Getting to know: David Sachs, martial arts expert
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Getting to know: David Sachs, martial arts expert

Pittsburgh pugilist makes the transition from MMA to coaching and personal training

MMA coach David Sachs wears his Judaism on his chest. Photo by MMAPhotography.com, provided by David Sachs.
MMA coach David Sachs wears his Judaism on his chest. Photo by MMAPhotography.com, provided by David Sachs.

David Sachs grew up as a nice Jewish boy who didn’t mind taking a punch to the face.

The future mixed martial arts fighter, coach and personal trainer attended Beth Israel Congregation in Washington, Pennsylvania, where he became a bar mitzvah. It was martial arts, though, not Torah, that captured his attention.

“I started martial arts when I was 6 and ultimately got more into boxing and wrestling — sports that you actually compete in,” said Sachs, 39.

Sachs earned a degree in exercise science from Slippery Rock University while competing in amateur fights between collegiate wrestling seasons. He made the jump into MMA fighting, he said, because “it looked like fun.”

Sachs didn’t initially consider a career in the sport because he thought he was too small and there wasn’t yet a small weight class. After training at a local gym, Pittsburgh Fight Club, he reconsidered and turned pro.

“I won some fights they didn’t expect me to and everything sort of snowballed,” he said. “All of a sudden, I was fighting for a living for close to a decade. It wasn’t planned.”

Sounding like a musician who, after earning a degree, decides to try life with his guitar on the road before settling into a more traditional existence, Sachs said he opted to give fighting a try.

“I decided to do it for a while,” he said. “I always had my degree to fall back on.”

It turned out his fallback wasn’t necessary for a while.

Sachs began fighting in the New Jersey regional promotion Ring of Combat. He won both its Feather Weight Championship and the USA Feather Weight Championship.

His success led to opportunities in Florida, Minnesota and New York, and it seemed like he was poised to face national competition as part of larger promotions, like the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

His body, though, had other plans.

“I was one of those guys dogged by injury,” Sachs said. “Some of us just are. I was 34, getting ready to turn 35. I had a fight lined up with a former UFC fighter. It was going to be my last big go because of my age. During training camp, I tore my bicep. It turned into a nightmare training camp. Eventually, I just had to call it a day because I couldn’t make it five seconds without being in excruciating pain.”

Sachs said he didn’t plan to go into coaching after hanging up his sparring gloves. He worked in sports performance at UPMC Sports Medicine and Greentree Chiropractic & Rehab, and even considered going to Carnegie Mellon University for an MBA.

He remembered the transition from fighter to spectator and later coach as a hard one.

“It was tough,” he said. “There’s no doubt that every fighter’s favorite place is always going to be in the spotlight. When I realized that wasn’t going to be me anymore, I decided to take a break. You’ll find very few people who leave the sport on a good note. Most leave it as a fighter.”

He credits another Pittsburgh mixed martial arts fighter, Khama Worthy, with helping him make the transition.

Sachs said Worthy, a UFC fighter, was relentless in his efforts to get him back into the sport as a coach.

Sachs helped Worthy at his gym, The Academy, working as the wrestling coach.

After nearly six months, Sachs said he made peace with his decision, growing into his new role as the mixed martial arts coach at The Academy, and offering private sessions as a personal trainer at his own gym, HPF Pittsburgh, which he started with his brother.

Sachs said HPF offers personal training and small group training, allowing him to utilize his degree.

“It also helps other trainers, giving them jobs,” he said.

While Sachs has spent the bulk of his career fighting, he said that one doesn’t have to have a desire to enter the caged octagon to train with him.

“I have a normal weight room-style gym,” he said. “I’ve had football players, a female place kicker, hockey players, wrestlers and just people looking to get back into shape. It’s a goal-oriented personal training studio.”

While he might not be competing before crowds cheering on each ground-and-pound or single-leg takedown, Sachs has learned to love his life.

“I wake up every day and work for myself,” he said. “I can’t wait to go to work.” PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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