Clovis News: Sports

Clovis teacher gets shot at his MMA dream

If this does not make Ben Holscher nervous, then maybe we should consider the reason.

Because this should make a man tremble, no matter how determined his mind, or hard his knuckles.

Holscher will step into a cage tonight at the Save Mart Center in front of thousands, in a Strikeforce event that will be viewed on Showtime by millions. And to be blunt, he's been in exactly one real fight in the past 15 years, since the day he punched an eighth-grader named Troy Malone for picking on his friends.

Holscher is, first and foremost, a soft-spoken teacher at Clovis High. If you saw him in street clothes, you might not peg him for a man who works out, let alone one who's paid to inflict pain on other men.

Despite having only one professional fight, a unanimous decision over someone you've never heard of, Holscher is a dream for the sport of mixed martial arts. He isn't a street brawler or a parolee or a slow-talking meathead. He's a college graduate, a high school coach, a health teacher, a kid raised on a corn farm in western Nebraska. Your pull-start mower has more attitude.

"Yeah," he says, "the whole concept of me punching somebody in the face, or getting punched in the face -- I'm not going to lie -- it's not something to do backflips about."

The idea of such a stereotype-breaker being successful in the sport has visions of SUVs and family-pack tickets dancing in promoters' heads.

Says local promoter Rick Mirigian: "Ben is the bridge to that gap."

Whatever Holscher is, it isn't scared. All the pressure that should be there just isn't, he says, and if that sounds unlikely, you have to go back to the corn farm.

Six years ago, Holscher was a wrestler at Chadron State College, a Division II school three hours north of his parents' farm in western Nebraska. He woke up one morning to his phone ringing. A voice said his mother, Louise, had died of a heart attack. She was 47.

His own voice recommended he trudge on, so Holscher wrestled in a dual meet that same night.

After college, he moved back to help his dad, Ryan, and it wasn't long before it started happening. Heading into the summer of 2005, Holscher's dad was diagnosed with colon cancer and spent 35 straight days in the hospital. Then his grandpa fell and broke his hip.

It was time to plant corn, and Ben Holscher was alone, two families relying on a 24-year-old to run the entire farm, 2,000 acres of corn and wheat and a herd of cattle. You think fighting in a cage is pressure? Try staring at a field of dirt, praying something green pokes through because two families' incomes are at stake and hospital bills are waiting around the corner with baseball bats.

That show "Quantum Leap" could have been based on his life. If there were a worst-case scenario, Holscher would surely pop up in it.

A couple years ago he decided he didn't want to farm and followed Shawn Charles to Fresno State. Charles was the new wrestling coach. Holscher was his "volunteer administrative assistant," or some made-up title that meant he ran youth camps and helped out however he could. A season later, Bulldogs wrestling vanished altogether and here he was, a couple thousand miles from home with no real agenda of which to speak.

So he started teaching, mostly so he could coach, and then he started loving teaching even more than coaching, because you can connect with so many different kids, not just the quiet and focused wrestlers, but the band kid and the cheerleader kid and the skinny-jeans-and-thick-eye-liner kid.

And then it happened again. This winter, word came down that Clovis wrestling coach Steve Tirapelle and his assistant (and son) Adam Tirapelle had been suspended for the 2009 season. Guess which one of their assistants was asked to be coach of the defending state champion wrestling team? Yeah, the 28-year-old whose nickname should be "Coal," he's been tossed into so many fires.

They took fourth in the state this year -- with Holscher working a million hours a week and two fewer coaches, the Cougars almost repeated. Holscher taught and did his best head coach impression, all while training for his little side project of being a mixed martial artist.

"One afternoon, it was like, 'Oh, by the way, you're in charge of everything,' " says Adam Tirapelle. "I thought he did outstanding.

"Basically, we could do nothing with the kids. We couldn't coach at all. I was just at the tournaments as a spectator, taping."

So how do two coaches from a program get suspended, and two others don't?

"I don't know," Adam says. "But it would have been dumb for us to go, 'Hey, how come Ben didn't get in trouble?' "

Holscher isn't a trouble maker, just the one who saves the day. He will also be the man entering a cage, trying to stop another man from beating his face into the floor. If he doesn't look nervous, well, you might say he's been in tougher spots.