By Amber Avalona/ParaglideFebruary 18, 2011
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Rockin' the Cage shook up the local fight scene on Feb. 5, turning Fort Bragg Soldiers into familiar faces on the amateur circuit.
The road to Rockin' the Cage is filled with stories of Soldiers who trained themselves to fight other amateurs, sometimes battling their personal demons in the process.
"There was one Soldier in particular, every time he was held down he would burst into tears, and he's at the point now where he's stepping into the cage - he's going to face his biggest fear," said Michael Warren, owner and lead instructor at the Academy of Martial Studies, a Soldier-run, military combatives training facility.
Warren opened the facility a few years after returning from Afghanistan with invisible wounds of his own and now reaches out to Soldiers who see regulated fighting as therapeutic. AMS is a sanctuary for Soldiers, according to Warren ... and then sometimes, it's all about the show of strength. An empowered Soldier is an effective Soldier, according to Warren, who also designed an aggressive, hand-to-hand military combatives program.
The Urban Military Combatives Program kicks up the operational tempo for Soldiers set to deploy to high-threat areas. "Grappling on the ground like a high school wrestler (following scripted moves) is the last place a combat-ready Soldier wants to be," said Warren. He brings this same sense of professionalism to MMA, as seen by some of his best cagefighters.
"Mike's got a good heart and he's the kind of guy that deserves to have a good place," said Nick Grady, an AMS fighter who once considered himself a shy kid. Grady's don't-quit attitude initially impressed UFC fighter, Dennis Sever, who opened his German gym to the American Soldier.
Whether it's stepping onto the mat, into the ring or into a cage, Grady pushes forward. Known for his hard left hook, Grady revealed the MMA high, "When the door locks it's like jumping out of a plane for the first time - it's just an adrenaline rush."
It's the same for Kyle Trujillo, a 22 year-old Soldier stationed at Fort Bragg. "Most kids want to be an NFL football player. I've been wanting to fight MMA - it's on my bucket list. I wanted to have at least one before I died and tomorrow I'll be doing that," said Trujillo. He spoke during a pre-fight training seminar at AMS, led by MMA legend, Dan 'the Beast' Severn.
According to Trujillo, this sport attracts strong-minded fighters. "You got a lot of guys that think it's real glorious and stuff, and it can be ... but (you need) a real Type-A personality, somebody that's willing to give off enough aggression and be smart at the same time," he explained.
Although inexperienced, Trujillo said the moves come natural. Trujillo's knockout performance at Rockin' the Cage earned him bragging rights in this full-contact sport and its local, combative scene.
Trujillo's signature move is a punch to the face, but the fighter incorporates both grappling and striking arts when he bouts. And before the blood, sweat and bruises even fade, Trujillo said, "I come home and I'm good - I'm calm, I'm relaxed. At (the academy) is where I lay out all my emotions, my stresses, everything. I leave it all here on the mat every night."