They are used to fighting. They are used to feeling fists pounding their face. Knees cracking their ribs. They are used to fighting. But not like this. They are not used to tragedies breaking their heart.
Fighters at the Takedown Academy, a mixed martial arts gym in Glendale, have experienced heartache in recent weeks, as two of their best have experienced tragedy.
Undefeated Jose Cortez, on the verge of a shot in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, was diagnosed with cancer on Dec. 26.
Then, last week, undefeated Alex Coronado, just days from competing in a bout in the now-postponed EVO MMA event that was set for Saturday at the Celebrity Theatre, suffered critical injuries from a car accident on Interstate 10. His fiancee, seven months pregnant, had an emergency C-section, which was successful. But her 5-year-old son, Daniel, died in the accident.
Fighting in the cage is easy. Fighting to stay alive, to stay positive, is a tougher battle. The experience has brought their camp closer, made their gym stronger.
“Most of the guys here have met each other just months, days, weeks ago, but we’re all very close; everyone here shows so much support for each other,” gym manager Marlin Ferrios said. “We were right there with Jose and Alex at the hospital. This group we have together will stay together no matter what happens.”
The Takedown Academy is just a year old. It is a 3,700 square-foot gym in a building that once held all of Todd Jostes’ material and vehicles for his construction company, which plummeted with the economy. It began as a hideaway workout spot for some of the Valley’s popular MMA fighters such as Joe Riggs and Edwin Dewees.
Then Jostes decided to take a shot at making it a full-fledged MMA camp and take wrestlers from less-affluent parts of Phoenix and help them become successful fighters, successful role models.
Cortez, who has a cancerous tumor near his heart, was going to be the first. After he defeated local legend Drew Fickett in a Rage in the Cage card in November, the UFC, where Fickett had been a star, was expected to come calling. This spring should have been his big shot in prime time.
“We wanted to take guys without any professional fights and build them toward that,” Jostes said. “But this is (Cortez’s) real fight now. He faced some really tough fights before. This is the toughest fight of his career right now. After he beats this, everything else will be easy.”
Cortez is going through aggressive chemotherapy. He has lost close to 40 pounds but hopes to get back to training in six months. Doctors warned him to stay away from the gym. His immune system isn’t what it used to be. Anything foreign in the air might make him sick.
“But they can’t keep me from the gym,” he said.
They can’t keep him away from his brothers, away from people about whom he cares.
While talking with a reporter, Jostes gets a text message on his phone, another sign of how the Takedown Academy brotherhood cares for one another. It’s Coronado.
He is awake on his hospital bed, his energy drained from the operations, his heart hardened by the loss of a child yet hopeful for his fiancee and premature newborn – both not well, but alive.
Jostes looks down and reads the text from his friend: “How are you holding up?”