Early on in his life, Donnie Ballou knew anything with physicality was something he was good at. Whether it was rough housing with his friends, football or wrestling, he was in his element. After graduating from high school as the career leader in wins, he still had a competitive itch. College wasn’t in Ballou’s plans so when he saw a flier at a nearby Kroger’s for a local MMA event in 2010, he and his wrestling buddy called the promotor and got on the card with no fighting experience other than their high school wrestling background.
He went in and used his wrestling to handle his business, he then took one or two more fights and then went for some training. However, it wasn’t instant love for the former wrestler. He still had to deal with his sports anxiety. Something he has worked hard to manage to this day. It’s not a fear about getting hurt Ballou says, but it’s the fear of the unknown.
“The sports anxiety comes with the fear of not knowing. It’s not the fear of getting hurt, getting punched in the face.”
“Real Deal” Ballou has found that to help counteract his sports anxiety he doesn’t watch tape. He focuses on himself, his training and conditioning. He has his coaches, Scott Wegman and Roberta Samad do his tape study for him and he is very appreciative of that.
“When I fight people, even when I don’t know them, I do not watch footage of anybody, I don’t study tape, I don’t do anything. That’s something I leave up to my coach and my gym. And that’s why my gym does really well.”
It took awhile for Ballou to realize he wanted to commit to the fight life. After surgery, tough losses and tough weight cuts, he sat down after his last loss and reflected. It was then that he decided to commit to the sport.
“I was one of those guys who didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I always went back and forth if I wanted to pursue fighting. There’s been times where I felt…there’s lows in this sport and highs in this sport. There’s been times where I’ve come off a tough loss and I’ve decided you know what, I don’t want to do this no more. I’m tired of cutting weight, I’m tired of getting hurt, I’m tired of surgery or whatever it is. I think it was about two years ago maybe, I decided I really want to make a run at it, I think this is what I want to do. Then once I really figured out is that if I stay at 125, like I said that’s where Liam and them have really helped me. 125 is my home, there’s no doubt I can make a run at it. Once I figured that out mentally, that really gives you a drive to make it.”
“Now I know I have a career to fall back on (Ballou works as a warehouse supervisor for Pepsi), you know if fighting never worked out so I’m going to chase it until I physically can’t anymore. Now it’s just finding the time. My job is a little crazy, I work a lot of different shifts. But if you want it, you’ll find time to do it and you’ll find time to make it work.”
Not knowing exactly what he wanted in life was something Ballou was familiar with. Having lost his dad when he was a sophomore in high school, he would run the streets and had no focus. It wasn’t until he found wrestling that he started to realize his potential and another important person in his life.
“When I was a sophomore, I had lost my father to cancer. Like any kid, you run the streets, I was out with my friends. Wrestling has brought me some of the most important people in my life. My coach, after my dad died, Coach Ryan, who is still involved in my life today stepped up. He was kinda that father figure to me, I really do believe he kept me out of trouble and he made me the man I am today. Without him, I wouldn’t be where I’m at.”
Coaches have always played a big role in Ballou’s life. Now its Scott Wegman and Roberta Samad. When it came time to realize his potential or fall behind in his career on a three-fight losing streak. He sat down with his coaches and had a heart to heart.
“It was one of those things I talked to my coaches about it. I had a heart to heart about it, Roberta and Scott. Liam and them same thing. I felt it was a pivotal time in my career where if I’m really going to make a run at it, I have to win. There was nothing in my mind about I can afford to lose, I knew 100% I had to win that fight. It was after that second loss that I decided 125 was my home. I had taken some fights above 125 whether it was a catchweight with Isiah Chapman and Isiah Chapman didn’t make weight by two and a half pounds but I decided to take the fight anyway. I fought Jeremy Pender, really tough guy at 135, unfortunately I lost that fight. Those two losses in a row hurt big and after that I kinda knew I had to stay at 125. I liked being the bigger fighter, I liked having the length and the reach on guys. Most of the 125ers are really short. After that second loss I knew 125 was where I need to be.”
That decision led to a great opportunity, a fight against Josh Ricci for the Premier FC flyweight title. Against a very tough opponent, Ballou went in and won by submission in the first round. Now after a long layoff because of COVID-19, he is looking to start a new winning streak when he defends his flyweight title against Nate Williams at HRMMA 116 on November 6.
View this post on Instagram
Williams will be the most experienced fighter Ballou has faced. Williams has 59 career fights with 29 victories and has faced fighters such as Zach Makovsky, Louis Gaudinot and Brandon Royval in his career. Ballou says he is excited to step back in the cage against a high-level opponent and despite the weird circumstances COVID has presented, he believes that he is extremely well prepared.
“I am beyond excited to be back in the cage. This is a matchup to get excited about, he’s a veteran guy with 29 professional wins, that’s incredibly impressive. I matchup well on the feet, on the ground. I’m eager to get in there and prove myself against a top ranked opponent. Covid has made things a little weird with the fight game but I truly believe hard times bring out the best in people, and that holds true for myself and gym. I am as prepared as I have ever been in the last 10 years.”
By applying pressure, stuffing Williams takedowns, showing technical abilities on the feet and winning the scrambles, Ballou believes an early finish is in his future and it will only lead to bigger opportunities.
“I predict that I’ll capitalize on scrambling situation, I’ll be just a little bit faster and secure a first-round choke to retain my belt. I also predict a win over a big-time opponent puts me in a great position for something bigger.”
Ballou vs. Williams will take place on November 6 at HRMMA 116.