CORTLAND, N.Y. – The air smelled of sweat, grit, and hard work. You could hear the impact of fists hitting punching bags and bodies hitting the floor. Motivational signs read, “If it were easy, everyone would do it,” and “Breathe in Energy, Breathe out Fatigue.”
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This is the everyday atmosphere at the Cortland Elite training facility that is helping to transform lives with the help of Randy “The Wolf” Smith.
Smith, based in Cortland, has been involved in the high intensity sport of mixed martial arts, or MMA, for the past nine years, ever since the rise of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, back in 2005. He has trained with the likes of UFC light heavyweight champion Jon “Bones” Jones, as well as Tamdan McCrory, a recent Cortland State alum who is currently competing at the middleweight division of the UFC.
The Cortland Elite Gym is now located on the second floor of the J.M McDonald Sports Complex in Cortland, where it has been running since March of 2015, when Smith decided to move locations from the West Road Plaza facility. There are a variety of programs offered by the gym that include youth programs, jiu-jitsu, boxing, MMA, wrestling, kickboxing, and conditioning classes.
The sport of MMA is not one to be taken lightly, as it involves a full hands-on combative showdown between two fighters and their respective fight teams. The techniques used include stand-up striking and kicking as well as a component of grappling or wrestling, which makes the sport that much more dynamic and unpredictable. MMA has often been criticized for being barbaric, overly aggressive and violent; however, Smith believes it serves a very important purpose in the lives of people that have come across it.
“You get all walks of life out of MMA. Everyone thinks it’s barbaric, but in some cases you have kids that are off the street, “ Smith said. “I’ve got a lot of kids from Syracuse with drug problems, and I gave them a way to come in here and train. I tell them, ‘For everyday you’re clean and sober, I’ll give you a day off from training.’”
Smith himself has overcome huge obstacles in his life to be where he’s at today.
A recovered drug addict and alcoholic, Smith has been sober for about 16 years. His new lifestyle had caused him to put on quite a bit of weight, at one point weighing close to 370 pounds.
“When I quit doing drugs and drinking, that’s when I put on some weight. I had extra cravings for food, and when we had our kid I put on even more weight.” Smith said.
His struggle to get healthy again found new hope when he came across an advertisement at a restaurant promoting a free week-long trial of Bomb Squad training in Ithaca. He took the opportunity and never looked back, losing nearly 150 pounds in just six months and landing his first professional fight.
At 41 years old, Smith has since retired from full-time completion; however, he says he still has one more fight planned for February 2016. With a record of 14-13-1, Smith has proved himself inside the cage as a true scrapper, but it’s his knowledge of the sport that helps make those around him that much better, demonstrating how MMA is much more of a team sport than it’s given credit for.
“It’s the biggest team sport I’ve ever been involved in,” Smith said. “Even though you’re the only one in the cage performing, outside of that you depend on your team to get you ready, and you reflect what kind of team you have by the way you fight.”
Training the next generation
The Smith legacy of fighting might not be over just yet, as there is a new “wolf” in the making. Nine-year-old Nathaniel Smith had his first competitive fight in an amateur USA Boxing match during the New York State Fair this past summer. Nathaniel won convincingly, knocking out his opponent only thirty seconds into the match, a feat almost unseen at that age group.
Smith says central New York should be watching out for this young stud in the next ten years, as he is surrounded by a great supporting cast, which makes his future look very bright.
Smith’s 4-year-old daughter, Lia Grace, also accompanies him to the gym. “I figure in about 16 years, she’ll be fighting Ronda Rousey,” he says.
Overall, Cortland Elite Gym is working to transform and save lives, Smith says. He has used his past experiences in life to better himself and those around him. His positive influence and energy has been absorbed and fully utilized by people that have come into contact with him.
“It’s passing on what I know to others,” Smith said. “You need to have a strong mindset going in that if things aren’t going your way, you have to know that they will eventually, and do whatever it takes to get through it.”
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