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Fast start to young career

Caleb DePello says there just isn’t much of anything he’d rather be doing than grappling.

And considering his recent track record, it’s easy to understand why.

The awards and honors he’s gathered in his short career is already impressive, including several tall trophies that rival his 4-foot, 2-inch frame.



At 8 years old, Caleb DePello is delving into mixed martial arts, a sport that is growing like wildfire across the country but is also raising eyebrows over young children competing.

“Brutal,” is how Geno DePello, Caleb’s father, described his first impressions of the sport, in which a match is typically ended by one of the competitors submitting ” or “tapping out” ” to their opponent. That same word might best describe what sports fans see when they catch a match on TV, where blood, black eyes and other bruises are all just part of the game. Some of the competitions seem to be based more on survival than sport.




But, Geno said, the more he learned about the sport, the less he saw it in such of a light.

“I know what you’re talking about,” said Geno, who played football, ran track and boxed a bit back in his days at Nevada Union High School in the early ’80s. “There is an element definitely like that. There are a lot of rough fellas at some of the tournaments. You see some things that are on the lower end of the spectrum.

“But there are people with Ph.D.s and master’s degrees out there fighting … you just don’t hear about that.”

After Louis, the oldest of his five children, first expressed interest in martial arts, Geno decided to enroll all of his children in karate lessons with hopes of them learning some basic self defense. When a family friend began competing, Louis eventually began entering point sparring tournaments along with his dad.

But when Louis’ interest in the sport began to wane, Geno noticed his 5-year-old seemed enthralled by it.

“You could tell,” Geno said. “Caleb had this unusual sense of balance and coordination.”

So the DePellos decided to let their son see how he would stack up in points sparring tournament against other five years olds.

“Sure enough,” Geno said, “he won every one. And he’s won almost all of them since.”

Last weekend, Caleb defended the title he won at the 2007 Golden State Karate Association NorCal Championships. He won his semifinal match in sudden death by landing a high hook kick to the side of his opponent’s head. He then fell two-points short of a back-to-back championship in the finals.

Today, he’ll be trying to defend the NorCal points sparring championship he won last year in Grass Valley. Caleb will be among those competing in the 2008 Northern California Championships III at Perry’s Athletic Training Center, 962 Golden Terrace, in Grass Valley. As of Thursday, more than 30 pankration (a blend of boxing and wrestling) fighters and kickboxers were registered to compete.

“I want to win,” Caleb said, although acknowledging he’s also learned to be a good sport when it’s not his arm raised at the end of a match. “It was a little disappointing (to lose), but not very much because I still got a trophy.”

He says his favorite skill in kickboxing is a “right-wheel kick,” but the best of all is getting to work on single- and double-leg takedowns in grappling, he said. He’s also enjoying judo throws, as well as learning muay thai techniques. The more he learns, he says, the less anxious he gets before a match. But, he said, he still does get nervous.

“I don’t know why, but I start feeling foamy,” he said. “It’s like I’ve got rubber legs.

“But once you start fighting, the nervousness goes away. You’re not paying attention to that when you’re scoring points.”

One of the things Caleb says he enjoys the most about mixed martial arts is getting to know other fighters, whom actually often become friends even though they might have been opponents just minutes earlier. He said he’s not trying to be mean when he’s fighting. He’s just trying to score points to get more of that tall trophy hardware.

“I don’t growl or anything,” he said.

“As much as it comes across as a very individualistic thing, when they’re working out there is a lot of team interaction and a lot of mutual support,” Geno said. “There’s a lot of healthy interaction, with honor and respect. You wish your fellow man well, as much as that may seem to be contrary on the surface.”

To contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton, e-mail bhamilton@theunion.com or call 477-4240.


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