Feature Story Sunday, March 17, 2013
Stepping on Stones
Warpath MMA a launching pad to the big leagues stateside for local athletes
Susy Watson (R) is delcared the winner in her MMA bout with Lynell House Friday March 8 in Chilliwack
riday March 8th was the anniversary of the 1971 “Fight of the Century” when George Foreman squared-off with Muhammad Ali at Madison Square Garden, and it was Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Warpath VIIII night in Chilliwack.
But this night was special because it also happened to be International Women’s Day, and on the card along with the men, were two very athletic young ladies, Susy Watson and Lynell House, who waged war on each other for three scrappy rounds.
Another lively sell-out crowd greeted fighters at Tzeachten Hall for the event hosted by Four Directions Gym.
Music thumps in cadence with the fighters as they make their way to the ring surrounded by trainers and corner men. Coloured lights flash, illuminating the faces of a wide-eyed fans.
In what looked like a signature move, Watson held House down, showering her with punches. The mats shook with each thundering blow she rained down on House, overwhelming her until the match was called. The battlers touch gloves and hug after.
MMA isn’t a violent sport. There’s no violence involved. It’s full-contact and physical. Fighters are friends before and after a bout. MMA in Chilliwack is a close-knit community of fighting moms, dads and kids.
It’s not that often MMA fans get to see women in the ring, and they loved it. But more importantly, the fighters love it. Women in the sport now, are carving out precedents for upcoming female fighters to follow in the future.
Prior to the women’s fight, youngsters Josh Williamson and Roan Sampson gave a lively grappling demonstration. Neither were kids were hurt.
Sean O’Halloran is one of the best coaches in Chilliwack and an ex-MMA fighter himself. He's also the only athlete in Canada who's been graded working under Neil Malanson.
He’s well known in the fight circuit both in Canada and the USA and his connections tentacle down to Las Vegas where some of the best talent in the world congregate at places like Extreme Couture.
One of the fighting styles popular in Chilliwack is called Muay Thai from Thailand. It's sometimes referred to as “the art of the eight weapons” because it involves almost every part of the body.
O’Halloran told the Voice in a pre-fight interview that they are doing more Muay Thai now than in the past.
“We're excited to have the Muay Thai fights,” O’Halloran said. “Basically, a lot of the guys like to fight Muay Thai before they have their MMA fight so they're kind of getting a little bit of experience before they jump right into the hot seat there.”
Warpath MMA fights give athletes the chance to raise the level of their game and try for UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championships) in the states.
O’Halloran says that their local top gun, Brandon Wolkowski, has been living in Las Vegas and training at Extreme Couture and will be coming back to Chilliwack in order to defend his title at a future Warpath.
“This guy has been sparring it out with Randy Couture, and training under Neil Melanson, Ray Stepho,” he said. “Those are like top K1-champions and C-champions.”
He says its events like Warpath where fighters really show their heart.
“The guys you see, and the girls you see fighting tonight in this ring, one day you'll see those same fighters in the UFC, and this is where it all starts.”
Fighters work their way up the ranks and gain experience at gyms like Four Directions in Chilliwack, which O’Halloran refers to as “grass roots promotions”.
“They go up the league to bigger leagues and bigger venues. They intend to fight all over the world.”
Athletes just don’t walk into the gym and get rankings. They have to work at it.
O’Halloran has been working with Wolkowski for the last several years and used his contacts in Las Vegas to get the young fighter the break he needed.
“There's a local boy, who started training with me when he was 15-years-old, who just turned 19, undefeated, living in Vegas.”
Years ago, O’Halloran who is a co-owner of Four Directions Gym, showed up at the Extreme Couture gym in Vegas, and didn’t tell them who he was, or about his experience before getting into the ring there with a local fighter.
He wanted to earn their respect the hard way.
The same thing with Wolkowski. He set the fighter up with the right people in the USA and then had to earn his own reputation.
“I didn't give the kid everything. He had to go down there and earn it," O'Halloran said. "So, he went down there and he got put through the grinder, but now he's doing rounds with Randy Couture.”
Warpath fighters end up on cards in other leagues like Battlefield, American Martial Arts Association and Silver Reef Casino promotions.
“The fight world’s a small world,” says O’Halloran. “A lot of people don't realize that as promoters we all actually talk with each other.”
Even though O’Halloran is retired at 40 — an age when things start to hurt and healing takes a little longer — he still participates and is a force to reckon with in some fight disciplines.
“I still compete heavy in my jiu-jitsu, my wrestling. I did a North American Grappling Association (NAGA) tournament down in Vegas last October.”
He hopes to win the NAGA title at some point in the future, and is quite happy doing what he’s doing.
“I don't get punched in the face any more. I save that for sparing it out now with the guys in the gym.”