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W.Va. native makes mark in fight sports

February 3, 2014
By Joey Cutler ( , Graffiti

Huntington native, Todd Cutler, has always had an affinity for full-contact fight sports. Whether it was judo, boxing, or jiu jitsu, it captured his interest and would ultimately give him direction in his life to pursue the fighting arts all the way to the top.

Cutler began in southern Ohio at a small dojo run by a renowned instructor named John Cazares. He began learning judo at an early age while still in elementary school. Around the same time, he began boxing at a small gym on the south side of Huntington. This gym is where he would dedicate most of his free time during his youth, and beyond, training.

In 1993 Cutler witnessed the very first broadcast the UFC, then much more brutal full-contact and literally no holds barred. "I saw Royce Gracie go through a bracket of people using jiu jitsu," he explains, "I'd seen him [Gracie] in a few issues of Black Belt Magazine that I used to read, but really knew nothing about Brazilian jiu jitsu." He took notice that Gracie was relatively smaller than most of the other opponents in the fight, but always won by submission.

At that time in the U.S., this method of fight entertainment was largely illegal in most states. As a result, there were really not a lot of places for a person like Cutler to get in on these kinds of bouts, especially in the tri-state area near Huntington, so he returned to study more judo with John Cazares. As luck would have it, there was a fight promoter in his regional proximity that was willing to begin putting such fights together, so Cutler effectively went underground, at first, to start participating in such events. "You've got to remember that in the mid-nineties it was still illegal to put these fights on in most places so there was no sanctioning body to sponsor the fights," he recalls. "The fights took place in a high school auditorium, and we were fighting on the stage." He won his first fight, so he then began training in a facility where the promoter had the proper equipment, so Cutler was able to really begin his training and conditioning.

While training in Nitro, Cutler happened to meet up with an individual with a blue belt under world champion Brazilian jiu jitsu fighter, Saulo Riberio. "There weren't any black belts here. Brown or purple, for that matter, so if you had a blue belt, you were legit," Cutler points out. Riberio actually made a trip to the area, opened an academy in Ohio, so Cutler began training at Riberio's facility, where he himself earned the same blue belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Riberio eventually moved his school to California, which left Cutler without a real school to train in. At that point he returned to training in Huntington at a facility called Ground Zero, where he trained with friend and fellow belt holder, Ashley Lockwood. Cutler would train at Ground Zero until 2003. Of his decision to pack up and move, Cutler says, "There wasn't really anything for me here because I wanted to pursue MMA (mixed martial arts) at the time and there was no place to successfully do that there."

At the time, there were three places in the U.S. that were considered "hubs" of the MMA fighting community: New York, California, and Florida. Of the three, Cutler chose to pick up and move to Florida in 2003 to surround himself with the fight culture and flourish. He experienced the same problems that any hungry up and coming fighter faced: living situations, financial hardships, family issues, etc. He worked while he trained; outside labor, kitchen work, personal care. He was forced to move several times to keep up with demanding schedules, at both work and in his training. His training wasn't going exactly the way he felt it should be going so Cutler made the decision to cut the work out and train full-time. "I wanted to be my own boss. I left everything to be a fighter and work for myself, not somebody else."

While training, Cutler did some good old-fashioned networking. It wasn't long before he'd found some like-minded individuals that shared his vision. They found a small unit for rent and began training themselves and other interested would-be fighters. Cutler would ultimately enter the MMA circuit and garner an 8-0 professional record. Some of those victories included two bouts with BET's Iron Ring star Antonio Hunter - both ending in first round submissions - and Spike TV's Ultimate Fighter stand-out, Jeremy May, whom Cutler knocked out in a TKO in the first four minutes of the first round.

After his foray in the MMA scene, Cutler turned to the strict practice of Brazilian jiu jitsu. "MMA is like the bastard child of these different fighting styles," he maintains, "Jiu jitsu is a martial art, with an emphasis on 'art'. It takes finesse and know-how to compete in the world of true Brazilian jiu jitsu. Anyone can say that they're a fighter and go fight in an MMA bout, but jiu jitsu involves so much more than just brawling."

Over the past couple of years, Cutler has opened a very successful training academy called Fight Sports, located in Daytona Beach. He's since obtained his black belt under world champion, and friend, Roberto "Cyborg" Abreu. He teaches dozens of students many different forms of fighting, including childrens' classes, basic self-defense, kickboxing, and official Brazilian jiu jitsu. He has an army of students that compete in all facets of the sport, where he even works the corner for a few of them. In addition to running his academy, Cutler competes regularly in jiu jitsu competitions and tournaments, where he is now ranked absolute 20th in the world. He actively lectures all over the country, including a stop last year back in Huntington.

Todd Cutler has literally gone from a dreamer in Huntington, aspiring to achieve a goal that is, for some, simply a pipe dream, and parlayed his experience into a completely successful career as a real competitor in a sacred fighting art and a true inspiration in his community.



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