If most of the MMA world didn’t know who Brandon Saling was heading into Saturday night’s Strikeforce event, they surely learned about him afterwards.
Unfortunately, it was for all the wrong reasons.
Saling put up a valiant effort, albeit a losing one, against fellow Ohioan Roger Bowling and eventually succumbed to strikes in the second round.
His fame, or infamy as the case may be, came after the fight was over when it was revealed that Saling had a criminal record including being a registered sex offender, as well as having Nazi symbols tattooed on his body.
Shortly after the fight, both the Ohio and New Jersey athletic commissions revoked Saling’s fight license due to falsifying his background and not disclosing his criminal past to either state.
Prior to his fight in Strikeforce where the world learned about Saling’s past and misdeeds, he competed three times for the popular Ohio based MMA organization, the NAAFS.
The NAAFS, owned and operated out of the Cleveland area, employed Saling for two fights in 2012 and one in 2011, which led to him actually being signed by Strikeforce when they needed a late notice opponent for Bowling on the March 3 card.
Now with the new revelations about Saling’s past out in the open, NAAFS CEO Greg Kalikas admits he was just as shocked as everybody else to hear about now only his criminal background, but his association with Nazi symbolism.
“I was really as surprised as everyone else that knew Brandon to be quite honest. I can’t say I had a lot of direct one on one contact with him, he’s usually dealt with our matchmaker, but the times that I’ve seen Brandon and watched him interact with other fighters and fans, we would have never have seen this coming. We were very surprised,” Kalikas told MMAWeekly.com.
“Obviously, we weren’t aware his criminal record or his tattoos, or what they stood for. Obviously, that’s something we wouldn’t condone. Our state athletic commission is investigating the matter, and we’ll let them do their job and leave it their hands at this point. We had no idea and if we did, we certainly wouldn’t have allowed him to fight and represent the NAAFS.”
The criminal background check was something even the state athletic commissions missed, and Kalikas makes no excuses for his organization when it comes to Saling’s controversial tattoo, which represented a Nazi symbol over his shoulder.
“I’m not going to make any excuse, we missed it, obviously other people missed it, but fighters are tattooed from top to bottom and at some point it’s just hard to catch everything. To be quite honest even if I would have looked for that tattoo and seen it, I wouldn’t have known what it meant. I consider myself somewhat educated, but I would have never known that’s what it meant,” Kalikas stated.
“I learn from this mistake and it’s something we’ll be looking for moving forward.”
The worst part for Kalikas and his team at the NAAFS is the fact that Saling was a model citizen when competing for their organization. He fought hard and picked up two big wins in their promotion in 2012, which helped him graduate to Strikeforce for the fight on March 3.
Now with the investigation ongoing by the Ohio Athletic Commission for his failure to disclose his criminal past, Kalikas can’t imagine it’s going to be easy for Saling to get a job fighting anywhere, much less the NAAFS.
“Unless the commission investigating reveals new information that we don’t have, I have to say no,” Kalikas said when asked if Saling could ever fight for his promotion again. “Which is actually pretty unfortunate to be honest, because we’re all for people and fighters getting a second and third opportunity, and for all we know Brandon is turning his life around and I’m sure he still can, but the way things currently stand, I’d have to say no, but let’s see what happens when the investigation is finalized and then we can go from there.
“The whole thing is disappointing and saddening to us, and we feel bad for the kids that were involved, and for the people that were offended, and for Brandon in a sense. For all we know he’s trying to change his life and become a good person and the last thing we want to do is interfere with that, but the times have changed in America today.”
The fact is Saling lied on his application to the commission and that’s something he’ll have to deal with should he choose to re-apply or appeal their decision. Even if he is approved, he may be untouchable to most MMA organizations because of this situation and even more so because of his controversial tattoos.
It appears Saling tried to hide his past instead of facing it head on, and it came back to bite him.
“Sometimes you can’t run from your past,” said Kalikas “And unfortunately it looks like this is going to be one of those situations.”