears the badges of his musician. Tattoos on his wrist hint of a lot more ink hidden under the sleeves and, as he talks enthusiastically about his MMA dream, a stud glitters on his tongue.

His tousled mop of dark hair is tinted blue and the alarming holes in his ears suggest years of wearing Hummer-sized earrings.

In a fashion statement common to both rockers and fighters, his toes are adorned with faded black nail polish.

Black has already achieved a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a "respectable achievement" according to Stout, who tutors the wannabe fighter on striking during the show. His gym lists him as its "kids MMA instructor."

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Stout gave Black high marks for his enthusiasm and dedication, saying he has the necessary tools to keep improving.

Black acknowledges that fighters like Stout initially weren't sure how to take the blue-haired visitor with the trailing camera crew. But he says they all came round. "Once they see you bleed and sweat and work hard and that you've really worked to develop skills and that you're fit . . . Once they realize that, they're very welcoming."

The dream has come with a cost, however. Black lists off a string of painful injuries suffered to date: broken bone in his foot, damaged Achilles tendon, damaged muscle where the ribs attach to sternum and a torn ligament where his third rib inserts into his spine.

Fighters live with such constant hurts.

"It never gets less painful but somehow you process the pain better," he says.

While Black was quick to jump into the MMA deep end, not everyone was so quick to jump on board his dream. Some thought he was crazy. Others who knew him better thought it was just another unexpected turn on Black's quirky life path.

"My wife hates it on many levels," he admitted. "She hates sports and she hates fighting and she hates that I am so committed to it that if we had some other plan that would interrupt me from my six days of training (each week), then that plan would have to adapt to my big goal.

"When you're partners with somebody or married to somebody who is the way that I am, you know that's part of the deal but it doesn't mean you can't resent it occasionally.

"She's as good as you could hope," he concludes.

Still it all makes sense for a boy who grew up liking Alice Cooper and Bruce Lee.

Since he is not making money as a musician, Black has returned to his occasional job as a hair stylist to help pay the bills.

"Much like giving up beer or giving up pizza, having to work a day job on occasion is a sacrifice that I'm willing to make to chase my dream," he acknowledges.

Black hasn't played a live gig since Halloween 2006, but he's back working on a new album with Moe Berg, formerly of The Pursuit of Happiness, which he hopes will be out next summer - right about the time he plans to fight.

He says he's up for the cage challenge.

"As just a pure martial artist I'm just at the beginning. But as somebody who's going to get into a cage and fight, I'm very close to being ready. If somebody told me I have a fight tomorrow against a guy who's only fought one or two fights, I would take it."

Black hasn't settled on a nickname yet. The Iceman, Axe Murderer, Dean of Mean, Rampage and Cyborg are all taken, after all.

He's thinking of "something cheeky" like Little Sexy or The Archduke of Sexy.

"I'm not certain how that one will go over," he says. "That might also make somebody want to hit me harder so I'm not certain."


TRIBE Member
I've shot robin several time, once during new music west in Vancouver at the Penthouse strip club some drunk guy got on stage and tried to light his pants on fire-
Robin did a giant spinning kick and nailed him in the face and knocked him the fuck out.
It was pretty amazing- I can imagine him being a scrapper.


TRIBE Member
i met him once at ozzies in the 'peg when he was in the ballroom zombies. we talked about clothes or something. i think he was wearing a furry jacket that i wanted. we couldn't get into their show cos we were underage so i'm not even sure why we were there.

and that is my robin black story.

Hawk Eye

TRIBE Member
he's really nice..we had Biff Naked come to my college (i was on the student council) and he was part of her 'entourage'..anyway the minute i walked in the door i heard a voice say 'hey' and i turned around and it was robin black...talked with him for an hour or so..super nice guy. :)

doesn't he own a hair salon or something on queen street ?


TRIBE Member
Hmm.. I'm pretty sure it was him I would work out with at my gym on king street pretty much every day. We were always there at the same time. Totum Life Sciences, I guess. This was in '04-'05



TRIBE Member
Not only will he kick your ass, you'll be covered in glitter by the end of it and have a trendy new haircut.


TRIBE Member
this is awesome! he used to talk about how he was training to do this show and trying to pitch the idea to the MM execs all the time when he cut my hair, it's pretty awesome that he's actually got it all sorted now!

he gives pretty good haircuts.