Not long after its purchase by Zuffa, the company that owns the UFC, the World Extreme Cagefighting organization landed a national television contract with the cable network Versus.
Veteran Alex Karalexis was among the fighters the WEC and Versus chose to make a cross-country tour to promote the new fight series.
A Boston native, Karalexis needed a training partner to work with as he was doing the demonstrations around the East Coast. He chose Josh Grispi, a youthful looking featherweight from Boston whom he had seen in a gym.
But as Karalexis, a lightweight who has fought as heavy as middleweight, began to spar with Grispi, he was astonished.
He was amazed by Grispi's strength. He was shocked by his poise. He was stunned by his power.
"If he was in some other activity, they might call him a child prodigy," Karalexis said of Grispi, who is now 19 and preparing for his first WEC fight on Wednesday when he faces highly regarded veteran Mark Hominick in a three-round featherweight bout at the Santa Ana Star Center in Albuquerque, N.M.
"I rave about this kid to people because I've seen close up how good he is. People kind of look at me like I'm a little crazy when they hear me talk about him, but all I say is, 'Wait until you see him.' Once you see him, you'll believe."
Given that he's a distant relative of the legendary boxer Rocky Marciano – his grandfather's sister, who would be his great aunt, was a cousin of the late Hall of Famer – it's no surprise that Grispi is skilled in a combat sport.
But Grispi is a member of the new generation of mixed martial artists. He didn't begin with a base in one discipline and then add others to that. Rather, he began training as a mixed martial artist from the first day he walked into a gym as a 13-year-old.
He graduated a year early from high school, but only because he so despised at school that he wanted to get it over with so he could concentrate on his fighting career. Before he began training in MMA, he was kicked out of so many schools for bad behavior he can't remember how many it was.
"It's nothing to be proud of," Grispi said. "But as long as I can remember, I've loved to fight. I've fought basically my whole life in one way or another."
Finding MMA, he says, has calmed him dramatically and changed his life. He now has an outlet for his aggression and isn't looking for someone to agitate him just to be able to beat him up.
Grispi says he's 10-1, though Sherdog.comâ€™s Fight Finder, Yahoo! Sportsâ€™ unofficial source for fighter records, lists his record at 6-1. But his record reveals the diversity of his game. He's won his fights in every way conceivable. He's scored just one decision. The rest of his wins came via submission (heel hook, arm bar, guillotine choke and triangle choke) and technical knockout (strikes and kicks).
In his last outing, he scored a TKO over Spencer Paige, who had the reputation as the best featherweight in New England, in just 11 seconds with a head kick. WEC matchmaker Scott Adams knew of Paige and encouraged Grispi's manager, Scott Lockhart, to take the bout as a measure of where Grispi was in his career.
Lockhart was hesitant, knowing him was close to a deal for Grispi in the WEC, and didn't want to risk losing the contract.
"I told Scott that if he beat Spencer Paige, there would be no question he's ready for the WEC," Adams said. "We're not an entry-level organization and we want our guys to be as polished as they can be when they come to the WEC. He proved pretty conclusively that he's ready."
And Karalexis has no doubt that Grispi is ready for anything. The WEC's featherweight division is loaded with talent, topped by champion Urijah Faber, who is ranked No. 9 by Yahoo! Sports in a poll of the 10 best fighters in the world.
Faber has decimated everyone he's faced in the WEC, including a veteran like Jeff Curran.
But Karalexis said he's so confident in Grispi's ability that he wouldn't be worried about him should he be matched with Faber in his next fight.
"They need to build him up and get people to know who he is," Karalexis said. "From a business standpoint, now might not be the time to fight (Faber). But from a purely fighting standpoint, he's ready. Faber is really good, but if there is anyone out there who is going to beat him, it's this kid.
"He's an unbelievably skilled fighter already and he's only scratching the surface of how good he's going to be." Karalexis said the only concern about Grispi now is how he'll handle fighting in the big show and all the demands that a fighter faces when he competes for a national promotion like the WEC.
Grispi, though, is hardly concerned.
"Fighting is fighting," Grispi said. "It's what I love to do. It's what I'm good at. I want to test myself against the best fighters I can find. That other stuff, I don't worry about. All I'm focused on is getting in there and fighting the way I can fight."
- Alex Karalexis
- Josh Grispi