Marino endures hardships to revive dormant MMA career

Brian Marino


Photo courtesy of CES MMA

Army vet Marino returns from two trips overseas and battle with addiction to resume MMA career

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Jan. 30th, 2018) — Two tours in Afghanistan and an opioid addiction failed to knock out Brian Marino.

It’s hard to imagine a mere mortal standing in his way.

The 32-year-old North Attleboro, Mass., native returns to the cage for the first time in eight years Friday night at Twin River Casino, three years removed from his final tour as a U.S. Army Sergeant and nearly 10 months since quitting prescription pain-killers cold turkey.

Marino’s tumultuous journey back to mixed martial arts resumes Friday, Feb. 2nd, 2018 in a three-round welterweight bout against Jerome Mickle (2-3, 1 KO) of the Bronx on the main card of “CES MMA 48,” which airs live on AXS TV Fights. Marino enters relaxed as can be, knowing the fight inside the cage can’t possibly be tougher than the real-life battles he faced both on and off the battlefield.

“I got that in the back of my mind the whole time,” said Marino, who sports a 5-1 record ahead of Friday’s comeback bout. “This dude’s not shooting at me. There are no grenades. There are no [explosives]. I’m not going to step on a roadside bomb walking out to the cage.”

A former standout wrestler at North Attleboro High School, Marino discovered MMA while working his way back into shape after graduation. He had landed a job with the bricklayers’ union, but admits the daily grind of getting up each morning and working long hours forced him to lose the competitive edge that made him such a standout athlete in the first place.

After trying out a few MMA classes at his nearby gym, one of the local promoters approached him about fighting professionally.

“I remember thinking, ‘No way! I’d never be able to do that,'” Marino said. “A couple months later, there I was in the cage fighting.”

Marino fought six times in a year and a half after turning pro in 2009, but MMA wasn’t paying the bills, so in the midst of training for fights, he began pursuing a career as a correctional officer. He aced the written test, but cites “politics” as the reason he couldn’t get a job in his field, so he took the next-best route and joined the military, fulfilling what he admits was always a lifelong dream.

“It was something I just always wanted to do,” he said.

Marino drew inspiration from the late Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinals safety who left the NFL to join the Army in 2002 and also served in Afghanistan before dying from friendly fire two years later.

“If he can leave a multi-million dollar contract to go defend his country,” Marino said, “why can’t I as just a local fighter?”

Marino served two tours, one year-long trip to Afghanistan in 2011 immediately after completing basic training and another in 2013 that spanned nine months. The first tour featured a few “close calls,” as Marino put it, but he managed to stay out of harm’s way the second time around in the scout platoon serving in a personal security detachment role for his troop’s sergeant major and commander.

Two days before he returned home for the final time, his ex-wife gave birth to their son, Landon. Shortly thereafter, he was prescribed Percocet to deal with a back injury he suffered overseas, which is when his real trouble began.

By then, his ex-wife and son were staying in Louisiana while he still lived in North Attleboro. In addition to readjusting to civilian life and working days as an iron worker, Marino had to deal with the fact his son lived more than 1,500 miles away. The drugs helped mask the pain, but his family soon intervened. Rather than check into a rehabilitation center, Marino quit on the spot and has been clean since last April.

Even with everything around him seemingly caving in, Marino always dreamt of resuming his career in MMA. Before his final fight, a win over Dan Bonnell in November of 2010, Marino spent eight weeks of his training camp in Illinois at UFC vet Matt Hughes’ gym, The Hit Squad, working alongside fellow UFC standout Robbie Lawler and world-renowned coach Marc Fiore, among others. It changed his perspective on the kind of tutelage he needed to succeed at a higher level.

“It was a night and day difference,” Marino said, “so I knew in order to continue this I would need to be in a gym or in a room where there are guys at that level.”

Marino eventually joined Lauzon MMA in Easton, Mass., home of 25-time UFC vet Joe Lauzon. Former CES MMA standouts and current UFCA contenders Rob Font, Calvin Kattar and Kyle Bochniak frequent Lauzon’s as well, most recently in preparation for the UFC 220 fights in Boston.

“That was probably one of the greatest decisions I made,” Marino said. “Every Saturday and Wednesday that place is like a who’s who of New England fighters.

“I shopped around to a few different gyms to see where I fit in best and whatnot and Lauzon’s was the fit. There are a lot of guys like me in that gym, guys that will really give it to you sparring-wise, blast you with combos, but then afterward kind of talk to you and help you. ‘I caught you with this combo because you were doing this.’

“You go to some other gyms and ask, ‘How’d you do that? What’d you do?’ and they’re like, ‘Figure it out on your own.’ Yeah, MMA, when you fight, is one-on-one. It’s you and the other guy in the cage, but it’s a team sport in the sense of your team and your partners are what get you ready for it.”

As he begins the second phase of his MMA career this weekend, Marino still plans on pursuing a career a correctional officer. He’ll willingly balance both jobs because, he says, he cannot work a 9-to-5 like most people. The life he lives is the only life he knows. Given everything he’s overcome outside of the cage, he’s going to be difficult to stop come Friday night.

“I couldn’t be that guy who goes to work, goes to the gym and comes home. I had to have something else that I’m driving for,” Marino said. “I always say, ‘Fuck average.’ I don’t want to be average. I don’t want to be your average guy.”

Providence, R.I., heavyweight Greg Rebello (23-8, 14 KOs) headlines the event in a five-round title bout against 96-fight vet and former UFC and Bellator contender Travis Wiuff (75-25-1) of Minnesota for the vacant CES MMA World Heavyweight Championship.

The preliminary card begins at 7 p.m. ET with the televised main card following at 9.

In addition to the Rebello-Wiuff headliner, the “CES MMA 48” main card features the return of top prospects Dinis Paiva Jr. (10-6, 6 KOs) of East Providence, R.I., and Peabody, Mass., bantamweight Rico DiSciullo (8-1, 3 KOs).

Paiva Jr. faces Minneapolis veteran Kevin Barberena (5-3) in a featherweight bout.  The two boast matching three-fight win streaks; Paiva’s recent run includes back-to-back wins on AXS TV, while Barberena has won three in a row – all by submission – dating back to April of 2016. DiSciullo steps up to face Jaime Hernandez (2-1) of Colorado. DiSciullo makes his eighth appearance with CES MMA and enters his bout against Hernandez on a two-fight win streak.

The “CES MMA 48” main card also features the Rhode Island and Twin River debut of three-time Bellator vet Tim Caron (8-1, 4 KOs) of Manchester, N.H., in a middleweight bout against Maryland’s Timothy Woods (7-5, 4 KOs), plus a featherweight showdown between unbeaten Dylan Lockard (3-0, 1 KO) of Hollis, N.H., and Cortland, N.Y., vet Shane Manley (3-3).

Female strawweight Hilarie Rose of Norfolk, Mass., is one of five fighters debuting on the preliminary card. Rose faces Linsey Williams (0-2) of Coon Rapids, Mich. Middleweights Tommy Davis of Marblehead, Mass., and Armus Guyton of Ithaca, N.Y., debut against one another while light heavyweight Fabio Cherant of Wrentham, Mass., makes his pro debut against the Plattsburgh, N.Y., native Dysard (0-3). Brandon Morrotte of Hampstead, N.H., debuts in a three-round featherweight bout against Elmira, N.Y., native Quentin Gaskins (1-4).