Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. --
The blaring noise of a buzzer filled the stuffy dojo, muffling the sound of leather-gloved fists pounding punching bags. Five sweaty men ceased their activities and shifted clockwise to a different striking station, continuing their vigorous workout.
These men are only a few members of the Combat Center Mixed Martial Arts team called Fight Club 29.
This club, which is managed by Mark M. Geletko, Headquarters Battalion sergeant major, is one that sharpens hand-to-hand combat skills of experienced fighters.
Members in the club have fighting experience ranging from wrestling and Ju Jitsu to boxing and Muay Thai, said Geletko, a Pittsburgh native.
“These guys all have some sort of fighting background,” he said. “We fight in all different types of tournaments.”
Geletko, the striking coach, competed in many boxing and Muay Thai tournaments before retiring from fighting in 2000.
The grappling coach, John Romero, Improvised Explosive Device defeat instructor with Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group, is experienced in Brazilian Ju Jistu.
Both coaches enthusiastically train team members in anticipation of tournaments.
The Armed Forces Pankration Championships at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., the most recent tournament Fight Club 29 participated in, took place May 17.
The tournament gave team members Jeff Perez and Omar Askew the chance to show their opponents what they are made of. Each walked away with a gold medal for his weight class - Perez in the welter weight class and Askew in the light-heavy weight class.
Other Fight Club 29 members brought home a silver medal and two bronze medals. Perez, a former team leader with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, finished his active duty service June 5. He spent his last day in the Marine Corps grappling Romero and taking away some last-minute guidance.
Perez, who attributes collegiate wrestling as his primary fighting background, said he plans on returning to his hometown, Boston, and continue training to become a professional MMA cage fighter.
Askew, a paralegal clerk with Bravo Company, Headquarters Battalion, is training hard for an upcoming boxing tournament in Los Angeles June 29. Although Askew, an Atlanta native, has been a team member for only four months, he said he believes his experience and training from the team will give him the edge he needs to succeed in future tournaments.
“Sergeant major is a great leader on the matt and off the matt,” said Askew. “This is a great organization with great benefits and even greater Marines. They keep you out of trouble, give you something to do and train you for bigger, better competitions - mentally and physically.”
Geletko agrees, saying the members of the club are usually too busy training to get in trouble.
“They are tired at the end of the day,” he said. “I know I am.”
Geletko, who built the program from the ground up in 2005, is training Askew, as well as three others, for the upcoming boxing tournament. A second Pankration tournament is scheduled to take place in Santa Ana, Calif., sometime in July, said Geletko.
Geletko said he and Romero will cross-train their team members for that tournament to assure they have solid techniques and conditioning.
“We do the conditioning circuit course three times each practice period for three minutes each,” said Geletko. “Most of our guys have ground fighting backgrounds like wrestling, so we’re trying to bring
them up to speed on striking.” The circuit course includes at least four striking stations and at least two grappling stations, he added.
Romero, a Phoenix native, said he believes coaching and improving the fighting skills of already advanced fighters is a task he takes pride in.
“This goes right along with the warrior ethos of the Marine Corps,” said Romero. “They are already warriors and we are just giving them better skills than they get in [the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program].”
Romero, who was a coach in Camp Pendleton since 2006 before transferring here in April, encourages any experienced fighters interested in advancing their training to come by the Marine Corps Communication- Electronics School dojo between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. for a tryout practice period.
“Don’t let being stuck in the desert stop you from doing what you want to do,” said Romero.
Geletko said he is grateful for the support he has been given from other base organizations and personnel, specifically Skip Best from Marine Corps Community Services Sports.
Geletko said since he will be on station for two more years and live in the area after his retirement, he hopes the program will continue to grow and give service members with experience a chance to progress in their training and skills.
To learn more about Fight Club 29, call Geletko at 830-6330.