From Ink to the Cage Tommy Ray Cornett is Ready
He wields the needle so well that the late Shawn Tompkins would fly from his home in Las Vegas to Lexington, Kentucky when a new tattoo was needed. Shawn was one of an impressive, diverse list of celebrities that have frequented Bleed Blue Tattoo on South Upper Street.
From athletes to rockers they have come to a master of the ink, Tommy Ray Cornett, a former Ohio high school wrestling standout who wrestled for an Army team during his military stint and later became a coach.
You’ve seen his work if you watched DeMarcus Cousins dunking for the Sacramento Kings or Eric Bledsoe hitting a three for the LA Clippers; Blind Melon’s former lead singer Travis Warren on stage or Montgomery Gentry’s Bo Garrett running a guitar riff. And perhaps for MMA fans his most famous (or infamous) customer, Junie Browning.
Yet in some way, Browning and his mercurial fighting career might be in Cornett’s thoughts subconsciously with his latest project. A young, raw talent who got in too deep too soon. Some basics being ignored. Things that can never happen in what Cornett does so well for a living.
For a great tattoo artist it is about being meticulous. Attention to detail is foremost. This could also apply to a successful fight promoter – Cornett is now that as well. On April 7 he launches “Bluegrass Brawl” at the Convention Center adjacent to the famous Rupp Arena in downtown Lexington.
It isn’t his first venture into MMA promoting but this is the one that is his. One that, as when he is applying ink, he can craft with patience and understanding. It doesn’t happen all at once, or need to.
“Two years back we had a small promotion. I wanted to keep it redundant, see if everything works. I saw these good amateur local fighters who didn’t have enough background and were getting fed to the wolves when they went to California or Nevada where there are so many established gyms. They just weren’t getting enough experience.” Cornett explains. “But my partner wanted to be Dana White. Too much too soon, trying to get bigger rather than being solid.”
It’s a problem that even promotion groups with far more cash to throw around have found to be their demise before they ever really got started. Cornett, with an already successful day job, sees the broader picture.
“I got my promoter’s license and am working with Georgetown MMA which has an established core of young fighters. I am looking to build a nice and solid foundation, again redundant with a set venue and a card of consistently good fights. The idea is to let it grow. I’d rather have a good visit that lasts fifty years than try to stuff my pockets for a short period.”
To that end he is renting a section of the Convention Center, Heritage Hall. It is designed with moveable partitions to accommodate various size business meetings from a couple of thousand medical professionals to a few hundred civic leaders. It doesn’t have to be done overnight. One room will do for now, maybe a few hundred fans to this inauguration.
“You’d like to think you can move to Rupp (the 23,000 seat arena) someday but it is about being smart and realistic. For now it is about giving these local fighters a stage.”
For the opening of “Bluegrass Brawl” there is a stacked card of 14 fights. Yes, 28 fighters coming from Kentucky and surrounding area. There would’ve been more, but a couple of fighters had to drop out with injuries.
“It’s insane how this sport has grown. I’ve had people reaching out to me from Texas, California, all over and we hadn’t even gotten our web site up. Three ring announcers have contacted me. The word spreads fast in the MMA world.”
When he was a young wrestler, Cornett attended a Mark Coleman wrestling camp. Coleman, the Ohio State great who became an NCAA Champion and later a UFC Hall of Famer, was his boyhood idol. Cornett kept the poster from that camp.
“When I went to Vegas to visit with Shawn, who was working with Randy (Couture) for one of his last fights, I took the poster with me and met Mark who signed it for me. You meet famous people from time to time but that was something special to get that signed by someone you’ve always looked up to.”
Coleman has indicated he will consider holding a seminar in conjunction with a future “Bluegrass Brawl.” Mark Hominick has also expressed interest and Cornett has been in contact with former UFC champ Sean Sherk’s management who have “offered his services.”
“Eventually I hope to have the money to bring in some of these guys. It would be a treat for the fans and the fighters. Like these fights it won’t happen overnight.”
It is through these connections Cornett hopes to gradually enhance his shows. This first one will be all amateurs; the next one in June will be a mix of professionals and amateurs. The emphasis won’t change, it is about the fighters and helping them. To that end already Cronett has called on his many friends to help pay the blood work required for pre-fight physicals. He is making T-shirts for the fighters and has bought three belts for amateur champions.
“It is always going to be about the foundation. The building of the promotion and the building of the fighters. There is a strong base of talent in the area but they need a forum so they will be prepared before they take that leap to a state that has already had these type of promotions in place for years.”
Just as with his famous clientele, Cornett doesn’t plan on anyone leaving his other business before the ink is dry, everything is in place.
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