P.E.I. mixed martial arts fighter stars in new reality TV show
Fight Xchange2 follows four fighters from Canada and Japan
His nickname when he competes is Lenny "The Show Stealer" Wheeler, and the mixed martial arts competitor from P.E.I. is hoping to steal the show when a new reality TV show airs, starting Monday January 16.
The show is called Fight Xchange 2, and it pairs up four fighters from Canada with four competitors from Japan. They live together, train together and then fight, all with the TV cameras rolling.
"There's a lot of adversity that goes with fighting, it's just a crazy sport and I think people, when they see only the fights, they miss a lot of the other stuff that's going on behind the scenes," said Wheeler.
"It's not as violent as everybody thinks it is, it's a team atmosphere, we're always training, we're always trying to better each other, and we want to see each other do well."
In the first season of Fight Xchange, the Canadians were paired up with fighters from Brazil.
"Martial arts is deeply entrenched in Japanese culture as is the bushido samurai spirit so we thought it was a natural fit," said Aaron Avruskin, the creator and producer of the series.
Combining fighters from two countries adds an extra twist.
"It makes for an exciting way to show fans that martial arts creates bonds, builds friendships and can really transcend cultures, no matter where you're from," explained Avruskin.
"It was interesting because we couldn't speak each other's language but martial arts, it's different, when you train with someone you get to know them, their work ethic and how they deal with adversity," said Wheeler.
Wheeler was a last-minute replacement when one of the Canadians was injured and couldn't make the trip.
"Lenny is a character, he's probably the one fighter who was the most comfortable having the cameras around," said Avruskin.
"Fans can expect from Lenny a character that they can root for but someone who's all about business once he gets into the cage."
Wheeler's story will be featured in episode 2. There's tension around whether Wheeler will be able to make weight. He arrived in Japan 28 pounds over his fight weight, and was still looking to lose it 24 hours before the fight.
"Fighters always have to lose some weight but very seldom do they ever have to lose the amount of weight that Lenny had to for this episode, really only because of the short notice," explained Paul Abel, Lenny's head coach at Wulfrun MMA.
"I was just excited about going to Japan getting an opportunity to be on TV so I didn't really think about the fight until I got there are realized I was too heavy," said Wheeler.
In one dramatic scene, he's trying to sweat off the final grams of weight so that the Japanese judges will allow him to compete.
"I think that maybe my mom and other people are not going to like seeing that," Wheeler said.
"It was a little extreme, even for myself, I may not even want to watch it."
Building a fan base
As part of the show, Lenny Wheeler and the other Canadians also got to experience Japan, including hiking up into the mountains to train with a karate master.
"Just to get to Japan and see the culture where really our martial art came from is unbelievable," said coach Abel.
The series comes at a good time for Wheeler, who has lost his last two fights.
"Lenny has hit a bit of a rough patch as of late, but the one thing no one can ever say about Lenny Wheeler is that he's in a boring fight," said producer Avruskin.
"I do think that this show comes at a perfect time, while he's lost his last two, fans are going to see Lenny at his best and I think the show will rejuvenate his confidence and put him back in the public eye."
Coach Paul Abel agreed.
"I think it's going to increase Lenny's fan base, I think people are going to get to know him on a different level, as opposed to just a fighter, as a human," he said.
"I think any exposure will help his career, no matter what. People will see him, they'll recognize him, other fighters will see him and recognize him."
For Wheeler, it's another step on a journey that he hopes will ultimately take him to the top of his sport.
"The same goal as always, I want to get to the UFC and fight on a bigger stage," he said.
"If the TV show opens up more doors, that would be great."
For now the series is airing in Canada on Super Channel, but Avruskin is hoping to sell it internationally.
"This show presents a chance for Lenny to be seen around the world."
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