BUFFALO, NY – They are modern day gladiators, whose aim is to either knock out their opponent, or beat them into submission.
They are the mixed martial artists who comprise the card of UFC 210, which will staged in Buffalo this weekend.
It is the first time the UFC has held a card in the Queen City since UFC 7 in 1995, after which time New York State outlawed professional mixed martial arts.
Its legality was reinstated by an act of the state legislature last year, ending New York’s status among the 50 states as the only one in which the bouts were banned.
Among the ranks of fighters making up the card at Buffalo’s KeyBank Center on Saturday, is a long time veteran of the Canadian Army, a former refugee, and an Olympic Wrestler, Daniel Cormier, who now reigns as the UFC Light heavyweight champion.
Cormier also holds a degree in Sociology which he earned at Oklahoma State University.
“I think it keeps my mind centered, but honestly I rely much more on my athletic experiences to carry me than my school work in this line of work,” Cormier told WGRZ-TV.
The backgrounds of these athletes, are as varied as their stories of how they came to be professional MMA fighters.
Pearl Gonzalez, 30, recalled that she was ordered to take up the sport by her dad, because she was getting into too much trouble when she was11 years old.
“Yeah, it’s what he used to channel my anger as a child," she said.
Gonzalez, who competes as a Strawweight, was working three jobs when she decided to turn pro, when her family fell apart and she needed money to raise her 15 year old sister.
“The majority of my family is addicted to drugs and so we had a really tough upbringing,” she recalled. “My sister had stopped going to school and really was not doing well, because neither my father or mother or even my grandmother could take care of her. So I took her in,” said Gonzalez, who lost her first professional bout, but who has been undefeated in her last six.
At the age of four, Gegard Mousasi, who fights as a middleweight, fled Tehran along with his parents during the Iran-Iraq war.
The Armenian family were practicing Christians and immigrated to Holland.
“We were refugees, yes,” said Mousasi. “We wanted to have freedoms and that's the big difference with western countries, where you have democracy and stuff like that."
Among those who might be considered a “hometown” favorite at the Buffalo bouts is Gregor Gillespie.
“I grew up in Rochester and then I went to college at Edinboro in Pennsylvania which is about an hour or so from Buffalo, so I should have a good crowd here," said Gillespie, who competes in the lightweight division.
After a standout career as both a high school and college wrestling champion, Gillespie put his dream to be a teacher on hold to pursue this one.
After 8 professional bouts, he's yet to lose.
“Not yet, and I don't plan on losing one on Saturday night either, he said.
To finally be able to fight in New York means a lot for long Island native Chris Weidman, a middleweight who will be Mousasi’s opponent on the card. Up until recently, and indeed throughout virtually all of his professional career, he was unable to compete in his home state.
He also became somewhat of an activist for the sanctioning of MMA bouts in New York.
"I was speaking to senators and assemblymen…I gave a speech up here not too long ago to try and get it legalized,” said Weidman. “It was at times frustrating because there was an overwhelming support for it. I’m just glad we’re in Buffalo to give our fans an opportunity to finally see us,” he said.