11/11/2013 12:41 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

UFC enters crowded world of fitness DVDs, with diet guru Mike Dolce as frontman

TORONTO - Diet guru Mike Dolce is known for helping fighters make weight, but he recalls being stumped when the scales wouldn't budge for Quinton (Rampage) Jackson ahead of his 2010 UFC fight with Rashad Evans.

After making "The A-Team" movie, Jackson had come into camp in England at 251 pounds and needed to shed 45 pounds in eight weeks before UFC 114.

Jackson, like Evans a former light-heavyweight champion, had hit a wall when his weight was in the 230s.

"The diet's not working," Jackson told Dolce.

"We looked into it," said Dolce. "That wasn't the case."

One day while leaving for the gym, Jackson realized he had left his bag upstairs. Dolce volunteered to go get it and once he entered the fighter's third-floor bedroom, he noticed something on the pillow.

Probing into the pillow case, he found three Cadbury Fruit and Nut chocolate bars. Behind the bed, there was a tangle of empty candy wrappers.

Jackson confessed to sugar cravings. So Dolce adjusted the diet, making him a post-training treat of hot Ezekiel bread with almond butter, Nutella and banana.

"It was 90 per cent healthy," said Dolce.

Jackson loved it. The clandestine candy bars disappeared. Jackson stayed true to the diet and began to shed pounds.

"There's easy ways to make these compromises, where there's healthy alternatives to anything negative, anything bad," said Dolce. "But also it come from you, you have to want it, you have to want the ability."

Dolce, a former fighter turned fitness coach and nutritionist, is hoping to reach an even bigger audience via UFC Fit, the newly released UFC fitness regimen.

"This isn't a diet, it's a lifestyle change," Dolce said.

The 12-DVD program, which comes with a nutritional manual, costs $119.97, covers 90 days and calls for 25-45 minutes of exercise four to six days a week.

The goal is not to get Joe Public off the couch and inside the Octagon. But Dolce insists the program will change your body, lifestyle and future for the better.

There is familiarity for UFC fans. The DVDs were filmed at the UFC Training Centre in Las Vegas and Dolce isn't shy about name-dropping. But the program is aimed at everyone, who has a mat (for $69.99 you can get one in the shape of an Octagon), dumbbells and desire.

"Want to look good in that strapless dress, tanktop, bikinis?" Dolce asks in explaining the benefits of a punching drill.

His supporting cast already looks good. They include personal trainers, dancers, a military tactical fighting instructor and several former cheerleaders.

Don Gold, the UFC's executive vice-president of entertainment, says the idea for UFC Fit came from fans asking how fighters got into shape, what they eat and how they lose weight in a healthy way.

"It became a passion for me because I wanted to expose for the first time the secrets of how to get that UFC body and how to get the UFC lifestyle," he said.

For the UFC, the program is a way to leverage the fitness of its fighters. It also helps show that the company is more than just cage-fighting.

"It's been interesting that the UFC Fit has actually dovetailed very well in the conversations that I have with politicians as to why we're doing this," said Tom Wright, direction of UFC operations in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

It also fits in nicely with the UFC's growing line of gyms, attracting MMA aficionados while perhaps opening the door to new converts.

The world of fitness DVDs is already crowded, with the Insanity Workout and P90X to name but two. And there are already MMA-themed programs in RushFit, from UFC champion Georges St-Pierre, and Tapout XT Extreme Training.

Not one to cede its own territory, the UFC created its own program.

"This is a very long journey for us," said Gold. "This isn't a one-and-done. Mike and I have signed up for the long haul on this. We're going to be partners for a very very long time."

Dolce and Gold are not shy about critiquing their rivals. Just ask Dolce about GSP's fitness program.

"I think Georges St-Pierre's RushFit is good if you want to sit down and you want to watch Georges St-Pierre work out. But I don't think it's very practical for the everyday person," he said.

The UFC tried its program out on a test group of 38 volunteers in Southern California.

"Their changes were so dramatic in fact that our attorneys said we couldn't post their results without putting disclaimers on them saying these results are not typical and Don and I were like 'Wow, what are you talking about?'" said Dolce.

"It's legitimate, it's real."

For Dolce, who says he has sold books in 120 countries, it's all about commitment. Take a few minutes out of your day and invest in yourself, he urges.

"God forbid, you have another 23-plus hours to do whatever else you want to do in your life," said Dolce. "Is that not worth it? And if that's not worth it, then you don't deserve it."

Dolce warms to his task like an evangelical preacher as he talks up UFC Fit, which he calls a "treasure map" or "winning lottery ticket."

It's there for the taking.

"All humans have the same issue," Dolce continues. "It's a lack of motivation, it's a lack of goal-setting, it's a lack of accountability ... Who gets out of bed every day and sets a goal for the day?

"What's your goal today? Most people are just trying to get through the day, they're just trying to get back home to their TV so they can just sit there and wait there to die, as I like to say.

"If you're sitting on the couch just clicking channels for two, three, four hours a night, well you're just sitting there waiting to die, your body's decaying, you're dying."

As a fighter, Dolce accumulated a 5-10 record from 2006 to 2010.

A member of Jackson's team on Season 7 of "The Ultimate Fighter," Dolce was beaten by Jesse Taylor on the reality TV show. He posted a 5-10 record as a fighter from 2006 to 2010.

But he has excelled in helping others, becoming a business in himself as an author and the man behind the Dolce Diet.

"I consider myself a coach," he said. "I'm a diet coach, I'm a strength coach, I'm a lifestyles coach, I'm a psychological coach.

"I'm all these different things but really what I'm trying to do is just help people be better, and find new skills, new tools to be better."

A former powerlifter, Dolce weighed an unhealthy 282 pounds in his early 20s. He said he suffered from hypertension and high blood pressure.

"I had the blood panel of a middle-aged man in my mid-20s," he said.

Now 37, he weighs a buff 196 pounds, with a mere six per cent body fat.

"This is the healthiest I've ever been in my entire life. . .. And at 38 I'll be healthier and 39 I'll be healthier and I'm going to continue."

Today he is all about longevity, noting that elite sports "is a small window in a lifetime."

Gold says Dolce was the right choice, albeit not the first.

"We had talked to another trainer ... but that person didn't seem to have the right passion we were looking for," he said.

So they talked to fighters and trainer to see who would be most authentic coach/nutritionist.

"One name came up constantly and that was Mike Dolce," Gold said.

"Mike's whole mantra was we want to change people's lives, it wasn't how much money can I make personally, but I want to change people's lives."

Dolce grew up "an East Coast Italian," the son of a New York firefighter who was the chef in both his firehouse and the Dolce household.

"As young as I remember, I was peeling potatoes in the kitchen," he said. "It was always very normal and manly to be in the kitchen. Everything in an Italian household happens in the kitchen."

Over the years, he has taken that penchant for food and blended it with nutrition and performance science.

Today, he and wife Brandi battle for control in the kitchen.

Asked for his one tip for Joe Average, Dolce says set a goal and be better.

"Just start very simply, one per cent better every day. Just do one thing better every single day. If you're going to be on this planet for 50, 70, 100 years, just think about how quick that all adds up. Do one thing better every day and continue. Move forward, maker progress.

"All the information's out there, whether it's UFC Fit or something else, the information is out there. It comes to accountability, you really have to be the one to step up to do it."

Dolce is passionate about what North Americans eat. A Happy Meal, for example, puts anything but a smile on his face. Subway's slogan of "Eat Fresh," will also get him going.

Dolce dreams big.

"The UFC has given me the opportunity to literally touch all seven billion people on this planet. Because I believe I have the information necessary to help them whether it's just through motivation or it's through specific tools, techniques, lifestyle-changing program that can actually help them make that change."


Follow Neil Davidson on Twitter at @NeilMDavidson