Returning from the pandemic, passion among amateur MMA fighters 'stronger than ever'

Photo by William McKee for Art of War Cage Fighting

Returning from the pandemic, passion among amateur MMA fighters ‘stronger than ever’

Most fighters rely on routine and regiment in order to stay in peak physical shape and compete at a high level. So when the world was turned on its head last spring as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools, businesses, athletic venues, concert halls, and — yes — gyms, MMA practitioners — especially at the amateur/regional level — were left with more questions than answers.

It was a tough year for us all, but the amateur MMA scene, in particular, is filled with people ready to get back at it. While the UFC and other professional MMA promotions either kept the train moving or eventually got back on track during the pandemic, most amateur promotions laid dormant until restrictions were lifted enough for putting on the fights to be feasible.

Pennsylvania-based amateur promotion Art of War Cage Fighting is hosting its first event since last February this Saturday at The Sportsplex in Feasterville, Pennsylvania. And while the year-plus off could have several effects on the return of amateur MMA and the regional scene as a whole, AOW promoter, Mike Bickings, told that he sees a fervent fighter and fan base ready for some action.

“I think the passion among the fighters and the fans is stronger than ever,” Bickings said.

With the help of his matchmaker, Jillian Peterson, Bickings sees a deep and talented amateur pool of fighters at the moment, despite many gyms being shut down for an extended period of time.

“We always have a diverse group of fighters from different gyms all around the tri-state area. I have Jillian Peterson as our matchmaker and she’s been fantastic. The talent pool is bigger than ever, even after COVID. And surprisingly a lot of fighters are still on weight despite a year of inactivity. I thought guys would be fighting the next weight class up, but a lot of these guys are very motivated and disciplined.”

AOW’s return event — Art of War 18 — will take place May 22 and is headlined by an 180-pound title fight between champion John “Johnny Garb” Garbino (5-1) and contender Rob “The Young King” Sousa (3-0). The AOW Heavyweight Championship will also be on the line Saturday night as the incumbent Patrick Brady (2-1-1) defends his strap against Gavin Nickel (3-3).

Bickings is excited to celebrate the return of his promotion this weekend. But he admitted that while things are starting to get back to normal, there are still a few COVID-related bumps in the road when it comes to putting on an event.

“In terms of the provisions, it’s been rough,” Bickings said. “We are the top drawing promotion in the area and I found myself turning down ticket sales to stay within the confines of COVID-19 restrictions. But it’s great to be back. I sat on the shelf for a year and I had some loyal guys in my corner who waited for us to come back. Now it’s time to celebrate the only way we know how. Throw a big ass party where some fights break out in a cage.”


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