Mixed martial artists out to dispel stigma

Dan Falloon

A local contingent of athletes is looking to clarify exactly what their organization is all about.
Borderland Combat Sports (BCS), a collection of mixed martial artists who have trained at a number of facilities here and over in International Falls, are stressing they’re in training to either compete at sanctioned events or to get in a high-energy workout.
One of the members, Jason Sobkowicz, noted the club is “not a knock-em-down, drag-em-out, no-holds-barred” organization. Rather, it focuses on combining elements of different disciplines to create a well-rounded competitor.
“None of us have any interest in taking this outside of the gym or a sanctioned fight,” he stressed.
Local optometrist Dr. Bruce Lidkea, one of the founding members of the group, said they strive to maintain a safe environment for athletes to train, adding the most severe injury one of the members has sustained is a broken toe.
“Nobody has suffered anything more than a minor injury,” he remarked. “Nobody’s out to hurt anybody . . . it’s a very co-operative environment.
“Nobody in this last year has ever lost their temper.”
Lidkea added anyone looking to be “the tough guy,” or improve their street-fighting skills, is not welcome in the club.
Mixed martial arts has risen to popularity in recent years, with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) holding several events a year worldwide.
Lidkea said the local group is a true melting pot of disciplines, boasting members from several different striking and grappling backgrounds, meaning each one has something to provide.
“Everybody has something to offer,” he explained. “Everybody has something to teach. Everybody has something to learn.
“And that’s why we’re all here.
“We have black belts in kung fu, kickboxing, taekwondo, judo. We have accomplished collegiate wrestlers coming out. . . .
“We’ve got a stable of really, really accomplished combat sports athletes,” Lidkea said.
“Besides all that, we have a really accomplished athletic trainer in ‘Goose’ [Terry McMahon].
“We all come from different disciplines and we all bring unique skills to the group. So far it’s been wonderful,” he enthused.
Lidkea said the club, which he referred to as a “co-op,” started up last fall with him and Dave Jones training together. Pete Benedix of International Falls and Bruce Conat were brought into the fold soon afterwards.
“Dave and I started working out together,” recalled Lidkea. “After talking to Pete, he wanted to be involved.
“He wanted to compete at a professional level in mixed martial arts.
“His wrestling was top-shelf. He just wanted to work on combat,” noted Lidkea.
“Then Bruce [Conat] found out about us and then there was four.”
Conat has some experience in the cage, competing at the King of the Cage in Mescalero, N.M. last May, losing in the first round by submission to Levi Price.
Benedix does, as well, having competed inside the cage with MAX Fights, taking on Robert Tuttle in Fargo, N.D. back in March.
While Benedix also lost by submission in the first round, he felt he held his own against a heavier opponent.
“I fought at a catch weight of 140 pounds, and my opponent that I was supposed to fight, he didn’t make weight,” recalled Benedix.
“I don’t want to make any excuses, but I took the fight anyway. Fight night came and he was probably close to 15 pounds on me.
“I did everything I was supposed to do in that fight,” Benedix added. “I connected with a couple of jabs right off the start and ended up getting in a double leg takedown.
“I picked him up, slammed him down.
“I fell into an arm triangle and got out of that,” he added.
“The fight resumed. I picked him up, slammed him down again, and then I fell into a guillotine choke.”
Benedix comes from a freestyle wrestling background, having competed for national champion Itasca at the college level before wrestling for the U.S. national team in Austria and Germany.
He credited his fellow BCS members with helping him make the transition to a Brazilian jiu jitsu-based style.
“The whole thing about wrestling is you want to pin your opponent,” he explained.
“You want to score points with your opponent. You want to get him on his back.
“When it comes to jiu jitsu, you’ll work from your back to get submissions.
“The transition for me to the grappling and the Brazilian jiu jitsu has been a little bit tough,” Benedix admitted.
“In international and collegiate-style wrestling, there’s no choking, there’s no arm bars, there’s no arm locks or heel hooks.”
BCS members train at other MMA gyms, as well. Lidkea, for instance, has taken classes under the tutelage of experienced fighters Mark Hominick and Randy Couture, and has trained at the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy in the Twin Cities and Xtreme Couture in Toronto.
Benedix, meanwhile, just finished 45 days of work in Tucson, Ariz. and trained with members of Strikeforce, which is a level just below UFC.
While local club members train at a high level, those looking to compete against strong competition likely would need to participate in a training camp in order to truly experience exactly what goes on in competition.
“Training camps are different,” Lidkea said. “There are black eyes and fat lips.
“You don’t do that because you want to hurt the guy. You do that so the guy doesn’t get hurt when they’re actually competing,” he reasoned.
However, although the group is allowed to train here, don’t expect to see any competitions anytime soon. The sport is not sanctioned in Ontario, and holding an event is a Criminal Code offence.
“You can’t hold a competitive event,” Lidkea stressed. “You can still train. You can still teach.”
But with Fort Frances bordering Minnesota, and close to North Dakota and Manitoba, Lidkea said group members should be able to find competitions nearby.
“We’re in a good spot in Ontario where it doesn’t affect us as much as it would affect a guy, say, in Timmins,” he noted.
Premier Dalton McGuinty has been asked about sanctioning events on multiple occasions in recent months. In his most recent response in February, he said sanctioning the sport was “not a priority.”
In terms of expansion, Lidkea said there is demand to join the club. But because of space and equipment constraints, the club is unable to admit all who might be interested.
“I’m getting several people a week asking me about the [practice] date and asking me if they can come out,” he noted.
“Unfortunately, we can’t have everybody that’s interested come out because we just don’t have the floor space and we don’t have the equipment.”
Another issue is that many of those wishing to join don’t have the same level of experience that the current members do. But Lidkea hopes that someday there will be a training spot for beginners, as well.
“There are a lot of people that want to come out, but they’re not accomplished combat sport athletes. They’re fans,” he stressed.
“I’m hoping that at some point, there’s going to be a place for them here, too. . . . Everybody has to start somewhere.
“Certainly, it’s a growing sport out there right now and it’s a great workout,” Lidkea concluded.
Benedix said those looking to get into the sport have to get into the proper mindset for training, which he’s found some hopefuls to be lacking in the past.
“If you want to come in and fight, you’ve got to be ready to get bumps and bruises, and there’s always the chance of injury,” he warned.
“The training takes a toll on your body, and a lot of it is mental.
“You get a lot of guys that say they want to do it, and they’ll come into the room,” Benedix noted.
“[But] once they get through their first 10 minutes of cardio, they don’t want any more of it.”