When Eliot Marshall gets into the Octagon on Saturday night, there will be private pay-per-view parties all over the country. But a few viewers in Gloucester County will be particularly interested in the outcome.
Marshall, a Franklinville native who now lives in Boulder, Colo., will fight Jason Brilz on the Ultimate Fighting Championship 103 undercard in Dallas. His fight could be televised on either Spike or pay-per-view, depending on how good it is and how long other matches last, according to UFC publicist Joe Fernandez.
"My old buddies from home all have parties when the fights are on," Marshall said. "The people I grew up with get pretty excited about it."
Marshall, 29, started karate at age 6 and then discovered Brazilian jujitsu when he was attending Delsea Regional High School. After graduation, Marshall set his sights on Colorado, to ski and attend the University of Colorado.
Marshall earned a degree in mathematics, but he also built his appreciation for jujitsu.
He became part of a growing mixed martial arts movement, training and eventually becoming a jujitsu instructor.
Marshall and his wife, Renee, settled in Boulder. He worked as a bartender on the side, while she is a nurse practitioner, and they made enough of a living to support his fighting career.
Marshall became a four-time Pan-American Brazilian jujitsu champion and won Grappler's Quest, a worldwide wrestling tournament, nine times.
He first took up MMA in 2006 and started 5-1 with the Ring Of Fire MMA organization.
In 2008, Marshall got his big break. He was chosen for the UFC's reality show, "The Ultimate Fighter," from which several of the best fighters are awarded contracts. He headed to Las Vegas, where for six weeks he trained in seclusion without television or other distractions.
Classified as a light heavyweight (under 205 pounds), Marshall fought his way to the show's semifinals, where he lost by decision to the eventual champion, Ryan Bader. But Marshall showed enough promise to be awarded a contract with UFC.
Marshall, nicknamed "The Fire," is now 9-2, (2-0 in UFC fights.) In December 2008, he forced Jules Brunchez to tap out with a chokehold in Las Vegas.
"That was the high point of my career so far. I crushed him in (1 minute, 20 seconds). My friends, my family and my wife were all there," Marshall said. "Just that whole experience of dominating was awesome. Then you party all night in Vegas. It was off the hook."
Last April, he beat Brazilian Vinicius Magalhaes by decision in Montreal.
"It was fairly amazing that he was able to defeat a Brazilian like that, but Marshall is a Brazilian jujitsu black belt," UFC's Fernandez said. "That's regarded in MMA circles as the hardest belt to obtain. It closes the distance between fighters and relies less on punching or kicking impact and more on leverage and technique, and that's his clearly his strength."
Marshall actually commutes between Boulder and Albuquerque, N.M., where he trains with Greg Jackson of the elite Jackson Mixed Martial Arts.
On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Marshall usually does a run in the morning, boxing or kick-boxing training through the day and then a combination of conditioning, grappling, and weight training in the evening. Weight training is a mixture of high and low weight at various repetitions. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, he spars in the morning and wrestles at night.
The UFC is 16 years old. It reached a new level in 2005 when Spike TV aired "The Ultimate Fighter," the reality show that eventually catapulted Marshall's career. Today, MMA is one of the fastest growing spectator sports among 18-34-year-old men.
"The Fire's" opponent Saturday, Brilz (17-1), ironically is an actual firefighter from Nebraska. Like Marshall, Brilz is 2-0 in UFC fights. Brilz's background is in wrestling, but he now trains in jujitsu.
"I'm pretty sure he's going to try to get me to the ground, but I'm pretty comfortable on the ground," Marshall said.
Marshall at a glance
High school: Delsea Regional
Career record: 9-2 (2-0 UFC)
Strength: Marshall is a Brazilian jujitsu black belt. He says he's 'pretty comfortable on the ground.'