Carter Brandes is interviewed live on the broadcast by Chris Gullo, a professional MMA and professional wrestling ring announcer after his MMA victory Saturday night.
By JOHN ANDERSON
Carter Brandes played football, wrestled and ran track at Wellsville High School. After graduation in 2018, he knew being a full-time student at Penn State University, he wouldn’t have time for traditional college sports as he majors in petroleum engineering.
So Brandes tried club wrestling and even basketball.
But it just wasn’t enough excitement. So he sat down at his computer and researched MMA training. To his surprise, there was an MMA gym right off campus. They offered a free class, so he emailed the form on the website and picked a time slot.
The instructor was imposing. He looked like Vin Deisel and was training a professional female MMA fighter along with members of the NFL’s New York Giants defensive linemen on using MMA skills to beat an offensive lineman to the ball carrier or quarterback.
He started talking to the owner, who asked where he was from. Brandes said, “Wellsville, New York.”
Bruce Lombard cocked his head back and said, “Are you joking? What is your name?”
Lombard then said, “I know your parents, Deb and Brian, and I certainly know one of your football coaches, Greg Cook!”
For two years, Brandes has trained at Lombard MMA, which teaches a wide-variety of fighting styles and Lombard’s innovative methods have earned him national acclaim.
“We bonded over Wellsville and we’ve worked together since, he is a great coach,” Brandes said.
On Saturday night, Brandes, fought in his first sanctioned amatuer GAMMA (Global Association of Mixed Martial Arts, USA) event, “Mayhem on the River” at RiverWorks in Buffalo.
Lombard studied his opponent and decided the best offense was to attack after his opponent kicked. It was an offense by defense strategy. Sure enough, in the first round, Brandes scored his first career knockdown using the Lombard MMA techniques.
That knockdown earned a victory on all three judges cards. At the end of the three rounds, Brandes defeated Dan Wrobel of Pride Martial Arts Academy, 30-27, 29-28, 29-28 in the 155-pound event.
It was Brandes’ second career fight. He lost his first one, but in that fight, he was a last-minute replacement and did not have time to properly train or prepare. He did for Saturday.
“We knew the style my opponent trained so we prepared for that,” Brandes said. “We worked on blocking a kick and throwing a jab. Bruce told me as soon as I block a kick, start throwing a kick or a hook, use his offense as our offense and it worked, that’s how I got the knockdown. He was going for a low leg kick and I checked it. As I checked it, I followed through with a lead hook and a rear cross and he went down.”
The fight wasn’t that simple. When his opponent was announced, his fan base was loud and right behind Brandes’ corner. Then, in the second round, Wrobel landed a shot to the face that knocked Brandes’ mouthpiece out.
“I heard his fan-base and it was large and right behind Bruce. I was thinking ‘this won’t be good, I won’t be able to hear Bruce at all,’ But I was able to hear him,” Brandes said. “I used what I learned in training. When we are training, it’s slowing down, talking and trying to understand each movement. It’s like breaking down football into bits and pieces.
“If Bruce sees something during a match, he will direct you. He worked on keeping my head up and blocking punches,” Brandes continued. “If I move my head to the side I can take a kick to the face and that’s not good.”
As for the mouthpiece incident, Brandes said, “He was a very tough opponent, I noticed he did not step away at all after I knocked him down. In the second round, my mouthguard came out and that is the ‘oohh and ahhh factor’ so I didn’t know how the judges would score the round. But in the third round, I was trying to throw with volume.”
Brandes figured it would come down to the third round. The first judge gave Brandes all three. The other two judges gave him the first and third. But he still had to wait in the middle of the ring for the results.
“I was very anxious. I knew I had the knockdown and had tripped him in the second and I did well in the third,” Brandes said. “Waiting for the judges felt like forever. I was trying not to get nervous looking at all the people. When they read the scorecards it went by so quickly, I didn’t hear the last two, but I heard my name as the winner and that was the most important part!”
Veteran professional wrestling and MMA ring announcer Chris Gullo then grabbed Brandes for a live interview on the broadcast. That’s when it hit him. This was more than just an exhibition or sparring match.
“I’ve seen (MMA fighters) Justin Gaethje and Conor McGregor speak. To get to be on a microphone and speak in front of people like that, it’s a real experience. I didn’t know what I was going to say but it was cool to watch again after it was over,” Brandes said. “Chris did a really good job, especially setting up questions. I watched him interviewing a co-main event heavyweight bout and he asked the winner the right questions. To have a professional announcer made it a great experience for the fighter, the audience and the viewers.”
Brandes, 21, started learning Muay Thai, a form of kickboxing. He said he loved it and learned the basics. But he said with an eight-year wrestling career, he had his eye on MMA (mixed martial arts). Fortunately for Brandes, Lombard MMA Martial Arts and Fitness Training teaches all forms of martial arts including Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, self-defense and boxing. He trains five days a week and when preparing for a match, he will train up to four hours a day.
When Brandes lost his first fight, he stayed around the arena to congratulate his opponent and his coaches outside the ring as well. He said losing helped him to stay humble in victory.
“We didn’t win a lot in football when I was at Wellsville, but you had to learn mental toughness. You had to learn how to handle yourself in defeat,” Brandes said. “Wrestling was the most beneficial and track helped with my conditioning.”
Promoters are trying to get Brandes to fight in March, but his college schedule will probably not allow it. He has one more semester at Penn State and hopes to have a fight in the fall.
Lombard MMA had a successful “Mayhem on the River” as John Sterling of Lombard MMA defeated Anthony Perna at 165 in Muay Thai with a first round knockout and Tom Traxler of Lombard MMA lost by decision in an MMA fight at 160 to Upright Odoemena, but Traxler went up two weight classes so the event would have a full card.
Outside of school and training, Brandes is now helping out his new friend from Wellsville.
“Bruce works with the New York Giants and other football programs around the country, so I will coach the beginners classes or Jiu Jitsu classes,” Brandes said. “Wherever he needs help, I am available.”
Brandes said turning professional in MMA is a full-time job and not something on his radar as he finishes school. But the workouts and friendships are worth it.
“We drove from State College to Buffalo for the fight,” Brandes said. “And Bruce’s stories — especially about Greg Cook — made it worth it! We just had a great time talking about everything and I am enjoying learning something new each day.”