Tampa, Florida. It’s a city known for its beautiful beaches, historic landmarks and its people. It’s a city teeming with culture, diversity and community. It is a city that is transformed once the sun goes down.
Tampa has in recent years had quite the booming MMA community, and it continues to grow daily. The city is home to gyms like American Top Team Tampa, Gracie Tampa and Tiger’s World MMA, all of which have made their presence known.
The city is also home to Bang Muay Thai Tampa and one of its star pupils, Vince McGuinness, who fights this Friday at Real Fighting Championships 37 for the Florida state lightweight title.
The 28-year-old lightweight started his professional MMA career in 2012. It was a rough start, too. McGuinness lost two of his first three professional bouts before going on a three-fight winning streak leading up to 2016. McGuinness ended up on the losing end of a split decision in January against Derrick Kennington, but he was able to rebound just over a month later at RFC 36, where he finished John Ortolani with a late third-round knockout. The fighter’s style, along with his attitude, reflect the journey that he has made thus far.
“I think that in any endeavor that you kind of get into, if you are obsessed with it and you work really hard at it, that eventually you are going to ‘outgrow’,” McGuinness told Combat Press. “I do think that there comes a point in time where you kind of just branch out a little bit and you’re looking for more influences, and when I started training with Duane Ludwig, that was kind of it.
“Professor Ludwig is really just, in my eyes, the best coach that I’ve ever been around. He’s just completely obsessed with martial arts. So when I started [at] Bang Muay Thai Tampa, it was great to have him to just kind of bounce some ideas off of about techniques and then being able to go out to Colorado and train under him and [for him to] hold pads for me and talk about different strategies throughout the fight and him looking at fight tapes. It’s just been an awesome opportunity to kind of have that.”
Ludwig. Diehard MMA fans recognize him immediately as the owner of the fastest knockout in UFC history. Today’s fans see him in a different light as the coach that brought Team Alpha Male’s striking to a whole new level and eventually — after he left the camp — gave them their first UFC champion in T.J. Dillashaw. His coaching has brought in many fighters, including the aforementioned Dillashaw, to become staples within his gym in Colorado.
So, how does a fighter who trained out of the Tampa Bay area end up with the chance to train with arguably one of the best coaches in modern MMA? Fate.
“So, me and my ex-girlfriend actually moved out to California. She had a good job opportunity, so I was kind of leaving my Gracie Tampa family,” said McGuinness. “We were living in Oakland, and there’s a lot of big gyms around that Northern California area. There’s [American Kickboxing Academy], the Rat Pack, which is Gilbert Melendez’s gym, and then there’s Team Alpha Male. So I kind of just hit it off with Team Alpha Male. I felt the best there. I felt like I really hit it off with the guys. It had a good energy, a good atmosphere — some of the things I was looking for. They have this great wrestling base, which is really something I wanted to focus on and work on.
“So that was just kind of a good fit. And then, obviously, Duane Ludwig was head coach, and once I saw him running practices and his demeanor towards martial arts and towards fighters and how organized everything was… They had a well-oiled machine there. I love the Bang Muay Thai system, and that’s what kind of prompted all of this.
“Even before this California trip had come up, I had taken trips to American Top Team [and] Jackson-Winkeljohn to train out there, so I had kind of been around the who’s who in the sport of MMA. I committed a lot of time to it and I didn’t want to do it if I felt like at the end of the road I just really wasn’t as talented as the top guys were. I didn’t want to spend all this time doing this if I couldn’t hang with those guys at some point.
“So if you’re doing that, it really just solidifies that [I] can do this. I’m talented. I work hard. These practices aren’t even crazy. They’re exactly what I expected it to be like. It felt good sparring with the guys. No one really beat me up. And I think that all fighters should do that.”
This extra confidence will be on full display when McGuinness takes on Ladarious Jackson, another surging lightweight. Jackson started his career as a welterweight before recently finding a home at 155 pounds. Strangely enough, Jackson should be on a four-fight winning streak, but one of his fights was stopped due to rain. Yes, you read that correctly.
Jackson and McGuinness fought in separate bouts on the RFC 36 fight card. It was only a matter of time before the two collided inside the cage. To make things more interesting, this fight is for the Florida state lightweight title. It’s also the first title fight for either fighter.
“I think, obviously, my striking is a big advantage in all my fights,” McGuinness said. “I haven’t really felt like I have fought a striker who is at my level, so certainly my striking. I also feel like just my willingness to get in there and scrap and finish the fight — I’m not afraid to put myself in dangerous situations to get the finish, and I think that’s the biggest thing.
“I think for this camp what I really wanted to focus on was just mental clarity through those five rounds. I can be the most well-conditioned athlete in the world, but if you’re getting nervous and you’re kind of letting your emotions take control of your body, that’s going to wear you out regardless of the time, even if it was just a three-round fight. So that’s the number one thing I focus on, is just staying relaxed [and] staying calm. If I give up a takedown, just stay relaxed, work my way up and kind of pick and choose where the openings are, versus exploding and wasting a lot of energy. I think a lot of [Jackson’s] opponents have kind of made that mistake.
“That’s the real benefit of having a five-round fight. I was worried about fighting a three-round fight against Ladarious, because I kind of felt that he would be more inclined to fight a three-round fight, so I was surprised when he decided to fight in a five-round fight. I really feel like that is an advantage for me, versus an advantage for him. In that aspect, I’m talking about those takedowns and him just kind of grinding a win away. That gives me more opportunities and more time to put him away.
“I asked for five rounds. When it was [announced] as a title fight, I really wanted five rounds. I thought that it would benefit me and it would be a good challenge, so I wanted it right off the bat. I asked Joe [Valdez, RFC matchmaker] about it and he said he would see what he could do and then Ladarious agreed to it, so that’s kind of how it came to fruition.
“I think in a three-round fight you get kind of nervous if that first round doesn’t go your way and you give up a takedown or whatever the case is. Then it’s on you to make sure that doesn’t happen again and you start getting stressed. For a finisher, I feel like the more time we spend in there, the more opportunities I’m going to have to be able to put him away.”
The frequency that a fighter actually gets to compete varies across the board. It can depend on the fighter’s health, the organization and the availability of worthy and competitive opponents. McGuinness has averaged about two fights a year since 2012, but he has already started 2016 off with a bang.
“The two fights a year was really just a product of, one, I was injured [in] my pro debut so that put me out for six months, I think, and then after my fourth fight, the move to California really set me back,” said McGuinness. “I didn’t really have a manager or anybody looking out for fights for me or a coach really, and I was trying to figure out where my camp was going to be. So, ideally, I’d like to be fighting this frequently. There’s really nothing else that I want to be doing.
“This is my third fight [of 2016], but I’ve also had a kickboxing fight this year. So if I win this fight, this will be 4-1 for me. So I’ve had a busy year, but I’ve been injury-free. I’m training smart [and] staying healthy. I’ve been keeping all my tools sharp, which I think is important, and also, to be honest, there’s a small window for me to achieve some of these dreams. I’m not 21, 22. I’m 28, going on 29, and I just don’t want to be looking back 10 years from now saying, ‘I wish I hadn’t done that or I had done this.’ I want to make sure I am seizing my athletic opportunities while I am at my athletic prime right now.
“I think my lifestyle choices are very healthy and I take good care of myself, so there’s no telling how long physically I can do this sport. I think five years wouldn’t be a stretch. Martial arts is obviously my number one focus right now. I’m not sure about things to come, but I certainly feel good. I feel well rounded. I feel like my jiu-jitsu is strong. My wrestling is strong. I feel I would beat the hell out of the fighter that I was when I first turned pro.”
Defeat. It is something almost every fighter will experience at some point in their career. It can fuel a fighter to improve their craft. Or, it can forever crush dreams and aspirations. McGuinness has three losses, perhaps none more frustrating than his razor-thin defeat on the scorecards against Derrick Kennington.
“I feel like I won that fight,” said McGuinness. ”I can see why a judge would think I didn’t win that fight, but I think that looking at a fight and feeling a fight are two very different things, and when you are in there feeling it and you feel your opponent and what you are doing to him and what he is doing to you. I think that if I wanted a rematch, that he wouldn’t be so inclined to give me that rematch.
“Also, about a week [or] two weeks out from that fight, my opponent got switched and I ended up fighting a black belt, which is cool to me, but he had a much bigger record than I had. I think at the time he had like five times the fights that I had and he was a black belt. But I wanted to fight and I’m ready to put on a show and I wanted to accept this challenge. And, like I said, I feel like I won out there. I would absolutely like those fights back. Any fights that I’ve lost. I’d love to get rematches in those, for sure.”
When McGuinness is not fighting, he also holds a very important job that not only benefits him, but those around him. He’s a coach.
“I think it’s like any other fighter who has a part-time job or full-time job that they are doing along with training,” McGuinness said. “I look at it the same way, except that my job is also helpful to my training and my fighting. You know, every time that I have to talk about techniques or go over techniques with them, or talk about the kind of mindset that they want to have going into a fight or how they should be training [or] how they should be eating, it’s always reaffirming these things that I need to be telling myself. I think it helps a lot and I enjoy doing it.
“I think that the great thing about martial arts is it gives you so much. Forget about all the injuries. Forget about the aches and pains. Forget about how sometimes it’s stressful getting ready for a fight. Martial arts gives you so much, and so I really do think it’s an obligation to people who are successful martial artists to give that back and pass that on. Send the elevator back down.
“And I think that I am a good coach. Like I said before, I’ve been to American Top Team. I’ve been to Jackson-Wink. I’ve been around Ludwig Martial Arts. Team Alpha Male. AKA. So I know how a successful MMA academy is run and how you should treat your athletes. Positive reinforcement. Let’s focus on good, quality technique. These are things that are important. And sometimes there’s a lack of that, sometimes in certain areas. So I was more than happy to step up and take a coaching role and help some of these young guys and girls achieve their dreams and help them become better people through martial arts.”
As with all coaches, there is always a star pupil or two that stands out in their eyes. It didn’t take McGuinness but a few seconds to think about who that was in his gym.
“I actually have a female. She hasn’t fought yet. She’s looking to make her debut very soon. Her name is Amy Murray and she’s awesome,” said McGuinness. “She’s picked up the system way faster than anyone that I have taught. I think she’s a more natural striker than me, maybe. She picks things up really fast. She works super hard. She does two-a-days all the time. I can’t say enough good things about her. When she’s ready to fight, I think you’re going to see her make some waves.
“And, also, let’s throw in Ricardo Casilimas, who is 3-0 right now under me and he’s actually just getting over an ACL surgery that he had to have done, but he’s also [a] super hard-working, respectful and intelligent fighter.”
Talent. McGuinness sees it in Murray, Casilimas and others that he coaches. McGuinness is talented, too. He’s out to show what he can do on July 22 when he focuses on his championship showdown with Ladarious Jackson.
Champion. That’s the last word McGuinness hopes to hear before his name booms over the loudspeakers following his fight in Tampa.