Saturday, March 17, 2007

Local fighters ready to cause some mayhem

By Chad Fisher

MANSFIELD -- For most of us, our dreams of one day becoming a professional athlete have come and gone. But for two of the area's amateur Mixed Martial Arts fighters, those dreams still live on.

Justin Black and Joe Lewis will be featured in today's "Mansfield Mayhem" competition at the R&L Banquet Center.

"I've never been one built for a nine to five," Black said. "I couldn't ever see myself working in a cubicle, working at a factory, doing the same mundane stuff everyday. I'm happy with what I'm doing. I love this."
Black and Lewis are both looking to remain undefeated with records of 5-0 and 1-0, respectively, and both train at Wreck Room Athletics in Ashland.

"You can't come in here and not trust the people that you work with," Black said. "If you don't work with guys that you trust and that take care of you, you can get injured real easily."

Black, a 1999 Mansfield Senior graduate, will take on Frank Dackler, a heavyweight with a 2-0 record.

"I figure he's going to look to close the gap and take me down," Black said. "I'm going to try to keep him away from me, use my distance and look for the knockout."

Lewis will be pitted against Mark Strickland, a Canadian with a 3-0 record.

"He's a real tough competitor, a great wrestler and I expect a hard fought battle," Lewis said.

MMA has experienced a recent boom in popularity due to the coverage it has garnered on television with shows such as "The Ultimate Fighter." Black believes that has helped give his sport some much needed attention.

"It's been big for the local level,' Black said. " 'The Ultimate Fighter' really kicked off the "Ultimate Fighting Championship" revolution as far as everybody seeing it on the forefront, seeing it on cable, getting to know the fighters and knowing the training that's involved.

"It translates into more people being interested in the sport, wanting to put on shows. For people that are amateurs or pro, we get more venues and have more choices as to where we can go. We have more room to negotiate. Because if one guy (promoter) doesn't want you, another one will."

Despite MMA's popularity, the two fighters believe there are still misconceptions.

"People think it's just a bunch of thugs that want to go out there and punch each other in the face, but that's not the case at all," Lewis said. "We're athletes and we're competitors. It's really just another sport. We come in here, we compete, we train hard, try to make ourselves better everyday just like they do in every other sport."

Black doesn't think people understand the hard work that goes into training.

"The biggest misconception is that it's easy," he said. "Some people think that it's similar to training for a tough man competition, that you get in here, throw the gloves on, throw a few hard punches and you'll knock somebody out and that isn't so."

Black says developing a background is vital to anyone wanting to get into Mixed Martial Arts.

"It takes a person that has love for the sport," Black said. "I see a lot of guys that come into the gym and see it on TV. And they think they can just put the gloves on and do it, but it's not pretty. A lot of your social life revolves around your fighting. Everything else is extracurricular: hanging out, partying, having a relationship with somebody.

"Ninety percent of my time is spent in the gym."

Lewis, a former wrestler at Mount Union College in northeast Ohio, says wrestling has helped him during his fights.

"It helps out with my ground game with jujitsu and submission things, just getting my body in good position," Lewis said. "I've been wrestling for 14 years and getting your body in good position helps you here."

Despite the broken bones and constantly fighting through injuries, Black isn't about to give it all up.

"I love the competition. I enjoy competing against myself and training and pushing myself to that next level more than the actual fight itself," he said. "For me, the fight is always easy. It's the buildup, the training, the dieting, the sweat and the bleeding that's always the hard part.

"When I first started doing it, I just thought of it as a hobby. It's good exercise, I thought I'd be good at it with my wrestling background and the more and more I get into it, like most guys, I'd like to walk in that cage in the UFC. Hopefully, someday I'll do that."

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