Somerset alum finding career in mixed martial arts
"I've been wrestling since I could walk."
Knowing Mitch Grahovac, 21, that is not hard to imagine.
Grahovac's maternal grandfather was a wrestling coach for 38 years in Cumberland. Encouraged by his family, Grahovac started his own wrestling career when he was in second grade in the Somerset School District.
By the time he graduated from Somerset High School in 2007, he had not only participated in the wrestling club, but also in football and track.
However, it was not any of these sports where he would focus his considerable energies during his studies at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
He decided to focus on mixed martial arts.
Although he kept up with his weight training and exercise workouts, Grahovac said he missed the competition aspect of sports.
Then, one fateful day, a friend of his asked him to accompany him to an MMA class.
"He knew I was a good wrestler and asked me if I wanted to come along," Grahovac recalled.
His prior sports background and workout regimen impressed the MMA trainer enough to recommend him for a cage fight after only two weeks.
He said that it was more extreme than his wrestling matches.
"Mentally, this is much bigger - kind of like a fistfight," he said. "The spotlight is in the cage, but you can still tell its a huge crowd."
As a 155-pound fighter, he was required to weigh-in approximately 24 hours before the fight. He said typically during his high school wrestling days, he had to weigh in about an hour before the match.
Grahovac's first MMA match, though, was a wake-up call.
He was defeated in the first round.
However, he decided to train longer and more effectively before his next match - three weeks later.
He was defeated in the first round again.
"That was a little disappointing," Grahovac said. "So I took three or four months to do some hard core training, mostly boxing, jujitsu, cardio and weightlifting."
He works out seven days a week, one to two hours at a time. In addition to his regular training, during the summer months he added "old-school" training to his regimen.
"I wanted to test my cardio and I heard the MMA studio in Brainerd, Minn. does these routines," Grahovac explained. "So I adapted some of them to do at home."
Among these are flipping 200-pound tractor tires, rope climbing and "bear-crawling" up and down the hills at his parents' property. Although he said that he has friends to spar with for his boxing workouts, he does the old-school training on his own.
All the training paid off when he won his third match. Since then, he's continued his workout and has won his past four matches - one of them in less than 40 seconds.
His most recent match he won in the second round, but he credits his cardio endurance for being able to outlast his opponent for the total five minutes.
"You give yourself 100 percent in those three minute rounds," Grahovac said. "You are using your arms, legs, throwing punches, blocking - it's the hardest sport I've ever been in."
In all his matches, he has never been knocked out or had any major injuries. The most he's done to his opponent has been to bruise his face.
It was this knowledge that provided his mother Ann Grahovac with some peace of mind.
She did not know about her son's involvement in MMA until recently.
"I was scared of how she would react," Grahovac admitted. "When I started winning, I told mom. She kept asking if I'd been knocked out, if I'd gotten hurt - being worried and all."
"Well, he is 21 years old now, so I can't say that he can't do that," Ann said.
She and the rest of the family did attend his latest fight in Superior and were impressed.
"It was very intense, very exciting," she said. "I was very excited but also very nervous. I think the fight was harder on me since it went on for five minutes."
Grahovac, the oldest of five children, is planning his next fight sometime in September. He also plans to transfer to UW-River Falls in January 2011 so he can study sports medicine.
As for his future MMA plans, he hopes to turn professional within the next 18 months.
"I've already had people ask me when I'm going pro," Grahovac said. "The competition is a lot tougher and you can work your way up the big stage, like World Extreme Cagefighting or Ultimate Fighting Championship - everyone in the sport hopes for those some day."
He said he constantly is asked for advice about entering MMA.
"You got to find a good MMA gym," he said, "and you have to be fully committed - you can't just dip your toes in. It is, after all, a combat sport."