MMA team celebrates one year of fighting

Friday, February 1, 2019
The Warrior MMA team at Northwest Iowa Combat Sports. / Submitted by Bret Koppie

Alta’s only mixed martial arts team, started a year ago at Northwest Iowa Combat Sports, is seeing success as one of the only training centers in the area for guys looking to go professional with the emerging sport.

With about 20 guys aged 18-24 on the roster so far, wrestling coach Bret Koppie says it’s going well.

“It’s been great,” he said, as everyone heard about it via word of mouth. “We haven’t really recruited or exercised.”

The coaches. From left to right: Wilian Delgado (boxing), Bret Koppie (wrestling), Mike Bushby (jiujitsu).

Together with jiu-jitsu coach Mike Bushby and boxing coach Wilian Delgado, they’re combing three disciplines that make up a bold sport rising in popularity in a spot that had no MMA presence at about this time last year.

Koppie credits his athletes and the school district for helping make it a success.

“A lot of guys we started off with were guys we knew would be a good fit,” he said. Alta-Aurelia helped out by renting the third-floor practice space in the old Alta High School for an affordable price, something a growing number of organizations are using to their advantage with space needs.

Jiujitsu coach Mike Bushby coaches the team on techniques to master positional control, disable opponent movement and elicit submission by forcing them to “tap out.” / Photo by Elijah Decious

For the 20 guys on the roster, it makes the difference in their ability to participate, keeping the cost much more affordable than it would be if the team had to rent commercial space.

Together, the hard work, discipline and high standards the group has to adhere to hones their strengths in and out of the cage matches.

“Once you recognize the technique, it’s a really exciting sport,” Koppie said. “It can be a spectator sport, even without having background knowledge in the disciplines, but it becomes a lot more so once you see,” he said.

Though he estimates about 10 to 25 percent make it professionally, it’s the guys that stick with training and take it seriously that tend to make it rather than the ones who have a certain skill level.

For a crowd that works a 12-hour shift, practices for 4 hours, then wakes up the next day to do the same thing, validation of that work ethic and discipline makes them feel seen in their hustle.

In return for following through with high standards, they receive a sense of belonging, an outlet for frustration as they try to make ends meet in life and a sense of purpose.

The ones that don’t follow through don’t usually stay long, Koppie said. The intense nature of the sport’s demands create, in a sense, a bubble of meritocracy where the hard workers are rewarded—a reprieve from an outside reality that often amounts to a harsh place where connections and money are the drivers of success.

While many guys their age are aimlessly playing video games in their basement, “these guys are doing something to further an objective,” the seasoned wrestling coach said.

“These guys are very dedicated, very hard working,” he said, enjoying the growth and skill level he has had the chance to witness in development.

The controversial aspects of MMA fights still present struggles to the sport becoming more mainstream. In Iowa, only those 18 and older are allowed to participate. Many states still ban the sport for high school students, and some countries still ban the combination of wrestling, boxing and jiu-jitsu altogether.

He hopes that more states like Iowa will be able to see the relatively safe nature of the sport with increased safety regulations sometime in the future to expand to the high school level.

The sport has its origins in ancient Greece as an olympic sport.

It’s been here for a while, but it didn’t start to become more popular until relatively recently, Koppie said.

“It does resemble a street fight,” Koppie said, “But once you start getting into the sport, you learn how much technique and scoring is involved in it.”

That, in conjunction with safety equipment, concussion protocol and other rules and regulations put in place have allowed it to become at least legalized for adults in every state—elevating it beyond the underground.

Rules that bar strikes to the crown of the head or spine require more self-control. The more self-control, the better you will be scored, making self-control a key to building a professional reputation. Fighters have to maintain that reputation if they want to compete.

“It’s really come from the underground street fights they used to have in the 1800s to a recognized sport,” he said.

“The details are what wins fights,” said Bushby as he coached the guys during a jiujitsu clinic, showing them how to master arm locks and chokes. “The more details you master, the quicker those finishes are.”

The process for training before fights is pretty involved.

After reviewing film of opponents scheduled, the team assesses an athlete’s strengths and weaknesses, looking for tells that give away their next move, like a stutter step.

Then, they develop fight plans for focus on areas of technique that will work effectively on that opponent.

“Are we better off on our feet with this opponent or trying to take it to the mat as quickly as we can?” the wrestling coach asks.

Normally, they train three to four times per week. Two months before a fight, they practice four days per week. Two weeks prior to the fight, they practice six days per week to master take-downs, darste chokes and reaction times, among many other elements.

“It’s all-consuming sometimes, but it’s a lot of fun,” said Koppie.