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The Blue Room
An Evening among Questing Men

I am no stranger to the blue room.

Every local promotor has his money club, the large gym that hones and holds a stable of fighters that span the weight ranges, and, ideally have depth in each weight class. Such a club no longer exists in boxing circles that I know of. But in MMA, at least one such club exists in every major market. Owning such a club, or having an arrangement with one, is clutch in promoting any form of prizefighting. When I trained Dante I took him to the Baltimore boxing Club, which was such a club and was owned by Jake “The Snake” Smith, Maryland’s dominant boxing promoter for the past three decades.

These days, in Maryland, the money club is Team Ground Control, owned by John Rollo, dominant MMA promoter in Maryland. In MMA, many such clubs draw their strength from a Gracie franchise, as does John Rollo. What this does is ensure membership in an international network from which cornering and sparring experience may be drawn, but, more importantly, provide a high base income for the club in the form of non-combatant self-defense students. This brings many benefits, most importantly a top rate facility and the ability to sponsor a super-stud, the prizefighter archetype, who usually lacks the desire or ability to pay to train but “has the goods” to put your club on the map. Every club owner wants to be able to hang title belts from his rafters. This brings higher student enrollment as well as free advertising and potential purse cuts from the fighter’s purse once he turns pro.

There is also the value of such a club to a promoter. Boxing revenue on the local level is dependent upon fighters selling tickets to friends and family. A large club which can provide fighters across weight cases in depth from beginner to elite is invaluable to a promoter in terms of ticket sales and therefore forms the basis for his event planning. MMA preserves many of the conventions of boxing and employs pure boxing people in important roles. An iconic aspect of the fight game is the blue and red corner, each of which has a corresponding dressing/warmup room. This is taken a step further in cage fighting, where both fighters, beginning with the opponent, are prepped at the red gate. The blue gate is only used by the blue corner, with both fighters coming and going through the hometown favorite’s red gate.

The red room will be occupied by one or two teams, while the blue room might hold 3 to 8 teams. The red room is bigger, better equipped, closer to the cage and is crowded with less support staff.

Red fighters are operating out of the largest local facilities.

Blue fighters are operating out of small local gyms and from out of town.

Red fighters have been training for this event from its inception.

Blue fighters have been called in on short notice.

Red fighters have had 8-16 weeks to make weight.

Blue fighters have had 1-6 weeks to make weight.

Red fighters are typically one weight class heavier than blue fighters.

Red coaches, with bigger teams, have more experience and more experienced support staff, than blue coaches.

Red fighters have more and better sparring than blue fighters due to the available training partners.

When arriving on three weeks’ notice, with two sessions to prep my guys, I spent most of my time making contacts with other blue clubs to develop a sparring network.

Before the rules meeting I paid the venue cut man to tape my guys’ hands. I have only wrapped hands for amateur boxing, and that was last done in 2004. Not only don’t I know how to tape hands for a pro, I found in practicing on Sean and Dennis that I had a hard time even holding onto the roll of gauze with what remains of my oft-broken right hand. Moe Morales, manages boxers at a major gym and did a much better job casting my guys’ hands than any of the other clubs, giving us our only material advantage.

Next I sought out the promoter, who knows his craft and we spoke candidly. I let him know that I had initially been suspicious about the event, since my guys made their own matches on short notice, but was really pleased with the conduct of the organization. He then apologized to me by way of telling me that Sean had the toughest match of the night, that he was fighting a bigger, younger man that was being groomed for professional competition. He also said, “I hope you feel like you’ve been treated fairly and would like to see you men do well. I lost two fights due to injury as it was. If your guys hadn’t thrown in I might have had to cancel the event. Mo, the ref and the Doc will keep a close eye and the Pennsylvania Commission is good.”

We shook hands and I sought out Mike, from Westminster, who fielded the two strongest blue fighters, who held numerous mutual friends and provided us with the corner items we lacked.

At fight time I immediately noticed that my middleweight’s opponent had gained 15 pounds since weigh-in the day before, where my guy had gained 5. Everything was panning out as per convention.

Sean went 2.8 rounds with a gorilla [a super nice guy, it turns out] and Dennis survived a savage 3-round dog fight with a bigger, younger more experienced guy. It was a good experience for both of them. For guys that are fighting in the ring or the cage for the experience of it, their basic task within the ritual is to provide determined opposition for those fighters focused exclusively on competition. Moe, the ref, the doc, were all there to make sure they didn’t get hurt bad physically if they found themselves in too deep, whereas my task was to prevent psychological damage at the least and ideally to help manage a growth experience for the men who put their trust in me.

Believe me, I would have experienced far less anxiety if I were the one being punched and thrown. In the end everybody gets to learn more about each other, now and in the future. Dennis fought the perfect growth fight for his opponent. It was such a nasty bout and that guy will never forget him. And the carefully managed stud that fought Sean will one day run into a fighter of his own body type who has Sean’s mental strength, and essentially need to call on Sean’s ghost to help him gut-out a bad situation. This has been the developmental nature of every sanctioned bout I have cornered, all seven of them [Moe’s Saturday workload], and I find it a useful place. Any fighter of the right age [for there is a definitive window] or type to excel at the elite level on the money end of things, I will forever point towards men like Moe and Mike with the temperament and connections to engage in match-making and team-building.

Fighting, training, cornering and coaching have convinced me over the years to abide the superstitious part inside that tells of how fighters haunt each other in a defining way that civilized folks can’t possibly understand.

Being a Bad Man in a Worse World

Fighting Smart: Boxing, Agonistics & Survival

Add Comment
ShepMarch 17, 2018 6:25 PM UTC

You always remember "that guy". Hopefully, many times you ARE "that guy".

And so it goes.
GooseMarch 17, 2018 3:13 PM UTC

Speaking of career management, what do you think of Alexander Frenkel?

Undefeated in 11 pro fights, wins the titles and retires at a relatively young age to do something else with his life. Seems like a smart way to go about it.
responds:March 18, 2018 1:34 PM UTC

I will check him out. Thanks for the link.