Austin Bledsoe wanted to try something different. He wanted to try his hand, or his feet, if you will, at a new sport.
The former Chapmanville Regional High School athlete is no stranger to the athletic fields and courts.
Bledsoe was four-sport standout at CRHS in his prep days, playing basketball, baseball, soccer and tennis for the Tigers.
He had a dream, however.
And that dream was to become a fighter.
So he asked Greg Dillon to train him but even Dillon tried to talk him out of it.
It didn't work.
So this weekend, Bledsoe will be stepping into the ring and the steel cage as he is scheduled to make his kickboxing debut at the New Line Cagefighting II event on Saturday night at the Williamson Fieldhouse.
"I told Greg back in late winter I was wanting to do this and he tried to talk me out of it," Bledsoe said. "Well, most of my family and friends have tried to talk me out of it. But it's something I feel compelled to do. So my friends got together and all of them trust and loved Greg Dillon as a coach and knew he had trained some successful fighters, like his son Tanner, so James Ellis and I asked if he could train me."
Dillon obliged but rather reluctantly.
"He's a good young man," said Dillon, who had coached Bledsoe previously when he was the Chapmanville soccer mentor. "Loved him and his group when I coached and love them still yet. Don't know if he will win or lose but he is developing skill, has heart and his diabetes won't hold him back. Don't know if all the training will make him a Superman but he'll be a better man. My old soccer team showed up and asked me to train him. I tried to talk him out of it but he said he was going do it with or without me but he'd rather have me. I couldn't say no. It's Austin's first ever fight of any kind in any format."
Bledsoe is slated to make his kickboxing debut against Anthony Stewart of Varney in the 10th bout of the night.
Bell time is set for 7:30 p.m. and 23 bouts are on the card, including 17 MMA fights, three boxing matches and three kickboxing bouts.
The cagefighting event is brought to you by New Line Cagefighting, founded last summer by Logan High School graduates Keith Noe and Greg Robinson. It's the second NLC event to be held in Williamson with the previous one taking place back in March.
Bledsoe said he had originally trained to be on the MMA card but after something happened that was out of his control he had to make a change.
"Greg had been training me for MMA but I had to make a switch since my opponent backed out," he said.
Bledsoe said he's been training hard for his kickboxing debut and is in the best shape of his life.
"I've been hitting the bags and have been doing lots of cardio, but it didn't prepare me for what Greg put me through," he said. "So far it's been learning through mistakes and pain. Nothing critical but pain makes believers. I've played golf a lot and other sports and it has helped mold me to where I am at now but I wanted to try something new. I've always had a close bond with Greg and I researched what to do and Greg was my choice."
Bledsoe said he's been going at it for a couple of months now.
"I've been training solid about two months hard now," he said. "It's an uphill battle at times but I'm always learning and adjusting my skill set. I've always been interested in the sport of fighting and want to see what I can do with it. I juggle it around school which is difficult but I sacrifice one thing to excel at others. I'd like to see where I can go with it. You get out of it what you put in it. It requires technical effort and focus. The difference here is, well, I didn't have to dodge punches hitting a golf ball. Or kicking a soccer ball."
Bledsoe said his parents were also reluctant to see him choose to become a fighter.
"Some of my friends get pretty excited about this," Bledsoe said. "That's pretty cool. My parents were freaking out but all my friends and family trust Greg. He's trained me very good in the time I've gave him. He's surrounded me with a good stable of people with great character and skill to help me out. That's all I can ask for. It's been the highlight of my summer. I want to use my age to my advantage. I have a lot of energy and I'm ready to use it."
As a new participant in a new sport Bledsoe will be green but his opponent will be green alike since he also has no sanctioned fighting experience in kickboxing.
"I've never heard of my opponent before but he's probably ready for some kind of brawl. My team and I have tried to prepare me for the worst and the best. With that being said, I'm ready to go," Bledsoe said.
There are four professional MMA events, scheduled for the the last four bouts of the night. The four will all serve as co-Main Events.
In one of the pro MMA fights, Logan native Cody Abbott will be making his professional debut against Jacob Willyard (0-3) of St. Louis.
As an amateur, Abbott sports a 5-1 record, including four first-round wins and was ranked No. 1 in the state for three plus years in his bantamweight class (126-135 pounds). He's currently ranked 23rd in the East Coast Division.
Abbott, also a former all-state wrestler for Logan High School and also an amateur youth boxer in his teens, last saw MMA action back on March 9 at Williamson in which he beat Matthew Tennant, a No. 2-ranked fighter in West Virginia, via decision, in the first New Line Cagefighting event.
In another pro fight, Mingo County's Austin "Speedy" Marcum is matched up against Nikk Willyard of St. Louis. Both will be making their professional debuts in MMA. Marcum is no stranger to the ring as well having been former Toughman and Rough 'N Rowdy boxing champions and having logged 23 professional bouts.
The other two pro MMA bouts have Jeremy Lane (1-0-1) of Charleston taking on Sam Warren (0-0) of Roanoke, Virginia and Montrez Tinson (0-2) of Baltimore squaring off with Ran Ray Holston (0-0) of Wytheville, Virginia.
All four professional MMA fights are scheduled for three five-minute rounds.
Other than the Bledsoe/Stewart match two other kickboxing bouts are on the card as Joshua Blair (0-0) of Man takes on Danny Stubbs (0-0) of Beckley; and Chris Pontier (0-0) of Nitro fights Joshua Dotson (0-0) of Raccoon, Kentucky.
Blair is also a former Coal Area Toughman boxing champion at Logan.
The three amateur boxing matches have: Dylan Dowd (0-0) of Madison squaring off with Richie Smith (0-1) of Gilbert; Jose Schultz (0-1) of Madison going up against Larry Barton (3-2) of Berwind; and Ramon "Savage" Burgess (0-0) of Logan fighting Clayton Fields (2-0) of Clendenin.
Several other interesting amateur MMA bouts are also on the card. All those matches are scheduled for three two-minute rounds.
Adam Dingess (0-1) of Chapmanville, a former CRHS athlete and two-time Rough 'N Rowdy Boxing Champion, is set to fight Ryan Hall (0-0) of Gilbert.
There is one women's MMA bout, pitting Amanda Maynard (0-0) of Logan against Destinee Spry (0-1), also of Logan.
The first amateur MMA fight between Seaford Smith (0-1) of Madison against Ryan Blankenship (1-4) of Oceana is also the very first bout on the card.
Other scheduled amateur MMA bouts are: Shawn Estep (0-0) of Logan vs. Zack Craddock (0-0) of Madison; Randall Maynard (0-1) of Logan vs. Jonathan Rowh (0-1) of Fairmont; Ronnie White (0-1) of Williamson vs. Kraig Ellis (0-1) of Dingess; Eric Musick (0-0) of Inez, Kentucky vs. Chase Stafford (0-1) of Oceana; Chase Thompson (1-0) of Madison vs. Austin Baker (1-0) of Chapmanville; Avery Ray (1-0) of Inez, Kentucky vs. Pete DeLeon (0-2) of Jacksonville, North Carolina; Densel Chapman (1-1) of Delbarton vs. Skyler Mauller (0-0) of Crooksville, Ohio; Travis Bender (1-1) of Madison vs. Brian Wiseman (1-3) of Clendenin; and Mikey Mitchell (1-1) of Harts vs. Brandon Boggs (2-0) of Madison.
MMA is a blend of different fighting disciplines including boxing, kickboxing and wrestling.
The sport's increased popularity, especially under the flagship Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has not gone unnoticed
Former and current stars such as Ronda Rowsey, Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, Chuck Liddell, BJ Penn, Matt Hughes and Randy Couture have taken UFC and cagefighting into the worldwide stratosphere.
"MMA has gone from being banned all across the country to full on mainstream," Noe said. "When you think of sports, you think of ESPN. UFC recently signed a 5-year deal with ESPN and everyone is watching it now. We wanted to bring the sport of MMA to the coal fields and give these athletes the chance to compete and make to the next level."
Paul Adkins is the sports editor of the Logan Banner. Follow him on Twitter @PAdkinsBanner or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.