Former Gulf High athlete headlines MMA Tampa event
The first line to Mixed Martial Arts fighter Ladarious Jackson's walk-out song, “Ain't No Grave” sung by Johnny Cash is, “There ain't no grave (that) can hold my body down.”
The song is a depressing anthem about life full of despair and heartache, but the protagonist in the song leans on his faith and continues to fight to live a successful life. A song written almost 80 years ago couldn't encapsulate Jackson's life more perfectly.
In a year that has seen his big brother shipped off to state prison and his grandmother in the hospital fighting for her life, Jackson has continued to fight, figuratively and literally.
After taking up the sport a little less than a year ago, Jackson has picked up where his wrestling career left off: winning. Jackson, a two-time state champion wrestler at Gulf High, is 5-0 in his short MMA career. Entering the sport in the summer of 2012 as a wrestler, Jackson learned other aspects of the sport at a pace that amazes his coach, Daniel Blevins, who owns Gator MMA, where Jackson trains.
“He's made improvements in leaps and bounds,” Blevins said. “He went from a fighter who wrestled to a wrestler who actually fights.”
Jackson has improved so much that he’s now headlining a local event. On Saturday night at the main event of the World Class Fight League's “Breaking Point” which is being held at the Hilton in downtown Tampa, Jackson will be battling Amar Short, another undefeated fighter from Gracie Barra in Orlando.
Short brings an impressive striking game and is very adept in jiu-jitsu, and while Jackson's wrestling is his overwhelming strength, he’s not afraid to trade blows with Short.
“I’m ready to do it all,” Jackson said. “I'm ready to prove I can be a standup fighter. Punches, kicks, and knees will all be in effect this Saturday.”
Word out of Short's camp, however, is they have been preparing for Jackson's strength, which is the single- and double-leg takedowns. Those moves neutralize a striker like Short, and despite the respect Jackson's camp has for Short, they are skeptical he is prepared for what Jackson will bring to the octagon.
“I think that most fighters think they are prepared for Ladarious' wrestling,” Blevins said. “He is so good at what he does. He's so strong and explosive. Until you've locked up with Ladarious, you have no idea how strong he is. Once he gets determined to do something, it's going to be hard to get him to stop. A martial artist can work his takedown defense from when the fight is announced until the day of the fight, and I don't think it will matter. You don't become a wrestler overnight.”
Jackson’s quick rise has potentially puts a professional contract on the horizon, yet Jackson is appreciative of the chance and hopes to soak in being a headliner Saturday night.
“It feels spectacular,” Jackson said. “Jackson versus Short is a big deal, and I'm thankful to the WCFL for this opportunity.”
WCFL “Breaking Point” is at the Downtown Tampa Hilton at 211 N. Tampa Street at 6 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the gate or online at www.worldclassfightleague.com.
Correspondent Steve Campbell can be reached at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SCPascoTrib.