For more than a belt

Lakeview corrections officer to fight for MMA title

Submitted Photo Mixed martial artist and current Lakeview Shock corrections officer Jeremy Stopa (top) attempts an armbar submission on an opponent during the first round of an MMA fight in 2017.

BROCTON — 38 seconds. That’s all it took for Jeremy Stopa to announce his presence in the world of mixed martial arts, with a technical knockout win.

Now, he is one win away from a lightweight title and a chance to sign as a professional. Stopa is fighting for the vacant Full Contact Promotions lightweight title against Tyler Coleman in Rochester on April 28.

To those who know Stopa’s life story, his quick rise to relevancy in the cage should come as no surprise.

Stopa, a Corrections Officer at Lakeview Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in Brocton, now lives in the Chautauqua Lake school district. Stopa’s long journey before his MMA career began makes stepping into the cage seem like a relief.

“With some of the things I’ve been through, it’s a sense of therapy,” said Stopa.

Submitted Photo Lightweight MMA fighter Jeremy Stopa celebrates after a first round victory.

Stopa began training for a career in MMA two years ago at the age of 30 after an Army deployment in Iraq and a divorce. Stopa always knew he was a fighter, beginning as a wrestler at age five. He was a state runner-up in wrestling at Newfane High School and was named an All-American in 2004. Stopa continued his wrestling career at Niagara County Community College, where he was a two-time conference champion and qualified for the national tournament each time.

“I’ve always been a winner,” said Stopa. “From my high school career as a Section VI champ to my college career … I’ve always known this is what I do.”

Stopa joined the Army after college, where he specialized in hand-to-hand combat. While deployed in Iraq, Stopa was put in “very dangerous situations,” and admitted he has friends who died in Iraq. Now, he uses his experience from the Army, along with his wrestling experience, to instruct others on self-defense at Lakeview.

Stopa did not immediately consider a career in MMA for himself. After his time in the military, Stopa returned to western New York to coach wrestling at Royalton-Hartland High School. As a coach, Stopa sent seven wrestlers to the state tournament in Albany — including a state champion — in his five years at Roy-Hart.

With his time as a coach, his service in the military, and his responsibilities as a father, Stopa had not been the one in focus since his wrestling career at NCCC.

Now, he is back in the spotlight.

After Stopa’s TKO victory in his debut, as a fill-in fighter on May 6 for King of the Cage — on only two weeks notice — his MMA career is taking off. He is unblemished in his MMA career so far, with six medals in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments, as well. He has also traveled to Thailand to train with world-class Muay Thai coaches. His MMA record is 3-0 — all stoppages in the first round.

With his wrestling experience and hand-to-hand combat training — both in the military and in MMA — Stopa is a well-rounded, ground-and-pound fighter. His technical knockout victory is coupled with a pair of submission victories, highlighted by a finish that earned Stopa the “Submission of the Year” award by King of the Cage in 2017, in a fight that took place at Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls.

Stopa expects that another dominant win — this time for a lightweight title — will earn him a professional contract. The title he is fighting for was vacated by Mark Murray, who was signed by King of the Cage.

“I feel like I deserve it,” said Stopa. “I’m doing things better than I was in high school and in college. I have a strict, clean diet … I’m working harder in the gym and taking better care of my body than I did before.”

Despite Stopa’s quick rise in MMA, he does not take for granted where he came from.

Stopa donates all of his money earned as commission from his fights to LEEK Hunting & Mountain Preserve, a volunteer-run facility in Oswayo, Pa. which takes wounded and disabled veterans on hunting trips and other outdoor activities. With his own military roots, Stopa thought it was the perfect fit.

“After my time in the military and seeing what these guys are going through, I wanted to give back,” said Stopa. “LEEK is a small non-profit organization … it’s local, and it’s a sense of therapy, just like my work in Brocton. … It’s another step of personal progression for me.”

Win or lose, Stopa is fighting for more than just a shot at a professional contract. He is fighting to prove to himself that he can.

“I fight to find truth within myself. I never want to have doubt. I never want to think ‘what if?’ … I want to see how good I am.”

On April 28 in Rochester, the truth will show itself in the cage. The biggest fight of Stopa’s life, however, was his journey to get there.

Twitter: @bradencarmen