Plenty of fighters are looking to step into Bellator’s circular cage. | File photo: Keith Mills
PHILADELPHIA -- The scene inside Daddis Fight Camps on Saturday afternoon was something straight out of a movie.
About 60 fighters descended on the gym with training partners, significant others and various entourage members in tow for Bellator Fighting Championships’ latest open tryout. Bellator matchmaker Sam Caplan started the proceedings by telling the hopefuls that there would be no winner announced on this day. Nonetheless, the goal for every fighter remained the same: Impress the Chicago-based promotion’s brass enough to earn a contract and catapult their career.
The fighters’ stories ran the gamut, men and women with varying levels of experience faced with different situations. Cast in the underdog role was light heavyweight Anton Talamantes, a native of Fort Wayne, Ind., who made the nine-hour drive to Philly solely for the tryout. The 4-1 Talamantes could be seen off by himself in the corner of the gym, seemingly contemplating the enormity of the situation in front of him.
“It’s just something I’ve been doing for a long time,” Talamantes told Sherdog.com after tryouts. “I haven’t really felt like I’ve gotten a shot to show what I can do. I looked at it as an opportunity to see what’s out there and hopefully get in front of some people that will see something there, that will give me the chance to do big things in MMA.”
On the other end of the spectrum was Erik Herbert. Like Talamantes, 25-year-old Herbert made a long trek, coming in from Buffalo, N.Y., for the event. However, his current professions as an aspiring fighter and full-time college student pale in comparison to what he was doing before.
“I was a military police officer in the Marine Corps,” Herbert said. “I got selected for special duty. I guarded Marine One, which is the President’s helicopter. It’s the green helicopter with the white top. It was awesome. I got to go all over the world and support President [George W.] Bush.”
Then there was Daddis Fight Camp featherweight Jackson Galka, who referred to his participation in the tryout as being “on a lark.” Less than a week out from a bout with New Jersey’s Cage Fury Fighting Championships, Galka took the opportunity without really thinking twice.
“The risk is pretty low. Competitively, I think you have to be game,” explained Galka. “You’re either a competitor or you’re not. It’s at my gym. I’m here training anyway. Why not? That’s the question I’d ask. Why wouldn’t I do this?”
For Galka, it’s also a story of jumpstarting a career which never had a chance to fully blossom. Almost as soon as he turned pro, Galka was put on the shelf for two years after a serious back injury.
“I got back into the cage in June, had a very low level fight and took a huge pay cut. This fight is still less than I would’ve been making had I not gotten injured,” he said. “I’m at a junction in my life where I can either go in one direction and pursue the administrative stuff at Daddis Fight Camps as a full time career, or I make my run professionally.”
The man who will eventually decide who gets a call back and who doesn’t, Sam Caplan, hears all the stories. These are fighters trying to establish themselves and anything that helps them stand out certainly helps. But it’s also about results.
“For me, it’s not necessarily about looking for people that are entertainers. It’s people that go in and fight to win as opposed to fighting not to lose,” Caplan said. “You see that on some of these smaller shows with guys going in there. They get nervous. It’s a little more than they expected and they’re just fighting to survive. We want people that are going to go in there not looking to win a points battle in front of the judges.”
It’s with those expectations in mind that an event like Saturday’s tryout could potentially be even more nerve-wracking than an actual fight. Perform well enough in front of the right people and the rest of your career could be set. It’s the reason most of the fighters echoed those sentiments when asked about nerves.
“It’s actually a funny question,” Galka remarked. “I was just talking to my teammate and I was saying I feel a little bit more nervous for the tryouts because I’m surrounded by my peers. They’re going to be able to pick up on all the mistakes I make. It’s sort of like a pecking order thing. In a fight, I’m in front of family and friends. They don’t really get the subtleties of everything. They just want to see a good show.”
Herbert even likened the pressure he faced at the tryout to that which he felt while serving the country.
“It was crazy because you see yourself on CNN or FOX News and it’ll only be for a second,” Herbert mentioned, “but you’ll see yourself there and if you just even touch your face or if you’re leaning instead of being straight up, the whole world sees it. It’s the reputation of Marine One. There’s definitely a lot of scrutiny there. I honestly haven’t felt pressure like today probably since back then.”
“I think it is more pressure because you have to show your best,” said Kaline Medeiros, one of two women who competed. “You’re trying to get into the big show in Bellator. I think it’s more pressure than just a fight.”
“Honestly, no,” Team Jorge Gurgel’s Jason Butcher deadpanned. “I felt great today. It’s grappling and I’m super comfortable with my jiu-jitsu. I felt like I was going to do well.”
The goal for each fighter in that room Saturday was obvious. They want to fight for Bellator. The scope of their dreams ranged from the simple to the more complex.
“I’m trying to leave with a contract, honestly,” said Butcher, quite possibly the most relaxed of all the fighters in the room.
“Just being here, I’m honored just to compete with other guys,” said Ring of Combat veteran Whitney Jean-Francois. “I’m just trying to do my best to advance, but if I don’t, it’ll be a good experience.”
“I just want to be on the undercard,” Herbert conceded. “I’ll sell as many tickets as I can. I’ll fight my ass off. If I lose, thank you for the opportunity. If I win? Give me another one. If I put together some wins, I would love to be in that tournament.
“The tournament is life-changing. I fought guys that have fought on Bellator before and beat them, and with that being said, I would just want an undercard opportunity and maybe it goes from there. If not, no regrets.”