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Mixed martial masters: Local mixed martial arts athletes to face off in Night of Gladiators
Chad Armstrong, right, works out with his brother Eric Armstrong at the Bodyplex in Dawson County. - photo by Tom Reed

DAWSONVILLE — Imagine standing in a caged ring, across from a trained fighter.

You too are trained in art forms like boxing, judo, kickboxing and wrestling.

The fight consists of three rounds lasting three minutes each and can end in a multitude of ways. During the fight, you risk the chance of getting knocked out, put to sleep, or in some cases, your arm could be broken.

Now imagine doing this for free.

This is the world of amateur mixed martial arts, a sport in which fighters participate in small arenas around the country with dreams of making it to the sold out arenas of MMA’s most heralded league, the Ultimate Fighting Championships.

One of these fights will take place Saturday at the Lakeview Center in Dawsonville where Lumpkin County residents Rusty Transue and Chad Armstrong are two of the fighters in the event, appropriately titled, "Night of the Gladiators II."

Like their peers, Transue and Armstrong train for months to prepare for fights, but the two differ in why they participate in the sport.

They do it not for the dream of fame and fortune and pay-per-view events, but for the reason why many athletes compete in their respective sports — because they love it.

"To fight professionally, you have to train a lot more than I can commit to now," said Transue, who is the reigning Southeastern United States amateur lightweight champion and the main event of Saturday’s fight. "For me, I just like it. I enjoy it and I would do it for free forever."

A student at North Georgia College & State University, the 25-year-old former Navy sailor and Class AAA state-runner up in wrestling has had a love for the sport since watching UFC I live on TV with his brother.

"I haven’t missed many fights since," the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Transue said. "I’ve always loved it, and I had a wrestling background and that transfers very well. Once I got out of the Navy, I still wanted to train and stay in shape and find a way to compete, and this is where it was."

That training takes place at the Bodyplex in Dawsonville, where, when not teaching beginner mixed martial arts classes, Transue and a host of other fighters train for upcoming amateur MMA events.

One of those fighters is the 20-year-old Armstrong, who bypassed a chance to become a kickboxing professional two years ago to pursue a career in MMA.

"I jumped on the bandwagon while stand-up guys were doing well in MMA," said Armstrong, who will be the opening fight of Saturday’s event at Lakeview Center. "This is fun. It’s a sport, just like playing football in high school. You want to do it whether you’re getting paid or not."

Soon, Armstrong won’t have to worry about getting paid. Saturday is his last amateur fight.

"I don’t know where I’ll be fighting professionally," he said. "It’ll be whoever I get hooked up with through my trainer."

One place it won’t be, at least not for now, is in the UFC.

"I don’t care to go big," Armstrong said. "I want to fight because it’s a sport I love. I don’t care to go big and make the big money, I’m happy with what I’ve got."

While Armstrong ends his amateur career Saturday, Transue has no desire to turn professional any time soon.

"Maybe some day I’ll turn pro and take some money," he said. "But I don’t have the time to take eight hours a day for training, and I don’t want to go up against people who are doing that, for the time being."

But that doesn’t mean turning professional is out of the question.

"It’s absolutely a dream, but at this point I want to finish my degree first. I want to have that," said Transue, who has a career 2-1 record. "You’ve got to be realistic about your odds of making it to the UFC and making those $30,000 contracts. You’ve got to have something to fall back on."

Taking to the mat one day at a UFC event may be a dream for Transue, but for Armstrong, he’s fine with coming out to his "Wolverine" entrance music in any arena.

"If (the opportunity to fight in the UFC) came, I’d probably do it, but I’m not going to try," said the 6-foot-1 Armstrong. "I don’t want that much attention on me.

"I’m just a backwoods country boy, and I just want to do my thing. I don’t care to throw my face out there in front of everybody."

At 20, Armstrong knows now is the right time to start his career. With a few exceptions — UFC fighters Randy Couture (45) and Royce Gracie (42), to name a couple — most mixed martial arts fighters peak in their mid 30s, which means Transue is running out of time.

"I would definitely say that if I wasn’t committed full time by the age of 28 or 29, it’s probably too late for me," he said. "If I’m still doing this at 30 and I’m not making any money, then it’ll probably be over."

Until that time, Transue will continue to fight for free and enjoy watching the sport of mixed martial arts grow.

"I didn’t think it would be what it’s become," he said of MMA, specifically the UFC. "It’s going to be bigger than boxing. It’s the fastest growing sport, and I didn’t think it would be that way.

"It’s the sport of fighting," he added. "It’s not boxing, it’s not football, it’s not jujitsu. It’s the sport of street fighting legalized, and it’s the purest form of combat that there is today."

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