Mowry vs. Eatman: Behind Titan FC 41’s heavyweight curtain jerker
Hanging up the phone, Marino Eatman closed his eyes and silently thanked God he’d turned down seconds at dinner for the last several weeks. Although he still weighed 280 pounds, fifteen past the 265-pound weight limit at heavyweight, it was still a far cry from the 320 pounds at which he fought not long ago. Fifteen pounds in two weeks. Water off a duck’s back.
The call was from Titan Fighting Championship, whose broadcast partnership with UFC Fight Pass provides fighters with the kind of exposure only promotions with TV deals like Bellator and World Series of Fighting could compete with. They had a fight for him, albeit on very short notice and against a troublesome opponent: Steve Mowry, a six-foot-nine, 24-year-old giant from Pittsburg, Pa. who had recently joined the elite South Florida fight team, Blackzilians. Eatman, 30 years old and comparatively diminutive at five-foot-ten, was to replace Abel “Romeo Diesel” Valdez, a man he’d beaten during his 5-2 amateur run before turning pro and going undefeated in three fights. Despite knowing little about Mowry, he accepted the contract immediately. After more than a year on the shelf, he was hungry in more ways than one.
“My coaches at MMA Masters, they almost had to tackle me,” he said, laughing. “I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t have to fight until September 9th, let me just keep eating. I had my coaches on top of me with, ‘Hey look, Gordo’ – they call me ‘Gordo’ – ‘Gordo, your weight, you have to make sure to keep your weight down.’ They’re teaching me how to set goals, especially my striking coach, Master Cesar [Carneiro]. He tells me, ‘You have to have goals every day, those little goals, where you’re at to where you need to get at.’ Sometimes you need people like that in your life to help you mature because half of the time I’m thinking — as I’m 18, 19, 20 [pounds] overweight — ‘Ha! Don’t worry. I can cut the weight.’ But then I realize my body is not the same as it used to be.”
That Eatman’s first three pro bouts were all under the banner of Pensacola, Fla. based promotion Island Fights Championships had only exacerbated his issues with weight. Unlike most fight organizations, Island Fights houses a superheavyweight division. Eatman, at the time lacking proper dietary discipline, gained so much weight that his professional career was in peril. Something had to give.
“I strayed from the good road, in not staying focused on my diet,” he said. “Physically, my body, the weight… I wasn’t really there mentally or physically. I wasn’t as focused as I was as an amateur. Getting the weight off and preparing to come back and fight has made me feel strong. This is the best I’ve felt in a long time and I plan on making a big impact in the Titan FC cage.”
Of course, Mowry had to accept the bout for Eatman to even receive the call. But the No. 1 ranked amateur heavyweight in the U.S. Midwest and Northeast doesn’t view himself as any sort of grand golden ticket bestower, just a guy who wants to get in there and fight again. After spending more than a year putting off fighting due to gym changes and paid training partner gigs, delaying his pro debut any longer was unacceptable. A voracious competitor, Mowry had between 2013 and 2015 accrued a 7-0 amateur record, two Grapplers Quest titles, an IBJJF No-Gi Worlds medal and completed a successful Golden Gloves run. Despite the enormity of the situation and the late opponent change, there was no way he was going to turn down the fight.
“It’s high-pressure, but it’s one of those things where I get to do what I love and at the end of the day I’m just grateful and blessed,” he said. “I’m training at the best gym in the world, with the best guys and the best coaches in the world. I can’t really find myself being anything less than grateful.”
During his hiatus, Mowry kept busy. Marc Laimon flew him out to Team Takedown in Pantego, Texas to help Jared Rosholt prepare for his bout with Stefan Struve. Three weeks later he flew to Boca Raton, Fla. to emulate Travis Browne’s fighting style against his future stablemate, Matt Mitrione. Blackzilians striking coach Henri Hooft was so impressed with his performance that he offered him a permanent place on the team.
“I’ve really been training like a pro since I started,” he said. “I was in the gym five or six days a week for two hours a day training as hard as I could with the best guys around me. I had awesome teammates and training partners and coaches and the whole thing up in Pittsburg, but it just wasn’t a good situation for me to really advance myself. I had to get in a room where I wasn’t the big fish in the small pond anymore, and that’s not a knock against anyone I trained with before; it’s one of those things where I knew it was time to test myself and really look at where I’m headed.”
This weekend, Mowry and Eatman will square off in the curtain-jerker at Titan FC 41: Damm vs. Faria 3. The venue, the BankUnited Center, stands a veritable stone’s throw away from Coral Gables Senior High, the school where Eatman, a JUCO national runner-up, honed the wrestling skills he parlayed into a two-time All-American collegiate career. He still occasionally visits and helps out his old high school wrestling coach, Angel Valdez, and volunteers at the nearby Fellowship Church in South Miami. The serendipity of coming full circle, of returning to his old stomping grounds to prove himself in front of his home town, motivates and daunts him in ways no other fight before has.
“It’s very cool, but I am a little nervous about it, really,” he said. “It’s very nerve-racking for me because, one, the UFC, they’re always looking; and two, yes, this is in my backyard, where I’m from: Miami, Florida. I can rep that no matter what, but it’s more I’m repping that this is happening in my neighborhood, you know? Coral Gables Senior High, where people who know me can see me. I’m focused. I’m determined.”
Mowry is no stranger to playing the role of the outsider. Having fought in enemy territory more often than not, he expects, if not a villain’s welcome, at the very least a sour reception from the hometown crowd. He’s a pragmatist, however. Of course he’s going to hear boos while walking to the cage. Of course they’re not going to matter once the cage door latches. But in just his first professional bout, he’ll have more eyes on him than most fighters have four or five fights into their careers.
“He’s going to show up and fight and no matter how many friends and family show up it’s just [him] and me and the referee in the cage,” he said. “You really don’t know what you’re going to get. I only just found out about this change of opponent yesterday, but I feel I’m prepared either way. Just based on what I have to go up against in the gym every day, it’s just one of those things where no matter who I step in against, I’m prepared.”
For Eatman, a man who not long ago had one foot out the proverbial door, this bout represents more than a step up in competition and exposure; it represents the first step on a new path he hopes will lead to the top of the combat sports world.
“I found a new fire, a new relationship with God – a new understanding,” he said. “This sport is a beautiful sport and I found that fire, that new fire. My coaches have given me the motivation and helped me believe again that I can be a champion – that I could probably be the UFC champion – but I have to put my mind and everything else into it and sacrifice for it.”
His opponent, while serious about the formidable obstacle in front of him, presents a more lighthearted outlook. This is indeed the pain game, but it can also be a hell of a lot of fun.
“I’m very much an in-the-moment kind of person, but there’s still a small part of me that’s the 17-year-old who heard about MMA in a magazine for the first time and thought, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’” said Mowry. “I catch myself standing here, whether I’ve had a good day or a bad day, thinking, ‘You’re living your dream.’ Kanye West has a line in one of his songs: ‘How you gon’ be mad on vacation?’ That’s kind of how I feel. How good is my life that I get to do this?”
(Photo of Steve Mowry in slider image by Ron Short Photography; source for photo of Marino Eatman unknown. TuffGnarl.com claims no ownership over these images and will remove them upon request.)
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