Over the years Alex Kitchingman has learned firsthand that first impressions can be deceiving when it comes to opponents putting their best feet forward in mixed martial arts.
Since joining Relentless MMA & Fitness in his native St. Catharines about six years ago, Kitchingman, now 18, has learned that kickboxing is more of a team endeavour “than most sports.”
“People think it’s not a team sport, but it is. When you’re training, your team is everything,” he said. “Although you go in there yourself, you don’t realize just how much your team really helps you.
“I think it’s more of a team sport than others for sure.”
The graduate of Denis Morris Catholic High School in St. Catharines credits a Canadian kickboxing championship he shared with fellow Relentless fighter Ethan LeBlanc to seeds sown in training with teammates at the gym on Merritt Street.
“They train with you, they spar. People bounce ideas off each other, help each other out,” he said. “We all work together to make each other better.”
His three-round decision over a fighter from Guelph in the 16- to 18-year-old 76-kilogram division at the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations Canadian championships June 3-5 in Niagara Falls “could have either way.”
“Round 1 didn’t go my way. He gave me too much too soon,” Kitchingman said of his opponent. “Round 2 I figured out how to stuff his clinch and hit him with more shots.
“I went at him. I gave him an eight-count in Round 3, which essentially took the fight.
“It was a tooth-and-nail fight, and I came out on the right side of it.”
The victory should have set the stage for a winner-take-all versus LeBlanc, but the 16-year-old St. Catharines native hurt his wrist and foot in his first fight.
“So we went up and shared the gold together. This kind of worked out, then we could share first place equally,”
said Kitchingman who in the fall will begin studying concurrent education at Brock University.
“Either way, win or lose, we achieved our goal which was bringing gold to the gym.”
LeBlanc’s injuries weren’t bad enough to knock him out of a final against Kitchingman.
“I could have fought, but we didn’t see that it would be worth it considering we were both teammates,” the Grade 10 student at Denis Morris said.
Though Kitchingman is two years older, LeBlanc doesn’t think he necessarily would have been a decided underdog heading into battle for club bragging rights.
“I fought an 18-year-old and beat him so maybe, maybe not,” LeBlanc said with a chuckle. “If we ever do fight, we’ll find out then.”
LeBlanc played hockey and soccer and swam before getting into mixed martial arts as a way to learn self-defence.
“Just in case something ever does happen. Luckily, nothing has.”
He soon developed a “passion” for kickboxing.
“It stuck to me, and now I can’t get out.”
Gabbie Filice, 11, of Beamsville won her division outright fighting for Relentless at nationals.
Though it was her time competing at nationals, she felt confident heading into the three-day event at the Niagara Falls Convention Centre.
“I trained a lot so I was prepared,” the Grade 5 student at St. Mark Catholic Elementary School in Beamsville said.
Filice has been involved in MMA since the age of three. In 2019, she began specializing in kickboxing.
“My mom thought I would probably be into it,” she said. “I did jiu-jitsu and wrestling before.
“I just find that this is different, and that’s what I like about it.”
After an opponent lands a low, Filice has trained herself to shrug it off.
“I just continue with it and keep on going.”
Upwards of 500 fighters from throughout Canada, including eight from Relentless MMA, competed at nationals. Rebecca Culp and David Sudri earned silver medals for Relentless.