Travis Wiuff once told the Post Bulletin that he prays for himself and his opponent every time he steps inside the cage.
Perhaps that is what has kept him going for 20 years in a sport that take its toll on an athlete, physically and mentally.
Or perhaps there’s another, more obvious reason.
“Some people are good with computers,” Wiuff said, “some people are good at selling things or good at solving problems. I happen to be good at fighting.”
Wiuff’s skills and desire to remain competitive have helped him reach a milestone that very few mixed martial arts fighters accomplish. This Saturday, he’ll face Jeremy Spelts at Fusion Fight League’s Fights Under The Lights 6 in Billings, Mont. The heavyweight bout will the 100th MMA fight of Wiuff’s professional career.
The 41-year-old from Kasson nicknamed “Diesel” has a career record of 76 wins, 22 defeats and 1 no contest.
“This just means I’m really old,” Wiuff said with a laugh last week, as he trained for his milestone fight. “It definitely means I’ve been around a long time. One of my goals when I first started … I just wanted to be remembered as a tough guy. I knew I’d never probably be a world champion. I was never at that level. I just wanted to be remembered as a tough guy to face. I think that’s as big of a compliment as you can give somebody.”
Whenever Wiuff’s fighting career comes to a close, he’ll certainly be remembered that way. He’s battled through broken hands, suffered concussions, a broken nose and other injuries. Yet, he said, he’s never had a broken arm or leg and no major surgeries.
“For 20 years in, that’s pretty healthy,” he said.
He’s also known as someone who loves to give back to kids and young athletes. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound Wiuff (pronounced “view”) is a paraprofessional in the Kasson-Mantorville School District. He also coaches seventh-grade football at K-M and is an assistant coach with the powerhouse KoMets wrestling program, which has won four state team championships in the past seven years and produced three individual state champions last year.
“It’s a great program,” said Wiuff, who wrestled at Owatonna High School and Rochester Community and Technical College. “We’re led by the top high school coach in the nation (Jamie Heidt). What he’s done for the program is undeniable, he’s put us on the map.
“It’s motivating to me to be around kids at K-M who are willing to work so hard to accomplish a goal. They motivate me just as much as I motivate them.”
‘A TRAVELING CIRCUS’
When Wiuff agreed to take his first professional MMA fight, the sport wasn’t even known as MMA.
“It was called ‘No Holds Barred’ back then,” Wiuff said. “I think the only rules were no biting, no pulling hair and no hitting in the groin. There wasn’t an athletic commission governing the sport, so a promoter would go to a venue and say ‘hey, I’d like to do these fights’ – it was like a traveling circus – and we’d set up a ring, get a few fighters.”
Sometimes, Wiuff would fight more than once in a night. Sometimes against unscheduled and untrained opponents.
“Sometimes the promoter would pull guys from the crowd,” Wiuff said. “I remember one time at a biker bar up north of the Cities, I fought my original opponent, then a biker jumped in so I fought him, then another. … Compared to how things are run now, it’s not even the same sport.”
According to MMA website Sherdog.com, Wiuff’s first official professional fight occurred nearly 18 years ago to the day that his 100th will take place. He debuted on Sept. 7, 2001, in the northern Twin Cities suburb of Ramsey at the Rumble in Ramsey. Wiuff beat Jeff Greer by TKO in the first round.
This weekend’s fight against Spelts may be another highlight on a list of many for Wiuff, but win or lose, it’s a milestone many fighters will never reach. And it could be another lasting memory for Wiuff, who has made many in his nearly two decades in the sport.
He speaks with great pride about his stints with top professional organizations UFC and Bellator. Wiuff fought on two prominent UFC pay-per-views, UFC 40 and UFC 52, both of which took place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Both of those shows featured UFC superstar Chuck Liddell, who won the co-main event of UFC 40. That show was headlined by two legends, as Tito Ortiz beat Ken Shamrock in the main event. Wiuff fought in the co-main event at UFC 52, which saw Liddell beat Randy Couture via first-round knockout in the main event.
And though Wiuff was defeated in both of his UFC appearances, he has fond memories of the opportunity to compete on such a big stage.
“The first one (UFC 40), the UFC was just on the verge of becoming big-time,” Wiuff said. “It was one of their first big events, the first time ESPN was there to talk about the fights.
“The second one (UFC 52) was another big one. Chuck Liddell was the king … I feel fortunate to have been on both of those cards. In Vegas, it’s such a crazy atmosphere, anytime you fight there, it’s a different feeling. It has so much energy, more than I can describe.”
This weekend will mark Wiuff’s second fight of 2019 – he defeated Josue Lugo by unanimous decision back in April at Quechan Casino Resort, near San Diego – and just his third since a victory on Oct. 15, 2016.
“I look back at it now and I don’t even know how I got to 100,” Wiuff said. “I never would have thought it.”