UNION — A local mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter will train for three months in preparation for his first title fight.
Local resident Christian Patterson, 22, began practicing martial arts five years ago — when he was a student at Union County High School — under Union Karate Center head instructor Jamie Vaughn.
“He was always so quiet and reserved, I couldn’t tell if he was into it or not,” Vaughn said. “But he kept coming to class, and he hasn’t stopped coming since.”
Dedication and hard work led Patterson to earning a black belt, but he was looking for something more. He began what he called a self journey to find out if his karate actually works.
While Patterson acknowledged that there are many karate tournaments that are very competitive and “hardcore,” he had mostly competed for points and to show skill, and he was looking to expand his arsenal.
“I found I wanted to be more of a whole fighter,” Patterson said.
In 2010, he tried kickboxing with the International Kickboxing Federation, competing in two matches.
“I found out I was a pretty good striker,” Patterson said. “Kickboxing is awesome, but there was still something lacking. You can be the best striker in the world until someone shoots in on you and slams you on your head. Then you can’t strike anyone on your back.”
In 2011, Patterson began an amateur career in MMA, where he could fight on the ground as much as he did standing up.
Between his classes at USC Union on Tuesday, Patterson discussed what it takes to be a mixed martial artist. He has had a total of six MMA fights in his amateur career, with a record of 3-3.
After one fight with U.S. Troop Charity Fights and two with Warfare MMA in Myrtle Beach, he began fighting with U.S. Freeedom Fighter Championship (USFFC).
“I made USFFC my home, and now I’m getting a title shot,” he said.
In February 2014, Patterson will take on USFFC Flyweight Champion Joel Porter. Patterson — who usually weighs around 140 pounds — will have to cut down to 125 pounds to fight at flyweight. He also sometimes fights at bantam weight (135 pounds).
“This guy (Porter) is pretty good on the ground, so I don’t really want to stay on the ground with him — I would rather stand up and strike,” Patterson said. “Between now and then, I will be implementing a lot of drills — takedown defense and submission defense.”
Patterson’s training camp is known as 9th Level MMA, which is based out of Union Karate Center with Vaughn as instructor and includes fellow mixed martial artists Adam Gregory and T.J. Glenn, who will have his first MMA fight in December.
“He has a knack for it,” Vaughn said. “We train like crazy, but he’s also got that natural ability you can’t teach.”
Patterson has also trained at other camps including Carolina Combat in Greenwood, BodyQuest in Gastonia, N.C., and Upstate Karate in Simpsonville under instructor Ray Thompson. Thompson is assisted by his son, pro UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) fighter Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, with whom Patterson has had the opportunity to train. Patterson said he has more than enjoyed the opportunity to train with a pro fighter of that caliber, who refers to Patterson as a “baby” or a “young’un.”
“He’s so good, it seems like he’s just playing with you,” Patterson said. “When it comes to combinations, he has an eye for details. You can go in there with a technique you’ve used for years, and he can tell you, ‘lift your hands’ or ‘pivot your foot.’ He can tell where you’re lacking.”
Patterson used an example that when “Wonderboy” is able to land an uppercut at will, he’s trying to teach Patterson to cover up better on one side.
“He picks you apart and shows you how he picked you apart,” Patterson said. “You wouldn’t think somebody at that level would come in and spar with everyone, but he spars with us, and then spars with the four- and five-year-olds. It doesn’t matter. He’s one of the most humble guys I’ve ever met.”
Patterson said he will train hard for his upcoming title fight, and he’s depending on his trainer to push him to the limit for three months to prepare him for three three-minute rounds.
“We put ourselves through hell during training,” Patterson said. “The trainer gets you to push yourself further than you have ever gone before, trying to break you mentally and physically. If you can withstand it and weather the storm, then when the fight comes, the storm doesn’t seem nearly as strong. There’s no way a guy can break you in three minutes if someone couldn’t do it in three months.”
Patterson said lots of fighters listen to aggressive music and try to get as hyped as possible on fight day.
“That doesn’t work for me,” he said. “If I get too hyped, I try to force things — a knockout or submission. When I try to force things, it doesn’t work.”
Patterson added that he’s beat his own hands to a pulp while trying to “force” a knockout.
So what goes through a fighter’s head when the referee yells, “Go,” and the cage door closes?
“It’s a surreal feeling,” Patterson said. “A switch goes off. You kind of go on autopilot and just do what you did in training. You’ve spent all this time at a camp with someone screaming at you; you’ve had to cut pounds of weight; and everything comes down to nine minutes. Three months equals nine minutes of your life.”
With only six fights under his belt, Patterson said his original question was answered.
“I found out the karate we teach five-year-olds does work,” he said, adding that being a mixed martial artist gives him a definite advantage in real life situations. “If I can go into a ring against someone who has been training just for me for three months — watching my fights — and beat those guys, then I can beat someone who hasn’t been trained.”
Patterson currently practices and helps instruct classes with Union Karate Center — which are held at the Union County Recreation Department. He said he doesn’t know what the future holds, but if he continues to rack up victories, then he would plan to go professional.
“You always have to look at the broad scope, but my focus right now is February,” Patterson said. “I want that belt. It’s going to be a bloodbath, and I’m looking forward to that.”