Mixing it up
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. A two-year bout with stomach cancer left an indelible mark on Craig Sjoerdsma’s psyche. He wiped phrases like “I should have” or “I wish I had” from his vocabulary, no longer content to let life pass him by. “Cancer made clear that I don’t want to say things like that anymore,” Sjoerdsma stressed.That’s precisely why, while watching mixed martial arts (MMA) fights on TV and thinking to himself that’s something he could do, he made a vocabulary adjustment.”I just got to the point where I thought, ‘Well, why not try it?'” Sjoerdsma said. The whimsical idea bore fruit, and now Sjoerdsma will be the man others watch on TV.On Saturday, the 43-year-old Carbondale resident will make his professional fighting debut at the Gladiator Challenge-hosted Global War event in Farmington, N.M. Gladiator Challenge is just one of the many just-about-anything-goes MMA fight circuits gaining popularity throughout the nation.Sjoerdsma’s first fight: a light heavyweight showdown with Jeremy Madrid, a fighter with a 2-1 record and plenty of history as a boxer and kickboxer.”He mainly likes to kick people in the head,” Sjoerdsma, an Eagle County sheriff’s deputy, said. “That’s how he took the last two out.”
It’ll be a contrast of styles when these two meet.Sjoerdsma, who’s dropped from 260 to 205 pounds after months of rigorous training, has an extensive wrestling background, grappling in both high school and in the Air Force.While Madrid will be best served to keep both parties standing to cater to his strength – his legs – Sjoerdsma will try desperately to keep the fight on the mat.”I’m mostly a grappler,” he said. “I like to take people to the ground and pound them. They have a term for it, called ‘ground and pound.’ That’s my style. I can’t keep my distance (from Madrid). He’s got devastating kicks.”Sjoerdsma’s trainer at the Art of Defense mixed martial arts studio, Patrick Carmichael, will be in his corner on Saturday.Carmichael, a retired pro fighter, began teaching a competitive MMA class a few months back, and Sjoerdsma is his first student to see a fight. He would have liked to see Sjoerdsma, whom he’s trained since December, rack up a bit more prep time before entering the ring.”I kind of wish I were able to train him a little longer,” he said, “but he’s really anxious to fight. When someone’s that anxious, sometimes it’s best to let them learn and fight anyway.”Ideally, Carmichael said, he likes to see a student log eight months to a year of training before a fight.Carmichael refused to forecast his student’s chances.”It’s a different world when you step into that ring knowing full well you’re getting into a full-on brawl,” explained the 29-year-old Carmichael, who’s experienced that very feeling on plenty of occasions. “For me to say his chances are good or bad, that depends on him that day. “I’ve given him most of the tools he needs. Now he needs to turn around and apply them. We’ll see where it goes.”
Sjoerdsma is operating under a strict timetable. His wife, Valerie, is expecting the couple’s first child in November. He says he won’t fight after the child is born, leaving a slim window for competition.A fight or two – or three – is about all Sjoerdsma plans on seeing.”I’m 43,” the Chicago native said. “I’m limited by time. My wife and I are expecting a baby and when that happens I won’t have all the time I need to train. I will continue to do it, but probably just MMA classes. It keeps me in shape. It’s such an intense workout.”
But first Sjoerdsma has to whet his competitive appetite. “I’m doing what I can up until November to get it out of my system,” he said.Sjoerdsma’s wife, various other family and friends will make the trip to Farmington to watch him fight, which exemplifies just how supportive they’ve been. He credits his wife, particularly, for her patience during training. After all, between Sjoerdsma’s job and daily workout regimen, there isn’t much time quality time to be had.”(To keep fighting), I’d really have to do what I’m doing right now, and I don’t have a spare second,” he said in a Tuesday morning interview. “I’ve already run four and a half miles and lifted weights for an hour this morning. Plus, I’m working 11-and-a-half hour shifts at work.”Sjoerdsma also strives to fit in time with his 13-year-old son, Dillon. When possible, the two train together.”He likes to train with me,” Sjoerdsma said. “We have a little setup in the garage. He spars with me. We have a fun time doing it.”
Sjoerdsma is just the first of Carmichael’s competitive MMA class to take a fight. Others will follow suit this summer, indicative of competitive fighting’s growing pull in the area.”It’s starting to catch on,” Sjoerdsma said. “We have about 10 or so guys in the class right now, and 90 percent of them are under 24 years old. If you want to fight, Pat’ll get you a fight, depending on what level you’re at. He puts a lot of thought into it. He doesn’t want guys getting hurt.”Carmichael, who opened his studio almost six years ago and has always taught some form of mixed martial arts along with kickboxing, formed the competitive class based on demand.”From what I had seen, a lot of people wanted this kind of class, purely for competing,” he said. “MMA in the area is intense, huge.”Nowadays, just about everyone has heard of MMA fighting, most prominently the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) circuit. “It’s incredible,” Carmichael said. “It’s gone from where people had no idea what UFC was to a household name.”And though it takes a bad rap for its violent nature, there is more to MMA than the average person realizes.”A lot of people look at MMA as beating the crap out of each other,” Sjoerdsma said, “but that’s not true. It’s a chess match, going through moves and techniques and trying to get submissions.”Sjoerdsma hopes to add the phrase “checkmate” to his vocabulary on Saturday.
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