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Thread: MMA Museum

  1. #1
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    MMA Museum

    Verel pushing for 'arts' museum
    Mixed Martial Arts titan wants to build facility honoring sport in WNY home
    By Tyler Dunne
    News Sports Reporter
    Updated: February 9, 2011, 11:47 PM

    A.J. Verel is a titan in the martial arts industry. As such, he could build a new hall of fame for his sport anywhere he pleases.

    Los Angeles, Texas, Las Vegas, Florida, those are the locations that seem to make the most sense. Certainly not in Western New York, not in a state where mixed martial arts is illegal.

    The reason Verel is back in his hometown and pushing for Buffalo dates back to May 23, 2003. That fatal day, his brother was fishing underneath the Buffalo Skyway with his girlfriend. Out of nowhere, an acquaintance with an assault rifle appeared. Quickly, Christopher Verel steered his girlfriend to safety. And after firing two shots in self-defense, he was murdered.

    For A.J., the choice was simple. His mother was visually impaired. His father was getting older. It was time to leave Florida, come home and chase his dream.

    "There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about my brother," Verel said.

    Ever since, Verel has been on a mission to promote his sport. This idea is still being hatched. But sometime soon, possibly this year, a Martial Arts Hall of Fame and Museum will open in this region.

    It's the brainchild of Verel. He owns five black belts, three world kickboxing titles, has appeared in many films as a stunt performer and was the chief referee for the Toughman Championship Series on FX. Recently minted as the U.S. Delegate for all ring sports, he's driven to nationalize martial arts -- and give back to his hometown.

    "We were originally looking at Vegas and McKinney, Texas, California, Chicago, we had offers," Verel said. "When the studies came back, it didn't support it, it didn't make sense. But when you look in terms of economic development and outside revenue generated for a region, you're look at about $35 million annually.

    "Let's face it. This region could use those dollars."

    Everything clicked for Verel at the 2003 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions a few months after his brother's tragic death. Fresh off his own induction into the World Karate and Kickboxing Hall of Fame, Verel visited Canton for the enshrinement of James Lofton and Joe Delamielleure.

    He wasn't merely a spectator -- Verel was an attentive student. Eating dinner next to Don Shula and Marv Levy, he listened closely to every word. Verel hustled, table to table, prodding as many of the 115 football legends as he could about their impressions of the hall.

    "What they liked, what they didn't like and how it evolved," Verel said. "What it means for them in their own communities. I thought, 'Wow, this is what it should be like.'"

    Martial arts technically has a hall of fame but it's nothing tangible. Soon after that trip to Canton, Verel put his plan into action at an annual martial arts banquet.

    The conversation remains fresh in his mind. Verel stashed his awards under the table and asked his colleagues to do the same.

    "There are things other sports have done that we need to get on board with," Verel told the group. "If we're going to have any life to this, if it'll have any future legs, we need this. What will be left after we're gone?"

    Of course, there's one elephant in the room. Mixed Martial Arts is legal in 46 states but not in New York. A bill to legalize it is a work in progress, one Verel is heavily involved with. But as a whole, martial arts is quite healthy here. Across the state there are 5,000 martial arts-related schools and businesses, Verel says, including 250 in Erie County alone.

    To the north, he also sees potential. Just like everybody else, Verel was blindsided by the Canadian invasion during the World Junior Hockey Championships. He knows they'll herd south for another sport.

    "The largest pay-per-view market for the martial arts industry is just to the north of us in Ontario -- the largest globally," Verel said. "They're looking for another thing to do. It's like being in a big city, a large city that needs to be visited. It's not too far away."

    Excuse Verel for dreaming big. Eight years ago, his name was on a hit list. After shooting Verel's brother, Vlade Belotlieff -- who had a paranoid personality disorder -- planned to go after A.J. next. For two weeks, Verel was forced to live under police protection. Eventually, Belotlieff was captured. And in the midst of a 20-year sentence, he hung himself in prison.

    Tragedy didn't stop there. Soon after Christopher's death, Verel was driving behind two of his instructors when their car crashed. Verel rushed to the scene and opened the car door.

    "One was injured really bad and the other one died because of complications with his injuries," Verel said.

    This hall of fame has been his outlet, his way to pay homage to those who died.

    "When you have trauma in your life, it can serve as a motivator to you," said Steve Doraski, one of Verel's close friends. "You have a driving force, you're going to push. He's that type of guy."

    So the Medaille graduate went back to school, earning his masters in curriculum design. He continued to study different halls of fame. Presenting his plan to experts in cities across the country, Verel acquired letters of intent from the sport's heavy-hitters in California, Dallas and Atlantic City. Potential donors multiplied.

    Soon -- he can't say precisely when -- the development will begin in Western New York. One possible destination is Niagara Falls. Wherever it is, do not expect a mundane, wait-in-line type of hall.

    "Not to put down any wax museums," chuckles Verel, "but we don't want people coming in and just following a velvet rope."

    Verel's early plans include building a theater that will be used for screening action films with Hollywood talent. He wants to start a TV and radio sports program. He envisions several interactive displays.

    And for the sport itself, he wants to build a training facility to house Olympic qualifiers.

    "We'd like to get it rolling, hopefully this year," said Joe Ciffa of JRC Promotions, the marketer behind the project. "We want to get the location selected. A.J. is working very, very diligently with certain groups to make sure this happens in the right place."

    That's the key: Verel is the engine driving it all.

    There's no ceiling to his plans. Verel's vision broadens beyond the Hall. For one, he's shooting for martial arts college scholarships. As Verel says, if there are scholarships for football, basketball and baseball players, why not martial artists? He's already in talks with local colleges.

    This is the fun part. Verel is only scratching the surface. In Buffalo, he sees the Bills, the Sabres and a vacuum for something else.

    Maybe a new hall of fame is just the beginning.

    "This is something that Western New York could be very, very proud of," Ciffa said. "And it's because of A.J."
    Mixed Martial Arts is legal in 46 states...I guess the MMA legal in which states now? thread will soon be moot.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

  2. #2
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    This is awesome. I like that it seems like its going to encompass all martial arts.

    I really hope they will have a 'performance' section for people like jackie chan, jet li, donnie yen, bruce lee, etc. that made huge impacts on the martial arts world as a whole. Those contributions are as important as any other IMO, sometimes more so, on the scale that people are impacted positively from these types of individuals
    Last edited by Lucas; 02-10-2011 at 11:15 AM.
    For whoso comes amongst many shall one day find that no one man is by so far the mightiest of all.

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