The most significant combat sports event in Washington, DC since Mike Tyson fought at what was then the MCI Center is tonight. And the reality is this: I was a fan before being a MMA blogger, radio host or commentator. I love this sport. I love almost everything about this sport. If I am prone to effusive posturing for saying so, then fine, but being able to watch MMA develop before my eyes in my hometown is something close to soul soothing. MMA is largely my life and behind the scenes locally, I've made it a personal mission to see this sport succeed despite resistance from a very skeptical, homogeneous culture. DC is not historically a fight town. There is a small but proud inner city boxing tradition still around to those who seek it out, but this is something new; new and thoroughly exciting.
I'm not the only one who wants something more for this city. Josh Gross underscores how meaningful this is to current UWC Bantamweight champion Mike Easton:
After winning seven of his eight fights, Easton -- the current UWC bantamweight champion has a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Lloyd Irvin -- is just beginning to realize the rewards of progress. A win on Saturday at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va., on the campus of George Mason University, against former WEC champion Chase Beebe could propel Easton into the top 10 of his division and the next phase of a career that may very well have begun the day he was born.
"I've been fighting since I was little," said the stout 135-pounder, who is a far cry from the frail 2-pound 3-ounce premature baby who managed to hang on at George Washington University Hospital. "My first opponent, I fought death."
Death has been a constant theme in Easton's life. He learned early what it's like to live while friends do not. He learned to cope with family being gunned down in cold blood. He learned, like many people in Murder Capital USA, that "growing up and surviving in D.C. is a testament" to resiliency.
Today, Easton fights so people might know that good things come out of southeastern D.C. He fights for his two young children. He believes in his team, his mentor Irvin -- one of the few well-known African-American trainers in MMA -- and himself.
And as the Washington Post profiles, Timothy Woods isn't the only one looking for more out of his city and himself:
When Timothy "Reshad" Woods strolls out to the main stage of Patriot Center on Saturday night for his 185-pound fight against Ryan "The Rhino" Sturdy (11-3-1) as part of Ultimate Warrior Challenge 7: Redemption -- a nine-card mixed martial arts event -- his return to fighting after a deflating loss last April will be just one of many rebounds in his life.
A 33-year-old resident of Sterling, Woods (4-2) has traveled a circuitous path that has taken him from a budding basketball career to a cell in an adult maximum security prison at the age of 16. It includes an escape from poverty, a name change, a departure from and return to religion, and most recently a shift in focus from himself to his infant son Julian, who was born three months premature and is currently fighting for his life in an incubator at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring.
UWC 7 is not UFC 100, of course, but it's hard to understand what it means to the local MMA community. Even if Easton disappoints the hometown fans with a loss, the point for DC and the UWC is that the fight actually took place here. Tonight marks a clear evolution in the growth of the top regional MMA organization in this area. It's also a highmark for the sport in a city that could add use Mixed Martial Arts to add dimension to its often rigid character and maligned identity.
I'll see you at the fights.
Disclosure: I am the color commentator for the UWC.