By CLINT FOSTER
The hours before a fight are drenched in agonizing anticipation.
21-year-old Isaiah Gutierrez has wrapped his hands, readied his gloves and hit the pads, with nothing but time to think.
When the time comes to step out into the bright lights of the arena, mere steps separate him from the field of mortal combat known as the mixed martial arts octagon: the site of his chosen vocation.
"You get in there and you just think of everything that got you to that point," Gutierrez said. "The hardest part is getting ready for the fight, sometimes more than the fight (itself). Mentally, it's really hard.
"Then I step into the cage and I just think, 'One of us is going to win, I just want to make sure it's me.'"
Now, after an eight year journey and living this moment many times, the Mineral Wells native is ready to make the leap from the amateur ranks to become a professional MMA fighter with Xtreme Knockout (XKO), with his first fight set for May 10, as part of the Super Fight Weekend at Dallas Convention Center.
They are the gladiators of the 21st century.
Two men enter an octagonal ring to engage in arguably the purest form of competition know to mankind: a fight to the finish. The world of MMA can be brutal and unforgiving, yet also thrilling and unequivocally rewarding. And for that, it has taken the nation by storm.
For Gutierrez, his love affair with MMA fighting began when he was 13, sitting at home watching television with his father and godfather.
"We were watching UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship)," he said. "I had started to get into boxing; I had never seen any UFC or MMA before. But I saw it and I just remember saying, 'That's what I want to do.'