Josh “The Wolf” Tabobondung wants to change the face of mixed martial arts (MMA). He’s not sure how he’s going to do it, but he’s confident that he will.
“I’m going to change the face of MMA, that’s what I want – I want to revolutionize MMA,” Tabobondung says.
Based in Bracebridge, Ont. the 25 year old amateur MMA fighter has an impressive record of 7 – 0 and with an offer to train at MMA’s legendary TriStar gym in Montreal, Tabobondung is preparing to go pro.
“I’m looking to go pro once I have a record of 10 – 0 in amateur fights,” Tabobondung says as he shadow boxes in his gym of choice, Bracebridge’s Muskoka Kickboxing. “To go pro with tri-star, I think that’s what’s going to get me to the UFC.”
Tabobondung first connected with TriStar at a kickboxing seminar,
“I did some seminars with Kickboxing Fitness Canada where my team would take me down and sign me up for the seminar. Firas [Zahabi] and Greg Jackson were at one of the seminars watching,” Tabobondung tells me. “I knew they were there so I wanted everything to look crisp and at the end of the day they came up to me and said ‘you’ve got skill, kid’ and told me to come down and check them out to train.”
The opportunity paid off when during a trail scout with TriStar Tabobondung was given the opportunity to train full-time.
“While training they pulled me aside and said there could be room for me there,” It’s something Tabobondung plans to do this August.
Tabobondung’s fighting career started in his youth and he admits he’s a natural-born fighter.
“I’ve always been a fighter. I was beat up and bullied a lot as a kid,” Tabobondung says. “I was always fighting, I didn’t look for them but fights always found me.”
In one particularly violent encounter Tabobondung was beaten up and had his ribs kicked in. It was a desire to defend himself and prevent abuse from happening again that led him into a career as a combatant.
Tabobondung joined Muskoka Kickboxing at 18 after moving to Bracebridge with his mother. He has been training in jujitsu and MMA with the Bracebridge gym ever since but says that his first year training under Muskoka Kickboxing owner Bill Quinn was a tough one that humbled him as a fighter.
“I came in here thinking I knew something,” Tabobondung says. “I got my ass kicked for six months straight.”
The road to success hasn’t been straightforward for Tabobondung, he’s faced many obstacles on his road to success. In one incident his progress was put on hold due to an accident that kept him out of the game until August of 2014. During a training match with fellow Muskoka MMA athlete Kyle “the Monster” Nelson, Tabobondung dislocated his shoulder.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get back into training,” Tabobondung says of the injury. “It was a time in my life where I was going through a cleansing so-to-speak, everything was breaking around me, including my body. I wasn’t sure if I was going to progress or not.”
Ultimately, it was his coach Quinn that helped Tabobondung to overcome his tribulations and get back into MMA. Quinn opened his gym, free of cost, to Tabobondung while he was getting back on his feet.
“[Quinn] said to me once, at a low point in my life, ‘things and people will always come and go throughout your life, it’s the way it is and at least you have something to help focus all of the built up tension you face in daily life… at the end of the day, martial arts will always be there for you.'”
Since he’s returned to the sport, MMA has had a positive influence on Tabobondung’s life. He says he’s learned that to become a true martial artist he has to incorporate martial arts into everything he doe, but says that the practice has been rewarding.
“Martial arts has given me everything I could ask for,” he says. “I feel it in my heart and my gut… Everything seems to be coming together better than I expected.”
Tobobondung’s influence has reached outside his personal life as well and had an affect on his home community of Wasauksing First Nation near Parry Sound. Tobobondung has incorporated his training into his role as a youth coordinator on the reservation.
“I think I have a big a pretty big impact on my reservation,” Tobobondung said. “I left the rez [sic], I got my high school diploma, I’ve progressed through this mixed martial arts career so when I go home it’s nothing but hugs.”
It’s no surprise that Tabobondung gets that type of reaction when he returns home. His career has moved at a rapid pace as he’s fought throughout Ontario and the United States since his return to MMA. Most recently he fought in a four-person tournament in Detroit, Mich. His win at the tournament earned him the title of top lightweight contender in Michigan.
His next step is TriStar, but training at the home of Canadian MMA icon Georges St. Pierre is not an easily won opportunity. Despite the challenges, it’s something that Tabobondung says he’s excited about and confident he can achieve.
“It’s no girls, drugs or booze, you’re training seven days a week at TriStar,” Tabobondung says. “That’s what I’ve been waiting for, I want to be a part of it and I think that’s going to be fruitful soon… I know I can do it, I won’t give up; I’ve been broke bloody and broken up and nothing has deterred me.”
Tabobondung says he’s invested too much into the sport to turn back at this point and plans to put his education on hold, leave Muskoka and pursue his dream of fighting in the UFC.