ST. GEORGE – When one hears the acronym MMA it is coupled with images of pro wrestlers in outlandish costumes in a challenge that may or may not be real. But in the world of Mixed Martial Arts, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
MMA actually goes back over 6,000 years to Ancient China and Greece. These were the prize fighters who finished off battlefield casualties, as their bodies were lethal weapons of war. MMA has amalgamated fighting-style influences from jujutsu and Muay Thai, along with boxing and wrestling disciplines. Fighters are trained for years to develop these techniques and must be in top physical shape to endure the grueling matches of explosive power and fighting precision.
Las Vegas is the MMA fighting capital, where thousands flock to see these high-octane matches and cheer for their favorite competitors. Tonight at the Orleans Hotel and Casino is one of these matches, featuring St. George’s own Justin “The Iron Horse” Horsley, in Tuff-N-Uff’s Amateur Fighting Championship.
Horsley, age 22, is originally from Bountiful and picked up the sport of wrestling at age 12 after a boy challenged him to a “playground” fight. Horsley went from there to wrestling practice, where he fought and was hooked. He wrestled for Bountiful High School, earning him titles and Utah State placements. In 2014, he moved to St. George and walked on the Dixie State University club wrestling team, earning him Dixie State’s first ever All-American for the 2014-15 season in his class, and a No. 2 ranking in the nation.
It looked like he had truly found his passion … until a serious injury during a wrestling match. Horsley suffered a torn ACL that landed him in surgery and ended his wrestling career. Disappointment and despair took hold, leading him down a path of depression and substance abuse. It was during that dark time that he reached deep inside and rekindled an earlier dream he had while mowing lawns as a young boy.
“I could see myself in an arena with bright lights, and I could hear the cheers while I walked into the cage,” he said. “I guess I have always known I would be a fighter.”
Horsley recounts with a huge smile, “I was meant to go through that pain and adversity. It prompted me to walk into Fusion MMA gym. It was a safe place for me to train with the help of “Ace” Reis, local Fusion MMA gym owner.
Horsley’s first amateur fight and most memorable opponent was the late Chris Garry, a soldier who was killed last year in Iraq.
Justin recounts, “Even with a broken nose and a concussion after the referee had called the nine-minute fight, he was a good and courteous sport. I will always think fondly of that man.”
Horsley framed the poster picturing the two of them with fist up in his “at home” gym.
It was November 2017 that Justin took his abilities one step further and opened Iron Life Fitness and Personal Training. Overnight, his client list exploded, training local fighters and marathoners, plus those he says just want to keep up with their grandkids, as well as rehabilitating those in pain who were like him – injured with no or little insurance.
“Fighting has made me who I am today: a husband, a homeowner and a business owner, where I can help others accomplish their goals,” Horsley said. “In doing so, I am living my dream as well. My philosophy is to bring together their mind, body, and spirit. It helped when I had ADHD as a youth, overcome substance abuse, and continues to teach me courtesy, respect, and integrity.”
This weekend is a big mile-stone in Justin’s career as he fights for an interim weight championship.
The Tuff-N-Uff event begins at 7 p.m. (PST) tonight at the Orleans, with approximately a dozen bouts taking place. Tickets start at $25 a person and can be purchased here. Doors open at 6 p.m.
Written By Sheri D. Wilkes – Sheri is a freelance writer who resides in Santa Clara.
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