Travis Lizotte "Full Contact Writer"
With the entire globe in hysteria over the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19), and the measures being taken in an attempt to control or limit the spread of the virus, there is no doubt this worldwide pandemic will affect everyone's day to day life before all is said and done. With the public searching for answers that bring us toward a solution to this crisis, the image of the free world becomes muddier and muddier by the day. Perhaps the biggest effect such a pandemic has on society is fear, fear of the unknown, fear of the “what ifs?” the fear of whether our lives will ever truly return to “normal?” As schools send their students home, businesses shut their doors, and the world takes a step back from the hustle of day to day life, we may feel selfish discussing how this virus will affect us personally, but at the end of the day we are all human and enjoy our own struggles; struggles that some may never understand. With that said here is a little bit deeper look into the impact this pandemic is having on New England MMA.
This St. Patrick’s Day weekend had been circled on the calendars of many New England MMA fans for some time, with many of the region’s biggest stars including Nate “The Snake” Andrews (16-3), “Notorious” Nick Newell (16-3), Justin “The Fort” Sumter (7-3) and Jessy “The Widowmaker” Miele (9-3) all scheduled to fight at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut for Bellator 241. As of Thursday (March 12th) the show was still a “Go” as fighters from Brazil, Canada, Germany, Romania, Russia, The United Kingdom and the United States would all take to the scales in anticipation of going to war the following night at Bellator 241. As we know, however, Friday, March 13th was a trying day for many, as most major sporting events across the globe shut their doors and President Donald Trump declared the country in a State of Emergency” forcing the hand of Bellator President/CEO Scott Coker to pull the plug on Bellator 241 all due to the Corona Pandemic.
Saturday March 14th was scheduled to be yet another “Fight Day” here in New England; as many of our local fighters were set to test their skills on the regional level at AMMO Fight League 8: Battle of St. Patricks in Springfield, Massachuestts. However with crisis looming and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker imposing a ban on gatherings of over 250 people, AMMO Fight League had no choice but to postpone it’s event as well. With action being taken and one of the busiest months in recent memory for New England MMA just ahead, with five fight cards set to take place regionally in April, many of us are left scratching our heads as to where our sport goes from here and what lasting effects this virus could have on our sport going forward.
Jay “The Joker” Perrin (9-3) was one of the first regional fighters to speak to the media about the prospect of his fight at Cage Titans 48 April being compromised by the Coronavirus when he spoke to Steve Domenico, Friday, on The Room Podcast. Perrin was scheduled to defend his Cage Titans Bantamweight Title at Cage Titans 48 against Bendy Casimir (22-15-2) on April 4th, a bout and fight card that has now been postponed within the last 24 hours. Although Cage Titans had been holding on to hope that its events, both at Cage Titans 48 as well as Cage Titans Combat Night 3 (scheduled for Friday, April 3rd), would continue without interruption, Perrin expressed some other worries. “ Gyms are closing down,” said Perrin, “This is a big thing for people fighting both locally and internationally….for me personally I’m worried about my event.” And rightfully so; with a dominant performance against Casimir, Perrin could very well be looking at a call from the UFC, as Perrin goes on to describe how the measures taken due to the Coronavirus could affect his career and his livelihood.
Perrin went on to voice his displeasure with the current state of affairs Saturday morning, on his personal Facebook when Perrin posted; “Hard to train for a fight when every cough and sniffle gets you removed from a group...Unreal.” Opening up an entirely new set of circumstances; these fighters must still prepare as if the show will go on, even if their events are in peril, they must take the proper measures to be ready to go on fight night. However with gyms closing down and fewer and fewer people willing to train in groups, preparing to fight, especially for a title, with possible shot at the UFC in the balance, has become harder than ever.
“I’m really hoping I can put on the performance that I intend to on April 4th, however the safety of everybody is more important than the entertainment of some. While I would be disappointed if the event gets postponed I will understand and do my part to make sure everybody stays safe and stays clean and doesn’t get sick.” - Cage Titans Bantamweight Champion Jay ‘The Joker” Perrin on The Room Podcast. Saturday afternoon I spoke with “Shameless” Don Shainis (8-2) the main event against Darius Estell (6-2) for the Cage Titans Featherweight Title, another fighter whose livelihood hinged on the fate of Cage Titans 48 on April 4th. Shainis too is preparing for this to be his last regional fight, as a win over Michigan’s Estell could net him not only the Cage Titans crown, but a phone call from the UFC. Don explained the frustrations of the “unknown” saying that “one of the hardest things to do for a fighter is wait in limbo...you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t...at the end of the day you have to prepare for the opportunity ahead of you.” Shainis went on to further explain the frustration of training during a global pandemic; “It’s defeating to drive all the way to the gym to train and have the mats be empty...but on the other hand you think about the health risks, this virus may not affect me, but I have grandparents who I see regularly and the threat of transmission is real.” Despite the hurdles Shainis said he has kept his course; “It takes me weeks to cut weight, I have milestones I need to reach, I’m ready to go and ready to perform on April 4th.”
Another promotion who has remained steadfast in their intentions of going on as planned is Maine’s New England Fights; NEF’s next event; NEF 43: Rampage is scheduled to go down Saturday April 18th from the campus of the University of Maine in Orono, Maine. The University of Maine, which according to its website (umaine.edu) “Will follow Governor Mills’ recommendation to postpone all gatherings expected to or actually involving 250 attendees or more.” with a tentative end date of April 12th. While much is still left to the “unknown” one fighter; “Charming” Chelsea Tucker (3-3) voiced her worries surrounding the virus and its possible impact on her attempt to capture the NEF Amateur Women’s Flyweight title, and possible travel concerns for her opponent; Caree Hill (7-2):
“Coronavirus has not affected my training yet but I am crossing my fingers that it doesn’t in the future. Washington and California both have travel bans right now and Caree is coming from Oregon, so I am hoping that they don’t put a ban on Oregon. I am slightly more paranoid about getting sick, especially because training involves breathing and sweating and touching other people. It is a two week incubation period for the virus. I’m not super concerned about catching it because it is only very serious for people with immune deficiencies and people over the age of 80. I just do not want to catch it and have it slow me down. So far NEF is still planning on running their show. I hope that within a couple weeks all of this is simmered down. I do feel as though the media has blown this out of proportion and people are not actually reading the CDC website. WASH YOUR HANDS PEOPLE AND COUGH IN THE CROOK OF YOUR ELBOW!” - “Charming” Chelsea Tucker; New England Fights Flyweight Amateur Women’s Title Challenger.
Fellow Mainer Glory “The Fury” Watson also has big plans for fight night at NEF 43: Rampage in Orono on April 18th, where the previously 6-1 amateur is set to make her highly anticipated professional debut against New York’s Grace Nowak (0-2). Watson also listed her opponent’s travel as one of her many concerns surrounding Coronavirus’ affect on her professional debut:
“The recent cases of Coronavirus that have hit the State of Maine have undoubtedly caused some panic. With everything from college campuses to entire countries going into quarantine, there is no questioning the impact this pandemic has had on the world. New England Fights 43: Rampage is coming up on April 18th in Orono, ME at the Collins Center for the Arts on the University of Maine campus. The campus has switched to virtual classes for students to minimize the virus spreading after spring break. The venue, being associated with the college, has postponed and cancelled multiple events in the upcoming weeks. If there are no further developments, the event will continue as planned. The planned fight card includes multiple fighters from out of state, including my opponent, so their travel could be affected by the virus and government policy changes. Training for my team has progressed normally and we are continuing to prepare for fight night. The virus is slowly making its way to our state, so it is difficult to say how it will affect me, my team and my family. I am optimistic that the event will continue as planned and the night will be full of fun fights. I can only sincerely hope that with the date being 5 weeks out, there will be improvement of the situation, that way fighters, coaches, and spectators can look forward to another memorable NEF card in 2020!” - Glory “The Fury” Watson.
With regional fight cards seemingly dropping left and right and the fate of NEF 43 still in the balance, as of Monday March 16th, I spoke with NEF Featherweight Aaron "Relentless" Lacey (6-2) who is scheduled to make his return to the NEF cage after over a year and a half layoff from competition. Although Aaron is trying to remain optimistic that his fight will still take place, he understands that fighter safety should be paramount when making these types of decisions.
“I honestly do not see this event happening! I mean I really want it to, but UMO has sent kids home for the semester and all sporting events and concerts have been cancelled. I recently saw that Massachusetts has had a government mandate on events of over 250 people (now down to only 25 people) being cancelled. I don’t see how that doesn’t work it’s way up here! The cases are getting closer and closer to our area too! I’m still trying to prepare as I normally would but life isn’t normal so it makes things hard. With how much we push for fighter safety I think it could be very unwise to continue on under the assumption that it’s going to happen. I’m hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.” - New England Fights Featherweight Contender Aaron "Relentless" Lacey, scheduled to fight Chris Herd (2-3) at NEF 43 April 18th.
With the obvious concerns about the virus affecting just about every aspect of our everyday lives there is no doubt that there is a real concern when it comes to our New England MMA athletes. With gyms across the region already closing their doors for the foreseeable future and these athletes being put in limbo as to when their next scheduled bouts will actually take place, Coronavirus has already had a blanketed affect on our fighters and their training camps. As the free world takes a step back from our day to day routines we must keep in mind that this pandemic may affect everyone in different ways. While we may not experience some of these hardships in our lives there are plenty of people whose livelihoods will be drastically changed by the measures necessary to stop the spread of Covid-19.
We cannot stress enough, in this time of international upheaval, the support for our local gyms and athletes is needed now more than ever. If you are a coach, sponsor, family member or fan who supports local MMA as part of your typical routines, please continue to do so. Our fighters are not going to stop training, with a busy fight season upon us these athletes are still working towards their goals to enter the cage and put on the performances we are all used to. With everyone keeping a close eye on the goings on in today’s society, make sure that we are reaching out to our fighters and offering them any support we can to ensure when these bans are lifted we can continue to be one of the most prominent regions when it comes to regional MMA and continue to produce top level athletes who will go on to make out region proud! We are TeamNewEnglandMMA! Update on Cancelled Events: Bellator 241 - 3/13/20 AMMO Fight League 8 - 3/14/20 Cage Titans Combat Night 3 - 4/3/20 Cage Titans 48 - 4/4/20 Combat Zone 74 - 4/10/20