Jon Marco Sanchez spends his days fronting a classroom full of students but when the bell rings for the end of the school day, the beast is unleashed.
His after-hours domain is ‘‘the cage’’ in the gym and now, after four years of hard work and determination, the Kanahooka man is rated one of Australia’s top amateur martial arts fighters.
‘‘Jon Marco came from a swimming background but when it comes to kickboxing and striking he was fairly unco-ordinated,’’ trainer Russell Thompson said.
‘‘But he trained six days a week, three hours a day for four years and showed what dedication can do.’’
Mr Sanchez is a force to be reckoned with in a sport that’s not for the faint-hearted.
Yet despite the brutality, MMA, or mixed martial arts, has captivated fans and wannabe fighters across the Illawarra.
Sports Master Athletics International (SMAI) – the largest Australian supplier of martial arts and combat equipment – even calls Fairy Meadow home.
SMAI owner Lee Alenaddaf said yesterday that MMA had largely grown in popularity during the past five years.
‘‘We have added many MMA-specific product lines. Many of our mainstream martial arts studios are incorporating MMA-specific items into their training programs,’’ Mr Alenaddaf said.
‘‘People are seeing the benefits of MMA-type training, that it’s highly effective and more and more people in the mainstream audience are seeing that through the popularity of the UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship] internationally.’’
While many people still find cage fighting distasteful, the sport that allows you to punch, kick, knee, elbow, throw, strangle and stomp is now regulated in most parts of the country.
Children are lining up at gyms across the Illawarra to learn the fight style that combines techniques from boxing, kickboxing, jiu jitsu and wrestling.
Mr Thompson, of Full Circle MMA, said his North Wollongong gym had 30 students when it opened four years ago and now had 180 members.
‘‘We find all our marketing is done for us via the UFC,’’ Mr Thompson said. ‘‘We get a lot of kids coming in, mostly boys in their late teens, a lot of university students, which is great to see.
‘‘We cater for people of all ages and skill levels.’’
For Mr Sanchez, cage fighting has become a way of life. Undefeated in the amateur ranks, he’s now turned pro.
‘‘I just kept training and training, learning everything I could until I thought I was good enough to fight,’’ the Albion Park High School teacher said.
It took him four years to feel ‘‘good enough’’ to enter the cage. Three of his four amateur opponents didn’t make it past the second round.
Mr Sanchez has already proven he’s ready for the big time, dominating in his first pro fight with a technical knockout in round two.
He brushes aside claims that the sport is too violent, and says his mother supports him.
‘‘My two sisters came and watched me. My mum hasn’t. She doesn’t worry though, she knows I’m well trained.’’