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MMA fighter ready for the worlds
October 01, 2015 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez

Photos by Frank Marquez/Gering Citizen - MMA fighter and Team USA grappler Mitch Peterson prepares for the World Grappling Championships in Antalya, Turkey, at the Panhandle MMA gym in Scottsbluff last week. It will be his first chance at a world title.

Scottsbluff resident Mitch Peterson, 28, will travel to Antalya, Turkey, a resort destination along a stretch of the Mediterranean Sea called the Turquoise Coast for its dazzling blue waters. He’s not going for fun and sun. Instead, he’s in hot pursuit of grappling title on the world stage.

The Mixed Martial Arts pro for two years will go up against intense competition with hopes of grabbing the crown in the 156.5-pound (71-kilogram) weight class at the World Grappling Championships, Oct. 8-12.

Even though 24 to 28 nations are expected to compete in the tournament, the 5-foot-10 Peterson may only see action in about eight matches in what he calls one of the “most stacked” divisions in grappling.

“I’m excited, super excited,” Peterson said about his long-time goal. “A few years ago, I was able to get kind of a taste of it. I went to the trials a month after I moved to Denver. My wrestling technique still needed work. I was really looking forward to last year, but wasn’t able to compete because of my knee. This year, I felt like I really needed to prove something. Now, I’m ready for worlds.”

Official organizer USA Wrestling will also be taking other mat men including former University of Nebraska great Jordan Burroughs. “I met him in Las Vegas. He’s strong, super strong,” Peterson said, about the caliber of athlete accompanying him, both grapplers and wrestlers. “I thought I had a good grip. Nothing compared to his.”
To qualify, Peterson, representing Edge MMA & Fitness in Denver, Colo., took first place at the Grappling World Team Trials held on Friday at Eugene Ashley H.S. in Wilmington, N.C., on May 29, 2015.
Though his road to qualifying started two years ago when he went to the USA Team Trials in 2013 and took fourth place. He was defeated by eventual division winner, grappler Zachary Allen, representing the Modern American MMA gym in Orland, Fla. Then in 2014, Peterson sat out with a knee injury, a torn medial collateral ligament (MCL), which took a few months to heal. In 2015, he came back to beat Allen, getting him to submit in 1 minute 47 seconds in Round 3 of the trials at Wilmington. After a bye in the first round, Peterson made quick work of Zane Knight of Alexander Central H.S., with a submission hold in 41 seconds in their Round 2 match.

Peterson will be among a dozen or so grapplers representing Team USA, and the only grappler from the Midwest, more specifically Nebraska’s Panhandle. The rest of the team is scattered and members hail from the more populous states, Colorado, Texas, California, and Florida. He will be travelling with the winners of each division. The trials in Wilmington decided only seven men’s titles, three women’s titles, and two teen classes.

To train for the international competition, Peterson spends most of his days at the Panhandle MMA owned by Ian Connelly, who has recently been expanding his gym, adding state-of-the-art facilities, and offering more classes available not just to specialty training, but families as well.

“I’m here two or three times a day,” Peterson said about the bustling gym. “I train in the morning. I teach. And, then I train at night. I try to stay in the gym as much as possible. It’s my home away from home. I run, and people see me running all over town.”

Peterson added, “Staying in condition is a big part of it. You can have all the technique in the world, but if you get tired, technique’s not going to matter. Between MMA, jiu-jitsu, and grappling, it keeps me pretty busy. I need to be ready to go eight six-minute rounds.”

He tries to avoid scouting his opponents for the tourney, admitting he can usually tell about their fighting styles within the first 30 seconds of the matches. “I try not to get too carried away with what my opponent might do. I get too zoned out on what they’re trying to do, instead of doing what I normally do,” he said. “I think I can wrestle with the best of them. I don’t want to put myself in box and say I’m just a wrestler, a just jiu-jitsu, a boxer, or just a grappler. I want to be proficient in everything.”

Peterson, who didn’t wrestle or box in high school, discovered the sport in basic training when he joined the Nebraska Army National Guard in 2007. The Army uses of form of Brazilian jiu-jitsu more commonly known as “Combatives.” He also recreationally boxed at Fort Jackson, S.C., while continuing his training to become a wheel mechanic. “I came home (from training) on a Thursday, and there was a fight on Saturday at the Civic Center,” Peterson said. “I went, and I said ‘man, I think I can do this.’ ”

The following year in 2008, Peterson had his first amateur fight. In 2013, he turned pro, and since then has been serious about pursuing his career in MMA competition, while trying other sports activities, including grappling. After a 19-5 record in the amateur ranks, his record as a professional is 2-2. Deficient in wrestling, his weakness was exposed in early competition. “Wrestling’s always been one of the weaknesses in my game,” he said. “I was an OK striker, and had really good jiu-jitsu, but I always had trouble with defending the takedown.”
To remedy his lack of skills, he moved two years ago to Denver to train at Grapplers Edge, a gym which specializes in wrestling and judo. He learned under the tutelage of Sheldon and Nick Marr, a father-son coaching duo. The elder Marr, Sheldon, was inducted into the U.S. Martial Arts Hall of Fame’s class of 2014 as a Living Legend. Among accolades, Sheldon was a Junior National Judo Champion, and a Calif. State wrestling champion. He coached varsity wrestling in Colorado producing 12 state champions and 40 state medalists. His Team Edge has produced jiu-jitsu and grappling champions from 1996 to 2013. “That was the perfect home for me,” Peterson said. “Over the past couple of years, I become a decent wrestler.”

Although not televised, the competition in Turkey will likely be followed by online’s FloWrestling. Otherwise, fans can look for clips on YouTube.

In the short time Peterson has been involved in mixed martial arts, he’s earned the nickname “Da Machine,” because his peers claim he’s always going. “I catch a short break, and I’m ready to go again,” he said, adding that he plans to continue his MMA career for the near future. “I love MMA. I love training three times a day. It’s easy, when it’s something you love doing.”

MMA professional Mitch Peterson spars with grappling partner Tyler Hampton in preparation for the World Grappling Championships in Turkey this month.
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