Local Sports

MMA returns to Sebring

— Mixed martial arts is one of the fastest-growing sports around, but for the most part, fans of the sport in Highlands County are relegated to watching it on television or making lengthy drives to catch a bout in person. There is one yearly exception, however, and that will take place Saturday night when Chris Miller Marine Construction puts on Sebring Swamp Brawl II at the Highlands Today Center.

“My coach, Steve Weed, his son Noah, a few other guys and I started going to events and we had to travel two hours and sometimes four or five hours,” Miller said. “A lot of times you would go to these events and they weren’t put on right and we realized we could do it right and do it in our own town.”

Miller was a wrestler in high school and upon graduating found there wasn’t much in the way of competitive one-on-one sports and was drawn to MMA and Weed’s Universal Center of Natural Martial Arts, which is located in Sebring.

“Steve and I built a relationship and I went and tried my first match and enjoyed it,” Miller said.

There are 12 amateur bouts scheduled for Saturday and the event will be sanctioned by the International Sports Combat Federation. The finale will be a title bout between Donny Bush and Murc Jones, who are likely to be making their last fight as amateurs before turning professional, a path Miller and Noah Weed hope to follow within the next couple of years.

Miller said the rules are pretty much the same for professional fighters and amateurs, as long as the amateur has had three fights.

“You can’t hit on the ground or in the face unless you’ve had over three fights, so basically the last fights will be the best fights,” he said. “You progress as you go, so you’re not fighting a really good fighter in your first fight.”

Steve Weed said the match-ups are given a lot of consideration, not only to make things more equal inside the cage, but also to make it more entertaining for the fans.

“If you have guys with one or two fights you try to pair them up,” he said. “If you have guys with good winning records you try to pair them up so you have a good fight.”

While the other fighters can completely focus on their upcoming match, Miller also has to worry about the things that go hand-in-hand with being the promoter of the event.

“There’s a little more stress involved in it for sure,” he said. “I have to cover my costs for the event so I have to worry about that as well. I also have to make sure at the last minute somebody doesn’t decide not to show up. A lot of times you have fighters back out at the last minute.”

Weed said there were plenty of things that the fighters were required to do before stepping into the cage.

“If they don’t have their paperwork, bloodwork or don’t weigh in right they can’t fight,” he said. “It used to be you had a five or six-pound weight difference you could weigh, now it’s one to two pounds. They’re really starting to cut everything a lot closer.”

The majority of the fighters are from out of the area, but there are several others who will be competing from Highlands County, such as former Avon Park wrestler Johnny Baldridge and Justin Chin, who will be competing in a kickboxing match.

Miller said the success of last year’s event was an additional factor in deciding to hold Saturday’s fights and things were going well with advance ticket sales. Those wanting tickets can call (863) 402-0400.

“We only have seven VIP tables left and those are going to sell out,” he said. “We also have advance ticket sales and people who don’t want to wait in line can pick them up Thursday or Friday, although a lot of people just show up at the door and get their tickets.”

Weigh-ins will take place at the Blue Lagoon on Friday at 7 p.m.

Don Jose Mexican Restaurant will be offering food at the fights and the Sebring Firemen will be handling beer sales. A band will play before the fights and in-between bouts and a post-fight party will also be held at Don Jose.

“Saturday’s going to be exciting,” Miller said. “It’s a once a year event and should be exciting for the people of Sebring.”