Rage in a Cage

Photo by Matt Rose

Photo by Matt Rose

Standing at 5 feet 10 inches tall, Asheville’s Johnny “Buck Nasty” Buck may not be the biggest mixed martial arts fighter, but that does not detract from what he is able to do with his hands, feet, knees and elbows.

“The difference between guys at my level and those who kind of mess around with it is not so much my desire to win, but my hatred to lose,” Buck, 25, says before a recent sparring practice session. “If you don’t lose there’s only one other way to go, so I end up winning.”

Buck knows of what he speaks. At November’s “Rise of the Champion” fight at the WNC Agriculture Center, the A.C. Reynolds graduate who wrestled at the Citadel extended his 12-7 record with a major win over Brazilian jujitsu fighter Frank “Ginger Bread” Waszut and gave that opponent his first ever defeat 2:42 seconds into the third round.

That outcome gave Buck not only a title belt, but also bragging rights in his hometown.

“One of the things I like to say about Asheville is that you can have a preacher, a hippie and a businessman all walk into a bar and that’s not a punch line, it’s just Asheville,” Buck explains. “Everyone here can enjoy a mixed martial arts competition. I describe fight night events as 25 percent fight and 75 percent rock concert. There is a party atmosphere that you just can’t get anywhere else.”

Many people not familiar with the five, five-minute long rounds of combat inside a 22-foot tall steel cage sometimes mistake it for the popular Toughman contests where bruisers and brawlers beat on each other inside a boxing ring.

Buck and his fellow fighter Adam DeHart emphasize that could not be further from their much more serious form of fight business.

“What we do is physical chess,” Buck says. “The age of bar room brawlers is done. They may be able to do a Toughman competition where there are one-minute rounds with big gloves, but this is for elite athletes. It’s bigger than the NBA and the NFL.”

“Many athletes are quitting football because there are so many injuries,” adds Dehart, 25, also from Asheville. “With MMA, they can succeed so much more because it is an individual sport. You know what can happen once you step inside the cage, but you don’t know what’s going to happen next and that is what makes it so much more of a challenge.”

Their coach, international catch wrestling instructor Johnny Husky, agrees in the calm demeanor that subtly lets one know that he knows both the passion and the criticism of this wildly popular sport. “Boxing is very limited. You’re basically looking at 12 rounds of just punching, versus the dynamic of MMA where you have the strong takedowns and throws which is more exciting,” says the 48-year-old who started out as an amateur wrestler before moving on to judo and mixed martial arts training, and who now coaches more than 20 fighters under the Team Husky banner. “We have the knockouts from boxing, but also the submission holds and that adds to the allure of what will happen next.”

Coach Husky was very clear on the difference he sees between other forms of fighting that some critics label as barbaric and stressed that mixed martial arts combat is not the modern-day equivalent of ancient gladiator games.

“In MMA you have the opportunity to tap out at any time you feel you are in danger and that’s considered an honorable way to finish,” Husky says. “In boxing, the goal is to punch an opponent in the head until they can’t stand anymore. That’s barbaric to me.”

Buck, Dehart and all of Team Husky now train exclusively at the only mixed martial arts gym in Western North Carolina that has its own regulation MMA cage: the new BlackEye Fitness off Bradley Branch Road in Arden.

Scott Crosby, a former WilsonArt decorative laminate factory worker who with other partners opened The Warehouse Live private nightclub in Arden last year, saw a MMA bout at Atlanta’s popular Wild Bill’s dance club and concert hall and got in touch with Team Husky about regularly showcasing this unique form of entertainment closer to home.

“I believe in these guys, mainly because I can see they love the sport,” Crosby, 39, says. “Nobody else this side of Atlanta or Charlotte has a regulation cage for these boys to train in and when people see it, they just go ‘Wow!'”

Michael Allen, vice-president of operations for BlackEye Entertainment which arranged the recent fight nights at the Ag Center, was even more enthusiastic.

Matt Rose

“These guys have been kicking so much you know what and taking names all over the country,” Allen says. “It means so much to finally get some recognition here locally so that the fans know MMA is for real in Asheville.

You would expect nothing less from men whose business cards say “Someone will get punched in the eye!!!” but the latest venture, BlackEye Fitness, has something for everyone.

In addition to that intimidating cage for mixed martial arts training, there is the added atmosphere of being able to work out alongside true tough men like Buck, DeHart and the rest of Team Husky.

“You get to train with professional athletes, but we have something for mom, dad and the kids. The kids can take jujitsu classes, dad can be weight training and mom can be doing cardio,” offers Coach Husky. “For the fans who have wanted to try it, it’s a great way to lose weight and working the mitts is a lot of fun.”

“This is not like any other gym around,” says Buck. “We’re a mixed martial arts-based gym, but there is zero pressure to get in the cage and zero pressure to grapple. Everyone is welcome to come in and just work out. It’s here for ages 8 to 80, blind, blind and crazy, or you can just come take a self-defense class. We want people to see what we do and maybe join in if they see something they want to try.”

Sales pitch aside, the members of Team Husky all stressed the importance of training in their daily workout regime.

“It doesn’t matter how mentally prepared you are, if your body can’t go five, five-minute rounds, you won’t last in the cage,” says the man with seven tattoos adorning his chiseled physique. “Physical conditioning is huge, but on the other hand if you are not mentally prepared to hit hard and get hit hard, you might as well not even train. I’ve fought both mental and physical fights and as long as you are prepared you can win.”

“If you put the work in at the gym, that builds you mentally and physically,” adds DeHart, who spars with Buck but does not compete against his fellow member of Team Husky. “Once you have that confidence, your body will respond and your endorphins take over. Eating right and training right makes all that hard work pay off.”

Their coach felt the same way.

“Training is where it all can break down, because it’s the most important stage. Lack of training makes cowards of men. As long as your confidence is high and you’ve put in the time at the gym, you can get in there and bang.”

Perhaps the young man with Cauliflower ear and a championship belt around his abs said it best.

“This is the new home of Team Husky,” Johnny ‘Buck Nasty’ Buck says. “This is where I train and it is my home.”

For the latest on Team Husky and BlackEye Entertainment, go to www.blackeyepromotions.com

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