Seldom do you hear from the local, regional fighter who's just starting to make his way into the sport. How has their journey started? What are their goals? What made them want to do this? I decided to shine a light on some fighters from Evolve Academy in Gaithersburg, who are each competing on a card in Virginia next month. What follows is a Q&A I had with Garrett Kline, John Thorpe and Josh Jackson, and their respective answers.
How did you become interested in MMA?
Garrett Kline: I actually wrestled in high school. I remember how bad I was; I was 1-21 with my only win coming by forfeit. I was discouraged with not being able to defend myself, so I looked into some martial arts. I fell in love with it because it shaped me into an entirely different person.
John Thorpe: I was always interested in MMA. I grew up in a small town in Vermont where "The Ultimate Fighter" competitor Thomas Murphy is from. I can remember him giving a motivational speech at my work's company party when I was 16, and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. Due to instability in my life and military service, I didn't end up chasing this dream until I was about 27 years of age.
Josh Jackson: My teammate Brent [Walter] actually got me into MMA. We both ended up playing football for the same college and we clicked pretty quick. We started talking about UFC, one thing lead to another and he got me to go to his gym to try Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I loved it and it all snowballed from there.
What is your overall win/loss record? What was the result of your last fight? How would you rate your performance?
Kline: I'm making my cage debut on Dec. 12!
Thorpe: My overall record is 1-1 in the 185-pound division. My last fight was against Leonard Poe; he was a tough opponent who showed a lot of heart and weathered my storm for the first and most of the second round, but brilliantly capitalized on my fatigue in the last 10 seconds of the second resulting in a loss via TKO.
I will never say I was satisfied with my performance, win or lose, because there is always room for improvement. I do truly feel I lost that fight mentally to myself. It has been one of my biggest and most humbling learning experiences to date. The growth lessons I learned that day were priceless.
Jackson: Right now my record is 2-0. I won my last fight with a guillotine in the second round. I wasn't happy with my performance because I feel like there was a lot I could have done better, but didn't capitalize on.
Where do you think you stand overall as a fighter at this juncture in your career? Are you as far along as you would like? What do you think are your strengths/weaknesses currently as a fighter?
Kline: Overall, I feel pretty good. It's been a little over a year and I have my first fight scheduled, I've done a Thai smoker and a lot of jiu jitsu tournaments, and competed in a lot of wrestling. I'm not as far along as I want to be because there's a lot of room for improvement, but that only comes with time.
I think my strengths are my heart and attitude, because you'll never see me mad at the gym no matter how many black eyes or how much my nose hurts. I'm always smiling - I don't believe in giving up. My weakness is definitely my jiu jitsu. Only because I'm still fresh to the game.
Thorpe: I believe I am very competitive for being so young in my career. Both of my matches have been with far more experienced fighters with more fights and backgrounds in another combat sport, which I don't have. I'm definitely not as far along as I would like, but that is due to a lot of canceled bouts where my opponents couldn't uphold their commitments for one reason or another.
My strength is definitely my team at Evolve Academy. We have a wealth of pro knowledge, and Master Mike Moses genuinely cares about our success. I always try to remain open to criticism and willing to implement what my coaches say. My weakness lies in inexperience, especially when it comes to managing the fight.
Jackson: Right now I'm at a good place in my career. I have great coaches and a team that will do anything to help out and we are always working. I'm right where I need to be as far as the fights go, but I always want to be better and progress in training. Luckily I have the tools to help me do that. My strength is my balance; I took to Brazilian jiu-jitsu and striking very well and my wrestling surprises a lot of people.
Talk about your next opponent. How do you view him? What will be your strategy going into this fight?
Kline: My next opponent is a good gmatchup. He's been talking trash about me trying to hype himself, but he's pretty good technical-wise. I think it's going to be a awesome fight. I don't believe in trash talk because I know the sacrifices him and I both made to be able to compete, and I really appreciate his effort for it. My plan is to keep my head on right and show at the event what I'm about.
Thorpe: My next opponent is Anthony Wilson at 205 pounds. This move up in divisions has allowed me to be less concerned about dieting and more focused on conditioning and technique. My strategy is to stay calm and let my work speak for itself. He is atough guy who doesn't understand the meaning of quit. That trait in of itself is dangerous. Hopefully I will be the more cerebral fighter on that night.
Jackson: I don't know him so I cant say too much about him. My strategy is to be relaxed and do what I do every day in the gym - that's staying balanced.
What are your plans going forward for your MMA career? Do you expect to continue competing as a fighter? Full-time or part-time?
Kline: My ultimate goal is to help run a SoldierFit program in a few years with the MMA program. I want to ride this train until it wrecks. Hopefully you'll look back and remember me answering these questions when I'm making my UFC debut!
Thorpe: I am a full-time physician assistant student at Howard University and have been able to train and maintain expectations for the Honors Society. I do see myself pursuing MMA full time and the goal is always to increase to the next level of opponent. I truly believe one can successfully accomplish multiple things, but they need to have an extreme level of focus and discipline.
Jackson: My plans are to take it as far as I can. It's become a big part of my life and I don't plan on that changing. I'm always going to be chasing a title and I want to go pro when my camp feels I'm ready to take that step.
Kline, Thorpe and Jackson are all scheduled to compete at Cagezilla Fighting Championship on Saturday, Dec. 12, in Ashburn, Virginia.