“I try to lead from the front, from the way I conduct my classes to the way I lead my life.”
Rev. Bart Stewart
Interview by: Lance Edwards
Photos by: Barry Laminack
Along with Collin Cantrell, when you think of ring announcers in Houston, you think Bart Stewart. Not a man of few words, we decided to catch up with Bart and find out his history and involvement with MMA here in Houston and beyond. Known as the Reverend, due to his bombastic evangelical fervor, prepare to find out more about the voice behind the IXFA.
Bart: Actually I’m originally from a textile town, called Hickory, NC. It’s a typical place up there, you go to school, marry your High School sweetheart, and go to work in a factory. I wanted a little more than that, and circumstances brought me to Houston, Tx in 1987.
TCD: How did you become involved with MMA?
Bart: I was working at an oilfield supply company, and there were two guys from Laos, the Vongsombath brothers. I’d see them kicking things, and it turned out they were into Muay Thai. It was cool, because they taught me about the culture and stuff, treated me like part of the family. There was an economic downturn and I was laid off. I didn’t train for a couple of years, and then looked into it again. The only guy teaching at the time, or rather advertising classes, was Tim Mousel, I took a couple of classes with him, and met Saul Soliz through Tim. I had my first fight after training just six months, it was against an instructor from Fairtex, not the smartest career move, I know, but I finished it standing though, which I think was an achievement. I fought for a couple of years, from 93 to 97, fighting Muay Thai. I trained very sporadically after that.
TCD: So how did you move into MMA?
Bart: When MMA took off, I was working as a hype man for a couple of events, eventually the microphone went to me, always with big shoes to fill. Here locally I replaced Lupe Contreras when he went to Showtime Boxing. I then started working for the FFC out of Mississippi and Louisiana, stepping in for Big Poppa Schnake when he moved on to King Of The Cage. They treated me like a rock star, it was cool. They were a great show, but all their venues (which were mainly casinos) were wiped out by Katrina, which ended the promotion.
TCD: What happened after that?
Bart: I worked for some local promotions that don’t exist anymore. And then last October, Scott Dawson from the IXFA gave me a call. He’d been asking around, and my name had come up. He was looking for a ring announcer and people recommended me. You know I hadn’t been treated that well by promotions since FFC, and the IXFA are the first ones to do that for me since then. They gave me free reign and didn’t try to put shackles on me, you know, put me in a box. I’m a (expletive) showman, let me do my damned show, right?
TCD: Besides being a ring announcer what do you do?
Bart: Well, I’m a strength and conditioning coach, and certified kettlebell instructor. Had my own gym, Primal Iron, for two years, I had some really good guys there. I’ve been teaching kettlebells for over four years now. What helped me a lot, was that in 2010, Carlo Prater was living and training at my gym downtown. I improved SO much as an instructor in that year. The interaction was just incredible. I helped him with the strength and conditioning, and he helped me focus my training for fighters and I improved exponentially as a coach as a result. Carlo is an amazing human being.
I have a lot of varied interests, living is about living, and I do stuff that makes me happy. Im a skydiver. I do standup comedy. I’m a VORACIOUS reader. And I’m a huge gun enthusiast and survivalist. Outlaw Dave recently called me a “21st Century Renaissance Man”. That’s a pretty (expletive) high compliment. But what I really love is being an entertainer and a showman. Something about being in front of a crowd of people, from a dozen to a couple thousand, having them respond to you is like nothing else in the world. It’s an incredible rush. I love it.
TCD: So what’s your involvement with Paradigm?
Bart: Carlo was training MMA here in 2010, and I liked the guys here, many of them trained at my spot as well. I loved whay they had going on here and wanted to be part of it. I spoke to Reed Shelger back in January, and he was very receptive to the idea, so I brought my program over here; I was so impressed with the talent pool over here. All the instructors here are bonafide bad asses; and Reed and the whole crew here have shown me SO much respect. They appreciate what I do here, and have treated me better than gyms I spent years at. There’s no ego here, people don’t try and crush your spirit, you know, I can’t say enough good things about Paradigm.
TCD: Colin Wright told me to ask about the Widowmaker, what is that?
Bart: Ah, the Widowmaker is the proving ground for people who want to get strong. It’s a quarter ton tractor tire, that we flip for five to twenty minutes depending on how many people we have an what mood we’re in. If you can get through five minutes on your own, then maybe you can have fortitude.
TCD: What do you focus on?
Bart: Most of the stuff we do is kettlebells, our workout is thirty minute kettlebells, and then we move into sledgehammers, tires and those kinds of things. Kettlebells, ESPECIALLY the way I run it, weed out the non-hackers very quickly.
Bart: Yep, those people who just can’t hack it. Those people that stick with it make massive strength gains, guys like Carlo, have seen exponential strength gains that they see over a very short period of time, and it makes believers out of them. It’s not just fighters; even the girls here are stone killers.
TCD: Does the cross over from this kind of training apply in a functional way to MMA?
Bart: Absolutely, everything we do has a real world application. I’ve never been in a fight where I’ve had to bicep curl someone, however explosive strength and moving about heavy objects repeatedly, time after time, has relevance.
At my old gym, for instance, we trained law enforcement and tactical operators; they found that kind of strength and conditioning very applicable. Our creed is real strength for the real world. The students that come through my program work with HPD, SWAT, Blackwater (XE now) and state LE organizations, and they can testify to the practical application of the program we have.
TCD: MMA in Houston, how has it changed?
Bart: We always had a tremendous pool of talent here, but until the sport grew to a national level, it was hard to get on promotions. For a while, Renegades was the only place, now we have Garcia promotions, IXFA, Legacy and Puro Combate, shows where people who have been around for a long time are finally getting a chance to showcase their skills.
In keeping with the Darwinian principle of natural selection, the strongest rises, and the strongest of the alpha predators to be found in the city of Houston, are found at Paradigm. Brian Melancon. Mike The Greek Bronzoulis. Angel Huerta. Rashon Lewis. Chop Rucker. Jason Sullivan. Tim Snyder. Colin Wright. Ad (expletive) infinitum. And that’s why I’m on board. I am truly blessed to be able to work with such incredible talent, and the enthusiasm that these fighters have for what I do is just amazing. We have fun as a family, we get strong as a family, we fight as a family. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
TCD: Anything people aren’t aware of?
Bart: Well…obviously I’ve been working on my training at Paradigm, but I’ve really bumped up my regimen. SUBSTANTIALLY. I’ve been working with Lee King three times a week, he’s the best (expletive) instructor in the state of Texas, when it comes to standup. Hes worth any TEN guys anyone else has in this town. Im also doing a TON of conditioning work, running, I’m in the best condition that I’ve been in in over a decade and getting stronger every day.
TCD: So…are you training for a fight?
Bart: I’m not training for A fight, man, I’m training for THE fight, the one that sneaks up on you at an ATM, or after a Hurricane, or in a dark lot of a gas station late at night, when a predatory miscreant brings it to you at an inconvenient time not of your choosing. My interest in firearms, combatives, and survivalism are just an extension of my interest in martial arts, which in turn is an extension of my adherence to the Darwinian principle of survival of the fittest. As far as a FIGHT-fight, like in a ring or a cage, well…I could think of one or two folks. We can leave it there.
TCD: In one sentence could you sum up your philosophy?
Bart: I try to lead from the front, from the way I conduct my classes to the way I lead my life.
TCD: Thanks Bart.