Chase And Joey: Friendship And Fighting Propel Two Men Toward Their Futures
Chase Hooper and Joey Pierotti, Two Washington State MMA Fighters, Find Camaraderie Inside and Outside the Cage.
If you’re a fan of mixed martial arts, and perhaps even if you’re not, you’ve probably drank down a healthy amount of volatility with your MMA content. Let’s face it: explosive relationships and interactions sell “big money” fights. Hell, The Ultimate Fighter TV series has built its legacy around hostile match-ups. The show — and the UFC — have benefited greatly from placing two abrasive personalities in the same room to see if they’d try to rip the other’s head off. (Who can forget Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Rashad Evans chomping at the bit to thrash each other?)
What you don’t regularly see in fight promotion, though, is the pleasant, jovial interactions and relationships that create the foundation in which MMA sits upon. Great teams make great fighters, and it usually takes a throng of men and women to support a combat athlete in reaching the upper echelon of the sport. Again, as a fan, you don’t regularly witness this united underbelly because handshakes and hugs don’t really move the ticket sale needle.
But, when it comes to the relationship between Joey “The Mama’s Boy” Pierotti and Chase “Teenage Dream” Hooper, respect, commitment, and friendship form the backbone of what is shaping out to be quite the successful — and dangerous — pairing.
On paper, you’d have trouble imagining Pierotti and Hooper as MMA soulmates. Joey, the egregious, charismatic COGA welterweight champion, represents a stark difference in tone compared to the more quiet and reserved Hooper.
“We’re just barely getting Chase to start talking, you know,” their coach Jeff Hougland said. “He didn’t say… when he was a kid, he didn’t talk to me for like two years. It was a hard thing, you know, to get to. Now, we’ll talk just like you and I are. I mean, some people just take a little longer to find themselves, but they are definitely on different ends of the spectrum.”
There’s an element of age associated with Chase’s nature, too: he’s just barely 18. If you remember your own ascent in adulthood, you can recall that awkward phase when you’re no longer regarded as a young man, but a man. Add in the whole choking-out-adults-inside-a-cage thing — when you’re still in your teens — and you come up with a recipe for social apprehension. That said, Chase has grown by leaps and bounds since he first ventured into training for the sport at Hougland’s gym when he was just eight years-old.
“I thought [Chase] looked like someone who was into World of Warcraft and live-action role play,” Pierotti said on his first impressions of the young grappler.
When it came to Pierotti, Hougland — himself a former COGA champion and UFC fighter — had a different kind of first impression. For starters, Pierotti was already a fighter in his early 20’s when he initially sauntered into his gym.
“He came in and he sparred my guys, and I thought he was a good physical specimen. Like, good raw talent. And he only worked with us for a little bit for that fight — one time, and then he went and he won. He’s a talented guy. And then after that fight he got with us, and man, he’s what I’m looking for. He’s a physical talent. He’s a hard worker and he’s just willing to do the stuff that most people won’t do,” Hougland said.
Outside of “The Mama’s Boy’s” natural gifts and acumen for the fight game, Hooper recognized a bright personality, one that has elevated the Port of Seattle firefighter in stature both inside and outside the cage.
“Guess I would describe [Joey] as one of the cool kids in high school, you know? Super outgoing, like socially. [He] can talk pretty well,” Hooper said.
Despite their inherent differences, there’s something that just clicks when the two fighters are in each other’s presence. Call it the love of the sport, the shared interest in reaching the pinnacle of their profession, or even their rhetoric when dealing with the opposite sex (“He teaches me new trendy things that all the kids are doing and I try and give him some advice when it comes to the ladies,” Pierotti said.), there’s no denying that Chase and Joey share a chemistry that elevates their relationship past acquaintances and training partners.
“I would describe it as older brother-younger brother type of deal,” Pierotti said. “I’ve actually had to sign as his guardian a couple of times so the kid could fight.”
And like many healthy sibling relationships, the two Seattle-area fighters push each other to be great. Chase attained a flawless amateur record — his pro debut is this Saturday at COGA 59 — with all of his wins coming via first-round stoppage, while Joey sits atop the welterweight rankings as champion.
“He gives me trouble with a lot of grappling stuff. He helps me out. Now I give him some trouble, like on the feet — grappling too. It’s pretty back and forth,” Chase said.
Steel sharpens steel, but for Coach Hougland, the dynamic pairing of Chase and Joey goes beyond both men elevating their games together.
“We have to train hard but we also have to take care of each other,” Hougland said. “Sometimes you train with guys and you know they don’t care. They just want to win, whatever it is they’re doing, so bad that your health is second to them winning. The three of us, we can train hard but we’re also going to make sure that nobody gets hurt. And that’s number one, you know?”
In a post-Conor McGregor MMA landscape, one may assume that screaming matches, bottle throwing, and title snatching are the plays of the day. If that’s the status quo for mixed martial arts, Chase Hooper and Joey Pierotti are not abiding by the rules.