Wrath of Kaan

Isaque Sandman Martinez, left, spars with Mixed Martial Arts trainer Kaan Clark at his Lifer MMA gym Wednesday evening. Clark has moved his gym to a new location where he trains local cage fighters. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Isaque "Sandman" Martinez, left, spars with Mixed Martial Arts trainer Kaan Clark at his Lifer MMA gym Wednesday evening. Clark has moved his gym to a new location where he trains local cage fighters.

Almost 20 years ago, something happened in Denver.

A 1993 event that would take the world by storm.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship was born at McNichols Arena in Denver.

Although McNichols Arena died, the UFC is alive and well, as a matter of fact.

UFC is a competitive fighting organization that's become a worldwide sensation and changed the lives of many.

Including Cortez native Kaan Clark.

Being a fan of martial arts legend Bruce Lee as a kid, why wouldn't Clark get into Mixed Martial Arts?

"It's just always fascinated me," he said. "Combat. Man versus man. It doesn't matter whether it's boxing, MMA, arm wrestling, it's always just interested me. I love it."

A second-degree black belt in kempo karate, a blue belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu and champion grappler, Clark uses his fighting expertise to train mixed martial artists.

Clark, 42, owns and operates the Lifer MMA gym by night, runs a private drywall business and is a nursing student by day.

Oh, and he's a husband, father and grandpa.

But it's all in a day's work for Clark, who looks like he could step into the MMA cage and pummel people half his age.

Oh, that's because he has. Clark is 2-0 as a cage fighter.

"It was about realizing a dream," said Clark, who watched UFC 1 in person at Denver. "I don't fight anymore, but I love being a part of it. I love the competitors."

MMA training was added to Clark's repertoire when a friend of his wanted to become a cage fighter. The two trained at the Cortez Recreation Center. Then a couple more people showed up to train, then a couple more and a couple more. Ultimately, that's when Clark decided to get his own gym.

"It's kind of weird how it all started," he said. "One day, there were four of us. The next day, there were eight of us. The next day, there were 12 of us. It just grew from there."

MMA is a very popular sport in the Four Corners region. People flock to the Ute Mountain Casino every few months to enjoyably watch their favorite amateur and professional fighters duke it out.

Local pro favorites Isaque "Sandman" Martinez and Grant Hobbs train with Clark at Lifer MMA. Both fighters have had great success under Clark's tutelage.

Clark admits some of his hands-on training methods may be unorthodox. But his fighters continue to produce winning results by sparring against him.

"The top fighters out there, they don't spar with their trainer, because they would kill their trainer," Clark said. "When I'm sparring, I try to emulate what I think a good striker or the opponent is going to do. It's so they can get used to that."

As a trainer, Clark also stands aside and observes his fighters' strengths and weaknesses.

The fighters endure months of combat sparring and cardiovascular exercise to prepare for three rounds in the cage.

Clark won't accept anything less.

"When we come to the fights, we may win and we may not win," he said. "However, when the opponent sees the name 'Lifer (MMA),' the fighter is going to know this guy's come prepared and ready to fight. It's not going to be a boring, run around the cage type of fight. He's there to fight and trained to fight. The other opponent better be ready."

Through all of Clark's martial arts accomplishments, he takes the most pride in training tip-top shape fighters.

When Four Corners MMA fans watch cage fights in Towaoc, they definitely see Clark's training results.