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King of the cage

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe

Bryant Schroeder was waiting for his chance.

After a month of training, watching film and preparing, Schroeder wasn't in the cage. He wasn't pacing. He was sitting.

Arriving in Spirit Lake, Iowa, three hours before the Tri-State Cage Fighting matches on Jan. 31 were scheduled to begin, Schroeder had time to kill.

Hanging out and watching earlier fights, Schroeder was calm, cool and collected.

Finally, it was his turn to go toe-to-toe with the man who wanted his title.

Taking the ring as the current heavyweight champion, Schroeder walked into the Spirit Lake Expo Center with the heavyweight belt.

And no one was going to take it from him.

His opponent, Tyler Simington, lasted less than one minute before tapping out. A month of training and hours of waiting for 47 seconds of fighting -- a fight that ended in his opponent admitting defeat.

But it was all worth it for the Worthington High School graduate.

"It doesn't seem like it's worth it, but it is," Schroeder said. "If I didn't go out there and tap him out, he could have ended up knocking me out. You have to train as hard as you can so when the time comes, you can knock him out or tap him out."

Schroeder improved his record to 9-1 last weekend. It's been a long, but successful road for the heavyweight champion since his first fight.

"I talked to a buddy that wrestles out of Minnesota West and he was like, 'We cage fought last weekend.' So I was like, 'OK, I'll go down and watch,'" Schroeder said. "I ended up going down there to watch and they needed someone to fight, so I was like, 'OK, I'll try it.'

"I told everyone that I was going to fight once and then be done. Then I won, of course, so I had to keep going. Then I said, 'Once I lose, but then I lost and I kept fighting. You just kind of get hooked."

The first time he climbed into the cage, Schroeder didn't know what to expect.

"I had no clue what was going on," the Champ said. "The only times I'd ever thrown a punch was with my brother. But it was nerve-wracking. I went back to my wrestling moves and got into a few wrestling positions and finally got on top of him. He tapped out from strikes; I got on top of him like I did Saturday night and just kept throwing punches.

"My first fight I wasn't really nervous at all because I had nothing to lose. I was 0-0. If I lose, so be it; I'll just be done with it. Now that I actually have the belt, it's a little more nerve-wracking because you actually have to defend it every time."

Since taking the belt, Schroeder has defended his title five separate times, including Saturday's 47-second victory.

"I was pretty nervous going into it because he's been training for like five years," Schroeder said of Simington. "My fight probably didn't look the best, but that guy was pretty good. That's the key; he didn't have a background in wrestling, and wrestling skills are a lot of it. In my fight I had the body lock on him, and I ended up on my back. You don't want to be on your back in wrestling or fighting. So I just rolled through and he didn't have the balance or hips to stop me."

But timing was key in Schroeder's match.

"I was sitting at home watching the tape and he never threw a punch with his left hand," the Champ said. "I looked for when he was going to punch with his right hand and look for a takedown. That's exactly what I did."

While last Saturday went as planned, it wasn't always smooth sailing.

Four fights into his career, he suffered his first loss.

"The first round I felt really good," Schroeder said of his loss. "According to the judges, I beat him the first round, but he rocked me pretty good the second round. He gave me a kick and a punch and it kind of dazed me a little bit. I ended up on top of him. I reached down for a punch and he grabbed my arm and put me in an arm bar. I fought it for 30 seconds, but then I finally tapped out."

Now, the loss to Brad Scholten motivates him.

"I was mad, but I had no experience in it before," Schroeder said. "So I knew a loss was coming and I kind of expected more than that loss by this time. But it was just something to motivate me to get better. I've always told everyone that I know I'm getting better when I can beat him."

Just like Schroeder, Tri-State Cage Fighting has come a long way since its conception.

"We used to do them outside," Tri-State Cage Fighting coordinator Lee Swanson said. "Dan (Lewis) used to own Lewis Bowl in Sioux City, and we used to do them outside in our volleyball courts, and that was just a summertime thing. Then he built the annex, which is a big event-center building next to Lewis Bowl. Then we started doing them once a month inside there.

"Then we really started kicking it into high gear in October of 2007, which was our first year we got the cage, and we've ended up with almost 40 events last year, and we have 45 events booked for this year."

With a card of more than 20 fights and a crowd of more than 500, the fights on Jan. 31 were right on par with the normal events in Iowa.

"In Spirit Lake we usually have quite a few fights; maybe not quite that many, but we usually have 15 to 18 fights," Swanson said. "Every once in a while we'll get that many. We've done as many as 30 in Sioux City before, but that gets to be too long of a night. It just goes on and on and on."

While not every fight had as much action as Schroeders', Swanson and Lewis try to match fighters evenly.

"First and foremost we go by weight and by record," Swanson said. "We don't want a guy who is 5-1 fighting a guy who has never fought before, because it's a horrible fight. We take what their skills are into consideration, too. But you have guys who say they are going to beat up anyone you put them in there with and they are horrible. They just think they're tough."

Even though cage fighting is a rough sport, the coordinators and the referees do their best to minimize injuries.

"Our refs have fighter safety in mind first and foremost," Swanson said. "If a guy is on the ground and isn't defending himself and is getting hammered, he's going to stop it. A lot of fighters are like, 'Oh, you stopped that too soon.' Well, dude, you took eight punches to the face and didn't do anything about it. How many punches do you want to get before you think it's too soon?"

Saturday, that's exactly what happened. Before intermission, a fighter was dazed for a moment before coming to.

But even with the dangers, Schroeder's wrestling background helps him stay out of bad situations.

"Even if it's not a wrestling move, you still know, hey, I'm in danger here," Schroeder said. "Obviously, that guy just didn't cover up and let himself get hit, basically. All you have to do is stick your hands up. But I feel like now that I've had some experience, I know if some guy is going to knock me out, I know just to go down and say, 'Enough is enough.' I really don't want that to happen to me."

Schroeder has had a few bumps and bruises during his fighting career, but not all fighters have been that lucky.

"We get some stitches now and then," Swanson said. "We've had a few guys that have broken a foot or a hand, but for the most part, they have the gloves on. The guys who train don't get hurt very much because they are conditioned for it. Guys get bruised and bloodied up and whatever, but that goes away in a week."

As an athletic competitor at Worthington High School and Minnesota West, Saturday nights give Schroeder another opportunity to be in the spotlight.

"I'm done with wrestling; I'm done with baseball and football and everything," Schroeder said. "It's just something to do. I don't really train much; I'm not really hardcore into it. It's just fun going out there and having everyone cheer for you again. There's a lot of backing for it and everyone is doing it nowadays. It's just fun to go out there and try your skills."

While he admits he's not hardcore, the Champ is still looking at his options.

"I've been looking into a few gyms to train at, but being here there aren't any fights around here so the closest place I could train is Sioux Falls. They go seven days a week, three hours a day," Schroeder said. "But with school and a job right now it's kind of hard to go over there every day. We'll see once I get out of school and see where that goes. But it'd be fun to go to a few pro shows and see how I do."

And just like Schroeder, Swanson is looking to explore options for Tri-State.

"Our ultimate goal is for somebody to see our show, the quality of show that we put on, the amount of fights that we put on and the quality of fights -- ultimately our dream would be for Showtime to pick up our show and take it to a bigger stage as well," Swanson said.

But before Swanson looks to the future, unifying the belts is the next goal.

"Our champion in the Western Division is Bo Nesslein, and I think Bryant would give Bo all he wants," Swanson said. "Our Central champion is Diego Garcia, and Bryant and Diego have not fought yet. But that is a match that is upcoming; Diego is next in line to face Bryant."

Until Schroeder steps into the cage again to defend his title, it's back to his everyday life -- work and school.

But the belt is never too far away.

"It's in my car, actually," Schroeder said. "I just keep it in there, because my brother has friends over and stuff and it's gotten pretty wrecked up with everyone wearing it. I just keep it there so nobody goes and takes it.

"Everybody is like, 'Where's the belt?' Then they see it and they're like, 'Jeez, that's actually a belt.' You can go to Wal-Mart and buy a belt that looks like a belt, but this one has the little fake diamonds and everything."

Whether he fights later this month or not, the belt and the title are his and no one else's.