Jun. 5—Pursuing a career as a professional athlete in any sport is no easy challenge, but that isn't stopping three Lewis County amateur fighters from pursuing their dreams of fighting in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) one day.
The Chronicle recently spoke with the three fighters to find out what drives them.
Adna High School graduate Tanner Rigdon hopes to go pro soon and currently holds a 6-4 record fighting mainly in the amateur COGA Combat Games, headquartered in Snoqualmie. He started off in the lightweight divisions but now fights as a welterweight. He grew up loving to fight, even as a child. In high school, though, he played football and basketball.
"I was always full of piss and vinegar. I just love competing," Rigdon said.
After graduating, he went to Minnesota where he red-shirted on the university's basketball team, but was bored. He found a local mixed martial arts (MMA) gym near the school and loved working out there.
"I came to the realization that basketball was going to end someday and I'm probably not going to the NBA. So I was asking myself how I keep competing," Rigdon said.
He then decided to move back to Centralia where he trains full time while he works his way to the UFC.
"I'm looking to fight about every two months," Rigdon said.
He currently trains at Thorbeckes in Centralia, where he also offers MMA training classes for those interested in fighting. Anyone looking to train with him can talk to a front desk worker at Thorbeckes for more information.
Starting off as a high school wrestler, Centralia High School graduate Eddie Matias was considered continuing his wrestling career in college, but the draw of the MMA world proved to be too much.
"In my head, I always had MMA. I felt like that's always been the only chance I have to do something I love," Matias said.
He started training with a couple of guys boxing in 2020, and with the COVID shutdown, there was nothing else for him to do but train. He then participated in a kickboxing match at the EchoValor Striking & MMA gym in Centralia.
"After that, I started going to a gym in Olympia called UTC (Untitled Training Center)," Matias said.
At UTC, he is trained by Lisa and Eddie Ellis, who both fought and held titles in the UFC Contenders series. He's participated in five amateur level fights locally and has a record of 4-1.
He trains at UTC around three times a week on top of working out every day at Thorbeckes along with Rigdon. Despite his size, he shows no fear no matter his opponent. At just over 4 feet, 11 inches tall, Matias is often underestimated in the ring.
"I love it, though. It gives me motivation. It gives me that extra gear going into the cage. When I wrestled at Centralia, it was the same," Matias said.
He also thanked his wrestling coach at Centralia High School, Scott Phillips, for helping to motivate him.
"He pushed me and made me realize there's always something more you can get if you really work hard for it," Matias said.
Spending on average four hours per day training and working out, Matias is definitely working hard for it.
A Mossyrock resident originally with family still living there, Nicasio Ortiz-Hernandez never participated in any fighting sports growing up. He currently lives and trains in Lynnwood.
"I wanted to do wrestling when I was in high school, but Mossyrock is too small for that kind of sport. We only had the basic ones like baseball, soccer, track and basketball," Ortiz-Hernandez said.
Currently holding a 6-1 record, he recently defended his COGA amateur championship in Bellingham. Like Matias, he started training as an MMA fighter at the beginning of the COVID pandemic.
"I come from an indigenous background in Mexico and I really wanted to represent that. I have yet to see a real representation of that out in the real world. Since I haven't seen that, I figured why can't it be me?" Ortiz-Hernandez said.
He is originally from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, which is made up of mostly indigenous people. According to Ortiz-Hernandez, there are more than a couple hundred different dialects spoken in Oaxaca.
"Even one of the dialects that I speak, there's about three or four other versions of it, all very similar but also very different," Ortiz-Hernandez said.
Ortiz-Hernandez is currently affiliated with Royal Mixed Martial Arts out of Bothell and is training for a July 29 fight, though a wrist injury he's currently nursing from his last fight may prevent him from doing so.