Ring of Famer
Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: South Carolina
OT: minor league MMA on tv Friday, 8/4: XFC19
9:00 Eastern (I assume 7:00 Mountain?), AXS TV (formerly HDNet).
Just braggin a little on my buddy here. Keith is a friend of mine and my ju-jitsu/kickboxing instructor. I've been working with Keith for about 2 years now, hoping he gets a good win and can find his way into the UFC. He's had chances before - he was a final alternate for TUF a few seasons ago, flew to Vegas and everything, things just haven't worked out.
Not mentioned below, but I'm also buddies with Kevin Forant, fighting on the same card. I'm really looking forward to it, it's gonna be a good show.
Rock Hill MMA fighter gets career break with national fight
By Bret McCormick — email@example.com
ROCK HILL — The warning signs were there for Keith Richardson. He was going to explode.
It was 2007 and Richardson, recently out of the Marines, needed an outlet for his pent-up aggression. The Rock Hill resident and Long Island native ironically found peaceful respite in the barely contained brutality of mixed martial arts, better known as MMA.
“I was kind of having a little bit of a problem adjusting, I guess,” said Richardson, 28. “As soon as we got back, it was a month later and I was out of the Marine Corps. I was fresh out of war.”
Five years later, the former York Comprehensive High School state champion wrestler is readying for his biggest professional MMA fight yet, Friday, against Lawson McClure at Charlotte’s Grady Cole Center. The 145-pound event, part of Xtreme Fighting Championships 19, will be nationally televised live on AXS TV starting at 7 p.m.
“I’ve had a couple of opportunities to almost land myself in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and this is another big opportunity,” Richardson said recently at Modern Warrior MMA, the Rock Hill gym he co-owns with Patrick Sweet.
It’s an opportunity for professional advancement he might not have had in a different field. During several tours in Iraq as a corporal in the infantry, Richardson witnessed the deaths of friends and comrades, leading to the torturous angst that so often hounds combat zone veterans.
Richardson’s interest in MMA emerged as a vent for the stress. He’s one of a growing number of professional mixed martial artists who have military backgrounds. It’s a trend that will only increase after the United States winds up combat operations in Afghanistan, bringing soldiers back to civilian life.
Back home, Richardson said he was restless and aimless, a dangerous combination.
“I was angry a lot,” he said. “I went from doing something that I believed in, something that challenged me, to just a regular 9-to-5 job for a paycheck. It wasn’t making me very happy.”
The signs of an eruption mounted. First there was the knockdown, drag-out fracas with some mouthy college kids in the cobblestoned streets of downtown Wilmington, N.C. Then he put his fist through a wall at his parents’ house.
“You could kind of tell he definitely had some frustration,” recalls Sweet, a 34-year-old former MMA fighter and Gold Gloves boxing champion and close friend.
Richardson knew he needed an outlet, which he found in the MMA videos that he’d watched in windswept tents in the Iraqi desert. He’d always had an interest in the sport, which he described as a “physical chess match.”
Richardson, who moved to York County with his parents when he was 15, located an MMA school in Rock Hill, attended a training session, and then met Sweet. That led to fighting in organized events and after four victorious amateur bouts, Richardson joined the pro ranks in 2009. He’s posted a 7-3 record since.
“It completely changed my life. I dedicated myself to it. I’ve practically been training every day since I started, and I haven’t been in a fight outside of the cage the whole time I’ve been fighting.”
Tyrel Graham, who trains at Modern Warrior MMA with Richardson, served in the Army from 2004 to 2007 with the 82nd Airborne from Fort Bragg. He was serving in Iraq in 2005 when his convoy was attacked. He sustained multiple gunshot and shrapnel wounds and says now he’s “just blessed to be alive.”
The physical aspect and armed services-like brotherhood of MMA have helped Graham readjust.
“For two years, I played semi-pro football, but it wasn’t getting enough aggression out of me,” said Graham, a Rock Hill High School graduate who is medically retired from the Army and is diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. “Once I found MMA, I try to go train at least every day. After training, people whooped me up so bad, I don’t have any aggression.”
Graham added that MMA could be helpful to anyone with anger management issues, not just veterans. “There’s nothing like beating up on a bunch of guys and getting away with it,” he said, chuckling.
MMA was a natural fit for Richardson. He was a talented wrestler at York Comprehensive High, winning the 125-pound state title as a junior in 2001, before falling in the 130-pound state title match as a senior. After graduating in 2002, he turned down potential college wrestling scholarships to enter the Marines, which led to three tours of duty in Iraq over four years.
Richardson’s memories from Iraq aren’t dissimilar from many veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was shot at by unseen enemies and troops serving with him were killed. All of these things were and still are in his head. Richardson cited his wartime experience as a reason he rarely gets nervous before a big fight.
“Nobody’s armed,” he said. “We’re gonna’ beat the crap out of each other, but at the end of the night we’re gonna’ hug it up, go get a beer, and go home. I was used to fighting where you didn’t know if you were going home. So this is a lot easier for me.”
Graham can relate
Graham agrees, saying that in the civilian world, things that would alarm most people are “not a big deal.
“I’ve been in worse situations,” he said. “There’s nothing like a round of an enemy gun whizzing by your ear or whizzing by your feet,’’ Graham said.
But Richardson, Graham said, “seems pretty cool and pretty focused. I found it pretty remarkable.”
Richardson, a 5-foot-6 jiu-jitsu black belt, is an unnerving competitorproposition in the cage. Search his name on YouTube and you’ll find videos of him attacking opponents as soon as the referee’s hand drops, arms pumping methodically on a victim’s face and torso.
Richardson liked what he saw in Friday’s opponent Lawson McClure, a violent fighter with an 8-2 professional record and name recognition throughout the sport.
“I definitely know he’s going to be a handful,’’ he said “That’s the reason why I took the fight; he’s got a great record, comes out of a great camp.”
Richardson hopes that an impressive win in a nationally televised XFC fight could propel him up the ranks to bigger checks. He called himself a freelance fighter, essentially acting as his own agent when setting up fights.
“This could lead to me going under contract for a big organization,” he explained. “That way I don’t have to hunt for fights. It makes it a lot easier to find sponsors.”
Richardson said fans coming out to the Grady Cole Center Friday night will see “two great athletes going at it, just a collision of wills. I’m real excited about it just because this guy is a tough dude and he’s really gonna’ challenge me. At least I’m hoping.”
Everybody at Modern Warrior MMA’s gym, located on U.S. 21, just off Dave Lyle Boulevard, knows this could be a big fight for Richardson. The XFC, a southeastern U.S.-based company, is just a step below the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the best known of the fighting promotion companies. XFC has several fighters on contract, but UFC has almost all of its fighters on contracts, a position of relative comfort that Richardson badly wants. Fighting McClure on national television could go some way to doing that.
“This is kind of his big break,” his trainer, Sweet, explained. “If he wins this fight, it’s going to open doors for him.”
Richardson put in the time in local circuits, fighting in events with names such as “Wild Bill’s Fight Night” and “Ruckus in the Cage.” He is ready for the prime time.
Richardson’s 10-year high school reunion is Saturday. He plans to attend – maybe bruised and purpled.
MMA is a big reason for that. Richardson said the calming effect on him when he started training was almost immediate.
“I had a goal again, because this is one of the most challenging sports there is,” he said. “I try to talk to any veterans I come across that are interested, or having problems. Even if it’s not this, you just need to find a positive outlet for all that emotion, all that aggression. This was it for me.”
While Richardson will be typically relaxed before the fight, his mind will be thinking about the same faces that flash through his thoughts daily. He lost close friends in Iraq, including one guy in particular who he said “pretty much gave his life for me.”
“That’s always my biggest motivator,” Richardson said. “To see what I can do, and to make something of myself, just so his life wasn’t wasted. I lost a lot of friends over there, and I’ve got to live my life to the fullest, for them.”