Thursday, February 22, 2007

Romeo martial artist prepares

By Chris Gray

Mixed martial artist Jason "The Irish Tornado" Ireland will fight for pride - in more ways than one. Ireland, a Romeo native and 1998 Romeo High School graduate, will be fighting in "Pride 33," a mixed martial arts (MMA) competition to be held in Las Vegas, Nev. on Saturday, Feb. 24.

The fight will be shown as a live pay-per-view event, which can be viewed at the Buffalo Wild Wings in Washington Township at 10 p.m. "This is my first fight with Pride," Ireland said. "It's kind of like playing AAA baseball, then stepping up to the major leagues."

Based in Japan, Pride is the largest international MMA organization. Most people have come to know MMA from the American-based Ultimate Fighting Championship, where fighters try to win using a variety of styles and techniques. "I'm an all-around fighter, I like to fight standing up or on the ground," he said. "I study wrestling, jujitsu, and muay thai boxing."

Ireland's interest first began when he wrestled at Romeo High School, where he was a state-qualifier. "I needed something to compete in after high school," he said. "So I began training in Rochester Hills at Tap and Snap Submission Fighting, and have been doing it ever since." From there he went onto a MMA organization known as King of the Cage, where his reputation grew with a 22-match, 16-win record. Some of his first pay-per-view fights happened during that time, back in Feb. 2005.

"I fought George Gurgel, and a lot of people call that one of the best fights of 2005," he said.

With an impressive win record, a promoter in King of the Cage pushed for Ireland to fight in Pride. "(The cameras are) a lot of pressure, it takes a while getting used to that," he said. "And this is a step up on a bigger showcase that will be aired internationally."

But the lightweight fighter feels confident going to Vegas to fight, training nearly every hour of the day for this event. "I'm on top of the world, it's something I've been training to do for a long time," he said. "I finally get my shot, that I can prove I can fight with the best in the world." His opponent will be Joachim Hansen of Norway, who has a Pride fight record of three wins and two losses.

"Outside of my fans and family and friends, not too many people are giving me a shot to win," he said. "I'm the underdog, and hopefully he'll underestimate me. "If he goes into the fight underestimating me, it's going to be a long fight for him."

As for his nickname, Ireland said it was taken from a Kid Rock song, who is a singer from Romeo. "I competed in a toughman contest a few years back, and if you don't put down a nickname they give you one," he said. "And usually it isn't very flattering." Ireland also took a recent opportunity to speak at Romeo High School, giving a motivational speech to the wrestling team as they prepared for districts.

"I told them that you can have dreams, but you should set those dreams as a goal and make it happen," he said. Ireland said some of his best support has come from his family. With a 7-year-old and a 4-year-old, and a newborn, he said his wife has had her hands full. "Without her support, none of this could happen."

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