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MMA fighters teach Marines skills for combat

At 5 feet 6 inches and 140 pounds, Damacio Page may not look intimidating to a burly, battle-hardened Marine.


By Amy McCullough - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Jan 17, 2010 11:43:40 EST

But Page, a pro cage fighter nicknamed “The Angel of Death,” taught several Marines a very important lesson during a recent mixed martial arts clinic at Camp Pendleton, Calif.: Never underestimate your opponent.

“I was trying to show them some moves, and they weren’t really listening,” Page said. “So I grabbed the biggest guy out of the group. He was probably 6 foot 2 inches and 240 pounds. … When I hit him with a double leg, I swear his feet went four feet in the air. They started listening then.”

Page joined about a dozen other pro MMA fighters and coaches in October for a swing through three West Coast Marine bases, a tour that proved so successful Marine officials are negotiating to bring similar events to the East Coast this spring and possibly Afghanistan in the summer. Camp Lejeune, N.C., is likely to be the first stop, said former Cpl. Lex McMahon, who coordinates the events with support from Marine officials.

McMahon, son of the late Ed McMahon, a retired Marine colonel perhaps best known for his role as Johnny Carson’s longtime sidekick on “The Tonight Show,” also hopes to bring several prominent fighters back to the West Coast for a big-time event in front of 10,000 Marines. Details are still being worked out, he said.

“I care about the Marine Corps so much because I’ve been in the boots, and I’ve been downrange,” said McMahon, a former machine gunner and military police officer who deployed to Somalia twice between 1991 and 1994. “This is a no-brainer. It’s my way of giving back to the Corps and all the Marines that were there for me and my family when my father died.”

MMA combines combat skills from Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Thai boxing, wrestling, kickboxing and judo. The clinics held late last year included big-name teachers from the Ultimate Fighting Championship, such as five-time UFC champion Randy Couture and undefeated UFC fighter Gray Maynard.

East Coast clinics
The East Coast event will likely mirror the first three, which taught boxing and wrestling techniques along with lessons from combat-experienced fighters on how to incorporate MMA on the battlefield.

Staff Sgt. Jonathan Walsh, an active-duty Marine who fights on the pro circuit, and Army Staff Sgt. Tim Kennedy, a Strikeforce fighter, spent two hours with each group of Marines they taught at Camp Pendleton; Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.; and MCAS Yuma, Ariz. Most of the moves they taught focused on ways to retake your position, gain space and regain your weapon if caught by surprise.

“It seems pretty basic, and it is, but basic is what works,” said Walsh, a brig guard and former reconnaissance Marine who has served several combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. “You have to keep it simple ... just to make it easy muscle memory, and you have to be able to do this with all your gear on. I don’t want to be on my back with 60 pounds of kit on.”

The takeaway, said Kennedy, a Green Beret with nearly 10 years’ experience in Special Forces, is how to protect your space, whether it’s from an insurgent or a curious Afghan child.

“We carry magazines, guns, knives, radios and pretty much all the important stuff that we need for our survival on our chest in front of us,” Kennedy said. “Everything about [fighting] is space and timing, but for a combat person, space is the most important piece. You need to make sure you are protecting your stuff.”

To illustrate his point, Kennedy told a story from his first tour in Iraq, when he and several other soldiers were clearing a room and they came upon an unarmed man acting strangely. The situation could have gotten ugly fast.

“I turned the corner and there was this crazy guy there — whacked out of his mind. I didn’t want to shoot him because he was unarmed, but he grabbed me,” Kennedy said. “I had to make distance. Somebody who didn’t have those [MMA] skills would have had to shoot the guy, but I was able to de-escalate the situation without it getting to that point.”

Paying it forward
Gunnery Sgt. Cesar Espinoza, assigned to 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, was one of the handful of Marines who stood watch over Ed McMahon last year during his final days in the hospital, making sure paparazzi didn’t take any photographs of the ailing retired Marine. He also helped fold the flag at the funeral.

Espinoza’s kindness inspired Lex McMahon to give back by taking a troupe of fighters downrange later this year. He’s working with Marine officials on three options.

The first would be a clinic like those on the West Coast. The second option, McMahon said, would bring fighters into theater for a meet-and-greet morale tour, which would most likely require a partnership with the United Service Organizations.

The final option would be a live fighting event, similar to an upcoming event proposed for Camp Pendleton in the spring called “Pure Combat,” likely to be held in the football field behind the Paige Field House on base.

“At the end of the day, we all want the people who are protecting us to get something and let them know they are appreciated,” McMahon said.