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World-class boxers and mixed martial artists on the rise resurrect the state’s legacy of producing top-tier fighters.

Charles Martin June 15th, 2011

With a rich boxing history paired and a legacy of stellar wrestling programs, Oklahoma is fertile soil for combat sports, but larger markets traditionally have plucked up skilled fighters.

With aggressive promoters and savvy marketing piquing fan interest in local mixed-martial-arts bouts, however, Oklahoma is starting to hold onto its finest fighters.

MMA might be a relatively young sport, but Joe Miller, director of the Oklahoma Boxing Commission, said the state has become a breeding ground for prospects.

“We were only regulating 10 to 12 boxing events between 2005 and 2008,” Miller said. “During those years, MMA was coming into its own. That kind of slowed down boxing since there were so many kids participating in mixed martial arts, and we were regulating 50 to 60 events, 70 this year.”

Heralded college wrestling programs have attracted interest from companies such as Texas’ Team Takedown looking for potential UFC fighters.

“Oklahoma is probably in the top five in the country for mixed martial arts-fighters. Randy Couture is someone every MMA guy knows, and he wrestled out of (Oklahoma State University), and there are many others who’ve wrestled in the state before making their mark in the UFC,” said Miller, also noting Matt Grice and brothers Jarod and Jake Rosholt.

OKC-based James Head made his UFC debut last weekend against undefeated Nick Ring. Despite sending Ring to the mat early, Head eventually succumbed to a rear naked choke in the third round.

Although MMA is definitely having a moment, Miller said that aggressive pushes by promoters have stirred interest. Split cards between MMA and boxing also has helped win crossover fans.

Spiking interest is a handful of boxers he said are fighting at a worldclass level, including Grady Brewer, Noah Zuhdi, Eric Fields, Allan Green and Carson Jones.

The latter is currently the United States Boxing Association titleholder, and ranked 12 by the International Boxing Federation in the welterweight division, meaning he can contend for the world title at any time. He will fight July 9 at Remington Park, but like many of the state’s top-tier talent, he spends a significant amount of time in out-of-state training.

“Oklahoma City is not currently a big boxing city, so at this stage in my career, I need better training, and (California) is where all the big people train,” Jones said. “Depending on the amount of rounds in the fight and who the opponent is, I’ll typically train for six weeks, but for longer fights, it could be two months.”

Jones believes that Oklahoma has plenty of talented fighters, but not enough trainers for a top-level fighter to get the help he needs.

Bill Zuhdi, who currently manages Fields as well as his son Noah through catBOX Entertainment, said plenty of quality training facilities exist in Oklahoma, like Azteca Boxing Club, 330 S.W. 25th. To supplement work done at home, he said boxers also train at camps.

“Eric and Noah right now are in a training camp in Colorado Springs,” Zuhdi said. “It’s a top-notch camp for guys getting ready for title fights or who are already champions, and Colorado is close. It’s just a short plane ride or drive.”

He boasted Oklahoma’s top fighters matched up well with others across the world and said that emerging talents don’t have to leave the state anymore to find the trainers and the tools to hone their skills.

“The facilities are there. You just have to look for them,” Zuhdi said. “There are opportunities for people who want to work hard. Someone can go to Azteca and, if they have the heart and courage to stick it out while taking a beating in the gym, they can get fights that will put them on the national scene.”

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