Teamwork makes new MMA victors in the cage

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Natasha Stannard
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The bell rings, signaling the start of Kombat Komplett 7, Nov. 17, 2012, in Baumholder, Germany.

This was the moment of truth for two Airmen from Spangdahlem who had been hard at work training for their first mixed martial arts competition.

These Spangdahlem MMA team fighters worked out three times a day before their fights. When fighters here prepare for cage fight matches, it is mandatory they attend MMA team practices at least three days a week to condition their bodies and teach one another fighting techniques.

The fighters are built into well-rounded punching, kicking and wrestling machines in the cage because each fighter brings different skill sets to the table.

First time cage-match fighter Airman 1st Class Markus Williams from Phoenix said practicing with his teammates was like getting super powers.

"With every different style, you get a different technique ... It's kind of like Mega Man," he explained. "Every time Mega Man would fight a bad guy, he would absorb their super powers. All my sparring partners teach me something different. With every person you train against, you tend to find things you like that they do and adopt them as your own. To me, the more knowledge you have about a different art, the more power you have in the cage."

Working out together wasn't the only thing that prepared their bodies for the brutality of the cage. The fighter's diets also changed. A month before their matches, fighters here must restrict their sugar, alcohol and fatty food intake.

For Williams and fellow newcomer to the fight scene, Airman 1st Class Sean Whitaker from Pittsburgh, changing their diets to water, chicken, rice, vegetables and fruit was the most difficult and drastic part, but it was necessary to make their weight classes and have the upper hand in the cage.

Whitaker said that without the discipline gained from the U.S. Air Force, sticking to his new routines and diets would have been near impossible.

With hard work and discipline, each of them made their weight classes. When fight day came around, they were anxious to show their teammates what they could do and put their training to the ultimate test.

The bell rings again, this time signaling Whitaker's first round.

He stepped in, not knowing what to expect, but knowing he had to keep a clear head to become the victor in what he described as a violent game of chess.

The crowd cheered and he could see lights flashing all around him, but there was only one thing he wanted to focus on - his opponent.

"When you're in the fight, you don't have time to think 'I have to do this if he does this,'" Whitaker said. "It has to be instinct--you just have to react because if not, you're going to get caught. You want to have everything down to instinct. You don't want to be thinking in there; you just want to be reacting and that happens, thanks to the training ... it's stuff we've seen in practice so much that we just see an opening and throw the punches."

Whitaker used his instinct and experience gained from practicing with his teammates to size up his opponent, predicting his next moves. He saw that his opponent was quick, so the concern was keeping up with his speed and fighting on the ground.

Whitaker's team mainly focuses on upright fighting, and he knew his opponent was a ground fighter. To help combat this, Whitaker trained with wrestlers who taught him a take-down defense. Even with the wrestlers' training, Whitaker planned to avoid the ground. Despite his efforts, he discovered himself not only on the ground, but in his least favorable position - his back.

Looking up into the lights from the cage floor, Whitaker reminded himself not to panic and instead assessed the situation.

"One of the things that are underestimated about this sport is the mental part of it," he said. "With a sport like mixed martial arts, there is so much that can happen at any one moment based on whatever position you find yourself or your opponent in. For any second in the cage, there can be three or four different options. With mixed martial arts, you pick the wrong choice [and] it's the end of the fight, or you pick the right choice and it can end the fight for you."

Whitaker chose to sweep his opponent. He obtained ground control, raised his right and left fist and threw each down like a piston pummeling into his adversary's battered face. At 00:01:03 in the second round, he wore his opponent down with a rear-naked choke, securing a submission victory.

Whitaker sprang into the air, jumping around the cage with his teammates shouting in his corner.

"My corner men did an excellent job giving me support and you can even hear them in the background when you're fighting ... it's almost like having coaches in the background," Whitaker said. "They were that positive encouragement. They keep you level headed. They were able to settle me down and get me focused."

Then it was Williams' turn.

Applause, cheers, screams and whistles whirled around the arena as his challenger entered the ring, but Williams heard nothing. He saw nothing save the man whose blood would soon be on his face.

"All that really mattered at the moment was the guys who had your back and were going to help you get through the storm and the guy who was the storm," he said. "The crowd didn't exist, the referee wasn't there. It was me and my opponent."

Williams stepped up to his adversary with one goal in mind: not to lose.

He reached for this goal -- and his opponent's face -- using the skills he learned to bring him to the floor. He pushed himself, remembering "You get problems in martial arts just like you do in the real world ... you get problems in the ring you solve them in the ring. If you want to be successful you have to be a couple moves ahead of the guy and have different exit strategies."

Williams kept this in mind as he assessed each move and refused to panic.

After 00:00:45, his opponent lay motionless. He had blacked out in Williams' arms in a guillotine choke, which is a choke applied in front of the opponent. The bell rang again signifying a win.

Williams rose with streaks of red covering his body. His name echoed through the speakers.

He had triumphed, but before the referee raised his hand into the air to claim his victory, Williams held out his hand to help his opponent get back up.

To Williams, his opponent still came out as a winner, because he probably learned from the loss and now knows what to do next time - giving him another set of "super powers."
The Spangdahlem MMA team has open practices 5-7p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at the Skelton Memorial Fitness Center.