This Marine Vet Turned Photographer Follows MMA Fighters In And Out Of The Ring

Amateur kick boxer Jafar Toshev, right, kicking opponent Joel Estevez in the face during their five-round amateur title fight in January 2016.
Photo by Anthony Geathers

Professional fighters and athletes spend their careers preparing for the brief moments in the ring or on the field. But what happens after the match, or the game, when the athletes hang up their gear and step out of the limelight?

This is what interests Anthony Geathers, a sports photographer and former Marine infantryman.

A courtesy portrait of photographer Anthony Geathers.

A longtime fan of competitive sports and sports photography, Geathers was drawn to the industry after leaving the Marines in 2012. While on active duty, he deployed twice with 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, to Helmand province, Afghanistan, taking part in the offensive to clear the Taliban-held city of Marjah from 2009-2010, and later to Kajaki and Sangin from 2011-2012.

The 25-year-old photographer lives in Brooklyn, New York, and attends the School of Video Arts in Manhattan. Since he started shoot professionally in 2012, Geathers’ photos have been used by Adidas and appeared on espnW and in The Players’ Tribune.

Related: Photographer uses vintage technique to capture modern warfare »

While Geathers covers a wide range of sports, his photos of mixed martial arts show an enthusiasm for following the story that takes place out of the spotlight.

“The personal stuff really drives the work,” explained Geathers. “You don’t get too much of the personal stuff in MMA, you get aggression, for 15, 20 minutes at a time.”

Portrait of amateur kick boxer Codie Payne after his three-round title fight at the Broad Street Ballroom in New York City in Fall 2015.Photo by Anthony Geathers

For Geathers, it’s not enough to just capture a powerful moment in the ring. He wants to get at what happens behind closed doors. That takes time and patience.

“The way I work, I’ll spend whatever amount of time I need to in order to get to know that person,” says Geathers, who explains that in some cases, his work is compiled over several years.

“If they’ve gone through some sort of pain, I see that. If they’re tired, I capture that,” says Geathers. “I capture what they do away from the spotlight. If they’re going through some hardship or if some family members come during a fight, I get a whole lot of what people don’t see — when they’re at training camp or outside of the spotlight.”

Light heavyweight champion Liam Mcgeary sharing a moment with his dad after capturing the title from opponent Emanuel Newton last summer.Photo by Anthony Geathers

“There’s a lot of interesting stuff behind the lights and closed doors; there’s a lot of emotion,” says Geathers. “All of these athletes work hard and they go through bumps and bruises and pain and agony, they put themselves in harm's way, to try to provide a little for their family. All of these emotions and of these things going on beyond the ring, just kind of attracts me.”

Check out more of Geathers’ incredible photos below.

Deontay Wilder, left, jabbing challenger Artur Spzika, right, during their WBC World Heavyweight Championship fight in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Rising heavyweight boxer Jarrell Miller, left, working with one of his trainers, Aureliano Sosa, in preparation for his 14th pro bout in September 2015.

A backstage photo of welterweight boxer Chris Algieri, from fight night on Dec. 5th, 2015, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

David Branch, right, hits a speed bag during his last days of camp with his long-time boxing coach Leonard Wilson.

Todd Robinson's upcoming Vietnam War drama, The Last Full Measure, is a story of two battles: One takes place during an ambush in the jungles of Vietnam in 1966, while the other unfolds more than three decades later as the survivors fight to see one pararescueman's valor posthumously recognized.

On April 11, 1966, Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger (played by Jeremy Irvine) responded to a call to evacuate casualties with the Army's 1st Infantry Division near Cam My during a deadly ambush, the result of a search and destroy mission dubbed Operation Abilene.

In the ensuing battle, the unit suffered more than 80 percent casualties as their perimeter was breached. Despite the dangers on the ground, Pitsenbarger refused to leave the soldiers trapped in the jungle and waved off the medevac chopper, choosing to fight, and ultimately die, alongside men he'd never met before that day.

Decades later, those men fought to see Pitsenbarger's Air Force Cross upgraded to the Medal of Honor. On Dec. 8, 2000, they won, when Pitsenbarger was posthumously awarded the nation's highest decoration for valor.

The Last Full Measure painstakingly chronicles that long desperate struggle, and the details of the battle are told in flashbacks by the soldiers who survived the ambush, played by a star-studded cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, and William Hurt.

After Operation Abilene, some of the men involved moved on with their lives, or tried to, and the film touches on the many ways they struggled with their grief, trauma, and in the case of some, feelings of guilt. For the characters in The Last Full Measure, seeing Pitsenbarger awarded the Medal of Honor might be the one decent thing they pull out of that war, remarks Jackson's character, Lt. Billy Takoda, one of the soldier's whose life Pitsenbarger saved.

There are a lot of threads to follow in The Last Full Measure, individual strands of a larger story that feel misplaced, redacted, or cut short — at times, violently. But this is not a criticism, quite the opposite in fact. This tangled web is part of the larger narrative at play as Scott Huffman, a fictitious modern-day Pentagon bureaucrat played by Sebastian Stan, tries to piece together what actually happened that fateful day so many years ago.

At the start, Huffman — the person who ultimately becomes Pitsenbarger's champion in Washington — wants nothing to do with the airman's story, the medal, or the Vietnam veterans who want to see his sacrifice recognized. For Huffman, it's a burdensome assignment, just one more box to check before he can move on to brighter and better career prospects.

The skepticism of Pentagon bureaucracy and Washington political operators is on full display throughout the movie. When Takoda first meets Huffman, the Army vet grills the overdressed and out-of-his-depth government flack about his intentions, calls him an FNG (fucking new guy) and tosses Huffman's recorder into the nearby river where he's fishing with his grandkids.

Sebastian Stan stars as Scott Huffman alongside Samuel Jackson as Billy Takoda in "The Last Full Measure."(IMDB)

As Huffman spends more time with the grunts who fought alongside Pitsenbarger, and the Air Force PJs who flew with him that day, he, and the audience, come to see their campaign, and their frustration over the lack of progress, in a different light.

In one of the movie's later moments, The Last Full Measure offers an explanation for why Pitsenbarger's award languished for so long. The theory? Pitsenbarger's Medal of Honor citation was downgraded to a service cross, not because his actions didn't meet the standard associated with the nation's highest award for valor, but because his rank didn't.

"The conjecture among the Mud Soldiers and Bien Hoa Eagles is that Pitsenbarger was passed over because he was enlisted," Robinson, who wrote and directed The Last Full Measure, told Task & Purpose.

"As for the events in the film, Pitsenbarger's upgrade was clearly ignored for decades and items had been lost — whether that was deliberate is up for discussion but we feel we captured the spirit of the issues at hand either way," he said. "Some of these questions are simply impossible to answer with 100% certainty as no one really knows."

The cynicism in The Last Full Measure is overt, but to be entirely honest, it feels warranted. While watching the film, I couldn't help but think back to recent stories of battlefield bravery, like that of Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who ran into a burning Bradley three times in Iraq to pull out his wounded men — a feat of heroism that cost him his life, and inspired an ongoing campaign to see Cashe awarded the Medal of Honor.

There's no shortage of op-eds by current and former service members who see the military's awards process as slow and cumbersome at best, and biased or broken at worst, and it's refreshing to see that criticism reflected in a major war movie. And sure, like plenty of war movies, The Last Full Measure has some sappy moments, but on the whole, it's a damn good drama.

The Last Full Measure hits theaters on Jan. 24.

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