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This local combat league is putting Columbus fighters on the map

This local combat league is putting Columbus fighters on the map

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MMA fighter Josiah Harrell says other fighters don’t like to fight him, in particular because of his background in wrestling.

“Unless they like suffering,” he added, without a hint of sarcasm.

Harrell, 23, has been fighting for three years, the last two as a professional. That doesn’t mean the Grove City resident doesn’t also work a day job. But he hopes a combination of improvement, experience, and strong promotion can change that.

Harrell is hard at work on the first two. That last part is where the Ohio Combat League comes in.

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OCL was founded about three years ago by MMA veteran Travis Davis and promoter Troy Speakman, both of Columbus. The two saw a need to showcase fighters from Ohio—to create a situation that would benefit athletes and audiences in the state.

“I’ve been around long enough, and I understand what you need as a fighter from a promoter,” said Davis, who, at age 34, is still active in a handful of circuits as a fighter. “The idea is to help younger guys get to the next level.”

Photo by Leonard Carrizo

Davis said that there is no shortage of talent in Ohio, but that too often, fight cards had Ohio fighters battling it out against other Ohio fighters.

“My big thing is not having Ohio guys fight Ohio guys,” Davis said. “Most can’t make that next level because promotion is not bringing in guys from other states. That makes it hard to gain a reputation. Plus, it means guys are sort of beating up on each other, which limits opportunities.”

“I’ve known Travis for about 12 years now, and when I met him, I thought he was a tough kid who had a promoter’s brain,” said Speakman, who’s been organizing fights and fight cards in Ohio and beyond for more than 15 years. “When he approached me with this idea about getting young, Ohio fighters promoted in the right way—in the right venues and on the right cards—I could see it was something that was needed.”

“You give these guys a big show locally, against a fighter from Michigan or Iowa or Kentucky or maybe even Nevada, and when UFC or Bellator (MMA) sees these guys, it can catch their eye.”

Harrell is just one in a growing list of “really good, top prospects in Ohio,” according to Davis. Speakman called him “hard-nosed; rugged.”

Harrell, 23, started fighting three years ago at the suggestion of a wrestling coach after taking a shot at a Division I college football career. 

The competition “filled a void,” he explained, adding, “I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did.”

He credits OCL with giving him both a viable platform and one that offers the flexibility to fight close to home.

“I’m young yet. I’ve got some time. If I work and do what I need to do, I can get on with UFC or Bellator and make a living at this,” Harrell said.

Speaking of making a living fighting, Davis has no plans to train or promote full-time—yet. While he admits MMA is a “young man’s game,” Davis feels he has a few more years left of competition. Indeed, he recently got a call to fill in on a Professional Fighters League Challenger Series event in Florida. And, while he came up short, he credits his activity in OCL with getting him the shot.

“I still love the adrenaline rush, the joy of winning,” he said, adding that the sport’s unpredictability still holds a strong appeal. 

 “Anything can happen at any moment,” he said.

Still, he finds it hard to keep his thoughts to himself when watching young fighters train.

“I think I have something to offer to young guys,” Davis said. “I have that veteran experience, and I’m still in the game. It’s cool to have a chance to watch these guys grow.”


MMA fighter Josiah Harrell says other fighters don’t like to fight him, in particularn because of his background in wrestling.

“Unless they like suffering,” he added, without a hint of sarcasm.

Harrell, 23, has been fighting for three years, the last two as a professional. That doesn’t mean the Grove City resident doesn’t also work a day job. But he hopes a combination of improvement, experience, and strong promotion can change that.

Harrell is hard at work on the first two. That last part is where the Ohio Combat League comes in.

OCL was founded about three years ago by MMA veteran Travis Davis and promoter Troy Speakman, both of Columbus. The two saw a need to showcase fighters from Ohio—to create a situation that would benefit athletes and audiences in the state.

“I’ve been around long enough, and I understand what you need as a fighter from a promoter,” said Davis, who, at age 34, is still active in a handful of circuits as a fighter. “The idea is to help younger guys get to the next level.”

Davis said that there is no shortage of talent in Ohio, but that too often, fight cards had Ohio fighters battling it out against other Ohio fighters.

“My big thing is not having Ohio guys fight Ohio guys,” Davis said. “Most can’t make that next level because promotion is not bringing in guys from other states. That makes it hard to gain a reputation. Plus, it means guys are sort of beating up on each other, which limits opportunities.”

“I’ve known Travis for about 12 years now, and when I met him, I thought he was a tough kid who had a promoter’s brain,” said Speakman, who’s been organizing fights and fight cards in Ohio and beyond for more than 15 years. “When he approached me with this idea about getting young, Ohio fighters promoted in the right way—in the right venues and on the right cards—I could see it was something that was needed.”

“You give these guys a big show locally, against a fighter from Michigan or Iowa or Kentucky or maybe even Nevada, and when UFC or Bellator (MMA) sees these guys, it can catch their eye.”

Harrell is just one in a growing list of “really good, top prospects in Ohio,” according to Davis. Speakman called him “hard-nosed; rugged.”

Harrell, 23, started fighting three years ago at the suggestion of a wrestling coach after taking a shot at a Division I college football career. 

The competition “filled a void,” he explained, adding, “I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did.”

He credits OCL with giving him both a viable platform and one that offers the flexibility to fight close to home.

“I’m young yet. I’ve got some time. If I work and do what I need to do, I can get on with UFC or Bellator and make a living at this,” Harrell said.

Speaking of making a living fighting, Davis has no plans to train or promote full-time—yet. While he admits MMA is a “young man’s game,” Davis feels he has a few more years left of competition. Indeed, he recently got a call to fill in on a Professional Fighters League Challenger Series event in Florida. And, while he came up short, he credits his activity in OCL with getting him the shot.

“I still love the adrenaline rush, the joy of winning,” he said, adding that the sport’s unpredictability still holds a strong appeal. 

 “Anything can happen at any moment,” he said.

Still, he finds it hard to keep his thoughts to himself when watching young fighters train.

“I think I have something to offer to young guys,” Davis said. “I have that veteran experience, and I’m still in the game. It’s cool to have a chance to watch these guys grow.”

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