The Early Lead: Taking in MMA as a newbie
By BRANDON HURLEY
DES MOINES –
The punches, of course, were bone-crushing, and the kicks and knee jabs, grueling, but what hit me hardest as I took in my first live, in-the-flesh MMA fights wasn’t the action inside the ring, but surrounding MCC 63 Friday, Jan. 27 in Des Moines.
Oh, yes, the adrenaline-pumping knockouts and submission holds were a thrill to take in a few feet from the ring, but I was taken aback by the generosity and dedication of everyone involved.
The life of an mixed martial artist is one of the most grueling across all sports and yet, the fighters still find it in them to handle – at least for the most part – their wins and losses with class. Clearly, there is often show-boating and fiery personalities, as even a few fighters, rightfully so, celebrated by climbing the cage Friday, but they still respect each other.
MMA athletes put their bodies through rigorous training regimes and want nothing more to win, but I didn’t see a single moment that would put the sport or any of its fighters in a bad light.
What I saw from Jefferson’s Johnny Case - owner of MCC – and Madrid police chief and Jefferson native, Rick Tasler, was nothing short of pure class.
Handling success and failure was something Tasler, the nose-to-the-grindstone-24-7 MCC promoter, preached to each and every one of the fighters in the pre-fight meeting.
For the most part, the guys – and girls – involved Friday were friends or at least friendly acquaintances. Obviously, Case understands what it takes to get to the highest level, which is why one could catch him in the bowels of Hy-Vee Hall and not ring side moments before the fights started. He – the rising UFC star who up until a few weeks ago was scheduled to fight in Houston’s Toyota Center – was taping the hands of an amateur fighter, not by a hired trainer.
Most of the fighters – if not all – embraced in brief hugs following their fights, whether they won or lost. Some even applauded their opponents after defeat.
Want to know how Case got his start in MMA? It was his uncle Tasler, who had a pretty great career of his own – 32 wins and no losses – 13 professionally – that took him under his wing and trained the young Jefferson-Scranton grad. He didn’t do it for fame or glory, he did it to keep his nephew out of trouble – a great career just so happened to blossom from it.
Greene County graduate Dylan Forkner, 23, who made the wrestling state tournament as a senior in 2014, grinds away himself. He’s studying criminal justice at Grand View University in Des Moines – but plans on making his pro debut after a few more fights. Forkner essentially lives in the gym when he’s not studying, even telling me after his win in the second round Friday that he’s known as the gym rat.
Yes, the UFC and many MMA circuits can be often filled with braggadocio and hot-headed personalities – which, I will admit, brings fans to the sport, but the outstanding majority of fighters work harder than most athletes do.
Heck, the fans at the MCC level have to be given some props as well. I spent the better part of an hour drinking in the knowledge of a fan (who’s name escapes me now) from just outside of Jefferson that made the drive with his family – along with, by his estimation – 150 other Greene County fans to take in mixed martial arts. He could recite all of Case’s recent fights down to the finishing moves, and knew the tendencies of nearly all the fighters present on Friday. It was enlightening and a joy to listen to. Many other spectators were more than just casual fans as well.
Even a young kid, who couldn’t have been older than seven or eight, was shouting out constant encouragement – by name – to the fighters. It was adorable and awesome to hear.
So if you haven’t had a chance to truly dig into the sport of mixed martial arts, I strongly urge you to take in a fight and be alert of everything surrounding the showcase, you may be pleasantly surprised.