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Couture’s son victorious, as is best-selling author

Six months of training in Las Vegas gave Matt Polly confidence, skills to walk away a winner in his first, ‘and only,’ MMA fight


Andy Samuelson

Best-selling author Matthew Polly, center, poses with his fight crew of Randy Couture (left-to-right), Joey Varner and Robert Drysdale after his victory over David Cexton at the Tuff-N-Uff event at the Orleans Saturday, Aug. 22, 2009.

Click to enlarge photo

UFC legend Randy Couture, left, poses with his son, Ryan, after Ryan's main event victory over Jimmy Spicuzza at the Tuff-N-Uff event at the Orleans Saturday, Aug. 22, 2009.

Future Stars of MMA results

  • 155 lb Main Event:Ryan Couture (Xtreme Couture) def. Jimmy Spicuzza (Excel Defense/Team Mica) via submission (armbar) 1:22, Round One
  • 135 lb Title Fight:Jimmy Jones (Xtreme Couture) def. Chris Brady (Legend) via disqualification (kicking downed opponent)
  • 145 lb Title Fight:Justin Linn (Tapout R&D) def. Chris Holdsworth (Cobra Kai) via submission (triangle choke) 1:58, Round One

Beyond the Sun

The biggest storyline Saturday night at the Tuff-N-Uff event at the Orleans was Ryan Couture winning the main event against Palo Verde grad Jimmy Spicuzza.

But what the couple of thousand fans crammed inside the Mardi Gras ballroom didn’t know, was the best story of the amateur show was that the middle-aged, pudgy, semi-awkward looking fighter being cornered by UFC legend Randy Couture was actually best-selling author Matthew Polly.

“They basically took me from pudgy and over the hill and beat me into enough shape to win one here,” said the smiling writer-turned-fighter, who won his mixed martial arts debut with a victory over fellow rookie David Cexton when the 24-year-old stationed at Nellis could not continue after the second round.

While the performance wasn’t the prettiest display of the night, it certainly was impressive considering the 38-year-old Polly — known for his national best seller “American Shaolin,” a two-year journey he spent with Shaolin monks in China — had to leave his wife, Marla, alone just a month after being married in March to train exclusively at Xtreme Couture for six months to create his newest literary project.

“I was talking to my editor about various projects (after the book came out in 2005) and was thinking of something easier like investigating gardening or something,” said Polly, who has also penned articles for Playboy, Esquire and Slate. “He was like, no. So I said, how about monasteries, that would be interesting. ‘No.’

“Then I told him this UFC thing is huge with young guys and frat boys that don’t know anything about martial arts. He was like. that’s it. ‘Do I have to get in the ring, I asked?'


So there was the New York author surveying the surreal experience against the better-physiqued Cexton.

“I was really nervous. I actually went and hid in one of the bathroom stalls to try and calm down,” Polly said of his routine before the fight. “My first thought when I got out there is, I got Joey Varner (Xtreme Couture trainer), Robert Drysdale (world-class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert) and Randy Couture walking in with me, I was like, I can’t shame them. I can’t go out there and get knocked out in five seconds with them in my corner.

“Then it was weird. There was a calm right as the music started. I can do this. I can do this.”

Well, maybe if Polly could find his corner and take his eye off the big screen.

“It was so smoky in there I got lost going to my corner. That was my first panic,” he said. “Then I honest to God got caught myself looking at myself on the big screen and said, ‘Can they see the backfat?’”

But after sizing up his opponent prior to the fight and taking a couple of shots early in the first round, the 6-foot-3 Polly settled down, recited the lessons and game plan his coaches had taught him and countered Cexton’s strikes.

“After awhile, I noticed I was hitting him two to one with strikes and felt like I could kinda see the discouragement on his face — like he didn’t want to be here,” said Polly, who said the working title for his book that will likely be published in a year is “Full Contact Writer.”

Either Polly’s assessment was correct or Cexton, who left the arena immediately afterward for medical attention, physically could not continue after the second round.

Polly gave a subdued “Rocky”-style celebration, pumping his arms in the air as Randy Couture slapped him on the back in his corner.

“Anybody worth their salt is gonna give anybody willing to step into that ring, whether they are a talented athlete or not, that respect,” said the five-time UFC champ who earlier Saturday afternoon helped raise some $60,000 for injured troops with his “Operation All In” poker tournament at the Golden Nugget.

“He’s earned that for sure. He’s got a ton of heart. He did the work and played the part.”

So, too, did the younger Couture (3-1), who bounced back from the first setback of his career in March to record the victory over Spicuzza after locking in a first-round armbar.

“I definitely was on my heels and reeling, trying to figure out where I was at. I did get rocked in that last fight, too,” said Couture, who lost a unanimous decision to Elisey Yarovoy in his home state of Washington.

“Same idea. I got rocked, grabbed the clinch and taken down looking for an armbar. This time, I locked in on tight enough to finish.”

Couture — who said he likely would fight one more time as an amateur before weighing his options near the end of the year — was equally excited to see Polly’s standout performance.

“When he told us all he was fighting we were like, ‘Really? The old, unathletic-looking guy,’” the younger Couture said with a big laugh.

“But then in the workouts he showed he has a little more athleticism than he appeared to. And he was really dedicated in there several hours a day just busting his butt and doing everything you're supposed to do. To see him go out there and execute the game plan like he did and see everything go off without a hitch was really cool.”

But cool enough that Polly thinks he’ll call it quits while he’s ahead?

“You know, there’s a lot of people that think it’s easy to get in there and fight or easy to write. ‘I went to English school, I can write a book,’” Polly said.

“I never approached it that way. All the amateurs at Xtreme Couture are probably twice is good as I am. But just training with them made me good enough to think I could just stand in the ring.

“The fight life is a tough life. I don’t know how these guys do it. And I thought Journalism was hard.”

Andy Samuelson can be reached at [email protected] or 702-948-7837.

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