A week before his fifth "no-holds-barred" submission-fighting match this Friday, Jermaine Andre's talking about what's coming in seven days. Normally, that wouldn't be a part of the plan.
"Right now, I'm trying not to think about the fight," he says. "I'm trying not to get too hyped. I'm training hard until Wednesday night, when it's real light. On Thursday, I won't do anything at all -- maybe watch Rocky. I'm starting to do a lot of meditation and prayer. I start fighting the fight on Monday; mentally and spiritually, I'm starting to defeat him."
"He" is Nick Starks, a 190-pound jujitsu competitor from Orlando, Fla. On Jan. 29, Andre, with a long background in muay thai kickboxing, will face Starks, who's put out several instructional videos. He's a tough customer, by all accounts.
"I've watched him on tape," the 185-pound Andre says. "He looks tough, he looks strong. But he doesn't look as strong as me, and he's not as quick. I saw nothing that makes me worry. Not to say that he doesn't have something that he could use against me. From a business point of view, it's good to watch the tapes. Strategically, you can plan to react to them. In terms of martial arts, it's better that I don't know: You should be so good that you should be able to beat them just with what you do."
Andre's among the featured athletes at the Submission Fighting Championships being brought to the Belle-Clair Fairgrounds this weekend by trainer/promoter Brian Madden of the All-Madden Dojo. The night has 13 bouts scheduled, with competitors from a wide variety of martial-arts backgrounds: Russian somba, muay thai kickboxing, shootfighting, kendo, pitfighting, judo and others.
Though submission fighting is kin to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bouts that have become a staple of pay-per-view TV, there are differences. As Madden says, "It's very similar in that it starts on the feet. But when it hits the ground, they're not allowed to punch in the face. That keeps it safer for the fighters. There's no blood allowed; it'll be stopped by the referee. There's punching, kicking, knees and elbows. Then, when it gets on the ground, you have joint locks, leg locks, arm bars and choke holds.
"We draw a lot of martial-arts fans. They like this kind of freestyle fighting. We've got a lot of men and women, surprisingly. People from all over St. Louis, Illinois; groups from Memphis, Paducah, Evansville. This is going to be an Olympic sport in five years -- it's grown from the original fighting sport in Greece. We'll have an Olympic team, and some of the guys you'll be seeing here may be on that team."
To date, Madden's shows have drawn very respectable crowds of 1,500-2,000. This time, he's shooting for around 2,500, with "flow that's very smooth. There's one break of 15 minutes, a couple of very small intermissions. We try to keep it going, make the fights peak. We like the crowd to leave with very exciting fights at the end."
Although Andre will again fight fifth, right after the first intermission,. he's clearly a feature fighter, a light-heavyweight champ. And he's on all the posters, his picture up all over town.
"I try not to even think about that," says Andre. "I try not to enjoy it, get caught up in the luxuries. That's when you can get beat. And it's nice to have (championship) belts. Everybody likes to win. For me, top priority is to do a good job, to fight clean, to not be dirty and sloppy. I'm not going to go in and throw a punch that I've never trained with, that would be an embarrassment to myself and my teachers.
"When I'm going to the ring, I'm totally focused. I don't realize that the crowd's there. There's only me and another guy, and that's all I see. I never plan how it's going to go. But I know after the first five punches. I see his reaction to them, feel the power of his punch, know how to find a hole of his."
Madden adds: "Jermaine Andre is a product of St. Louis. He's been boxing muay thai since he was young, with Ron Smith, the best instructor in the Midwest. He has a very good base of stand-up -- he's probably at his best at standing up. I've been working with him a year on how to grapple and get quick submissions. He's a physical specimen. He's unbelievable, great genetic talent. He's explosive, with good endurance, too. He can fight forever and fight hard forever. And he's a very popular draw."
That's certainly a part of the sport, though Andre claims that selling his skills isn't his first love. On the other hand, he's eyeing fights in other parts of the word and realizes that his image is a big part of his future earning power.
"This is my career," he says. "I'm waiting on fights in Japan and Australia. It'll be the next jump that I want. In Japan, it's big. They love the martial arts. And Australians love to fight. What fans really like, and this is a fact, is the stand-up. Once you go to grappling on the mat, the crowd gets quiet, it's boring. They like to see the punches and kicks to the head, the knees in the stomach."
Andre says that those kinds of thoughts initially made his friends and family wonder about his career choice.
"They thought I was crazy, but they already thought I was crazy," he says. "That's something that I expected. Some were afraid to see me fight, that I might get beat up. Because I'm someone they know, it's hard to believe that I'm able to do this kind of stuff."
Madden acknowledges the sport's violent nature -- "Some fans are thinking they'll get blood all over them" -- but notes that the fights aren't true free-for-alls: "If a fighter's cut, it's stopped," Madden says. "There are very strict rules of safety. We've had over 100 fighters enter the ring, and there have been no injuries. And, hopefully, there won't ever be any."
To date, Andre says that his worst injury -- to a hamstring -- came when running; he hasn't been hurt outside of minor twists and bruises from training. His longest fight only went six minutes; the other three were over by KO within a minute. But that threat's always there.
Though not prone to joke about things, he does smile when asked about former UFC champs Ken Shamrock and Dan Severen, both of whom have jumped into the World Wrestling Federation.
"They fought for real," he says, "so if they want to go make big bucks and not get hurt, that's great for them. I'd do the same thing myself."
Maybe down the road. Until then, he's got to contend with nights like Friday.
The Submission Fighting Championships are held at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29, at the Belle-Clair Fairgrounds, 200 S. Belt East in Belleville, Ill. Tickets are available through MetroTix at 533-0400.
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