Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Mma Fights Will Go on Tonight in Parsippany

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Mma Fights Will Go on Tonight in Parsippany

Article excerpt

Kurt Pellegrino was worried Ismael Garcia was dead.

The former UFC fighter, who trains Garcia at his mixed martial arts school in Belmar, couldn't find Garcia for more than two weeks after superstorm Sandy destroyed the Garcia family's Belmar home.

"No one knew where he was," Pellegrino said Friday. "I was asking everyone and putting it on Facebook. I didn't get any responses back, and I was worried because he lived a block away from the beach. I was worried that he was dead. Belmar is destroyed."

One day last week, Garcia returned to Pellegrino's gym, somehow still eager to fight tonight as part of EFC 5: Undisputed, a 14- bout amateur MMA card at the Parsippany PAL. Garcia's eagerness didn't surprise Pellegrino because Garcia suffered a broken arm rather than tapping out of his first amateur MMA match.

They understandably decided that Garcia, who lost everything other than a bag of clothes he took with him as he hurried to escape Sandy's wrath, shouldn't fight tonight. He is living temporarily with his girlfriend but has more pressing matters to address as he and his family attempt to get financial relief from FEMA.

Still, the 28-year-old fighter's resolve is emblematic of how and why the card was held together by promoter/trainer Hani Darwish, a former Clifton High School wrestler who owns and operates Extreme Fight Club in Woodland Park.

Fighters felt obligated to remain on the card, even as disastrous scenarios unfolded around them.

Long Island's Brennan Monaghan told Darwish a story over the phone that was particularly heartbreaking. Monaghan and several members of Monaghan's family lost everything in the storm.

"He was really stressed out," said Darwish, whose gym was without power for nearly two weeks. "He said, 'I don't pull out of fights,' and it almost sounded like he was asking me for permission to not let him fight.

"The kid was so sincere. I felt so bad for him. I said, 'You don't have to explain anything to me. I totally understand you have more important things to deal with, and I'm really sorry that this happened to you and your family. …

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