Occasionally my real life job allows me to intersect with professional sports. Last summer, I got a chance to interview Olympic sprinter Jayson Jones after he got back from the Beijing Olympics.
Last week, UFC fighter Brandon Vera came to the military base where I work, and I was assigned to write an article about his visit. The following is the article that appeared in my newspaper about his visit.
Luckily, Brandon was a nice guy, otherwise I would have had to throw down with him. And when I saw "throw down with" I mean "get beaten mercilessly by."
Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight Brandon Vera came to Fort Myer, Va. for a few hours last Monday, for a standard meet-and-greet and a not-so-standard session with Soldiers in Modern Army Combatives.
No stranger to military service, Vera served in the Air Force for three and a half year before being medically discharged with an elbow injury that resulted in nerve damage. He began extensive rehab after being discharged, and three years later fought in his first professional bout.
‘‘The disciplinary part of military service helped me for sure,” Vera said.
‘‘It’s good to be around military folks again.”
The Fort Myer Dining Facility was his first stop, and he set up a table and greeted Soldiers as they came to grab lunch. Before long there was a big crowd around, as glossy photos were signed and cell phone pictures were snapped.
After the lunch crowd died down, Vera headed to the Fort Myer Fitness Center.
That’s where things got interesting.
The large mat used for combatives was ‘‘coincidentally” ready to go, and more than 30 Soldiers had gathered around to learn from a man who makes a living throwing hands.
Soldiers who showed up merely to get an autograph were in for a big surprise, as Vera quickly ordered them to take off their Army Combat Uniform, boots and anything sharp, and join him on the mat. The Soldiers responded quicker than any drill sergeant could have made them, and soon Vera had a class full of Soldiers ready to learn.
He led them in some basic warm-ups, then got down to business.
He demonstrated several moves, and then the Soldiers broke up into pairs to try them out.
Vera played the part of teacher very well, walking around, correcting technique and offering tips on how to perform the moves better.
After his training session, Soldiers were given T-shirts, DVDs and hats, most of which left with Vera’s signature on them. Most Soldiers who attended weren’t currently enrolled in combatives, but Vera certainly provided motivation.
‘‘I came down to meet the UFC fighter, but this was actually the first time I got out on the mat,” said Staff Sgt. Brisa Garcia of the 289th Military Police Company. ‘‘I thought I wouldn’t be able to do many moves, but he made everything pretty simple and I learned a lot.”
After most of the Soldiers left, a few brave souls stuck around to have a go at a professional fighter, and he didn’t disappoint. He grappled with several people for a few minutes each, and not surprisingly, he made most of them tap out.
‘‘I tried to get him while he was tired, but it didn’t work,” said Staff Sgt. Brian Cassidy.
‘He’s real quick. It was fun, but you could tell he was just toying with us.”
Vera said he enjoyed returning to a military installation, even for a day, to help Soldiers work on their unarmed combat skills. He also enjoyed being able to meet so many Soldiers.
‘‘[Combatives] is the basics of what I do every day as a professional athlete, so it’s good to get a strong start,” Vera said.
‘‘Plus, I was in the service, I’m happy to come around and help boost morale. I miss the integrity of the people in the military.”