Thursday, April 12, 2007

A World-Class Fighter Without a Home

I got the call on Tuesday. Fighter X had been abruptly kicked off their fight team and out of their school – could I help find them a place to train?

“Of course,” I said. After all, I’ve known Fighter X for years, have been ringside for almost all their fights, and even consider them a friend. And it’s not unheard of for a fighter to switch up where they train once in a while. However, a couple things made this situation unique: Fighter X is one of the top MMA competitors in their weight class, and Fighter X might be competing at the Abu Dhabi World Championships in a few weeks.

To draw a comparison, it would be akin to the Mets suddenly finding out they were no longer welcome at Shea Stadium a few weeks before they were to face the Yankees in the World Series.

How this fighter ended up “homeless” is really only a small part of this tale, involving unsigned management contracts and growing pains. Suffice to say, there are two sides to every story, and I’d prefer to remain as ignorant as possible.

In considering options, Fighter X had expressed a willingness to check out the Rhino Fight Team, as well as a few other places. But is Rhino really a good fit for one of the best grapplers in the country? Though Rhino is a phenomenal school for MMA (just ask anyone impressed by Frankie Edgar’s UFC debut), I suggested Renzo Gracie’s academy in Manhattan as the best possible option.

Call there,” I told Fighter X. Call and tell them who you are, and tell them you need a new place to train.”

Fighter X liked that idea. And if Renzo was unwilling to accept Fighter X because of the conflict of having his own representatives already slated to compete at Abu Dhabi, Fighter X promised to respectfully bow out of the world-class grappling tournament.

Fighter X phoned the Manhattan academy, and was soon listening to the sales pitch delivered by someone named “Max”. Max informed Fighter X that new students start out in the blue belt program, and train with the gi – which is the cornerstone of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – until they get their blue belt.

“What about no-gi training?” Fighter X asked, and explained that that’s where Fighter X’s interest resided. Fighter X was willing to learn gi grappling, but wanted to do both (the Abu Dhabi World Championship is a no-gi event).

“Do you have any experience with grappling without the gi?” Max asked.

“Well, I took second place at the Abu Dhabi US trials,” Fighter X replied.

I doubt Max understood (or believed) Fighter X. He scheduled a one-on-on assessment for Friday, though, when a black belt would roll with Fighter X to see what’s what.

I laughed when Fighter X relayed this to me. Could Fighter X submit a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt? Absolutely. Although I doubt Fighter X could take two steps into Renzo’s school without getting recognized. Still, the comedic value of an unwitting black belt being surprised at how skilled this jiu-jitsu newbie was… that would’ve been gold.

* * *

I called Nick Lembo of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board and he was more than happy to help. Nick had actually arranged for Renzo to coach Fighter X at the US trials, when Fighter X’s own coach no-showed, so he would give the jiu-jitsu legend a call and a heads up.

As of this writing, that call hasn’t happened yet, and it’s up in the air if Fighter X is going to have to go to the Manhattan academy and get the kindergartner treatment – or even if Renzo’s will end up being Fighter X’s new home. But I’ll let you know how it all works out.