As the popularity of mixed martial flourishes worldwide, Cayman is doing its best to promote it here.
That’s why Proving Ground IV will be staged next week and will probably be even more competitive and exciting than the previous three which were all humdingers.
It’s at the King’s Sports Centre on Saturday, May 17. There’s a pre-party at Treasure Island Lobby Bar from 5 to 7pm with transport provided to the venue and tickets are only $35 or $100 ringside.
Inspired by the popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championships, some of the Cayman youngsters hope to eventually get a shot at mixing it with their TV heroes.
Top of the Proving Ground IV bill is the heavyweight clash between Luis ‘El Boti’ Pichardo and Caymanian favourite Timothy Coulson. The battle of the big men promises to be its usually pulsating action as all Coulson bouts are.
Coulson is part of the 11-member Team Rage, plus his brother Bruce ‘The Lionheart’ Coulson and Jermaine Ebanks. They usually train at the boxing gym in George Town, on the beach or in someone’s back yard three times a week.
Bruce lost his two Proving Ground bouts and hopes it’s third time lucky at PG IV if he can get matched.
Timothy Coulson is a black belt in various Japanese martial arts which he’s been studying for 18 years. He works for Butterfield Bank’s online services so goes from high finance to high kicks.
‘This will be my fourth competition,’ Tim said. ‘So far I’m 2-1. I’m confident of winning this time. So far every time I prepare for the next one I train even harder.’
One of Team Rage’s rivals is Team Ironshore, who train at the skating shop where they have a complete cage, in Grand Harbour. Ironshore has been around since the first Proving Ground, last April. There is also Team Bullet.
Jason Moir is one of the show’s organisers. He won’t be fighting on this show as work and organising commitments have taken up much of his time.
‘Team Ironshore has been together around a year and a half now,’ said Moir. ‘They’re a group of hard working guys who just want to train and improve in mma.’
They comprise of Todd ‘The Anger’ Stewart, Ronny ‘Widow Maker’ Carroll, Leif Ristimaki, Matt ‘Big Country’ Colton, John ‘Black Jack’ Mack and Pichardo.
‘They’ve trained so hard, they’ve probably accumulated a mass of 70lbs in weight loss in the last week,’ said Moir. ‘These guys train two or three times a day for two hours. Everybody’s looking forward to it.
‘Fortunately, we’ve got a cage set up here at Black Pearl and getting everybody ready to get down to weight.
‘Nutrition, fitness and cardio levels are up. Now they know everything they need to know and they’ve just got to get into shape.’
Moir is so busy helping promoter Chris Dinan to organise things he hasn’t had the chance to fight yet. But he will make his mma debut at Proving Groud V in October.
‘I’m one of the last guys to have their first fight. Matt had his first fight last time, Johnny Mack and Luis, this is going to be their first.
‘Hopefully, in the fall when I get more out of the organisation stuff I’m be able to get into the scrapping mentality.’
Canadian Moir, 32, has a martial arts background in grappling and growing up near Ontario played hockey, lacrosse and basketball.
‘I’ve always been a fan of mma and when my brother took it up a couple of years ago, we started rolling around. And two years later we’re still rolling around.’
Like the rest of his team-mates Moir does not mind helping the other teams to develop their skills and technique.
‘Although we fight as a team, we’re trying to build this as an island wide event. We have guys that cross train at the boxing gym to learn from the boxers and for them to pick up tips from us if they want to learn how to grapple on the ground. We’re ground guys. We roll around. We’re not strikers.
‘Coach Donie Anglin and Troy O’Neil from the boxing gym have had a huge influence on some of our guys, especially Luis and Ronny.
‘We also work with the world class instructors Sensei Bob Daigle and Master Steve Graham. Those guys have been influential. They put on a seminar a couple of weeks ago.
‘Fortunately, on the island there are a few martial arts schools but in the mma world, they are so specific that we’re trying to broaden those horizons and close those gaps, create cross training amongst everybody.’
Refreshingly, there is no great rivalry between the teams. ‘When we’re not training we all hang out and watch UFC fights and socialise,’ said Moir.
‘These events will prove to people that we’re not a blood sport. We don’t sit down and demise a way to destroy each other.
‘These guys are well fit, well tuned athletes. We don’t keep them caged up all weekend and let them go in the week. It’s a discipline thing. These guys are humble. We’ve got bar tenders, mechanics and teachers. Down in the other gyms we have lawyers and accountants. It’s a sport for anybody.’
Other fighters on the bill include Nolan ‘Crazy Legs’ Karrumi, Rohain ‘The Coroner’ Extain and Leith Bodden.
Ristimaki, 36, played Division One hockey at the University of Guelph, near Toronto. His only previous martial arts experience was as a 12-year-old in judo for a few months.
He started training here in submission and Muay Thai a couple of years ago and won in the second round on the first Proving Ground show.
He said: ‘A lot of guys got involved just to get fitter and lose some weight. But some have lost 30lbs or 40lbs or more. We reckon collectively around 300lbs in the last year. These are serious workouts.
‘We also want to encourage people to come and try it as a sport too, without getting hurt. With the help of Bob Daigle and Master Steve Graham we hope to set up youth programmes.’
What does Ristimaki enjoy so much about mma? ‘It’s a chess match of combat sports. It’s a mind game. We don’t like to call them fighters, more like players.
‘They go for three months without eating fatty food, mayonnaise and drinking alcohol in order to prepare for this sort of thing.
‘Being that I’ve competed at a very high level of sport, this is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The most intense. All my other sports are team ones. This is one on one and you either win or lose.
‘So you’re in there and it’s your skills against another player’s skill. There’s always respect. A lot of guys we have fought before came back and trained with us. There’s never any animosity between camps.’
Pichardo started judo at 14 and has over 12 years experience in it. He was seven times national champion in the Dominican Republic and fought internationally in many places.
Pichardo was a policeman in Dominica and works in security here.
‘I started doing some grappling with these guys a year ago and I like it,’ he said. ‘Jiu-jitsu and judo is for everyone. Judo is in the Olympics too. I invite everyone, children, big people too to come and try it. It’s a good cardio and a great way to lose weight.’
What about breaking bones and pulling limbs out of sockets? ‘We show you how to do it but we no break it!’ Pichardo laughed. ‘No, we don’t break it. When you feel it’s painful you tap out.
‘I’m ready for Coulson. I’ll get him on the ground. That’s my play game. This is my first fight as a professional but I’m confident because I’ve been training with these guys a lot.’
Stewart, 32, won his first contest with the guillotine choke in Proving Ground II at light-heavy. He’s trained so hard that he will step into the octagon next week as a middleweight at 185lbs. He still needs to shed 4lbs but does not see that as a problem.
Stewart was 230lbs and overweight two years ago when he decided to shape up through mma to add to the rugby he was already playing. The Canadian started martial arts at seven in karate and competed all over British Columbia.
‘This is a great way to stay in shape as a child or adult. It’s a self-challenge thing. You have to have respect for anyone who steps into that ring.’
Stewart is fighting the Caymanian youngster Peter ‘Lightning’ Lewison. They have an opponent in common in Steve Chapman, who both beat on their Proving Ground debuts.
‘We both beat him so it’s a perfect fit for us to fight each other now,’ Stewart said.
‘After the fight me and him will have a beer because I haven’t had one for about eight weeks since I got married on March 10.
‘It was tough not having a beer after Cayman’s final rugby game last week when we beat Jamaica but this is good motivation and helps you with willpower.’
Typically, he loves watching UFC. ‘A little too much, my wife says. I tend to like the more rounded guys like Georges St Pierre, Rich Franklin and Jamie ‘The Worm’ Varner.
‘Varner was our guest referee at our last one and I watched him take the light weight title.
‘Anyone that carries the sport in a respectful manner I’ve got respect for but my No.1 is Pierre.’
Carroll, 36, is a school teacher at St Ignatius so probably enjoys the release of aggression mma gives more than most. He too started in karate as a child.
He went to Japan in 2001 and got involved in submission fighting and when he arrived in Cayman a couple of years ago got back into mma.
‘I had a couple of amateur bouts in Japan but that was with a lot of headgear and padding, unlike what we’re doing now. This is like a second chance at it for me.
‘I’m grateful to be involved with Team Ironshore and also want to shout out to someone who has been very helpful too, Sensei Latty and also Donie and Troy at the boxing club.
‘Although I’ve got my family here, there are some more family members out there who are good enough to help me and some members of my team out.’
Carroll won his debut on the first show and takes on a fighter, Floyd Moxam, from the last show who also won. ‘Moxam has yet to sign for the fight and I’m just training as if it’s going ahead.
‘I’m the old guy in the group, myself and Leif and for me it’s just great brotherhood. Actually, Leif is a few months older. Make sure you print that!’