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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 5 March 2016
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 5 MARCH 2016 25 SPORT Young Greek fighter aims for a shot at Australian mixed martial arts title GEORGE STOGIANNOU It’s fight night at the Melbourne Pavilion in Flemington, and a raucous crowd of 1,500 or so are barracking for their fighters, inside a hexagonal caged ring, in what many consider the modern version of gladiatorial combat. The two men are small in size, but they look extremely fit and powerful. One is slightly shorter with stockier legs, and in each of the three rounds of the fight, he manages to take down his opponent, pin him down and rain down blows on his head, using his fists and elbows, at the same time avoiding his opponent’s attempt to lock his arms. After the final bell, a Greek flag is passed down from the back stalls, floating down the waves of cheering spectators into the ring where it lands on the shoulders of the fighter with the stocky legs. The two exhausted combatants stand in the middle with the referee, awaiting the judge’s decision. The ref raises the hand of the fighter with the Greek flag wrapped around his shoulders as the MC announces the winner by unanimous decision, Nikos Trepca. Immediately, Nikos' coach Amin Yaqubi rushes across the ring, hugs his young protégé and lifts him onto his shoulders as the two celebrate the win with others from Nick's corner. It's Nikos Trepca's first win in the AFC (Australian Fighting Championship) for mixed martial arts. Since then Nikos has won another bout in this most uncompromising of combat sports, and he is now preparing for his biggest challenge yet, against Kaan Ofli on 19 March at the Melbourne Pavilion as part of the AFC 15 event. The winner of that bout will get a chance to challenge for the Australian featherweight title. Kaan is the more experienced of the two, and Trepca says of his upcoming opponent: "He's a jiu jitsu guy, he's a pretty good ground fighter, like chokes, locks and he's a good stand up fighter. This is where we're going to test each other, to prove who is actually the better striker." "Nikos has a big chance,” says Trepca’s coach Amin Yaqubi. “All he has to do is stick to the game plan. He can beat Kaan, I'm pretty sure, because he's in good shape. His jiu jitsu's improved, his wrestling's improved, striking's improved, his fitness is too good. He has no injury. He's in the best shape." Nikos has been training harder for this than any previous bout. By the time the fight comes around he'll have been in training camp for 12-13 weeks, up to three to four hours daily. Originally a wrestler, he's transitioned successfully to mixed martial arts (MMA), which involves techniques and manouvres from a number of disciplines including kickboxing, boxing, Brazilian jiu jitsu and submission wrestling, with its array of chokes and holds. "In MMA, you have lots of coaches,” Trepca says. “You've got to have a striking coach, a grappling coach, a wrestling coach, MMA coach and a coach who puts it all together. Amin Yaqubi is my main coach, and my wrestling coach and manager." The 20-year-old Trepca, who is based at Yaqubi's Extreme MMA Gym at Chadstone, credits the Afghani-born wrestling coach as his main influence. "This guy is my creator. That's the guy I owe everything to, 100 per cent. He was one of the best wrestlers, a pure wrestler from a young age. He learned the hard way, and I realised with my training, we never had the easy way. All my fights. I've lost some fights, just because we always go for the hard fights. We've never taken an easy fight. We've learnt the hard way." Trepca lost a couple of fights when he was still completing Year 12 and couldn't devote himself to the sport full-time. But since completing school, he believes he has improved dramatically. His recent successes at the AFC have attracted a sponsor, Jim Rigogianis, of JR Training Consultants, which has enabled Nikos to give up his part-time job at Nikos Quality Cakes in Oakleigh to concentrate on his chosen sport. "It's because of Jim I have the ability to train full-time. If it wasn't for him, I would train half the hours and would have to work." Nikos' most recent AFC win against a far more experienced opponent also won him the award of Most Improved Fighter on the night, and for this upcoming AFC 15 event Nikos Trepca goes on the attack after taking down an opponent. "She was crying because all the stitches were open, I had blood out of my ear, my face looked pretty swollen … I didn't like that reaction, and I promised myself I won't get sliced again. And I haven't been sliced since that fight. I've been slicing people." Trepca believes people like watching MMA fights because "it's the most realistic fight situation, next to street fighting. What's after a street fight? It's the cage in my opinion". Trepca throws a big right-hand punch. Asked if he thinks the audience is bloodthirsty and they enjoy watching this sort of fighting, he says, "I think that's in our nature”. “It's like we're the gladiators of 2016. I believe in 2,000 years people will say, ‘oh you know back then, people used to fight in a cage’. They'll have something different. We'll be in history." According to Trepca, the cage, which was banned in Victoria until last year, is there for the safety of the fighters, preventing injuries which could occur if a fighter was thrown or fell out of the ring. he says he's aiming to produce the performance of the night. "For this fight, that's what we're saying with the coach. We want to get the fight of the night. That's our goal, win or lose. We want the 'performance of the night' award. That's my goal, to go in and impress the crowd once again." His recent good wins have earned him the appellation Nick the Great, a title he says he doesn't mind. "I'm not trying to be cocky or anything but I believe people have seen nothing of me. Like I haven't peaked, not even reached 50 per cent of my potential. That's my goal, to actually prove to everyone what I'm capable of ... because there are people who say ‘oh yeah, Nikos is OK’. No it's not OK. I want people to say 'f..k yeah, I don't like Nikos, but f..k yeah, he's a good fighter. He's something special'. You know what I mean? That's what I want people to say about me. When they're announcing my name to come into the ring, I want to have their attention. That's depending on me - how I fight and what's my performance. That's why I train to be the best." The UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) is where the big money in the sport is, with names like Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey. Trepca says all the up-andcoming young fighters want to fight in the big scene, the UFC. "I'm not saying I don't want to fight there but that depends on how much of a crowd I can get behind me and how much I can improve in the coming years." His coach Yaqubi says: “He's only young, 20 years old. He's unstoppable. If he keeps pushing he can go, I'm dreaming, to the UFC one day." Trepca's long-term dream, once he retires from fighting, is to return to Greece and open a gym and build his name. Originally from Corinth, Nikos and his Australianborn Greek mother and brother and sister migrated to Melbourne in 2011, while Nikos's Yugoslav-born father, who originally moved to Greece because of the war in Yugoslavia, remained behind. Trepca says he doesn't have a strong connection to his Yugoslavian heritage, considering himself "more of an actual Greek. I was born in Greece, grew up in Greece, and socialised with Greeks". "My mum doesn't like what I do, but now she's used to it," he says. Still it pained him after the last time he lost, when he snuck back home late at night after the fight, only to wake up the next morning and find his mum crying next to his bedside. What of the claims from medical authorities about the risks of brain injury? Trepca agrees that in all martial arts involving striking, head injury is the most common form of injury. "I believe that in MMA there's less chances of head injury than in boxing or kickboxing. And the reason is, it's not only boxing. It also uses different disciplines which don't rely on striking." And what of criticisms of the sport that it glamorises violence, particularly when there are campaigns aimed at changing community attitudes to violence on the street. Trepca says he doesn't be- lieve MMA glamorises violence or makes it more acceptable. "People like to watch,” he says, “but I've never actually heard of anyone who trains MMA or likes MMA and goes out and punches on. “People who are involved in a different lifestyle, underground stuff, that's a completely different story, or going out as groups or gangs and causing trouble. They have nothing to do with us. Martial arts wouldn't do that type of stuff out. Unless you're attacked. That's a different story."
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