Photo by George Lauby
Big Rob Mitchell helps Mercedes Timmerman prepare for a mixed martial arts fight on March 16.
Wiseman, at right, with Luke Caudillo in 2006 after Caudillo won the Victory Fighting Championships Lightweight Title.
Sometimes a person has to learn the hard way.
Rob Mitchell, known as “Big Rob” around North Platte, got shot, trying to be a tough gang member in Denver. That was how he learned.
Now he aims to help others avoid all that nonsense.
Mitchell, 35, with backing from attorney Russ Jones, the Nebraska Athletic Club and Kelly Wiseman, helps operate a new workout/training gym on East Fourth, next to the NAC.
Mitchell is 6-feet, 7-inches tall with a winning personality. He holds classes, including interval training, cardio kick boxing and mixed martial arts. He is offering a boot camp for middle school kids who want to learn how to compete in mixed martial arts, and help them make good choices.
“I made bad choices,” Mitchell said. “When you make bad choices, you get into bad places.”
Mitchell joined a gang in high school. He thought it was cool. As a gang member, his specialty was picking fights. One day he picked a fight with the wrong guy, who pulled a gun and shot him. A bullet went through his leg, another grazed him.
The shots changed his life.
“I thought, I gotta get outta this,” he said.
He quit high school and went to college, starting his freshman year and finishing his GED at the same semester. He had to study all the time to make it through. He managed to get it done, even playing a little basketball that semester, although he sometimes missed practice to finish homework.
It made him realize what he could accomplish, no matter how much he felt depressed or overwhelmed.
“I learned you can do anything you set your mind to do,” he said.
Mitchell played some small college basketball, including a stint at North Platte Community College. He eventually tried out with the Denver Nuggets in 2003, narrowly missing the final cut.
He got into martial arts fighting a couple years later. By then he was depressed and unhealthy. His weight had ballooned to 416 pounds. He decided to go to the gym.
He was happy to be welcomed there.
“I’d been though a lot,” he said. “I’d taken criticism in a lot of different ways over the years. At the gym, I felt accepted.”
Mitchell gravitated toward mixed martial arts, which culminated in the super heavyweight title in Midwest Championship Fighting. He defeated Chris Blaire in 2009 to win the belt.
Mitchell now lives in North Platte with his wife and three children. He continues to fight and teach others. He recently became a Certified Personal Fitness Trainer and Nutrition Specialist, and is conducting a new Kids Boot Camp to raise awareness and provide a place for middle school-age kids to work out. He hopes to help combat the problem of childhood obesity.
A month or so ago, his father lost a leg to diabetes -- another big motivating factor for Mitchell.
Big Rob is helping fighters prepare for an MCF event on March 16 that features a bundle of excellent mixed martial arts matchups at the D & N Event Center.
The fight, called the “St. Patrick’s Day Beat Down Bash” will start at 7 p.m. and include at least two professional bouts and 10 amateur fights, promoter Russ Jones said.
Leading the card will be North Platte native Tony Johnson against Travis Peak. Johnson trains at a world famous gym in San Joze, Calif. Peak is currently the head wrestling coach at Alliance High School. Both fighters have ourstanding records.
Also, local fighters Jason Jensen, Eric Mecham, Justin Thompson, Mercedes Timmerman, Jordan Vigil, Mark Hooper, Derek Thompson, Brandon Bringewatt, Zac Helton and Jason Windham (now of Lincoln) are training for bouts.
Big Rob won't be on this card but is eyeing a fight in North Platte in early June.
He knows how to lose weight and tone up. He’s been known to shed 80 pounds in two months, working out three times a day and eating the right meals.
Weight is bound to come off if you’re exercising and eating right, he says.
He’s also helping local fighters like Mercedes Timmerman prepare.
Timmerman says training is a great thing for her body and soul.
“It makes you feel fresh,” she said.
Timmerman, 21, started working out in 10th grade. She’s trained hard; fought two MMA fights, losing the last by decision. She aims to win her fight in mid-March, but win or lose, she feels good about the process.
“I feel complete, like I accomplished something,” she said. “It’s a good experience.”
“Set a goal, accomplish it,” Timmerman advises. “Help yourself.”
North Platte native Tony Johnson returns to North Platte in the Beat Down on March 16 at the D&N Event Center.
Johnson trains at the world famous American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif. He is a training partner of UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez and Josh Koshcheck.
Johnson is 4-2 in professional MMA and also sports an undefeated 5-0 record as a professional boxer where he has been showcased on ESPN's Friday Night Fights, promoters say.
Travis Peak sports a 10-2 professional MMA record that includes the Kick Down championship title. Peak wrestled at Chadron State College where he became assistant coach and he is now the head wrestling coach at Alliance High School.
Johnson and Peak have each emerged victorious over a common tough opponent, testifying to their fighting ability. They each kayoed IKF National Kickboxing Champion Steve Simmons.
An "after-party" will be held at the D&N Center will be with Jeremy Condon serving as the deejay.
As always, most of the proceeds of the fight will be donated to charity. Some of the organizers understand domestic violence all too well. The Bridge of Hope Advocacy Center is one of the charitable recipients.
Co-promoter Kelly Wiseman has been a workhorse in the North Platte fight scene, involved in mixed martial arts since 1997 as a professional fighter, gym owner, trainer, manager and promoter.
Wiseman's experience makes him an excellent matchmaker.
He was a four-year member of Miletich Fighting Systems Elite Fight Team, which was the world famous "First Family" of MMA, located in Bettendorf, Iowa, where he roomed with UFC Champ Jens Pulver, UFC Champ Matt Hughes, UFC Champ Tim Sylvia, UFC Fighter Spencer Fisher and others.
Wiseman has been involved in promoting 15 MMA events in North Platte including the noted night on June 30, 2005 with more than 2,000 in attendance.
"There are so many highlights," Wiseman said of his career. "I think seeing my own fighters and MCF veterans Luke Caudillo and Tony Johnson, go on to amazing careers -- that's my highlight," he said.
Caudillo made it to the UFC (the Super Bowl of MMA) where he fought twice. He also fought in Strikeforce. He still fights in Denver and coaches at the world famous Grudge Training Center, from where he works with memebers of the Denver Nuggets and the Nuggets' cheerleaders.
Johnson also went on to Strikeforce and is 5-0 in boxing fights for Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions. Johnson now trains at one of the top gyms in the world, American Kickboxing Academy and he's a training partner of current UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez.
All of that means a great deal to Wiseman, who is perhaps more MMA savvy than anyone in North Platte, well grounded in the entire sport and business.
"Fighting sports are something that are a part of our culture as human beings," Wiseman said. "Pankration, a blend of boxing and wrestling, is a martial art that was introduced into the Greek Olympic Games in 648 BC."
"There is an amazing amount of dedication and discipline that a fighter must go through to prepare for an MMA bout," Wiseman said. "There are beautiful displays of respect after a bout. I think most people respect and appreciate that."
This report was first published in the Jan. 9 print edition of the North Platte Bulletin. It has been expanded for the website.