Updated Sep 11, 2015 at 3:59p ET
Perhaps more than ever, professional athletes in contact sports like mixed martial arts and boxing are thinking about their brain health. Fights and (often more significantly) sparring done in training takes a toll on every fighter, for example, and can really damage their long-term health.
Some fighters like recently retired UFC lightweight Jamie Varner are working to get the word out about how to train smarter and safer. Recently, welterweight contender Hector Lombard talked about his own development in that area, with Submission Radio.
"I'm trying to hit and not be hit. I was being stupid before," he said.
"Five or four years ago I would go toe-to-toe and start sparring with heavyweights and try to beat each other up in sparring. But I have to be a bit smart, because you can only take so much."
According to him, Lombard wouldn't just spar with heavyweights and super heavyweights, he'd take on some of the best kickboxers in the world in practice. "I used to spar with 'Carnage' (Nathan Corbette), I would spar with Mark Hunt. I would spar with anybody," he remebered.
Not only would he spar with them, but Lombard said that he and the other training partners would treat their sparring like fights, trying to knock one another out. "Mark Hunt, he was trying to knock me out one day," the Cuban reflected.
"He couldn't. That was the first time that we (sparred). 'Mighty Mo,' I don't know if you know him (but) the freaking guy is huge. He's about 330 pounds, maybe 250. He won the Taiwan championships. Huge. And I remember that he just wanted to knock me out and all of a sudden I came out with a jab and I dropped him. But … he wanted to hurt me."
These days, the American Top Team member doesn't take that same approach in training, and he's hoping that it helps prolong his career.
"I'm just lucky that I'm still going because after all this hard sparring stuff, you know? I'm lucky to stay in the game," he said.
"I don't want to spar with none of these heavy guys (anymore). They definitely would end your career, quick."