MMA amateur bouts debut on Long Island
What do you get when you mix kickboxing, Muay Thai, boxing, wrestling and Brazilian jiujitsu? The answer: mixed martial arts, better known as MMA. This sport, long popular for its televised pay-per-view fights, is on the rise locally.
On Thursday, Long Island will host its first amateur MMA tournament at the Upsky Long Island
Hotel in Hauppauge. The tournament continues with semifinal and final rounds at St. Joseph's College in Patchogue Nov. 16 and Dec. 14.
Amateur MMA bouts are legal in New York State, but they are unregulated and unsanctioned by the State Athletic Commission. Professional MMA remains illegal in New York.
"Fighters used to go to New Jersey and Pennsylvania to compete. There was nothing for them in their backyard," says tournament organizer Nic Canobbio, president of MMA Platinum Gloves. "I think Long Island is ready for this."
HOW IT WORKS Fighters will face off in a caged ring for each bout that can last up to three rounds clocked at three minutes each. They land punches like in boxing as well as kicks from kickboxing while standing. However, the match can move to grappling on the ground where the Brazilian jiujitsu aspect comes into play.
"Each fight is going to be different," Canobbio says. "You must be versatile in every aspect. You have to be good on your feet, be able to take a punch and defend a takedown."
The goal is to win either by knockout, submission or decision after time has run out. Elbows, knees to the head, foot stomping and twisted ankle locks are prohibited. All fighters must wear gloves and battle barefoot. There will not be headgear or shin guards used in this tournament.
"It takes a special kind of person to get in that cage," says Canobbio. "A lot of these guys are using this tournament as their first real action making their amateur debut."
MEET THE AMATEURS Centereach resident Rafael Febus, a veteran Marine who earned a Purple Heart, is competing for the first time. In between teaching bootcamp-style fitness classes in Ronkonkoma and working toward his certification in substance-abuse counseling, Febus trains on his own and will compete in the featherweight division (145 pounds).
"I've been to combat multiple times where I was shot at and blown up," says Febus, 29. "Somebody punching or kicking me in the face is nothing compared to that."
Growing up in West Babylon, Ricardo Pigatti was a "stand-out athlete" in football and basketball who was inspired by watching Bruce Lee films. Weighing 170 pounds, the 19-year-old welterweight says he's excited to begin his amateur MMA career.
"Being in front of a crowd gives you that extra motivation," says Pigatti, who works at BJ's in Farmingdale and attends Suffolk County Community College. "It's like being a gladiator in an arena."
After working shifts as a night manager at McDonald's, Prince Uchegbu of Queens Village travels to Kayo Boxing in Garden City Park, where he trains "old school," doing sprints and heavy bag work with his coach, Michael Corleone, to pursue his dream of becoming an MMA fighter.
"I like the diversity of MMA. It makes you a complete fighter," says Uchegbu, 23, a 155-pound lightweight whose record is 1-0. "It's the most intense you can get in any sport."
WHAT TO EXPECT Much like a boxing or wrestling match, the bouts will be showcased with spotlights, music and an announcer that engages the crowd. Each card will feature about 15 fights a night.
At the Upsky Hotel, the cage will be set against the wall with floor seating for 700 people on three sides. When the tournament moves to St. Joseph's, the cage will be situated in the middle of the gym with bleachers on two sides and floor seats all around holding 1,000 people.
Hot dogs and hamburgers will be served as well as soda, chips and beer (alcohol only at Upsky).
Many believe this tournament could be a launchpad for the sport on Long Island, especially if pro fights ever get legalized in the state.
"MMA is spreading like wildfire," says Uchegbu. "Everybody wants to take part in it."
Amateur MMA Platinum Gloves Tournament
INFO 631-505-0680, mmaplatinumgloves.com