One-legged man hopes to turn MMA pro
Matt Betzold, a 26-year-old amateur mixed martial arts fighter from Phoenix, is in for a fight as he battles the Arizona Boxing Commission to get approved as a professional.
But it won't be the fight of his life.
The fight of Betzold's life came when he was 6 years old. He ate a piece of poisoned candy, and to save his life doctors had to amputate his left leg below the knee. As the story goes, the candy was laced with mushroom spores by someone who wanted to avenge a perceived wrong by Betzold's father.
"My dad was wrapped up with some people he shouldn't have been wrapped up with," Betzold said.
The story takes a winding path involving a motorcycle gang, a case of mistaken identity, and the person who laced the candy doing the same thing to his own mother before eventually committing suicide.
"That's what I was told as a kid growing up," Betzold said.
And as it turned out, Betzold's childhood fight for his life was the precursor to many fights.
"I grew up scrapping," he said.
In elementary school there were fights because kids taunted him for having one leg. In middle school and high school Betzold fought because he liked fighting.
"When I fought a guy in school I'd always take him down to the ground and punch him," he said.And Betzold, who now weighs 145 pounds, never turned down a fight despite his disability and usually being outweighed.
"The littler ones are always the scrappy ones," he said laughing.
As a 17-year-old, Betzold started MMA training as a way to stay out of trouble.
"I used it to grow up," he said. "And now people use me as an inspiration, you could say. I guess it's true, I hear it all the time. That's one of the main reasons I fight now. Plus, I love it. You've got to do what you love to do, I believe."
And that brings things to today. Betzold, who had to battle for approval for amateur MMA fights, has a 4-1 amateur record (3-1 if you don't count his victory in an unsanctioned fight).
Although there's no established guideline, the Arizona Boxing Commission prefers amateurs to have five fights before turning pro.
"Five seems kind of a rule of thumb," said Dennis O'Connell, executive director of the boxing commission.
In Arizona's amateur MMA fights, there are no blows to the head while a fighter is on the ground. And because Betzold competes without his prosthetic leg he fights from his knees, which is considered being on the ground, so he never has to fend off blows to the head.
But in pro MMA fighting, blows to the head are allowed while a fighter is on the ground. So the boxing commission is concerned for Betzold's safety from punches and kicks. In other words, Betzold has another battle on his hands, and it promises to be tough.
"I wouldn't say it's uphill," O'Connell said. "He's going into new territory."
Betzold is a nationally-known grappler, a sport that combines principles of wrestling, jiu-jitsu and judo. He won a silver medal at the Grappling World Championships in Fort Lauderdale in December. He's unfazed by O'Connell's outlook.
"I've proved that because of my leg it's not going to hinder me running through people," said Betzold, who is married with two kids. "I know that the boxing commissioner has to look at the safety of the fighters but the fact of the matter is I'm dominating all of these fighters on the mat. Why can't I fight?"
Chris Perkins, formerly of The Palm Beach Post, is a freelance writer for the Sports Media Exchange, a national freelance network.