This Fighting Life 7: Brett Hart

Friday, March 08, 2013

This is the seventh 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 Native American fighter Brett “The Hitman” Hart.

Sporting a black Mohawk hairdo, The Hitman started the action with a cross, backing his opponent up against the cage. Right and lefts were exchanged. Nothing landed clean. They clinched up and pounded each other with knees.

“My pre-fight ritual is to shave my head into a Mohawk to grab the warrior spirit.”

His opponent slipped on the mat. The stocky lightweight secured side control, battering away with hammer fists and elbows. His opponent saw an opening and got to his feet. Hitman threw a flurry of knees in the clinch. His opponent backed him up against the cage. Hitman reversed position and worked for a double leg until the sound of the bell.

Bret “The Hitman” Hart is synonymous with professional wrestling. But if all goes as planned in the next few years, the name Brett (spelled with two t’s) “The Hitman” Hart will be tantamount with MMA.

“My dad was a huge pro wrestling fan and loved Bret Hart. Somehow, he convinced my mom to name me after him.”

Round two, Hart pushed his opponent, Miguel Cadrera, up against the cage. Dug deep for a double leg, scooped up Cadrera and put him on his back, punishing him with ground-and-pound.

“My dad played hockey when he was younger. Got drafted to the Sherbrooke Beavers in 1975. But, sadly, had to quit when he was slashed in the eye with a hockey stick, causing a permanent blind spot. He opened a gym after that, Hart to Hart Fitness. Recently sold it and retired. Now he’s my boxing and strength and conditioning coach.”

In the third round Hart continued with a relentless pace. Cadrera appeared tired. Hart landed a vicious knee to Cadrera’s head, which was enough for the referee to intervene. He stopped the fight, giving the Native American his first win inside the cage.

Brett Hart (4-1-0 amateur record) was raised in Akwesasne (meaning: “land where the ruffed grouse drums”), a Mohawk Nation territory that crosses international borders. The reservation (or “res” as Hart refers to it) resides in upstate New York and crosses into Ontario, Canada giving the heavy-handed scrapper dual citizenship.

Like UFC welterweight Rory McDonald, Hart is a new breed, one that didn’t begin his martial arts career by exceling in a particular style and then added to his repertoire. Consider him a hybrid, one that started learning several disciplines from the get-go, all geared towards fighting mixed martial arts, a “Mash-up” fighter, so to speak.

“Spencer was my first coach. Started training me in 2008 at my father’s gym. He helped build my MMA foundation. Taught me jiu-jitsu and some boxing.”

Spencer Paige was cast on Season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter. Lost a decision to Nam Phan. He suffered a broken jaw during a drunken stupor when Jeff Lentz socked him in the face (Paige didn’t believe he could be knocked out). He returned home, after the taping ended, in worst shape than he arrived (already suffering from a broken hand and shin with his fight with Phan).

In the summer of 2010, Hart and his brother (amateur MMA fighter Derek “Dee” Hart) began raising money to open their combat fitness gym on the “res.”

“We raised about $30,000. Construction started towards the end of summer. We literally built the gym from the ground up.”

Raising that much money is nothing short of amazing. Makes you wonder how a couple of kids pulled it off so quickly.

“We received support from the community. When we threw fundraising barbeques, everyone from the ‘res’ came out to support us. We also received donations from the casino, other local businesses, and millionaires that’ve made their money smuggling cigarettes.”

Cigarette smuggling in Akwesasne and the surrounding area isn’t a big secret. In 2001 Canadian officials raised cigarette taxes to combat smoking. This resulted in smugglers purchasing large quantities of cigarettes from the U.S. side and sneaking them into the country either by truck or boat. One smuggling route, across the St. Lawrence River, was the focal point in the movie “Frozen River,” starring Melissa Leo.

After years of fighting a losing battle against New York state over the taxation of name brand cigarettes sold on reservations to non-native Americans, many (including Akwesasne) began manufacturing their own. Native American cigarette manufactures such as the Tarbell Manufacturing Group that own brands Seneca, Buffalo and Signal sell cigarettes at prices that compete with states like Florida that have low sales tax.

“My family owns a smoke shop on the ‘res’ called D&B Smoke Shop. Packs of native cigarettes cost only $1.99.”

In the center of all of this smuggling activity that occurs on the res, here, you have Brett Hart and his family bringing a positive vibe to the community without compromising their true warrior spirit, and giving young Native Americans a role model to look up to the best way they know how.

“D&B Combat Sports opened its doors in November (2010). I only charge our members $50 a month. That covers the heat and electric bill. Our doors are open to everyone interested in learning MMA.”

From outside, the gym looks like an old schoolhouse from the 1940s, painted in that classic barn house red. But once you step inside you are hit with five hundred square feet of MMA bliss that includes workout area with all of the latest exercise equipment, massage table, mats and heavy bags. Posters hang on the walls of all the UFC events Brett and his family attended, creating a competitive ambience for all eight fighters currently training under the D&B Combat Sports banner.

So what’s next for this eighteen-year-old up-and-comer?

“My last fight was on March second. I fought Bruce Richards and won in the fourth round by TKO. Total domination. I had mount and finished each round with ground-and-pound until the ref stopped it.”

Hart fought on the same night as Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva, his favorite fighter, who not only won his fight against Brian Stann, but also earned two “Fight of the Night” bonuses during UFC on Fuel TV 8’s main event.

“I train at Silva’s gym whenever I go to Vegas. I try to emulate his fighting style in all of my fights.”

Going pro is his Hart’s short-term goal. Winning a few more titles in the regional circuit and hopefully, one day, fighting in the UFC is a long-term goal. At the rate he’s going (he’s fought four times in 2012) it doesn’t seem far off that he’ll get an opportunity to test that fighting spirit inside the octagon and show the pride of the Mohawk people.

DeLeon DeMicoli writes and trains in San Francisco, CA.  He is currently writing a novel on Mixed Martial Arts.

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Previous Pieces by DeLeon DeMicoli:
This Fighting Life 6: Chris “Maximus” McNally
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