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Eight sides of toughness

Local fighters test themselves in the feared "octagon"

Local fighters test themselves in the feared "octagon"

July 24, 2005|By DAN KAUFFMAN

kauffman@herald-mail.com

Picture a tough guy. Someone you wouldn't want to cross paths with in a dark alley. Someone who would strike fear into your heart and soul. Someone you would expect to compete in a brutal Ultimate Fighting Championships bout.

Now picture Jeremy Kearbey.

Kearbey, 19, is far from physically intimidating. He's about 5 feet, 7 inches tall and 140 slender pounds. He looks like someone who could be blown over by a strong gust of wind.

And that's where the irony really kicks into high gear. Because if Kearbey had to fight the tough-guy image in your mind, chances are Kearbey would not be the one in trouble.

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Kearbey is one of four Hagerstown residents who recently competed in the Hammerhouse Fighting Championships - a stepping stone to the Ultimate Fighting Championships, commonly referred to as the UFC.

Kearbey and Eternal Martial Arts "Team Warrior" teammates Jason Olden, 26, and Mike Pilli, 24, all won their debuts in the "Octagon," the eight-sided fighting cage used by both the UFC and the HFC, on June 16 at HFC 19: Golf Rush, in Lancaster, Ohio. Another teammate, Toby Caudill, 32, lost that day but has two other wins on his resume.

For Kearbey, who has been training in jujitsu for about 18 months, the fight was a memorable and surreal experience, right from the referee's traditional starting lines.

"I've never felt any more of a rush than when the referee asked, 'Are you ready? Are you ready? Let's go!'" Kearbey said. "You go into a zone, everything goes away and it's all you. You don't have time to think, you really don't."

"I tell those guys, when they get out there, they'll feel like they just jumped out of an airplane," said Chris Suder, the head trainer at Eternal Martial Arts in Hagerstown. "That's how intense it is."

These fights aren't for the weak. To succeed, you have to be able to dish out punishment both on your feet - through strikes such as punches, kicks and knee attacks - and on the mat, where most fighters try to apply holds that force the opponent to "tap out," or submit.

"We always wanted to see how our skills would fare in real-life situations, and this is the closest thing you can get to real life," said Pilli, who fights at 170-175 pounds and has trained in Taekwon Do for six years. "It's a way of seeing if martial arts works, and it does."

"When the sport first started, all the fights wound up on the ground. Ninety percent of all fights anywhere end up on the ground," said Olden, a heavyweight (205-plus pounds) trained in jujitsu and submission wrestling. "Now it's evolved to the point where you have to have a stand-up game."

Training for the matches involves boxing, mixed martial arts, weightlifting and plenty of cardiovascular work done by running and jumping rope. Training sessions at the Eternal gym often take place at unusual hours - midnight sessions are common as the fighters try to balance work schedules and personal life with the demands of their sport.

"Chris has made a sacrifice putting his life aside for us," Pilli said. "The rides up (to the Hammerhouse events), the six-hour drives, we're like one little family."

"To do something so extreme, you have to be very close inside and outside of the gym," Suder said. "If your mental state is not 100 percent, you can't compete. We get together for movies, and when personal issues come up, we handle them together. We're a team."

For now, the members of Team Warrior have one simple, yet difficult goal: Win as many matches as possible at Hammerhouse events. The team plans to participate next on Sept. 4.

"It'd be great to win a title at Hammerhouse," Olden said. "You win a title there, you're going to get noticed."

"You can't imagine the feeling of winning and having six or seven hundred people chant your name in respect," Pilli said.

For more on UFC, HFC or mixed martial-arts fighting, visit the Web sites www.fullcontactfighter.com and www.sherdog.com.

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