OO (formerly Operation Octagon) Fights returns to Dulles SportsPlex with a Pro-Am event this Saturday, and Mike Pope of Manassas’ Vanguard gym will make his professional debut against Jonathan Hughes of Disciple MMA in Centreville.
Mike won the Operation Octagon Amateur Lightweight belt in March of 2011 and has been undefeated in amateur Mixed Martial Arts since November 2009. In 2011 Pope came home with a Gold Medals from the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championships, in California, and Pan-Am competition in New York.
Mike grew up in Bradenton Florida, and moved to Virginia at 14 where he attended Liberty High in Bealeton Virginia.
“I did some wrestling in High School and some competition weight lifting and a buddy of mine Mikey and I watched a UFC. He told me he was going to someday fight in the UFC. A couple years later he called me and said he’d found a place, Vanguard Gym and got a two-week trial. He didn’t stay and I did, and it’s been about 6 years now. I had my first fight in 2008 and I went eight and one as an amateur.”
“Everybody in my family is really supportive, but training pulls me away from my daughter more than I like. She loves watching me train, and coming to the gym. A lot of what I do is for her. I want her to see know that life gives tough circumstances and you can’t give up on your goals and dreams. My mom still to this day is scared for my life each time I step in the cage.”
Pope’s training has taken him across the country to some of the most prestigious gyms in the world. Recently he traveled to the East Coast to train at King’s MMA with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsi legend Joao Assis. “Joao really inspired my Jiu-Jitsu game.”
While in California, Pope didn’t just focus on his ground game, but also his striking training at Freddy Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood where Manny Pacquiao holds his training camps. Closer to home he’s getting tips UFC veteran and decorated wrestler, Kamal Shalarus, who represented Great Britain in Olympic Qualifiers. “Kamal is the most explosive wrestler I’ve ever come across. He’s got an under-rated ground game, he’s very controlling from the top.”
On why he’s making the move to professional now at 145 pounds, Mike says, “I was suppose to fight Naite Jaime twice as an amateur for the 145 title and the first time I injured my knee and the second time he got hurt. I found out the day before weigh-ins. I was sick of doing this for free and a lot of the guys I met in California were telling me to go pro. I talked it over with Doug and got the green light to do it.”
“I started out competing at 145, and I was doing the cut completely wrong, starving myself and running. I looked horrible. I moved up to 155 and felt much better and was doing great. Then I did a nutrition seminar with George Lockhart who manages cuts for a lot of UFC fighters. He opened my eyes to a new way to cutting weight the healthy way. From there I got a personal nutritionist at Max Muscle in Manassas, Shelby McDaniel (www.shelbykfitness.com).“
About his opponent John Hughes of Disciple MMA in Dulles, “Someone claimed I called him a stepping stone. I never said that. I don’t pick my opponents, I just take whomever Jeff puts in front of me. He’s the next guy in front of my like I’m the next guy in front of him. I want to test my skills against him because he happens to be one of the top guys at 155 in the area right now. He’s won his past four fights in very impressive fashion. I want to be known for fighting top guys not padding my record with bums. You don’t learn anything by fighting guys you know you can beat. I don’t want the first guy I don’t know if I can beat to be in the UFC. I approach every fight like I’m facing Frankie Edgar for the UFC title.”
Outside of competition, Pope's a full time trainer for Vanguard Gym in Manassas teaching Cross Fit, Thai Boxing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Vanguard’s 7,000 square foot facility specializes in Thai Boxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, also known as “Gracie Jiu Jitsu”, and Mixed Martial Arts. Vanguard offers classes seven days a week in Thai Boxing, Jiu-Jitsu, Wrestling, CrossFit and a children’s program led by Operation Octagon Bantamweight champ Reed Miller. Vanguard Gym is located at 9411 Center Point Lane in Manassas, VA, and class schedules and more information about the gym can be found at www.vanguardgym.com.
OO XX “Double O Double Header” with over 30 fights on the card featuring fighters from all over the DC area including Operation Octagon champs, Willie Floyd, Brian Van Hoven and Samir Farid from Woodbridge’s Gold Medal Grappling and Operation Octagon Heavy Weight Champion Josh “the Cobra” Brown. Doors open at 3pm with over 30 amateur and professional fights on the card at Dulles Sportsplex, 21610 Atlantic Blvd, Sterling VA. Tickets information available at http://oofights.com/tickets.