The distance across most MMA cages is approximately 30 feet. For a fi ghter, closing that space represents crossing the point of no return and what happens at the moment of impact can mean victory, defeat, injury and potentially life-changing events, positive or negative.
For Benji Radach, his battleground on an October morning in 2004 was roughly 70 feet – twice the distance of an octagon. But closing that gap wasn’t going to mean a win or loss on his record, but rather the possibility of death. For Radach, that 70 feet was the distance between himself and a gunman holding up a Vancouver, Washington, restaurant.
Radach, his girlfriend, her sister and fellow fighter Dennis Hallman were eating breakfast at Elmer’s Restaurant, having an ordinary morning conversation like millions of Americans do every day. But the extraordinary was about to happen, brought on by a little girl that approached the group’s table in tears.
“This little girl came to our table and was crying ‘He’s got a gun, he’s got a gun’,” Radach explained. “Sure enough, this guy has a gun to (the cashier’s face) and I was stupid enough to think I could get him.”
‘Him’ was a man adorned in sunglasses, hat and face covered by a handkerchief with a gun pointed at the restaurant’s cashier. Radach’s mind immediately clicked into motion, into action, into a place most normal people’s reasoning wouldn’t dare tread.
“When I got up, my girlfriend was yelling under her voice, ‘Benji, no. Benji, no.’ Right when she said that, it was in my head ‘What am I doing?’”, Radach said. “I was already mid-stride and I knew I could get him. It was 100% or no percent. I just went for it. It was one of those things where you can’t half-ass it. I knew when I started, I had to end it violently.”
Radach believed the man’s peripheral vision was minimalized by his headgear and decided to make the approach. Walking quickly and aided by the assailant’s yelling, Radach struck. Fueled by adrenaline, he moved the gun out of the cashier’s face and grounded the gunman. He then used a wristlock to twist the weapon back toward the robber and drove down a vicious right hand that Radach said fractured the man’s top mandible, knocking him out. The police arrived shortly after and a situation that could have ended very badly was avoided.
The events of that morning has nearly mirrored Radach’s MMA career: sudden, unexpected, explosive and most times ending with him knocking someone out. “I think he’s one of the top fi ghters at 185 in the world. This guy embodies everything that is good about the sport in terms of how he handles himself and conducts himself outside the cage or ring,” The Fight Network personality and MMA commentator Mauro Ranallo said. “Benji Radach is a tremendous ambassador for the sport.”
The 30-year-old first started down the MMA trail in 1999, a former wrestler at Castle Rock (WA) High School and competitor at the U.S. Nationals. He began training at the Straight Blast Gym with Robert Follis, current President and head coach of Portland, OR’s Team Quest. There, Radach interacted and worked with some of the most well-known and successful fighters in the business today including Randy Couture, Dan Henderson and Matt Lindland.
“I had watched UFC like a lot of the fi ghters today,” Radach said. “I picked up my fi rst fi ght after a month of training, which was one 15-minute round with a fi ve-minute overtime. It was pure adrenaline, going back to natural reactions, instincts…it was a fi ght, you know? It was a smoke-fi lled room with a balcony all the way around. Everyone’s trashed and screaming. It had a completely different effect than any other place I’ve fought.”
In March of 2001, Radach launched his pro career by winning eight straight fights, most by knockout or ref stoppage due to strikes. He then got his largest showcase to date: a UFC bout against veteran Steve Berger. The May 2002 fight ended in a 1st-round no contest, but Radach would get another chance a month later, taking a unanimous decision over Nick Serra. That fall, he lost via 1st round TKO to eventual Champion Sean Sherk due to a cut which ended up being his last fight in the UFC.
Radach came back to form in 2003, winning four out of five fights, all victories via knockout. However, a broken jaw suffered in a June 2004 loss to a pre-The Ultimate Fighter Chris Leben, put his fi ghting career on hold. It was a bad year for Radach overall as he suffered a herniated disc in his neck, causing extensive muscle loss in his right side, hitting hardest in his pectoral and triceps muscle which atrophied right to the bone. He still is dealing with the after-effects today and is working on regaining full strength in his right hand – a scary prospect for those who have felt that hand at less than 100%.
After compiling a solid record and achieving some success, some might think the injuries would be a sign for the Washington native to leave the fi ght game. Not so, says Radach, who loved MMA too much to leave.
“I think that’s why a lot of these guys are competing today. It’s not because they’re stupid…they love the sport. You see Randy (Couture) competing today at 45 and people think it’s crazy, but he knows nothing else,” Radach said. “That’s what he’s really good at and what he loves. I don’t know what I’d do without it. Between that and knowing I wasn’t done, that kept me going.”
Three years later, Radach resumed his career and joined the new kid on the block, the Internat ional Fight League. With a TV deal in hand, a roster of talented fighters and a brand eager to cash in on the American resurgence of MMA, the IFL was the perfect place for a fresh start. Radach competed for the Los Angeles Anacondas at middleweight and began replicating how he started his career six years prior – hurting people.
Radach won five straight bouts in 2007 with four of them not getting past the first round. Then, in his sixth fight of the year at the IFL’s World Grand Prix Finals, he fell to current UFC fighter Matt Horwich via secondround knockout. As the IFL closed up shop seven months later, Radach was left looking for a place to fight and found another organization looking to challenge the UFC’s dominance: EliteXC.
He signed a three-fight deal and opened up that promotion’s third and arguably most important card on CBS as part of Elite XC: Heat, taking a fight on short notice against veteran Murilo ‘Ninja’ Rua. Rua had won five of his last six fights, but Radach knocked him out in the second round, providing an exciting beginning to what would be a controversial evening and the company’s final major event.
After being stuck for four months under the contractual rubble of EliteXC’s collapse, Radach and 41 other fi ghters fi nally found some daylight in February with the announcement that Strikeforce had made a purchase of some of the organization’s assets.
They immediately put two of their new investments into action, making Radach vs. Scott Smith (14-5) a main attraction on their return to Showtime on April 11th. It promises to be an exciting fight between two sluggers that have a combined 26 knockouts in their 42 career fights.
“It probably won’t go the distance. Whoever lands real good is going to have the other guy hurting,” said Radach, who splits training time between American Top Team, Team Quest, and HB Ultimate.
It is a balancing act for the 19-4 Radach, who keeps a full-time job for LA Boxing, a nationwide fitness chain focusing on boxing, kickboxing and MMA. He is the Corporate Director of Instructor Training, responsible for finding
instructors for new and existing locations and then certifying them to teach classes. He got the position through a recommendation from the IFL, of which the company was a sponsor.
He trains during the day while at work and trains at night at various local gyms, while mixing in cross-country travels to the company’s various United States locations. But while it can difficult to keep such a hectic schedule, there are many who believe that Radach’s potential is enough reason to keep him plodding through it.
“No less an authority than Bas Rutten has claimed he has the power and skills to maybe be the man to knock off Anderson Silva one day,” Ranallo said. “You have to consider him p o u n d – f o r – pound, one of the hardest hitters in the sport.”
And while visions of putting 185ers to sleep may dance in Radach’s head, there is another hardhitter out there that he immediately mentioned when asked who he’d love to see across the ring from him one day, someone people might compare to being more dangerous than a man with a gun.
“Honestly, I’d love to fi ght Fedor (Emelianenko) just because he’s the man, the best in the world,” Radach said. “He’s defi nitely the most dangerous, baddest dude on the planet. I just feel I can do better than the people that have fought him so far.”