Right now in Mosul, Iraq, there are soldiers preparing for a different kind of fight. Not the kind with guns and bombs and IEDs. But mixed martial arts.
It's no secret that MMA is wildly popular among the U.S. military, who are taught hand-to-hand combat and share a kinship with the fighters. Many MMA fighters, including BJ Penn, Urijah Faber and Kenny Florian have traveled to the Middle East to visit troops. Others, like Randy Couture, Tim Kennedy and Brian Stann served in the military. And the UFC has even put on shows at U.S. bases to benefit veterans' causes.
But this one is different.
This one is in enemy territory. The event, called "Fight Night For Heroes," will take place in Mosul, and feature mostly active duty military members. It is the brainchild of Monica Sanford, the owner of Devil Dog Productions and the wife of a U.S. Marine.
It was no easy task for Sanford. Not surprisingly, getting approval for such an event required navigating through several levels of bureacracy.
First, she had to ask the International Sports Combat Federation if they would even sanction an event in Iraq. After passing that hurdle, she needed approval from a Base Brigade Commander. Next, the event needed a blessing from the MultiNational Corps Iraq. Finally, it was approved by the Army's 25th Infantry Division. And of course, any time you are traveling into a war zone, you need military help. The Pentagon provided group transportation as part of Armed Forces Entertainment's commitment to the troops.
Georgia Athletic and Entertainment Commission executive director Andy Foster traveled to Iraq to serve as the event supervisor, while referees Tony Mullinax and Kim Winslow and judges Chris McGloughlin, JJ Coronel and Cardo Urso also volunteered to make the trip. Randy Couture's Xtreme Couture GI Foundation provided sponsorship funding.
Due to security concerns, specifics about the time and exact location of the event were not released to the public.
MMA takes it hits from critics, but no one can badmouth the efforts put forth by this crew to bring the troops a little slice of home, especially on a holiday weekend.
Every day, the troops face hostility, miss home, and put their lives on the line. This show alone will not draw them all back. Some will wish they could be there, but have to stay on duty; others are too far to get there. But for the ones that can attend, and those who can participate, this is something special.
No belts will be on the line, and the TV signal won't be beamed out live to the world. It will be bigger than that. For those who traveled, it will be a personal gesture reciprocating the selflessness of those who are serving.
The 17 fights on the card are the main attraction, but the meaning behind the fights is so much deeper.