Coronavirus and Combat Sports Fighters: How is it Affecting Them?

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 11: Damien Brown of Australia warms up backstage during the UFC 221 event at Perth Arena on February 11, 2018 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

The worldwide pandemic of coronavirus has turned many facets of everyday life upside down. Cities have enacted curfews, borders have been closed to help contain the virus, and the combat sports world has been in a dry spell of fights. Everyone has been affected by coronavirus differently, but one group that is being hurt are fighters themselves.

Fighters have not only had fights cancelled but training regimes have been affected with many gyms closing down or reducing hours. That, in turn, has left many fighters unable to make a living fighting or as coaches. MMASucka talked exclusively with fighters all over the world to see how coronavirus has affected them personally and professionally.

Johnny Case

It’s too bad that Johnny Case can’t put a beating on coronavirus like he did to Satoru Kitaoka. Photo courtesy of RIZIN FF.

Johnny “Hollywood” Case (27-7-1) is a fighter who has been around the block. The lightweight fighter has fought in the UFC, RIZIN, and is now expected to compete in the PFL’s 1 million tournament this year. Originally from Iowa, he now lives in Las Vegas and trains at Xtreme Couture and coaches at Venum Gym. Out of the fighters, we talked to, he said very little has changed in his life professionally and personally.

“I still train. I still coach,” he said. “The only change is you go to pick up something all the dickheads panic bought everything. It’s just a minor annoyance at that.”

PFL is supposed to start their season in June. With the way things are now in the combat sports world, Case said he wouldn’t be surprised if PFL gets postponed like other promotions. “I have a hard time believing it’s not going to be affected.”

Jake Heun

Jake Heun, dressed as Starlord, will not be able to put on a show for the audience due to coronavirus. Photo courtesy of RIZIN FF.

Jake “Honeybear” Heun (15-9) has made a name for himself not only for his entertaining fights but his entertaining walkouts in RIZIN. Whether it is coming out dressed as Starlord or Tony Manero, he always wants to put on a show for the fans.

The coronavirus pandemic has made life anything but entertaining for the heavyweight fighter. Originally from Alaska, he now trains at the Absolute MMA Academy in Australia alongside Lachlan Giles and Craig Jones. However, training will be on hiatus for a while. “Gym has closed indefinitely,” he said.

Heun was looking forward to possibly having his first fight in 2020 in April, but that is postponed potentially due to Australia’s recently announced travel restrictions.

“[I] can’t be sure my April fight is gonna happen,” he said.

According to Heun, people are buying up everything on the store shelves. “Everyone is losing their goddamn mind.”

Roque Martinez

Roque Martinez is hoping coronavirus doesn’t disrupt his training regimen. Photo courtesy of RIZIN FF.

One country that hasn’t been hit hard by coronavirus is Guam. The official number stands at 14 positive tests as of this writing. RIZIN heavyweight and DEEP Megaton Champion Roque Martinez (15-5-2) has become one of his country’s most respected fighters. Fighting out of the Spike 22 team, he has said his training has not been affected by the virus yet. “It hasn’t affected training yet and I sure hope it doesn’t. But at the end of the day, I will support whatever it takes to help stop the virus from spreading. And hopefully, not far down the line, everything can go back to normal,” he said.

Martinez can also speak from a promoter’s point of view. He helped promote the inaugural Brawl combat sports show in Guam this month. They had fighters from South Korea and Japan on the card, two countries that had been first affected by the coronavirus. He said there was some discussion about whether to replace the fighters.

“We actually followed up with both teams and also our immigrations here on Guam. The Koreans actually flew themselves into Guam almost 2 weeks early and just decided to let them in to go through with the flight. Guam is a big tourist destination for both Japan and Korea and we still had a good amount of tourists flying in around the time the fighters flew in.”

Damien Brown

Damien Brown is worried the pandemic will hurt future opportunities to get a fight booked. Photo courtesy of RIZIN FF.

Australian fan favourite Damien Brown (19-13) has been wanting to get back in the ring for RIZIN since his last fight in October 2019. With travel restrictions though, he said promotions are very wary of booking international fighters.

“No one is booking fights,” he said. “International travel is taking fights off the card for most options. Promotions seem hesitant to book fights because of further future restrictions. I’m currently a free agent and [it’s] not looking like opportunities are going to pop up for a long while or until this is past.”

Brown also operates his own gym, Base Training Center. He said that classes are operating as usual but that hygiene measures have increased.

Henrry Cejas

Henrry Cejas has noticed a drop in students at his gym. Photo courtesy of Rizin FF

Henrry Cejas (17-7-2) was born in Bolivia but now lives in Japan where he is one of the top 135 pound kickboxers. He trains kickboxing at Brazilian Thai under Danilo Zanolini and coaches at his own gym, Samurai Kickboxing Gym. Cejas said he noticed a significant drop in students due to the coronavirus. “My students in my gym have dropped 50 percent,” he said.

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