By: Jasmine Alexander, Angela Buenrostro, Rachel Hill and Claudia Resendez
They’re in the ring with only a mouthpiece and thin gloves as protection. Their main goal is to hit harder and faster than their opponent. Most importantly they know if they get knocked down by their opponent and they’re in the throes of a wrestling position, they shouldn’t stay down.
Mixed martial arts fighters are considered fiercer for going mostly gearless and essentially being seen as fearless. The mixed martial arts match titled, Belts of Honorius 4, held at the Nutty Brown Cafe & Amphitheatre in Austin Feb. 21, was an amateur event that raised funds for the nonprofit program Enlightened Warriors Youth.
The latest match was the fourth in the series and was completely sold out online the day before it was held.
Event promoter Nael Chavez was responsible for the development of Belts of Honorius and Enlightened Warriors, Founded in 2008. It uses activities, like survival courses, and uses physical fitness and discipline to help empower kids, from fifth through ninth grade. The program has helped over 1,500 children a year.
“It just became a monster,” Chavez said. “I started helping children with the same recipe — athletics and empowerment.”
More than 80 percent of the children involved are poverty-stricken and cannot afford the cost of the program.
Chavez started the event Belts of Honorius, hosted every two to three months, to offset some of the cost.
“The operating expenses are off the charts,” Chavez said. “To do it the way we want to do it, to create results, costs a lot of money.”
The event typically showcases 10 matches featuring both men and women. February’s event had nine matches which featured two title fights and one female fight.
Chavez said a challenge with MMA is there are people who see the fights as “barnyard productions where they treat fighters like garbage.” Sometimes fighters are not paid. This is why Chavez awards a trophy belt for every match.
“The only way we’re going to change the fight community is if you make it matter,” he said.
Participants from all over Texas come to the amateur fights to make a name for themselves in the world of MMA, and potentially become a professional fighter.
Female amateur fighters like “Ferocious” Fatima Mallett, mother of two, find time to fight in between parenting and a strict workout schedule. She is currently undefeated, including the Feb. 21 match against Sarah “The Surgeon” Snow in the 120 lb. weight class category.
“Dedication and commitment,” Mallet said when asked what her motivation was for MMA. “When you’re going to do something whether it’s MMA or not just go with it.”
Fighters like “Ferocious” Fatima don an entirely different persona than their everyday selves when fighting and do so to get themselves in the right frame of mind for a fight. Fatima’s image consists of red and black corn rows and a mouth guard that either displays the word “ferocious” or has the printed image of teeth on the front.
Other competitors like, Matt Alonzo who won over his opponent Christopher Berry by technical knock out in the first round, used their thirst for competition as their driving force.
“I’m a natural competitive person, so it kind of feeds that side of me,” Alonzo said. “It’s where I belong.”
MMA, which is a 1,000-year old sport, is different from boxing in the technique that is used to fight. It uses full body contact, and striking and grappling techniques, essentially allowing for the use of brute force punches like boxing while still being able to wrestle their opponent, once they hit the ground.
Even though MMA was introduced to the U.S. by the UFC in 1993, it has become a popular fighting event nation-wide. It is still a relatively rare choice of sport in Austin even with nine gyms to train at, fewer than five fights have been hosted.
“There’s been a couple other groups that tried putting on local amateur MMA fights but they haven’t really lasted,” said Jeff Hughes owner and master instructor at The Pitt Austin. “ I think what he’s [Chavez] doing is smart because he’s just starting real small like doing it at different gyms and slowly help build it up because there’s definitely a market.”
The Pitt is one of the few gyms that support MMA fighters in Austin.
The success of the previous events has made way for the preparation for a Woman’s MMA match, spearheaded by Chavez, that will be held in April.
Chavez, with the help of all the MMA fighters, is starting a new legacy of serious MMA competitions in Austin, through Belts of Honorius.
When it comes to MMA, Chavez says “you’re either going to love it or hate it.”