Known for being a little slice of vice, Atlantic City, New Jersey has become the east coast’s version of ‘Sin City.’ Most east coast natives know that, but what they might not know is that Atlantic city has a long and illustrious history hosting combat sports and mainly mixed martial arts since 2000.
This year Atlantic City has become the temporary home of the Professional Fighters League as the MMA promotion complies with unified rules and international Covid protocols. The PFL is one of the top three mixed martial arts promotions in the world. While they host numerous MMA annually, it’s their season/tournament and playoff format that separates them from other MMA promotions; assigning matchups between fighters in each weight class and awarding them points per fight along with additional bonus points for fighters who finish fights. All of that is capped off by the top performing fighters moving onto the playoffs and seeking a spot in the finals for a chance to win a world title and a 1-million-dollar prize.
Last month I had the pleasure of talking to Jesse “Relentless” Stirn after the biggest fight of his professional MMA career. We discussed what it’s like to fight and train during Covid, what it’s like to represent his home state as he moves up the ranks, and several other current topics. Stirn made his PFL debut on June 10th against five-time UFC vet Sheymon Moraes, who was a last minute replacement on 24-hours notice.
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Although Stirn is sad that he was not allowed to use elbow strikes in his PFL debut, he did say “It’s amazing! I always loved their Season format and believe it is a fair and logical way to give people a chance at title shots.”
Stirn was originally scheduled to face long time featherweight staple Lance Palmer who previously won the PFL tournament two years in a row. Stirn was looking forward to testing himself against the former champ in Palmer saying, “I wanted that fight badly though” but welcomed the new challenge in Moraes as he said, “Sheymon is a different kind of animal.”
Stirn described his fight camp preparation as, “always adding and subtracting drills and mindsets to fit the current fighter. I like this method. It keeps the game fresh.”
For those who are unfamiliar with Jesse Stirn, he is from Windsor Mill, Maryland, a small river town just outside of Baltimore. He trains out of Ground Control in Owings Mills, MD which is probably one of the most well-known gyms in the state of Maryland if not the most well-known.
Ground Control is taken care of by longtime owner John Rallo who is responsible for helping to get the sport of MMA legalized in Maryland and had octagon-side seats during the UFC’s first and so far only trip to Maryland. To say the top names in Maryland strive to train at Ground Control is an understatement and to represent John Rallo and his team is an honor for professional fighters like Stirn.
When asked what it meant toStirn to represent the state of Maryland in MMA events across the country, he said, “it means everything, we have a highly skilled group here.”
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MMA became legalized in Maryland in 2009, making it one of the adolescent states to accept the sanctioning unified rules. Fighters like Jesse Stirn have mentioned “it’s been a long process”, but he still adds that “it’s amazing to finally give the world a chance to see (their hard work).”
Because of restrictions in Maryland and surrounding states, it is common to see amateur fighters build their resume competing around the east coast before making the jump to the pros. Stirn became a regular at regional MMA promotions like Stellar Fights which is biggest promotion in the state of Delaware. He recalls “The exact moment I realized I was at the top of the amateur circuit and would be fighting the same caliber of opponent in low level pros…but also getting paid for it,” as the moment that he realized that he could become a professional MMA fighter, saying it was a “simple” decision.
If restrictions weren’t tight enough in Maryland, Covid-19 has made things even tighter for athletes. The state of Maryland opened up fully about one week from the end of Stirn’s fight camp, making things a little more challenging. Being the professional that he is, Stirn found ways to stay consistent and maintain his required gym time. However, training has stayed the same for him as long as you “pick a partner you trust and get the repetitions,” he advises.
Stirn also credits his fitness to being able to workout at home and declaring, “If the gyms are shut down then make one. My basement is a toy factory of training equipment.”
Training is only one aspect of the fight game, and getting a fight during Covid is another challenge alone. Stirn says, “Fights on the other hand have been difficult. Both in finding them and completing the procedures to compete in them” when asked what it’s like to be a pro fighter during Covid.
Even though Jesse Stirn is from the east coast and has fought in multiple promotions, this was his first trip to Atlantic City. When asked why he hadn’t been there previously, he said, “I’m not rich (laughs). I usually do not visit cities unless it’s on a to-do list unfortunately.”
His overall impression of the city was, “It’s an Interesting place to me. It feels old…but in the good way. Rich in history and plenty of personality in the environment and the people. Every city brings their own personality and AC did not disappoint.”
The trip proved to be more business than pleasure as Covid restrictions kept all the PFL athletes under a tight bubble to ensure the show would go on. Because of these protocols Jesse and one training partner worked together.
“I’ve been training with my boy Will Breslin and only him,” Stirn replies, and added, “We have been stuck in quarantine in a hotel room for two weeks, with only a punching bag and pads to our name.”w
“We are not allowed outside,” inserted Stirn as he complied with Covid guidelines, and called it “torture.” When asked if he would be doing any gambling while in the city Jesse jokingly responds “Negative” and then goes on to say, “I’m being responsible this trip. After 10 years of fighting, this paycheck will finally get rid of all by debts. I want to enjoy that feeling for at least one day after.”
Fighter pay has been a long discussed topic within the MMA community for some time now. In comparison to other professional sports, many MMA athletes receive pennies to the dollar for their efforts, which is why we have seen MMA fighters reaching for bouts in professional boxing matches more recently.
In the past year we have seen a slew of “Celebrity Boxing” style matches and bare knuckle fighting to garner mainstream attention, like multiple time MMA champion Ben Askren vs YouTube celebrity Jake Paul. With both of them reportedly receiving over $500,000 each you can see why MMA fighters are happy to make the jump as well.
Recently former UFC champion Tyron Woodley signed to face Jake Paul in a boxing match. Jesse was kind enough to give his thoughts on the crossover fight saying, “They are both winning at this game. The money is the proof. I stopped giving opinions on these though. I think they are all fixed in some way.”
Because MMA isn’t paying the bills, it is very common to see professional MMA fighters like Jesse Stirn working full time jobs on top of training full time. “You have to,” he said. “Fighting does not pay the bills and often costs you lots of money. I usually find myself working a job to pay for my career” Stirn adds. He is a jack of all trades and mentions “I am currently working as a Chimney sweep and repair guy for Fluemasters Inc. in Catonsville, MD, Chim Chim Cha Roo..”
Stirn continues to work on his craft and work his side job in the meantime. He had some advice to share to fellow aspiring MMA fighters: “Practice….Practice….Practice, the amount of time you put into training is what you’ll get out of it.”
He also adds the importance of constantly learning, “Cross train with other gyms. New Perspective and new skills.”
Stirn also mentions sparring, and encourages fighters to “Fight in all the spar-a-thons, smokers and fights. Gain all the experience you can.”
You can tell Jesse Stirn is serious about his fighting career and has not forgotten the hard work that got him where he’s at so far. I can’t thank hinm enough for taking the time out of his schedule to tell us about his time in Atlantic city and what it’s like to be a professional fighter. Whether you want your face punched, guard swept, or your chimney swept, Jesse Stirn is clearly the guy you need to know. You can stay up to date with Stirn on his Instagram page at “jstirn27” where he posts training footage and fight information.
What’s up people ! My name is Mike and if you’re looking for mma content I’m your guy!
I love mma and combat sports. I’ve been following it for the last 16 years and training for the last 10 years or so. I’ve also coached high school wrestling for the last 10 years.I’ve even done a few bjj tournaments and one mma fight.
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