The inspiring Story of Cape Cod’s Rising Mixed Martial Arts StarPhotography and text by Julia Cumes
When Sean Lally steps out onto the stage before entering the “cage” at Plymouth’s Memorial Hall, he’s so inwardly focused he seems not to notice the cheering crowds, the colorful lights, or his opponent who moves stealthily in the cage like a waiting lion.
One of Cape Cod’s rising Mixed Martial Arts stars, Sean Lally has been working toward this moment for years and sees himself as a modern-day gladiator, mastering his body and his art so that his performance is seamless. He has been nicknamed “the unpredictable one” for his varied and complex fighting style; Lally’s coaches describe him as having that special quality a fighter needs to succeed.
Lally, who also works as a personal trainer and fitness instructor, has gained a strong following on the Cape for his enthusiastic, energetic approach to fitness. His classes at Fitness Revolution in Orleans fill up fast. “I have a lot of different personal training clients—from high school athletes to retirees—and try to help them to become physically stronger as well as feel good about getting themselves in shape without the use of a lot of machines,” he says. In addition to personal training, Lally teaches adult cardio kickboxing classes, a teen kickboxing class and a “total fit” class that focuses on strength and core work.
“I’ve found a lot of good people on the Cape and really love the nature here,” Lally says, when asked why he’s chosen Cape Cod as his home base. “I like the quietness of the winter, the energy of the summer and I also just really love the ocean.”
With the beaches, dunes and bike paths of Cape Cod as his training ground, combined with top coaches and an elite MMA team, Lally seems unstoppable. Rooted in the classic Greek era’s ancient Olympic combat sport Pankration, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a modern form of performance fighting that combines kick-boxing, Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai and wrestling.
The opponents face off in a protective caged ring because without it, one of the fighters could fly through the ropes. While there are similarities between boxing matches and MMA fights, the latter has longer rounds and fewer restrictions. Opponents may use the full scope of their martial arts training, which include kicks, punches, knees, elbows, a variety of choke holds, and take downs. “It’s really a strategic chess match between two martial artists,” says Lally. “Anyone who goes into that cage is well-versed in everything.”
Lally, 25, of Orleans, is quick to point out that there’s also the element of showmanship. “My coach likes to remind us that while we’re athletes and fighters, at the end of the day, we’re also entertainers.” Indeed, MMA has achieved extraordinary popularity in recent years with fights now broadcast on the Fox Sports network, as well thousands of online sights dedicated to the sport and a growing fan base willing to shell out top money for live events.
Born in Falmouth and raised primarily in New Hampshire, Lally fell in love with martial arts at a young age. He started taking karate as a 9 year-old-boy and expanded to boxing and then MMA fighting in his teens. His first fight was in Atlantic City, N.J.—a city whose mythical status was thrilling for a teenager from New England. “My dad and two friends came with me. They were my “corners” and I won by technical knockout,” he explains. This experience motivated Lally to work harder and push himself to the next level. Lally turned pro soon after, then backtracked, realizing he was too young to take that step.
After high school, Lally joined the army and was sent down to Georgia to start infantry school. “I come from a family with a strong military tradition. My dad was a marine, my grandfather was in the army—I have about six close relatives who all were in the military —so I knew I wanted to do my part when it was time,” he explains.
Successful candidates—of which Lally was one—join an elite lightweight infantry unit that performs special operations. Lally deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 and spent six months in combat. “We had a very active unit and had 50 casualties out of our 500 guys. It was pretty tough,” he adds softly, without elaborating. When his unit returned home, he found the adjustment difficult. “I missed the simple life of being in Afghanistan. Every day, we knew what was expected of us,” he explains.
After his enlistment time expired, Lally was confronted with the decision of whether to re-enlist or do something different. “I wanted to see what else life had to offer, so I decided to get back to my training.” After spending some time in New Hampshire to regroup, he moved to the Cape where he connected with his current coaches and team. “I was blessed to find a great MMA gym—Gracie Fitness in Hyannis—and a team that was really creating a lot of good fighters in the sport,” he says.
Lally started training with respected Jiu Jitsu coach, Juliano Coutinho, as well as a Muay Thai coach, Michael Gresh (nicknamed “loco lobo”) and surrounded himself with great fighters and an elite training camp. “I really focused on strength and conditioning. I’ve always worked out and been fit, but I took it to a whole other level, doing sprints on the beach, lifting a lot of weights and fine tuning my program to become a master of my body and of the art,” he explains.
As his training progressed and he received more fight opportunities, Lally honed his fight preparation. These days, he spends the eight weeks before a fight doing intensive training with five sessions a week of Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai and three weekly sessions of strength and cardio training. He also eats a restricted, “clean” diet and abstains from drinking alcohol for the eight weeks leading up to the fight.
In October of last year, Lally and his partner, Skye Champagne, became parents for the first time. “Becoming a father has been amazing. It definitely inspires me to work even harder. I love my girls and appreciate that Skye is behind me 100 percent in terms of the path I’m trying to take,” he says, smiling.
When asked about how he sees his involvement in MMA developing, he waxes philosophical. “I’m really committed to the martial artist’s way of life and believe there’s a true art and science behind it. I believe in living every day like it’s your last, always trying to perfect your art and having respect for yourself and others and loyalty to your team. As for Sean Lally’s immediate future, his growing fan base awaits his next fight, scheduled for April 9 at Plymouth Memorial Hall in Plymouth.