Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Local Fighter Takes Act to Big Stage

Local Fighter Takes Act to Big Stage
Former All-Met Wrestler Kaplan to Fight on Undercard at Saturday's UFC 98

By B.J. Koubaroulis
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Despite a journey that has taken him through five preparatory schools, four colleges, interviews with government agencies such as the CIA, a stint as a motorcycle salesman, reality television shows and game shows, the Netherlands and most recently Las Vegas for a mixed martial arts career, Dave Kaplan still has a cellphone number that carries a 703 area code.

But as the 1998 Woodbridge High School graduate turned Ultimate Fighting Championship brawler attempts to describe the people who might know him best, Kaplan is stumped.

"High school?" asked Kaplan, who wrestled his way to an 82-20 record while at Woodbridge. "I can't tell you that I still talk to anybody from high school."

"College? No," Kaplan said. "Girlfriends? Probably a few girls, but no one that would really have any insight on me. Vegas is kind of a hard place for that."

But Las Vegas, one of the most unpredictable, volatile and erratic places in the world, is where Kaplan has finally found stability in a job that fuses his attractions to violence and showmanship and where the former second-team All-Met wrestler became the Ultimate Fighting Championship's "Diamond Dave."

Kaplan, a 29-year-old, 155-pounder who holds a blue belt in Brazilian jiujitsu, will fight George Roop (8-5) on the first undercard of Saturday's UFC 98, an 11-card mixed martial arts event at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

"This is one of those things for me about leaving footprints," said Kaplan, who is 3-2 as a pro and trains full time at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas. "I don't want to live an ordinary life. I want to live a life that some people can't. Maybe it's not 100 percent stable, but maybe that's why it interests me."

Kaplan's recent success on Spike TV's "The Ultimate Fighter 8" earned him a spot on Saturday's card; one that features two anticipated brawls in a 205-pound title fight between Rashad "Sugar" Evans (18-0-1) and Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida (14-0) and a grudge match between 170-pounders Matt "The Terror" Serra (16-5) and Matt Hughes (43-7).

Kaplan's family has moved 22 times in the past 30 years because of his father's career in the Army JAG Corps; Kaplan continued the transient lifestyle in college, with stints at Longwood, Virginia Commonwealth, Missouri and Old Dominion.

"He would never hold back," former Old Dominion wrestling coach Gray Simons said. "He would open up the whole match. You always felt like he had done his best whether he won or lost."

Now a mouthy, flamboyant entertainer and a risk-taker in the ring, Kaplan's bleached white hair pays homage to his childhood hero, professional wrestler Ric Flair.

"He's out there," said Tom Lawlor, one of Kaplan's closest teammates on "Ultimate Fighter." "I'm not sure if that's a persona he cooks up in order to get himself hyped up for fighting and he's gone ahead and taken that persona on as his own. He's almost like a character of himself."

Kaplan's reputation in the fight industry as a head case stands in contrast to his label as "highly gifted," after a childhood during which his IQ was measured at more than 140 and he taught himself how to play the piano, guitar and oboe.

"We always thought he'd be doing something more with his mind than with his body," said Marshall Kaplan, Dave's father.

However, Kaplan said he couldn't stomach the 9-to-5 lifestyle offered by the numerous government security agencies with whom he interviewed, but "that's what I'd be doing if I weren't fighting," said Kaplan, who after a six-month turn as a motorcycle salesman moved to the Netherlands to train at Vos Gym in Rotterdam, where he learned muay Thai and kickboxing.

In 2007, he surfaced on the NBC game show "The Singing Bee," lifting a microphone with his right arm -- a muscular, tattooed weapon he used that night to win $50,000 by belting out lyrics to songs by Mariah Carey, Tammy Wynette, Donna Summer, Jennifer Hudson, Tina Turner and Bonnie Raitt.

As part of Team Lloyd Irvin, a team of fighters based in Temple Hills, Kaplan developed his fighting sense in winning four straight amateur bouts; he considers himself more of a striker than his traditional wrestling background would suggest, but also more of a "showman than an athlete," he said.

"One of my criticisms is that I'm reckless because I'm trying to be so entertaining and exciting," Kaplan said. "I abhor the 'lay and pray' kind of fights."

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