Waynesville’s village manager/police chief also keeps order in the ring

Gary Copeland, right, referees a PFL fight between Kayla Harrison of Middletown and Mariana Morais in Atlantic City, N.J. in 2021. Copeland is Waynesville's village manager/safety director/police chief. Harrison is a two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo. CONTRIBUTED/GARY COPELAND

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Gary Copeland, right, referees a PFL fight between Kayla Harrison of Middletown and Mariana Morais in Atlantic City, N.J. in 2021. Copeland is Waynesville's village manager/safety director/police chief. Harrison is a two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo. CONTRIBUTED/GARY COPELAND

Gary Copeland’s day job is serving as Waynesville’s village manager and safety director/police chief.

However, in addition to keeping law and order and keeping the village running smoothly, Copeland has continued his strong interest in the mixed martial arts as a referee for the Ultimate Fighting Championship and the Professional Fighters League.

For the past 20 years, he has been seen on television refereeing MMA matches. He said his “side gig” helps him pay for family vacations. His work in the ring has taken him to a number of states as well as other countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Greece, and Cypress.

Copeland’s interest in the martial arts came as a young man. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and was eventually assigned to a unit in Japan from 1984-1988. It was there he got into competitive martial arts and became a member of the traveling Marine Karate Team.

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After leaving active duty with the Marines, he opened his own martial arts school in the Toledo area. He has earned a Black Belt in Isshin-Ryu Karate and Tenchi Itto-Ryu Karate. He has also trained in the Art of Hakkoryu Jujutsu.

“My goal is to be a shadow in the ring,” Copeland said. “I’m there to protect the fighters, enforce the rules and maintain action.”

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Gary Copeland, Waynesville's village manager and police chief/safety director, has been mixed martial arts referee for the UFC and PFL for 20 years. CONTRIBUTED/VILLAGE OF WAYNESVILLE

Gary Copeland, Waynesville's village manager and police chief/safety director, has been mixed martial arts referee for the UFC and PFL for 20 years. CONTRIBUTED/VILLAGE OF WAYNESVILLE

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Gary Copeland, Waynesville's village manager and police chief/safety director, has been mixed martial arts referee for the UFC and PFL for 20 years. CONTRIBUTED/VILLAGE OF WAYNESVILLE

He said all of the fighters are unique and he treats all the same whether they are pro or amateur.

“MMA is about as real as it gets,” Copeland said. “It includes all disciplines, karate, jujitsu, boxing and it incorporates wrestling.”

Copeland has refereed hundreds of fights and does three to four events a month, with each event holding 10 to 25 matches. He has served as referee for the UFC, PFL and other organizations and is licensed by the states he works in.

“I enjoy being a referee because it allows me to stay involved in the sport,” Copeland said. “It’s a way for me to contribute back to the sport, something I have been involved with for many years.”

He said there are three rounds in a fight with three minutes per round for amateurs and five minutes a round for professionals. Title matches are five rounds, he said.

On Saturday, Copeland was a referee at a UFC event at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.

He became Waynesville’s police chief 15 years ago and has been in law enforcement for more than 30 years. Copeland earned a bachelor’s degree in management and a master’s degree in criminal justice. He is also a graduate of the FBI National Academy and is has completed Certified Law Enforcement Executive Training and the Police Executive Leadership College.

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