Antrim Electric
Fred Ettish

Photo via Sherdog

Fred Ettish on UFC 2 Saga and Over 15 Years Between MMA Bouts

Fred Ettish is a veteran of UFC 2 and made his MMA debut in 1994. Someone who embarked on an incredible redemptive journey to eventually secure his first MMA win in the late 2000’s.

I spoke with Fred Ettish and excerpts from our chat are below.


A student of his showing him a tape on the UFC which began Fred Ettish’s MMA journey

“Definitely an eccentric guy. He was a student of mine named Randy Lee from up in northern Minnesota. He came in with a copy of Black Belt magazine, and showed it to me. His enthusiasm was insistent. That would be just exactly the kind of event that I would really do well at. Convinced me to pursue it, and I did obviously. I took him with me as a cornerman when I went down to UFC 2.”

The entirely different landscape of competing at UFC 2 versus the modern landscape

“Yeah, there was definitely no strategizing. I had about 15 minutes’ notice. So the strategy was out the window. I didn’t even know who I was gonna fight until I looked across the cage and there stood big angry-looking Johnny Rhodes. I said oh I guess that’s who I’m fighting. The rest is history. I did not do well, obviously. And there was a lot of reasons for that. I hate going in to too many reasons.”

“Because it sounds like I’m making excuses and I don’t want to do that. Johnny Rhodes was definitely the better, more prepared fighter. I let the event, the surroundings, and the short notice get in my head. Completely psych me out and that was a failure on my part. I can’t blame anybody for that because in my mind, you should always be ready to switch gears. My transmission got stuck. The result was obvious.”

Fred Ettish

Initially playing a Burt Watson type of role at UFC 2. Facilitating fighters getting from place to place until Rorion Gracie found Ettish to see if he could fight minutes later.

“Yeah, exactly. I was a fighter jockey. I was just finding guys that were scattered all around. Nobody knew where everybody was because of the chaos. The event got switched on us from being in a big arena. The McNichols Arena to a very opposite type of an arena down on Skid Row called Mammoth Events Center. They’ve probably torn that down by now. But there were no organized changing facilities. Guys just kind of found the space wherever they could find one. They had rented a hotel across the street and there were fighters over there. It was a very interesting hotel, to say the least.”

“It was disgusting and stank of urine. There were doors that were not on the rooms. There were drug deals going on and it was mass chaos. Poor Art Davie was getting gray hairs as well. I looked at him, gray hairs were sprouting out (laughs). He asked me if I would do that for him. If I would go in and find the fighters. Whoever he told me to get, bring them up to the staging area. Because he wanted everything to run smoothly for the pay-per-view. And I said of course, I’m just glad to help. I was there, and I was told I wasn’t gonna fight.”


Fred Ettish continued, “I was told the night before that since all the fighters had arrived and everybody was healthy and ready to go, my services were not required. That I would probably be brought back at a later one. Basically I got to go to the show, then Art pressed me into service. Then Rorion (Gracie), like you said, he found me all wide-eyed, grabbed me by the arm, and asked me if I was ready to fight. I said I was but obviously I wasn’t.”

Thoughts on Bare Knuckle MMA coming back nowadays as someone who fought in bare-knuckle MMA in early 1994

“I like it myself. That to me, brings it more full circle and brings it back to the more realistic. Two guys fighting and still has a ruleset to keep people safe. So that it doesn’t end up getting in danger of being banned. I think that the idea of the least possible equipment involved I think is good for the fighters. You have to train better, you have to train differently, you have to train your hands correctly. As a traditional Okinawan karate stylist, I do that all the time. So that’s something that I like because my hands are very well-conditioned.”

“If your hands are not well conditioned and you don’t know how to hit Bare Knuckle you’re gonna shatter your hand. Punching with a naked hand is quite different from punching even with the four-ounce gloves. Now you can’t get away with incorrect technique because your hand is a very fragile instrument. If your fist is formed correctly and you hit correctly, you’re going to be okay. But if you’re off by just a little bit, your hand is not gonna hold up. And I also agree that there’s probably much less likelihood for concussions, long-lasting brain injuries.”

“Because the sustained pounding that happens when you have gloves on, I think causes the brain to bounce around inside the skull. I think that’s where most of the damage comes from. The prolonged pounding of the head and the brain bouncing around inside there. I don’t think it’s the actual surface trauma that’s the issue.”

Bare Knuckle MMA then and now

“Without the gloves, there is much more of a likelihood of getting cut. But, elbows have been legal for a long time too and elbows are going to cut worse than anything else. I’m excited to see that. I know that bare-knuckle boxing is something that’s really taken off in certain areas. I think bare-knuckle MMA would be a good follow-up. Like I said, kind of goes full circle. I’m interested in it and I’d like to see it.”

Achieving his first MMA victory at 53 years old yet and defeating someone who was 24 years old

“I know what I felt. I just don’t know how to put it into words, but I’ll do the best I can. It was definitely cathartic, it was definitely a relief. Very grateful to have had that opportunity especially at 53 years old. I don’t look at 53 as being old. Obviously now because I’m 65 going on 66. 53 is looking pretty good. But even at the time, I was in great shape. I have always kept myself in great shape. Still to this day train literally every day. I do something, some days more than others. There’s always some kind of training going on to keep my body in shape. Keep my sanity and keep my spirit strong.”

“So being physically ready, I knew I was physically ready. But I’ve said this before and I’ll continue to say it, I really am grateful to the Minnesota commission for licensing me to fight at that age. Because I know they took some heat for it. Because on paper hey you got this 53-year-old guy fighting this guy that’s less than half his age. What are you thinking? Well trust me, if I didn’t think that I had the capacity to do well, I would never have done it. My whole intention and my whole motivation was to go back and represent myself in a way that inside of myself I wasn’t ashamed of.”


Fred Ettish continued, “And that really had very little to do with other people. Although if I didn’t say that hearing good things from people felt a whole lot better than hearing bad things from people. If I didn’t admit that it felt much better, I’d be a liar. I went through an awfully long time of ridicule, humiliation on the internet, prank phone calls, emails, snail mail letters, people being very personally insulting and derogatory to me. But that wasn’t really what drove me back. Was and it wasn’t, I guess. It wasn’t to quote-unquote show them.”

“It was for me to be able to feel inside of myself that this was a much better representation of myself, of my art, of my teachers, of my training, and something that I could at least hold my head up about. Going into the fight I was anxious and nervous. I’d be lying again if I didn’t say that I wasn’t. Because I was 15 and a half years removed from UFC 2 and I was still carrying around with me all the ghosts and demons from what happened there. And I wanted to get those demons out. I didn’t want to make it worse.”

“Even though if I had lost and didn’t represent myself well, it would have been terrible. But it still wouldn’t have been as bad as what happened at UFC 2. Because I would have at least been psychologically prepared for it because it already happened. UFC two was the first time that I had done anything like that. I wasn’t prepared for the fallout. Once something happens to you, you can prepare yourself for it better the next time. I wanted to go in there. Just really show a well-rounded game. I worked extraordinarily hard. I had a couple of wrestlers here locally here in Kansas City, especially one of them was very good at jiu-jitsu.”

“They really put me through the grinder and I wanted them to do that. Because wrestling was by far the weakest part of my game. I always believed that if you have a weakness, that’s where you want to focus more of your energy than on your strengths. To try and build yourself back up. I had them put me in all kinds of terrible, ugly positions.”

The fight with Kyle Fletcher in 2009

“Get me just really tired, run me through the gauntlet, and I had a bunch of other people helping me too. So I really wanted to show that, again for myself, but also for them. For the guys who put the time in me, for the guys who believed in me, that was important to me. The fight didn’t go the way I had it scripted in my mind. I’m pretty sure most people that fight, most fights that they have don’t go exactly the way that they would like to have them go. But you have to go with things as they unfold, be adaptable, and overcome. Fortunately, I was able to do that.”

Fred Ettish continued, “I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that a large part of what I did and what I still do MMA wise is heavily influenced by Pat Miletich. Pat’s work ethic, Pat’s training methods. Pat’s mindset, his never-say-die attitude, his grit, his toughness. His well-roundedness, also being humble. So many qualities that he has that I had always admired. Having gotten to train with him some rubbed off on me and influenced me greatly. I know that that helped me in that fight too.”

Sparring in his 60’s and a third MMA fight (?)

There being a pronounced period between his fights and if Fred Ettish would entertain taking a third MMA fight

“If anybody would license me to fight I’d fight. Especially if there was a number with quite a few zeros behind it. Again I keep myself in great shape. I train every day. Psychologically, emotionally I think I’m much, much stronger than either one of my first two fights. Because, like I said I keep trying to improve myself every day in every aspect. I’m 65 years old, I’m still working a full-time plus day job. Living from paycheck to paycheck because I was a martial arts bum my whole adult life.”

Fred Ettish continued, “I turned down good jobs that would have paid much better; had retirement plans. I’ve got nothing on the horizon that would allow me to retire. So I’m going to be working for a long time. But if somebody said, hey if you’ll fight for us, make X amount of money. If it made sense, definitely, I would do it. People think I’m crazy when I say that. But I’ve been told I was crazy more than once in my life.”

Parting thoughts for Fred Ettish

“I think we touched on most of what I consider to be the most important things. I would just want to say to anybody that’s in martial arts. Here’s another quote for you. It’s not mine, it’s a friend of mine. My martial arts brother who was side by side, shoulder to shoulder with me for a long time. He said, martial arts is not for everyone but it can be for anyone. If you think about it, it can be for anybody. If you want something you can practice for your whole life. That will just feed every part of you. Make you a better person at home, at work, at school, in your marriage, in your interpersonal relationships.”

“That will help you to learn how to overcome difficult situations. Especially if you’re into the hard combat areas of it. What that teaches you is that things are hard sometimes. You get in bad spots that you just don’t know how you’re going to get out of it. You have to figure out a way. If you’re on your feet, you have to figure out how to punch, kick, elbow, knee, your way out of it. Or take the person down. If you’re on the ground, you have to figure out how to escape or how to submit.”

“That’s just like life. Life throws at us all these different problems, all these different scenarios. All of these different traumas and we have to figure out how to get around that. Martial arts trains you in how to do that. It’s not just in the gym, it’s not just in the dojo, it’s in life and it’s a beautiful thing. If you’re looking for something that will help you in life, go out and find a good martial arts gym… As long as the teacher is good and it’s something that makes you happy and excited, go out and do it. You can’t go wrong, you just can’t.”

Do Not Sell My Personal Information