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Nearly half his life ago, Keith Trimble began what would turn into his life’s work. Not that the Long Islander knew it at the time.
“Not even close,” laughed the coach who will lead Gian Villante and Ryan LaFlare into battle this Saturday at Nassau Coliseum. “I started out with people that I grew up with, we had one heavy bag, I put some mats on the floor and that was it. I never in a million years would think that I would have traveled the world and had guys fighting for world titles in different sports. I was not even close to thinking that. I was just looking to train people, make a living, and call it a day.”
In that unattached garage in his buddy Justin Miller’s backyard, Trimble began his coaching journey, one that would lead him to Bellmore Kickboxing / MMA, a top-level gym that not only houses several elite mixed martial artists, but equally renowned kickboxers and boxers as well. In fact, just a few days after this interview, Trimble was already in Nassau Coliseum, where his heavyweight boxer, Adam Kownacki, scored the biggest win of his career, knocking out former world title challenger Artur Szpilka in four rounds.
The night before Kownacki’s bout, it was Terrence Hill fighting Chenchen Li in the Glory promotions, and next Saturday, Andre Harrison will compete in a PFL event. It’s a far cry from the days when MMA in New York was Matt Serra and Phil Baroni and that’s it. No one remembers that time quite like Trimble, Baroni’s first MMA coach.
“We were learning everything on the fly, Phil and I,” Trimble recalls. “Phil was more of just a wrestler, and that’s when he started doing kickboxing with me. He was done with college with wrestling, and he had a handful of kickboxing fights and Toughman contests. I wrestled a little bit when I was younger, and I was more boxing and kickboxing, but I was learning and watching punches into takedowns. The jiu-jitsu part, I had been training with Rodrigo Gracie and Joe D’Arce, so I would send the guys there and do that with them a little bit and learn and watch and pick things up and understand what’s going on.”
Baroni would be the first to make it to the UFC, defeating Curtis Stout at UFC 30 in February 2001. Serra followed three months later at 2001, and while it took a while, eventually New York caught on to MMA, with Long Island becoming the capital of the sport’s universe in the Empire State.
For the fighters now on the way up, the UFC is a reality and a way to make a living in MMA. It wasn’t always that way, though, and it’s taken a lot of long days and support from family and friends to make it happen for the athletes and the coaches. Trimble, a married father of three daughters, agrees.
“My wife is a saint,” Trimble said. “She supports me in every single aspect of this. I’ve missed anniversaries, birthdays, and when my youngest daughter was born, I was in the hospital. She was born at three o’clock in the afternoon, and I had one of my guys fighting for an amateur kickboxing title that night. I left at seven o’clock to go corner him. And I was staying and she said, ‘What are you doing? Go. There’s nothing you can do, come back in the morning.’”
Trimble laughs when I ask if he remembers if his guy won that night.
“Yes, he did win.”
And though he’s laughing now, the no nonsense, old school coach doesn’t do much smiling or laughing when it’s fight night, even after a victory.
“I’m happy when they win,” he explains. “It’s just that I get myself so involved with it. And I’ve explained this to them as well that as that fight’s going on and even though you won, I’m already thinking of your next fight as soon as it’s over and I’m thinking of all the things you did wrong, and I’m just trying to make you better. Go enjoy this with your family and friends. Monday, Tuesday, we talk. I’m very old school, and I didn’t like the bulls**t coach telling me I’m doing something right when I’m doing it wrong. Don’t yell and belittle and curse at me, but if you spoke to me and let me know what I’m doing wrong, I’m gonna give you a hundred percent and try to do something right. And I’ve always had that attitude with them.”
It’s made them better fighters, and in the case of Villante and LaFlare, it’s put them in their hometown for big fights this Saturday against Patrick Cummins and Alex Oliveira, respectively. And while Trimble may not be smiling (or maybe just a little) on the biggest night in Long Island MMA history, he knows what a big moment this is for his guys.
“When they used to fight for Ring of Combat, they used to sell two, three hundred tickets in Jersey,” he said. “So to be in your backyard, it’s huge. At the same time, whether they want to admit it or not, I feel it puts on some added pressure. I think it’s a little easier fighting away from home, but it’s exciting for them and it fuels them at the same time.”