A Fighter’s Debut
Madison’s own Dudley Spence prepares to make professional MMA debut
story by jonathan branch
photos by jeff binns photography
Success in athletics has always come naturally for Dudley Spence.
Whether winning a wrestling match as a student at Morgan County High School or being a part of the 2007 national championship football team at Valdosta State, Spence has experienced athletic achievement at nearly every level.
This week he will have a chance to prove himself at the professional level.
Spence will begin his professional Mixed Martial Arts career Thursday, July 19, when he squares off against Tommy Dibernard in Fight Lab 26 at Coyote Joe’s in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“I expect to go up there and put on a show and show how hard I’ve been working,” said Spence. “My goal when I was little was to be a professional athlete.”
The fight is set for three rounds, each five minutes long, and will take place in a caged ring.
“It’s big,” Spence said of his professional debut. “Ever since I was little, I played sports. First, it was baseball. Then, it was football. Now, it’s kind of transferred [to MMA].”
The 6-foot, 171-pound Spence has been training for nearly 15 months and recorded a 6-1 record as an amateur. In his most recent bout, Spence defeated Jay Wilson by a knockout in the first round of their match in May.
Dibernard will also be making his professional debut when he faces Spence Thursday. Dibernard compiled an 8-4 amateur record and has not lost a fight since March 2011.
“I know he’s a good wrestler,” Spence said of his upcoming opponent.
Before becoming a professional MMA fighter in Georgia, a competitor must participate in five fights as an amateur.
Spence, who wrestled for Morgan County High School until he graduated in 2006, trained for a month in 2011 before fighting five fights in consecutive months, going undefeated in that span.
“I had a strong wrestling game because I wrestled in school,” said Spence, who trains at HardCore Gym in Athens with MMA professionals Rory and Adam Singer. “I had a former pro boxer (Willie Walker) help me with my standup game. I kind of jumped right into it. It was either going to be for me or it wasn’t.”
Spence began training for an MMA career in April 2011 after graduating from Valdosta State in 2010. At VSU, Spence played football and was a member of the 2007 NCAA Division II national championship team. As a senior, he was a captain of the 2010 team that won the Gulf South Conference championship.
After graduating, Spence saw a few Ultimate Fighting Championship matches on television and believed he, too, could make it as a professional fighter.
“I knew I could handle my own on the ground,” said Spence, citing his wrestling background at MCHS. “Just seeing some of the [professional] fighters [on television], I knew how much I could put myself through and I knew I could do it.”
His football experience and conditioning routine he learned at VSU helped confirm his decision to begin fighting.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do this without knowing how to condition myself,” said Spence. “Being able to go and have that work ethic, I wouldn’t have been able to do this without that.”
Spence said he takes each day and each match one-at-a-time and he does not get distracted predicting how his professional career will go.
When asked about future success, Spence simply said “It’s either going to come or it ain’t.”
Printed in the July 19, 2012