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  • Running on only five hours of sleep, twenty five-year-old Theron Neisius wakes up to get his two-year-old daughter ready for the day.

    Playtime leads to young Madison being dropped off at the sitter before Neisius steps into the gym. From there its only a matter of minutes before he gets punched in the face, one, two, three, four, a total of eight times before the fight is broken up.

    Bleeding from the nose, he goes to fight again before cleaning up his face so he can show up for the third shift at the Simmons Bedding Factory in Janesville.

    “He’s a born fighter,” remarks Patrick Delgado, owner of the Fearless MMA, the gym where Theron trains and fights. He too is a father, and for many that train here or gyms like it around the country, life is a balancing act between family, work, and a passion for fighting.

    The young father is training for yet another upcoming fight.

    I'll admit, I showed up to the gym hoping to find a fighter with a some kind of back story, something moderately interesting, that would allow me to get photos of people beating the crap out of each other, to show some tension and some violence. I guess I misunderstood what mixed martial arts was all about. To Neisius it’s not the violence or even the act of fighting that most appeals to him.

    “In my training, I focus on being a better person,” he says. “It’s helped me be a better person. I was a troubled kid, but then I found the gym. It’s been a good four years, it could have been a bad four years.”

    It seems to be something that a lot of people might not understand. He's not undefeated and tearing up the ranks of the sport. He's not untouchable.

    But he's not just fighting for himself anymore. It's not that the danger of fighting isn't in the back of his mind, but the positives outweigh the negatives.

    In those four years of fighting, he met his girlfriend, Erika Bue, and they had a daughter. His life is a finely tuned balancing act, but Neisius’ fatherhood and involvement in fighting has helped him redefine himself and find harmony.

    “First I’m a father, second I’m a fighter. She defines me, my daughter,” he says.

    Though he puts a lot of his time and effort into training the variety of skills needed to be a talented fighter, there are other things on his plate. For those at the upper echelon of the sport, fighters in the Ultimate Fighting Championship benefit from full-time employment and benefits through the billion-dollar industry. Neisius doesn’t have that same help.

    He was tired, more tired than the fighters I have seen on TV at the bars training for their upcoming prize fights for tens, if not thousands of dollars. Why was he so tired, I asked, training for a fight that would maybe net a few hundred bucks?

    “They got the money, they got the trainers, they got everything they need, even if they have kids.”

    “I don’t got the money to help me with my child right now, so obviously I still need a day job.”

    So after cleaning the blood off his face, hands, and the mat at the gym, he goes home to shower and get ready for work, sewing closed mattresses at Simmons. Tomorrow he’ll repeat the process: family, fight, work-and then, sleep.

    Coming off a loss in a fight late August, he’s even more motivated to get better and keep moving up, and he doesn’t envision that changing for a while.

    “Of course I want to make my family happy, but they like seeing me do this. I’m good at it. So I’m going to keep doing it, until my body can’t take it anymore, no matter where the sport takes me.”

    [NOTE: Some of this story was used in an article written by me, Mark Kauzlarich, for The Gazette, in Janesville, WI. This is the story in my form, not copy edited, and raw.]
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