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Pitchman By Day, MMA Puncher at Night
This story was posted at the Yahoo group Fight_Planet. It was originally from the New York Times...
The Businessman Who Finds Time to Fight
By MICHAEL BRICK
Published: April 2, 2008
FAIR LAWN, N.J. — He had wrestled as an all-American, led high school and college football teams to winning seasons, and once rushed for six touchdowns in a game. He was once in Sports Illustrated, a teenage “Face in the Crowd.”
But that was all more than a decade ago, before the coaches in the N.F.L. and the Canadian Football League saw him and did not take a second look. That was before the Colgate University diploma and the years of corporate consulting, and before his company transferred him to its Chicago office and then transferred him back to its New York office, and before the bald spot and the new job selling orthodontics.
Now, the day before his 34th birthday, Jamal Patterson was driving his sport utility vehicle through these vinyl-sided precincts of diminished dreams. He parked outside a cavernous gym, traded his slacks and his Oxford shirt for camouflage shorts and a sweatshirt depicting a clenched fist, and he took his place among the fighters.
There were two weeks left to train and 14 of his 219 pounds left to cut before the mixed martial arts match of his life, billed as New Blood, New Battles, on Friday at the Izod Center in East Rutherford. Patterson is scheduled to fight Vladimir Matyushenko, the light heavyweight champion of the International Fight League who is known as the Janitor. In preparation, Patterson was squeezing in workouts between his sales calls.
“They have this bloodlust for seeing people get knocked out here in America,” Martin Rooney, one of his trainers, said. “But they don’t see the guy behind the fighter is somebody who’s trained to do this as his job — almost somebody like you and me.”
That is, if you spend your days selling orthodontic supplies and your nights engaging in hand-to-hand combat. The event’s promoters had taken to calling Patterson the Suit, a nickname that made for a handy gimmick on the undercard, a blue- and white-collar showdown, the Janitor versus the Suit.
But in truth Patterson is not such an oddity. Generations of boxers labored as night watchmen or warehouse hands or bookmakers’ enforcers. Mixed martial arts leagues have found some competitors in more rarefied quarters.
“M.M.A. guys are usually collegiate wrestlers, so they have better day jobs,” said Mike Smith, a boxing trainer to Patterson and other mixed martial arts fighters at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn.
And all but the name-brand fighters of the most popular league in the United States, Ultimate Fighting Championship, will most likely depend on those day jobs for some time. International Fight League, one of several upstarts, posted a $9.6 million loss in its most recent annual report.
For Patterson, who tries to fight four or five times a year, the title shot promised an $8,000 appearance fee and another $8,000 if he wins. He has no illusions about quitting his day job.
In a way, the corporate life made him fight. Transferred to the Midwest, friendless and spending evenings watching TV at a bar, Patterson said he took up jiu-jitsu to reclaim his athleticism.
“I realized there was a lot more to life than just busting my butt at work,” he said during an interview over baked chicken at a Lebanese restaurant here.
As Patterson intensified his training under the Brazilian champion Renzo Gracie, he was recruited into an International Fight League team called the New York Pitbulls, since rechristened Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu New York City. Since December 2006, Patterson has won four of his five fights, beating opponents with moves described as choke, submission and guillotine.
As a recent morning workout began at the gym, Rooney led the fighters through a series of knee bends, jumping jacks and crabwalks. They lifted weights. After an hour or so, Patterson changed back into his dress clothes.
Patterson drove home, put on a pinstriped pea coat and set out on his route, selling orthodontic treatments for a company that tolerates his moonlighting but does not want any association with pro fighting publicized.
After a few stops in New Jersey, Patterson visited a dental spa on Staten Island. New Age music played on a sound system in the waiting room. Soon the spa’s director, Albert Finkelshteyn, came out and greeted him. “Hey, it’s the Pitbull!” Finkelshteyn said.
Patterson followed him into an office decorated with diplomas and brochures. They talked through a computer problem, the planning of a promotional event and the ordering of more before-and-after teeth photographs.
Patterson soon made his way to Gleason’s Gym, where he has been developing boxing skills to complement his wrestling and jiu-jitsu prowess. He changed clothes again, this time into boxing shorts.
In the sparring ring, a challenge was in store. The former World Boxing Council cruiserweight champion Wayne Braithwaite was taking on all comers. When the fight started Patterson held his gloves low and spread his legs in a wrestler’s stance. Braithwaite backed around the ring, letting Patterson swing and sometimes miss.
When the bell sounded, the trainers in Patterson’s corner prescribed a more conservative approach. In the subsequent rounds, Patterson and Braithwaite locked up several times. From Patterson’s perspective, this was good practice. In the mixed martial arts ring, he could always end a lockup simply by picking up his opponent and throwing him. The challenge is getting close enough without getting knocked out.
After five rounds of sparring, Patterson climbed down and took off his gloves and his headgear. He was asked what he hoped to accomplish in the mixed martial arts ring.
“Hopefully a world championship,” Patterson said. Then he reconsidered a minute and said: “Just a little recognition. And have good stories to tell my kids.”
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