Armed Forces

Armed Forces


(Props to RWisTheNewBlack.)

FIGHT! Magazine spoke with Lt. Lee Stuckey, U.S. Marine Corps, as part of our special online coverage of Fight Night for the Troops, the first sanctioned mixed martial arts event held in an active combat zone. Stuckey is the man behind the card staged in Mosul, Iraq. For more on the event pick up the Nov. issue of FIGHT! Magazine from one of our many retailers throughout the U.S. and Canada.

First Lieutenant Lee Stuckey of the U.S. Marine Corps will tell you that technically speaking, it was his idea to hold an MMA even in Mosul, Iraq for the troops, but he makes it perfectly clear that without Monica Sanford and Andrea Lucie the even would have never happened at all.
Says Stuckey, “You know, I can have all the good ideas in the world but without somebody backing me and executing it, it’s nothing—it’s just an idea in my head.”

Stuckey has been involved in martial arts as long as he’s been in the Marines—more than a decade. He trained under Sanford’s husband Lt. Col. David Sanford stateside and in Iraq and won his first MMA fight by submission at :34 of the first round at an event Sanford held at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. His current fight record is 2-2. Stuckey became an instructor at the Sanfords’ gym and turned pro under Monica’s management.

In 2008, Sanford arranged for him to audition for Season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter. Stuckey was thrilled but soon realized he had a conflict. Stuckey was scheduled to speak at a conference for the MRAP (mine resistant ambush protected) vehicle that saved his life in Fallujah in 2007 when it was hit with 100 pounds of explosives.

“I was like, ‘I’ve got to get out of this, I want to be on The Ultimate Fighter.’ Finally…I was like, ‘what is wrong with me?’…this is not that important compared to what these people have done for me. I would have been killed if it hadn’t been for this vehicle.”
Stuckey attended the conference and sent in an audition tape to TUF, but never heard back from them. “I was meant to go to Mosul, Iraq and serve a greater purpose,” says Stuckey.

Stuckey has personally found mixed martial arts to be a tremendous help with post-traumatic stress disorder. He took over former Marine and current UFC fighter Brian Stann’s position as a trainer and says, “I got the opportunity to work with the wounded warriors which was phenomenal and get to teach mixed martial arts to these people who are just like me.”

As positive a force MMA is in the military, Stuckey admits there can be some resistance, but that differing opinions is not always such a bad thing. “My biggest thing is that the commanders and the senior enlisted get educated on it and get educated on the benefits from having these people with this warrior ethos in your unit…because all it’s going to do is spread that warrior ethos through your unit. If they’re dedicated and they’re putting that type of training in, which is just so intense, we need to let them do it.”

Ultimately the Fight for Heroes event in Mosul, Iraq went off without a hitch, but Stuckey wasn’t there to witness his idea come to fruition. “My job in the Marine Corps is very demanding and senior leadership thought I needed to be here and I respect their decision. I was there in spirit.”
Stuckey, who trained many of the soldiers who fought in the event, received many emails from soldiers thanking him for the experience after the event. “In the end, my intent was to have a morale-booster for the soldiers and the Marines and the sailors in Iraq…we achieved it.”

In five years, Stuckey sees the influence of MMA in the military expand to include an all-Marine Corps mixed martial arts team. “Obviously the Army’s taking it over and embracing it with Army Combatives; their tournaments are pretty much mixed martial arts and I just hope to see the Marine Corps kind of evolve through that and have that same kind of tournament because it builds that warrior ethos…it shows we are warriors in every sense and it builds that camaraderie.”

Stuckey hopes to fight again at the Hard Rock on Nov. 20.


Nick Palmisciano is the owner of Ranger Up apparel company and a sponsor of numerous MMA fighters. In April of this year, Palmisciano traveled to Nashville, Tenn. to support Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight, Army veteran, and Ranger Up-sponsored fighter Jorge Rivera at Fight Night 18. His story about the experience highlights what we at FIGHT! think are the best aspects of the convergence of mixed martial arts and military culture. We’re offering it now as part of’s special coverage of Fight Night for the Troops, the first sanctioned MMA event held in an active combat zone. For more on the event, pick up the Nov. issue of FIGHT! Magazine from one of our many retailers across the U.S. and Canada.

(Rivera hangs with servicemen in Korea. Props to Ranger Up.)

by Nick Palmisciano

I would have tapped out.

I am a fighter, an Army Ranger, and an entrepreneur. I’ve overcome adversity and never thrown in the towel, but the three days I spent with Jorge Rivera at Ultimate Fight Night 18 were the most humbling moments of my life.

Nearing forty, Rivera was fighting before TapouT-covered-fan-filled stadiums. Rivera had recently lost his seventeen-year-old daughter, Janessa. I could imagine the hurt he must be feeling and I wondered what kind of man could balance that pain with the emotional and mental drain of a fight at this level.

Forty-seven minutes after I land in Nashville I am on my way up to Rivera’s room. As a sponsor, I do my best to stay out of the fighters’ way – it’s my job to support them, not to be the pain in the ass they need to placate – but Rivera insists that I hang out. I knock on the door and momentarily slip back into combat mode when a Talibani answers the door, only to find out it is actually Rivera before his pre-fight shaving ritual. He and his corners – Marc DellaGrotte, Tim Burrill, and Matt Phinney – are sitting in his room enjoying the post weigh-in bliss by watching the History Channel. Apparently it is extremely helpful to learn the inner workings of the Crab Nebula before a fight.

Rivera is a fountain of energy. He shakes my hand about fifteen times and says it’s an honor to meet me. He immediately shows me our logo on all his gear. In every case, as he discusses the shorts, banner, and shirt that will accompany him into the cage, he relays a personal story about the person made each item. He pauses and tears up a little when he tells me that the gentleman who made the banner paid for his daughter’s funeral.

Suddenly Rivera switches gears. “I ate too much,” he says, “I need to go work out. Wanna come? I could use the company.” As we walk we bump into a who’s who of MMA stars. Rivera tells everyone who will listen that I am a former soldier and they should be honored to meet me.
At this point I am thoroughly embarrassed for more reasons than I can write, but am nevertheless amazed by how sincere Rivera is – he is the UFC star here, and yet he places everyone else around him on a pedestal.

(Rivera stealing Kendall Grove. Courtesy of Zuffa, LLC)

We finally arrive at the jiu-jitsu workout room and Rivera hops on the scale. He is 193 already. He weighed in an hour ago at 185.
Jacob “Stitch” Duran walks into the room and Rivera darts after him. After a brief introduction, Stitch asks him if he needs anything for tomorrow. His voice drops a little, “Yeah man. I need a little extra padding on these knuckles,“ he says, pointing to his hand.

“Something wrong there?” Stitch asks.

“Nah, nothing big – just got ‘em pulled apart a little and they’re sore, ya know?” Rivera whispers.

“Ok, whatever you say brother. I got you,” Stitch says with an omniscient smirk.

As Stitch leaves the room, Rivera tells me his hand is broken.

“Don’t tell anyone man. It’s been broken for a month and its really starting to get bad,” Rivera says to me, perhaps forgetting that he just met me an hour ago. Rivera hops onto the mat with Burrill and starts drilling breaking guard and returning to his feet – a skill he would use the following night.

Thirty minutes later we are walking out of the jits room and into the striking room, where a small crowd watches DellaGrotte train Arianny Celeste, Edith Larente, and Mike Goldberg in Thai boxing. While everyone else enjoys the spectacle of watching two genetically perfect women in spandex, Rivera catches Joe Silva, the UFC’s matchmaker. Once again Rivera introduces me in a flattering manner worthy of the Pope or the Dalai Lama, and then points out his corner, Matt Phinney, who is holding the pads for Goldberg.

“You see that kid, Joe? He just won the New England Golden Gloves tournament. First time out, too.” Rivera brags.

“Really,” Silva asks.

“Yeah man. He’s the real deal. Strong high school wrestler with amazing hands – and very respectful,“ Rivera continues, smiling, ”Not a problem child like me – he’s finishing college this year and he’s a smart dude – the kind of guy that would really make the UFC look good.”

“What’s his name,” Silva asks.

“Matt Phinney. I’ll send you an email. You definitely want to keep your eye on him, man,” Rivera says.

“Thanks Jorge. Will do. Good luck tomorrow,” Silva says as he heads out of the room.

His sparring session over, we head back to Rivera’s room. He jumps into to the shower with his straight razor and emerges clean shaven one and announces he is ready for battle. He begins pulling one of our new t-shirts over his head. Halfway through the motion, he flinches a little.

“You alright man?” I asked.

“Yeah, my shoulder’s all messed up. I’m having surgery on Friday.” Rivera responds.

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah man – it’s pretty bad – I have a hard time holding my hand up for too long,” he responds.

The next day, after a spirited “Masshole” night out with DellaGrotte, Phinney, and Burrill, I’m standing with a well-rested Rivera at the fighter’s brief. DellaGrotte has gotten wind that his fighter is hiding a hand injury.

“You need to stay off that hand as much as possible,” DellaGrotte says. “Step back and hit him with the high kick when he moves forward. Ya got me?”

“Absolutely,” Rivera answers.

“I’m serious man – every time you hit him with that bad hand you’ll feel weak and you don’t need to feel weak out there.” DellaGrotte adds, his Boston accent in full swing.

“I’m with you, “Rivera confirms.

After DellaGrotte leaves, I ask, “Is that change gonna mess you up man?”

He smirked. “I’m not doing that shit, Nick. I got knocked out the last time I did that. Trainers have short memories. Fighters don’t.”
I am in no position to argue with him, and I do remember the Terry Martin fight. Martin caught the kick and flattened him. Still…I learned more about Muay Thai in thirty minutes of watching DellaGrotte half-heartedly teach hot chicks how to kick pads than anyone else has been able to impart in my entire life. I worry Rivera is playing with fire.

Hours later, Rivera is standing opposite Nissen Osterneck while I sit next to his brother in the stands. The two fighters exchange a few quick shots and after blocking the first Osterneck shot, Rivera is taken down. His time with Burrill pays off and he is back on his feet quickly. Nevertheless, in short order Rivera is gassing – the emotional build-up has worn him down. Midway through the second round, I am expecting a rough end to a rough year for him.

But every time Osterneck puts Rivera in a bad place, and Rivera appears to be broken, he stands up one more time. He answers every shot with one of his own. He is out of gas and out of adrenaline, but he won’t be broken. “The Conquistador” keeps going on willpower alone.
The fight ends. Rivera took the second round with a monster right, but the other two are too close to call. I feel he won, but I also thought Matt Hammill beat Michael Bisping. Rivera asks the cut men who they thought won – they are split. The announcement finally comes. Rivera wins by split decision and almost collapses with raw emotion. Against all odds, he willed himself to this spot, and now the rush of feelings is completely overwhelming. There is nary a dry eye in the house.

After the fight, Phinney and Burrill find their way to our seats, but Rivera spends the entire show mingling with the fans – thanking them for their support. He refuses to leave anyone pictureless and by the time we leave the stadium, the only restaurant still open in all of Nashville is Hooters. So it’s now midnight at Hooters and Mr. Rivera is ingesting some much needed sliders when he receives a Facebook message on his phone. He is instantly thrilled.

“He forgave me,” Rivera tells me.

“Who?” I ask.

“I used to pick on this kid in high school – I was a real jerk, ya know? There was no reason for it – it wasn’t right. I was a bully. It’s bothered me for years. Last month I finally got a hold of him and I asked him for his forgiveness. He told me he had to think about it and I told him I understood. He just wrote me, Nick. He forgives me. I don’t deserve it, but he forgives me. This is a great night.”

There’s a lot of talk now about the next generation of MMA stars – these guys that have been training MMA since birth. Their jits is better, their striking is cleaner, blah, blah, blah. I was sitting across from an old man by fighter standards that had gone to battle broken – emotionally and physically – and had fought through to victory anyway. And while his peers in the next generation were focused on where the next party was going to be or how much more they could make on their next contract, Rivera was reaching out to another human being and making the world just a little better.

I’ve never been prouder to support a fighter.

(Props to Ranger Up.)


(Natasha Wicks and Dave Farra suit up for battle.)

On Sat., Oct. 17, FIGHT! photographer Paul Thatcher traveled to Mesquite, Nev. for the Xtreme Combat Weekend. The Weekend, a joint venture between Randy Couture’s Xtreme Couture G.I. Foundation and Las Vegas-based amateur MMA promotion Tuff-N-Uff, included paintball games and a fight card at Casablanca Casino to raise money for veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. Thatcher sent us the following report from the front:

Mesquite, Nev. is about an hour to an hour and a half outside of Vegas. It’s hot and dry and that’s where the paintball event took place. Everyone head to toe in army fatigues, with a varied array of custom paintball guns. These guys take this shit seriously…

The first thing I see is a midget in a Ghillie suit. Oh no, it’s Natasha Wicks, in the heat, head to toe in this season’s fall fashion. She’s gearing up for a showdown with Dave Farra from Raw Vegas. It all starts well with some trash talking as they prepare for battle. Natasha taking cover in a bush, Dave bravely out in the open. Pop pop pop….paintballs are now whizzing through the air…….Dave is not a good shot….Natasha rushes forward behind a wall.

Dave pops his head up one too many times and that’s all “One Shot” Wicks needs. Pow! Dave takes one to the side of the head. Natasha is now peeing herself laughing knowing she scored a direct hit. Dave emerges from behind the wall, blood streaming down his face.

Luckily for Dave there’s a medic on hand and the massive blood flow is stopped. He lives to fight on another day…

The fights are being held in a massive tent. Tuff-N-Nuff is an all-amateur show. Junie Browning is here looking in good health. Randy Couture is sitting ringside with special guest Dana White. Frank Mir is here cornering a couple of fighters.

I’m beat, it was a long day out in the sun, with an evening of good fights. It was a good day!

Check out highlights from the weekend here.

(Photo by Sgt. James Hunter)
(Photo by Sgt. James Hunter)

Courtesy of Crawford Communications Inc. Story by Sgt. James Hunter.

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – There was blood, swollen eyes, a knockout or two, and even fights that nearly went the distance, and in the end the Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), were dominant during the combatives tournament Aug. 17-18.

During the tournament, fighters from all over Fort Campbell came to the Passenger Processing Center to demonstrate their combatives, or mixed martial arts, skills.

Of the eight weight classes, Strike Soldiers took first place in five of them. In the flyweight division, 2nd Lt. Michelle LaForest, with 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, took on a fellow Strike Soldier, Staff Sgt. Adam McGhee, for the title. LaForest, who was the only female Soldier to fight in the finals, came into the fight with two quick victories in her previous match-ups. In her first fight, she ended it in approximately 20 seconds after applying a straight arm bar to her opponent.

“He gave me his arm and I just took it and cranked it in,” LaForest said. Though she won with such ease, she was a bit frightened coming into the competition. Only two weeks ago did she find out she would be competing against males in the tournament. When she found out who she would be fighting she thought, “Uh-oh. I’m in trouble.”

But she was never in trouble. Maybe it comes from her martial arts experience in high school or her determination to win, either way she should to all that she could compete with the best. Prior to their fight, LaForest immediately thought she didn’t have a chance because the competitors trained together and knew each others’ strength and weaknesses.

“He’s a better fighter,” said LaForest.

McGhee thinks just as highly of her.

“I’ve been worried since I found out I was fighting her,” McGhee said. “She wouldn’t be in my bracket if she couldn’t hang.”

During the fight, McGhee took immediate control early on, but as the match went on the advantage shifted sides more than once. McGhee found himself in an awkward position when LaForest nearly locked in an arm bar. To his credit, he was able to maneuver out of it and regain control. He found staying calm and collected helped him stray away from defeat.

“Staying calm, and waiting for the opening (is key),” said McGhee, who serves with Company G, 526th Brigade Support Battalion. “That’s the way we trained. If you get too excited you’re going to give up something to the other opponent.”

And that’s what LaForest believes she did.

“I got tired, stopped thinking and I went right into it,” she said.

With one swing, LaForest found herself on the ground. It looked as if she may have tripped over her own feet, but McGhee did land a good punch to knock her off her feet.

“I was tired, he would have won anyways,” LaForest said.

The match was called mid-way through the second round. McGhee was crowned the flyweight champion. However, in the end, those in attendance may have been the real winners.

In the super heavyweight division, the match featured two of the bigger men in the entire competition. One, Ruben Arriaga from the 5th Special Forces Group, seemed to excel on the ground, while the other, Pvt. William Newman from Company C, 2nd BSTB, favored his heavy hands.

Newman came into the match apprehensive but soon collected himself and focused on his game plan. The day prior, Newman studied his opponent’s skills during one of his matches. From that he came up with a game plan. He knew his opponent, Arriaga, was skilled on the mat and he would need to keep the fight standing up in order to take home the title.

However, things didn’t exactly workout like that. Not too long into the match, Arriaga had Newman on the mat, but didn’t seem to totally have the advantage. Newman stayed calm and looked for an opportunity to take the advantage. He found an opportunity to get back to his feet and when he did his opponent lost his balance. Newman gave him some good shots to the kidneys.

“That’s what really broke him down,” said Newman. Newman then caught his opponent square in the face with one heavy fist. He began stumbling and fell to the mat. Newman took advantage of this opportunity and jumped on top of his opponent striking punches to his body and face. The referee jumped in and immediately stopped the match. Newman was crowned the super heavyweight champion.

Newman and McGhee were just two of the five Strike Soldiers who won their respective weight classes.

A lot of the success, according to Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jeremy Phillips, with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd BCT, came from their continuous dedication to training.

Strike Soldiers began training for the event July 7 and met at the Clarksville Mixed Martial Arts Academy four days a week for nearly an hour and focused on Cross Fit training to enhance their cardio. Phillips knew that cardio would be important especially late in a match. If they were too winded, it would be hard to finish the fight victorious.
Throughout their training they also worked hard on submission moves, grappling, boxing/striking drills, ju-jitsu, and arm-trap and roll drills.

Through all their hard work and dedication, it all paid off. Strike Soldiers stood among the rest as champions.

“We finished the fights and did what we had to do to win,” said Phillips.