Corrections officer doubles as MMA fighter
By Dan Stefano
Published: Sunday, June 21, 2009
Last winter, a commercial ran on television for the Mixed Martial Arts promotion, Cage of Chaos. Inmates at the Allegheny County Jail saw the ad and, amidst the clips of past fights flashing on the screen, they saw a familiar face.
That mug belonged to Joe Demore, a captain at the Second Avenue lockup, who also works in a cage of another sort as a professional MMA fighter.
The snippet of footage was enough to make Demore something of a celebrity among the handful of inmates who saw it.
"They started asking questions about me to some of the officers," recalled Demore, a Shaler resident. "Some inmates have asked me about it. I try to keep it separate from work, but some of them are cool about it, and they'll say, 'Good luck in your fight.' "
Demore, 32, is going to need that luck Saturday night at the Ultimate Cage Fighting Challenge's Rumble on the Rivers at Mellon Arena. The nine-bout card is the first MMA event in Pittsburgh since the sport became legalized in Pennsylvania in February.
Demore's welterweight undercard match with Jason Trzewieczynski, of Buffalo, N.Y., will be a rematch of his first professional bout April 11, which he lost by submission to Trzewieczynski four minutes into the fight.
Demore won his second pro bout with a technical knockout May 16 in Johnstown, and he's eager for some redemption when he makes his hometown debut.
"No excuse," Demore said when asked about his earlier defeat at the hands of Trzewiecynski. "He was just better that night, but I know I could beat him. ... I'm super motivated."
Part of his motivation will be the 500 friends he expects to have at the fight, including 80 to 100 staffers from the jail.
"The first time I saw him fight," Demore's boss, jail warden Ramon Rustin, recalled, "he probably had more people in his corner than any other fighter, and they were all correctional officers. It was almost like a day at work, seeing all those C.O.'s rooting for him."
Demore's career in the Department of Corrections began shortly after he left Slippery Rock in 2000 with a degree in political science. At the time, criminology wasn't offered. He had planned on becoming a police officer, but when he graduated, the next test date for the police academy was six months away. In the meantime, a test for the jail was upcoming, and Demore decided to give it a shot — a choice he doesn't regret.
"It's a good, secure job, and crazy as it sounds, I think it's safer there," Demore said. "But you can't be complacent."
Since beginning at the jail nine years ago as a part-time employee, Demore has risen through the ranks, becoming a captain in December of 2006. In his position, Demore presides over inmates' disciplinary hearings and is one of the officers in charge of the maximum-security levels.
"It's a different experience with them," Demore said. "The first time you're walking in a pod with 95 inmates, with someone who may have killed somebody, it's intimidating."
Demore has seen some unpleasant things, including inmates hanging themselves in their cells on more than one occasion. Incidents like that are why Demore likes to keep his personal life separate from his work.
"Working in the corrections field can be very stressful," said Lance Bohn, deputy warden of Operations at the jail. "It can be very stressful, mentally. You need to have healthy outlets."
For the past two years, Demore's outlet has been MMA.
A wrestling background
His roots in wrestling have been growing since he started participating in the sport at age 7.
After high school, Demore ended his career on the mat, though he continues to coach junior high wrestling for Shaler. He remained involved in combat sports, trying out jiu-jitsu and submission wrestling but never seriously competing in either.
A few years ago, though, Demore met MMA trainer and Coraopolis native Ed Schriner. After countless discussions about the sport, Demore traveled to Steubenville, Ohio, two years ago to attend an event featuring Schriner's fighters.
"When I watched that, I knew I could compete at that level with those guys," Demore said.
And though the sport had been linked with violence and brutality, Demore's wife, Beth, was in his corner.
"My first thought was 'That's awesome,' because I love MMA," she said. "He'd always spoken about wanting to do MMA. I told him, 'When you're 80 years old, I don't want to hear 'I could've or I would've.' "
With his wife's backing, Demore began to train under Schriner.
"When he made up his mind, he dove into it 1,000 percent," Schriner said.
Using wrestling as the foundation for his fighting style, Demore trained for five months. In November 2007, he made his amateur debut in Steubenville.
"I was real nervous," Demore said. "I'd poured five months into that."
The preparation paid off. It took Demore only 1 minute, 20 seconds to force his opponent into a submission, and his career was off and running.
Demore went 6-3 as an amateur, and now he's ready for the Mellon Arena spotlight in front of thousands of MMA fans.
"That's going to be an eye-opening experience," Demore said. "The support for me has been awesome. Having a local Shaler guy fighting at home, the word spreads."
And that includes through the halls of the Allegheny County Jail.
"We're real proud of Joe," Rustin said. "He's one of our own, and we're rooting for him."
Joe Demore is using his Mixed Martian Arts career to raise funds to combat leukemia and lymphoma, a disease that has hit his and another Shaler family hard.
Five years ago, Demore's father died from the illness. Last summer, Demore saw a banner at Shaler's Kiwanis Park for the Medford Classic 3-on-3 basketball tournament. When Demore further investigated, he learned the tournament was named for Brian Medford, a 2005 Shaler graduate, who died from leukemia and lymphoma in March 2006. The funds from the yearly tournament benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Demore since has become actively involved with the charity. In November 2008, during his final amateur fight, Demore raised $1,200.
This year's Medford Classic is July 25. For information on how to donate, visit www.medfordclassic.com or call 412-478-1579.
What: Ultimate Cage Fighting Challenge's Rumble on the Rivers (first licensed Mixed Martial Arts event in Pittsburgh)
When: 7:30 p.m., Saturday
Where: Mellon Arena
Who: Main event featuring Rich Clementi vs. Kyle Jensen. Eight other bouts, including match featuring former Penn State All-American wrestler and NCAA champion Phil Davis.
Tickets: Ticketmaster outlets, Ticketmaster.com, or 1-800-745-3000.
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