MMA work boosts Packers’ Matthews

In just his second season, Green Bay’s Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews is one game away from going to the Super Bowl.

But preparaing for Sunday’s NFC Champiosnhip Game (2 p.m. ET on FOX) against the Chicago Bears didn’t start this past Monday. It began long ago. Matthews owes the majority of his success to genetics and one of the most remarkable bloodlines in NFL history.

Matthews is unlike 98 percent of the league. He constantly is looking for an extra edge, constantly looking for a way to outwork the world, whether it’s during the season or the offseason.

Before this season, Matthews tried to increase his intensity and hand speed by joining MMA Athletics, a program started by UFC legend Randy Couture and me.

Training like a cage fighter has helped Minnesota’s Jared Allen and San Francisco’s Patrick Willis, among others. Two entire teams, Atlanta and San Francisco, also got in on the action.

The benefits of the program for Matthews: It greatly strengthened and speeded up his hand strikes, made him more violent and made him think like a cage fighter. It also increased his knowledge of leverage, but more than anything else, it pushed his breaking point way beyond the limits he though he had.

Matthews had 13.5 sacks (fourth in the NFL), despite playing with an injured leg for much of the season, and is in contention for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award.

The video that accompanies this story is a sample of the grueling torture Matthews put himself through during the offseason to become one of the best linebackers in the game, adding that work ethic to his bloodline: His father, Clay Jr., played linebacker for 19 seasons with Cleveland and Atlanta, and his grandfather, Clay Sr., played defensive end for San Francisco. His uncle, Bruce, played 19 seasons for Houston and Tennessee.

After seeing the results he had this season, Matthews already has committed to more MMA work next season. We’re just glad we were asked along for the ride.