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By Jim Genia and Loretta Hunt
Born in Toronto, the Washington-by-way-of New York-native fights out of the AMC Pankration school. With Matt Hume behind his grappling and striking skills, and UFC heavyweight champ Josh Barnett as one of his training partners, Salaverry is unquestionably well-rounded -- and his 8-1 MMA record can attest to his abilities. A veteran of SuperBrawl, SHOOTO, and the International Fighting Challenge (IFC) and HOOKnSHOOT (where Salaverry is a champion), he can submit or knockout his opponents. Says Salaverry of his training: "I think the AMC format has basically made me well-rounded in striking and grappling."
UFC 37 will be Salaverry's debut, and his opponent will be the extremely dangerous Andrei Semenov. What does Salaverry know of him? "[He's] a tough guy. I know he' s got a boxing and judo background." The up-and comer is confident, though, and his gameplan is simple. "There's so many variables, you gotta go in there well-rounded and fight with heart."
A wrestler and jiu-jitsu exponent before he moved out to train at AMC Pankration, Salaverry has been training in combative sports for years. "The UFC," he responds, when asked what got him started in mixed martial arts. He adds: "The Gracies, of course."
Says trainer Matt Hume of his newest middleweight entry, "Ivan's a very strong ground fighter who's been to Abu Dhabi, but has won both his [IFC & HOOKnSHOOT] championships with striking. He's very well-rounded, well-conditioned, and he'll be a big 185-pounder coming in."
How did Salaverry learn of his break in the "big show"? "My agent, Miguel Iturrate, basically pushed me through 'cause I'm the HOOKnSHOOT champ and IFC middleweight champ. I got a call on the cellphone and Miguel said, 'you ready?' and I said, 'ready for what?' 'The UFC.' [Laughs] 'Awesome!'"
A native of Castlerock, Washington, Radach is an accomplished state wrestling champ and former Alaskan fisherman. "I've wrestled since I was old enough to walk," says the welterweight fighter making his Octagon debut at UFC 37. "[I] wrestled all the way through school, through high school, and made the National team the last few years in a row." Sporting an amateur boxing record of 2-1, he has heavy hands to go with his takedowns and sprawls -- and is not afraid to use them.
Having trained under former UFC lightweight contender Dennis Hallman for the last year, Radach has earned a reputation as a nice, friendly guy outside the ring and an intense brawler inside it. On his affinity for MMA competition, he says: "It's right up my alley. I love it."
Originally slated to fight Brazilian black belt Joao Marcos Pierini, training injuries forced the Gladiator's Academy fighter to withdraw from competition. UFC veteran Steve Berger has filled the void, leaving Radach only three weeks to train for the highly experienced welterweight. Does the adjustment faze Radach? "Actually, this fight with Steve has been one that Dennis has been trying to set-up for a quite a while, so I'm happy to see it finally happen. I know Steve's real tough and is the type of guy that can come back in the third round and win fights." Will strategy change now that Radach will be clashing with the formidable Berger? "I definitely had to change my gameplan from fighting Joao," laments Radach. "With him, I was going to keep it on my feet and maybe catch him with something. [With Steve,] I'm going to have to go out there and feel it out. If I'm more comfortable on my feet with him, that's where I'm going to keep it, just because it's more exciting there. I want to put on a good show for my first shot in the UFC."
Like most (if not all) competitors out there, Radach has had UFC aspirations for some time. His dreams suddenly came true on his recent birthday. "Dennis called me up. It was my birthday and I was celebrating, and he calls me up on the phone and says, 'hey, I got a good birthday present for you.' And he told me." The fisherman-turned-fighter laughs. "It was awesome, man. I was stoked. I really didn't expect it to happen this soon. I figured another year or two of training and stuff, but I got the opportunity so I'm going to take it."
On a card brimming with new talent, Paul Creighton's name might be the most unfamiliar of them all. Not through any fault of his own apparently, as Paul says this past year has been filled with one tentative fight after another that never came to fruition. Pancrase, SHOOTO, and the World Fighting Alliance were all promotions that Paul has been in contact with. He was even named as a potential opponent for Jens Pulver at UFC 30, when it was thought there would be complications over Caol Uno relinquishing his SHOOTO title to come fight in the States. But while training for yet another tentative fight on June 1st for Canada's UCC, Paul finally got the call he'd been waiting for. Joe Hurley was out of the competition due to a car accident injury, leaving lightweight contender BJ Penn without an opponent. With only a month to go, it seemed unlikely that anyone would be willing to step up to such a formidable specimen on short notice. Yet for a guy that has watched the UFC since its inception in 1993 and has always "dreamed of fighting in it," the opportunity was too great to pass up. On May 10th, Paul Creighton will get to go where few have gone before him as he walks down the ramp and steps into the famed UFC Octagon.
Since the age of five, wrestling has been a mainstay of Paul Creighton's life. A two-time 2nd place winner at States, a Junior Olympic National Champion, a winner of the National Qualifier Regional Championships in college -- these are just highlights of a long and distinguished wrestling career. But injuries marred Paul's future and his interests eventually turned to jiu-jitsu. "Wrestlers are always competitive. Once you're out of it, you miss it. I wanted to get into something else and that's where MMA came in for me." Black belts in judo, karate and Japanese jiu-jitsu followed, but it was a broadcast of an early UFC that sent Paul seeking the next level in his training. "After I saw the UFC, I immediately looked for the closest Gracie I could find. I booked a bus ticket from upstate Watertown to New York City to come train with Renzo Gracie." Two years of training followed, until Paul moved down to Atlanta, Georgia. His studies continued for two more years with the famed Jacare of Team Alliance. Jacare was also the one to introduce Paul to some of his first NHB fights; it was in this time he won the Sports Jiu-Jitsu World Championships in Leeds, England. Two years passed and it was back up to New York and Renzo's famed gym once again, where Paul has continued to hone his skills for the last two years as a purple belt. In addition to BJJ, Paul also continues to wrestle as well as box with professional trainer Thomas Malloy at the Westbury PAL on Long Island.
With an MMA record of 5 and 0, what will this lightweight newcomer bring for the Hawaiian "Phenom"? Say Paul's trainer Renzo Gracie, "Paul is pretty much a complete fighter -- very strong ground game, very good takedowns, and now his hands are looking very fast." Add Muay Thai training to the mix and the fact that he trains with the likes of UFC veterans Matt Serra, Ricardo Almeida, and recent Pride competitor Rodrigo Gracie, and one starts to get a feel for what Paul has to offer to the game. Still, some cannot help but wonder if the new guy will be in way over his head against an opponent that has systematically run through two of the division's top five competitors.
Does the "shark versus fish" theory hold any water? "Everyone's going to say that," Paul says. "But they've never seen me. They don't know what I can do. Now's my time to show them." In a sport where underdogs have proven the fans wrong time and time again, who's to say which way this fight will go? And as for the critical masses, let's not forget that it was just one year ago that a virtual unknown named BJ Penn burst onto the scene himself.
Aaron Riley is no stranger to the fight scene. With some twenty-odd fights, this Indiana native got his start with the well-respected HOOKnSHOOT organization and went on to become their NHB Middleweight Champion. Riley started training early in wrestling, judo, boxing, and kickboxing -- keeping the JKD concept in mind of utilizing what was beneficial and discarding what was not. Ironically, this 21-year-old was once connected to the team that his future opponent now hails from. After meeting Pat Miletich and Jeremy Horn at a HOOKnSHOOT seminar, Riley boldly asked this dynamic duo to corner him for his fight and in the twenty-minute battle that ensued, his valiant performance got their attention. When Riley asked to come and train with the team, he got the nod. Three visits with the Miletich camp, totaling about two months of training, was enough to convince Riley that he needed to move on from Indiana to get on the fast track. But Iowa would not turn out to be Riley's final destination. Instead, on the invitation of friend Dennis Hallman, Riley headed out west to Washington to train with Matt Hume and his AMC Pankration team. Although Hume has seen many a potential champion come and go through his gym, Aaron had something that encouraged the distinguished trainer. "What I saw in Aaron was sincerity, which made me think he might have the discipline to take it to the next level."
Two years have passed under "the Wizard's" tutelage, and in this time Riley has gotten to train with some of the best in the business. He says of teammate and newly-crowned UFC Heavyweight Champion Josh Barnett, "He always sharing his knowledge. If he sees something he can help with, he'll jump in." Riley has also had the opportunity to train with UFC legend Maurice Smith when the AMC team would make regular visits to Smith's gym two or three times a week. Conveniently, Maurice has recently merged his gym with Hume's, bringing together these two MMA juggernauts. Has training changed with "Mo" around every day now? "Maurice has been known for his conditioning in all aspects of his career and that's something he brings in with him. The whole team has been going through his conditioning programs and that has been keeping us all in great shape." Every morning, Riley joins Smith at the Washington Sports Medicine Institute, a high-tech facility that caters to the two athlete's cardio training. Then, it's a nap during the day and back to the gym at night for the technique work and still more cardio.
With opponent Robbie Lawler's MMA record at a comparatively shorter 3 and 0, does Riley hope his ring experience will come into play on May 10th? "That's something that will play in different areas. If the fight goes long, it'll pay off for me because I've been there and I don't think he has. Experience always plays a factor." Still, Lawler has shown an aggressiveness on his feet that could spell trouble for Riley, a fighter who has won by many a submission. Is a ground war inevitable? "We'll just deal with it as it comes," says Riley. "If he holds an advantage on the feet, I'll probably try to take him down or if we're pretty even on the stand-up, I'll keep it there and box him. It depends on the pace and course of the fight as to what I'm going to try and do."
Like so many before him, Riley says making his UFC debut "has always been something that I wanted to do since I saw the first one. As far as MMA in the U.S., the UFC is the premiere event. It's at the top of the ladder." Mentor Matt Hume is looking out for his young charge's future with the organization as well. "It could be he fights and we pull him back out for a while to work on what he needs or he does so well that we try and make him the youngest champ yet. We'll see how this next fight goes." Putting any doubts to rest, Hume sums it up by adding, "He's ready for this fight. We expect him to win it."
Imagine having to race up and down the steep Masonic Temple Hill alongside UFC behemoth Andre Roberts. That's just what Robbie Lawler had to do to secure his place on the Miletich Fighting Systems team. The hill is a regular feature of the team's training program, and when Robbie's dad asked that his son be considered for the group, Miletich agreed to let him try out -- on one condition. Robbie's wrestling coach, Wayne Hogenson, had to run the course as well. (Apparently, the two are good friends.) It was through this relationship that Robbie was first introduced to Miletich. Pat would come down to train with Robbie's high school wrestling team before fights and had noticed the youngster's natural ability early on.
A 3-Time State Wrestling Finals participant, Robbie's early aspirations originally gravitated towards boxing. In grade school, he remembers watching fights on TV, soaking in what he could and practicing on his punching bag the next day. However, Robbie's father was not crazy for the idea of his son becoming a boxer, with its ten to twelve rounds of continuous hits to the head. Instead, he would take Robbie to tae kwon do tournaments where Robbie eventually ended up being a Junior Olympic Champion in the martial art.
Robbie says he never considered fighting till after high school, but once he started to train with the Miletich team, he saw possibilities for a future in the sport. Pat immediately went to work on making Robbie a well-rounded fighter, building on his natural speed and agility as a striker, while also focusing on the rookie's submission work. Having now trained with the team for about two and a half years, all aspects of the fight game are at his disposal. With Jens Pulver to spar with, Matt Hughes to work takedowns with, Jeremy Horn to roll with, and Pat Miletich to ensure that all of these elements are properly combined, it's a young fighter's dream come true.
With only three professional fights to his name, one by KO and the other two by TKO's, it was the push from UFC president Dana White that got Robbie his "ultimate" break in the business. After seeing him compete at the SHOGUN event last December in Hawaii, White was convinced that Robbie would fit in nicely into the UFC roster. Says White, "I knew as soon as I saw him fight, that I wanted to sign him. He was my Christmas present to myself." Why did Dana feel so strongly about this particular fighter? "He reminds me of a 170-pound Mike Tyson. He gets in there all business and he wants to fight. He really went after that kid from SHOOTO." That "kid from SHOOTO" was Shogun Kawakatsu, a reputable fighter in his own right that Robbie took out with a TKO via strikes. Robbie's two other fights have been in the IFC and Extreme Challenge, respectively.
Robbie's trainer and mentor Pat Miletich is very confident about his future in the sport. "For as little experience that he has," he says, "it looks like he's been boxing all his life -- since the day he could walk. There's really no one in the sport right now that can stand up with him and deal with his speed and power in the 170-pound weight division. He hits too hard and he moves angles real well. Plus, he's a southpaw so that gives people a lot of problems. I see him going to the top in the next couple of years." With recommendations like that, it is hard not to be intrigued by this newcomer.
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