It takes considerable courage to step into an octagon cage, knowing that there can be only one fighter who will walk out victorious from battle. Even the winners often go through an inordinate amount of pain so to be involved in mixed martial arts, both have to be exceptionally brave.
Dubbed as ‘modern gladiators’, mixed martial arts competitors face daunting challenges in preparation for and execution of their beloved sport. The Spike TV reality series The Ultimate Fighter has recently completed casting calls for Series 7, and the deadline for video applications has just expired.
With competition getting tougher after every series because of the show’s rising popularity, the odds of being chosen for and winning are decreasing. This, however, is no deterrent for Cayman’s own ultimate fighter.
Three years ago, Trevor Howard arrived in George Town to work for top law firm Maples & Calder and in his spare time devoted himself to promoting martial arts generally and mixed martial arts specifically, one of the world’s fastest growing sports.
The Ultimate Fighter is a reality television series and mixed martial arts competition produced by Spike TV and the Ultimate Fighting Championship. In a format similar to the Survivor and Big Brother TV series, professional MMA fighters that have yet to make a name for themselves live in a house near and compete against each other for the title of Ultimate Fighter, winning a six-figure and multi-fight contract with the UFC.
‘The odds are certainly against me,’ says Howard, president of the Cayman Islands Mixed Martial Arts Association, the governing and sanctioning body of MMA here. ‘I do have a great support team who has been pushing for me and who believe in the dream.’
To be an effective competitor and so as not to be embarrassed in front of the worldwide audience, mastering many martial arts styles, from grappling to striking, is essential.
The opportunity to master these diverse arts has been elusive in the Caribbean, as most trainers and facilities focus on only one combat style, be it boxing, karate, judo, tae kwon do, wrestling…
‘There are many martial arts schools, who claim that their school has the best system in the world, or the most complete system in the world,’ says Howard who competed in the Judo World Championships in Rio de Janeiro in the summer.
‘There are even fighters who claim that their techniques are too deadly to participate in a competition such as the UFC. Most of these people are talkers, or paper tigers. You’ll never see them submit an application to compete in MMA because deep inside, they’re fearful.’
Howard was unaffected by the fear factor, when he submitted his application. In fact, he not only submitted the first application ever from the Cayman Islands, but the sole application from the entire Caribbean region.
‘To quote George W. Bush, I say ‘Bring ’em on!’ Hopefully, my application will make it to the eyes of Joe Silva, the UFC matchmaker, Dana White the UFC President, and to Jamie Campione, Producer of Spike TV’s Ultimate Fighter.’
His confidence isn’t misplaced. Years ago, as a teenager, his debut MMA competition was against Josh Barnett, a man who would become the youngest World UFC Heavyweight Champion after defeating the legendary Randy ‘The Natural’ Couture.
‘This was my first MMA fight, and the odds were stacked against me. Josh, was undefeated at 10 wins and 0 losses. I also gave up 40 pounds to him, just in order to compete. When Josh turned pro and went on to win the world championship, I knew to what level of ability I had climbed.’
Howard, 29, has had to climb over many obstacles in his life to arrive at this point. But his determination was seeded deep in an experience he had with his father as a child.
‘My dad took me to climb Mount Rainier in Washington, aged 12. It is 14,411ft high. When we were making our summit attempt, a party of climbers approached us on their way down. One man said to me in passing, ‘You’re not gonna make it kid’.’
Make it he did, in spite of suffering altitude sickness and being the second youngest climber to ever summit the tallest mountain in the United States. This is typical of his personality. Giving up has never been an option.
Should his application be accepted, his fierce competitive nature will make him, he feels, unstoppable.
After landing a career at one of the world’s leading offshore law firms and creating his own MMA circuit – the only one in the Caribbean to do so – this is the next logical step.
Howard even boasts his own octagon cage at the Palaestra Strategies Gym in Dorcy Drive. ‘I basically live in the cage every night after I leave the office. I teach students the skills of survival because they are so beneficial in all aspects of life. Many lessons can be learned from martial arts and applied to our every day lives, to make us more confident and successful people.’
You wouldn’t guess it from meeting him. Multi-lingual, soft spoken and gentle, Howard is as complex as the languages and fighting styles he has mastered. ‘I’ve been preparing for this my whole life. My drive is my faith, that we can all make miracles happen.’
* You can watch Howard’s video application at the top of this article.