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August 10, 2012

Featured Fighter: Joe "The Wild Ginger" Leonard

Name: Joe Leonard
Age: 33
Height: 5'8"
Fight Weight: 145lbs
School: Ravenous MMA
Record:MMA 2-2 Amateur
Wins via 1st Rnd K.O./ 1 Submission and Losses via 2 1st Rnd Ref Stoppages
City/State Born: Holyoke, MA
Fighting out of city/ state: Greenfield, MA
Achievements:  Competed in King of The Mat, Gold Medal at NAGA No-Gi Tourney, 2 MMA victories, Warrior Nation XFA 7 Fight of the night award, 4 years as a Ravenous MMA student under Jeremy Reipold and Todd Selva.

1. When and Why did you get into MMA?
     I began to train with Todd Selva in 2010.  He introduced me to the sport while we were working together to improve my strength and conditioning following my second bowel resection.  I was invited to see Sic Nick Vaughn fight his amateur debut in NH for GFL.  After making the 3 hour drive out there to meet him and his team, watching his fight in a killer venue surrounded by the most enthusiastic sports fans I'd ever been around, and hanging with everyone in the lobby afterwards to celebrate I was hooked.  I knew I wanted to be healthy enough to compete someday.
Nick Vaughn at GFL fighting Sean Nichols.  My first live mma event.  I was hooked.

2.  Did you have a background in martial arts, boxing , wrestling etc prior to being a licensed in MA?

I actually have a decent history of martial arts training, but it has always been broken up for one reason or another. The first school I attended as a child was on Center Street in Chicopee, MA. It was run by Ken Canton and it was a Karate dojo. Sensei Canton was a kind man who was very patient with us children. I was about 7 or 8 at the time. My father's health was a lot like mine is now and when he was hospitalized for long periods my parents couldn't afford to keep me in classes. I don't remember testing for rank ever, but I do remember practicing my Kata's. I later moved to Greenfield, MA where as a young adult working for my own money joined the Tae Kwon Do Center lead by Master Johnson. It was a great school and a cool bunch of people to be around. I was a young teen and had lots going on in my life so I would drop out and rejoin every so often. I learned hand to hand combat basics in the short time I was enlisted in the U.S. Army. That about sums up my prior experience. Ask anyone though who knew me then and they would tell you that I was a gentle person. I don't like confrontation and until I had to overcome my illness and really learn what fighting was about I would avoid it even if it meant getting my ass handed to me.

3. What's your nickname, how did you get it?
    I have two nick names.  I was given one by my friends at when I joined them.  Jeremy and Travis began calling me "The Artist".  I believe it is because I write well, but you would have to ask them.  It may be because I could paint your face red.  Either way I like it for the site.  My other nick name was given to me by my wife and it will be the one I use in my upcoming bout.  She calls me "The Wild Ginger".  I'll leave you to figure it out, but rest assured whatever you call me before the fight you will be calling me "The Winner" afterwards.

4. Can you tell us something about your supporters and why they believe you should be a Mixed Martial Artist?
     Well I can try.  I have been following the sport for many years now and extremely humbled by the varieties of people I meet on an ongoing basis.  First impressions are huge to me and I could say that despite the fact that I have been burned by many many people over the years I am still loyal to many of them.  I believe that one is not a bad person until they do something truly bad.  My supporters are a reflection of myself.  I am human and prone to errors.  I make them every day in judgments and actions.  I embrace these things because they help redefine me to make me better.  The men, women, and children that motivate me, that truly support me and my efforts, have my unconditional love and mutual support.  There isn't anything I wouldn't do for those select few and I know they would say the same.  Fighting isn't for everyone and I think that is important to point out.  Not every one of my supporters supports my decision to fight a physical test in a cage, but they understand that it is a goal and a statement that I've been preparing myself to make since I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease.  I want to bring my fight into the cage so I can conquer the fears and the doubts I have about my life and what it may bring in the future as the disease spreads and my age steals my abilities to keep it under control.  Barriers need to be broken and I will do this every day for the rest of my life.

5.  What does family think of your passion for combat sports?  Do you have children?  Are they involved in the martial arts?  Do you have a spouse or significant other?  What role do they play in helping you prepare for combat?  
     My family runs the gamut in opinions.  Most are excited to see one of their own be in a cage like a UFC fighter.  Some are terrified that something horrible will happen to me.  Both are fine with me because it gets me amped, but reminds me how much I am loved. 
I do have children.  I have three.  One son, an 12 year old boy, unfortunately he was torn from my life when he was only one.  His mother and I were sweet hearts and dated childishly when I was 20.  I moved to Arkansas during her pregnancy which she hid from me.  I was living there when an adoption agency contacted me to test for paternity.  Turns out he was mine and I moved back to MA to be in his life whatever in any way possible.  He was 6 months old at the time that I first saw him.  He is a beautiful boy with blue eyes, blonde hair, and a huge ear to ear grin.  He was starting to crawl, but could really only get around by scooting on his tummy backwards the first time I saw him.  He was in foster care because his mother abandoned him in a shelter for battered women.  It seems as though she fell for the wrong guy and he was abusive.  She would later tell me that she was seeing me on the side while she was actually committed to him.  Odd how life works.  Long story short I had no money and my mother who is my only surviving parent was not willing to help me get custody of him.  I had to say goodbye to my little boy.  I hope someday he will know me, but until that happens I will remember him as the little blonde that came from me.  His name was Zander Corey, she named him after her abuser.  His adopted parents renamed him Joshua Allen.  I just call him my angel and hope that he is happy and healthy wherever he lives now.
    I am so lucky though because I also have been a step-father to two gorgeous girls for the last 12 years.  My sixteen year old is the spark that never seems to diminish.  She is a natural musician who has taught herself to play the guitar.  She's a gamer and loves to shoot things.  Her nerd boyfriend is like the luckiest geek in the whole world because when I say geek I mean zitty, scrawny, high pitched voice, awkward silence kinda geek and she is beautiful, friendly, well spoken, fit, and loyal.  She is in school learning to program websites and video games at the local Voc High School.  Her goals are to be a CSI photographer and video game programmer.  Her sister is 19 and has a way with animals.  Although she and I are very different and hardly see eye to eye I love how she is no one's bitch.  She has an attitude so large that it sometimes gets between us, but never for very long.  They both love MMA and I hope they will find time in their busy schedules to come cheer me on.  Neither girl is involved in Martial Arts now, but Avery did try Tae Kwon Do briefly.  They'd rather be riding horses.
     I am married.  We are two very different people though.  Angela's support comes in many forms, but the best is when she plays tough guy.  Sometimes I need to be reminded that my needs aren't the only ones that matter.  
My favorite photo of all time.  I took this with my Moto Razor flip phone back in 2002.
7.  What's your favorite part about competition?
     I love cheering on a good fight.  I love the nights that my team goes head to head with each other in our gym on our mats and I get to just let it all out.  Egging on the guy on the top and pushing the guy on the bottom.  I love when I can't hear myself think during these times because everyone is yelling some instruction from one vantage point or another.  To me competition is just another word for team building.  I see it as necessary.  I hope I can compete a long time.

8.  If you had the ability to change anything about the sport what would it be?
     Huh, that's a tough one. I think I would like to see an official database that we fighters could access.  We could see the status of our licenses and leave feedback for the commission about things that need improvement in our sport.

9.  Can you describe for us what it is like to discipline yourself as you prepare to make weight and develop or improve skill sets before fight night?  Do you feel like your team plays a significant role in that discipline?
     I have to be pretty hard on myself because Crohn's Disease is not a joke.  The food I eat and the activity I enjoy are all dictated by this illness.  In some ways I think it makes training easier because I can't cheat.  Cheating only ends in disaster.   A big wet, smelly disaster.  Realistically though I have to say that I enjoy the motivation it gives me.  Instead of being a reason to cry and whine it has been a reason to strive and excel.  For this fight I am concentrating on staying at a stable weight until the last week of training.  I have to consume more nutrients more often as the training intensifies which is a challenge.  It has to come out at some point and can really screw up a training day if I am not paying attention.  I am working on a few new skill sets, but mostly I will rely on those that I am able to execute without thinking about.  My team is everything.  If they want to be a part of the victory they know I have to be ready.   

10.  In your time as a competitor what stands out to you most when a promotion offers you a bout?  Have you ever turned down a potential match?  If so why?  Could you offer the up and coming combatants any advice in these situations?
    To be honest, I make no decisions about fights myself.  I leave that to my coach and friend, Jeremy Reipold.  His expert understanding of the sport allows him to make judgments that are appropriate for our team.  We actually have an agreement that he won't tell me of any fight until he decides on one to take.  That eliminates the whole, "I won't back down from any fight ever" syndrome that seems to hamper this sport from time to time.  Especially in the older set of fighters.  I will be able to say that as well, but I will also be able to add that it was because each fight made sense and was a smart one to fight.
14.  How else do you spend your time when you are not training?
     I am a part of two MMA centric operations. was founded by Travis Sinclair and Jeremy Reipold back in 2009.  In 2010 I was asked to join the team and create a brand new site that is very close to the one we use today.  It has been a great experience that has let me capitalize on all my strengths.  I love to be around so many dedicated people at all the events we attend.  It also allows me to show all my weaknesses though.  Like my uncanny ability to piss off perfect strangers in 50 words or less.  I have also been fortunate in finding a home for my Ravenous family and that was the beginning of my second project, The Web MMA Training Center.  I am the gym manager and an instructor.  Neither projects pay me a salary, but they are self sustaining and allow us to enjoy very important experiences within the realm of extreme combat sports.

I want to close this interview out by saying thank you to my wife Angela, my coaches Jeremy Riepold, Todd Selva,  Charles Garbiel, and Estelle Bonachetto.  Without your patience and your guidance I would be a very sick man who would find very little joy in his life.  You are my guardian angels and I won't ever forget it.

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