Tommy the Green Ranger's local MMA debut
Jason David Frank likes to refer to himself as "Fearless Frank," a name he coined years ago with his brother. Ring announcers for his amateur MMA fights often play up a different moniker: "Tommy the Green Ranger."
See, Frank spent much of his life starring in the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, that slightly trippy live-action kids series whose popularity peaked sometime in the '90s. The show earned him a strange brand of world-wide fame, and legions of 20- and 30-something men still remember Frank as the original Green Ranger, wielding his Sword of Darkness. And so Frank - who will be fighting at Patriot Center in Saturday's Ultimate Warrior Challenge 8: "Judgement Day" card - has no problem if people show up this weekend not to see Fearless Frank, but instead a fictional hero from their youth.
"I have nothing really to hide about who I am, what I do," Frank told me this week. "Personally I'm so into the fight, I don't care how they announce me. You can announce me as Tommy the Green Ranger, I don't care, I'm still going to go in there and kick butt."
(To read about one of the pro fighters appearing on Saturday, see this nice piece by B.J. Koubaroulis.)
Frank began learning karate at the age of 4, and remembers immediately wanting to make it his life. He was a junior blackbelt by middle school, began teaching classes not long after, and bought his first karate school at the age of 18 in Covina, Calif. About a year later, he saw a casting call for a new children's action show and was given the role of the Green Ranger. He had a good feeling about how that would turn out.
"I know what sells," said Frank, now 36. "I thought it was gonna sell. Everyone's saying it's cheesy, but what do kids eat? Cheese sticks. Cheese sandwiches. Kids love cheese. I knew a cheesy show like that was definitely gonna sell."
What he didn't know was that little boys would soon swarm him for autographs, put his posters on their wall, request that he visit them in the hospital. He told me he was soon visiting children's wards to see dying cancer patients whose last wish was to meet Tommy the Green Ranger.
"And I'm 19 years old at the time, [thinking] how can that be your last wish, to meet a Power Ranger?" Frank said. "I mean, there were times when I was dressed in my costume, behind a wall, almost in tears."
Grown men still come up to him and tell him about how much the show meant to them during tough times when they were kids. Fans at his fights shake his hand and tell corny stories about the show. He recently started a Facebook Fan page and got 8,000 members since the new year.
"To some people it sounds strange, but when you're growing up and your life is a lonely life and you only have heroes on TV, that's what you grow up on," Frank said. "Now, if it was awesome to see me fight on Power Rangers when they were little, how great it is to see me in a cage? They got to watch their childhood hero not only battle monsters when they were little, but now we're fighting real people.... It's still the entertainment business. I'm still entertaining."
Frank still owns karate schools and started a Christian-themed MMA clothing line, Jesus Didn't Tap. He obviously had a certain level of stand-up fighting skills from a lifetime of karate, and three or four years ago he began learning wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu. He made his MMA debut in January and is 3-0 as an amateur, but has never fought outside Texas
"I'm curious to see what he has live, but we should have very measured expectations about what we would see talent-wise. It's important that folks go to see a guy in an embryonic transition," said Luke Thomas, a color commentator for Saturday's card and the host of MMA Nation on 106.7 The Fan. "I just think folks have a childhood attachment to that show, and they want to see it played out in modern form."
Which is fine by Frank. He expects to have time to mingle with fans on Saturday, and even to talk Power Rangers. Of course, don't expect to see one of the jumping spinning crescent kicks that Tommy the Green Ranger used to employ.
"When I spar, I will pull off some flashy stuff, and I will land it, but only when I'm sparring," Frank said. "I don't try that in the octagon."
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