Tyler Freeland will make his professional MMA debut Friday night at TPF 8. | Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com
Tyler Freeland has an opportunity to be noticed on Friday, and this time, it is for all the right reasons.
Squaring off against Diego Melendez, Freeland makes his professional MMA debut on the undercard of Tachi Palace Fights 8 “All or Nothing” at the Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino in Lemoore, Calif. With an amateur record of 16-4, Freeland trains under Shawn Tompkins at the Tapout Training Center in Las Vegas. If videos on YouTube reveal anything about the 26-year-old nicknamed “Hulk Hands,” it is that he has pretty stout standup for a guy giving up reach and height.
Standing 4-foot-11, Freeland grew up in Boise, Idaho, his diminutive stature due to a genetic disorder known as hypochondroplasia. With a mother who is 5-foot-9 and a dad that is 5-foot-10, there were no hints Freeland would be short.
“It’s dwarfism, a bone disorder where my bones stopped growing,” Freeland tells Sherdog.com. “I’m about four eleven, but I tell everyone I’m five feet. I need that extra inch.”
Freeland is heavily muscled, walking around at 160 pounds, and uses footwork and aggression to close the gap and unload on opponents. All four of his defeats as an amateur came via triangle choke, a submission Freeland has worked hard on defending throughout what has been, by most standards, an exceptionally long amateur career.
“I wanted to be ready,” Freeland says.
A father of three children -- ages 4, 3 and 1 -- Freeland is thrilled with the prospect of finally turning pro. He also recently finished filming the initial episodes of a reality television show about himself, which his management is shopping to various networks.
Freeland worked as a concrete finisher before the economic meltdown of recent years. Now, he is hungry to make a living in the sport which, ironically, gives him a place in the stratum, despite the risks involved and attendant punishment he is likely to endure. Just as long as he can give it back.
“I have to close the distance. I’m gonna wait until they throw a punch,” Freeland says. “But I have been working with Shawn Tompkins, and he’s one of the top striking coaches in the world. After the economy went to s--t, I just started training and fighting.”
Freeland has made a full eight-week camp for his bout, living with Tompkins in Vegas while he trains.
“With his height, it’s always harder to strike with someone taller than you,” Tompkins says, “but it’s harder to wrestle with someone shorter. Their level-change is so much faster than yours.
“What most impressed me is that he has a lot of power in his hands,” he adds. “He’s got KO power and very big hands. He hits hard and is very precise. He has a really good wrestling pedigree. I’ve just been banking on rounding his game out, keeping him safe from submissions and working on his standup. We’ve been having fun and building from there.”
Like any fledgling pro fighter, Freeland hopes to make waves with his debut and subsequent matches -- not only for the thrill of victory but to help with
matters at home.
“I don’t have any sponsors and I’m trying to find some. I’m struggling bad right now,” says Freeland. “In Boise, the training’s not as good. I was helping my fiancé, but she lives with her grandma and she’s old-fashioned. She said I can’t move back there and live with them. I’m upstairs without a paddle. I got a lot on my plate.”
It has been a long route since growing up in Boise, where Freeland wrestled competitively beginning in high school. While his short stature is something to overcome in the striking department, Freeland turns his height into an advantage on the wrestling mat, shooting at foes to clutch their waist and then muscling them to the mat. Compact and strong from years of grappling, lifting weights and doing blue-collar work, Freeland is a bulldog once he gets hold of his opponents.
“My high school wrestling record was 38-4, and in 1999, I was the Idaho freestyle state champ,” Freeland says. “I took runner-up two years in a row for the high school state tournament.”
It was not easy growing up smaller than everyone else. Double-takes and doses of teasing were the norm for Freeland.
“I noticed it in about sixth grade. All my friends were growing and getting bigger. I was like, ‘When is it gonna be my time?’ I still deal with it. I’m working a wrestling tournament [now] and kids look at me,” he says. “Their eyes get big, but I’m used to it.”
For his pro debut against Melendez, Freeland faces a foe who triangled him in the amateur ranks. For Hulk Hands, it represents the perfect opportunity to deliver some payback and start his career on an upswing.
“They called me the day before,” Freeland says of his first meeting with Melendez. “I was at a pool party with my buddies and I was hammered. [In the fight], we stood for a minute, and then I double-legged him and ground-and-pounded him, and then he caught me in a triangle. I’ve been working on my triangle defense a lot. My submission defense has gotten really good.”
Freeland fought at 155 pounds as an amateur, but says those opponents were too tall. Dropping to 145 pounds for his debut, Freeland eventually hopes make 135, where he can minimize his adversaries’ reach and height advantages while staying relatively stronger and facing fighters closer to his own size.
“My dad is huge, too. [Muscle] is just in my genetics,” Freeland says. “I work out twice a day and I’m active. Getting used to MMA was a big jump. Then I got used to it and loved it. My favorite fighter is [Quinton] ‘Rampage’ [Jackson]. I love his attitude and would love to meet him. I’m like the white version of Rampage. MMA is my drug.”
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