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Local MMA fighters ... WEIGH IN

Melissa Topey • Jul 23, 2013 at 9:43 AM

Jake Rathwell isn’t afraid of a fight.   

He has all the confidence of youth, and he knows he can exploit a momentary mistake. He stays just out of reach, stalking, watching. One day, he hopes to make a living doing exactly this.   

Tuesday morning, the 21-year-old Rathwell was going through drills with Justin Wilson, under the supervision of Chad Catri, a certified instructor for Relson Gracie’s jiu jitsu and mixed martial arts programs. To keep things simple: The Gracie family is nothing short of legendary in the world of mixed martial arts. 

For information on classes his gym at 2215 Cleveland in Sandusky call Chad Catri at 419-366-5299.

Rathwell and Wilson punched as they moved through a Dutch Drill, where one person attacks and the other defends. Then they switched, and there was also some Muay Thai, a form where fighters use their knees to attack.    As sweat ran lightly down their faces, both men showed extreme deliberation in their movements and maneuvers. It was a light training day. Fighters can’t train fullbore all the time.    “Nice and easy,” Catri said. “Keep it under control.”       

Catri has been involved in jiu jitsu for about nine years, and fighting in mixed martial arts since 2010. He’s been in seven fights. He trains twice a day, although it’s hard for him to find a partner who’s quite as dedicated to training.    There’s no single reason a person starts training in mixed martial arts, and there’s no standard profile for a fighter. Each person has a unique motivation. “When I was younger, I would not look for altercations, but I would find myself in them,” said Catri, who now works as a bartender at Bay Point in Marblehead. “I always felt like a fighter.”   

Rathwell, a customer service associate at Barnes Nursery, wants to start fighting professionally. Wilson, a Willard police officer, simply wants to go home at the end of his shift each night.   

For all three men, mixed martial arts instills a confidence: They know, without a doubt, they can handle a fight. Catri said the training over the years also helped him develop discipline. “You leave with a different attitude than when you walk in,” he said.    Said Wilson: “It helps keep you calm. I’m not worried about the fight side of it. It teaches selfcontrol.”   

Wilson carries himself with an air of self-assurance and humility, as if he simply knows he can handle things. He’s also well aware that most people he encounters on the street don’t have disciplined fighting skills.   

Rathwell couldn’t even remember his first fight, until he watched it on tape. Well, he remembered the win. “I jumped up and ran into the cage,” he said. “I hit my head on the cage.” Apart from that hiccup, it was an amazing feeling. “People were yelling and chanting my name,” he said.  He has already competed in nine fights, with five wins. “My record is so high, I have to go pro soon,” he said. “I’m not going to turn pro until I win an amateur MMA title, a welterweight belt.”    He describes himself as a counter-striker, good at keeping his distance until he sees a flaw to exploit.    “I like feeling like I can do it. Most people don’t enjoy getting their face hit,” Rathwell said, a smile sliding across his face. As an amateur, he gets pummeled and he gives a pummeling, and he earns no money for it. In this world, at this level, payment is measured in blood and in bruises.   

The professional world of mixed martial arts, however, is where money talks. Dan Bobish was a fighter for 11 years before he started promoting fights. He operated Bobish Ultimate Cage Battles for about two years, but he hasn’t put on a fight for a few years, even though he still gets requests.    It’s an expensive business.   Bobish said he never made a profit on any fight he promoted. His cheapest budget for a fight was $42,000, while the most expensive was $71,000.  “Everybody wants to get paid,” Bobish said. It cost $3,000 to rent a place, and there were food and alcohol costs, too. Meanwhile, the Ohio Athletic Commission takes 5 percent off the sales receipts, plus an additional $1,500 to $1,800 for simply putting on the show. The lighting and sound was $4,000, and Bobish would spend another $1,000 to rent the cage.   

And then, there are the fighters.   

Bobish has a soft spot for fighters on a card, and he takes care of them. In the professional fight world, Bobish said, fighters work under a contract; they’re not employees. In contract negotiations, the amount of money a fighter leaves with is affected by his fight record — who he has fought, the crowd he can draw, and who he is lined up to fight.  The easier the fight, the less money a fighter earns. Starting out, a fighter may make as little as $500, on average. In the highest range, he could make $2,000 to show, then $2,000 to win. He’d then fight again for $4,000 to show, $4,000 to win. The more he advances, the more money he makes.    There are also bonuses negotiated. A top fighter at the highest level — the ones who manage a knockout — might earn a bonus of $50,000. A submission, or tap-out, may bring a bonus of $10,000.    A single show can have eight to 12 fights on a card.    While it’s difficult to make it in the fight world, Bobish said he’d start it all up again if he could find the sponsors.   

For his part, Catri said he’d spend every day in the gym, for nothing.   

Rathwell, he’d happily walk in the ring and face a pummeling.   

Wilson wants to make it home safely each night.

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