When Bellingham MMA fighter John Keay steps in the ring at Ax Fighting 46 on Saturday, Dec. 20, he will be fighting in one of the biggest fights of his amateur career — a fight for the Ax Fighting title at 155 pounds.
But Keay, a 33-year-old divorce attorney, said the enormity of it hasn’t hit him yet.
“Not this time,” he said in a phone interview, when asked if there were any extra nerves in fighting for the title. “I’ve had enough experience to where I don’t get super nervous, but that night I’ll be super nervous.”
The fact that he knows very little about his opponent, Rudy Chavez, possibly contributes to his calm nerves just days before his first career title fight.
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“Usually I’m looking at YouTube and Google to figure something out, but there’s not much on him,” Keay said. “My coach tells me he has a 5-1 record and comes from a tough camp. Guys who are grinders, wrestlers and brawlers. It’s definitely the least I’ve known about an opponent. For someone like me that’s probably good, I’m overly analytical and get in my own head before fights. I can focus on myself instead of the things I have to do to counter him. I’ll see if he can match my hand movement and speed.”
Keay has a 7-3 win-loss record in his amateur career. His preferred style of fighting is well engrained in his mind, it goes back to when he was just eight years old.
“I’ve always been into martial arts from a young age watching Bruce Lee films,” Keay said. “I grew up wrestling. In the small town in Missouri I grew up in I wrestled there. I loved boxing, watching Mike Tyson and things like that. So I’ve been training in those since I was about eight.”
That foundation of boxing with some wrestling gave him a style that consists heavily of standing and trying to punch out his opponent, but Keay can shoot in for a takedown and use ground-and-pound to earn a win, too.
“I’ve been at it awhile, fighting in different amateur promotions for five years,” he added. “I don’t fight that often, but when I do I put on a decent show and fight higher-level guys.”
Those “higher-level guys” aren’t just good amateur fighters, they’re fighters who turned pro after fighting Keay, he said. The title he’s vying for is vacant because another fighter in his weight class turned pro.
“A lot of times the champ won’t stick around for a long time, it’s usually guys who are on the cusp (of turning pro),” he clarified.
And even Keay, an amateur MMA fighter for nine years, admits to feeling the allure of professional MMA.
“I’ve thought about it for a long time,” he said. “It’s been an overriding goal to have a professional fight, and I’m getting to the age where it has to happen soon or it won’t. I am pretty busy, so if I turn pro it’s not about the money, but I want to put out my best. I want to tell everyone that I’m taking it seriously.”
Another fighter from the Bellingham MMA gym, Lyndon Hirai, is competing for a title as well. The only difference is Hirai has held the 135-pound title since March, when he won it at the Battle in Bellingham.
Hirai is most comfortable on the ground looking for a submission, but has improved in his striking of late.
“His striking improves all the time,” Keay said of his sometimes-training partner. “I haven’t talked with him about (going pro), but he’s there, he’s fought some tough guys.”
Ax Fighting 46 begins at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 20, at the Seaview Gym in Edmonds Community College. Tickets are $25 and available at axfighting.com, or at the doors at 7 p.m.