TITUSVILLE — Muhammed De’Reese never even considered anything else. The Titusville High running back rushed for 714 yards in just six games his senior season and 834 as a junior with a combined 20 touchdowns in those two years. He signed with UCF out of high school and expected his football career to take off.
Instead, he transferred to Fort Valley State in Georgia and finished his career there while playing with, among others, Ricardo Lockette. It was Lockette who failed to pull down a last-second pass into the end zone in the Seattle Seahawks’ 28-24 Super Bowl loss to New England on Feb. 1.
But fate took a turn for De’Reese.
While playing semi-pro football in Orlando, De’Reese suffered a torn groin. Still with aspirations to play in the NFL, he picked up fights in MMA and started beating top amateurs, going 11-0 before finally turning professional.
His originally intention was to use the sport to help him get back in shape for a return to football. How things change. This Friday at 7:30 p.m. De’Reese, now 4-0 as a pro, will face Alex Nicholson (5-1) at the Shrine Auditorium in Orlando. It’s his first main event fight as a professional in what could be a huge launching point for his career.
De’Reese won the Class 2A state wrestling championship as a senior at Titusville with a 27-0 record, so the techniques he learned over the years and his background in football have actually turned him into a serious contender for future titles. But he needs to continue to show improvement, and the bout with Nicholson will have many watching to see if he can take the next jump in the sport. After all, he’s still unbeaten as an amateur and pro.
“If I go out there and do what I’m supposed to do, it’s going to look very good for moving forward,” De’Reese said. “Right now I only have four fights (as a pro), so (promoters) want to see what I can do.”
MMA is something he’d watched over the years and hadn’t really given a whole lot of thought until the football injury.
“I always thought I could do it,” he said. “But football was what I always thought I was going to be doing,” De’Reese said. “I had a couple of bumps in the road, I was trying to fight back from those hurdles. When I tore my groin it seemed like, well, it’s just another hurdle I’m going to come back from.
“I started doing the fighting just to stay in shape, and then after my fourth amateur fight I fought a guy who was supposed to go pro soon and I knocked him out in the second round. He came over to me and said, ‘Listen, man, I’ve never got hit so hard in my life, you need to go pro.’ “
So De’Reese decided to see how far he could take himself in the sport. He contacted different promoters for fights. Since he was an amateur, they could only pay for travel and expenses. So he traveled to South Carolina and all over Florida taking on any fights he could find.
“I just kept beating guys,” De’Reese said.
As the wins have piled up, so has the attention. He fought another top amateur who was getting ready to turn pro in Daytona and beat him. He has a vast background in martial arts as well, which he used as training for other sports. Now he’s looking at a huge opportunity to take his career to another level.
“All the hype in this weight class has been around us two and to have us fight in this type of stage,” said De’Reese, a heavyweight at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds.
Nicholson is also being looked at as one of the rising stars in the weight class, so the winner of this bout should see their demand for more fights take a big jump. That means a shot at bigger and better opponents and an opportunity to work towards a championship.
“A lot of people want to see this fight,” De’Reese said. “There’s a lot of hype behind it.”
If he raises his arms in victory on Friday night, it could be a win with far more significance than maybe even De’Reese will realize at the time.
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