This is the sixth in the This Fighting Life series by Underground Blogger DeLeon DeMicoli, whose column is insipred by NPR's "This American Life." It covers in long essay form fighters and those that train.
Here he profiles Chris “Maximus” McNally.
If you’re like Chris “Maximus” McNally and live in a town that doesn’t have a world-class camp within driving distance to train out of, you make do with what you have. As we chat over Skype, the bedhead-riddled and scruffy-faced middleweight (boasting a 5-5-0 pro record) turned the video camera around and walked me through the layout of his garage, which he informed me was his main training facility. From the pixelated feed I was able to make out heavy bags, a double-end bag and the passed out drunkard of a grappling dummy lying against a wall next to children toys and boxing gear.
“All the mats I’ve collected were from people that had no use for them anymore," says McNally. "I’ve acquired over four hundred square feet of mats for free.”
Most of his equipment was gifts from family and friends. Other strength and conditioning tools were either given to him for free or he built from scratch, like his suspension system.
“I have a big, almost five-hundred pound tire I got for free ‘cause one of my students worked for a tire place," McNannly relates. "They had a collection of big tractor tires they had no use for anymore. I hit it with a sledgehammer.”
Having a Master’s degree in Exercise Science and, for a time, running a personal fitness business provided the right motivation and drive McNally needed to stay fit, be on weight and ready for whatever his manager, Bryan Hamper at Sucker Punch Athletics, put in front of him.
“All of my fights except for David’s I’ve taken on a week’s notice, once I took a fight on three days notice.”
So how does a fighter that works a full-time job, married with four children, trains eighty percent of the time out of his garage, and with no affiliation to a camp or gym get the opportunity to compete at a professional level? Well, for McNally, it all started with getting his ass kicked at a young age.
“I started wrestling freshman year in high school. I lost just about every match in Junior Varsity except for one. But that one win started a fire in me and I wanted nothing more than to be state champion.”
McNally grew up in a small town in Maryland where the family home was pushed far enough back from the main road there was no access to cable television. He trained every day and eventually took third in States during his senior year of high school. That was quite an accomplishment for a young athlete who only a few years earlier was getting muscled and pinned during freshman year.
After high school, McNally wrestled at Western Maryland College (renamed McDaniel College in 2002). The success he had during his senior year dwindled away and he found himself back on the losing end.
“During that period I had issues with confidence. I didn’t go into my matches with a strategy.”
It wasn’t until his college wrestling coach, John Vincent Lowe, took young McNally under his wing and mentored him. With his guidance McNally went from third-string freshman year to placing fourth at the NCAAs his senior year.
“I was the worst person on the team, but I continued to believe in myself that I could be the best in the country. I just needed to put in the work to make that dream come true. I wasn’t going to give up.”
It wasn’t until McNally attended grad school at the Citadel, the military college of South Carolina, that he got his first taste of submission fighting outside of his wrestling pedigree.
“I was coaching wrestling at the Citadel when Jerry Brewer of Relson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu came by and inquired about learning offensive takedowns to teach his students, so they could prepare for tournaments. At the time the BJJ School was the only local martial arts school in the area. He paid me for the first few classes I taught, but he couldn’t afford to keep it going.”
In lieu of payment, Brewer offered free Jiu-Jitsu classes to McNally in exchange for teaching his students basic wrestling techniques. McNally jumped at the opportunity.
As McNally’s fighting life progressed, so did his personal life. He had his first MMA amateur fight, became a firefighter, and in 2006 he and his wife had their first child. Then the Sofa Super Store Fire occurred in Charleston, SC.
Sadly, nine of McNally’s fellow fire fighters lost their lives. The incident was the greatest loss of firefighters in the United States since the loss of 343 firefighters during the World Trade Center attack. Although McNally was attending his grandmother’s funeral that day and was unable to support his brothers, the catastrophe was enough for him to realize he couldn’t take life for granted. He quit the fire department and went on to live his dream of becoming a professional fighter.
“I won my first four amateur fights. The first fight my wife attended I beat the guy in thirty seconds with an arm bar. That was enough for her to realize I had the stuff to make it.”
McNally’s first professional fight was in 2010 at “Mayhem at the Medallion Center” in Columbia, SC against Kelly Anundson. Whiterockboxing.com wrote, “World Champion Grappler Kelly Anundson put on a display of mixed martial arts fighting that left the crowed in awe. Anundson’s opponent Chris McNally was on the defense for most of the three five minute rounds. There was no doubt who had prevailed as the winner even before the decision was announced. Kelly scored big with three thunderous body slams early in the bout and a wrestling demonstration to be envied as he sealed his majority decision win.”
“Kelly fights at light heavyweight out of American Top Team in Coconut Creek, FL," said McNally. "He cuts from 240 pounds. I’m a natural 185er. I took that fight, but I probably shouldn’t have. That was the result of bad management. But Kelly did tell me I was the hardest fighter he’s ever fought and the only fighter that took him the distance.”
McNally’s record has been a rollercoaster ride of wins and losses. To his credit, his defeats have been to fighters that were either UFC vets or have fought for the now defunct Strikeforce. Having a family to support and no fighting camp within driving distance to train out of have been, in some aspects, his Achilles’ heel. But once he was able to secure a two fight win streak in 2011, opportunity came knocking on his door.
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The action began with David “The Crow” Loiseau throwing a left hook. McNally responded with a feint and closed the distance, pushing Loiseau up against the cage.
“As soon as I got a hold of David, I was like ‘I got this.’"McNally went to work with knees to the midsection and hooks to the body. Loiseau was more focused on the takedown attempt since most of McNally’s fights have ended via submissions. Once McNally went for a standing guillotine choke, Loiseau put McNally against the cage.
“David’s no joke, I mean, he’s a guy that fought Rich Franklin for the UFC title.”
Loiseau made the mistake of dropping to the mat allowing McNally to take his back and swing his fist into the side of Loiseau’s head. But Loiseau was able to reverse position and fall into McNally’s guard.
“I was the underdog. I was brought in to get David an easy win because of my record, that’s what I thought was the point of the fight.”
Loiseau started dropping vicious elbows. McNally push-kicked himself free. But once he got to his feet the referee stepped in and called for a time out. The doctor stepped inside the cage to evaluate the cut over McNally’s forehead.
A few pats with gauze and the doctor waved his hand from side to side. The fight was called. Loiseau won via TKO / Doctor Stoppage in the first round.
“After the fight, David said to me,” (in his best attempt at a French Canadian accent) McNally continued, “Chris, you are the strongest mother f---er I’ve ever fought.”
McNally was rushed to the hospital shortly thereafter needing fifteen stitches to close up the monster gash that exposed his skull.
“Can you see the scar I have?” McNally asked and leaned into the video camera, pointing to it.
McNally has made a career of always falling short at the most inopportune of times. But that drive to succeed, always fit and ready to fight whenever, wherever is what keeps him comfortable on the mat and inside the cage.
That drive, I’ve been told, is what makes good fighters, great.
DeLeon DeMicoli writes and trains in San Francisco, CA. He is currently writing a novel on Mixed Martial Arts.
If you or somebody you know trains in martial arts and has an interesting story they would like to share, please email email@example.com
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Previous Pieces by DeLeon DeMicoli:
This Fighting Life 5: Kevin Roddy vs. Hurricane Sandy
This Fighting Life 4: Mirko Büchwald
This Fighting Life 3: Bashir Ahmad and MMA in Pakistan
This Fighting Life 2: Diorelle and Brooke
This Fighting Life 1: Casey McEachern