Vestal MMA School Supplying Half Upstate Team in International Tournament

-New Gladius Middleweight Champ Tom Connolly Among Squad from Five Element Sport MMA and Fitness
-Syracuse vs Nashville Kicks Off Tournament April 26th
-Five Element Owner Jason Porter on Team Syracuse Coaching Staff

By Steve Westlake
Jason Porter, owner and chief instructor at Five Element Sport MMA and Fitness—formerly Power of One MMA—is looking forward to his 16 years in the business reaching a new high. Next month, members of his school will make up fully half of Team Syracuse Gladius, which will represent upstate New York against Nashville, TN, in the opening round of a major international MMA tournament that will culminate with world championships in London, England. Officially, the April 26th event is Gladius XI, which will take place at the JM McDonald Sports Complex in Cortland, NY. But the winners move on and could wind up being crowned world champions.

Five Element’s main school at 604 Vestal Parkway West, Vestal, NY, is in a new location after moving from farther down the Vestal Parkway. Jason Porter told us the move was due to the need for more space. The school is home to 300 students—and that’s just the Vestal location. Five Element also runs branches in Montrose, PA, and Big Flats, NY.

When asked if the school is set up specifically to produce fighters for competition, Jason said not at all. Out of the 300 students, 60% are there solely for fitness classes, while 30% participate in MMA as a hobby. Only around 10%, 30 or so students, have competitive fighting as their goal. “The social vibe is very good,” Jason explains. “It’s very supportive, very welcoming.” Jason, who runs the school with his wife, says the primary goal was never competition. Their heart has always been in the health and fitness aspect.

Jason has been running MMA schools for 16 years, and says he started the very first MMA school in upstate New York. An emphasis from early on, he says, is the confidence it gives women. “I started having women come up to me and say ‘Coach, thank you so much for the freedom to walk down the street with confidence.'” That led to programs for children. “We started having an impact on kids’ confidence and respect. They brought me their report cards and I’d see an increase in grades, and that fed into what I wanted to do with it. Fighting is just a small piece of what we do.”

JasonPorterJason Porter, center, runs his class through a drill

Asked to explain what “Five Elements” means, Jason says they represent wind, water, earth, fire, and void. The concepts are used in developing a fighting system, as well as a philosophy of life. Wind stands for evasiveness, water fluidity and “rolling with the punches,” earth solidity and “standing your ground,” fire the emotional desire, and void reminds one of improvements yet to be made.

On the subject of the illegal status of professional MMA in New York State, Jason first says he’s grateful for the ISKA—the International Sport Karate Association—which acts as a third-party sanctioning body. The association ensures responsible approaches such as unbiased judging, safety precautions, physicals, blood work, and quick stoppages. Jason says anything the state might do would likely not be an upgrade anyway. But then he mentions the lost revenue from pro shows. Five Element promotes the Art of Combat events that can be seen in the area. “Our Art of Combat shows are the biggest shows in the Northeast,” he says. “At the Broome County Arena we had 2,500. And that’s just amateur. Now you think about guys that people have seen on TV and you’ll do even more.” He talks of the hotels, the food and beverage, all the increased economic activity New York State is missing out on.

While Five Element and Art of Combat have a reputation for being responsible and positive—along with their partners at Gladius Fights—Jason is concerned about the number of promotions in the state that don’t follow the rules. He says he’s all about putting the best foot forward and pushing the sport. “We’re really trying to bring positive vibes to MMA. Our PRIDE program is in local schools. It’s character-awareness education, anti-bullying. My last 16 years has been ‘How can I get people to understand that there’s more to this than the fighting?'”

Part of the goal is showing not only the New York State legislature that the sport can be safe and mainstream, but the Olympic committee as well. The sport is at “the pre-Olympic movement” stage, he says. In that connection, the stated goal of Fighters Source, the company behind the international tournament, is to make MMA an Olympic event.

For next month’s competition, Jason will be on the coaching staff of Team Syracuse Gladius. And out of the team’s eight starters, four are from Five Element. Jason explains with pride, “This competition is going to show people that even though it’s not legal yet, New York State has got some of the toughest athletes out there.”

Representing Five Element at the event will be Art of Combat featherweight champ Derak Heyman at the 145-pound level, Gladius middleweight champ Tom Connolly at 185 pounds, Tyler Bayer at 205 pounds, Angie Reinhardt at the female 125-pound level; and alternates Randy Sisenstein at 135 pounds and Luke Visingard at 205 pounds.

TomConnollyTom Connolly

Tom Connolly, who captured his middleweight crown at Gladius X on March 8th, says he got into MMA with competition in mind from the beginning. He’d played football in high school, but didn’t see a college athletics program as something that would last long. With MMA, he knew he could continue to pursue competitive outlets. Tom’s goal is to make it as far as he can in MMA, “But it’s an accomplishment just to step in the cage every time,” he says.

When asked if he plans to turn professional, his answer is quick. “Yes, if I stay healthy I’m definitely going to go pro.” In fact, he and Jason Porter are planning Tom’s pro move following next month’s tournament round. It will be a major showcase, “in 100,000,000 homes” says Jason, with the tournament being televised on DirectTV, Dish, Time-Warner, and Comcast.

For Tom, fighting in the UFC is the ultimate goal. Jason explains “MMA is like baseball: there’s single A, double A, triple A, and the major leagues. So if UFC is your major leagues, Bellator would be triple A, the pro shows Art of Combat does in Pennsylvania would be double A shows. So if Tom came out of this tournament with a world championship, then Bellator isn’t out of the realm.”

Asked if he plans to bring any pro-wrestling-style character to his performances (as some pro MMA fighters do), Tom says he’d thought about it at one time, but quickly decided it’s best just to stick to the business at hand.

Team Syracuse will compete vs Nashville in Gladius XI on April 26th, 7:00pm at the JM McDonald Sports Complex, 4292 Fairgrounds Dr, Cortland, NY. Later in the year, the national championship will take place in New York City, and the MMA World Championship will be held in London, England.

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