MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, MONT. — Mixed martial arts fighting is not for the faint hearted. It takes effort and full-time dedication to be the best of the best in the octagonal cage.
For Senior Airman Mark Wirth, a 819th RED HORSE Squadron structural engineer, he believes he has the motivation and dedication to rise from amateur to professional fighting.
Wirth grew up in Fresno, California, where he got into a lot of fights as a child, he said. He practiced backyard boxing and watched ultimate fighter shows which made him determined to take it further.
"I started watching the ultimate fight shows and it got me interested in wanting to better myself," Wirth said. "It seemed like those guys were like superheroes almost. I wanted that feeling."
Wirth started out practicing Muay Thai at a gym, a technique used for striking and kicking. Just as he was getting involved, things began to change in his personal life.
"When I turned 19 my wife and I got married," he said. "Times were getting tough so I had to push (my training) aside and think about my family more so we looked into the military."
Wirth joined the Air Force but still continued to follow his passion for fighting, even after being stationed in Japan. He found a gym off base owned by a local Japanese man who took Wirth under his wing.
The man taught Wirth more basics of fighting and Jiu Jitsu. That is when he found out about Friday night fights. They consisted of Japanese boxers and kickboxers, whom Wirth fought against with a not so surprising outcome.
"I won every single one," Wirth said. "All of my boxing and kickboxing matches."
He was doing so well, he said, the owner wanted to see how far Wirth wanted to go.
"The owner of the gym offered me a professional MMA fight but I wasn't ready," Wirth said. "I felt like I needed to do amateur MMA matches before doing professional MMA."
Since then, Wirth has earned an 8-0 record, holding a title belt for the 125-pound flyweight division for Fight Force, a group he fights for.
Wirth continues to do what it takes to become a pro until it begins to interfere with his wife and two kids, ages 5 and 1.
"(My wife) is probably one of my biggest supporters," he said. "She realized how important this is to me and the potential I have."
One of Wirth's fellow Airmen and co-workers, Senior Airman Joseph Eschmann, a 819th RHS structural engineer, has attended all of Wirth's fights since he has been stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base.
"I would say he knows what he's doing," Eschmann said. "When we went TDY, he showed me how to put someone in a triangle, an arm bar and how to defend myself from a takedown. He actually took the time to show me how to do it."
Eschmann said Wirth is a good guy, a hard worker and someone to count on when things need to get done.
His fellow Airmen attend his fights to support and encourage him to follow his dream.
"We have a big group and he said he always knows where we are because we are the loudest ones there," Eschmann said. "I think it's really cool to see him do what he really likes."
Wirth continues to train daily, eat properly to stay in shape and be prepared, he said, for his next fight whenever he is called.
"I have to be the one to motivate myself," Wirth said. "That's how bad I want it."