The first thing I noticed was the cut above his left eye and the puffiness that gave it an askew appearance. “Yo, Adrienne!” came to mind, but I pushed the thought away, shook his swollen hand and offered a somewhat apologetic smile.
Tech. Sgt. Michael Parker, an F-16 jet engine mechanic at the 162nd Fighter Wing here, is also a professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter. He’s meeting with me today to escort a documentary crew onto the Tucson Air Guard Base to promote his upcoming title fight for the World Fighting Federation, an Arizona-based MMA organization.
He’s in week eight of a 10-week training program to prepare for the featherweight championship to be held March 2 at 7:00 p.m. at the Casino Del Sol event center against opponent Julian Samaniego. Sgt. Parker must cut weight to reach the 145 pound featherweight maximum – a mere 30-something pounds from his usual 175-180 off-season weight.
But Sgt. Parker is no stranger to taking on difficult tasks or situations. He gave up his active-duty Air Force career in 2009 to turn pro after having fought at the amateur level since 2006. With a current professional record of 7-5, he’s a team player with his (swollen) eye on the title fight in an individual sport.
“Sgt. Parker is the drill status Guardsmen we all want on our team,” said Senior Master Sgt. Mark Franklin, propulsion element supervisor here. “When help is needed to complete essential tasks in order to accomplish the mission, Sgt. Parker can always be relied upon to volunteer,” he said.
“Sgt. Parker is a proactive, mission-oriented person. He has great integrity and is able to motivate his team and younger Airmen in accomplishing the mission,” agreed his immediate supervisor, Master Sgt. Ralph Velasco.
Whether inside or outside the ring, mat or cage – MMA can be fought on various grounds – Sgt. Parker displays the integrity, courage, and dedication required of both successful fighters and Airmen. “The characteristics it takes to be a successful Airman are the same required to be a successful fighter,” Sgt. Parker said. “Both teach you to take adversity with a grain of salt. You must be a dedicated Airman to always get the job done in a professional manner and continue in your career. The same goes with being a fighter,” he said.
Although the Air Force has implemented a two-day combative course into Basic Military Training, it has yet to join the ranks of its sister services that have well-developed and long-standing programs. The Marine Corps, for example, implemented the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) in 2001 as a combat system to combine existing and new hand-to-hand and close-quarters combat techniques with morale and team-building functions and instruction.
MCMAP trains Marines, as well as U.S. Navy personnel attached to a Marine unit, in unarmed combat, edged weapons, weapons of opportunity, and rifle and bayonet techniques. It also stresses mental and character development, including the responsible use of force, leadership and teamwork. The Modern Army Combatives Program (MACP) is a similar U.S. Army program.
Without an Air Force or Air National Guard competitive combatives program, Sgt. Parker resorted to fighting in the All Army and National Guard competitions. He placed third in his weight class in the 2012 All Army competition, and was the 2012 National Guard champion.
“It would be great for the Air Force and Air National Guard to develop combative-style training programs and competitions,” said Sgt. Parker. “Not every military mission is the same. Likewise, you won’t use the same strategy in fighting with each opponent. The mentality is similar between fighting and being a member of the armed forces so it would make for good training and conditioning for our servicemen and women,” he said.