Anthony "Bubba" Norton will not be on the card when the Ultimate Fighting Championship holds one its first legal professional mixed martial arts events in the state on Saturday in KeyBank Center downtown.
But the Hamburg native will still be looking for his shot.
Norton, 32, trains at the WNY Mixed Martial Arts Fitness gym in Buffalo. That's where he was Friday – in his sweats, kicking boxing bags while looking forward to watching the 14-card bout this weekend, sizing up what could be future competition.
"I've never been to a UFC fight ever, and I've been to all of these amateur and pro shows and training all over the country," said Norton. "Now I can actually be in my own hometown and see what it's like."
Norton – who stands 5'10" tall, and weighs a lean but muscular 155 pounds – started training in mixed martial arts about 10 years ago.
These days, he is ranked by Tapology.com as the 33rd best mixed martial arts fighter in the New York region.
As a professional, he has 2-1 win-loss record, which he is hoping to beef up in his next couple of bouts as he works his way toward becoming a member of the UFC, an American mixed martial arts promotion company and the largest in the world. It features most of the top-ranked fighters in the sport.
While fans of the sport have been able to view in-person bouts at venues across 49 other states in the country, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a bill only last year that made professional mixed martial arts legal in the state.
The UFC held its first mixed martial arts fight in New York State on Nov. 12 in Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Over much of the past decade, Norton fought in amateur bouts, which were always legal in the state.
"I was traveling to Jamestown and Salamanca to train. Now that I'm doing it at home, I do it a lot more often than I was back then," he said.
"They didn't have any shows or amateur shows around here that were sanctioned, so I couldn't get in any sanctioned fights, unless it was on the (Cattaraugus Indian) reservation," Norton added.
Norton said he took time before deciding to go professional.
"I had no manager, no trainer before I came here (WNY Mixed Martial Arts Fitness). I was 1-3 when I came to this gym," he recalled.
Before he turned pro, Norton said his fighting weight was 230 pounds. Then it was 205 pounds, which he whittled down to 185 pounds over the course of a year's training.
"When I fought at 185 pounds here, my coach made me wait. He said no, I had to watch other fighters fight, but I wanted to do it so bad. He said 'You could do it, but I'm not going to coach you. You're going to have to do it independently,' but I didn't want that. I wanted them to help me and be in my corner," Norton said.
He waited the whole year and got down to 170, a weight at which he had never fought before.
Then, he went from a 1-3 record as an amateur to an 8-6 record as an amateur. With more wins under his belt, he decided it was time to turn pro.
Still, it hasn't been an easy road, fighting and training in Ohio and Maine.
"It's super hard to go there and expensive to pay for gas and all that other stuff. Finally, locally, I was able to get sponsors through local businesses that wanted to help me out. And I built a fan base around here to the point where I could make a few bucks," Norton said.
Norton, who also has a purple belt in Jiu Jitsu, has some upcoming fights.
"I have a contract with King of the Cage. I have a three-fight contract. I've already had one fight with them," Norton said. "My next fight coming up May 6 will be the second fight of my contract. Then I have another one scheduled to come back to Seneca Niagara (Casino)."
He fights about four times a year. Norton is hoping to scope out the competition at Saturday's fight in KeyBank Center.
"If I can win the next couple of fights on my current contract and go, like four or five and one, instead of two and one, maybe six and one, I could be looking at UFC coming to town and somebody getting injured in my weight class and then I'd need somebody to step up right away and look at my win/loss record," he said. "I wouldn't have to pay guys to travel and come all the way from another state to scout some local guy like me that's ready to fight. I could just get a phone call within a week."
"I've got to stay ready all the time, get a couple more wins through King of the Cage and work my way up and, hopefully, make UFC," added Norton.