How street fights and a nose-breaking punch by his uncle molded N.C. kid into rising MMA fighter

Most of us, when we head to our jobs in the morning, we don’t leave the house saying this about our co-workers:

“I want to basically make him feel like this is not just a competition, that this is an actual fight ... then make him look for a way out. I want to end this guy. I want to hurt him.”

Or, if we did, we might not belong in that job anymore.

But most of us don’t have jobs like Jeremie Holloway, a North Carolina native whose line of work brings him home this weekend: On Saturday afternoon, the now-Dallas-based 32-year-old will be featured in one of several bouts being showcased at Charlotte Motor Speedway as part of the Monster Energy Bellator MMA Fight Series (and serving as a prelude to the evening’s NASCAR All-Star Race).

To understand how Holloway got here – that is, to up-and-coming pro status as a mixed martial artist, with an 8-2 record and the nickname “Hit Em” – you have to look at where he came from. You have to look, for instance, at the rough-and-tumble little cities in central North Carolina he bounced around as a kid. Or his immediate family’s hardships; or his extended family’s role modeling; or his circle of friends – and their enemies.

Born in Hickory, his father died at the age of 23 (when Holloway was just 5), forcing his mother to move him and his sister into their grandmother’s house, which already was over-stuffed because half a dozen of his aunts and uncles still lived at home.

But Hickory was a day at the beach compared to Lenoir, where he was moved to after his mom got married, around the time he was starting third grade.

“I was the only black kid at my school,” Holloway recalls. “Like, this s--- was backwoods. (The school) went from kindergarten to the eighth grade, and you had kids in the freakin’ sixth or seventh grade that were like 16, 17 years old. ... And dude, I got my ass kicked every day. Every day. Any racial slur you can think of, I can probably give you the proper definition for it.”

“As I got older,” he says, “I realized, ‘This isn’t really them, it’s just what they’re being taught (at home), what they’re being shown’ ... so now I can’t really hold them at fault. But at the time, man, I was a really resentful kid. I rebelled against everything. That’s when the fighting really started.”

Around his neighborhood, he was an easy target not just because of the color of his skin, but because he was small for his age. And most of the time, he’d lose. But he had a reputation for going down swinging – or, oftentimes, not fully going down at all.

“I was that kid who you always had to go and get his parent to come and get him to stop fighting, ’cause he was getting beat up, but he wouldn’t stop coming,” Holloway says. “I’d keep coming.”

So it was no surprise that he took to boxing after being introduced to it by his uncle, who owned a fighting gym in the area. A little bit of a surprise, perhaps, to learn that his uncle broke Holloway’s nose in the ring when Holloway was 15, but then – based on everything else we’ve learned – no surprise to hear that they kept going at it for another 20 minutes. That Holloway kept coming.

I’d jump out of the car like, ‘Hey, I got you right here, buddy.’ ... I would hit guys just once, and that was all it took. And (another friend) started calling me ‘Hit Em.’ He’s like, ‘You hit ’em, bro, and that’s it. That’s a wrap. You just hit ’em.’ It stuck with me.

Jeremie Holloway

Most of us, if an uncle broke our nose, there’d be a call to the police. For Holloway? “That night changed my life. That’s when I figured out this is what I really wanted to do.”

By high school, his family had moved to Newton, on the other side of Hickory, and his legend as a street fighter began to grow. On weekend nights, the thing to do for the guys he hung out with was to roll their cars into the parking lot outside Wal-Mart and Best Buy and try to start fights with Hickory kids, who’d shown up for the same reason. Because they had nothing better to do, basically.

By this time, Holloway had filled out and was much closer to the 6-foot, 170-pound frame he wears today, but one of his best friends was a scrawny kid who was an even easier target than Holloway was as a grade-schooler.

“So, guys would try to pick a fight with him – guys that really had no business fighting him – and then I’d jump out of the car like, ‘Hey, I got you right here, buddy.’ ... I would hit guys just once, and that was all it took. And (another friend) started calling me ‘Hit Em.’ He’s like, ‘You hit ’em, bro, and that’s it. That’s a wrap. You just hit ’em.’ It stuck with me.”

Eventually, he moved from Newton to Fayetteville Military Academy (from which he graduated high school; it has since closed); there was a brief stint in the U.S. Army (an injury late in basic training forced him to take a medical discharge); then a longer-but-still-brief stint at Greensboro College.

Holloway walked on to the Division III football team there, earning a scholarship as a safety and a linebacker, but after one season, he says, he walked off because he couldn’t stop daydreaming in practice about fighting.

Next thing he knew, he was back in his uncle’s gym, first boxing, then trying his hands and feet at jiu-jitsu. After years of sparring and plenty of amateur action, he got turned on to mixed martial arts about five years ago, when he moved to Charlotte full-time and started working out at Darkside MMA, a gym on the edge of uptown near the Amtrak station.

He got his first pro fight – and first win – in August 2014, and one year later, he was 7-0. That earned him two straight bouts with Bellator (the world’s second-largest MMA promoter, behind Ultimate Fighting Championship, aka UFC), but both of those ended in losses.

“(Those first seven wins) it was fight after fight after fight after fight,” Holloway says. “I allowed myself no room to grow, no room to assess any new skills or just to adapt.”

So he moved to Dallas last year with the goal of taking his physical and mental skills to another level – training among with more-seasoned fighters at gyms like R&R Boxing and Fortis MMA – and it’s worked. In January, he scored a unanimous decision over Mike Jackson (who once fought for UFC) in a Muay Thai bout, then last month knocked out Dave Vitkay (who was on an eight-fight win streak and hadn’t lost since 2012).

And he’s much more zen now in the days leading up to a fight like the one at the speedway on Saturday. Whereas he used to try to maintain his training intensity till the last minute, wasting precious energy by keeping himself all psyched up, now he prefers to take it easy the week of a bout – finding calm and relaxing headspaces, working on breathing techniques, making the time “to appreciate my family and the small things that I take for granted.”

It’s a sign of a maturity that he didn’t have as that teenager with the chip on his shoulder, who beat up kids from rival towns just because there was nothing better to do on a Friday night.

Then again, he is still “Hit Em,” and he does have a job to do this weekend...

“I’m thankful that he presented himself for this opportunity,” Holloway says of his welterweight opponent, Jacob McClintock of Charleston, S.C. “I’m privileged that I get to fight a guy that’s got a great record (McClintock is also 8-2), who has a good name, because that’s what I need to get ahead. And I hope there’s no hard feelings – ’cause I am gonna knock him out.”

MMA fights at the Speedway

The Monster Energy Bellator MMA Fight Series will feature four bouts Saturday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway, leading up to the start of the NASCAR All-Star Race (at 8 p.m.). All bouts will take place between 3:30-5 p.m. at the Monster Energy display in the speedway’s Fan Zone.

The matchups are: Heavyweights Allen Crowder (7-2, Mebane) vs. Robert Neal (4-2, Jefferson, Ga.); welterweights Jeremie Holloway (8-2, Charlotte) vs. Jacob McClintock (8-2, Charleston, S.C.); lightweights Mike Stevens (6-3, Winston-Salem) vs. Lashawn Alcocks (6-8, Wilmington); and light heavyweights Allen Bose (5-0, Jacksonville) vs. Chris Crawford (8-5, Durham). Details: www.bellator.com.

Additionally, on Friday, former UFC champion Tito Ortiz and former Pride and Strikeforce titleholder Dan Henderson will be signing autographs from 3-4 p.m. at the Monster Energy display.

Want to go? Adult passes for All-Star Race Weekend start at $79, and kids’ tickets are $10. More info is at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com/tickets.

Article How street fights and a nose-breaking punch by his uncle molded N.C. kid into rising MMA fighter compiled by www.charlotteobserver.com

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