Soldiers from the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) squared off in an Ultimate Fighting Championship style combat competition, while keeping with army Modern Army Combative Program rules, August 17 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. World famous Mixed Martial Arts and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu champion, Royce Gracie, was on hand to mentor fighters and to present winners their belts.
"I can now say I was in the ring with Royce Gracie," said Command Sgt. Maj. Labrec, the 1st SFG (A) senior enlisted leader, as he and Gracie congratulated all the fighters for their fortitude and courage to step into the octagon.
Labrec recognized the impact of Gracie's attendance. "It's truly an honor to be here in your presence and have you here," said Labrec to Gracie.
The morning before the fights, Gracie held separate seminars for both children and adults.
"I grew up watching him fight, so it was really great seeing him and learning from him," said Staff Sgt. Daniel, a Soldier assigned to the 1st SFG (A.)
Fourteen 1st SFG (A) Soldiers volunteered to fight in the Gladiator Challenge which featured brute force of tactical and technical hand-to-hand warfare. Some ended in a judge's decision, but the majority were decided by one competitor capitalizing on an adversary's mistake resulting in a submission and surrender by the Soldier who erred.
The weight classes ranged from lightweights weighing 140 lbs. to the heavyweights weighing over 220 lbs. The fighters trained for hours to prepare for their fights, learning new techniques and conditioning their bodies to last the three 3-minute rounds.
"These guys were technically as good as professional level fighters," Gracie said.
Some fighters took advantage of the 1st SFG (A)'s own Mixed Martial Arts coach Jason Palacios to train them. Others, like Spc. Vic Richmond, a multimedia illustrator for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, trained on their own.
Richmond, the main event title winner, was a high school wrestling champion before joining the Army. He has trained at local boxing and Jiu-Jitsu gyms for more than five years, and now remains undefeated with a 5-0 winning record in the Gladiator Challenge.
"It was an honor to not only be a part of Royce Gracie's seminar but to fight and win in front of him," Richmond said. "I'm sure every fighter who participated felt the same."
Gracie autographed Richmond's retained championship belt and stayed around long after the event to take photos with and sign autographs for fighters and fans.
"It takes heart and courage to step into the ring, put it all on the line, and square off with another man doing the same thing," Labrec said. "I'm proud of all the fighters."
Editor's note: Due to the mission of Special Forces Soldiers, some members of the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) prefer not to use their full names.