Ottawa athletes fight to make name in MMA

Ottawa's Randy Turner celebrates his win over London's Richard Chau during Wreck MMA's Unstoppable...

Ottawa's Randy Turner celebrates his win over London's Richard Chau during Wreck MMA's Unstoppable event at Casino Lac Leamy in Gatineau on Friday. (Darren Brown/QmI Agency)

Don Brennan, Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 4:08 AM ET

OTTAWA - Randy Turner has had plenty of reason to celebrate with friends lately.

Last week, for instance, there was the killing of Osama bin Laden.

"High-fives all around, absolutely," the 32-year-old Turner -- an Ottawa soldier who on Mar. 15 completed his fourth tour of Afghanistan -- said when asked about his reaction to the elimination of the al-Qaida terrorist behind the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S.

"I heard it the night before on the news, as I was falling asleep, as I drifted off, and thought, 'That's good news.' In the morning is when it really sunk in and I thought, 'Wow, this is huge.' "

Turner said there were "peaks and valleys" in the dangerous duty.

"I'll try to paint the picture as clear as possible ... there's moments where it's just utter boredom, and then moments where you have basically split seconds to make key decisions ... your buddy to your left and to your right are depending on you," he said.

"At the end of the day, I love being a soldier. I'd go back in a heartbeat."

Preferably, a long, drawn-out heartbeat. At WRECK MMA's Unstoppable Friday night, Turner TKO'ed Rich Chau in the first round, much to the delight of the 1,500 or so fans gathered at the Hilton next to Casino Lac-Leamy.

It was his third fight on a pro path he wants to follow.

"Originally I wanted to stand with him and test my hands a little bit," said Turner, who sold 120-130 tickets himself for Friday's show."He's got a kickboxing background, and a longer reach, so my coach wanted me to put him on his back and do exactly what I did."

Turner plans to "shift positions laterally" in his job so he can focus on MMA for a year. He wants to see how far he can go in a sport that saw 55,000 turned out to watch the UFC at Rogers Centre April 30 -- the first event after MMA became legal in the province.

"It was phenomenal," Turner said of the Toronto show."The sport has been taking off for a while, but it's good Ontario is finally getting on board. It's a bit frustrating in some ways, because it's such a great sport, but depending on who's looking at it and through what lens, it's still viewed as barbaric.

"That's just not the case. If you look at statistics, there's more injuries in hockey, annually, than there is in mixed martial arts. Really, open up the doors, embrace the sport and let it grow. That's the way I look at it. Having that huge event in Toronto be such a success, that's brilliant."

Does he aspire to be a part of something of that magnitude?

"Yeah, that would be a phenomenal feeling, but at 32 years old, is that in the realm of possible?" asked Turner. "I'm not sure. I just take one fight at a time. I love the sport."

So does Cedric Grenon, a 28-year-old who manages a family-owned grocery store in Rockland. Grenon won his second pro fight Friday, forcing a tap-out from Paul Ebejer with a rear naked choke 40 seconds into the first round. Like those in Toronto cheered for Georges St-Pierre -- but on a much smaller scale, obviously -- Grenon had friends and family shouting their encouragement for him.

"It's the best feeling in the world," he said. "My father (Roger) is my hero, and I get emotional when I fight when he's here. My family brings out the best of me, so for the past five years I've been fighting in Quebec City and Europe and all these places ... my family brings out the best. Some people say their opponents bring out the best. I love my family. So love wins on that one."

WRECK and the UFC are like family, too, with the former being the latter's little brother. And that so many people supported the Toronto show -- whether it be travelling to see it live or paying $60 for it on pay-per-view -- may have hurt the turnout at the Hull casino six days later.

"It's good for the sport, getting in Ontario and that exposure, but it's taking from the small shows, too," said Kemptville's Craig "Farmer" Brown, a FIT MMA trainer/coach who lost his fight to Dan "Torture" Chambers late in the first round.

"These local grassroots guys, they're coming in, training their ass off, they deserve support too. Sometimes we have to dig into the pocketbooks, come out and support the young guys, because they're the ones next in the UFC. You can say you saw them when they were starting."

At Unstoppable, early-card bouts were mostly lopsided, but the fights were much better as the night wore on. The best fight might have between Brad Cardinal and Jesse Gross for the WRECK MMA lightweight championship.The taller Cardinal turned his opponent's face into a bloody mess, but the game Gross wouldn't quit. Finally, he was forced to stop 30 seconds into Round 3 by the ref, who Gross said halted things too early.

"We were having a helluva fight," Gross said during his in-cage interview. "I was having fun out there. I got completely ripped off."

WRECK MMA president Nick Castiglia tried to appease Gross and the unruly crowd.

"The ref is just trying to do his job," Castiglia, who earlier in the evening defeated Paul Cressaty via TKO, said into the microphone.

"However, WRECK MMA will look at the tape, and if there's controversy, we will offer an official rematch to both fighters Sept. 24 at the Civic Centre."

Yes, organizers are hopeful the Civic Centre show, which will be the first in Ottawa, builds off the success had in Toronto.

It will certainly be a big night for Nabil "The Thrill" Khatib. The 41-year-old owner of his own martial arts school (Team Bushido) in Rockland, Khatib patiently defeated Markhaile "Showtime" Wedderburn via TKO in Round 2 Friday night. Heading into the fight, he felt a lot of pressure.

"It was like everybody didn't like the guy ... he talks too much, he never makes weight, he's always blah-blah-blah ... if I would have lost, it's a big loss for me," said Khatib. "I won and it's not really a big win, because I'm supposed to beat him."

After the fight, WRECK announced that Khatib would face his friend, welterweight champion Nathan Gunn, at the Sept. 24 show.

"I think Ottawa is going to give it a great reception," said Khatib.

"But realistically, people come from all over. They'll come from Gatineau, even Montreal, depending on who's fighting. If they bring fighters from Toronto, they're going to bring Toronto people. It's up to the fighters to promote the sport, and I think most of us do pretty good. Even Showtime promotes the sport, in a bit of a negative way, but it's still publicity.

"It'd be amazing," he added, regarding the prospect of fighting at a full Civic Centre. "The more people, the better for me. The louder they are, the better.

"It's going to be awesome. It'll be the first show in Ottawa ... I'll be 42. It'll be a big deal for me, for sure."


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