Times have long passed since gladiatorial fighting in the Roman Coliseum drew a crowd, yet modern-day fighting is just as profound a spectator sport in many social spheres around the world.
Three former Dragons have joined the throng: not in the crowd, but as modern-day gladiators. They make their way into the arena time and time again in hopes of achieving the ultimate goal: becoming the ultimate fighting champion.
THESE FIGHTERS DON’T USE SWORDS AND ARMOR. THEY WALK BRAVELY INTO THE ARENA ARMED ONLY WITH THEIR FISTS, FEET AND KNOWLEDGE OF MARTIAL ARTS.
Going to Xtremes
“I don’t want to tiptoe through life; I want to create movement.”
Mariah Prussia, a 2001 physical education graduate, is doing exactly that. Prussia is a personal trainer; owner of Xtreme Measures, a women’s fitness center in Fargo; founder of the NOW PROJECT, a nonprofit international self-defense chapter for women and children; a single mother of two; and professional MMA fighter.
“I am busy,” Prussia said, “but I love every aspect of it.”
Prussia began her MMA career in 2013 to change up her style of personal training and add different variations to her kickboxing classes.
The tri-sport college athlete loved the idea behind MMA and began training with UFC fighter Dane Sayers. She practices boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, TaeKwonDo, Judo, Hapkido and roll sparring.
“After two or three training sessions, I decided I wanted to fight,” she said.
Unlike others who typically join the MMA community, Prussia had no background in martial arts. She played volleyball, basketball and fast-pitch softball at MSUM, which attribute greatly to her strict approach to physical fitness and nutrition.
Her intense determination has left Prussia with injuries, including a torn Achilles’ tendon, but a week after surgery she was back in the gym.
“I know my body well, so I’m aware of what I can and can’t do,” Prussia said. “I didn’t want to stop because then you have to start from scratch again. I wanted to keep going and knew my goal was to fight no matter what on Oct. 26 (2013).”
Prussia made her professional debut with MAX fights that night and won the match, even though she wasn’t fully recovered. The two-round fight ended with Prussia’s opponent tapping out. During her second fight, Prussia knocked out her opponent 27 seconds into the first round.
Although she says it’s nerve-wracking beforehand, and mental preparation is a large part of the training, it all gets left behind once the brawl begins.
“Once the fight starts, you lose track of whoever is around you,” Prussia said. “That’s when your training falls into play.”
“My parents are not huge fans of MMA, but they’re supporters of me,” she said. “When you see your child participating in a sport that is combative, it’s scary, and I get that. I don’t expect them to appreciate the sport from my eyes, but MMA has brought forth a lot of different potential and has also shown women that you can do what you want to do.”
Prussia’s professional record stands at 3-0.
“I feel that to achieve what you want to in life, you have to work as hard as you possibly can,” she said.
Wrestling with anticipation
Finding motivation is different for everyone. Some are driven by the will to succeed, others by the need to impress.
For Tim Johnson, the motivation to fight MMA stems from the anticipation he feels entering the ring, someone new waiting for him each time.
A professional MMA fighter and former MSUM wrestler, Johnson began training in martial arts in 2011, after volunteering to be an “extra body to help out” at a local gym. Making the switch from wrestling to MMA has been virtually seamless.
“The knowledge of getting to learn something new every time I was in there was something that hooked me,” Johnson said.
Like most former wrestlers, Johnson prefers to take his fights to the ground, though he is working tirelessly to hone his striking skills. He knows his strengths and weaknesses in the ring and does everything in his power to win the fight.
“I don’t want to be in the open,” he said. “If they’re a better striker than I am, I want to turn it into more of a sloppy, chaotic, brawl-type situation where I’ll put them up against the cage and my wrestling style can take over.”
The full-time truck driver and part-time bartender/bouncer has a jam-packed schedule, working up to 60 hours a week and scheduling two workouts a day at the Academy of Combat Arts in Fargo.
“It gets a little overwhelming sometimes,” Johnson said. “Growing up on a small farm and having that nose-to-the-ground, get-it-done attitude drilled into me really helps.”
Johnson, who’s been wrestling since age four, is a natural in the ring. The heavyweight champion has a 6-1 professional fighting record. His last fight, at the Dakota Fighting Championship Spring Brawl April 26, ended with a technical knock out (TKO) 1:17 into the second round.
Through it all, Johnson remains modest about his skills, thankful for his support and in good spirits that he will continue to succeed when it comes to MMA.
“I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for the help of everyone around me,” he said.
Ex-Dragon Tim Johnson signs with UFC (The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Nov. 4, 2014)
Fighting for the UFC
At 5 foot 6 inches tall, Corey Ulmer may not seem like much of a threat, but in the ring, he’s as lethal as they come.
The former MSUM wrestler and 2012 athletic training graduate continued his post-college sports journey at the Academy of Combat Arts in Fargo, where he studies boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo and Muay Thai.
As a lifelong wrestler, Ulmer has been challenged to incorporate more than takedowns in the arena.
“It was really tough learning the striking, but as far as going from the wrestling practices to MMA practices, it wasn’t that bad,” Ulmer said. “The hardest practice I’ve ever gone through was a wrestling practice, so I feel like I can do anything after being done with college wrestling.”
Like college sports, MMA training demands dedication and sacrifice.
“(I want) to be the best in the world,” he said. “I’m competitive; I’m really competitive.”
Ultimately, Ulmer wants to fight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). He spends about 25 hours per week training MMA, including an hour of grappling and an hour of striking. Martial arts-style sparring occurs twice a week in addition to weekly lifting and cardio workouts.
“I’m really big on work ethic, and I’ve gotten that from wrestling,” he said.
Since beginning his MMA career in 2009, Ulmer has fought in three amateur fights and two pro fights. He remains on top with a professional record of 2-0.
In addition to his training and bartending job, Ulmer spent the last two years as a coach for the MSUM wrestling team. However, because of his intense personal training schedule, the 2013-14 season was Ulmer’s last with the Dragons.
Ulmer will continue training and building his fan base, in hopes of reaching his ultimate dream.
“I get a ton of support from my family; they’re always there at my events,” Ulmer said. “I’m from a really small town, so they and all the surrounding towns come to all my stuff, too. I have a huge fan base. It’s really awesome.”
This story was first published in Moorhead Magazine, Fall 2014.
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