Travis Wiuff has 64 professional victories to his credit. | Photo: Peter Lockley
One day, approximately a decade or so ago, a fresh-faced college graduate walked into a Minnesota bar in search of a job as a bouncer. Though the young man was a two-time junior college national champion wrestler and of considerable physical stature, he had never thrown a punch at someone in his life. In fact, he would have admitted that he was adverse to confrontation; regulating the area nightlife was just an easy way to make a few bucks. In most bar scuffles he had encountered, nothing serious ever happened and there was always plenty of backup around.
“It’s not like ‘Roadhouse,’ where you’re knocking people across the bar [and] hitting them with chairs,” Travis Wiuff points out.
It was a Wednesday when Wiuff walked into that bar seeking employment. Two nights later, he was in the first real fight of his life. It just so happened that Brad Kohler, a professional fighter who had knocked out Steve Judson at UFC 22, was in the same establishment that night. It was Kohler who convinced Wiuff to try his hand at mixed martial arts.
“He was an amateur wrestler and I had just [gotten] done wrestling, so we started talking and next thing I knew ... I was fighting for the first time,” Wiuff recalls. “Fighting was the last thing I ever thought of, [but] I got in there and it felt comfortable. I felt like it was something I could do well at.”
Wiuff’s early experience falls right in line with the sport’s formative years, when MMA was still referred to as no-holds-barred fighting. Each week, he and Kohler traveled to small towns in Minnesota to promote a different Wiuff fight for that weekend. Inevitably, many of these events ended with Wiuff taking on all comers.
“One particular night, we set up a ring outside -- and this was podunk city,” Wiuff says. “Brad lined up some guy, but I beat him. After my fight, Brad got on the mic, got in the ring and said, ‘Is there anybody in the crowd here that can beat Travis?’ And I was, like, ‘Wow, are we gonna do this right now?’”
They were, and without the presence of an athletic commission in the North Star State, they would do it many more times, as well. The results were often comedic, just as they were on that night.
“A couple bikers and a couple other guys raised their hands. One by one, they got in the ring, took their cowboy boots off, took their leather vests off, and I would fight [them],” Wiuff says. “They were drunk and who knows what else, and I would beat them in a couple minutes and Brad would keep lining them up. I think that night I fought four or five guys.
“One of them wanted to wear his cowboy boots and fight me. Another one had a huge belt buckle on; it was just chaos,” he adds. “The one stipulation was that if any of these guys beat me, Brad would give them $2,000, which obviously wasn’t the truth because Brad was just as poor as I was back then. He was doing these weekly shows, and I don’t think he had any money.”
Now 33 years old, with 78 professional fights to his credit, Wiuff is still going strong. Over a nomadic career, he has fought for the UFC, Pride Fighting Championships, the International Fight League, Sengoku Raiden Championship and King of the Cage, to name a few. He owns signature victories over former UFC heavyweight champion Ricco Rodriguez, former IFL middleweight champion Matt Horwich and UFC veterans Sean Salmon, Chris Tuchscherer, Jeff Monson and Keith Jardine. When asked to name a defining moment in his career, Wiuff rattles of a lengthy list that includes many organizations and many fights.
“I had so many of them,” he says.
On Saturday, his journey continues under the Bellator Fighting Championships banner at Bellator 55 against light heavyweight champion Christian M’Pumbu in a non-title affair at the Cocopah Casino Resort in Yuma, Ariz. Even without a belt on the line, Wiuff welcomes the opportunity.
The Elite Performance product has just one bout to his credit in 2011 after fighting a combined 26 times in the previous four years, including nine fights in 2007 alone.
“This year has been one thing after another as far as opponents backing out, shows getting canceled and things like that,” he says.
Wiuff was mentioned as a possible foe for Fedor Emelianenko after the Russian heavyweight was released from Strikeforce. Instead, Emelianenko will face Monson on an M-1 Global card in Moscow on Nov. 20.
“Man, I wanted that fight bad,” Wiuff says. “That’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, especially to go to Russia and fight Fedor. I’ve looked up to Fedor forever -- since I began my career.”
Wiuff will make the cut to 205 pounds for the first time since 2008. He received a call from manager Monte Cox about the opportunity a little more than a month ago, when he says he weighed about 265 pounds. Nobody enjoys such a drastic cut, but Wiuff believes he is ultimately better off at light heavyweight.
“Nowadays, with guys being so big, I think I’ve got to be 260 to compete with these guys. I shouldn’t be 260; that’s me doing a lot of things I shouldn’t be doing,” he says. “I should probably be 240. The cut from 240 to 205, if I get four or five weeks, isn’t bad at all. I can do that pretty easily. Light heavyweight is where I should be. It’s just getting my weight under control before I even start to cut.”
If he beats M’Pumbu, Wiuff is open to the idea of competing in Bellator’s next 205-pound tournament. Making his way through the bracket would keep him closer to his ideal level of activity.
“I would fight every month if I could,” he says. “I still love the training. I still feel like I’m getting better than I ever have.”