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Combat Zone

By Matthew Sprague

Herald-Whig Sports Writer

It's just an improvised workout Brian McGinnis is doing at the Quincy YMCA.

Still, there's no less intensity than he'd normally show in competition.
McGinnis begins to throw punches and kicks at a heavy punching bag hanging from the ceiling.

It's a good thing this bag is heavy-duty. The kicks he's delivering are almost buckling it on impact, and would almost certainly buckle - if not break - a human opponent.

His demeanor shifts from focused and calculating to happy and easygoing as soon as the last kick hits its mark.

"That was fun," he said.

His mixed martial arts opponents might not have the same sentiment.

The 2000 Quincy High School graduate and ex-Marine's technical knockout of Junior Eilers at the Oakley-Lindsay Center June 10 was just the first bout in a young MMA career, the latest step in a journey that has taken McGinnis, 25, from Quincy to the streets of Baghdad, Iraq to "The Octagon."

Physical activity comes naturally to McGinnis, a football player and wrestler for the Blue Devils. He went into the Marines right out of QHS, serving four years and earning the rank of Sergeant.

His skills didn't escape the eye of friend and former Quincy YMCA instructor B.T. Aleshire.

"He was, by far, the most natural, best student I ever saw just with his pure fighting," Aleshire said. "I think at one time, he was 17 or 18, he was doing Toughman ... and beating all the grown men."

Perhaps nothing, however, could have prepared him for a five-month stint in Iraq. His company rolled through the streets of Baghdad after the initial
2003 coalition invasion to claim the city.

"As devastated as you could have thought the city was, the highways were still full of cars, and people were still happy outside of their houses,"
he said. "We were greeted with tons of smiling faces. It was like we were at a parade."

It wasn't all that easy, but McGinnis said his time overseas, which included another six months in various spots around the Middle East, was a growing experience.

"Being away from family makes you become more independent and learn things for yourself," he said. "At the same time, my faith has helped me be more sure of myself. I'm all good when it comes down to life or death."

He's not bad when it comes to fighting, either. While it may have taken weeks of training in his Vale Tudo course at the YMCA to prepare for his MMA debut at the Oakley-Lindsay Center, it took McGinnis just 52 seconds to finish Eilers.

It even took him longer to explain his strategy for his debut than it did to win the bout.

"My plan worked," he said. "My plan was to go out, throw a first front kick towards the front knee, not to hurt him at all, but just to see how he would react. I knew from there he wouldn't react ... or he would come out swinging and just attack me.

"He came out hard, and I tried to circle away. I stumbled a couple times, but it worked out to where I could do some counterpunching, establish some of my punches and it worked out. That was that."

In the fight report on mixed martial arts Web site, McGinnis was described as having the loudest reception of all the fighters on the card, and landing "flurries with punches and kicks landing several until the ref jumps in" to end the fight.

McGinnis, who moved to Urbana this week with his wife Megan to attend the University of Illinois, had been attending the Vale Tudo, or "anything goes," classes at the YMCA on Monday and Wednesday nights while both he and his wife worked there. They included drilling moves, self-defense maneuvers and full sparring sessions in timed matches against classmates.

For McGinnis, it wasn't just about the fighting, though.

"It's a great sort of exercise," he said. "It's a family kind of environment. A lot of kids do it, and there are no egos. There's nobody looking to beat anybody up, it's just to teach some new moves."

Aleshire, who now instructs MMA students at the Relson Gracie gym in South Austin, Texas, said McGinnis has all the tools to take MMA to a professional level like the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

"He's a genetic freak," Aleshire said. "He's made for that stuff. If that's what he chooses to do, I think he can do it. He can strike, he can wrestle.
The only thing he needs to concentrate more on is the jiu-jitsu game and the submission."

He's got a few months to hone his craft before his next bout, a Sept. 30 match against an unnamed opponent at the Oakley-Lindsay Center. With just
52 seconds of actual Octagon experience, he hopes his next fight is a big step on the journey to something bigger.

"I'd love to take it as far as it can go," he said.

Contact Sports Writer Matthew Sprague at or (217) 221-3367

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