Mixing it Up

Posted: Sunday, May 06, 2007


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  Baedif sports a Theater of Pain Productions shirt and dreadlocks. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Blood from a cut stops Mark "the Jester" Weinberger fight.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

In some ways, 20-year-old Jake Howarth is a lot like other guys his age.

He said he likes spending time with his friends and girlfriend. He enjoys riding snowmachines, dirt bikes and anything else that will go fast enough to get him in trouble. As a 2006 graduate of Soldotna High School, he is looking toward the future, thinking about his options and working on his resume.


Cheney Sparks cheers a teammate from the other side of the chain cage.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Unlike many his age, however, Howarth’s summary of skills doesn’t list job’s he’s worked at; it’s a collection of people he’s worked over, most of them beaten bloody inside an octagon-shaped steel cage to the roar of a surrounding crowd.

Howarth’s no bare-knuckled street boxer or seedy bar bouncer. He is a “mixed martial artist” who enjoys fighting for fun during public combat sport exhibitions called Peninsula Fight Challenges, held regularly at the Soldotna Sports Center.


Tattoos, including Jason Monica's Wiccan pentacle, are the rage at a Theater of Pain Production.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Mixed martial arts involves two competitors in a supervised match attempting to knock each other out or force their opponent to submit using techniques from several different disciplines, including jujitsu, judo, karate, boxing, kickboxing and wrestling.

Unlike some fighters who started with karate as a kid and slowly evolved into a mixed martial artist, Howarth said he got his beginning almost by chance.


Ashley Carver keeps her feet warm.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

“It all started a year ago,” he said.

While working out at the gym he saw a flyer put up by a local promoter seeking fighters for an upcoming competition. He called the phone number, went through a brief screening process, and within weeks was stepping into a cage to face an opponent who wanted just as badly to impose his will on Howarth, as Howarth did on him.


Candice Fasoline stays on her toes as a ring girl.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Howarth said he wrestled for several years in elementary, middle and high school, but had no formal martial arts training, “other than the occasional fight with one of my brothers,” he said.

He is the youngest of three, which he said was sort of like training at times and definitely toughened him up, “but, besides that, nothing.”


Geoff Whitmore shares a little philosophy while watching his son Sean fight.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Since he can’t rely on years of martial arts experience, Howarth said he relies more on moxie. “You’ve gotta have heart. When you’re on the ground, and getting hit and it hurts, you can’t get discouraged or distracted. It’s give and take. You’ve got to fight through it, get back on top and give some back,” he said.

This latter point is one that Howarth seems to excel at. His propensity for punishing opponents has earned him the moniker Jake “The Hammer” Howarth. He has won all of his fights so far — three in this, his first year — by utilizing a strategy commonly referred to as “ground and pound” in mixed martial arts circles.


"Black Josh" Kartchner sees red at the Peninsula Fight Challenges.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

“Basically ground and pound is when you take the other guy down, obtain a position on top of him and then try to knock them out with a flurry of punches,” he said.

“I definitely like to hit people. While wrestling, I used to get into trouble for being too physical or slipping in an occasional punch, but with ground and pound you get to beat on someone as hard as you can and not go to jail for it,” he said.


Baedif sports a Theater of Pain Productions shirt and dreadlocks.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

This may sound brutal but Howarth said there are a lot of checks and balances in place for the protection of fighters. There is no eye-gouging, throat or groin striking, biting, small joint manipulating (finger breaking) or strikes to the spine. Fighters also fight in designated weight classes and wear 4- 6-ounce gloves to protect their hands, but these gloves are not large enough to affect the weight of their punch or improve their striking surface.


Mark Weinberger has his feet taped by Shawn Kaluza, at right, in a locker room at the sports center as Patrick Bowen watches.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Rob Couture, fight promoter for Theater of Pain Productions and Howarth’s training coach, confirmed that Howarth’s lack of background in martial arts hasn’t held him back.

“He’s destroyed all his opponents,” he said.

Couture said Howarth’s success has come from a combination of his deep-burning desire and amazing physical prowess.

“He has natural skill. He is explosive and extremely ferocious in the cage. He’s definitely got next-level ability,” Couture said.


Nickee Huff gives her boyfriend Cameron Monica a good-luck kiss before his fight.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Howarth said he’s entertained the idea of pursuing a career as a professional fighter but doesn’t have any definitive plans to move to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) or other big-name professional fighting leagues.

“I definitely want to see how far I can go. If an opportunity comes up to have a couple of fights Outside, I’ll give it a shot,” he said.

Howarth said this can be challenging. As with many sports, the field of competitors is so much larger in the Lower 48 compared to Alaska, that sometimes the best of the best in state are not as good as even the mediocre athletes out of state.

“It’s hard to say, though. It can be tougher Outside, but there’s some pretty tough guys here, too,” he said.

Howarth said he trains for each fight like it is his first and last, whether it’s in state or not. He said he enjoys the tight crew he trains and spars with.

“It’s only about 12 to 15 fighters, but I like the small team. It’s mostly young guys and a couple 25 and older. We all know each other and can focus on each guy’s strengths and skills,” he said.


Eric Rogers, standing, fights J.T. Sullivan in a wire cage at the Soldotna Sports Center during a recent Theater of Pain Productions Peninsula Fight Challenge. Sullivan went on to win the fight.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Much like in the cage, Couture said Howarth doesn’t hold anything back in training. He said he gives 110 percent in every session, because he knows the harder he trains, the easier the fight will be for him.

“In the gym, he is really determined and eager to learn. He trains hard, too. Right now we’re training for him to throw 200 punches and kicks in a five-minute round. It’s vigorous, but Jake’s got the gas tank to do it, and do it with power and accuracy,” Couture said.

Howarth said the intense training has become routine for him.

“I train three times a day. Weight lifting in the morning, just working on the key muscle groups like arms and legs so I don’t get fatigued,” he said.


Sean Whitmore celebrates a victory over Jason Monica.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Then it’s on to cardio training in the early afternoon.

“I usually will sprint for a few minutes than jog for a while, then sprint again to simulate fighting. I also like to do some fast reps with low weight for this workout,” he said.

Then in the late afternoon Howarth wraps up the day with several hours of sparring, sometimes going until 10 p.m. in the evening.

“My sparring routine consists of five-minute rounds with one-minute breaks between them. The first five minutes I work jujitsu, than focus on wrestling for the next five, then kickboxing for the five after that,” he said.

Howarth said his only complaint is he doesn’t get to train enough.

“When I’m not fighting I work on the Slope for a company that tests weld integrities, so it’s tough to fight because with working two-week rotations, I don’t always have adequate time to train. I still work on my cardio up there, but there’s no one to train with,” he said.

More difficult than training is watching what he eats before a fight.

“I have to cut weight for sure, so I cut down on some things and completely stay away from others. Then after the fight, I’ll go get a huge greasy cheeseburger and ice cream and just eat until I’m unhappily overloaded,” he said.

He doesn’t have to go far for a burger. After most Peninsula Fight Challenges, there is a post-fight party at the Back Door Lounge in Kenai. However, he has to eat quick since he’s not 21 yet and he gets kicked out with the rest of the minors after 8 p.m.

“It’s weird, but it’s the law, and that’s one fight you can’t win,” he said.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at

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