There is no sport gaining more popularity faster than mixed martial arts.

The sport of take-downs and knock-outs has left NASCAR, poker and every other newcomer to the popular sports scene behind, gracing the cover of every major sports magazine and beaming onto televisions around the world.

TV sets that receive Showtime will be seeing such an event today, as the pay-cable network airs the Elite Extreme Combat’s Dynamite live from the L.A. Coliseum. The event will kick off on Showtime at 9 p.m. before switching to pay-per-view at 10 p.m. for more of the fight card.

With the sport just coming out of the mat as far as the mainstream is concerned, there aren’t many familiar names yet. Today’s pay-per-view card features one better known fighter, former WWE wrestler Brock Lesnar, headlining against Hong Man Choi.

But another name may appear familiar to Lowndes’ residents, as he is one of their own.

After growing up and attending school in Valdosta, John Wiezorek is one of the freakishly muscled and dangerously powerful fighters of the mixed martial arts world.

Wiezorek is making the first of two Showtime appearances, starting on tonight’s 9 p.m. broadcast as he faces Tim Persey. The fight initially pitted Wiezorek against Antonio Silva, but Silva did not pass a required physical.

Persey also brings a wrestling background to the fight, which should make for an exciting bout.

“He’s a big guy that throws a lot of punches,” Wiezorek said. “He doesn’t want it to go to the ground. That’s the game plan. If I get him down, I think I can beat him there.”

Wiezorek’s confidence comes from years spent on the wrestling mat while at Lowndes.

After he graduated from high school in 1997, Wiezorek became the community wrestling coach at Lowndes. While working with the Vikings’ coaches, Larry and Jerry Stanbrough he was turned on to jujitsu.

“They started doing jujitsu and told me I should try it, that it was pretty awesome,” Wiezorek said.

The former Lowndes grappler studied jujitsu at the Valdosta Martial Arts Center owned by James Corbett.

Along with running his center, Corbett also was training and managing talent for mixed martial arts.

In 2000, Corbett convinced a reluctant Wiezorek to enter the combat world of mixed martial arts.

“He asked me if I wanted to fight,” Wiezorek said. “I told him it wasn’t me, that I didn’t see myself as a fighter.”

Corbett compared MMA to wrestling, and Wiezorek eventually gave it a chance.

The thrill of preparing for a bout and competing against another and himself drove Wiezorek, who stuck with it because of his drive to win.

His first fight was in Valdosta, where he won the International Sport Combat Federation title.

From there his career went to bigger heights, fighting in more prestigious events.

Wiezorek fought in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s UFC 47 in Las Vegas, and MFC events in Atlantic City and West Virginia.

Currently Wiezorek is ranked in the Top 6 for win-to-loss ratio in the world’s heavyweight division. His biggest payday comes from the two-fight deal with Showtime, but Wiezorek doesn’t rely on fighting for his sole income.

He graduated from VSU with a degree in athletic training and was a graduate assistant in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Following his graduation from Chattanooga, he relocated with his wife and 4-month-old baby boy to Springfield, Ill.

Wiezorek plans to continue a career in athletic training while using MMA as a hobby.

The athletic training background applies itself well to Wiezorek’s hobby, as he is able to identify and repair the plethora of cuts, bruises and contusions that come with fighting.

“It makes training for me a little easier. If I get nicks and bruises, I already know how to fix it.”

The athletes he tends to on campus all know about his MMA career and like most young males, find it cool.

“They like it,” Wiezorek said. “They kid around a lot, and they support me. I guess they think it’s fun to know somebody who does that stuff.”

Wiezorek will continue to battle it out in the ring, as long as he remains on top of the sport. His career as a mixed martial artist started because he was winning, and will continue while it’s winning, putting him on Showtime, in the UFC’s Octagon and several other events in the sport that is seemingly taken over America.

“It’s taken me through a pretty good journey,” Wiezorek said.

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