VANDERBILT, Mich. - Ryse Brink’s mixed martial arts career almost ended before it even began.
The 23-year-old fighter was raised in Vanderbilt, Michigan, a small village nestled away just north of Gaylord. His dad was a single parent, and they developed a strong bond as Brink grew up.
Brink’s world changed in 2009, when his dad died. He never considered MMA as a career, until his father’s passing.
“To be honest with you, I thought MMA was trash at first,” Brink said. “I thought I would do boxing. But then I started grappling and I fell in love with that.”
He ultimately took a fight to get in the octagon with a kid that he had some prior differences with.
“I couldn’t stand him and he ran his mouth off about my father, he passed away around the time. I knew that was my shot to get in the octagon with him and I couldn’t get in trouble for fighting him,” Brink said. “So, I took that fight and trained my (butt) off for four months.”
But his opponent backed out before the fight, and Brink wondered if he even wanted to go through with the event.
“My family told me, ‘You trained for four months for it, you might as well go through with it’,” Brink said. “So, I did it, got a 17 second knockout in the first round and fell in love with it ever since.”
Brink used his contagious attitude and success in the octagon to build a strong following in northern Michigan. He continued to fight at the amateur level and earned a 7-2 record, his only losses coming fighting middleweight. Then he got the call to become a pro a little over a year ago. He’s staying as a lightweight, at 155 pounds, with a 3-1 record.
Brink enjoys the performance aspect of MMA, giving him the rush of from a crowd for the first time since high school sports.
“And it was tenfold, it was way better than playing basketball in front of a couple hundred people. When I got that feeling I was like, this is something that I can keep on doing,” Brink said.
Brink is juggling work and his pro MMA career, which is a delicate balancing act made easier by his employer. He works as a union pipefitter for Local 85 Plumbers and Steamfitters in Saginaw. They are also his sponsor, and give him extended breaks to train for his upcoming fights.
“Fighting as an amateur, I was training on and off up north. It wasn’t the level of intensity as my training now. As a pro, I go downstate and isolate myself down in the Detroit area, training with some of the best athletes in the state of Michigan and in the Midwest,” Brink said. “The level of competition makes you sacrifice more, but if you want to call yourself a professional, unless you dive head first then what are you doing? If you’re not going to commit yourself and learn everything and make it your trade you might as well not be fighting.”
The option to train full-time and come back to work when he needs some extra money took some persuading from Brink, but he has worked hard to help market the company along with his fighting brand.
“When I was 1-0, I was working and training, I wasn’t just straight training you know what I mean? But now that I’m going to be fighting top of the state competition, I can’t be in it half way,” Brink said.
Of course, he had some doubters at first, some of his union bosses couldn’t believe that he would throw away an opportunity to work 30 consecutive years and retire with full pension and benefits. But Brink knew that he wanted to chase his dream of becoming a UFC fighter.
“Growing up I fought against odds my whole life and when you don’t have a mom and your dad passes away, a lot of times you grow up hating the world. And I did, but I defeated odds by not becoming a kid of the system,” Brink said.
Now Brink aims to continue to rise through the ranks of the MMA world, and dreams of making enough money to help out other kids who have lost their parents or are going through a similar situation as his.
“Right now I’m 100 percent full steam ahead with fighting and making a career out of this,” Brink said. “You have to be a part of something bigger than yourself. That’s something my dad taught me as a kid. When I go in there and fight, I’m not fighting an individual, I’m not fighting the guy across from me, I’m going in there and fighting everything I couldn’t fight against as a kid.”