With its quick strikes and slow, agonizing submission holds, mixed martial arts is not a sport for the faint of heart. But, the stamina it demands from its fans pales in comparison to the extreme dedication required of its fighters, two of whom call Chester home.
Amateur fighters Michael Wheeler and David Ciccoria, both products of Thomas Dale High School, are set to face off in an Elite Fighting Challenge match on Feb. 13 at the Siegal Center.
The two were acquaintances in high school and actually shared mutual friends. They’ll meet in a much different way when they step into the cage next week.
Until about six years ago, mixed martial arts was flying under the mainstream sports radar. With the reality show Ultimate Fighter, which was won by Richmond native Amir Sadolla and stemmed from the Ultimate Fighting Championship, growth in the sport shot through the roof. Now, UFC has spawned its own video game, countless fans and bars that have “fight nights,” which are often among the venue’s most popular attractions.
The training and nutrition regimens for fighters are often intense. Wheeler has been training for the past six months.
A common pre-fight diet for MMA fighters is called the caveman diet; it consists of eating plain meats, such as chicken, grain and vegetables. No sugar, soft drinks, caffeine or dairy products – that’s something most people wouldn’t dream of attempting, let alone accomplishing.
The workouts grow in intensity as time passes, and fighters often end up training for several hours up to five times per week.
“If you’re not dedicated to getting up in the morning, working out, going in at night and training, it’s probably not the sport for you,” Wheeler said. “Iit’s so important never to sway for your plan, because injury is a real possibility if you’re not prepared in the maximum.”
Wheeler has a background in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai. His interest in martial arts started in the military, where he served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“I do this for the love of martial arts,” said Wheeler. “Also for the competition, but Jiu-Jitsu is an art form. It’s so addicting to me, I can’t get enough of it. It’s powerful ,but also graceful.”
Chris McMahan, Wheeler’s trainer and the owner of his school, Top Game Academy, gives his fighter a full vote of confidence, though this will be his first amateur fight.
“He’s a naturally gifted student,” said McMahan. “He picks up on things well. You never have to show him anything twice, and he’s really someone you want to cheer for.”
As for the fight, McMahan’s vote for confidence may not be so well spread.
“For some people, it’s a little like David vs. Goliath,” he said. “I think people will be surprised at the quality of fighting to come from our school, even though we are more traditional.”
In this case, though, Goliath has no plans to allow the upset.
Ciccoria brings an undefeated 2-0 record to the table. With some experience, a background similar to Wheeler’s and an education at the East Coast’s most reputable school, the MMA Institute, for fighters that go professional – they have seen 15 go pro –one might start to think the odds are in Ciccoria’s favor. Both fighter and trainer think they are.
“I know Mike is an athletic guy,” said Ciccoria. “But I just feel the training I get at MMA Institute is the best around. I also feel that my fight experience will give me an edge, since he hasn’t fought yet.”
Neither of Ciccoria’s first two opponents got to the second round with him; he won both matches by submission.
Rick McCoy, Ciccoria’s trainer, applauds his fighter for being a quick learner.
“For a guy that didn’t come from another combat sport, wrestling or martial arts, and he’s one of the most talented guys I’ve come across,” said McCoy.
Ciccoria aspires to be the next guy you see fighting on TV.
“One of my goals is to finish my amateur career undefeated and work myself into becoming a professional,” he said. “There’s a lot of work ahead, but I know I’m in going in the right direction with the school I attend and my training.”
McCoy, who also trained Sadolla, said Ciccoria will have no problem as long as he’s focused and listens to the game plan.
“When you put a guy in a cage, sometimes you don’t know how he’s going to react to the pressure. In his first two fights, David stayed calm and executed,” said McCoy. “As long as he stays calm and executes the plan, he will win again.”
For ticket information on the fight, one of about 20 that night, visit www.elitefightingchallenge.com .