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Outside The Cage: MMA’s Heroes And Villains (Part 1)

There’s good and bad in all sports, and mixed martial arts is no different.  In this feature we’ll take a look a look at both sides of the coin as we highlight MMA’s saint’s and sinners outside of the cage.

In the first part we take a look at MMA’s real-life heroes.


Goran Reljic

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In October of 2008 UFC middleweight fighter Goran Reljic was involved in an incident that you’d usually expect to see playing out in a Hollywood action movie.

Reljic was resting in bed at home late one night in his native Croatia when outside a car spun out of control and crashed into the Adriatic Sea. Hearing the commotion Reljic ran outside to help as the car sank with two youths trapped inside.

Disregarding his own safety the fighter plunged straight into the water.  Punching out a side window the fighter then pulled both passengers to safety.

If it hadn’t been for witnesses at the scene the story may never have emerged as Reljic simply returned to his home.  The story then appeared in the Croatian media and was later reluctantly confirmed by the man himself.

“I don’t like people calling me hero and stuff like that. I just did what we all should when someone needs help, that’s all. Thank God for that,” Reljic said of the incident.

Benji Radach

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Being a mixed martial artist can be pretty handy when it comes to fighting crime as Strikeforce’s Benji Radach can testify.

In 2004 Radach was eating at a restaurant in Vancouver with friends including fellow fighter Dennis Hallman when a man attempted an armed robbery, pointing a gun in the face of a woman at the cash register and demanding that she give him money.

Sitting across the restaurant and out of the line of sight of the gunman Radach made the decision to do what he could to help.

“I didn’t want to sprint in case he’d hear me,” he would later tell  “So I just walked up quietly and fast and grabbed the gun out of her face and wrist-locked him to his back, dropped one big right hand and fractured his jaw and knocked him unconscious and moved him off to the side and saved the day.”

The perp was later convicted of First-Degree Robbery and Radach’s heroic actions were reported on mainstream media outlets like Fox News.

Brian Stann

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Former WEC light-heavyweight champion Brian Stann can lay claim to being a bonafide war hero.

The former United States Marine Corps Captain was awarded the Silver Star in 2006 for leading his 42 man platoon through “seemingly insurmountable odds” when they were ambushed by Iraqi insurgents in May of 2005.  Heavily outnumbered, Stann and his men engaged in a six day battle before making it out alive.

Stann and his platoon’s actions were widely reported at the time, from the New York Times to MTV, and documented on The History Channel show ‘Shootout’ in an episode titled ‘Iraq’s Most Wanted – Terror At The Border’ (watch it here).  Even the president at the time, George Bush, singled out Stann for special praise in one of his speeches.

“This award represents my guys. It’s an insight to what my men did over there. There were a lot of our guys who received awards from our group when we were out there, not just me,” Stann later said at a ceremony to award him the Silver Star.

After over a decade of service Stann left the Marine Corps in 2008.  These days, along with being a UFC fighter he runs a not-for-profit organization helping former military personal find new jobs.

Houston Alexander

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It’s fair to say that beneath former UFC fighter Houston Alexander’s tough exterior lies a heart of gold.

Prior to his career in MMA the Nebraska native was well known in his local area for his involvement in the hip-hop community.  That led to him working with youngsters in his area, promoting positive messages like staying in school and saying no to drugs.  He remains a motivational speaker today, visiting schools, colleges and community organizations, and also teaches a b-boying class for kids in his area.

Alexander is also a proud father of six children himself whom he raises as a single parent.  In 2000 he donated a kidney to his eldest daughter who had a defect in one of her own since birth.

When your kids need something like that, you don’t think twice,” Alexander says.

In 2009 Alexander came to the rescue of another child in distress, an upset four year-old girl who had been left abandoned in her mother’s car.  He rescued the child from the unlocked vehicle and searched for her guardian in near-by shops.  The child’s mother was eventually found and was later cited for misdemeanor child neglect.

LLoyd Irvin

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On an October night in 2008 highly respected MMA coach and former Judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Combat Sombo Champion LLoyd Irvin found himself at the center of a nightmare situation.  At approximately 4.30am Irvin was sleeping on his living room chair when he suddenly awoke to find two men armed with 9mm pistols standing over him.

He was then told to round-up the other people in the house – his wife, 4-year old child a family friend and UFC star Brandon Vera, into an upstairs master bedroom.  The men then began to instruct them all to lie face down on the floor at gunpoint.

Fearing for the lives of his family and friend Irvin decided that he had to act.  A moment of opportunity arose when one of the men momentarily left the room.  Vera, who had been training with Irvin for a fight against Keith Jardine describes what happened next.

“The guy waved the gun one more time and that’s when [Irvin] just grabbed it, pinned him up against the wall, pushed the gun into his stomach and pushed the release on the gun for the magazine to drop out,” Vera told

It was a risky move, but one that Irvin, who has helped train police officers, had practiced countless times in the past.  Thankfully it worked, the assailants fled from the house, and no one was hurt.  When news of the home invasion first appeared on MMA sites many people questioned it’s validity, but police tapes of the subsequent 911 call were later released which can be heard here.

Update: On the same day we posted this article a new report on this two year old case emerged in the press. In a shocking development it’s emerged that police believe one of the men who broke into Irvin’s home that evening is a suspected serial killer. More on this development can be read here.

Antoni Hardonk

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Heavyweight kickboxer and UFC fighter Antoni Hardonk seems like an unlikely victim of a robbery attempt, but in 2009 outside of the Los Angeles International Airport he and his lawyer found themselves confronted by three men, one of whom was wielding a knife.

After refusing to hand over his wallet the two thugs thought better of tackling the Dutchman and moved away. Just minutes later however Hardonk noticed they were now harassing a woman, and so he decided to phone the police. Moments later the men moved on to another innocent bystander and after a brief altercation wrestled his wallet from him.

Despite being outnumbered Hardonk immediately gave chase and caught up with two of the attackers, knocking them onto the ground. He then pursued the third man who had made off with the wallet. Though Hardonk was unable to catch the assailant he did scare him enough that he dropped the wallet before escaping over a nearby fence.

“I believe if you can do something to help someone else, you should,” Hardonk said later.

Tim Kennedy

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Armed with a degree in Criminal Justice, Strikeforce’s Tim Kennedy was eyeing a job in the FBI before the horrific events of 9/11. In the aftermath of that tragic day Kennedy had a change of heart and decided to take a more hands on approach to the war against terror.

Kennedy enrolled in the United States Army and quickly proved himself to be more than just your average soldier. Passing his training with flying colors he became a member of the special forces and was featured in Dick Couch’s book ‘Chosen Soldier’ about the rigorous selection process required to become a Green Beret. Kennedy has went on to successfully complete many of the armies most challenging courses including Ranger School, Sniper School and SERE (Search, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) Level C, designed for troops at high risk of capture.

During his time in the forces Kennedy fulfilled a number of roles, including sniper, fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The exact nature of Kennedy’s missions behind enemy lines remain classified information, but among his many medals is a Bronze Star awarded for valor under fire and a CIB (Combat Infantryman Badge). He also fought in the Army Combatives tournament and won three years running.

For over two years Kennedy fought another battle, to be given the opportunity to remain in the army while also pursuing his MMA career. In 2009 that wish was finally granted, and he is currently serving with the Texas National Guard as a shooting, tactics and army combatants instructor.

That’s it for part one.  Check out part two, in which we look at the sports most notorious criminals, by clicking here.

Article by RossC

Pictures courtesy of

Further Reading:

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  • A Layman’s Guide To The Sucker Punch In Combat Sports
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