What are the odds that two North Bergen natives, both in the field of professional competitive fighting, would end up training in the same location in Florida of all places?
That’s what happened last week in Coconut Creek, Fla., at the America’s Top Team training facility, where boxer Danny McDermott caught up with former two-time NCAA wrestling champion and Olympian Steve Mocco, as both continued to prepare for upcoming bouts in their respective sports.
McDermott went to Florida to prepare for his June 7 fight at Madison Square Garden against former Puerto Rican Olympian Felix Verdejo.
McDermott has not fought since Sept. 15, 2012, when he dropped a decision in Winston-Salem, N.C. to Andre Baker. Now 33 years old, McDermott wanted to see if he still had the fire and determination it took to be a successful welterweight.
“I weighed about 195 pounds in November,” McDermott said. “I knew there would always be the day where I wanted to get back into shape. It was always a goal to get back into the ring. I knew the window of opportunity was closing. I only had a few more years left. But I enjoy boxing and I enjoy doing what I do.”
After McDermott signed on to face the undefeated 11-0 Verdejo, who is 13 years McDermott’s junior, he had to train the right way – which meant leaving his wife and small children for the time being.
“In 2005, I went to Vero Beach, Florida to train with Buddy McGirt and that was a good move,” McDermott said. “I knew I had to get away and get my mind right. If I was going to do it, I was going to do it the right way. There are a lot of distractions at home. It’s always one thing after another.”
So McDermott’s friend, trainer Mike Rodriguez, who used to head the program at the Hackensack PAL, offered his services in Florida with the America’s Top Team, the organization that trains boxers and mixed martial arts competitors, like Ultimate Fight Challengers (UFC).
“I always loved the way Mike worked with me, so it was a no-brainer,” McDermott said.
Last week, Rodriguez mentioned North Bergen and asked McDermott if he knew of Mocco, who entered the world of MMA two years ago after retiring from competitive wrestling after competing in the 2012 Olympics in London.
“Of course, I knew of Steve Mocco,” McDermott said. “Everyone does. He has that legend status.”
Mocco, now 33 years old, has since moved to Coconut Creek with his wife and three children in order to train full-time with the America’s Top Team.
Mocco has a 4-1 record as a mixed martial arts competitor. His next bout will be held Aug. 2.
“I’m training twice a day, six hours a day,” Mocco said. “For right now, this is what I’m doing full time. I’m doing this because I wanted to do it. There have been other wrestlers who have had success in this sport. I wanted to do it before I couldn’t do it anymore. I’m at the crossroads in my life and felt I had to commit to it now.”
The boxer and the MMA competitor had never met before last week.
“I knew he was from North Bergen,” Mocco said. “It was pretty cool, because you don’t see too many guys from North Bergen in Florida. I heard of Danny, but never met him. I like boxing. I didn’t follow it much when I was wrestling, but I’m getting more into it now.”
McDermott was thrilled to meet Mocco.
“When we talked, we got along right away,” McDermott said. “We talked a lot about North Bergen. As it turned out, we had a lot in common. He has his MMA career and I have my thing. I think it’s amazing we were here at the same time. Steve is in a different sport, but we’re both in combative fighting. It’s amazing how our paths have crossed here. I’m motivated by him. I’m trying to get my career back on track and I run into a guy from the old neighborhood. It was like we were old school buddies.”
McDermott has dropped from 195 pounds in November to 154 last Monday. He still has to get down to the 140-pound welterweight limit by June.
“This fight is what I needed,” McDermott said. “This is what I needed to do. Every fighter has to go through some sort of struggle. It feels great to be back in the ring.”
Mocco doesn’t know how much longer he will remain in the caged octagon.
“I haven’t put a time limit to it,” Mocco said. “I’m just taking it fight by fight. Right now, I feel like I’m still improving and still learning. It’s a lot different than wrestling. There are certain aspects to the sport I still need to learn. I’m having fun and the America’s Top Team has been a good fit for me.”
And it’s always good to have someone from the hometown right there for support…
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Sarah Beckner might have missed most of her senior year with the McNair Academic softball team due to a broken leg she suffered during the basketball season, but she made a return in time to play in the tournament that is named after her late sister, Victoria, who died at the age of 14 after a battle with leukemia a few years ago.
Beckner, who led the entire state in home runs last season, was able to deliver a hit in two at-bats in her return to action last Friday….
Hudson Reporter H.S. Baseball Top Five: 1. St. Peter’s Prep (18-2). 2. Marist (13-5). 3. Union City (12-5). 4. Hudson Catholic (11-5). 5. Bayonne (10-8-1)…
Hudson Reporter H.S. Softball Top Five: 1. St. Dominic Academy (11-5). 2. North Bergen (9-6). 3. Hudson Catholic (12-2). 4. Hoboken (11-5). 5. Secaucus (11-6)…-Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.