MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif., --
Coach Mark Geletko and the Fight Club 29 team have grappled their way through numerous bouts and tournaments to make it to the 2011 USA Pankration National Championships and U.S. World Team Trials in Las Vegas June 25, 2011.
Only qualifiers from state and regional finals were offered the opportunity to fight at the Xtreme Couture MMA in Las Vegas for the chance to represent the U.S. in the FILA World Championship in Belgrade, Serbia.
For Fight Club 29, this tournament was a chance for their Marines and sailors to really test themselves against the country’s best in pankration-style fighting.
“We’ve been working hard up to this point,” said Geletko. “They all had to fight their way here, and now we have a shot to make it onto the world team and represent the U.S. in Serbia.”
With Fight Club 29’s eight fighters competing, Geletko’s confidence was high. Fight Club 29 has medaled in all of their tournaments this year and was expected to do the same at nationals.
While the environment was different than those of past tournaments, the same competition was still in the air. The best in the country were here to fight for a national championship title in the famed Xtreme Couture, designed by MMA legend champion Randy Couture.
The fighters fought in the same cages many professional MMA fighters train in. This was an unexpected twist that made the tournament even more of a rare experience for the fighters.
Scheduling delays caused a late start, and gave the fighters’ already-warmed up muscles time to ice. Because of this, the first few matches did not go as well. The early hiccups were cause for concern for the team’s success in the tournament.
But those minor setbacks turned out only to be early tournament jitters, and when the rest of the team rolled in to their matches, things were going their way.
Pankration\Combat Grappling, which is being considered for the 2016 Olympics, is scored and won through body strikes and submissions.
Fight Club 29 made a surge in their striking and pushed forward in the tournament. One match was even won with a “white wash,” where a fighter stops the match prematurely by leading with more than 15 points.
“We’ve been striking very well,” said Geletko. “The fighters trained hard and knew their strengths when going into a match.”
“I could’ve thrown some more knees,” added Dahlen Wilson, a Fight Club 29 athlete about one of his fights. “But at the same time, I knew that guy had a wrestling background. That’s why I didn’t throw as many kicks. I didn’t want to get taken down.”
This forethought and the awareness in recognizing the strength of an opponent helped the club’s journey to nationals.
Under the lights and in the cages where professional MMA fighters train in, Fight Club 29 fought valiantly and won a total of four medals. The team also amassed the most total points and gold medals, earning them the title “Top Team” for the tournament, Geletko said.
James Clark, Dahlen Wilson and Mike Smith won gold medals in their respective weight divisions.
Geletko was named the USA Team Coach due to Fight Club 29’s success and will take the U.S. World Pankration Team, including his own three gold medalists to represent the United States in the FILA World Championship in Belgrade, Serbia, in September.
“I am happy about [the win], but I’m more concerned with this next test that lies ahead of me,” Wilson said. “It’s a big deal. It’s representing the United States of America. I did good here, but I also saw a lot of my mistakes and what I need to work on, so I think I need to turn it up a notch.”