WILMINGTON, N.C. --
Men from all walks of life gathered to put their strength and skill to the test in the ring. They stepped into the cage, faced their opponents and waited for the referee to shout, “Fight!”
Martial artists fought furiously during Battle in the South IV hosted at the Coastline Convention Center in Wilmington, N.C., July 14.
The event featured 12 bouts and two of them included devil dogs from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. Cpl. Nick Bilak and Sgt. David Lafayette with Wrights Extreme Martial Arts showcased their ability to conquer in the ring as well as on the battlefield.
Lafayette was the first to strike, leading with a mid-kick to his opponent’s leg, Adam Miller. The first round was nearly even with fight points at 29-28 to Lafayette. In the beginning of the second round Lafayette struck Miller with a heavy right cross cutting his face. It was evident Miller started to second guess his ability to exchange on the standup fight.
“I realized he didn’t want to standup, and he was scared. I tried to capitalize on it,” said Lafayette. “He kept attempting a take-down, but I was calm and felt like I was in control of the fight.”
Lafayette managed to deliver multiple hits with his strong right throughout the match. The fight lasted all three rounds, and the judges scored the match 30-27 in the second and third round, giving him the win by unanimous decision and adding to his amateur record of 2 wins, 0 loses and 0 ties.
Bilak congratulated his teammate on his victory and stepped up for his fight against Michael Cannon.
Bilak’s focus was apparent as he stood in his corner waiting for to start the fight before exploding, but Cannon had the same look. The two quickly closed in on each and began exchanging punches for more than 10 seconds. Cannon landed a right cross to Bilak’s temple but only managed to stun him for a split second before receiving a similar hit.
“The hit was a quick flash, but I’ve been hit a lot harder during training,” said Bilak. “I didn’t let it phase me and continued fighting.”
Moments after, the fight went to the ground, where Bilak’s skills pose the most threat. It was unclear who was dominating, but Bilak was able to catch a hold of Cannon’s leg and performed a heel hook, which ended the match with a submission at one minute in the first round.
“He’s got some skills on the ground,” said Cpl. Alex Keobounpheng, an anti-tank missileman with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. “I’m bigger than him, and I’ve grappled with him before, but he still took me out.”
This victory was also Bilak’s second and added to his amateur record of 2 wins, 0 loses and 0 ties.
Both of the triumphant Marines said the nature of the sport is something they can relate to the Corps.
“It’s the same when it comes to training, but when we go into a fight our lives are not on the line,” said Bilak. “We train as hard, if not harder, than Marines. The camaraderie we feel is like a brotherhood. We’re sweating and bleeding with each other.”
Starting from boot camp, Marines are trained to operate with both physical and mental stress. They are also trained in Marine Corps martial arts, which is the basis for their close quarters and hand-to-hand combat training.
“MCMAP is different from the martial arts seen in MMA, fights, but at the same time those skills I learned are applied to the fighting style I have now,” said Lafayette.
In a fight-or-flight scenario these two Marines would seem to be the ones who stand their ground in any fight. Both showed their ability to perform well. They were composed and had a clear mind while punches and kicks came close, grazed and landed.
“Training for three-and-a-half hours on top of what I’m doing in the Marine Corps makes fighting a piece of cake,” said Bilak. “Just get your mind in the right place and remain calm.”
Bilak said the only thing to distract him before the fight is the Marines in the crowd who come to watch and support him.
“I loved the support,” said Bilak. “I knew a lot of the guys in the crowd. When I came out and heard them cheering I tried to stay calm the whole time and not play to the crowd. I have to stay cool and focus on what I’m doing, but the feeling inside is great. I wasn’t showing it much, but I had a huge grin.”
More than 30 service members with the Single Marine Program from MCB Camp Lejeune attended the event to root for their fellow devil dogs.
“It’s great to get them off the base to have some fun,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class David Ebel, the ambassador with SMP. “It’s just a break from the usual day to get out for some entertainment. We’re also here to cheer on the Marines fighting in the tournament.”
Mixed martial arts is a fairly new sport in comparison to boxing, which has been around for hundreds of years, said Bilak. Some people may think MMA is not sport.
“It seems a lot of people are still leery about this sport,” he continued. Many people have a misconception it’s barbaric, but after the fight we’ll hug, smile and even talk about how we did.”
Fighters gathered in one room before and after their matches. Some shared jokes and talked about their mistakes with one another after the fight.
The action packed night seemed to be eventful for all who attended. The contenders from MCB Camp Lejeune fought with the unyielding tenacity Marines are known for and brought honor to their Corps. It was a gentlemen’s game of chess played with fists, and the Marines proved to be the best of the best in this type of battle as well.