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The Pitt News

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The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
Column | Former Villanova fanatic watches “Nova Knicks” take down Sixers in NBA Playoffs
By Aidan Kasner, Sports Editor • May 23, 2024
Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

Pitt MMA making waves in collegiate fighting

Members+of+Pitt%E2%80%99s+MMA+club+pose+for+a+photo+at+a+competition.
Courtesy of Pitt’s MMA Club
Members of Pitt’s MMA club pose for a photo at a competition.

If there are any Pitt football fans still reeling from the Backyard Brawl this season, don’t worry — there is still a chance to even the score before the end of the year. 

The National University and College Association of Mixed Martial Arts, an intercollegiate mixed martial arts organization, is set to host its third fight on April 12 in Morgantown, West Virginia. Pitt senior David Bernard will take on West Virginia student Griffen Leombruno in the main event. Fighters from Pitt, UNC, LSU and WVU will compete throughout the evening, with Pitt vs. WVU set up as the main event of the meet. 

Pitt’s MMA club took its skills to Orlando to compete at the second-ever NUCA MMA event this past December. The Panthers battered their opponents all night, showing off what they’ve trained for over the past few years. One of the highlights of the night came as Pitt fighter Selena Brown performed an impressive spinning head kick that is sure to go on her highlight reel. 

Overall, the Panthers went 5-2 at the event, winning in a multitude of ways — mixed submissions, KOs and TKOs. Pitt MMA’s success is only beginning, however, as the club is set to compete in several other competitions in the near future. 

Like many other organizations, the MMA club had trouble during the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the club has since rebounded, growing in both numbers and overall commitment. 

“It just seems like we’re on the up and up,” Bernard said. “But it was a struggle to get the club going during that time.” 

Contact precautions, restrictions of room capacity and mask mandates all posed issues for the club to deal with, but it survived and is thriving. 

“It’s been growing year to year,” Pitt senior Ian Branstetter said. “I haven’t seen it much healthier than what it is.” 

As pandemic restrictions lessen and events become more plentiful, there are more and more opportunities for these fighters to flaunt their talents. So far, these events are hosted by NUCA MMA, a company founded in 2017 with the intention of bringing MMA to the collegiate level. Extra safety measures ensure that while the young fighters are getting an authentic experience, they are not putting themselves at any excess risk. 

NUCA MMA Three is perhaps the most anticipated event yet, mainly due to the Pitt-West Virginia matchups. 

“It’s the rivalry fight, a Backyard Brawl that’s an actual brawl,” Bernard says, “We’re trying to get as many Pitt versus WVU matchups as we can. We want to hopefully get a lot of students to travel.” 

NUCA MMA will also make a pay-per-view option available near the date of the fight for those who can’t make it to Morgantown. But there are more ways to get involved with the club than just watching and cheering. The club said it is very welcoming to newcomers who are interested in MMA.

“People should 100% come out and just try at least one practice,” sophomore Andrew Buscay said. “I’ve gotten a lot of my friends to join it and so many of them have been super hesitant, but I get them to come to one practice and they end up falling in love with it.”

While MMA can prove intense for some, the club tries to cater to new members. The club stresses an individual approach to fighting, emphasizing a fighter’s strengths and improving their weaknesses. 

“As much as fighting is something that is intense, it’s something that everyone is capable of in their own way and in their own style,” junior Tiberio Gallucci Caricchio said. “It’s something that anyone can do, but no one can do like you.”

The club hosts practices every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, and it welcomes new fighters, regardless of skill and experience. 

“It’s one of the hidden gems of clubs here at Pitt,” Buscay said. “It’s really great and super beginner-friendly.” 

With the rise of the UFC and other MMA leagues, there is no denying the growing popularity of the sport, and the Panthers seem to have a group at the forefront.

About the Contributor
Eli Smith, Staff Writer