Martial arts schools have multiplied in the Santa Barbara area “like coffee shops,” in the words of Mike Morello, and it’s no wonder that the diversity of disciplines, styles, and approaches has hidden them from the sports mainstream. Put a strong face on an activity, though, and it makes an impression. That’s what Morello has done for kickboxing, and Jeff Glover for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The Santa Barbara natives recently returned with honor from international competitions.
Morello fought Canada’s Brad Fowler for the International Kickboxing Federation super welterweight championship last Saturday night in London, Ontario. With the crowd on Fowler’s side, Morello went the distance against the champion. Fowler retained his title by a unanimous decision; then he announced his retirement.
Glover journeyed to Nottingham, England, to participate in the ADCC (Abu Dhabi Combat Club) World Championship two weeks ago. The field was dominated by Brazilians, who scooped up 16 of the 18 medals awarded in six weight divisions. Glover broke into their company by defeating Brazil’s Robson Moura in the featherweight bronze-medal match.
“There’s not a scratch on me,” Morello said after the “Showdown in the Downtown” at the London Convention Centre. His bout with Fowler was billed as “Finesse meets the Fury,” and Morello, dubbed “Mad Dog,” supplied the fury. “I knocked him backward all 12 rounds,” Morello asserted. He knew the odds were against him in the first round, when his right-hook/left-cross combination put Fowler on the canvas, but the referee did not start to count. “He asked him to get up and didn’t score a knockdown,” Morello said. “It was the dude’s hometown.” Morello’s only supporters were in his corner — his father, Steven, and younger brothers, Danny and Andrew. They call themselves Team Morello and run an area training center, founded by Steven Morello to teach Kenpo Karate.
Mike Morello did credit the Canadians for putting on a classy show. “It was really a prestige job,” he said. “It was black-tie, like a big wedding in five or six ballrooms. They raised money for research against kidney disease.” More than 700 spectators attended at $250 a pop.
Fowler’s retirement frustrated Morello’s desire for a rematch. “My last four fights have been out of the country,” he said. “I haven’t had a fight here since 2004.” In April of that year, he bested Bakersfield’s Raul Rodriguez at the Earl Warren Showgrounds for the West Coast light middleweight championship. “I’d like to get something going at the Chumash Casino next year,” the 39-year-old kickboxer said. “I still have a handful of fights left in me.”
Glover, 28, is a rising star in another realm of martial arts. Unlike the Morellos, he did not have the direction of a family tradition. “I was about to graduate from high school, and I had zero interest in school, zero interest in any sports,” Glover said. It was his good fortune to be a neighbor of Ricardo “Franjinha” Miller, founder of the Paragon Academy. Glover was persuaded to check out the downtown studio, and as soon as he hit the mat, he said, “I knew I was meant to get involved in this.”
The wiry Glover found that he was adept at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, where the combatants grapple on the ground without punching or striking each other. The object is to force submission by gaining a chokehold. “Balance and flexibility are more important than strength,” he said. He earned his black belt in 2006.
The ADCC World Championships are bankrolled every two years by Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates. His passion for the grappling arts is equal to Glover’s. He invited Glover to train in Abu Dhabi earlier this year. “I stayed with the sheikh for seven days at the royal palace,” Glover said. “He had wolves, deer, a bowling alley, tennis courts, weight room, and a big mat room. He’s a black belt, too. He likes to roll every day.”
Sheikh Tahnoon must have seen something in Glover, who became a crown favorite at Nottingham. The Santa Barbara grappler won his first two matches to reach the ADCC semifinals, where he gave the Brazilian standout Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles all he could handle. Glover went on to take the bronze medal by locking Moura in a chokehold known as a guillotine. A blogger at the championships who goes by “Ryu Hayabusa” said of Glover: “Don’t know who he is, but he really is an exciting grappler to watch.”
“For some reason, all the other guys wanted to be boring,” Glover said. “I’m not going to get on that stage and fail to perform. I’m going to show my cool moves.”
Glover’s nickname is “Pipe Layer” because he used to work for a plumbing company. Now he supports himself as an instructor at Paragon and also has earnings from seminars and DVD sales. “I’m a happy man,” he said. “I make a living doing what I love.”