RIP Bruce Marshall

New England combat sports pioneer Bruce Marshall died early in the morning of Tuesday, April 27, 2021, during recovery from open heart surgery. He was 74 years old.

The first time I ever saw Marshall was in the mid-70s at a karate event in Boston. A black belt under the legendary George Pesare, Marshall was a badass in full. And as martial arts evolved, Bruce Marshall was always on the tip of the spear.

He was a champion in karate, and when kickboxing became the Kick of the 80s, Marshall was there as an international competitor, coach, and promoter. When MMA became a thing, Marshall, no longer a young man, became the promoter of Combat Zone, starting in 2003.

Everyone – every single person – in the early days of New England MMA went through Club Lido in Revere, Mass, among other CZ venues. Fighters who would go on from Combat Zone to fight in the UFC include Mike Brown, Marcus Davis, Drew Fickett, Kenny Florian, Sean Gannon, Josh Grispi, John Howard, Calvin Kattar, Dany Lauzon, Joe Lauzon, Mike Massenzio, Tamdan McCrory, Phillipe Nover, Parker Porter, Keith Rockel, Aljamain Sterling, and Nick Thompson, among others. I’ve left out some names, I’m sure, and apologize. As far as top New England fighters then who would go on to TUF, Bellator, and other international events, it’s basically all of them. UFC refs Kevin McDonald and Steve Rita got their start there, too.

In 2004 UFC president Dana White went to CZ 7 to scout Drew Fickett, who split decisioned a guy named Kenny Florian. White liked “KenFlo” too, and offered him a spot on a debuting reality series called The Ultimate Fighter. Florian ended up coming in second in the TUF 1 middleweight tournament, losing only to Diego Sanchez, and eventually challenged for the lightweight (twice) and featherweight belts.

Combat Zone was acquired by Dave George and eventually sold to UFC featherweight Calvin Kattar, who had his very first fight in the promotion, and now carries on an incredible legacy of 74 events, and going strong. The legend lives on.

Marshall was a Vietnam-era veteran, enlisting at 17, and serving his nation aboard the aircraft carrier USS America. Ever a warrior, Bruce referred to it as a “Kiddie Cruise.”

Bruce is survived by his wife Lucinda (Cindy) Marafino Marshall and son Marley. My heart goes out to them in this time of great loss.

His remains are presently in a funeral home in Campton, New Hampshire. Cremation is planned; he will be laid to rest alongside his mother’s ashes in Hamilton, on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Further details will be provided as they become available.

In addition to his vast contributions to MMA in New England, Marshall mentored generations of students at Bruce Marshall’s Kenpo Karate, whose lives were immeasurably improved by his ferocious but loving teaching. Think Mr. Miyagi, with an accent from The Departed, crossed with a rock star. Bruce Marshall was, truly, one of a kind, and lots of the toughest guys I know are broken-hearted right now, exchanging stories about the man. We will forever.

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