The magnificent history surrounding the art of wrestling spans as far back as ancient Greece and an appearance at the first ever Olympic Games in 708 B.C. Colossal historical relevance hinges on the sport of wrestling, especially its role in modern combat sports today. But despite these long attained facts, to wrestle is to execute a passion not a career for ACE 6’s Nick Zablocki.
“You could be the best in [Canada] and unless you’re top five or top ten in the world, no one gives a shit,” said Zablocki. “You can’t make a career. There’s no funding and I know guys who are consistently top five in the world but they are living on 20 grand a year funding. There’s simply no future for the sport.”
The welterweight’s exit from wrestling ended on the edge of a cliff, but there to take his landing and satisfy his competitive nature was the prospect of MMA. Zablocki wrestled throughout his entire high school career and continued to compete varsity while at Guelph University. But once faced with his next step after the feats of University wrestling ended, was a reality he was unwilling to accept.
“There’s this saying where that [says] you can’t wrestle forever,” said Zablocki. “Maybe your ACL will explode, or you will get tired of renting a room in a house and having no money and no social life. It just gets to people after a while. Unless you win Olympic gold, get on a Wheaties box and write a book and promote it, there’s no end there,”
The drab ultimatum faced by Zablocki – like many fighters before him – was one that brought his passion for wrestling to a sudden halt. All he saw was unrewarded sacrifice, major execution and little attainment all within and a spectrum so small, only a select few, such as family members or the athletes themselves cared for its betterment.
But interestingly – despite enduring the rigors of a wrestler’s life – these same moments are similar those of a budding MMA fighter. As a 2-1 amateur, Zablocki is a far cry from earning the financial incentives of a professional and even once upon that level it is hardly guaranteed to be lucrative. So, why MMA?
“MMA is just so much bigger than wrestling; at least here…the biggest payoff for me has just been personal growth,” said Zablocki. “I got very comfortable with wrestling. But MMA – the first time you get punched in the face, you remember that – its game changing. The first time I got dropped by a body shot – I remember that. It’s pushing myself into territories that I’m not even a little bit comfortable in.”
Just under a year ago, Zablocki stepped into Burlington Training Centre directed by the seasoned hand of UFC middleweight Elias Theodorou when asked where he could dive in MMA training. Since then, his energy in its entirety has been devoted to the pursuit of a career in mixed martial arts. Since Zablocki is a man fitted with a mentality that asks for all or nothing, he has no plans of turning back.
“I gave up so much to live in cracked out downtown Burlington to come and train twice a day. It would be insane for me not to want to go all the way with this,” he said.
Thus far he has been guided, mentored and shaped by those around him since joining the colourful team at BTC. Thanks to a vibrant Ontario MMA scene riddled with plenty of serious athletes, Zablocki has never been void of a room full of killers.
Trips to Oakville’s Parabellum under the guidance of former wrestler and combatant Rory McDonell have also offered a wealth of transitional knowledge for Zablocki. But at the forefront of his development has been BTC Head Coach and professional MMA fighter, Paul Jalbert, a man Zablocki credits with his improvement.
“Paul has tucked me firmly under his wing. The amount of energy that guy has put into me is stupid,” said Zablocki. “I remember when he first took over the No Gi classes [at BTC] and he would tell me exactly what I needed to work on and we would drill for hours…the fact that I’m now no longer tapping every few minutes now is huge. And that is all thanks to Paul. 99 percent of the BJJ I learned from him.”
On Nov. 11 at ACE 6, the welterweight will look to improve his amateur record of 2-1 against Evolucao Thai prospect Filipe Fereira. Much like Evolucao, BTC has a growing reputation for breeding a list of amateur contenders including fellow ACE athlete Bobby Poulter. Zablocki’s journey began at BTC and as it continues, it can be testament the club’s commitment to creating an environment competitive enough to house a handful of Ontario MMA’s most devoted athletes.
This article is a part of ACE Fighting Championship’s special “Spotlight Series” that will look to explore the GTA’s best amateurs and their respective MMA facilities as they ready for ACE 6 on Nov. 11. You can also experience the event live in person at Nashville North in Georgetown and you can get your tickets at acefights.com.