Rick “The Gladiator” Glenn speaks softly. But he carries a big helmet.
“I kind of became known for wearing it while I walk out,” he said. “I didn’t want to come out with a sword or anything. I didn’t want to go too far over the top.”
An uncle gave Glenn the nickname years ago for a certain killer instinct displayed in a boxing ring (and presumably before Marlon Sandro hit U.S. soil). That’s an instinct Glenn hopes will shine through in Atlantic City this Saturday, when, after spending nearly a third of his life on MMA's smaller circuits, the 23-year-old debuts for the World Series of Fighting promotion on the WSOF 2 card.
If his body of work to this point is any indication, that hope could very well be realized. Despite his youth, Glenn already claims a 12-2-1 record as a featherweight, with every win but one by stoppage.
Observers who know him know his razor-sharp stand-up game, but Glenn has four wins by submission, too (not counting one tap to strikes). Perhaps the best harbinger for Glenn’s future, though, is that killer instinct his uncle saw in his teenage nephew: Glenn has dropped the curtain on his opponent six times in the very first round.
“I’m precise. I dissect the person,” Glenn said in an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report. “I slowly break them down. And if the opponent comes at me and tries to hit me, they get hit harder.”
Outside the cage, though, or at least during phone interviews, “The Gladiator” is nowhere in sight. Glenn’s first impression is more Laconian than Spartan: A quiet, humble country boy from blue-collar Marshalltown, Iowa (perhaps also known to seamheads as the home of Cap Anson).
But don’t let those idyllic Midwestern archetypes blind you. Iowa may be far removed from the mean streets of Philly or the favelas of Rio, but some of its problems are not.
“I came from nothing, like a lot of people,” Glenn said. “There’s a lot of drugs where I come from, a lot of poverty.”
There’s no nice way to put it: Marshalltown is meth country. Farmers throughout the Midwest use anhydrous ammonia for fertilizer. Drug addicts use it as a key ingredient in one of the drug world’s most dangerous recipes.
“People would get ahold of anhydrous and make meth. There were a lot of tweakers,” Glenn said. ”I had a lot of friends and family members hooked on drugs growing up.”
It doesn’t take William Faulkner to draw a straight line from Glenn’s hometown—unassuming on its surface, more complex and dangerous below—to Glenn himself. But Glenn isn’t telling the story for street cred or sympathy. He’s simply relaying facts. It’s the same tone he uses when recounting his decision to take up MMA. Fighting was not necessarily a way out. It just was.
“I always had an interest in fighting,” Glenn said. “I didn’t wrestle in high school, but I started boxing when I was 14. But then the gym closed. For a while, I’d travel an hour and a half just to get to practice.”
That devotion took on a new dimension when he left home, moving 70 miles away to attend community college in Cedar Rapids. In short order, Glenn found an MMA gym there, and in that gym found another young Iowa featherweight on the rise. His name was Erik Koch.
“I knew he was training with some good guys,” Glenn said.
If you haven’t caught on by now, Glenn deals in understatement like Steven Seagal deals in danger. Those “good guys” are the guys of Roufusport, one of the premier gyms in all of MMA. For years now, Glenn has called the Milwaukee gym his home base, working with head coach Duke Roufus and current standouts of the sport like Koch, Anthony Pettis, Pat Barry and Ben Askren.
“I like the creativity of the coaches and everyone else,” Glenn said. “It’s the experience of Duke and [striking coach] Scott Cushman and Anthony, and just the way they can teach. I call them mad scientists. Ben Askren helps us all out a ton. He’s made my wrestling way better.”
This Saturday, Glenn takes on undefeated Brazilian veteran Alexandre Pimentel, a 34-year-old grappler with six of 12 wins by submission. If the matchup concerns Glenn, he, rather predictably, isn’t showing it.
“He looks mainly like a jiu-jitsu guy,” Glenn said. “I won’t want to go to my back, but that’s like in any fight.”
Understatements aside, it’s clear Glenn wants the moment and has labored for years to get it. After all, WSOF is the seventh promotion of his 15-fight career, which itself dates back to 2006. Just because he’s now on one of the sport’s bigger stages, though, don’t expect that Midwestern work ethic to fade.
“Seems like I haven’t fought in a bit, so I’d like to fight four times this year,” said Glenn, who last fought in October. “If World Series of Fighting wants to do a championship fight with me, I’d like to be the 145-pound champ.”
Bottom line: How would Glenn sum up his path to this point? He considers the question for a moment.
“It took a while,” he said. “But here I am.”
The Beaten Path is a new article series profiling MMA prospects. Read the previous installment here. Scott Harris is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. Find him on Twitter @ScottHarrisMMA. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.