Q&A: “The Ultimate Fighter” contestant Dan “Dragon” Spohn

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From the April 17, 2014 edition

Whether he’s combating negative stereotypes or struggling to balance training and family time, Dan “Dragon” Spohn’s fight extends far past the ring.

The martial artist-turned-MMA fighter will compete against 15 other competitors for a six-figure UFC contract on season 19 of the reality TV series, “The Ultimate Fighter.” But behind the ominous moniker and impressive record is a husband and father working to turn his dream into a future for his family.

I started as a martial artist. I’ve been doing martial arts since I was 12; that’s where I got the “dragon” nickname. I was teaching martial arts when somebody suggested I get into MMA fighting. I ended up knocking out my first opponent, and since then I was pretty much hooked.

My mom wasn’t too excited about my new venture. The very first fight she attended, I broke my jaw. Since then, my mom usually won’t watch my fights. I understand where she is coming from, as my son has expressed interest in MMA, and I’m not exactly excited about it. I would rather he chose an easier path in life. I don’t want to be a hypocrite, so I told him if he puts his education as a priority, I would support his decision.

Ohio is a great place to become a fighter. Ohio has a history of top-notch high school wrestling programs, which is an important skill-set to have as an MMA fighter. Three of the 16 contestants, including myself, on this season’s “The Ultimate Fighter” are Ohio natives. The amateurs in Ohio can fight like pros, so it’s a good place to learn.

I prefer being the underdog. When you’re starting out in MMA, the best thing you can do is participate in the hardest fights you can find. I was put in those fights, but I beat every guy I was expected to lose against. I think there is something about being an underdog that gives you an edge.

MMA matches are not human cockfights. MMA may have started that way, but it has evolved into a legitimate sport. For the most part, the people competing are top-level athletes who work very hard. You always get a few guys who give the rest of us a bad name, but for the most part there is a high level of respect that goes along with this type of competition. I learned the importance of respect through martial arts, and I try to carry that through my life, in and out of the Octagon.

Even with all the success, I still think about quitting. I have a wife and four children to take care of, so there have been times I wondered if I was making the right decision. It’s hard to leave my kids when I’m training or going somewhere for a fight. They don’t understand why I’m leaving and it breaks my heart. But in the end, I want to be able to take care of the people I love most, by doing the thing I love most, so I stay dedicated.

Photos courtesy of Dan Spohn