“Ground ’em and pound ’em” is Keith “Shabang-Bang” Berish’s strategy for how he’s going to take out his opponent in his first Ultimate Fighting Championship TUF 19 finale on July 6, to be broadcast on Fox1. This 28-year-old Port Ewen native, who started wrestling as a freshman in Kingston High School in 2000, currently stands in the cage undefeated with a 5-0 amateur and 5-0 pro score card.
Mixed martial-arts “cage-fighting” is full-contact combat comprised of grappling, Muy Thai boxing, wrestling, striking, kickboxing, karate, judo, sambo (another form of wrestling) and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. MMA has scored considerable success on pay-per-view television, surpassing boxing and wrestling in popularity, which some attribute to added excitement with the diversity of strikes and takedowns. It’s all battled in the confines of a 24-foot-by-24-foot enclosed cage. To the casual and uninitiated observer, the fight can appear like two men in a loving embrace; that is, until one of them passes out cold.
Berish’s opponent on July 6 will be Robert Drysdale, a world champion Brazilian jiu-jitsu black-belt fighter based in Las Vegas. Drysdale’s strength may be his undoing, as Berish’s trainer, instructor and manager Nolan Dutcher, owner of Black and Blue, the mixed martial-arts gym on Route 28 outside Kingston, explained that Berish’s leg up in this fight is in his diversity of training and skills, ranging from being an accomplished wrestler to Muy Thai boxing.
“[Berish] is well-rounded in [mixed martial arts],” said Dutcher, who has been working with him for nine years. “He is good with stand-up striking ability, a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and he has a background with high-school wrestling so he has good takedowns. So if you are not winning standing up with strikes, then you can choose to take them down to the mat and grapple.”
Though Berish’s record is impressive, the UFC could have had their pick in any MMA gym to find fighters with comparable or even better. Why Berish? Dutcher figured that the years in his fighting career and his winning scorecard are only part of the reason. “When you go to these shows and fight, then you get recognized, then the bigger shows scouts are there,” he said. “So it’s his look, and his personality on the mat, too. Someone can be 20-0, but they take people down on the mat by lying on them. That’s boring. They use the term ‘lay and pray,’ which is taking someone down and lie on top of them for three rounds. [Berish] has four or five finishes in the first round, so he’s more exciting to watch. People like finishes. And Keith Berish finishes fights. He has two knockouts and two submissions out of five professional fights.”
Dutcher said that Berish does not have a specific weakness, and that in this fight the only advantage Drysdale has are his Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills.
“Shabang-Bang”? Really?According to Berish, a fighter does not give himself a nickname. He said he was dubbed “Shabang-Bang” by friends who came to his first fight, and described the one-two punching sequence he gave his opponent as, “Shabang! Bang!”
A shot of confidence
What goes into preparing for a fight? Though he usually keeps a pretty clean diet and trains regularly, Berish said that six to eight weeks or so before a fight he’s in high gear. Berish said he likes to eat organic and clean foods as a rule, and does not typically drink regularly. During training periods he cuts back on junk in his diet, drinks a gallon of water a day, does not imbibe alcohol whatsoever and gets plenty of sleep. Berish trains twice a day for two hours a day, doing intense amount of cardio, such as multiple rounds of 30-yard wind sprints, for example. He works out at Mac Fitness with a personal trainer doing weights and kettle bells, in addition to MMA training. Berish works in TechCity doing mechanical assembly, and is blessed with an employer who has allowed him to take half-days until his fight. “They are very supportive,” he said. “They know this is a big fight.”
Berish usually fights at 185 pounds “middleweight,” but for this fight he got to bulk up to 205, which he says is not his preferred fighting weight. Berish, at six feet tall, described fighting some men at the higher weight as “giant monsters who can put a man over their shoulder.” He added that he was not willing to turn down the UFC for any weight class in which they wanted to see him.
Drysdale is an impressive six foot three. “I don’t like fighting big boys at 205,” said Berish. “They give the opportunity to fight at whatever weight, I am going to take it. It’s going to be like Highlander, I am going to steal your powers now. It’s a win-win because there’s more pressure on him. Everyone looking at this fight assumes he is going to win because he has an established name, and people know who he is.”
In addition to training at Black and Blue, Berish trains in Connecticut. Dutcher said that he lines Berish up with different fighters who can challenge his varied skills. Berish must qualify medically to be licensed in the State of Nevada, and has a few tests to take: fresh physical exam, eye exam, blood work to exclude HIV, Hepatitis B and C, plus MRI and MRA brain scans.
Like all fighters, Berish has had his share of bumps and scrapes. He has broken his left wrist, torn meniscus in right knee, broken his hand twice and suffered two herniated discs. “I am very laid back, relaxed,” said Berish of his own general disposition. However, he described his fighting personality as “Kill or be Killed.”
“From the time until I have my fight, anything that aggravates me, I make a mental note and take it out on my opponent. It’s this guy’s fault, I say to myself,” said Berish. “A deer jumped on my new car once and dented it, It’s this guy’s fault. Anything that pisses me off, I blame it on him.”