- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Train hard, win easy.

Jake Maher takes those words seriously, the Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/1y6uFMy ) reported.

Maher, an up-and-coming mixed martial arts lightweight fighter from Bismarck, spent more than two months punishing his body beyond the threshold of pain to prepare for an undercard fight in September’s Impact Fighting Championship at the Bismarck Event Center.

Mixed martial arts fighting involves boxing, wrestling and martial arts as two fighters battling for three five-minute rounds set in a circular cage for a gladiator-style bout.

The fighters wear lightly padded gloves that are just enough “to protect your knuckles and the other guy’s teeth” - the way Maher puts it. Even with a long list of illegal strikes and fouls put in place by the North Dakota Combative Sports Commission to protect the fighters, the bouts can resemble a no-holds-barred, bloody brawl.

“There’s nothing else like it,” Maher, 30, said. “In this sport, it’s all about you; it’s a one-on-one competition. It’s all (about) seeing who worked more between you and that other guy.”

On Sept. 20, that other guy was Shannon Patrick, 35, a Jamestown MMA fighter.

The fight, in front of an enthusiastic hometown crowd, lasted 2:23 in the first round, with Maher winning by submission. The win raised Maher’s professional record to 2-0.

“That fight really went exactly how I game planned for,” Maher said. “Everything that me and my training partners and my coach went through for the months prior to it was exactly what transpired.

“I wanted to throw some straight punches - landed them. Got the take down; got the position. Fight’s over,” he summarized.

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To get to the point where everything fell into place in the cage, Maher spent hours of brutal cardio training and punishing sparring sessions as preparation.

“I’ve surrounded myself with guys that know more than me,” Maher said. “I feed off of that. I thrive in that environment.”

Training Maher and other local light heavyweight fighters, Dave Patch and Chris Hugh, is Leo Kuntz, a Linton native who recently signed with Ultimate Fighting Championship and is training in a sanctioned gym in Florida.

“He knows exactly what it takes to get ready,” Maher said of Kuntz. “So working with a guy like that is huge. It doesn’t hurt that they are all bigger than me. They are not going to let you relax at any given point.”

Inside a dark, dusty auto repair shop in Mandan, the fighters built a makeshift gym in a corner to train five to six days a week.

On the hot and humid evenings of August and September, a sweat-drenched Maher would push his muscles during relentless sparring sessions.

“Training involves muscle memory. A lot of the drills we do, you go until your muscles fail … until your body fails, until you absolutely can’t do it anymore,” Maher said.

Knowing his body’s physical limits is something Maher doesn’t want to learn.

“You always have to push through; you have to keep going no matter what. That’s the mentality you have to have.”

Five minutes against someone wanting to knock you out or put you in a submission hold can seem much longer than expected.

With the help of Maher’s uncle, Tanner Schweitzer, a personal trainer in Bismarck and his corner man, Maher has learned techniques to control his adrenaline, breathing and to keep calm.

“When the lights are on and when the crowd is cheering, there’s not that many adrenaline rushes that match that,” Maher said. “You have to be able to stay calm and stay relaxed.”

Family relationship aside, Schweitzer put him through a grueling cardio workout in the early morning hours several times a week.

“When we are training, I’m just another client,” Maher said. “He isn’t going to take it easy on me because I’m his nephew. He pushes me very, very hard. The motivation that oozes out of that man is incredible.”

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After referee Nick Johnson raised Maher’s left arm to signify the victory over Patrick, Maher took the microphone from the ring announcer and thanked the throng of supporters in the crowd for their encouragement and support.

“The crowd was very loud. That fuels the adrenaline and that fuels the focus. That fuels everything.”

After briefly celebrating in the locker room with his team, Maher was back in the Event Center arena.

From the bleacher sections to the ringside seating, a humbled Maher roamed the crowd of friends and family and individually thanked them for showing up for the fight.

“It was great to go out and see them after the fight. I tried to see everybody I could and to say thank you to everybody I could. I have a lot of gratitude towards them. It means a lot to me, it really does.”

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With further sponsorship, Maher says he plans on participating in the sport and enjoying the personal challenges for the immediate future.

And he understands the consequences.

“You can’t think about it. You understand the reality of getting hit is there. When it happens, it wakes you up or it knocks you out. There is really no other way to look at it.”

Last month, Maher lost a bout in Minnesota to bring his record to 2-1. Although he’s between fights for the next several months, Maher is training on the weekends as he works construction in the oil fields near New Town. He aims to line up another fight with the same Minnesota promoter in the spring.

“It’s a mental game. It’s a physical game. It’s really the greatest challenge you can put yourself through. It’s either you’re better or I’m better. Let’s see who worked harder. That’s what I like about it,” he said.

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com


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