The first time I saw Joe Yager I was at a fundraiser for a local gym called Apex MMA. Apex was showcasing some up-and-coming amateur talent for local fight fans, and I was honored to be invited as a guest.
There were many impressive fights and fighters. One fighter that really stuck out was Yager. The 28-year-old has a powerful frame I once described as being built like a Sherman tank, weighing in at 235 pounds.
This was not his first amateur fight, and it showed. When he started stalking his side of the cage, it was obvious he was comfortable. His opponent entered, both men were announced, and the battle commenced.
Yager used his size and strength to neutralize his opponent, doing an astonishing job of imposing his game. What was undeniable was his wrestling prowess. Very fluid and powerful. The outcome found him with his hand raised due to stoppage between rounds
The showing was impressive, so I jumped at the chance to speak with him.
Yager took a moment to share some thoughts about his background, his aspirations, and what it's like to train with a legend. Wrestling is a monumental part of Yager's life and his strength.
"Wrestling is my background," he said. "I've been involved in the sport since I was six years old.
"The guy that trained me in my wrestling is Randy Meyer. He's like a second dad to me. I spent a lot of weekends with that guy, traveling all around the country.
"I spent three seasons at Central Michigan University," Joe went on to state. "I started my senior year at Central Michigan, I had 42 matches, I was 36-6.
"I was the assistant wrestling coach to Joe Solorio at Pima Community College for three years, and I was the head coach for one season."
Wrestling has been the base for many an accomplished mixed martial artist. Yager will build on that foundation and is humble regarding his aspirations to improve.
"I have a solid base; I know how to get guys to the ground, and then it's finishing guys," he said. "That's something I'm learning every day. I spend a lot of time in two facets, as far as the striking and the Jiu-Jitsu end of it. Those are two areas where my knowledge is lacking. I haven't done it but six seven months, so I try to pick up as much as I can. I feel that I'm kind of like a sponge."
Insiders say he has been improving his hands and state that he "hits like a mule." Rumor has it he has stung more than one unsuspecting training partner with his striking.
The time has come for Yager to take another step in his MMA career. He has earned a chance to compete in a local MMA promotion on Nov. 14.
Rage in the Cage has booked Yager for RITC 137 at the Desert Diamond Casino. His opponent, Jed Jobe, will be the test. Jobe weighs in at 250 pounds.
When asked what he knew of his opponent, Yager had a great answer.
"As far as scouting, I don't even know who I'm fighting Saturday," Yager said. "It doesn't matter to me, man. I know I'm prepared; Joey and the guys at Apex have definitely got me ready."
He also talked about what it is like to compete at this stage in his young career.
"I can't tell you the adrenaline rush, it's great," he said. "I'm a thrill-seeker in that avenue, I guess. The first time I stepped in the cage, you look across the ring at that guy who wants to do the same thing you want to do which is take your head off. It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It's an amazing feeling; it's a rush I can't explain."
Yager paid note to how fortunate he feels to be able to train with a certain living legend in the Tucson area.
"I never figured I'd ever be training with a legend like Don Frye," he said. "As a kid I used to watch him; I watched him in his first UFC (fight). It's amazing to be training with guys like that."
It is quite an honor, and of course Yager is making the most of it.
It will be a pleasure to be sitting cage-side watching him seize this opportunity and make of it what he will. There is a lot of potential in Yager. Even as an amateur, the whispers say he is a little bit different. Yager stands out to some who know this game well, and they speak nothing but praise for this fighter.
He hits a little bit harder than people might expect, he has a natural athletic ability, a top-shelf wrestling base, and some great people supporting and training him over at Apex MMA.
The sky is the limit for this fighter. The Southwest has really become a great place for an amateur mixed martial artist to flourish. Abundant are top-tier mixed martial artists training in Arizona. Add to that multiple promotions seeking strong young talent, and it gives Yager a great chance to put in his time learning this sport.
With the strong base he already has, and a year or two of learning in the cage, when this guy does get to the next level, he is going to turn some heads. I could have told you that much five months ago sweating my sitter off watching him fight at his local gym. I can't wait to watch him full contact with no pads under some air conditioning.