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Ultimate effort

Local men train for ultimate fighting glory

Posted: August 30, 2008 10:12 p.m.
Updated: November 1, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Five feet away is not a safe distance.

You're going to get hit.

Not by what you think.

Not a fist or an elbow or a flying foot.


Yes, sweat will hit you.

It could be a lot worse.

Had this have been a mixed martial arts match - a fist, elbow or foot would surely hit you.

But until then, it's drops of perspiration sent airborne.

It's a daily occurrence in one Valencia training ground.

Due to the flying limbs connecting with padded gloves, perspiration joins the flight pattern.

It's the true measure as to how hard one is working.

Another measure is record.

Eight men at Big John McCarthy's Ultimate Training Academy in the Valencia Industrial Center are members of the gym's mixed martial arts team.

According to the gym's owner and operator, mixed martial arts personality and former referee John McCarthy, mixed martial arts teams number roughly 15 to 20 in Southern California.

Different gyms or schools put on amateur tournaments where the fighters are pitted against one another based on size and experience.

The men at BJMUTA started 25-0 before hitting a rough patch in the summer.

They are now 29-5.

Just how good are they?

McCarthy's been in the professional fight game, most notably as Ultimate Fighting Championship's most recognized referee, so he would be a good judge.

"Our guys are really green," he says. "It's not like all guys on an MMA team are ready to turn pro. ... Many of the guys on the team (started off) not great, but have a lot of promise."

Nonetheless, there are some standouts on the team, including Valencia resident Levi Kurtovich.

Kurtovich, a 20-year-old transplant from the Antelope Valley, moved locally to train at Big John's.

He will make his professional MMA debut Sept. 19 in Iowa.

Kurtovich is symbolic of a lot of athletes on the squad and a lot of fighters in the game.

"This is my job," he says.

Though the sport is gaining popularity, which can be noted by the numbers as UFC had eight of the top 15 pay-per-view buy rates in 2007, many of their athletes are seen as barbarians.

The blood and brutality turn some people off.

But some people might change their minds should they see what the job entails.

Kurtovich says he's at Big John's five to six days a week from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

There are breaks to eat, and there are classes he teaches from time to time, but Kurtovich spends a majority of his time training.

You'll see these athletes striking with their limbs for a minute, taking a 10-second break, then duck-walking (hands cupped on ears and walking in a crouch), then the 10-second break, then throwing knees, grappling and so on.

This will go on for 15 minutes.

But then it's on to something else.

In order to be successful in this game, one must be a jack-of-all-trades, master of some.

Kurtovich was competing in Muay Thai at 9 years old.

He now mixes in Jiu-Jitsu, boxing and wrestling.

Mix in the conditioning, and it's a lot for the human body to handle, especially with the kind of conditioning the athletes on the MMA team do.

Many train using crossfit. It's a high-intensity workout that is fast and has little rest.

For example, Kurtovich has come up with his own routine that consists of five stations, each finished in one minute.

The first station is an unorthodox body pull-up, followed by shuttle sprints, followed by box jumps, then sledge hammering a tire, followed by jumps.

"The possibility is from being mentally strong," Kurtovich says. "Everyone has a breaking point where they can't do it anymore. You have to mentally do it. You have to say, ‘Hey, this is what I want to do.' What drives me is when I get a mental meltdown, I can't breathe, I always think in the back of my head that my opponent's going to be training harder right now."

Kurtovich deflects a lot of the credit to the team's coach and MMA instructor at BJMUTA, Bryan Peterson.

Peterson, an accomplished teacher and fighter in his own right, was brought to BJMUTA just after its opening in September 2006.

"He was so good at instructing. He was a natural fit," McCarthy says of Peterson.

Peterson held tryouts last summer, and the initial MMA team had 15 fighters.

Many dropped out for one reason or another.

Maybe it's because Peterson puts them through hell with their training.

Recently, two of his fighters, German Baltazar and Carlos Hernandez, were working with him in the gym.

Sweat poured down both of their faces and smacked off padded bags.

The two men were huffing for air. He ordered them to keep going.

Don't stop punching, or kicking, or kneeing, or fighting.


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