Airmen around base use various outlets to better themselves physically. Some workout with friends, others play sports. But some Airmen, like Tech. Sgt. Jerry Nelson, 603rd Air Operations Center personnel recovery controller, simply beat people up.
He does this by practicing and competing in mixed martial arts, which is a combination of wrestling, Brazilian jujitsu, boxing and kickboxing.
Nelson has competed in multiple fights in various regions, earning a record of 6-1 along the way, even appearing on pay-per-view TV.
“My favorite experience was fighting for the Pancrase association in Japan,” Nelson said. “Pancrase was the first organization in the history of MMA. Many MMA legends, such as Ken Shamrock and Bas Ruttan, competed in Pancrase prior to the (Ultimate Fighting Championship). I had always dreamed of fighting there.”
Competing isn’t just about the few minutes in the ring, it’s also about the weeks of preparation for each fight.
“MMA requires you to push yourself to levels you never thought were possible. The amount of technical skills you have to learn from all the disciplines is truly staggering,” said Ashley Bradt, fellow MMA fighter and coach. “All that coupled with the long hours of training, ridiculously strict diet, as well as balancing your home and military life is pretty strenuous. You have to be equally strong mentally as well as physically.”
Bradt said MMA requires a different type of stamina, rather than the kind weight lifters or distance runners may have.
“There are plenty of people who can run fast or lift heavy weights in the gym, but you can’t run inside a cage and weights don’t try to kick you in the head,” he said. “It takes a lot of courage to walk out in front of a large crowd of your friends, family and other spectators while putting your body on the line.”
As far as training goes, Nelson displays true work ethic toward preparing for a fight.
“Jerry is one of the most dedicated people I’ve ever had the pleasure to train along side with,” Bradt said. “Whether it’s boxing, jujitsu, muay thai or wrestling training, he puts everything he has into it, putting long hours in at the gym on top of his duty hours with the Air Force.”
Nelson said fighters need to go into matches prepared and with enough training because participants can’t take breaks.
“What I appreciate most about MMA is that there are no shortcuts, you have to put in the work to be successful,” Nelson said. “If I don’t train properly or don’t stick to my diet, then I don’t deserve to win.”
MMA isn’t just for adults. Children and teenagers can participate as well.
“There are young children training all over the world today. Just like any other combat sport, safety must be the No. 1 priority when training youth,” Nelson said. “It is important for them to work primarily on technique to build a good foundation. They should hold off on sparring and competing until they are older and have proven that they have enough technique to properly protect themselves.”
Nelson, for example, has been involved in MMA for 17 years, starting when he was 18 years old.
“I was hooked on the sport after seeing it for the first time,” he said. “At the end of my senior year in high school, I started training with former UFC champion and current UFC Hall-of-Famer Dan Severn.”
Many people have been involved in Nelson’s career or have been influenced by him throughout his tenure as a MMA fighter.
“I have had many mentors throughout my fighting career. My longtime mentor has been Jon Bozung, my first MMA instructor (who) used to coach me at Dan Severn’s gym in Michigan,” Nelson said. “Nowadays, I do a lot of mentoring. Most notably, Chris Grantham, a college student that lives in the Kaiserslautern area and wrestled for Ramstein High School. He has a bright future in the sport if he continues to pursue it.”
For Nelson, he still participates because of his love of the sport.
“I continue to train because I truly enjoy the sport. I love everything about it. I enjoy … training, exercising and performing submissions and strikes,” he said. “I especially love that feeling you get when you touch gloves with your opponent, seconds before the fight starts and when all the training and preparation is over and all I have to do is go out there and have fun.”
Nelson is currently training for his next fight, Feb. 2 for the light-heavyweight title after winning his last fight Nov. 17.