Before mixed martial artist Mike Bruno became the main event attraction in South Florida shows like Fight Time Promotions’ Fight Time 5 at the historic War Memorial Auditorium, he experienced the plight of what many fighters face on the way up—the struggle.
Embattled with nagging injuries that left him out of the cage and loses that raised questions about his confidence, Bruno also had financial tugs of war with management groups that he felt “mismanaged” him.
Torn cartilage in his ribs and a bone spur in his left foot during training put him out for the majority of time between 2008-2010.
On two occasions, he had lost consecutive fights. The first time came before his injuries in 2007 and the next followed upon his return to the cage.
And when Bruno was winning, he said he was being mismanaged to the point that people were taking advantage of him. The situation grew worse enough for him that he decided to self-manage himself during Fight Time Promotions’ third and fourth events.
“Some of the first companies did not give me money that came from ticket sales and sponsors,” said the 25-year-old, who trains at American Top Team in Coconut Creek. “I was on the promotional poster for one of the Fight Time events. I should have had money coming to me. Finally, the one company wired me money afterwards. I told them that the last time I would work with them.”
Now, under representation of the ML Management Group, Bruno said he does not have anxiety whenever the phone rings concerning the business side of things.
Healthy again with issues behind him, Bruno has only rebounded back stronger than ever. His latest fight—the main event of Fight Time 5: Total Destruction on June 17 against Mexican Manuel Gallereta—was nearly flawless. There was no finishing blow, but Bruno (12-4) took to his ground—and pound—attack and won over the judge’s decision in an unanimous decision.
Clad with Newbreed gear featuring the Statue of Liberty and American flag in the background, Bruno fought aggressively by taking down Gallereta (8-8) each of the three rounds and wore him down with headlocks and a series of forearm bashes and punches to the head.
Main event victor is what Bruno has wanted since he began entering Monday night Toughman fights during the summer of 2004 on Fort Lauderdale Beach. Then, a high school senior at Olympic Heights in Boca Raton, he was still making the adjustment from state championship caliber wrestler to professional fighter.
At the school, he still holds one of the single-season records in Lions’ history with a 35-3 record at the 145-pound weight class. His wrestling background as a district, regional and conference champion and his additional training in Jiu Jitsu during his off time have provided him with a potent skills combination.
“Once the high school season ended, I got exposed to the underground scene of MMA,” Bruno said. “I was earning maybe 50 bucks for winning a fight and would just party at the bar afterwards. Part of that, I regret a little because I could have made better grades and gone to college. But at that point, I also realized that I was a fighter.”
Bruno looks to his inspiration from his older brother, Steve, 29, who previously fought on the Ultimate Fighting Championship circuit and won the Spirit M.C. middleweight champion in South Korea in 2006. Today, Steve serves as an consultant and part-time coach to Mike. In all of Mike’s professional fights except for one in which it took place in Canada, Steve is there at ringside.
And he can often be heard guiding him along the way.
“Hit him on top of his head,” Steve shouted during Mike’s fight against Gallereta. “Under his chin. You got 30 seconds. Finish him. Come on.”
“He’s my working brain,” Mike said. “He’s told me the ins and outs of the business. He keeps me level headed and gives me good balance. I owe a lot to him.”
While Steve will take part of the credit, he still says that Mike is pound for pound—the strongest wrestler around.
“I’m here to be the voice,” Steve said. “My role is to keep his cool and calm. Make sure that he fights cautious and smart.”
Peter Holehan can be reached at [email protected]