HIGHLAND | Rob Bruno is due to make his mixed martial arts debut during a United Combat League pro/am card Oct. 12 at the Hammond Civic Center.
But it won't be the first time he has stepped into a cage.
"You can say I step in a cage whenever I show up for work," said Bruno, 29, of Crown Point, who is a Lake County corrections officer.
"I can't imagine too many opponents being more dangerous than some of the guys I have to deal with in there," said Bruno, a former Crown Point wrestler. "Still, I'm nervous but at the same time confident. I say it's about 50-50 about me winning or losing."
Bruno is a member of Team Underground, and has been training with Team Underground founder and fellow corrections officer Tim Carlisle "on and off" for two years.
Other Team Underground fighters set to make their debuts include Chris Elkins, 21, of Highland; Brian Hernandez, 28, of Munster; Dean Neely, 26, of Hammond; and Mike Young, 22, of Chicago.
Young has experience in wrestling, boxing, track and field and a bevy of other athletic activities.
"I've been involved in a smorgasbord of sports," said Young, who appears to have taken extra helpings of boxing.
While sparring with Elkins and Hernandez, Young unleashed and connected with consequences his Joe Frazier-like left hook.
But as Carlisle says, cage fighters will have their good days as well as their bad days in the gym. For Young, it was a mixed bag, especially when it came time to grapple with Neely, the lone heavyweight among the quintet.
"That boy is a little too big for me," Young said after an arduous ground-and-pound session with Neely.
"Even though this will be my first (MMA) fight, I'm used to competing in combat sports as a wrestler," Neely said. "And wrestling goes hand and hand with this."
Team Underground has set up shop at the home of Carlisle, who trained some of the current Team Underground members at other gyms and locations.
One of Team Underground's most accomplished fighter is Josh Weddington, who is ranked among the top middleweights in the UCL.
"He's inactive for (the UCL Hammond Civic Center card)," Carlisle said of Weddington, who sustained an elbow injury during his last bout.
"That's the thing about our fighters; we rarely submit," Carlisle said. "Josh got caught in an armbar, but fought his way out of it and continued to fight even though we thought his arm may have been broken."
Carlisle often spars and grapples with his fighters during their training sessions. He has no aspirations to get in the cage himself as his age (46) discourages it.
"But maybe one day I'll walk down to the octagon with one of these guys at a UFC pay-per-view event," Carlisle said. "I could still dream about that."