Lyman Good is a charter member of Bellator Fighting Championships, around since its 2009 inception, a time when events aired via tape delay on ESPN Deportes and live shows were a figment of anyone's imagination. The first to be crowned the organization's welterweight champion, Good feels a vibe around Bellator that's unfamiliar, but wholly breathtaking.
A victory over "Judo" Jim Wallhead in the main event of Bellator 74 on Friday at Caesars Atlantic City advances Good into the welterweight tournament semifinals - and an appearance on Bellator's debut on Spike TV. Once the UFC defected for FOX, Bellator officials moved quickly to secure a contract with Spike. The relationship bears fruit early next year and Good is determined to hop on the first ride in the first car.
"It's twice as exciting for me to have been a part of this while it's been growing," Good said. "It's great to see that Bellator itself has grown, because I've been alongside with it, so it's kind of like a part of me. The other is a testimony to the sport itself, that it's growing and getting bigger and bigger."
Born and raised in the dangerous Spanish Harlem section of New York City, one of three children raised by only his mother, Good (12-2, six knockouts) turned to Mixed Martial Arts, and it eventually saved his life and got him out of the neighborhood, an ascension that's marked him as one of the Northeast's top welterweights and a Sensei/instructor for Tiger Schulmann Mixed Martial Arts in Manhattan. His skills and survival instincts made for a main-event matchup with Wallhead, 23-6 with seven knockouts and unafraid to trade blows and get dirty.
"You're going to see heart in that fight to see who's the tougher opponent, because we're both tough," Good said. "I don't take away anything from Judo Jim. I know he's going to go out there with his best game. It's going to be a test of will, who's going to want it the most."
The last time Good was inside a cage he destroyed LeVon Maynard in 13 seconds at Bellator 65 in April. The victory provided what he calls "a healthy equilibrium" between winning and winning impressively. It's not that Good will ever refuse a ‘W' - he's hungry for a rematch with current title holder Ben Askren, who dethroned the former champion on October 21, 2010 - but more people will be watching once the channel is switched from MTV2 to Spike.
"This is an industry, the fight business, where your shine in this business is determined by your win," Good said. "It's your calling card. People see how many wins you have. Regardless of the style, it's still a ‘W' on your record, so it's all the more power to you.
"Every fight has to be, in your mind, processed as the most important fight of your career. Every fight, regardless of your opponent's ability, his prowess and how good he is, it's more a matter of how much you're able to showcase your ability. You want to leave a statement in that fight for your next opponent."
Over his 14 professional fights, Good has made numerous statements from the smallest and hottest of arenas to the bigger venues that host Bellator events. Out of the cage, Good is not only a Sensei, he's works on the front lines in the tenacious effort to get MMA sanctioned in the state of New York. He's yet to campaign in Albany, but he's accepting of a long line of media inquires and uses platforms to get the word out.
"It is a sport in itself, regardless," Good said. "Basketball sport, combat sport ... whatever it is it's still a sport. It's something I feel is very crucial and very important for the city as well to be a part of it. They will see in the future that they've, if anything, been missing out. It's very monumental to the industry right now. "It's cool in the sense that it's not sanctioned yet and we have all these fighters trying to rally. It's kind of like a movement, almost, but it's kind of cool in a way. It just has to happen already. Plain and simple.
Good's voice trailed when he reflected on a path that had him towards "certain doom" and how martial arts became his shield and armor. He intends on defeating Wallhead as part of the journey, in addition to selling himself and a sport not as barbarians at war, but men who've overcome adversity with compelling results.
"That's another reason why they have to make it legal in New York," Good said. "They can't make it like a bad thing. It's not barbaric. It's not a blood sport. It's not like dog fighting in a cage. Every fighter there's a story behind them. If we were to humanize the sport and get people to recognize not just the talent but what has motivated the people and how it's saved them. It'd be very interesting to hear."
Good's next selling point comes Friday night and he plans on cashing in. A spot in the semifinals on a much larger stage, the platform he craves, is at stake.
Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNYC