Primetime for ‘Juggernaut’

Published 8:36 pm Thursday, December 10, 2009

Antwain Britt started taking martial arts classes five years ago without any thought of being competitive, let alone becoming a pro mixed martial arts fighter.

Next Saturday, Dec. 19, Britt will be the first mixed martial arts, or MMA, fighter from Hampton Roads to fight on national, live television.

Britt, who works and trains at two-month-old Suffolk MMA, has an 11-2 record as a light-heavyweight professional going into a bout against Scott Lighty in San Jose, Ca. The fight, sanctioned by Strikeforce, will be broadcast on Showtime at 10 p.m.

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Britt, a graduate of Indian River High School, wrestled at the high school and collegiate level, but after his collegiate career ended he gained weight.

“I was really heavy, about 310 pounds, and I went into (martial arts) to lose weight. After school, I really became out of shape,” said Britt.

“I just wanted to do it as an outlet and as a way to get my weight down. Then it turned out I was pretty good at it,” said Britt.

Soon, Britt’s coach, Buck Grant, got Britt interested in fighting. In five amateur fights, Britt went undefeated with four knockouts. Britt, also known as “The Juggernaut,” is now three years into his professional career.

Of his 11 professional victories, Britt, who is primarily a kickboxer, has eight first-round knockouts. One of his biggest wins was also his fastest. Britt knocked out Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Antonio Mendez in eight seconds.

“I was the underdog going into the fight, but I just came out with a flurry of punches and dropped him,” said Britt.

Mixed martial arts fighting combines wrestling, boxing, kickboxing, submission holds, karate, jiu-jitsu and many other styles of martial arts. Britt calls it “the evolution of combat sports.”

Gary Taylor, owner of Suffolk MMA, accurately calls it “the fastest growing sport in the world” and said MMA has “a small, but passionate following.”

Britt is the head kickboxing instructor at Suffolk MMA on East Constance Road.

“We opened this school because there was nothing else like this in the area,” said Britt.

“There are a good number of people who do MMA around here, but they had to drive to Virginia Beach or further to train.

“It was a great idea to bring a school to this area. It’s helping out with the awareness of MMA and giving guys the opportunity to train over here,” said Britt.

Britt, 31, signed with Strikeforce in September and the contest against Lighty is his first in Strikeforce. Strikeforce is based in San Jose, Ca. and has broadcast deals with Showtime and CBS.

Britt fights at 205 pounds, the upper limit of the light heavyweight division. Lighty will also likely weigh-in right at 205 pounds.

“He also comes from a kickboxing background,” said Britt. “It should be a really good striking battle, a really good stand-up war.”

Britt usually trains around 230 pounds and diets down to make weight for a fight. Between the weigh-in and the fight a day later, Britt puts on up to 15 pounds before stepping into the cage.

“It’s actually not hard at all,” said Britt.

“This is such an interesting weight class because at 205, you’re fighting guys who are as quick as the smaller guys, but as strong as heavyweights,” said Britt.

With his 11-2 record, but as a rookie starting out in Strikeforce, Britt is “a few good wins” from nearing the top of the light heavyweight class. Lighty enters the fight 5-0 as a professional. Lighty’s won his last two fights by first-round TKOs.

“I’ve been told I’m about four fights from getting to within title contention, so I’m excited about that,” said Britt.

Britt constantly stays in excellent condition, but specifically trains for a fight for 6-8 weeks leading up to the date. Not much changes with his teaching schedule at Suffolk MMA.

“All of the coaches here are very good and they help me out and fill in for me when I can’t be here. We have a lot of really good instructors here,” said Britt.

The training leading up to a fight, Britt says, is more about sharpening specific skills versus having to actually get in shape.

“I feel I’m pretty well-rounded. I train for every aspect of where a fight could go,” said Britt.

Britt is working on adding more Brazilian jiu-jitsu to his abilities. “There are so many ins and outs that it takes years and years to be proficient at it,” said Britt. Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a martial art focusing on grappling, ground fighting and submission holds.

As a pro, Britt’s travelled to Aruba, the Dominican Republic, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Canada.

“I feel real blessed to experience the things I have experienced,” said Britt.

Britt heads to San Jose on Wednesday. There will be media responsibilities and the weigh-in before Saturday night’s fight.

“I zone it out, but it’ll be a packed house. There will be 20,000 people there,” said Britt.

“It’s definitely a huge deal to have a local guy on the big stage,” said Taylor.

Back at Suffolk MMA, Taylor and all of Britt’s students will be as excited as everyone in San Jose. There’s going to be a viewing party at Suffolk MMA to watch Britt’s fight. The public is invited to come by on Saturday night to watch, join the party, and even learn more about MMA. If Britt was on hand for the party, he could tell anyone why martial arts is a good, healthy idea, even without being competitive about it. That’s how he started.