Rian Gittman Focuses on Faith and Fighting with “MTC: In the Beginning”
Seemingly disparate subjects on the surface, religion and physical combat are far from strangers. In mixed martial arts specifically, Christianity’s presence was arguably forever cemented when Kimo Leopoldo made his now-famous walk to the Octagon carrying an enormous cross on his back at UFC 3 on September 9, 1994.
And sure, it was cartoonish in its grandiosity, but it was a heck of a way to make an entrance.
In fact, faith and fighting have been bedfellows for as long as the written word and the belief in a higher power have existed. As with any endeavor, those with deep religious beliefs appeal to that higher power when faced with adversity, and as MMA has grown, more athletes have opted to wear their faith on their proverbial sleeves, including former Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight champion Benson Henderson, current UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman, UFC light heavyweight champ and pound-for-pound kingpin Jon Jones, perennial G.O.A.T. contender Fedor Emelianenko, former UFC welterweight champ Matt Hughes and the Brazilian phenom, former UFC light heavyweight titleholder Vitor Belfort, just to name a prominent few.
“I always tell people, if there are people who don’t understand the correlation between Christianity and mixed martial arts, then they don’t know Christianity or they don’t know mixed martial arts – usually they don’t know either,” says Rian Gittman, whose new mixed martial arts organization, More Than Conquerors (MTC), will hold its first event – titled “In the Beginning” – on April 3. “I’m a Christian, and everything I do is to bring glory to God. Every show will have the element of Christianity in it in some way or another, and one of the things that I’m hoping to do is to break out people’s idea that Christians are a bunch of sissies walking around with big smiles on their faces making believe that they’re holier than everybody else. As Christians, we fight a fight every single day. The bible says that we fight the good fight, and those that fight that good fight are more than conquerors, and I thought, ‘Man, that’s a great term for my MMA brothers,’ and these guys are fighting machines, man.”
The entire passage reads: “For your sake, we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered, yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Essentially it means that an overwhelming and immeasurable victory occurs over all hardship through the belief of God in Christ. When applied to fighting and in life in general, it’s a hell of a motivator.
Gittman, who divides his time between being a husband and father at home (he and his wife Joy have brought six children into the world during their almost twenty years together), coaching and training fighters at American Top Team in Coconut Creek (he holds a brown belt under master Ricardo Liborio, mentoring many of ATT’s amateur fighters and cornering some of the camp’s brightest stars), breeding and selling reptiles (his latest endeavor in this lifelong passion is a store called Underground Reptiles), and leading his congregation as senior pastor at Calvary Chapel of Deerfield Beach (which he founded in May 2006, growing the church from his living room into the successful institution it is today), grew up in Queens, NY, bouncing around between street jobs before settling into the dangerous profession of loan collection. After drawing the ire of some dangerous people and not wanting to end up dead at an early age, he made the move to South Florida to start over.
“I had some people who told me it was about time that I moved away or otherwise I’d wind up in a pine box,” he recalls. “I was a thug. I was a street thug. Not a thug like a gangbanger – I’m from an Italian family, and we played little Italian games that I was ill prepared for. I’m not going to try to sound like a tough guy, because I’m not. The guys that I was running with were real tough guys, and they showed me who was really tough. Though I lived down here (in South Florida) roughly five years before I received Christ as my savior, there is no question that my experiences in New York led me to have – you know, there’s an old saying, ‘You don’t realize that Christ is all you need until Christ is all you’ve got,’ and when Christ was all I had I realized he was all I needed, so I was very thankful for what I went through; I appreciate my old friends back in the neighborhood.”
Gittman, who grew up boxing (his father was a boxing coach in the Army) in the New York Boys’ Club, made his first foray into mixed martial arts when he brought his then six-year-old son, Josiah (now 16 years old), to American Top Team to sharpen his skills under Fight Time Promotions’ Howard Davis Jr., who coached boxing there (“Howard Davis is one of my heroes as far as boxing goes; the guy was a God.”).
When Josiah began training and competing in jiu-jitsu (he has since won numerous tournaments), Gittman was a proud, however overzealously vocal, supporter. Compelled by ATT coach Rafael Rebello to put up on the mat or shut up on the sidelines, he donned a gi and took the plunge.
Ten years later, he’s a mentor and trainer himself, overseeing American Top Team’s amateur fighters and working daily beside the likes of Hector Lombard, Shawn Jordan, Mike Rio, Brad Pickett, Cole Miller, Nik Lentz, Jessica Aguilar, Tecia Torres, Thiago Alves, Robbie Lawler, Yves Edwards, Melvin Guillard and Glover Texeira, to name a few. According to Gittman, however, there is never a figure more impressive in the gym than ATT’s co-founder and head instructor, Ricardo Liborio. “When people come into the gym, these big MMA fighters come into the gym, they’re all like, ‘Oh, that Lyoto Machida! Oh, that’s Nogueira!’ I’m so unimpressed,” he says. “I’m like, ‘That’s Ricardo Liborio.’ I get the blessing of saying that guy is my friend.”
Having cut his teeth on the promotional end of the sport working with organizations like the aforementioned Fight Time Promotions and with Streetwise MMA, he now is less than a month away from unveiling his personal vision, which combines two of his greatest passions. With the help of his second family at American Top Team and the added assistance of matchmaker Roger Krahl (whose son Taylor will be competing at welterweight on fight night), he hopes MTC will make a positive impact on the local mixed martial arts landscape.
“I’d always hoped to help some of the guys out at the gym,” he says. “I really liked the idea of giving them a venue in which they could compete where they’d be treated fairly.”
Four fighters will be making their pro debut at the event. Among them are Gittman protégés and submission aces Aaron Rajman and Kevin Syler, the younger brother of undefeated bantamweight fighter Bentley Syler, who will also be fighting on the card.
“What’s exciting about this is that the guys who are making their pro debuts are way past due,” he enthuses. “I mean, if you talk to any of the guys at Top Team Coconut Creek about these kids… Aaron is 12-1. He had six titles. Kevin is 7-0 and he has two titles. I’ve been with Aaron Rajman since he was 14 years old. I’ve been with Kevin since the day he stepped foot in this country from Bolivia. These guys are a product of mutual hard work, love and respect, and are already as good as the pros the train with every day. These guys are no joke. We’re not just putting some local kids on. These guys that are going to fight on this card, these are killers. These are young killers in the making. They’re going to make waves in mixed martial arts. I can’t wait to see them do what God’s blessed them to do.”
MTC: In the Beginning is being held at 7 p.m. on April 3, 2014 in the Ft. Lauderdale Christian School gymnasium at 6330 NW 31st Ave, Ft. Lauderdale, FL and will be presided over by the Florida State Boxing Commission. There are 10 fights scheduled.
General admission seating is $25, corner floor seating is $35, close floor seating is $40, ringside seats are $50 and V.I.P. tables range from $650 to $1,000, seat roughly 10 people each and include snacks, water and dinner options.
- Aaron Rajman
- American Top Team
- American Top Team Coconut Creek
- Antonio Silva
- Bentley Syler
- Brad Pickett
- Combat Sports
- Fight Time Promotions
- Florida State Boxing Commission
- Hector Lombard
- Howard Davis Jr
- Jesse Scheckner
- Jessica Aguilar
- Kevin Syler
- Mark Hunt
- martial arts
- Melvin Guillard
- Mike Rio
- Mixed Martial Arts
- MMA Owl
- More than Conquerors
- New York
- Nik Lentz
- pro debut
- Rian Gittman
- Robbie Lawler
- Tecia Torres
- Thiago Alves
- Underground Reptiles