Horodecki's courageous battles

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:18 AM ET

RAMA, ONT. - It takes a lot of courage to step into the ring when you’re a professional mixed martial arts fighter.

But the courage London lightweight Chris Horodecki demonstrated on Saturday night was extraordinary, given the personal issues he’s had to deal with this past week leading up to the Bellator 47 card.

Last week, Horodecki’s childhood friend, Jake Sawicki, passed away suddenly from a bacterial infection.

For Horodecki, attending his friend’s funeral just days before stepping into the Casino Rama ring was incredibly difficult.

Nevertheless, the 23-year-old was able to focus and earn a unanimous decision over American Chris Saunders, 9-2.

“It’s been a shock to everybody,” said Horodecki. “He was a close, close friend. A guy I grew up with. He was fine, went to work on Wednesday night, no problems, and Tuesday morning his sister found him purple in his bed, dead.

“He had a bacteria in his stomach ... and it just spread to his lungs and his heart stopped,” added Horodecki, 18-3.

Horodecki’s fight against Saunders was already set at the time of Sawicki’s passing, so he couldn’t have backed out even if he wanted to.

“But (Jake) would have wanted me to fight,” he said. “And that’s what I did.”

Horodecki attended the visitation this past Monday and the funeral on Tuesday and then turned his focus to Saunders. To his credit, he was able to rise to the occasion with a workmanlike victory and then pay tribute to his friend after the fight.

“Burying a close friend was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Horodecki said. “But I fought on.”

It was also a difficult night for Horodecki’s stablemate at the Adrenaline Training Centre in London, Jesse Gross.

Just six months ago, Gross was on top of the world. The London fighter had won his first six fights as a professional, and was considered one of the top young MMA fighters in Canada.

But then on May 6, on the Wreck Unstoppable card, the 23-year-old lost for the first time as a pro to Calgary warhorse Brad (The Bonesaw) Cardinal, via a Rear-Naked Choke hold, and suddenly there were clouds on the horizon.

Now those clouds have developed into a major front.

Gross lost quickly and convincingly on Saturday after being placed in another Rear-Naked Choke hold, this time by Brazilian catchweight Alexandre Bezerra, 10-1. Bezerra’s hold was so effective, Gross lost consciousness and couldn’t tap out. The referee had to stop the fight at 1:28 of the first.

“It happened real fast,” said Gross. “It was just a weird feeling — I was just waking up on the mat thinking: ‘Oh no, something’s wrong.’ And then I’m watching him celebrate and I realized I screwed up bad.”

What the loss to Bezerra means for his future, only Gross can decide.

But one thing’s for certain, the young fighter is going to have to re-evaluate his career. It’s not that he isn’t talented or tough enough.

The problem is, unlike the very best MMA fighters, Gross can’t afford to train and fight full time. He doesn’t make enough money.

He attends Fanshawe College, studying Police Foundations, and works two part-time jobs, as a bouncer and at a local Tim Hortons.

That’s the way it is in professional mixed martial arts world. For every Georges St. Pierre, who has made millions inside and outside the ring, there are hundreds of Jesse Gross’, who have world championship dreams, but live blue-collar lives.

“If I could just fight, I’d just fight,” said a downtrodden Gross after losing to Bezerra. “But I can’t, so I have to juggle. My life doesn’t afford me to just train and fight full time.”

The Bellator 47 card featured two Featherweight Tournament semifinals as the co-main events. In the first semi, Marlon Sandro, 19-2, of Brazil earned a unanimous decision over Nazareno Malegarie, 20-2, by 30-27 scores. In the second semi, a methodical bout that brought down boos and catcalls from the near-capacity crowd at the Rama ballroom, American Pat Curran, 15-4, earned a unanimous decision over Ronnie Mann, 20-3-1, of Cheltenham, England.


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