Mixed Martial RA Rules the Ring


Author: Soo Jin Kim

Since becoming a professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter, Connor Bell (junior) has fractured his jaw and nose, separated some ribs, gotten stitches for his face and eyebrows, and had his chin glued back together after he split it open. But the day after his most recent fight, he looked good – there were no cuts, bruises, black eyes, broken limbs, or body parts that stuck out at a strange angle. Looking at him, one wouldn’t really think that he’s an MMA fighter who just returned from winning a match. He seemed mellow and friendly, a typical Oxy student, not the type of guy who would become a professional fighter at the age of 19 – not a deadly human fighting machine with a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and extensive training in wrestling, boxing, Muay Thai and Jujitsu.

As the name of the sport suggests, MMA is about bringing all different types of martial arts to the cage. Martial arts that MMA incorporates include, but are not limited to, Muay Thai kick boxing, boxing, wrestling, Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Jujitsu and Brazilian jujitsu. Unlike a boxer, who has to excel only at boxing, an MMA fighter must be proficient in many different types of martial arts to be able to compete and force his opponent to submit.

“It’s the ultimate test of will between two guys. It’s going back to that gladiatorial mindset, with the gladiators going to fight each other,” said Bell. “It’s just the fact that it’s crazy, it’s awesome, and it’s fun for me too.”

Bell was first drawn into MMA at the age of 16 when, while attending military school, an instructor showed him a fight. The fight was the season finale of “The Ultimate Fighter,” a “Survivor”-type reality television show in which upcoming fighters compete to win a contract with the Ultimate Fighting Champion league. Viewers watch as the fighters live together, train and spar over the course of several weeks. The show sparked Bell’s interest, and he decided to pursue the sport. So when he returned to public school for his junior year, Bell started learning jujitsu, and soon became a full-fledged MMA fighter.

Bell trains six days a week, and when he has to stay at the gym for long periods of time, he brings his work along with him. “I’d be there [on the gym training mats] with my Japanese flash cards, reading, and writing papers on my laptop. Everyone would be looking at me as if I’m crazy, but I have to get it done,” he said with a laugh. In addition to his fighting and academics, Bell has one more commitment – he’s been a Resident Advisor for the past two years. As a sophomore he served in Braun Hall and this year he is in Stearns. Dedicated to the roles of student, fighter, and RA, simultaneously juggling all three can sometimes prove difficult to handle. “It’s really about time management and knowing your limits,” said Bell.

But it’s not all business. The cage fighting RA has a goofy side, too. When a hypnotist came to Thorne Hall earlier in the semester, Bell volunteered to be hypnotized, and by the end of the night he was flailing up and down the stage, singing the American national anthem in Japanese. He has also requested to have funnier songs played as his introduction music in the ring, like the Power Rangers theme song. And believe it or not, his nickname is “Sweet Connor Bell” – pretty unbelievable for a guy who dedicates himself to pounding guys with nothing but his bare hands. According to his friends, Bell is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. During our interview, the battery in my voice recorder ran out, and he went out of his way to find me a new one.

“People are intimidated by MMA fighters, but Connor’s a pretty goofy guy and pretty cool,” said friend Todd Mark (junior). “[But] he’s [also] really disciplined about fighting and about being a RA.”

To his ResLife co-workers, Bell’s MMA skills boost his reliability as an RA. “It’s nice to have someone who can physically back you up. You can feel safe with him being upstairs . . . you don’t mess around with Connor,” said HC of Stearns Mandla Gobledale (senior) with a laugh. “We’re not supposed to be physical with a student, ever, but if there were a physical altercation between a student and a non-campus person, or if someone was being violent or threatening, Connor would come in very handy.”

Nick Saade (junior), Bell’s friend and sometimes training partner, agreed. “I mean, who wants to disobey policy when your RA knows eight ways to turn you into a pretzel?” he joked.

Though students should have no need to fear, Bell is indeed a formidable fighter. During his most recent match in Pomona on Friday, Nov. 20, Bell won by decision (the more skilled fighter – the winner – is declared by the judges’ decision if neither competitor is knocked out at the end of three rounds). “There wasn’t a moment in the fight where it looked like he would be in a dominant place,” said Bell of his opponent. During the fight, Bell’s opponent landed only one solid hit, and though the other fighter was bigger than him, Bell always had control of the fight.

“It was a good fight,” said Bell. “[My trainer and I] worked my game plan really well, and I won the fight, so I can’t really complain.” He smiles, “There’s no rush like the rush of fighting like that. I’ve never felt anything like that – the adrenaline rush leading up to it and afterwards . . . everything’s just incredible.”

A number of Bell’s friends from Oxy traveled to Pomona to watch, and Residence Life subsidized the tickets with programming money. “It was really intense,” said Saade, who attended the fight. “He was very calm and calculating, very technical. It was really intense to see a good friend of mine in a fight.”

“It was by far the most exciting thing I’ve been to in my life – it was crazy,” said Bell’s friend Gonzalo Villasmil (sophomore). “It was a solid fight. You could tell that he won; you could tell that he handled him [the opponent]. He was the better fighter.”His match was also attended by his parents, who flew in from Phoenix, Arizona to see him fight. “My parents are super supportive and my Dad hasn’t missed a fight,” said Bell with a smile. Bell explains that his family was hesitant at first, but still receptive of his desire to participate in the sport – despite the fact that his decision renders him the black sheep of the family. “My older brothers [have] pursued law school and the other, his dreams on Broadway. They’re doing really cool and respectable things, so I can kinda be like the crazy one and get away with it.”

Since his family met his training team (who Bell describes as “some of the best group of guys I’ve ever met – they’re just class all the way”) and have seen the amount of time and dedication Bell has put into his sport, they’ve grown to love it as much as him. “They really enjoy and respect it and are really proud,” said Bell. “It’s nothing but support, really. I’m very fortunate in that aspect.”

However, his family is not without concern – and with good reason. MMA is a dangerous sport, and fighters often incur major injuries. According to Bell, fighters often suffer concussions, dislocated knees, snapped joints and shin bones, shoulder injuries, torn ACLs, and broken knuckles, to name just a few. Fighters who are stubborn enough to not tap out when they are submitted into a choke hold by the opponent have been known to pass out due to lack of oxygen (and referees have had to tap them out instead).

But Bell is accepting of the danger and the possibility of injury, and un-phased by the threat of pain. “It’s weird, but [getting hit in the face] doesn’t hurt that much, if that makes any sense,” said Bell. “What hurts are body shots.” He explains that because of the adrenaline rush, getting hit in the head during the fight only results in getting your brain rattled, losing sight for a second, and losing focus for a bit, but getting hit in the body – especially near the lungs – knocks the wind out of you. However, the head hits
don’t go unnoticed for long. “Granted it’s only during the fight [that they don’t hurt] – afterwards you get a headache,” he admitted.

Bell emphasizes that the source of his bravery lies in his confidence of his abilities. “The more prepared you are, the harder you train, the harder you condition, the more you control, and the more variables you put in your favor, the safer you’re going to be, and the more in control of the fight you’ll be,” he said. “People don’t understand that it’s not just two people going crazy; it’s not a street fight. The athletes that do this sport . . . the amount of dedication that it takes is incredible.”

When he fights, Bell displays the sport’s strategy masterfully. There are, in the most general sense, two terms used to describe the types of moves used in MMA; submissions and strikes. Submissions are anything that a fighter does to make his opponent quit. Different types of chokes, locks, and cranks that force the opponent’s body into a highly uncomfortable position are used to make the opponent “submit.” Strikes are anything that a fighter does to “strike out” at his opponent, including punching, elbowing, and kicking. Head-butting is just about the only thing that’s against the rules. Some of Bell’s favorite moves to use are the “ground-and-pound,” and the “Anaconda choke.” The ground-and-pound is a move where the fighter pins his opponent onto the ground, gets in a dominant position on his back, and starts to strike him in the face. In the Anaconda choke, another submission technique, a fighter snakes his arm underneath and around the opponent’s head – closing around his neck, does a ‘gator roll’ so that the opponent is on his back, and starts to cut off air supply. “It’s one of the first submissions that I really got comfortable using back when I was doing jujitsu – it was one of the moves I was able to do to tap out a lot of guys who were older and better than me at the time,” said Bell.

And so, after the fractured jaw and nose, the separated ribs, the stitches on his face and eyebrows, and the glued together chin, Connor Bell fights on – all because, according to him, “it’s just kind of fun [to do].”

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