A new kind of ‘Fightin Wildcat’ …

Alex Gallucci

Ever since my first journey to class as a freshman, I couldn’t help but notice the Villanova athletic apparel that dotted the herd of students on their daily migration from class to class. It was immediately obvious that our University was one that took pride in the success of its athletics, and that its varsity athletes were well-respected for their dedication by students and faculty alike.

Through the years, I’ve come to realize that athletic talent extends beyond the varsity level. Although the degree of recognition for the achievements of club and intramural athletes pale in comparison to that of the varsity programs, the amount of athletic talent present at Villanova is nothing short of impressive. Outside the realm of NCAA athletics, there exist a select few devoted athletes whose successes often remain completely unknown to the student body. One such example is sophomore Mixed Martial Arts fighter Alex Puma, dubbed “The Fightin’ Wildcat.”

Puma’s 5-foot-8-inch, 140-pound frame is no more telling of his status as an amateur MMA fighter than his humble and easygoing personality. In fact, the only distinguishing mark of his sport can be found on his casted right hand, which he fractured in September. The injury happened in his first fight with the Amateur MMA Fight League that calls itself the “New Breed Fighters” – an amateur organization created to provide experience for up-and-coming fighters.

The league was founded in May 2007 by Scott Morgan, Class of ’81, whose vision to promote amateur MMA fighters came through the opportunity to utilize the House of Blues in Atlantic City as a venue for monthly fights. With its emphasis on giving its fighters the opportunity to prepare themselves in a professional environment, New Breed Fighters has proven to be an attractive organization for those like Puma who are looking to pursue careers as professional fighters.

Puma is the only Villanova student ever to become a part of the New Breed Fighters, and Morgan has certainly taken a special interest in him as a result of their ‘Nova connection, giving Puma the name “The Fightin’ Wildcat.”

When watching his career debut, in which Puma’s hand-crushing knockout gave him his first amateur win, Morgan says he was instantly impressed by Puma’s ability and athleticism – “although, he does look more like a fledgling engineer than he does a fighter,” Morgan says.

Puma’s fighting background originated with boxing when he was 16, using the sport as an outlet after a struggle with drugs threatened his academic standing.

“Fighting was a way to establish consistency in my life,” Puma says. “It provided a way to be proactive and responsible and to stay away from what I’d been doing in the past.”

By his senior year of high school, Puma successfully proved to himself and others that he was capable of much more, as he joined the varsity wrestling team, became involved in several extracurricular activities and made the Dean’s List. His boxing career ended when an injured wrist kept him out of the sport for nearly two years, but his passion for fighting ultimately led him to try MMA.

Just one year prior to his first amateur fight at the House of Blues in Atlantic City, Puma began his training as an MMA fighter under coach and pro-fighter Brian Wright at the Real Martial Arts and Fitness Center (nicknamed the Dojo) in Ocean City, N.J. Throughout the summer, he spent six days per week in the gym, averaging about 25 hours. When classes started in the fall, Puma spent much of his time making a two-and-a-half hour commute by train each night in order to continue his training in the weeks leading up to his fight.

“[Dojo is] hands down the best place to train in New Jersey,” Puma says.

The motivation that comes from his training there, combined with his passion for MMA, has led him to take the next step in accomplishing his goal of one day reaching the professional level. Just recently, Puma signed a three-year contract with the Dojo that will allow him benefits, such as reduced membership rates and free gear. In return, the contract requires Puma to adhere to a regular training program, strict diet and to refrain from the use of alcohol and drugs.

“[Puma’s contract is] very strict, and he has made a serious commitment to live clean, stick to the diet and the training and become a big part of our team,” Wright says.

It is Puma’s remarkably fast transformation that is most impressive.

“From where he started to where he has ended up is amazing,” Wright says. “At first, he was not the best listener and was not really understanding of what we were teaching, but the more he learned that he needed us, he proved and transitioned himself over the summer to have the mental and physical strength and capability to be a real fighter.”

For Puma, the sprained ligaments, concussions and broken bones that have resulted from fighting are nothing more than slight obstacles that he must overcome in his pursuit to become a pro-fighter. Puma says that throughout his life, his primary source of motivation has been his belief in himself. With this positive outlook and self-determination, there is no telling what Puma will accomplish inside and out of the fighting ring.