Mineral Wells Index
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.'
"From there, we just went and looked for some gyms and we found one that was good and I fell in love with it."
Under the tutelage of UFC veteran Travis Lutter, Gutierrez has flourished at the Team Lutter gym in Fort Worth. Building on a foundation of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the 5-foot-8, 145-pound flyweight has developed into a well-rounded fighter who has ridden a 4-1 record on the amateur circuit to his first chance to get paid to do what he loves.
"I feel like he's prepared for this," Gutierrez's father and manager Johnny said. "He's certainly earned it. We haven't ducked anybody. He's fought really high-caliber opponents and I certainly feel like he's more than ready to make this jump as a professional fighter."
In his first professional bout, Gutierrez will face Phat Chau – a flyweight Gutierrez was scheduled to fight in the past before the match fell through at the last minute. Outside of their near run-in tow to three years ago, Gutierrez said he isn't too familiar with his opponent. However, he added he is confident he can win his big league debut.
"I've seen one of his fights," he said. "He seemed pretty good. He seems pretty quick, but I'll have the range and height on him. If it does go to the ground, I feel confident I'll beat him there. I think it's a good matchup. I'm just getting ready and working on me."
Playing in such a physical sport like MMA, injuries are always a concern, particularly when stepping up to a professional level of competition. But the Gutierrez men say that the fear of serious injury has never been something that's held them back from allowing Isaiah to achieve his dreams.
"I get injured. I'm banged up even right now, but you just kind of keep going with it," the younger Gutierrez said. "It's not going to stop me from doing something I enjoy. It's just like any other sport. You keep going, unless it's something really severe."
"I generally don't pull any punches," Gutierrez's father said. "And if it was something I saw he wasn't good at, I'd direct him toward something else. But he works really hard and he's pretty good. You do get worried sometimes, because it is a physical sport, but he trains a lot and he knows what he's doing."
Johnny Gutierrez has been nothing short of instrumental in his son's success by taking on the role of his manager. In fact, Isaiah said he gives his father all the credit for helping him to make it to the pros.
Although it's not technically his full-time job – Johnny Gutierrez is an officer with the Weatherford Police Department – the elder Gutierrez said managing his son easily could take up all of his time. Johnny handles calling promoters, booking fights, gaining sponsors, taking care of paperwork and medical details and a myriad of other necessary details to give his son a viable career. He said he didn't hesitate to take on the responsibility.
"He just needed someone to do that so he can concentrate on what he does: the fighting," Johnny said. "There are tons of things that need to be done in order to get ready.
"I'm pretty excited for this opportunity with XKO. They're a pretty good organization and a great place to go fight for."
In addition to his father, Isaiah said he also wanted to thank Lutter, his sparring teammates and Jiu-Jitsu instructor Chris Westfall for helping him reach this point.
Now that he is officially a pro, Gutierrez said an ultimate goal is to ascend the ranks to the UFC, where he might be a regular on pay-per-view and a household name. But the chance at fame and fortune are not why he got into this business.
Far from it.
Gutierrez said it's his love of the game that keeps him going.
"I think that's probably the goal for anyone that gets into this, for the most part," he said of the common aspiration for fame. "They want to get recognized, be on TV and get paid a lot better to fight.
"But, really, I think even if that stuff wasn't there, I'd probably still be doing this. Maybe one day when I'm older, I'll get to teach some kids that have the same goals I did. That would be really awesome, too. But for now, I've got to get up there. It's going to be a long journey."
If you want to sit ringside for Gutierrez's professional debut, May 10, at Super Fight Weekend in Dallas, visit xtremeknockout.com for tickets. For more information about Team Lutter, visit travislutter.com.
The Gutierrez family is also welcoming more sponsors for Isaiah's career. If interested, call 817-597-9084.
To see Gutierrez's testimonial for Team Lutter, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=mk7_VJOH-qA.