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Former Cougar turns to MMA

Laying the smack down./ Austin Thomson
Laying the smack down./ Austin Thomson

Wrestler Matt Fedler enters the octagon

For former University of Regina Wrestler Matt Fedler, mixed martial arts, or MMA, was always one of his strongest passions. Last Saturday, Nov. 14, over a decade of training paid off as Matt got a chance to fight in, and win, his first professional MMA fight right here in Regina. How does a kid born in North Battleford and raised in small-town Saskatchewan find himself fighting professionally? In the case of Matt, the journey started at twelve years old in the small town of Wilkie, Saskatchewan.

Starting to get a little out of shape, and completely disinterested in mainstream sports due to his laid-back personality, Matt’s mom, Diane, suggested he join Wilkie’s kickboxing club, run by local RCMP officer Dean Flaman, to stay in shape.

“I was instantly hooked,” Matt said with a smile. “It was essentially the real version of professional wrestling.”

Shortly after Matt joined the club, a new art teacher named Chris Kent, who had a background in wrestling and submission grappling, moved to town and joined the club. From then on, Matt began to split his time between striking and grappling. With the addition of Kent’s wrestling background, the local kickboxing club became an MMA club, and by March of 2007, at the age of 14, Matt fought in his first MMA fight, his only one prior to his professional debut last Saturday. That same year, Matt moved back to North Battleford and took the advice of both Dean and Chris, and joined the North Battleford Composite High School wrestling team. Matt also joined the football team, but mostly for social purposes and to convert a few of his buddies to the wrestling team. According to Matt, these friends converted to the wrestling team turned out to be helpful in his future success.

“My best friends in high school were all aspiring athletes and having them to train with in those years was a big part of my athletic success.”

Being the MVP of his wrestling team in high school for two straight years, Matt began to look at his post-secondary options The U of R appealed to him based on the education program and the fact that one of the main role models in his life and former coach, Chris Kent, was an alumni. Plus, high-level wrestling is a great base for MMA fighters because of the tactical advantage of being able to determine whether the fight will take place on the ground or standing up. As for his final decision to come to the U of R, like I mentioned in my previous article about the Rams recruitment, a big motivation for students to decide which school to go to is the feeling of being wanted, and that’s how U of R head coach Leo McGee made Matt feel.

“I introduced myself to U of R Head Coach Leo McGee at a tournament and he got down my information,” said the now professional fighter. “He later drove down to North Battleford and took myself and my friend out to dinner and offered us some scholarship money. He made us feel important, despite the fact that I initially approached him. So, I accepted and moved to Regina in 2010.”

His first two years at the U of R didn’t quite go as planned. After just a couple of tournaments as a rookie, Matt suffered a shoulder injury which, after unsuccessful rehab, needed surgery and caused him to miss the whole season and have to red shirt the next year, too. Matt made his return late in 2012, finished third in CanWest, qualifying for CIS nationals, where he placed eighth. In 2013-14, being the most senior athlete on the team, Matt was thrust into a leadership role.

“I was essentially the team captain, although the wrestling team doesn’t officially appoint captains. I’d like to be able to throw that on my resume, but there’s no paper trail to back it up, unfortunately,” Matt said with a laugh.

That season was his best yet. Matt won the team MVP award and qualified for nationals for the second year, where he finished sixth. That turned out to be his last season of CIS wrestling, as he decided that was a good way to end his wrestling days and start to focus on his dream of MMA.

That brings us all the way to Nov. 14, when Matt stepped in the ring to take on Jesse Boldt. This fight was a lightweight fight, even though Matt is more suited to fighting one step down in featherweight. Boldt is quite a bit taller and has a longer reach than Matt, so Fedler’s game plan was to try and keep the fight on his feet and use his reach to his advantage. However, Matt knew this and made it his mission to take the fight to the ground where he had a distinct advantage based on his wrestling background. Matt succeeded in taking Jesse to the ground but couldn’t hold it and let him fight his way back to his feet. A missed head kick by Fedler, and a failed counter by Boldt, opened up the opportunity for Matt to once again take him to ground, and this time he made no mistake. After exchanging hits from the ground Matt was able to grab one of Boldt’s arms and get him into an armbar which led to Boldt tapping out at the 4:35 mark of the first round.

“I thought I’d have to dislocate his elbow or break his arm” said the currently undefeated Fedler, “but thankfully he tapped out.”

Matt says he usually tries to stay composed after a win, but between the emotion, the atmosphere in the building, and the fact that one of his childhood heroes, Wagnney Fabiano, rushed out to congratulate him, he couldn’t keep his composure and raised his arms in celebration. Now that the dream-like first career fight is out of the way, Matt can begin training for his next fight, and maybe even get back on the mat and compete in a couple of wrestling tournaments again.

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