We’re only a fifth of the way in to this season, but one of the most pleasant surprises has been Tas Melas’ favorite Indiana Pacer, Roy Hibbert. The third year center has seen his numbers go up just about everywhere that matters (points, rebounds, assists, blocks, tiny Afro size) while the Pacers have been playing their best basketball in years. You could say it’s all good in the hood, but this is Indiana we’re talking about. More like all good in the corn.

And while you might think that Hibbert’s improvements come from the natural maturation that occurs among young basketball players or his work with Bill Walton, the true reason for Roy’s growth is his increased fitness. Now that he can actually breathe, he’s been training extra hard, doing things you wouldn’t expect from a 7-foot-2 human. Namely, mixed martial arts.

From FanHouse:

After last season, Hibbert had his lungs tested in an eight-hour process at an Indianapolis-area hospital in which he breathed into a machine to get a reading on his windbags. When it was deemed what Hibbert called “athlete-induced asthma,” the prescription for an inhaler quickly followed and Hibbert was on his way to an unexpected rebirth.

Suddenly, the breaths came easier, the frame felt lighter, and Hibbert went to work shedding weight so as to take full advantage of his new physical circumstance. He accepted an invitation from a team trainer and joined the world of Mixed Martial Arts fighting in the pursuit of peak condition. [...]

“Those (MMA) guys, I feel like, are the best conditioned athletes, so three days a week, I did punching, knees, everything you see those guys do on (the Ultimate Fighting Championships), I was doing that,” Hibbert said. “It got me in tip-top shape. I’d go to Fortville, Ind., drive like 40 minutes after my (basketball) workouts (in the summer) and trained there.”

After reading that you’re probably wondering the same thing I was — how crazy does it look for a guy that big does MMA?

Well, this video of Hibbert training with Pacers rookie Paul George proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that it looks just as crazy as you’d imagine when a guy that big does MMA. That’s a whole lot of arm and leg that has to be moved when a giant punches or kicks a heavy bag.

Not to mention, it’s bizarre seeing an athlete as worn out as Hibbert. You don’t often see these guys — the world’s best in their sport — rolling around and grimacing from workouts. But that’s the case, here. You can tell he’s working, and you can tell it’s paid off.

Plus, the Pacers are infamous for that one fight all those years ago. It’s good to know they have a secret weapon on their hands, should anything get out of hand.