It’s noon on a Saturday. Approximately 200 barefoot men are filling a South Philly gym. Large black mats line the floors and the smell of sweat is beginning to permeate the room. The same concentrated expression can be found on all of the men’s faces, and onlookers are taking caution as the sound of legs and arms hitting mats and pads is heard from each direction.
Bellator Fighting Championships, one of the biggest Mixed Martial Arts organizations in the business, hosted open tryouts at Daddis Fight Camps. The gym is located at 17th and Washington streets, and registration began at 12:30 p.m. with tryouts at 1:30 p.m. Fighters from as far away as Puerto Rico gathered for the chance to get signed by Bellator and become the next mixed martial arts champion.
Bellator Fighting Champions chose Daddis Fight Camps as the venue for its wide-open space and its credibility in the Philadelphia area. The gym is owned by Brad Daddis, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitor and mixed martial arts fighter. He first opened the gym in 2000 to provide Philadelphia athletes with a place to train in programs such as mixed martial arts, kickboxing, Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Twenty-three-year-old Jesse Lehman is an employee at Daddis Fight Camps as well as a former member of the gym. A wrestler in high school, he made the switch to mixed martial arts when he joined the gym in 2006. “What intrigued me to the sport is the fascinating kinesiology involved with martial arts. You can take a guy that is a lot bigger and nullify his strength with better skill and better technique. It’s an athletic as well as a mental test.” He believes this event was a way to bring positive press to the gym and to draw more people into the sport. Lehman explains that mixed martial arts can attract a bad reputation but is really much more than just a physical competition. Although matches are fought between two individuals, when the whole gym goes out to competitions the competitors work as a team by giving positive reinforcement.
This reinforcement could be found all throughout the Bellator tryouts with cheering and inspiring comments from the crowd during the hand grappling and ground wrestling, which is fought between two members of the same weight class.
Contributing was Bellator lightweight champion as well as guest judge in the tryouts, Eddie Alvarez. During the event, Alvarez jumped up from an interview with the press to watch his younger brother compete.
At 5 feet 10 inches and 155 pounds, the 25-year-old Alvarez is one of the elite competitors in his sport with 20 wins and two losses. Alvarez grew up in Kensington and is infamous for starting street fights with guys who were much bigger than him. He now trains with Kensington’s Fight Factory gym located at East Susquehanna Avenue and Tulip Streets.
Alvarez’s next big fight is Oct, 21 against Roger Huerta at the Liacouras Center.
Eddie’s 19-year-old brother Albert also trains at Fight Factory and describes the members of the gym as being part of one big family. “You come in, train with them, leave and see them tomorrow,” Albert said. While he looks up to his older brother, he hopes that eventually people will see him as an individual as well as a strong mixed martial arts fighter. Albert didn’t win the event, but his older brother was still proud of the way he fought.
There were many other strong competitors who tried out but like most competitions, there could only be one winner. This winner was 35-year-old Giedrius Karavackas. Karavackas,who stands at 6 feet and weighs 170 pounds. He is originally from Lithuania but was recently training out of Guy Loggi’s International Karate Academy in Somers Point, N.J. His trainer describes him as a “class act human being” who never complains or whines. Karavackas is training almost every day of the week and at 35, is nowhere near his ending point.
During the tryouts, Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney announced that a fighter from the Oct. 21 event was injured and that the winner from the tryouts that day had the chance to fight in the highly publicized event. Karavackas only found out about the tryouts at 10 a.m. the day before when his trainer called him and said, “Cancel all of your clients because we are invited to the Bellator challenge.” You might call him one lucky guy who is now preparing to fight his biggest fight yet. Karavackas stays humble and focused on the future. “Life is a game and you never know what’s going to happen. You have to be prepared every day. Do your best and maybe the doors will open.”