(Editor’s note: Mercyhurst College sophomore George Hyek lost in a split decision to Jeremiah Gurley on Friday, Sept. 18.)
When most Mercyhurst students are partying or studying Friday night, George Hyek will be stepping into a ring at the Avalon Hotel, hoping to knock out the fighter standing across from him.
At 7 p.m. Hyek will square off against Jeremiah Gurley at the 165-
pound-weight class, looking to notch another professional win in mixed martial arts.
Some of the most intense, entertaining and brutal fighting occur in mixed martial arts (MMA) matches. Fighters pummel each other with fists, legs, knees and elbows, and that is just when they aren’t on the ground wrestling or being beat into submission.
Most fighters only have to prepare for one challenge at a time. Hyek, on the other hand, combats two: the actual opponent and his academic work at Mercyhurst.
Hyek is a second year intelligence studies major and resident assistant at Mercyhurst. He divides his time between these two commitments and his fighting career, something that puts him at a disadvantage in every fight.
“[With most] of the fighters I face, MMA is their sole source of income. They train six hours a day getting prepared for any given fight because this is how they put food on the table, but for me it is totally different,” Hyek said.
The intelligence studies major and the RA job both require much of Hyek’s time.
his “hobby,” as he calls it, is fighting. It started in high school with boxing. From there Hyek became addicted to the thrill of the fight.
Fighting temporarily went on hold toward the end of his high school career, when Hyek suffered a broken hip. Even with that, the desire to fight never left him.
Hyek enrolled at Indiana University of Pennsylvania his freshman year, and there he got his first exposure of the world of MMA.
“At IUP it all really started … with me and my friends sparring and fighting in the cage, just having a good time, but then it started turning into something a little more serious. It became my sport,” Hyek said.
He soon began fighting in scheduled fights even though at the time MMA was not recognized by the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission. MMA was still in the early stages then.
Toward the end of his sophomore year, Hyek began to look elsewhere for his education, choosing Mercyhurst for his junior year.
“The intelligence studies program really brought me here. I was really blown away with what the program had to offer,” Hyek said.
Despite the transfer, Hyek never considered dropping his MMA career, even with some underwhelming experiences.
At Mercyhurst, it took some time to make the right connections to get into the game.
“I actually kind of gave up on fighting for a while at Mercyhurst. I was training for a fight here, but the training regimen that I was on just didn’t prepare me, and I backed out of that bout so I wouldn’t get embarrassed. I just wasn’t getting the right coaching,” Hyek said.
When a former coach called to say he could arrange a fight in Virginia, Hyek took him up on the offer.
I took that fight and ended up knocking out my opponent 40 seconds into the match,” Hyek said.
“After the fight in Virginia, it became very apparent that I was pretty good at this, and we decided it was time for me to go pro,” Hyek said.
After the victory, things didn’t entirely get better. Two fighters backed out of matches with Hyek as the fight date approached.
It’s not uncommon in MMA for for bouts to get canceled for one reason or another.
The other factor that makes being an MMA fighter tough — other than the physical punishment — is the perception of the sport, especially on a college campus.
“The culture around here about MMA is normally very negative. People have told me how it disgusts them and how they view it as barbaric and all sorts of negative things,” Hyek said.
He attributes much of that to people not knowing much about the sport. Hyek takes this criticism and relative negligence of his career in stride and knows that it will change if current trends in the fighting world continue.
“Most people view MMA as this brutal sport, but I really don’t take that much of a punishment because MMA fighters can hit everywhere on the body. [For] boxers [hitting is allowed] from the navel up, and all the punches are concentrated on the vital organs and head. To me that is more brutal,” Hyek said. “MMA fighters are more athletes and boxers are more fighters.”
“The fact is people may not know much about MMA now, but we are slowly but surely overtaking boxing and many people in the fighting industry are really starting to embrace this fact,” Hyek said.
Despite what the opinion may be, Hyek has made it to a very high level in his career as he looks towards his first professional bout. The pressure is apparent, but a sense of hope is more evident.
“The nerves are there, but being able to show all the hard work out there makes it worth it. Hopefully, this can open up some more doors for me, but if not, my real goal is to get a job in law enforcement intelligence,” Hyek said.
“All I am looking to do is go out there and knock this guy out. There is no feeling like knocking someone out, and it does pay extra,” Hyek said.
Author: Nick Glasier