MMA and the push to succeed against all reasonable odds

After 18 months on the shelf, Ian Perron returns to action August 11, 2012, at EFL 6.

In the run-up to his last fight, Ian Perron finally decided it was time to visit a physiotherapist and deal with the nagging injury that had plagued him over the past few years. Two hours of treatment later, he stepped out of the office, his neck feeling better than it had in ages. Outside, he started his car’s engine, eager to be back at the gym.

As he approached the parking lot exit, a car suddenly rammed his door. The damage extended beyond his Honda Civic. The soreness in his neck was back. $80 down the toilet. No matter. He was back training later that afternoon.

Two days later, he stepped into Le Skratch, a sprawling pool bar in Laval, for a scheduled amateur mixed martial arts (MMA) bout. Cleared for competition after a doctor’s routine pre-fight inspection, he looked relaxed, joking with friends as he awaited his slot in the evening’s main event.

I asked him if he knew anything about the man he’d be facing. It seemed unlikely. Tracking down footage of an opponent’s past exploits can be virtually impossible at his level. No one bothers to record most events.

“He smiled at me earlier – it’s gonna be his last smile,” he quickly offers. The 25 year-old’s manner is casual, confident. A small chuckle escapes his mouth.

Three hours later he steps into the ring, anxious to fight. Nearly 600 fans have gathered. Perron is the clear crowd favourite. The referee, clothed in black from head to toe, delivers final instructions. The fighters back into their corners without breaking eye contact, awaiting the opening bell.

******

A typical mixed martial artist trains for years with the ultimate goal of transforming himself into finely a tuned, multidisciplinary combat machine – a living, breathing weapon, primed to inflict bodily destruction.

The payoff? An opportunity to repeatedly do battle with opponents equally hell-bent on  demolition. Concussions, broken bones, and chronic pains are routine. As hard as any athlete works, hundreds of others are pushing for the same few spots where higher paycheques and greater recognition become reality.

In spite of MMA’s growing popularity, only a few hundred fighters earn enough to live off the sport in North America. That’s among thousands of hungry competitors. Perron is just one of hundreds of unpaid amateur fighters competing in the MMA hotbed that is Quebec. Numerous new MMA-focused gyms have sprouted up across the province in recent years. Several have affiliated amateur fight organizations.

These ostensibly help fighters gain experience in an environment safer than the professional leagues. Rounds are shorter, and usually less numerous. Elbow and knee strikes are illegal. Fighters wear shin guards and open-handed, boxing-style gloves.

The result, it’s hoped, is fewer injuries and brain-rattling knockouts. Says one promoter, “It’s not a butcher shop. These fighters aren’t being paid, so I can’t ask them to take knees to the face.” Regardless, concussions do occur. Padding or not, a cleanly landed punch or kick has to the power to rattle the brain.

Promoters normally pay for a doctor or ambulance to be present. A fighter being seriously injured is more than just an undesirable outcome. It could also bring unwanted mainstream attention to amateur MMA, which exists in a legal gray zone in Quebec – not quite legal, but tolerated by the provincial government.

 *****

Perron opens the first round with his Muay Thai technique, chopping away with body and leg kicks. As his opponent dives in for the takedown, Perron nearly sinks in a guillotine choke, before finally being put on his back. Round one ends. Things are just starting to heat up.

  *****

Before he found fighting, Perron spent his early teenage years in a foster home. He later graduated to stints in juvenile hall.

In 2005, tragedy struck. “My best friend got shot in front of me,” says Perron, speaking ten days after his fight. “Him, then his cousin a year later, then a friend that got run over by a car. They’re all murders.”

“It made me realize it wasn’t worth losing my life in a street fight,” he says. “It made me want to do better.”

At first drowning his sorrow in alcohol, the idea of taking up martial arts later came to Perron through a bootlegged copy of Ong Bak. The 2003 Thai film’s plot of a rural warrior sent to the city to recover a stolen Buddha head does little to impress. Star Tony Jaa unleashing his acrobatic and lethal brand of Muay Thai on an endless number of ill-intentioned ruffians most certainly does.

Inspired by the onscreen devastation, Perron quickly took up the discipline.  His left forearm now sports a tattoo spelling out Muay Thai in its native tongue. “This,” he says pointing to it, “is what saved me from this.” His finger now points at four tombstones inked across his left bicep, commemorating his dearly departed comrades.

Subpar training performances later convinced Perron to clean up his life. He cut back on his drinking and partying, and further dedicated himself to training.  “It’s an ego thing for me,” he says. “I’d rather get beat up ‘cause the guy’s better than me, not because I’m out of shape.”

While the gangster mentality is now a thing of the past, the sartorial influence remains, lending Perron, with his baggy hip-hop sweatshirts, a somewhat menacing air.

He trains at Quebec’s best-known gym, Tristar, along the likes of Georges St-Pierre (GSP), the UFC’s reigning Welterweight champion. Perron has headlined four of his gym’s Fightquest cards. The events are the Montreal area’s biggest at the amateur level.

Perron’s focus is currently on being fully prepared before he goes pro. “I’m doing it smart, getting experience, and building a fan base,” he tells me during a training break. Once he reaches the professional level, a built-in crowd of ticket-buying supporters could increase his chances of getting booked on a fight card, and facilitate the search for paying sponsors.

He could use the help. Making ends meet has been difficult.  At this point in his career, Perron is barely paid.  For his latest fight, he sold $1500 in tickets, but pocketed only ten per cent of that.

He lives at home for now, where he pays his mother a weekly rent.  Like many fighters, he used to moonlight as a bouncer, but work has slowed down. The demands of training twice a day, five times a week, make it hard to hold down a normal job. Training at a gym costs money. Private lessons with instructors cost more. In turn, it’s time that can’t be used to pull down a normal salary.

With competition fierce, and prospects for success small, Perron tries to be realistic. “It’s a dream,” he says. “If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, then it wasn’t meant to me. But I’m going to work as much as I can to achieve it. I’m in the right place with the right people. Now, it’s up to me.”

 *****

The action picks up in round two. Both fighters blast out of the gate swinging. Perron connects with a pair of hooks, forcing his dazed opponent to dive in defensively for a takedown. Perron sprawls, but the round later ends without him having the chance to capitalize on his near-finish. One round to go. One more chance to make an impression.

*****

Despite its top-notch reputation, Tristar’s setting is rather humble – the top floor of an unassuming red brick office building that also houses textile and carpet companies’ headquarters. The only indication a passerby might have that a gym is here is a set of large, red star-shaped stickers pasted to the windows.

Inside, the gym’s nature is abundantly clear. A large training area spans the entire floor. The walls are covered in boxing and MMA posters. A pantheon of pugilistic greats. A piercing alarm goes off every five minutes, acclimating amateurs and pros alike to the length of professional rounds.

This evening, the gym is full of young men looking to spar, Perron included. GSP works his technique in the corner. No one seems to take much notice.

As the amateurs spar, an instructor points out an especially hulking fighter and explains to me that he “uses him to break people.” Not physically, but mentally. “Guys can come in here with tons of talent and huge egos,” he explains. “This guy is a wrestler who frustrates them and brings them back to earth.” His point is clear – while confidence is necessary to succeed, so are humbleness and a constant willingness to learn.

Perron appears to injure himself while sparring with the ego breaker. He’s reluctant to tell me exactly where and whether or not he’ll pull out of his next fight. The times we’ve spoken, he’s repeatedly made a point of not wanting his opponents to know where he’s hurt, afraid it will give them an advantage.

If a car accident couldn’t stop him, I wonder if a training injury will. A fighter going into a bout injured is nothing new. ‘No one fights at 100 percent’ is an accepted truth in a sport where training camps are so intense.

Stephane Vigneault, Fightquest’s promoter, is satisfied with Perron’s progression. “He’s very motivated,” Vigneault says. “He studies constantly and he sacrifices a lot to train.  He has huge potential.”

Vigneault has war stories of his own. “I did a fight for $50, another for $100, and one for $150,” he recalls. “I had weeks where I ate very little because of my career choice.”

The 28 year-old built up a blood-soaked professional record of 12-5 before a detached retina forced him to retire. He had two surgeries to fix it, but his vision in the eye is still only half of what it was.

He insists the up-and-comers at Tristar aren’t naive.  “Most of these young guys realize GSP is a phenomenon,” he says. GSP topped the UFC’s 2010 declared pay list, earning a healthy $900,000.

Vigneault tries to keep expectations realistic. “I always tell them to finish whatever school they’re in,” he says. “Do MMA as a passion, and if you breakthrough, you breakthrough.” But for Perron, school is a thing of the distant past.

*****

Round three – Perron’s last chance to finish. He returns to his Muay Thai offense, but never connects with enough to turn his opponent’s lights out. He attempts a rear-naked choke, but cannot finish. The bell rings one last time, putting an end to the bout. After the judges’ score cards are tabulated, Perron is announced as winner. He triumphantly raises his arms in the air, his fingers pointed to the roof, before unleashing a brief celebratory fist pump.

 *****

I meet up with him once more as he exits the ring. We speak in a bathroom, the only place quiet enough for me to clearly hear him. Though he’s secured the victory, he isn’t satisfied.

“I have a lot to change,” he says, his breathing still slightly heavy from exhaustion ten minutes after the fight. “I’ll keep working, and I’ll get there.”

The car accident? “It pissed me off, but I stayed calm and told myself to take it out on my opponent.”

“He didn’t hurt me at all,” he adds. “What hurts is my leg from kicking him.” He’s suffered a deep muscle bruise. He relents and says he’ll probably follow his trainer’s advice, and finally take a week off before returning to the gym.

He isn’t crazy about the idea. “A quitter never wins, and a winner never quits.”

Ring announcer Eric Emard (far right) announces Ian Perron (far left) as the winner

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The end of Montreal MMA News, the start of something bigger…

Hello readers, firstly I apologize for the lack of updates recently. Things have been brewing behind the scenes, all leading up to this – I will no longer be updating Montreal MMA News. Just over a year after launching, the time has come for me to fully move on to the bigger and better. I will continue to bring the best possible journalism focused on the Quebec scene, but will now be writing for a larger, national audience.

As some of you may know, I’ve begun working for a larger Canadian MMA siteTop MMA News. I was glad to join the team there because it mirrored my editorial attitude. Specifically writing news, not re-worded press releases or uncritical analysis. MMA is a growing sport, and it requires serious, hard-nosed journalism, not yes-man fanboy coverage. Double publishing seems like a waste of time, so I’ll no longer be doing it.

You can keep track of my work at Top MMA News by:

  1. Bookmarking Top MMA News, and liking Top MMA News on Facebook. If you’re specifically interested in only my articles there, bookmark my author page.
  2. Sending me a friend request on Facebook. Everything I publish, I share there.
  3. Following me on Twitter @JulianCClapp. All my posts get tweeted.

I started this blog while in journalism school because I wanted to report on MMA, but was unwilling to wait for someone at an existing site to give me permission. Such is the power of the internet.

Dozens of events, articles, and recaps later, not to mention over one hundred interviews later, I can say that my first year covering the biz was quite an enjoyable one. Yeah, the site design was never great, but I felt like I was doing good work.

For that reason I will leave the site up, pictures, interviews, and all, as a historical record of the year that was Quebec MMA in 2011. Nothing new will be added though. Thanks to everyone who took the time to speak with me, it’s (usually) been a pleasure.

Thanks for the support, specifically to everyone who took time to help me out (you know who you are), and I sincerely hope you will continue to follow my work,

Julian Cymbalista-Clapp

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UFC 145 fight card and event info

Bad news fight fans, word is out that UFC 145 has been called off by the UFC.

Date: Saturday, March 24
Location: Bell Centre, Montreal
Tickets: Not yet on sale
PromoterZuffa LLC

Fight Card (weight divisions in bold)
170Rory MacDonald (12-1) v. Che Mills (14-4, 1 NC)
HWTravis Browne (12-0-1) v. Chad Griggs (11-1) (more inf0)
HW -  Brendan Schaub (8-2) v. Ben Rothwell (31-8)
145Mark Hominick (20-10) v. Eddie Yagin (15-5)
155Mark Bocek (10-4) v. Matt Wiman (14-6)
155Mac Danzig (20-9-1) v. Efrain Escudero (18-4)
155John Makdessi (9-1) v. Anthony Njokuani (14-6)
170Chris Clements (10-4) v. Keith Wisniewski (28-13)

Last updated January 18, 2012.

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Ringside Featherweight champ Mitch Gagnon set for January UFC debut

Ringside Featherweight champ Mitch Gagnon makes his UFC debut January 28. Photo: Great Fight North/Mike Fischl.

Fresh off a submission win in his October Bantamweight debut,  Ringside Featherweight champion Mitch Gagnon (8-1) has signed a five-fight UFC contract. He’ll make his debut January 28, replacing the injured Eddie Wineland in a Bantamweight bout against Johnny Bedford (18-9-1) on the UFC on Fox 2 preliminary card.

Fighting since 2008 out of Team Shredder in Sudbury, Ontario, Gagnon took his first eight bouts at Featherweight. The 27 year-old scored seven submissions there, finishing the likes of Stephane Bernadel, Dimitri Waardenburg, and Guillaume Lamarche in the first round, earning his title in the process. The stocky wrestler’s only loss to date came via decision to Will Romero in early 2009.

After losing a year to injury, Gagnon returned to action in April at Ringside 10, successfully defending his belt against Rejean Groulx via wild third round submission. The back-and-forth bout was a clear-cut contender for Canadian fight of the year.

Originally scheduled to make his Bantamweight debut against RS champ Steph Pelletier at Ringside 12 in October, he instead faced Bo Harris when an injury forced Pelletier out. After getting hit early, Gagnon caught the American in a tight guillotine as he attempted a takedown, earning yet another first round sub.

Gagnon’s UFC signing scuttles any chance of a rescheduled encounter with Steph Pelletier, rumoured for Ringside’s first as-yet unannounced 2012 card.

His opponent, Johnny Bedford was recently seen competing on the fourteenth season of the Ultimate Fighter. The 28 year-old was eliminated from the competition after getting knocked out by eventual Bantamweight winner John Dodson. He bounced back on the TUF finale, scoring a dominant third round TKO over the undersized Louis Godinot in what was his official UFC debut.

UFC on Fox 2 is headlined by a Light-Heavyweight bout between Rashad Evans and Phil Davis. While the undercard airs in the US on Fuel TV, it’s not yet clear if it will be available for viewing in Canada.

Listen to my Ringside 10 pre-fight interview with Mitch here.

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Second bout announced for March’s UFC 145 in Montreal

Undefeated Heavyweight Travis Browne (right) welcomes Chad Griggs (left) to the UFC this March in Montreal.

With only three months to go until the UFC’s return to Montreal on March 24, a hard-hitting Heavyweight tilt pitting the undefeated Travis ‘Hapa’ Browne (12-0-1) against Strikeforce (SF) import Chad ‘Grave Digger’ Griggs (11-1) has been added to the card.

In a combined 25 fights, the two competitors have finished by KO/TKO 18 times.

Browne was last seen earning a sluggish decision in Denver’s high altitude over Rob Broughton at UFC 135 last September. In his prior fight in May at UFC 130, the 29 year-old Hawaiian sent Stefan Struve crashing to the ground in spectacular fashion with an opening round superman punch KO.

Griggs, 33, will be competing in the UFC for the first time. He joins Alistair Overeem, and Fabricio Werdum, among other Heavweights moving over from Strikeforce. Dana White recently announced that Strikeforce’s 206+ lbs division would be shuttered some time in 2012, with the assumption that most fighters would be brought over to fill out what is arguably the UFC’s thinnest division.

Griggs, easily recognizable by his mutton chop sideburns, ended former pro wrestler Bobby Lashley‘s SF run in August 2010, and more recently forced Alistair’s brother Valentijn Overeem to tap to strikes in June.

UFC 145 will be the promotion’s fifth stop in Montreal. The Heavyweight bout joins the already confirmed Welterweight fight pitting Tristar’s Rory MacDonald (12-1) against Che Mills (14-4).

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Looking towards 2012

Hello readers. With nothing much happening on the local scene this month, there shouldn’t be too many updates before 2012.

Ringside and Instinct MMA are both keeping mum for now on when their next events will be. February was the rumour floating around last month for Ringside’s next show, but that’s still unconfirmed. No information has emerged from Instinct for their 3rd event either, though at last word January and/or February were possibilities.

Either way, they’ll have to compete for attention with the UFC, which will be back in Montreal on March 24 for UFC 145. So far a Welterweight bout between Tristar’s Rory Macdonald (12-1) and Che Mills (14-4) is the only confirmed bout.

A few dates have trickled in for amateur shows, and the next UGC boxing/MMA event will be April 7.

See the full schedule by clicking on Upcoming Local Events (which can always be accessed via the bar up top).

Have a happy holiday, and see you in 2012,
Julian Cymbalista-Clapp

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UFC 140 weigh-in photo gallery

Weigh-ins for tonight’s UFC 140 took place Friday in Toronto, with all but one of the 24 fighters hitting their target weight. (See here for full results)

In the main event, Jon Jones (14-1, 205 lbs) defends his Light-Heavyweight title against former top dog Lyoto Machida (204 lbs).

Brazil’s Nogueira brothers will both be in action, with Heavyweight Antonio Rodrigo (33-6-1-1, 239 lbs) taking on Frank Mir (15-5, 260 lbs), and Light-Heavyweight Antonio Rogerio (19-5, 204.5 lbs) taking on Tito Ortiz (16-9-1).

Montreal’s John Makdessi (9-0, 155.5 lbs) and Yves Jabouin (16-7, 136 lbs) will also be competing.

All photos courtesy of Eric Gaudreault (www.godro.biz).

Main Card

Lyoto Machida (204 lbs)

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Keep up with Montreal MMA News via social media

Hello readers. Just a quick reminder that the wonderful world of social media can help you keep up with Montreal MMA News and my work for Top MMA News:

  • You can also follow me on Twitter @JulianCClapp. All my posts get tweeted.
  • Or lastly, if you’re old fashioned (nothing wrong with that), you can also subscribe to updates via email (right column under Event Results).

Thanks for stopping by, Julian Cymbalista-Clapp

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Post-Instinct MMA 2 wrap-up: thoughts on the event, what’s next, and the continuing rivalry with Ringside

Stéphane Patry and his Instinct MMA promotion brought their brand of combat to Quebec City for their second event Friday. A few injuries later, 13 bouts took place, a majority of them ending in severely one-sided beatings.

While most cards include at least a massacre or two, the slaughter at Instinct MMA 2 was virtually non-stop. Consider… nine KO/TKOs (one via injury) and nine first round stoppages, six within 65 seconds or less.

With the event officially in the books, now seems like a good time to consider some of the stories coming out of it. For my report on the fights themselves, see here.

  • The excellent main event ended in a nice win for 40 year-old UFC/MFC vet Pete Spratt, which he tearfully dedicated to his recently deceased grandmother. Spratt was crying prior to, after, and some thought even during the fight, hinting at his mental state heading into the cage.
  • The result was however disappointing for the live crowd and a big setback for Martin Grandmont, who ate a pair of left uppercuts on way to being finished late in the second round. As happy as he looked straddling the cage and taking in the crowd’s appreciation after his spectacular head kick KO just eight weeks ago, he looked as disappointed Friday about the loss. Post-fight word was that he’d eaten a punch to the throat late in the first that made it hard for him to breathe properly in the second round. He also mentioned on Facebook that he considered pulling out of the fight in the lead up due to doubts about his preparation, injuries, and some personal issues. Either way, the Hammer will again have to rebuild going forward.
  • Friday was a tough night for main card Quebec fighters in general. Along with Grandmont, D. Gauthier was decisioned, Tim Wadsworth knocked out, and Guillaume Lamarche submitted. At least publicly, Patry’s message is that he’s as happy promoting non-Quebec fighters as he is homegrown talent. Even he admitted though that local fighters losing would likely hurt future ticket sales. Still, as he put it: “I fucking hate the promoters who just want the red corner to win. That’s not what I’m about. I bring the best fighters, and whoever wins, wins.”
  • Patry didn’t offer a date for his next show post-event, saying he’ll announce one in the next week or so. When I asked for clarification, he said that he was still looking at putting on an event in early 2012, either in January, February, or possibly both. Probable locations are St-Hyacinthe or Sherbrooke for one and Montreal for the other. With Steve Bossé still recovering from injury (more on that below), and Grandmont just finished, Patry will probably have to pull someone new in to headline for January. Pat Côté perhaps? Last I spoke to him, he was still a free agent.

More thoughts and analysis after the jump…..

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UFC vet Pete Spratt delivers emotional TKO over Grandmont at Instinct MMA 2 (full results)

Quebec City, Qc - KOs and quick finishes rained down repeatedly Friday night, as Instinct MMA moved to the provincial capital for its second event.

The Pavillon de la Jeunesse crowd was treated to a relatively short night, with nine of the event’s 13 fights ending violently in the opening round.

The evening was headlined by a Welterweight bout pitting UFC hopeful Martin ‘the Hammer’ Grandmont (12-6), fresh off a KO win less than two months ago, against 40 year-old, 44 fight veteran Pete Spratt (24-21).

Cracking Grandmont for the second round TKO, Spratt scored what was likely his most emotional win yet. With his voice cracking post-fight, Spratt tearfully dedicated the win to his grandmother, who’d unexpectedly passed away the day before prior to the weigh-ins.

40+ fight veteran Pete Spratt (file photo) dedicated his big 2nd round TKO to his recently deceased grandmother. Photo: Top MMA News/Pixelens.com

After a 12 year career that’s seen him move through over a dozen promotions, with seven stops in the UFC, and more recently a stint in the MFC, Spratt looked game throughout against his younger opponent.

Coming off his recent head kick finish, Grandmont hunted almost endlessly for a repeat, unsuccessfully throwing up his leg over a half a dozen times before the fight ended. Finding more success with his fists, the Hammer landed quite a few times, but never with enough power to finish.

After dropping Grandmont in the first round’s final seconds with a left hook, Spratt connected definitively with a pair of uppercuts and some brief ground-and-pound late in the second, prompting the finish at the 4:00 mark, much to the crowd’s chagrin.

A significant setback for Grandmont, who’s been public with his hopes of finally making the UFC. The TKO was only his second loss in his last nine fights.

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