A punch to the gut. A smack to the head.
Mixed martial arts is a brutal sports that requires skill, determination and the knowledge that you’re going to get knocked around — a lot.
But that’s what led Matt Betzold to the sport. After a few rough teen years, Betzold found an outlet and a purpose with wrestling and mixed martial arts.
Video: MMA Fighter Matt Betzold
Now, he’s on his way to fight for a title.
Betzold, 29, has been selected to represent the United States at next month’s FILA world championships in London, Canada. The proven athlete has already been on the world stage at last year’s championship in Krakow, Poland, and the World Fighting Federation title he won last month here in Arizona.
Betzold does all this with one leg.
“There’s no special category. It is what it is. He’s always rolling with guys bigger than him,” said Thom Ortiz, one of Betzold’s coaches and co-owner of Mesa’s Southwest MMA, where Betzold trains. “He’s been fighting since he was 6 years old. It’s a metaphor for life now.”
“My dad was wrapped up with some people he shouldn’t have been wrapped up with,” Betzold said in that story.
Betzold woke up from a coma and discovered his left leg amputated below the knee.
At first, Betzold said, he suffered from depression. When he returned to school, classmates were understanding about a kid in a wheel chair. Then he got older and the bullying began. He said his attitude and fighting got him kicked out of school a few times. But with encouragement, he discovered wrestling, then mixed martial arts, and an arena and competition to use his skills.
“I saw I was good at it and I like doing it and it was something positive,” Betzold said.
So today, six days a week, sometimes twice a day, Betzold drives to Mesa from the north Valley. At night, he teaches children his sport. But he’s also modeling determination for his students, Ortiz said.
“If kids start making an excuse, it’s easy to say, ‘He’s doing it and he’s still working out and you have two legs. What is your excuse?’” Ortiz said.
Betzold takes those same lessons during visits with soldiers who have returned to the United States as amputees.
He tells them, “It’s not what you’re missing, but what you have left in life that matters.”
That belief makes its way into the area, Ortiz said.
“Honestly, he’s stubborn. He’s going to keep trying and trying. His stubbornness translates into determination. That’s his strength,” Ortiz said.
He’ll need that stubbornness as he competes in five bouts in Canada against 30 other competitors in his division. Ortiz is trying to help Betzold raise funds to get there through the nonprofit he created, USA MMA AZ, which has a Facebook page.
“I have a high competitive drive. I have strong work ethics. I want to be the best at what I do, no matter what it is,” Betzold said.
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