EAST LIVERPOOL-East Liverpool resident and reigning North American Allied Fight Series light heavyweight champion Josh "The Sandman" Stansbury will defend his title this Saturday, and in doing so will get a second chance at a opponent who handed him a tough loss in his professional debut.
At "Rock N' Rumble 7," set for Aug. 24 at Jacobs Pavilion in Cleveland, Stansbury will once again step into the octagon against former heavyweight champ "Big" John Hawk (8-4). When the two first met in the cage in 2009, both were making their professional debuts. Hawk came out on top, ending the fight by submission in the second round.
"That fight was always kind of a thorn-in-my-side-fight. I've had a lot of regrets with that fight," said Stansbury, while taking a break last week from his workout at Team Impact Training Center, located in the East End of East Liverpool.
As tough as the loss was to swallow for Stansbury, he says it was a turning point in his career.
"I decided to move from heavyweight to light heavyweight, to be on a strict diet and be more professional," he said.
Stansbury (4-2) is confident the disciplined and professional attitude he has brought to his training since their first meeting will give him the edge against Hawk. He also is reassured by the fact that he defeated Dan Spohn at the Bellator Fighting Championships in June 2012 to win his first professional title. Spohn has defeated Hawk on two occasions. Stansbury was able to stop Spohn in the first round with a guillotine choke.
Taking his opponents out in the first round has become somewhat of a calling card for Stansbury. In four of his six professional MMA fights, Stansbury has stopped his opponent in the first round. Stansbury, however, says he always trains to go five rounds.
"I prepare to go the distance in all my fights but, of course, they don't pay us by the hour so I like to get in and out," he said.
Stansbury says he has the endurance to go as long as he needs to in the cage with his opponent thanks to Team Impact personal trainer Tom Beagle, who has helped him achieve the best shape of his career in terms of conditioning.
Stansbury says he has been studying Hawk and believes that he has not changed up his style and approach since the last time the two of them squared off.
"It gives me confidence because I know a lot of these guys from coming up in the amateurs," he explained.
Stansbury on the other hand says he has grown significantly as a fighter since their first meeting.
"I've done a lot of different things to better myself and improve the spots that I lacked and he took advantage of," he said,
Stansbury has had plenty of time to work on different aspects of his skill set, having been out of the cage since his last fight, which was in June 2012. In that time, he has kept in fighting shape by returning to one of his passions-boxing.
Working with longtime boxing coach Johnny Bailey, Stansbury landed two professional boxing matches, both of which he won by TKO.
"It was kind of nice to get away from the cage, but at the end of the day my heart is in MMA and I feel like I've earned my spot in MMA," said Stansbury, adding his first foray into martial arts was as a MMA fighter.
As for his strategy for Saturday's fight, Stansbury says he expects his speed and athleticism to be key in defeating the bulkier Hawk.
"I feel like I can pick him apart on my feet," he said, noting he also is ready should Hawk try to take the fight to the ground. "I can use my takedown defense to keep the fight on my feet."
Stansbury is a lifelong resident of East Liverpool and a 2003 graduate of East Liverpool High School. He says that wherever he goes, it's important for him to represent his hometown.
"I proudly represent East Liverpool, Ohio," said Stansbury. "I've got a lot of 'Potter Pride' and I show it everywhere I go."
In the world of MMA, big egos often come as part of the territory, but Stansbury seems genuinely down to earth and grateful for the people who helped him along the way. He says he is grateful for Harry and Deb Stewart of Team Impact for letting him train there; Beagle, his personal trainer; and the community for "having his back."
For tickets and more information on Stansbury's upcoming fight, visit his or Team Impact's Facebook page. You can also reach Team Impact by calling (330) 853-7320 or stopping in at 1571 Pennsylvania Ave. Tickets through the NAAFS can be purchased by calling (330) 280-8442.