Fighter pay is a frequently talked about issue in MMA. The bigger draws in major promotions make top dollar, while the small-time guys and girls are living check to check, struggling to pay the bills. The one silver lining is that these fighters control their own fates. Win, stick around, and improve your lifestyle. Sounds easy enough. But what about the overlooked population? What about the fighters who haven't yet caught the attention of a major promotion, stuck trying to pursue their dream of fighting for a living, with the endless pressures of reality constantly holding them back? Thousands of fighters are facing such a dilemma at this very moment, all the while being largely ignored by the fan base, as UFC gold and 'Of The Year' awards serve as such a perfect distraction. To help us better understand the life of an aspiring fighter, we caught up with Sam 'Bam Bam' Micale, 24 year old New Yorker and amateur mixed martial artist currently fighting in the Gladius 125lb division.
Up until about a year ago, Sam, like us, was simply a fan of MMA; nothing more. But it didn't take long for the sport to fill his mind with the unshakable addiction that has claimed so many before him.
I walked into Ultimate Athletics around the end of January of last year with no real martial arts experience and no intentions of really fighting. I befriended the staff at UA and they invited me to the Gladius 2 fight card down in Ithaca the week I started training. Watching Brandon Warne fight Chad Kelly for the 125 lb title and being around Ryan Ciotoli's 'Team Bombsquad' made me want to compete and live that lifestyle. I took my first fight just a couple months into my training and fell in love.
As you might imagine, fighting is not something you can do with one foot in the cage. Not only is it irresponsible to inadequately prepare for a fight, but it is downright dangerous. You need to approach training like a full-time job, which is easy to do when you're making full-time money. But when you're first getting started in a smaller promotion, there is simply no way to support yourself on fighting alone. So how does one dedicate so much time to training while taking care of the day-to-day costs of life itself. The answer: mental fortitude and a patient family.
When I started training in MMA, I jumped in the deep end with cinder blocks tied around my feet. I went from being a pack-a-day smoker to spending thee to six hours a day in the game, even doing late nights after the gym closed with my good friend and head coach at the time. Putting hours like this into my training definitely hindered the money making. Luckily, I have an amazing wife that supports everything that I do, Jackie Micale, who just so happens to be the #6 ranked female ammy MMA fighter in New York. Things got tougher over time, and I had to start training less and working more. Having a three year old son doesn't make it any easier to train, or cheaper to live either! It really depends on how bad you want it. If you want it bad enough, you make it work.
Like most fighters, Sam's ultimate goal is to make it to the very top. That being said, he isn't unrealistic about his expectations. No one can become a champion overnight and yet it's very difficult to find motivation without a goal in mind. Baby steps.
I can't say if I'll ever go as far as being a world champion, but that is the dream, right? I'm still such a baby to the sport and have so much more to learn and experience. My goal is to live comfortably off of MMA, one way or another, because its what I love to do. I have three major short term goals, though. One, I'd like to become a trainer/coach and maybe teach classes. Two, I'd like to belt up in BJJ and start belting up in a new stand up martial art like tae-kwon do or karate. Three, I will become the Gladius Flyweight Champion.
Needless to say, we wish him the best of luck in the future, both short-term and beyond. It takes a rare breed to break away from the masses of mediocre. Skill and determination is not enough. You need the perseverance to push through tough times when fate tempts you to give up on your dreams. Will Sam Micale stand among the ranks of the elite one day? Who knows. But after talking to him briefly, it became immediately clear that he has all the tools to do just that. He's eager to learn, he's mentally prepared for bumps in the road., and he has a fantastic support system around him. He has put himself in the best possible position to succeed. Recently, he began training at Pacific Health Club, a top of the line facility full of world-class instructors, including UFC legend and current World Series of Fighting welterweight, Jon Fitch. With a student's mind set in this type of environment, good things are sure to come. Keep an eye on Sam Micale. You can follow him on twitter @BamBamMMA89 to show your support.
But alas, what kind of MMA journalist would I be if I failed to ask a New Yorker mixed martial artist about the state of mixed martial arts in New York. I'll leave you with his answer.
Everyone I know in the MMA industry is fighting their ass off to make it legal in NY so we can do what we work so hard for and still make money to support our families. If a local amateur fight promotion brought a quarter of a million dollars to CNY, imagine what a UFC or WSoF card would make NY if it ever came to Madison Square Garden. At this point, it is legal EVERYWHERE else but here, and it's only stopping the state from making more money. It's all politics at this point. Get with the program New York!