Jaywalking: Lights went on in the cage

  • Team Ravenous’s Blaze Robinson, left, and mixed-martial-arts foe John Lessard trade blows on June 18 at Plymouth Memorial Hall, where he lost his first match but learned a lot for future competition. submitted photo/kelly macDonald

Published: 6/27/2016 11:19:11 PM

Whately resident Blaze Robinson found himself inside a mixed martial arts cage for the first time in his life on June 18 and he had a television show about Yankee Candle to thank for it all.

Robinson fights for local MMA organization Team Ravenous, which trains out of Greenfield, and he made his amateur debut at the Cage Titans XXIX event at Plymouth Memorial Hall in Plymouth. He wound up suffering a loss by unanimous decision to John Lessard in his debut, but had participated in what he described as the experience of a lifetime in the process, and will be getting back in the cage as soon as possible.

So what exactly does Yankee Candle have to do with all this?

Robinson, 25, grew up in Sunderland and graduated from Franklin County Technical School. He never competed in any sort of combat sports growing up but did watch plenty of WWE wrestling and Kung Fu movies.

In 2012, he was working as a sales associate at Yankee Candle when the CBS show “Undercover Boss” came to town and Robinson became somewhat of a star.

Anyone who watched that episode might remember that there was immediately one employee who was suspicious of a new worker named Dan Johnson, who was supposed to be a former chef on a second-chance type of reality show.

That suspicious worker was Blaze Robinson.

What Robinson noted was that Johnson seemed too good at the job. He didn’t really need any training, and it raised Robinson’s suspicions, so much so that he mentioned it on camera and was filmed talking to employees about his feelings, thinking that it might be Yankee Candle president and CEO Harlan Kent on some sort of undercover boss kind of show. Robinson’s suspicions were spot-on, and Kent wound up having to come clean to his employees.

One other employee prominently featured on that show was Jose Lopez, who was fighting for Ravenous at the time and also worked on the production line at Yankee Candle. His mixed martial arts fighting was mentioned in the show, and Robinson talked to members of Ravenous about learning the sport.

“They told me to come in and give it a look, and that same day that I went and watched a practice and went out and bought the equipment,” Robinson said.

Even without a background in wrestling or any type of martial arts, Robinson said he was a quick study when it came to learning moves. What took time was refining all of them and getting his body to react to what opponents were doing without thinking about it.

“It’s a lot of action and reaction,” he said. “You learn a lot of basic moves but have no idea when to implement them until you’ve done it a thousand times.”

After four years of training, which included competing in numerous grappling events, Robinson said that Team Ravenous trainers Joe Leonard and Jeremy Reipold finally gave him the green light to step into the cage. And so a match was booked and last Saturday Robinson found himself participating in the first match of the night on the Cage Titans card.

Robinson was competing at flyweight (125 pounds) and took on Lessard, who entered the bout with a 1-1-0 record but had been fighting for three years and was the more experienced of the two combatants. None of that mattered to Robinson on the night of the fight, especially when he stepped into the cage and watched as the last person exited and locked the door behind him.

“It was probably about 45 seconds but it felt like an entire lifetime of questioning every decision I’ve ever made,” he joked.

Robinson said being in the cage just before the fight started was “very, very nerve-racking” because he had no idea what to expect. He said that all the hours of practicing can’t prepare you for that moment. And the adrenaline rush was met by another realization — that of having to switch into a mode which required hurting a complete stranger.

“No matter how many hours you put in on the mat or sparring, you never want to hurt the person you are preparing with,” he said. “You want to teach, you want to learn, but when you step into the cage, that mentality had to basically go away. I’m thinking, ‘I need to hurt this person I’m in here with because they are going to try to hurt me.’ It goes from feeling like something you are prepared for to something really surreal.”

Robinson said that as soon as the referee turned to both fighters and asked if they were ready that he was able to turn that switch on, but it was a “weird” feeling.

“Before the fight, I couldn’t have cared less about (Lessard). I didn’t even know he existed up to a few weeks before the fight,” Robinson said. “And afterward, I couldn’t have cared less about him. But for those 12 to 15 minutes, I wanted to inflict physical damage on him. I still couldn’t tell you how I flipped that switch. It just happened.”

If you are an MMA fighter or really any combat fighter, you enter a bout knowing that you are going to take some sort of damage. Robinson said he tried not to think about any of that, but then, he wasn’t the only person who cared about his well-being. He said his girlfriend, Megan Atherton, was at the event that night and has always supported his decision to fight.

“We didn’t talk too much about me getting hurt but before the fight she said, ‘I don’t want you to get hurt, but you love this, you are good at this, and you need to follow through with this,’” Robinson said.

And follow through he did. Robinson went toe-to-toe with the more experienced Lessard for all three rounds. And even though the three judges gave Lessard all three rounds, scoring it unanimously, 30-27, Robinson and his Ravenous coaches were all pleased with the performance.

“Of course, I’ve rewatched it and played everything back in my head and it’s easy to dissect my performance,” he said. “But given the situation, I think other than winning, I went in there and did the best I could against a more experienced opponent. He didn’t stop me, so I could have done much worse.”

Leonard agreed, explaining that from a coaching perspective, he was extremely pleased with Robinson, who not only reacted well in the cage to the coaches on the outside, but also had moments where he had the upper hand.

Robinson came out of the bout a bit banged up, but did not suffer any serious injuries, and said he was smiling and making jokes the minute he stepped out of the cage that night. He has also gone back to work and wants to get right back in the cage as soon as possible.

With his first bout under his belt, Robinson can now seek out his first victory. All of this lit by Yankee Candle’s fire.

Something that came across my desk last week was a GoFundMe fundraiser for Seth Hoynoski, a rising junior at Mohawk Trail Regional High School and a star on the Mohawk track & field team who has broken the school record in the 400-meter hurdles and is also a member of the 4x400 relay team that broke the school record.

Hoynoski is currently competing in the Junior Olympics, and he recently competed in a qualifier in Fitchburg, where he won both the 400 hurdles and 110 hurdles. The 2016 Junior Olympic National Meet is being held in Sacramento, Calif., from July 25 to 31 and Hoynoski is looking to raise $2,300 in order to pay for the round trip plane ticket and hotel.

Hopefuly Hoynoski can come up with the money to fund his trip. Good luck.

One other item of interest that came through the email a couple of weeks back was that in late May, Millers Falls resident Tom Waidlich helped throw out the first pitch at Fenway Park to kick off a Red Sox game.

Waidlich is involved with Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Franklin County, serving as a Big Brother for about six months. On May 25, the Red Sox were hosting groups that are part of the Mass Mentoring Partnership, which promotes relationships between adults and youths. Waidlich and little brother Gabe from Greenfield were among the people selected to attend the game free of charge and Waidlich said they were then asked if they would like to participate in an on-field activity prior to the game.

Some of the other folks selected to participate in on-field activities included saying “Play Ball” and reading the starting lineups. About a week before the game, Waidlich found out they would be throwing out the first pitch.

“It was pretty awesome,” Waidlich said. “Gabe was beaming the whole day.”

Red Sox officials asked Gabe where he wanted to stand and, of course, the youngster wanted to be on the mound. His pitch went well, according to Waidlich. It did roll a little, but made it to the Big Brother. They then exited the field and walked directly up into the stands, where the two received plenty of high fives from the raucous crowd.

The day concluded with the Red Sox beating Colorado, so all-in-all, it was an unforgettable day for the two.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com. Like him on Facebook and leave your feedback at www.facebook.com/jaybutynski.


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