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It’s Wednesday at 1:00 p.m., and I am waiting for amateur mixed martial arts fighter Jaime Reyes at the Lakeside Cafe. When he walks past me, I don’t even notice. I am expecting someone beefy, tattooed, or, at the very least, goateed. Jaime is wearing a hoodie and shorts. Black socks peek out from under Adidas slip-on sandals. He is baby-faced and rail-thin and looks no older than 15.

He orders a fruit salad and ice water. He calls our 20-something waitress “ma’am.”

“I have a fight in a few weeks,” he says. “I need to weigh 135.”“My girlfriend weighs more than me right now.” Jaime laughs. “I decided after my last fight to drop down ten pounds. The guys I used to fight against weighed 145. My natural weight is 140. They were bigger and tougher.”

Jaime started mixed martial arts fighting when he was 20.

“In the beginning, I was doing [it] for self-defense. Before then, I didn’t like any kind of punching. I wanted to try out martial arts to see what it was like. I didn’t want to cage fight or anything.”

Jaime began training in jiu-jitsu and muay thai. Six months later, his gym arranged a cage fight at Epic 3. At the time, Jaime didn’t know how to strike or take a guy to the ground.

“I guess my coaches saw something in me. They wanted to show me I had the ability to fight at an amateur level. My coach said, ‘Test yourself. See where you’re at.’ I went for it. I was 20 years old. My opponent, Marcus Aven, was 25. He was undefeated.”

The atmosphere at Epic 3 was something Jaime had never experienced. The event was oversold, and Epic, the fight-promotion company, was forced to turn people away at the door. Jaime estimates that somewhere between 1000–2000 spectators filled the seats. The fire marshal had to come in and tell people to go home.

“I grew up in Lakeside,” Jaime says. “There’s not much action here. So it was pretty intimidating. That night, when my opponent stepped into the ring, I thought, Oh, my god, I am about to fight a full-grown man! He was stocky and so buff. I put my left hand out to engage him. He hit me. He grabbed my arm in a weird position. He put me down on my knees. He gave me an uppercut and pulled me up to my feet. He gave me a jab and a hook. That’s when I snapped into reality and realized that I was in a real, actual fight, right then. I started jumping up and down to get my jitters out. When the first bell rang, I was thinking, Oh, my god, this is the crazy! My legs felt like they were 100 pounds.”

Jaime lost that night by decision. But he and his opponent were awarded fight of the night.

Jaime has fought seven more fights since then. He won three by submission, lost three by decisions and one by armbar. He trains Monday–Friday for two hours each day. He goes to the gym in the evening, after working at Home Goods in El Cajon, where he stocks and carries furniture out to customers’ cars. Each week, he spends three days at the Dungeon mixed martial arts gym in Santee, and the other two at Marron’s Boxing Club in Lakeside. He takes the weekend off, with the exception of one hour of muay thai on Sundays.

Jaime Reyes’s breathing mask simulates high-altitude aerobic training.

Jaime Reyes’s breathing mask simulates high-altitude aerobic training.

Last year, Jaime lost four months of training due to an injury. It happened while he was sparring with a friend at the gym. Jaime failed to wear a cup and took a knee to the groin. He lay on the mat tossing and turning. He couldn’t get up for an hour.

“I felt a burning sensation. My testicle swelled up to the size of a grapefruit. It was crazy. I went to a doctor at Sharp [Memorial Hospital]. He told me I had to have surgery to drain it. I was too scared for that, so I went to a hole-in-the wall doctor’s office in Chula Vista. That guy wanted to stick a needle in my testicle. I was freaking out. I couldn’t eat, walk, or even get out of bed for four days. I didn’t have health insurance because I had been recently laid off. I decided to go to TJ. The doctor there told me all the same things that the other doctors said. ‘Or,’ he said, ‘I can give you pills, and you can pray to God.’ Two weeks later, I started seeing a reaction to the pills. The swelling went down. It took four months to heal. As soon as I got better, I started hitting the gym again.”

Because of injuries like those, Jaime’s mom is not a fan of mixed martial arts.

“My family trips out on the damage I get from fights and how many hours I put into training. They are skeptical of the sport, shocked that I’m a mixed martial arts guy. They saw me as a quiet guy that stayed out of trouble. No one expected me to do this. My mom worries about me getting hurt and not being able to take care of my six-month-old son. She does not like this sport at all, but she is so supportive. She’s my backbone. My mom, dad, and girlfriend go to every fight. ”

When I ask Jaime if he worries about brain damage, he wants to know if I think he should be.

“I would appreciate it if someone would tell me, because, if it’s true, I should probably think about a different career.”

The Fight Promoter

“Cheerleading is more dangerous than mixed martial arts fighting. So is figure skating,” says Jason Stewart, owner of Epic Fighting. “This may hurt some fighters’ egos, but mixed martial arts doesn’t even make it on the top five most dangerous sports list. It usually falls at 17, after golf and baseball.”

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Comments

Robert Hagen Sept. 14, 2012 @ 12:21 a.m.

Theres nothing I know better than to get the kids into the gym and out of trouble.

This is one of the best cover stories I've ever read, and the quotes are each a pearl.

Theres the error of not correcting that the Jones vs Henderson fight didn't go down, because Henderson was injured, but I would never have found that out in the first place were it not not for the Reader. I wouldn't have known to investigate.

The story was and is a joy, and I believe it's completely true that MMA is amongst the safest of sports. It's certainly amongst the most challenging and thrilling. Thank you Reader, for bringing me the news, and thus exciting conversation that benefits me more than I can express in a few words. So thanks again, and keep it up. Keep up what you're doing, and God keep you close. I know I do:)

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Javajoe25 Sept. 15, 2012 @ 9:15 p.m.

Oh yea---mixed martial arts is nowhere near as dangerous than figure skating. I mean, when I think about all those figure skaters I've seen with cauliflower ear...and which would you rather have happen to you--take a fall while cheer leading or take a full-on knee to the face? Let's face it, cheer leaders have it a lot rougher compared to these guys that get knocked unconscious by a round house kick to the head.

And there's no doubt in my mind the game of golf is way more dangerous! I mean, think about all those times you've seen Tiger Woods get carried off the green from....from....golf balls that bounce off the trees and hit him in the head! You're much more safer in the cage with some guy pounding you in the face with his elbow, or repeatedly ramming his knee into your stomach. With golf, figure skating, and certainly cheer leading--you can get really hurt.

Thank goodness we have safe, gentle sports like mixed martial arts. I think every neighborhood should have an MMA arena. I say we start with Mission Hills!

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SurfPuppy619 Sept. 15, 2012 @ 11:15 p.m.

Joe, you are FUNNY!....every MMA guy I have seen has the cauliflower ears......I would be wearing head gear 24/7 so the ears were fully protected at all times, except for matches.

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Javajoe25 Sept. 16, 2012 @ 11:03 a.m.

Well, seriously! Would you say figure skating is more dangerous than MMA?

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Catbird Oct. 3, 2012 @ 9:34 a.m.

“When I asked Jaime if he worries about brain damage, he wants to know if I think he should be. ‘I would really appreciate it if someone would tell me, because, if it’s true, I should probably think about a different career.’”

OK Jaime….Here is some info. Gainfully employed during the day & training nightly, sounds to me that you are a young man with much discipline & determination that would succeed in many arenas without putting your brain and body at such risk.

Source: www.deseretnews.com/m/article/865563398 Friday, Sept 28, 2012 by Wendy Leonard Chicago Bears quarterback & Super Bowl Shuffle star Jim McMahon is reportedly suffering early onset dementia at age 53 & has joined more than 2400 players in suing the NFL for after-effects of concussions sustained in the game. “University of Utah neuropsychologist Dr. Angela Eastvold said that concussions span multiple sports..a concussion in and of itself is not a serious injury, it does not cause permanent damage but the problem is with repetitive concussions..even a lighter blow the second time around can cause more severe damage..passing a certain ‘window of vulnerability’ which is longer for younger, less-experienced athletes is imperative before safely returning to the game.” Much is being learned chronic traumatic encephalopathy(CTE), a condition which is likely what McMahon and other athletes suffer, leading to symptoms of dementia – including gradual memory loss, aggression and anger outbursts, behavioral issues,depression and possibly an increased suicide rate among its sufferers.

Jim McMahon said, “knowing what he knows now about the hits he took playing football, he wishes he’d have pursued baseball.”

Source: www.mmamania.com/2012/5/3/2996615/mma... May 3, 2012 by Sergio Hernandez

Writer Sergio Hernandez, stated that Junior Seau’s suicide brought to mind the February 2011 suicide of Chicago Bear Dave Duerson. Duerson donated his brain to the Boston University School of Medicine “who concluded that concussions led to Duerson suffering from a neurodegenerative disease.”

“In 2007, Chris Benoit murdered his wife and seven-year old son before taking his own life. Later studies revealed his brain resembled that of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient and he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy as a result from massive brain damage in all four lobes.”

“Imagine a job where violently losing consciousness or having your arm broken in two are not only credible occurrences but to be expected depending on who your co-worker is on a certain day. MMA isn’t safe; it’s the most dangerous sport on the planet. The simple fact is, a fighter’s mind and body are forever and irreversibly changed. It goes beyond what we see inside the cage. Fighters get rocked in practice while preparing for a bout, sit out a few minutes and then hop back in, not wanting to lose precious training time.”

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