SLEEPY EYE - Enrique Guerra doesn't fight for the pure joy of fighting.
That is not to say Guerra doesn't love competing as a fighter in mixed martial arts, because he does. But the 22-year-old Sleepy Eye native, who has been competing in the sport for two years with a 5-0 record, will have a chance to become a professional MMA fighter on Oct. 19. Then he will compete in the King of the Cage's World Amateur Championships in Las Vegas.
"This is not a hobby," Guerra said. "I'm trying to make a career out of it."
Guerra trains with Brent Mielke (right) owner of the Dungeon’s Gyms in Sleepy Eye.
Guerra trains on a dummy in Dungeon’s Gym in Sleepy Eye.
Mixed martial arts - commonly known as "MMA" - is a full-contact combat sport that combines fighting styles the employ both striking and grappling techniques.
The striking aspect uses techniques from boxing, kickboxing and karate, while the grappling aspect stems from wrestling and jiu-jitsu.
Guerra, who competes at the 155-pound weight division, will compete in one of 20 fights at the championships. Of the 20 winners from the event, only five will be signed to professional MMA contracts.
"The audience on the Internet, the people watching it on TV, it's going to be broadcasted live, so they're all going to vote for whoever they like most," Guerra said.
That is one of the key characteristics that drew Guerra to the sport: It's more than just a fight because fighters have to put on a show.
"You can't just go in there and fight, you have to be entertaining," Guerra said. "People like to see a show, not just the fight. That's what I do - I try to make a show for my people."
Of course, Guerra would not have gotten this opportunity had he not walked into Brent Mielke's gym in Sleepy Eye two years ago.
Mielke, who is renowned for his athletic training, owns and operates Dungeon's Gym, which has three locations in Sleepy Eye.
Even though Guerra had the athleticism from playing football in high school, he still struggled when he first started training under Mielke.
"MMA goes from anaerobic exercise without oxygen to aerobic exercise with oxygen and then you have to switch back to anaerobic again," Mielke said. "So that's the difference: It's sudden bursts of energy, then slow bursts of energy. Sudden bursts then all of a sudden you have to have this big, long cardio.
"He had it all, he just wasn't used to putting it into a package."
When Guerra told his parents he wanted to start training to become an MMA fighter, their reaction drew minimal surprise.
"All the family is into boxing, MMA and all that stuff," said Alejandro Guerra, Enrique's father. "I always try to go with him, I'm never trying to let him down. If he wanted to go do it, I just told him to go forward."
Ever since Guerra's first workout - during which he began vomiting within 10 minutes - he has stuck with it.
"That's always on a parent's mind for a kid to be injured any time in a sport," Alejandro said. "But you know what, he's been tough like that all the time - not just physically, but mentally. He's just strong."
Two years later, Guerra's influence has attracted more trainees to the gym, which now has an MMA team of eight fighters.
Mielke said Guerra has yet to be truly tested in his first five fights, but should be up for a real test in his upcoming fight in Las Vegas.
Even though his training has been rigorous, Mielke said Guerra has always put his wife and two children before anything else, making sure they are taken care of before he goes to the gym to train.
"Before when he started training MMA, he had a job where he goes in the morning and he used to go back in [to work] at 7 [p.m.] and get off at 10, 11," Alejandro said. "He made time for his family and kids in between that time and then between that time, he also used to train MMA too.
"He's always taking care of his family. He'd never leave them alone."
That's why Guerra doesn't fight for the pure joy of fighting - he has an opportunity to provide for his family through becoming a professional MMA fighter.
Guerra won't give up fighting if he doesn't receive one of the five professional contracts from October's fight, but he's still doing his best to make sure he doesn't land in that situation.
"One of the reasons I'm doing this is because the people from Sleepy Eye and my fans keep me going," Guerra said. "They're the reason I'm still fighting.
"Out of more than a thousand applicants, I was one of the lucky ones to get this opportunity. Even if I don't win the contract, I'm still going to go at it. I'm going to keep going."