JOLIET – Not long ago, Josh Streacker and Brian Akins likely wouldn't have anticipated seeing themselves battling for titles in a Mixed Martial Arts event in front of a big crowd.
But that's just where the pair of fighters will be on Saturday evening when they take part in Supreme Promotions' Summer Fight Series II at Hollywood Casino Joliet.
After 1,400 showed up for last month's spectacle at the casino, promoter Jim Jackson has tried to out-do that, lining up at least 20 fights in anticipation of an even bigger turnout.
Doors open at 5 p.m. with the action getting underway at 6 p.m. on an evening where three title belts will be contested before competitors and fans can mingle at an after-party.
Akins faces LaQuinn Swift for the lightweight title, Streacker takes on Sinatra Pool for the welterweight belt and Lemont's Angel Cabral meets Dean Neely for the heavyweight title.
Streacker, a Bolingbrook and Lewis University graduate who lives in Plainfield, got involved in taekwondo when he was young and used those experiences to help get him into MMA.
"I started off in American Taekwondo Association when I was seven because my parents wanted me to learn to defend myself," said Streacker, the welterweight belt-holder. "As I started to develop my skills and get better, I wondered what was next. Things got a little boring in taekwondo so I moved to the next challenging step, which was mixed martial arts. With ATA I got a good base that not a lot of people can transfer over to mixed martial arts.
"Everyone knows Jim Jackson and some people hate him but he's been a good human being to me. Of course he wanted my style because it's electrifying and amazing to watch. I've seen things progress and become bigger with Supreme Promotions and Jim has done an excellent job. His big thing is marketing and he does it like crazy and it's refreshing to start up with someone who is so motivated to make something amazing out of the show."
Streacker got his degree from Lewis in athletic training and he works with the medical aspect of sports in his job with ATI Physical Therapy, which gives him a unique insight into how to deal with fighters like himself who compete in MMA.
"I work with ATI Physical Therapy and they're an excellent company to work for," Streacker said. "We're actually looking for any way that we can get into the MMA business. So I'm hoping to bring two of my huge passions, athletic training and mixed martial arts, into one. Being able to do that would be so much fun and it would just make my day.
"This is going to be a great avenue and will open up new things for ATI Physical Therapy so I'm excited to start it up. The big thing in sports right now is dealing with concussions. So ATI wants to come in and, along with Jim, to come up with something for concussions and I think that it would excellent for the sport to keep the fighters safer."
While Streacker had a long background in taekwondo that he could fall back upon, Akins didn't compete much athletically until he caught the bug of participating in MMA.
"When I was 16, I was out making home movies with my friends that people could laugh about on YouTube, that's what I was known for," Akins said. "Then all of a sudden, it's like Brian, that silly guy on YouTube, in now in MMA, and he can probably kick my butt. I train because I feel like I need to train to help me get through my day. It's an outlet for stress.
"When I started training, I didn't plan on competing or getting in the cage, but my coach thought that I should fight, and that's when I began. I'd been training almost every day and putting in a lot of work so I want to see where I can go with it. I love what I'm doing and I like pushing myself and to have something to focus on so I decided to take a fight."
The fighter nicknamed 'Flyin' Brian' says that the very first fight in his life came in a cage, which he lost. In order to get better at his sport, the Oswego East grad travels to a several gyms while also dealing with a regular work schedule at a Walgreens.
"I watched karate movies, so I really liked kicks, but I didn't know how to box and my wrestling was mediocre," said Akins, the XFO MMA belt-holder. "People say I'm exciting because I'm well-rounded. In my first few fights I did the little wrestling that I knew but in the past year and a half, I started throwing head kicks and realized I was good at it.
"At my job, I had a line at the register and one of the regulars said to another customer, 'do you believe that this guy that's ringing you out is a fighter?' When I come back to work after a fight, people ask if I fought since they don't see any marks on my face. But they like me and when I was the employee of the month, the picture was of me winning my title."