Staff Sgt. Brandon Sayles looks up to guys like Tim Kennedy, Damien Stelly and Andrew Chappelle.
Each took the skills they learned as a Soldier and made names for themselves as fighters on the Ultimate Fighting Championship circuit.
“Those guys set the stage for what I do,” Sayles said.
A three-time U.S. Army Combatives champion and current instructor at the Army Combatives School on Fort Benning, Sayles is midway through a five-fight contract with Xtreme Fighting Championships, a professional fighting league below UFC.
HDNet, the broadcasting company that televises XFC events, interviewed Sayles Jan. 31 and aired it Monday on the network’s show Inside MMA.
Sayles will face off against former All-American collegiate wrestler Chase Gormley in the XFC 16 High Stakes super heavyweight bout Friday, which will be televised live in Knoxville, Tenn.
“I’ve had my eye on Brandon since he began his career in MMA, and he has really transformed from a big, raw athlete into a very well-rounded mixed martial artist,” XFC president John Prisco said in a press release. “I think Brandon has a lot of potential and will do great things in the sport, but he’s going to be tested at ‘High Stakes.’”
Sayles came to Fort Benning from Hilo, Hawaii, in 2003 and was assigned to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team. He’s been here ever since with the exception of a deployment to Iraq in 2005, where he first discovered his liking toward mixed martial arts.
During his off time in Iraq, Sayles practiced grappling, jujitsu and wrestling, he said. When he returned to Fort Benning, he completed Levels 1-3 in combatives training. He is now Level 4-certified.
He won his weight class in the Army Combatives tournament in 2006, 2008 and 2009.So far, Sayles is 2-0 (Gormley is 7-4) in the XFC. His experience in numerous Army combatives tournaments carried over to professional fighting, he said.
“Combatives is much more physically demanding depending on if you make it through the tournament,” he said. “You don’t know how many matches you will have in a day, and you don’t know who your opponents are. In the pro fight, you know the guy you’re fighting and what his style is.”
But the atmosphere is different, he said, with not only the several thousand spectators watching at the arena, but thousands more watching from home.
At combatives tournaments, he said he’s used to having more support from the crowd. “It’s the civilian public out there watching you,” he said. “If you’re not the hometown guy, they’re not going to root for you.”
His first XFC fight in December came as a surprise. Sayles said he was told he was supposed to be fighting in an untelevised, pre-event fight, but was bumped up to the featured match at the last minute.
“It was unexpected,” he said. “When I signed the contract, I was supposed to be an undercard. It really didn’t matter. I went out there prepared to fight and it made it better because my Family in Hawaii got to see me fight.”
The change didn’t phase him too much; Sayles won the match via verbal submission in the first round.
“He dominated his first fight in the XFC against a professional boxer,” said Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Farris, NCOIC for the Combatives School and Sayles’ training partner. “The guy was supposed to be a really good striker. (Sayles) beat him at his own game and took him down. He walked away without a scratch.”
As far as his future in XFC goes, Sayles said his loyalty is to the Army career.
“I’m just having fun with it,” he said. “I have the opportunity to train as much as I can while working (at the combatives school). My job is here in the Army. The XFC is the bonus right now.”