One look at Chris Tuchscherer can be intimidating.
After catching a glimpse of the chiseled 6-foot-1, 263-pound fighter during weigh-ins for the International Sport Karate Association of Mixed Martial Arts’ Dakota Fighting Championships, many of his competitors did a double-take.
It’s nothing new for the 29-year-old Fargo man whose fighting style is referred to as “ground and pound.”
Tuchscherer clarified his method for the crowd of 1,300 at the Fargo Civic Center on Saturday with a first-round referee stoppage victory against Marc Zee of Scottsdale, Ariz., for the DFC heavyweight title belt.
It’s hard for Tuchscherer – who has won each of his four career matches – to believe that only a year ago he was fighting in his first mixed martial arts match. Tuchscherer’s victory last April raised eyebrows among his peers. After his second victory in June, he became the talking point of the small, but loyal local fan base. “Every (event) I go to someone asks me if I’m fighting,” Tuchscherer said. With the victory, the amateur is considering a long-term future in the sport.
“A lot of people who have been doing this for a long time think I can go places,” Tuchscherer said.
But two obstacles stand in his way.
First, the Minnesota State Moorhead junior wrestler has one year of eligibility remaining. In order to keep his collegiate eligibility, he must maintain his status as an amateur fighter.
Tuchscherer said he wants another crack at the NCAA Division II heavyweight national championship.
He lost to three-time defending champion Les Sigman of Nebraska-Omaha in the title match in March.
The other detour could eventually be the path to the next level for Tuchscherer.
On Thursday, North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven signed a bill allowing the state legislature to sanction mixed marital arts competitions and create rules and regulations for any type of event held in the state.
It also permits the state to license professional fighters and host professional and amateur events.
“Sanctioning is the best possible thing that could happen to this sport,” DFC co-promoter Chris Nelson said.
So, fighters like Tuchscherer will have to wait.
When the bill goes into effect July 1, there will be no mixed martial arts fighting events in North Dakota until rules and regulations are in place.
It’s a transition North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger said could take several months.
Fighting to survive
Earlier this year, Jaeger – whose duties include state athletic commissioner – told North Dakota lawmakers a decision should be made about the future of mixed martial arts in the state.
“I approached the legislature and said either we outlaw it completely or we regulate it,” Jaeger said.
The legislature had killed a bill which called for regulating the sport in 2003, instead opting for a complete ban.
“The reasons why the senate voted to outlaw it is because they didn’t know of any rules,” Nelson said.
It prompted Nelson and other promoters of mixed martial arts events to lobby their local legislative representatives for state sanctioning.
State Rep. Randy Boehning, R-West Fargo, instantly became interested when Nelson approached him about the bill.
“I had heard from the senate that it was portrayed as a blood sport,” said Boehning, who after hearing the allegations watched a tape of an event provided by Nelson. “It was pretty clean fighting. They don’t let people get hurt.”
Strict rules enforced by the DFC keep fighters injury free, Nelson said.
Its regulations are similar to those used in California and Nevada – the same states Jaeger said North Dakota is looking to model its standards after.
“Having a set of rules and regulations you have to follow keeps everyone on the same page,” Nelson said.
Without help from Boehning and state Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, Nelson believes mixed martial arts events in North Dakota would be illegal and Saturday’s event wouldn’t have taken place.
“We’re very happy to be able to wait,” Nelson said. “We’re glad to be able to do it at all.”
Tuchscherer felt that North Dakota adopting regulations, a move which will ultimately affect his future, was a smarter solution than a ban.
“I didn’t see a strong argument for banning it because it’s no different than boxing,” Tuchscherer said. “To me, boxing rules are ‘You hit ’em in the head.’”
Tuchscherer added that although boxing tactics are a part of the game plan, mixed martial arts fighters use more than punches.
Many competitors use wrestling moves and traditional martial arts techniques such as Brazilian Jiu Jujitsu and Muay Thai fighting styles.
“It ends in submission instead of blows to the face,” Tuchscherer said. “If you want to look at what’s more dangerous, it’d be boxing.”
The waiting game
Despite the new laws, the future of mixed martial arts in North Dakota will have to wait.
Although no time table has been set, Jaeger said he’d like to see rules and regulations in place by early next year.
“It’s a process that’s going to take a while,” Jaeger said. “I’m not going to rush it because we want to do it right.”
As for the DFC, they have other options while the state puts them on hiatus.
Nelson has already scheduled two events for Minnesota casinos before the end of the year.
If the secretary of state’s office takes too long to put rules and regulations in place, Tuchscherer, who will finish his collegiate wrestling career next March, said he’ll travel to other states to fight.
“Where do you go with wrestling after you’re done in college?” Tuchscherer said. “I’ve taken my wrestling skills and put it into this. Either I’m going to do well in it, or I’m not.”
When asked if he thinks he has the skills and the determination to make it in the professional ranks, Tuchscherer said: “Why not try to fight? If it’s for me, it’s for me. If it’s not for me, it’s not for me. I’ll find out in a hurry.”