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Locking eyes with local mixed martial arts(MMA) fighter and Wilkes University alumnus Rex “T-Rex” Harris could go one of two ways depending on the situation. If it’s inside a ring, minutes before a professional bout, it’s probably enough to make a person run away screaming like a little girl. “What we had to do was get him a baggy shirt, literally, and I stayed in the truck, and Mike (Malast) took him in to weigh in,” said Sean Diggs, Harris’ striking coach and owner of World Class Boxing in Kingston, describing one occasion where it was necessary to veil Harris’ physical presence thanks to the bowing out of a previous challenger.
“It’s funny because his opponent didn’t get the opportunity to see him until he actually came out to the cage, and you see the guy jumping around, he’s all hyped up.”
That didn’t last long. “He looks across the cage and sees Rex in there, and he just freezes ... But it’s too late, he’s in the cage now, there’s nothing you can do about that,” Diggs continued, laughing. But Harris himself is too modest to admit that his size or apparent strength as a middleweight (185 pounds) would be intimidating to other fighters. “I try to put faith in guys,” Harris, a former wrestler, said.
“You’d like to think that guys are in this game for the right reasons, guys are in this game to compete, and they want to fight the best.” Harris (2-1-0) will be up against Indiana’s Moses McCraney (2-2-0) for the main event at Martial Arts Super Sport 2 (MASS 2) “A Night For the Troops” Saturday, March 24 at the Kingston Armory. The Weekender had the chance to sit down with the fighter, Diggs and Malast, president of MASS, at Diggs’ gym.
Through this interview, the other side of T-Rex came out, the side with which eye contact wouldn’t necessarily inspire great fear. Outside the ring, Harris is polite, professional, exudes a sense of calm. And his approach to his craft is straightforward, even when it’s taken into account that he’s still got a day job to hold down.
“I work at Mid-Atlantic Youth Services with adjudicated juvenile delinquents,” Harris said. “So that’s where a lot of my time throughout the course of the week goes, which is why it makes it so difficult to get my personal training in. But you’ve got to make it happen.”
BAND OF BROTHERS
Diggs and Harris have a good working relationship, and there are others in Harris’ corner, including Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighter Jimy “The Kid” Hettes, who was signed to the big league after his performance at last year’s MASS event at Mohegan Sun Arena — the same event where Harris had his first professional MMA match. Diggs explained that in addition to training at World Class Boxing, Harris also trains with Hettes at Northeastern Ju-Jitsu in Swoyersville, and they all travel to East Stroudsburg to work out with Don Cioffi at Chamber MMA.
“We keep it small, we work with mostly each other … Because most of the talent in this area, to be perfectly honest with you, trains in one of those three camps,”
Diggs said. “We just pretty much got together and formed an alliance, to bring the best guys together and showcase their skills and develop … and working them to push them to the next level, which is the goal, whether it’s Bellator (Fighting Championships) or UFC.” And that’s exactly the goal for Harris, who is being groomed and readied for a chance to follow the same path as Hettes.
“I’m putting a lot of my energies into Rex right now because he’s the next in line,” Diggs said. “In the camp that I have right now, you have some aspiring amateurs, but no one on the level at this point in time that is looking to go to the UFC the way he is. And he’s right on the verge, he’s maybe two, three fights away. And that’s from a fight-experience point, not ability point.”
Malast agreed, pointing to Diggs as a central factor in the success of both Harris and Hettes. “He’s breeding champions, and thankfully I have a place to showcase them, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do,” Malast said. “Jimy’s in the UFC now, I see Rex being there very soon.”
The respect is mutual on Diggs’ part. “Many athletes don’t get an opportunity to be a part of something big,” he said. “Where you have, like the last fight, I guess the guy was there from the UFC watching Jimy. You don’t see guys like that floating around at just normal, regular shows. So that says something about Mike and Mike’s potential, that they have enough respect to come down and actually sit and watch to see what kind of talent is coming out of these leagues.” READ MORE!