Small-town to big-time
When Kassius Holdorf was roughly four or five, his family picked up their lives in Minneapolis, Minn. to make their way to a small town on Highway 35 full of people who love one sport in particular — wrestling.
Winside's Pinstripe Pride has deep roots in the community, with dozens of state champs coming off of those red mats. And Kass wouldn't be able to resist joining in the fun.
"I got into junior wrestling when I was like 5-6 years old," Holdorf said. "I love it and was pretty good."
And the rest is history.
From junior wrestling he moved to junior high and then into high school wrestling where he was a feared opponent for many.
He recalled the Wall of Champions in one of the hallways at Winside Public Schools, where pictures of the past state champion wrestlers from Winside adorn the walls in a shrine of sorts, paying homage to their hard work and dedication.
"Winside has a reputation for having good wrestlers, so I really pushed myself to get better," Holdorf said. "Seeing all the past champions up on the wall -- it was a goal of mine as a little kid and even as I grew up, I always wanted to be like the people who had their pictures and school records at Winside."
Holdorf made it to state multiple years and even made out with a couple trophies for third and second place finishes different years. He went on to wrestle for a junior college in Minnesota where he said he enjoyed the traveling for meets, but things weren't clicking like they were supposed to, so he moved back home and got a job but kept in contact with a friend who got into Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighting.
"He had a fight and invited me, so I drove up to see him fight in South Dakota. He won and at the end, he asked if it was something I would like to do."
Holdorf's family was skeptical at first with the obvious dangers, but they too were won over once they realized how much Holdorf wanted to do it.
And since then, Holdorf has been running up a tally of opponents, with few left standing to talk about it after the match is over.
Which is exactly why Holdorf was able to secure himself a title fight on Dec. 9 with Victory Fighting Championship (VFC) title holder Maki Pitolo.
He began training a few years back and fought in several amateur fights leading to a 17-3 record before he made his professional debut with VFC in 2013.
While he already had a background in wrestling, he knew he needed more than wrestling a little kick boxing to be competitive, so he started practicing martial arts like Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai roughly 4 years ago. He practices both Gi and No Gi Jiu Jitsu. In Gi Jiu Jitsu, opponents grapple with the use of a traditional Gi which allows you to grab the clothing of your opponent; Holdorf holds a purple belt in this style. No Gi Jiu Jitsu means grappling without the traditional uniform and opponents aren't allowed to grab clothing.
When fights are arranged, Holdorf is given several weeks to prepare himself and train.
"Training for the fight starts about 8-10 weeks awayfrom fight day," Holdorf said. " I begin to focus more on meal prepping and dieting and eating healthy to make my weight - 170."
On average, Holdorf loses 15-20 pounds in that time period. While his training regime calls for changes each day, the one thing he keeps the same is cardio — before and after each workout.
"Each training session lasts about two to three hours. I train six days out of the week," Holdorf said. "Three days out of the week I train twice a day doing strength and conditioning."
Holdorf said the only difference between prepping for a title fight and a regular fight is the time spent training for stamina purposes. A regular fight is three, five minute rounds where a title fight is five, five minute rounds.
Not that he needs all the rounds to take an opponent down.
Having a high rate of finishes and the speed at which each opponent is taken down plays into how soon a fighter can be put into a title fight.
When Holdorf entered the arena on Dec. 9, he had one job to do and he did it exceptionally well. His opponent, Welterweight Champion Maki Pitolo made it through the entire first round.
Five seconds into the second round, Holdorf had had enough. A one-two combo sent Pitolo to the ground, where he stayed.
Holdorf won the Welterweight Championship with a Technical Knock Out (TKO), meaning the referee stopped him because Pitolo was unable to defend himself.
So what's to happen now?
"Once you become a title holder, you can get a call from a mainstream promotion such as Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Bellator MMA or World Serious of Fighting MMA. I could also go into kick boxing like Glory Kickboxing or K I Kickboxing, which are all mainstream fighting organizations."
Holdorf said he is open to fighting for any one of these organizations, and is already back in the gym ensuring he stays on top and would be prepared to defend his title when the need arises.
From small-town wrestler to big-city fighter, Holdorf has managed to keep his dream of being a champion alive and well.
All photos were made available to the Herald by Kassius and were taken by several photgraphers, including Jerry Chavez and Matt Wadsworth.