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4/28/2006 5:21am,
Eight-year-old Marcellus Wallace can talk trash anywhere.

Blaze's glory

Beneath a clean-cut, family-man exterior burns a passion for championship cage fighting
By Chad Gillis (http://www.bonitanews.com/staff/chad_gillis/) (Contact (http://www.bonitanews.com/staff/chad_gillis/contact/))
Friday, April 28, 2006
Eight-year-old Marcellus Wallace can talk trash anywhere.


Basketball courts, playgrounds, cafeteria lunch lines. He’s a sure bet in the world of verbal disses and “your momma’s so ...”
He’s not the most creative kid when it comes to blurting out a string of hurtful phrases. His strength, much like his father’s, is in the final blow: “My daddy can beat up your daddy.”
He’s right. His dad can beat up your dad.
Crafton “Blaze” Wallace, a 34-year-old mixed martial arts fighter from Naples, could probably beat up your dad and three of his friends.
“That ends it all,” Marcellus says of his knock-out insult.
The Inferno
It’s 6:30 on a Tuesday night, sparring night for some of the region’s top mixed martial artists. Crafton Wallace sinks into his element. Having already abused a heavy bag with his trademark shin kicks, Wallace paces around the gym and breathes deeply, as if trying to inhale the atmosphere. “Ten minutes,” he shouts.
A dozen aspiring kickboxers grab jump ropes from nearby tables, starting to hop and teeter on their feet. Others wiggle their shoulders and try to relax while waiting for the signal.
Wallace walks to the CD player, pushes play and leaves the trainees to their plastic ropes, sweat and workout pain. The hip-hop beats start to build, the ropes pound the ground: The two meld into an adrenaline-driving symphony of bass and popping plastic. RZA’s “Fatal” echoes across the Inferno Muay Thai gym in Naples.
Photo Gallery

http://media.bonitanews.com/img/photos/2006/04/27/060425FE-CrazyCage1_t180.JPG (http://www.bonitanews.com/photos/galleries/2006/apr/27/blazes_glory/7849/)
Photo: David Ahntholz

It’s the feast of the blood with sin, unleash the beast within
I walk around, with the strength, of a hundred men
You best to run before I count to 10
Blood drippin’ from my canine, like a fountain pen
Faces grimace, teeth grit, sweat drops. Calf muscles flex and burn. The music keeps pumping and the ropes keep spinning.
... You’re not immortal,
I must have heard hundrends of you rodents make the same claim
Each one of them tasted the end of my sword
Wallace shuffles around the sparring ring, throwing jabs and spin kicks. After a long day of training cops and retirees in self-defense, Wallace is finally in his milieu, his asylum.
A single father of two with full custody, he’d just pitch a cot in the ring and sleep at the gym if he wasn’t needed at home. Family is first, he admits, but the fighting ring, oddly enough, is where Wallace finds peace and comfort.
It’s a place where he clears his mind and meditates while dancing around the ring in Sugar Ray Leonard fashion. Here, Wallace can challenge himself. It’s his Mount Everest, his Super Bowl, his walk-off home run in the pennant chase.
WEBIFIED
VIDEO: Watch Crafton Wallace practice his cage fighting skills in the gym. (http://www.bonitanews.com/mediagalleries/2006/apr/27/blazes_glory/1335/)The canvas-covered square also is as a cocoon of sorts. Wallace, 6-feet tall and 185 pounds, is a businessman with kids and a mortgage, but once he steps into the ring he becomes one of the most feared cage fighters in Florida.
His skills, power and assassin-like instincts are a product of relentless training.
“I’m here everyday,” Wallace says before a round of light sparring.
Even Christmas? He thinks about it for a second. “Yeah, I take off Christmas, but I’d be here then too if I didn’t have the kids. Family comes first, but birthdays, holidays, it doesn’t matter. I’m always here.” Wallace is arguably the top cage fighter in Florida at any weight between 175 and 190 pounds. He’s considered by many industry publications to be one of the best 100 mixed martial arts fighters in the country. Professionally, he’s tallied 10 wins, one loss, and a draw that probably should have went his way.
Street fights, sparring practice, amateur tournaments, pay-per-view events: Wallace has used his fighting prowess thousands of times and has rarely come out the loser.
This weekend he’ll test his skills against Mike McInnis of Virginia at the Ultimate Cage Fights in Fort Myers. His eventual goal is to sign on with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a tournament style competition televised on pay-per-view.
“We had to bring someone in from out of Florida because no one in the state would fight him,” says promoter Jeff Santella. “Nobody wants to get in the ring with this guy.”
McInnis doesn’t have as much cage fighting experience as Wallace, but he is an experienced Navy SEAL with several kills under his military belt.
“He has the videotapes to prove it,” Santella says. “Crafton’s still the favorite, but it’s not going to be a cake walk.”
Last weekend Iowa fighter Brian Greene got in the ring with Wallace at the Florida Atlantic University campus in Boca Raton and was knocked out within 10 seconds. Greene tried a flying kick after the opening bell rang but was met with a devastating shin kick to the ribs.
Wallace then kicked him in the face before delivering a solid right knee to Greene’s forehead. Greene’s knees buckled and the ref stepped in to stop the fight.
Wallace suffered a bit, too. His swollen left hand is probably broken and his foot still hurts from bashing Greene’s head.
“I kicked the guy in the head Saturday night,” he says while watching video of his last fight. “It was a set-up for a knockout, but it still hurts today. I probably should get an X-ray on my hand, but I’m not going to acknowledge it until after this week’s fight.
“It’s going to hurt no matter what I do. I’ve got to throw it (the left hand) and when I make contact it will hurt. But that’s just going to (tick) me off worse.”
It’s that type of mental toughness that’s needed to be a cage fighter. Unlike boxing or Olympic wrestling, cage fighting has few rules. No eye gouging, no blows to the crotch. That’s about it. You can’t choke someone with an open hand, but you can use a forearm to cut off an opponent’s air supply.
The gloves offer little protection. Unlike boxing gloves, which cover the whole hand and contain several ounces of padding material, the only thing between bare knuckles and the opponent’s face is about a quarter-inch of foam and a little leather. The gloves are fingerless, too, allowing fighters to get better grips during grappling and submission holds.
Fighters are usually strong in one of two categories. Wallace is a striker, a fighter who’s best at knocking people out and fighting upright. Then there are the grapplers: fighters who’d rather wrestle their opponent to the ground and go for a submission.
Most fights consists of three, five-minute rounds. A panel of judges keeps score, although most fights end in a knock-out or submission.
Natural-born fighter
Watching video of Wallace pounding highly skilled cage fighters is like seeing a series of train wrecks. Elbows, shins, fists, feet, knees, they’re all weapons capable of knocking an opponent unconscious. Seven of Wallace’s 10 professional wins were knockouts, many of them in the first few seconds of the fight. He has three submissions to his credit and one draw (his only fight to go the full three rounds).
To him, fighting is comparable to baseball or hockey. It’s just what he does, part of who he is.
Outsiders may see the sport as brutal, violent, even animalistic. Wallace and others admit that it’s a primal act that’s been going one for tens of thousands of years. Men fight, whether it’s with a gun in a war, during an argument at the dinner table or inside a metal cage in front of 2,500 screaming fans.
Wallace says he’s against violence. Organized fighting, or even teaching an obnoxious drunk a lesson for picking on a guy half his size: That’s a different story.
On a recent Sunday night Wallace had dinner with his mother, Gail Williams, and his two sons at a Chili’s in Naples. Wallace said the waiter was rude to his family and served them the wrong food. Wallace complained to the manager, and the waiter started yelling from afar, telling Wallace that he was off work at 11 p.m.
A fellow worker at Chili’s recognized Wallace and convinced the waiter to back off.
“For guys like that, I can take a few minutes out of my day,” Wallace says. “But it’s different now. It used to be if you started something with me, I’d give you one warning. But now I have to be disciplined and just walk away.”
Although he’s in terrific shape and has the sculpted look of a body builder, Wallace isn’t all that intimidating in street clothes. He looks more like a clean-cut professional family man than a world-beater cage fighting champ. His modest appearance has made him the target of childish bullying at clubs and bars. Sometimes he’d keep his cool. Sometimes he’d pound a guy, or two, or three.
“I don’t like to go out anymore to have a good time because people are so stupid,” he says. “I was in Fort Myers one night and these two guys started picking on this small guy that was with a girl. The one dude was 300 pounds and he needed his buddy to help him?
“I followed them and the one guy grabbed the little dude and the big guy was about to hit him. I asked them what they were doing and they told me it was none of my business. So I whipped them both.”
Wallace says he tries to avoid physical confrontations in public. But fighting, he says, is in his soul.
“I’m a natural-born fighter. I’ve never seen myself as anything else. When I was 12 years old I knew I’d be a fighter.”
Other fighters at Muay Thai tell similar stories.
‘It’s human movement at its finest,” says Eric O’Bryon of Naples. “Maybe you know the opponent and maybe you don’t. But he wants to hurt you. It’s very primal, and the natural instinct is to fight for territory. Golf and tennis just doesn’t do that for me.”
Carlos Cavero is also from Naples. He started training with Wallace a few months ago and says he is in constant awe of Wallace’s skill, strength and mental toughness.
“I love fighting so I came here to do it right,” he says, stretching before a workout. “But I won’t even get in the ring with Crafton right now. I wouldn’t do it unless he slowed down. He’s a beast, a monster.”
Mike Woolley trains in mixed martial arts at Muay Thai and will also be fighting Saturday in Fort Myers. He does it for the love of the sport and for family protection.
“I want to make sure I can take care of my wife and kids,” Woolley says. “It’s all about self-preservation, and this is the highest level I can test myself.”
But being a fighter also means there’s another guy in the ring with you, someone who’d love to knock you out with one quick blow to the head. During his 12 professional fights, Wallace has been bent over backwards, choked, punched in the kidneys, kicked in the head, twisted, mangled and torqued into positions that would make a world-class Twister champion cringe.
This week’s opponent has professional skills and a known name, but all Wallace is concerned about is the fighter’s style and how soon he can end the bout.
“I forget his name. It doesn’t matter to me what his name is. I’m focused on his reputation and his style. His name is victory,” Wallace says, making a V mark in the air with his index finger.
A victory this weekend could lead to the promised land of cage fighting: Ultimate Fighting Championship. Wallace makes between $3,000 and $5,000 now, but that figure could go up 10-fold if he makes the jump to the popular UFC.
“He’s on his way,” Santella says. “If he does it right, I’d say maybe two more fights before UFC. He may just need one. He’s that good.”


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