Fighters Torn on Kids Following Footsteps

By Mike Harris May 27, 2009
While many doctors, lawyers and Wall Street investment bankers -- at least those not in jail or being investigated by Congress -- would likely encourage their children to follow in their footsteps, what about mixed martial arts parents?

After all, the life of a fighter is a harsh one. The top of the top make money that rivals, surpasses even, what the above-mentioned white collar professionals bring home, but most cage fighters live modest paycheck by modest paycheck with little or no job security.

Then there is the physical price. Could MMA parents stand to see their kids get the snot beat out of them, knocked unconscious, suffer injuries and, worst of all, develop cauliflower ear?

Former Icon Sport middleweight champion Frank Trigg, the father of two sons and one daughter, says he would not want his kids following in his footsteps simply because they would forever be compared to him.

“My son, we had this conversation, he said he wanted to be a fighter; I told him to go play tennis,” Trigg says. “Don’t follow in your father’s footsteps. Go do something else. Be better than your father, but do it in your own right. Follow your own path.”

Trigg noted that Ken Norton Jr. could have been a great boxer like his father, but because he wanted to be his own man, chose instead to play football. Norton won three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers.

Dave Mandel/

Trigg does not want his kids
following in his footsteps.
“How many NASCAR drivers do you know whose kids are NASCAR drivers?” Trigg asks. “How many drag racing drivers [are there] whose kids are drag racing drivers? There are very few. Now if the kid really has a passion for it and they really want to be an MMA fighter, that’s cool. But are they going to be any good at it? Genetically, they should be, but who knows?”

Pioneering female MMA fighter Debi Purcell does not have any kids of her own, but the 14-year-old son of her fiancé, Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Ronald Assumpcao, is for all intents and purposes her stepson. Having grown up around jiu-jitsu his whole life, the teen-ager has naturally expressed an interest in becoming a professional fighter, according to Purcell.

“He’s been training since he was 5,” she says. “It’s funny because he told me he wants to be a fighter because he just wants to relax all day and then train. And I said, ‘It’s not like that.’ So he doesn’t fully understand what it’s really about.”

Purcell believes the teen’s misunderstanding may come from “jiu-jitsu being an easier -- not an easier sport, but it’s different than professional fighting.”

Purcell concedes that if the boy seriously wants to pursue fighting, she will support him, as long as he earns a college degree first and has something to fall back on if fighting does not pan out.

“I’m all for it, but I say it with reservations because I want him to have a realistic idea of what it actually entails,” she says. “It’s a lot of hard work. It’s not easy and fun. It’s a job. If you’re going to do it professionally, it has to be a job. You have to make a lot of sacrifices, and it’s a very selfish sport” that leaves one little time for much of anything or anyone else.

Middleweight Benji Radach does not have children but plans to father some one day. What if they want to follow his career path?

“I’d tell them to get ready for a big pile of crap,” Radach says, “because the majority of what you get from the sport is just a bunch of hardship.”

Radach is currently appealing what he considers an early stoppage of his last fight, a knockout loss to Scott Smith at a Strikeforce event in April.

I'd tell them to
get ready for a
big pile of crap.

-- Benji Radach on kids in MMA.

“On the flip side, all the things you gain from those hardships and trials and tribulations you can’t replace,” Radach says. “So I think I would definitely -- not push my kid into it -- but support them in everything they want to do. I wouldn’t be against it at all.”

Featherweight Jens Pulver says if his 5-month-old son one day asks him if he can become an MMA fighter like his father, he -- like Purcell -- will point to college.

“You graduate college, you can do whatever you want,” Pulver says. “That’s what my mom said to me, and I was trying to be an MMA fighter when it was stupid. It was legal in three states. I made $750 my first UFC. There was no fame.”

Pulver says he would insist his son get a college degree first, not only to have something on which to fall back but, just as importantly, to live away from home and get some real world experience. Only then will the boy be able to gauge if he really wants to become a fighter or if it’s just a passing fancy, Pulver says.

“You would think they would really start to figure it out then,” Pulver says. “As you are figuring out who you are for the next five years going to school, if you still want to train MMA while you’re getting your grades, for sure. You don’t have to listen to me. You’re over 18. You can do whatever you want.”

But long before college, Pulver says, he would “absolutely” let his son start training in the gym while still a child. That goes double, he says, for his 6-year-old daughter, for very personal yet pragmatic reasons.

“She has to train, at least in submissions,” Pulver says. “Because think about the rape position. What position is that? Oh, you’re in my guard. Think about the sport of jiu-jitsu. It’s supposed to be a weaker, smaller person fending off a bigger, stronger person, so, absolutely, my daughter has to train.”
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