MCGRATH: MMA-Military connection runs deep

By David McGrath, MMATORCH contributor

Feb 18, 2017; Halifax, NS, Canada; Former UFC fighter Brian Stann emcees a Q & A session before weigh-ins for UFC Fight Night at Scotiabank Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

There are two things in this world that I love outside of my friends and family: mixed martial arts and the men and women of the United States Military. Being a huge MMA fan through my formative years in the Army myself, I spent countless hours reading Combat Sportsbooks to pass the time on training and even deployments. I can remember passing the time in Iraq reading “Total MMA” by Jonathan Snowden at least 57 times. Naturally, I gravitated towards fighters with Military backgrounds. Fighters like Tim Kennedy I could understand. I could totally see myself across the chow hall from Kennedy on some random base somewhere in Middle Earth. The now retired from fighting but not the Military, Kennedy’s brand could not be stronger. With a gripping show on the History Channel called ”Hunting Hitler,” Kennedy is a borderline American Icon.  The former UFC middleweight was not too shabby in the octagon either, with fierce battles against the likes of Yoel Romero and Kelvin Gastelum, Kennedy had the chops in-cage as well.

Even more important than that. Kennedy uses his unique platform to promote the fact that the United States Special Forces force strength is down by recruiting numbers right now. Some units are at 50% strength. Kennedy is unique, he is an active member of a unit that is nicknamed ”The Quiet Professionals” for a reason. Yet he is very active on social media, a regular major podcast guest and as even starred in Movies. I cannot think of a better way to recruit young people to Special Forces. You kids could be like Tim Kennedy.

Bellator heavyweight Tim Johnson has a unique basic training story. Johnson, who last fought Cheick Kongo to a decision loss last November told me that he picked up a flesh-eating disorder early in his basic training stay at Fort Lenard-Wood, Missouri. Johnson eventually went on the mend, 11 days later he was released and resumed training and deployed to Iraq in 2011-12.  Johnson who told me for this story that he never advertised the fact that he was a Veteran when he was signed to the UFC in 2015, is looking to potentially re-join the military for his old units upcoming deployment that is slated to kick off in 2021. For the moment Johnson is signed to Bellator for three more fights and hopes to get back on the winning track with a fight in August.

There is some national flavor to the military’s deep roots in MMA as well. Former UFC lightweight Damien Brown, who is currently signed to Asian promotion Rizin is a proud Australian Army veteran. Brown was an infantryman in the Australian Army for four years including a 2007 deployment to Afghanistan in the southern province of Tarin Kowt. Brown who is now out of the Army, works in the jail system in Brisbane when he is not fighting and is very vocal about the effects of war on veterans and PTSD. Brown is looking to potentially return to featherweight and join the Bellator welterweight grand prix when it kicks off later this year.

Most people who are just getting into Mixed Mixed Martial Arts during its current boom period probably will not remember Brian Stann and Chad Robichaux. Robichaux, who fought for Bellator, Strikeforce and just about every major promotion outside of the UFC, is very active in the PTSD and combat trauma community.   Robichaux, the Brazilian Ju-Jitsu Black Belt is a hero in that community and has used to his recognizable name to further Veteran related issues nationwide.

Brian Stann is probably the Original Gangster of military members who competed at the top levels of MMA. Stann, who is a United States Marine Corps veteran who was active from 2003-2008 and retired as a Captain. Stann was very active on UFC color commentary who participated in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Stann continued his service after retirement, Stann was the CEO of Hire Heroes USA A non-profit that gets returning servicemembers linked up with employers. Stann is still active in martial arts as well as he serves as and an advisor to the Professional Fighters League as of May 2018.

Liz Carmouche, who is best remembered for facing off against Ronda Rousey in Rousey’s meteoric rise, was an active Marine from 2003-2009. Carmouche, who was an Aviation Electrician in the Marine Corps did three deployments to the Middle East before becoming a professional MMA fighter. Carmouche, who most recently won again in the UFC in February 2019 is on a two-fight winning streak and still officially ranked in the UFC’s flyweight rankings.

MMA is deep-rooted in the military. The military is also deep-rooted in MMA, white belt jiu-jitsu is in the Army’s training doctrine. Most young infantryman will go through what the Army calls “Combatives” training in Basic Combat Training. The training is essentially white belt jiu-jitsu. You learn the basics, you learn how to cover the distance, you learn to clinch and the basic submissions that most white belts master before ranking up. MMA is like the unofficial sport of the United States Military. It is not uncommon to see hoards of soldiers overseas hovered around some old UFC card replaying on the Armed Forces Network on television. It is becoming a big part of the culture. Which in my estimation can only be good. It is an outlet, and also the training sends up some prospects, which results in good stories that big promotions can push. It is an interesting marriage, and it is young and developing.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.