Student fights stereotypes as first MMA show hits campus

Jake Munn decided to make his official fight debut with only four weeks’ notice.

Now, the third-year University of New Brunswick student who pumped up the crowd of L-Jack Promotions’ first ever MMA show back in July is ready to jump back in the cage for a second go on Oct. 21.

This time it’s at the Aitken University Centre — giving home turf a whole new meaning for the 23-year-old.

“I’m excited, all the students are in town for this one,” he said.

“I live right down the road so it’s literally like having someone walk right into my place, my city.”

Munn is busier than the average student. While pursuing a bachelor of recreation and sports studies, he somehow makes time to work two jobs, spend time with his long-term girlfriend, get to the gym and specifically train for upcoming battles in the octagon.

But on Oct. 21, it will all come down to one important duty: getting another win.

“You don’t want to sit and focus on it too much. I know where I’m at in my training, I know where I want to be,” Munn said.

“I try not to think about the fight too much, you try not to get too absorbed in it. I’m excited for it but there’s always those nerves … Anything can happen but I’m confident.”

Munn has been swept into the city’s combat sports scene which is rapidly growing. In March, the City of Fredericton finally voted to allow combat sporting events to take place in municipally-owned buildings.

But the sport had already been making its mark on the province long before then. In 2016, local professional boxer Brandon “L-Jack” Brewer hosted two major events at the Aitken Centre and a third this past spring.

With 3,500 screaming boxing fans piling into the AUC for the first time in 40 years, Brewer and his team saw a grander opportunity waiting.

In July, L-Jack Promotions hosted its first MMA event, rounding up local guys to fill the card. Brewer said it was a different kind of successful because of the homegrown feel, packing the Grant Harvey Centre full of fans.

Now, L-Jack MMA is back, this time at the AUC, and Brewer is excited to show the city more of what well-organized teams and well-prepared athletes can do.

“I’m excited because it’s the first-ever MMA event on campus,” Brewer said.

It’s also the last Fredericton-area event for the team this year.

“We’re going to make sure we’re going out out with a bang, and I’m excited to have all the students at school, on campus, and to present something pretty exciting for them before they go home for Christmas.”

The first event was a shock for the city as no one knew what to expect, much like Munn himself. After rushing to get conditioned, he had his opponent Kalem Furey bleeding near the left eye within the first minute. Munn went on to beat Furey by technical knockout just 16 seconds into the second round.

Though the opportunity came out of the blue, Munn said he’s happy how things have turned out.

“It was hard to turn down the first full MMA event here. Seeing those posters when they first came out was like, ‘Well, they’ve already got their card and I’m not in fighting shape,’” he said.

“But part of me was just like, ‘I want to be on that so bad,’ … I had to take it.”

With only four weeks to reach superior conditioning the first time around, Munn has been working hard to make every second count the last two and a half months.

“It’s been really good. The training’s going good … [I have a] minimal social life right now but I’m busy and it feels good. Not a lot of time to sit around and waste, just squeeze in as much training as I can,” he said.

Brewer said having local young guys like Munn involved has upped the community’s excitement.

“The hunger was there and after they’d seen the awesome show everybody put on, there was hunger on both sides … There’s hunger in the fans.”

Breaking barriers

An obstacle for athletes like Brewer and Munn has been convincing those who still think combat sports, especially boxing and MMA, are “blood sports,” Munn said. But he insisted the discipline and training required to excel are what make it the exact opposite.

“People who are trained and spend that time training, [they] don’t go out looking for fights,” he said.

“You’re training yourself two and three times a week to be in that situation and you realize the level of danger that is there, regardless of how talented you are. It’s a huge risk.”

Brewer, who is in the process of trying to open a fully-equipped combat sports and wellness facility in Fredericton, said the combination of awareness and well-organized events has helped break down the barriers.

“Combat sports in general, it’s part of our culture now. It brings good things. The public’s perception of it is completely backwards,” he said.

“They see barbarians, but really, when you sit down and meet an athlete, a guy who’s dedicated and doing things the right way, they’re usually the most humble people and the hardest working people, the most well-mannered people.”

They’re not alone in the fight to open eyes and heighten awareness. The Oct. 21 event will be a busy one, full of local talent.

Munn will take on first-timer Richard Giannini. It will be one of 10 other bouts, three of which are professional matches, with 18 out of the 22 fighers hailing from the Maritimes. 

Fight of his life

As for Munn, he’s been fighting in one way or another his whole life.

As an overweight kid, Munn used martial arts as an outlet growing up. After his mother died when he was 18, he stopped, but it didn’t take long for him to circle back.

Having started with karate and moving to boxing, taekwondo, jiu-jitsu and judo, he’s spent a lot of blood, sweat and tears. But he said it’s made him stronger in more ways than just fighting.

“Team sports are great, but with mixed martial arts, it’s just you. You’re the only one who can make things happen for yourself,” Munn said.

“You have to push yourself to the limits in so many ways, it makes you more disciplined, it makes you more confident, it makes you aware of what you can really do.”

Training multiple times a week, Munn said, it allows all the emotions that build up under the stress of school, work and life to be released.

“Most people think, ‘Oh, he’s a fighter, he must be a really aggressive dude.’ They’re the last people to start [fights],” he said.

“It’s mixed martial arts, it’s an art … It’s beautiful, it’s incredible to watch someone apply all their knowledge and execute all these technical skills so fluently.”

For many of the athletes who go through the New Brunswick scene, combat sports become much more than a hobby or a way to make extra money.

For people like Munn, it’s becoming a lifestyle that helps develop who they are as a person.

“You really can’t understand it when you’re on the outside looking in. It’s hard to understand the amount of comradery, it’s like a brotherhood,” Munn said.

“When you’re training with people to that intensity and pushing yourself to that limit, it’s hard to describe the kind of bond that that builds and the dedication it takes to go in there to push yourself to that limit all the time.”

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