Captain Moroni Leads the Way
While members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worship the man who counseled, “Love your enemies” and “turn the other cheek,” one of the heroes of the Book of Mormon is Captain Moroni, who wrote to an opponent: “I will arm my women and my children, and I will come against you … and it shall be blood for blood, yea, life for life; and I will give you battle even until you are destroyed from off the face of the earth.” (Alma 54:12)
In these latter days, as the LDS Church became fully engaged in sending missionaries worldwide to preach a message of peace, West Jordan boxer Gene Fullmer became a full-fledged Mormon celebrity after defeating Sugar Ray Robinson to win the world middleweight title in 1957. “Fight clubs” only began springing up throughout Utah County in the late 1990s. Today, 60,000 or so of the faithful gather in Provo at BYU’s LaVell Edwards’ Stadium on Saturdays every fall to watch men in armor run into each other at high speed.
This history of violence among the LDS faithful might help explain MMA’s surprising success locally.
The U.S. Army is a prominent sponsor of local MMA events—a banner listing the address of the recruiting station is prominently displayed at Salt Lake City fights. Army Captain Chris McGrail says he has been stationed in a variety of places around the country but has yet to see the passion for MMA that he’s found in Utah.
“I was surprised to see it be such a big sport in Utah,” he says while attending a recent fight card, “because Utah’s known for being pretty conservative in other areas.”
Stidham, who also runs the Ultimate Combat Training Center, can draw crowds in the thousands (about 30 percent of them women) when he holds quarterly championship events at venues such as the E Center or EnergySolutions Arena. He also puts on weekly Saturday night fight cards at a downtown club where, for some LDS fighters, the sinful atmosphere is of greater concern than the possibility of getting beaten to a pulp.
Such was the case for Gerrit Greer when he appeared on a recent fight card. A carpenter from Provo and devout member of the LDS Church, Greer stood out because he didn’t have any tattoos, and because his wife Gwendolyn, then seven months pregnant with the couple’s third child, was acting as his corner person between rounds.
“I was mostly worried about her being in that crowd, not having someone with her,” Greer says, sporting a golf-ball sized bruise on his brow from his first fight.
A former wrestler at Utah Valley State College, Greer says he had been training and wanted to have a goal to shoot for—goal-setting being something members of the LDS Church are strongly encouraged to do. He and Gwendolyn enjoy watching UFC fighting on TV, and she says she was only “slightly concerned” when he told her he wanted to fight. She even brags about him to her friends in nursing school. However, the bragging now stops at the chapel doors on Sunday.
“When you say ‘cage fight,’ there’s a stigma attached. You certainly get raised eyebrows,” Gerrit says. Still, he points out, “A lot of LDS kids have a lot of aggression they need an outlet for,” and fighting in a controlled and regulated environment might be a more constructive way to deal with that aggression than sex, drugs and rock & roll.