The Fight of Heart & Soul

The deeply ingrained history of wrestling in the Midwest makes Columbus and its surrounding cities a hotbed for up-and-coming Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighters.

Photo by Anthony J. Causi/ Icon SMI/Newscom

Photo by Anthony J. Causi/ Icon SMI/Newscom

“The whole Midwest is a strong wrestling culture,” said Rodrigo Botti, a Bellator MMA fighter who co-owns the Columbus-based Ohio Combat Club training center along with UFC champ Matt Brown, whom Botti trains. “If you wrestle in high school or college, the natural transition for those kids is MMA [mixed martial arts]. When you finish college in wrestling, there are only two options: gold medal in Olympics, or you try to find an MMA profession.”

Adam DiSabato had that exact experience. A three-time All-American at The Ohio State University, he qualified for the Olympic trials but never made it to the big show. He ended up in MMA and cornered for Brown and Mark Coleman, the first UFC Heavyweight Champ, now retired, who fought from Columbus.

“I think people are drawn to [MMA fighting] because it’s the ultimate in one-on-one competition,” said DiSabato, who trains at multiple locations under his business, DiSabato Wrestling and MMA. “The UFC has done a good job at promoting the sport and starting to educate the public about the rules and the strategies. There’s a lot of strategy to it.”

MMA and the UFC are like football and the NFL, respectively. MMA is the sport; UFC is the best-known league. Another popular MMA league is Bellator, for which Botti is a fighter in the 170-pound weight class.

MMA is loosely defined as unarmed combat that utilizes multiple fighting disciplines, like jujitsu, wrestling and boxing, for both standing and ground fighting, including techniques such as grappling, submission holds, kicking and striking.

“Wrestling is very important for the takedown part of the fight,” said Botti, who hails from Brazil where he earned a law degree. Botti, who never fought in a single street brawl, quit his job as an attorney when he discovered he was pretty good at jujitsu and, ultimately, MMA. “It is all about strategy. [Clean] fighting is the most beautiful form of aggressiveness that a human being can put out.”

That passion for strategic fighting is perhaps the primary ingredient for success in the UFC, initially

created in 1993 to “determine the most effective martial art for unarmed combat situations,” according to the UFC website. But it eventually morphed into the multidisciplinary fighting championship it has become, fielding more than 40 fights globally every year. Two of its brightest fighters hail from Ohio: Brown and Luke Zachrich, a UFC fighter who recently faced Dan Kelly in Australia early in November.

“I’ve been in lots of street fights and thought I knew how to fight. Then I went in a gym and realized I didn’t know how to fight; there’s no skill in a street fight,” said Brown, who owns a 21-12-0 record and is known as “The Immortal.” “But I knew how to dream, and I went out and chased after it as hard as I could. [Fighting] changed my life altogether. It all comes down to you get what you put in. I put everything in, my heart, soul and everything.”

For Brown, now married and the father of twin 4-year-old boys, MMA fighting and the UFC saved him from personal destruction.

“I was doing things that weren’t truly me or weren’t me as a person. When I found martial arts, specifically MMA fighting, I just found my passion,” Brown said. “I had a desire every day to wake up with an ambition and motivation and enthusiasm, rather than destroy myself.”

Brown no longer held the anger and desire to inflict pain that typically accompany a street fight; instead, he learned the true purpose of MMA fighting – strategy to outwit your opponent.

“In the ring, we’re testing our skills to see who is better; it’s all skill against skill. And the real fighters don’t have any intention of hurting their opponent; it’s just about wanting to win the match,” said Brown, who stands 6 feet tall at 170 pounds, according to his UFC profile. “There are people who just want to hurt their opponent, and I don’t surround myself with those people. I don’t wish any ill will on any person.”

Brown, who went on a seven-fight winning streak before losing to Robbie Lawler July 26, instead focuses on his technique and his fighting style inside the Octagon, the ring where UFC matches take place.

“Fighting brings the truth out of every man…You have to have a willingness to own who and what you are before you step into the ring.”

Some fighters have a more aggressive fighting style in which they like to come at you quickly, while others wait for a move and then counter. The way an opponent fights, Brown said, will tell you everything you need to know about him.

“Fighting brings the truth out of every man,” said Brown, citing Bruce Lee’s The Art of Expressing the Human Body. “Bruce Lee talked about how martial arts is an expression of one’s self.”

 Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports/Newscom

Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports/Newscom

Brown said the most important question a fighter should ask himself before he ever steps foot in a gym to train is, “Do you want everyone to know who you are?”

“You have to have a willingness to own who and what you are before you step into the ring,” Brown said.

But once you make that decision Brown is ready to help you train, which is why he opened the Ohio Combat Club with Botti.

“I’ve been frustrated my whole career here,” said Brown, who grew up in a small town just outside Jamestown, Ohio, and has had to travel to Las Vegas and New York to get proper training. “Now, we have a real gym and bring the highest level of martial arts to Columbus. You see these wrestlers leave to go train … what we’re bringing to Columbus is a place for them to bring their skills to the next level. They don’t have to leave home.”

Anyone interested in MMA or UFC training can contact the following training centers for more information:

Ohio Combat Club, run by UFC fighter Matt Brown and Bellator MMA fighter Rodrigo Botti
3436 Heritage Club Drive
Hilliard, OH 43026
(702) 400-7130

Ronin Training Center, run by UFC fighter Luke Zachrich
1464 Delashmut Ave.
Grandview Heights, OH 43212
(614) 299-9554

DiSabato Wrestling & MMA, run by three-time All-American wrestler Adam DiSabato
Skrap-house Fitness and MMA
3455 Center Point Road
Grove City, OH 43123