Even in the most high pressure situations David City wrestling coach Tahner Thiem seems to remain calm.
During a dual against cross-town rival Aquinas just a few months back, Thiem adjusted his coaching style to get each of his wrestlers ready for battle, hyping up some and calming the nerves of others. Balancing personalities with varying coaching styles is a result of lessons learned in a previous life.
After graduating high school from Crete in 2007, Thiem wasn't ready to be done challenging himself athletically as an athlete. That's where he discovered the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA).
“I wasn't ready to be done competing," Thiem said. "I wrestled in high school. I knew that I wanted to be an industrial tech teacher, and the only place in the state of Nebraska for me to go do that was Wayne State. They had a wrestling club, which I wrestled in. I just didn't get the fulfillment that I had from when I was competing in high school, so I fought in MMA."
Mixed martial arts is a combat sport that allows striking and grappling, both standing and on the ground, using techniques from various combat sports and martial arts.
The most popular MMA promotion is the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which recently signed a deal to broadcast on ESPN.
Not only did Thiem compete in MMA, but he proved to be quite successful going 14-4 as an amateur and 3-0 as a professional from 2007 to 2010.
Successes in MMA helped Thiem support himself through college.
The sport was fairly new when he learned of its existence.
As a senior at Crete high school, he and five to six of his wrestling teammates started training at a boxing gym after wrestling had concluded. The group decided they wanted to try to combine boxing and wrestling when one of the boxing coaches told the group that they would be a perfect fit for MMA.
This was one of many coaches that impacted Thiem and taught him valuable coaching lessons that he says he still uses today.
His first fight was in Hastings in 2007 after graduating high school.
It wasn't long until Thiem found himself traveling all over the Midwest competing in Columbus, Omaha, South Sioux City, Yankton, Lincoln, Council Bluffs and elsewhere.
During that time, Thiem fought on the same cards as many UFC veterans including Travis Brown, Drew Dober, Mirsad Bektić and even Anthony Smith, who recently fought for the UFC light heavyweight championship on March 2.
"It's kind of tough for me to watch it because I question things sometimes like if I would have ever made the UFC," Thiem said. "It's kind of one of those things where it's like UFC or bust.
"I saw too many guys in my time of training that busted instead of making it. I named four or five guys that are in the UFC that I fought with, but there's 500 that didn't make it. At that age I made the decision that I wanted to be a coach and a teacher."
Despite not making it to the UFC, there were many positives that came out of the time spent in the sport, many of which he believes helped make him the successful wrestling coach that he has become.
"If you look at the UFC and you go from starting at the lightest at (Henry) Cejudo who's a champion all the way down to (Daniel Cormier), those guys are all wrestlers," Thiem said. "Everyone who holds the belt and all the top contenders for the most part all have a wrestling background.
Out of the current 11 UFC champions, two have Olympic medals in wrestling, three wrestled in college and seven competed in wrestling at some point.
Only one of the eight male champions started in a striking background as opposed to wrestling.
Theim said he believes this is due to the work that wrestlers have to put in on the mat to be successful, and the mental toughness it takes.
"They find a way to win, they don't give up,” he said. “Wrestlers know that they can be down in a match and there's still a chance for them to win. It's kind of the same in MMA. They can lose the first four rounds, but if they get a choke or knockout they can still win. That's why the sports are so similar. That's why wrestlers find success.”
Thiem’s time in MMA allowed him to train with high level wrestlers and learn skills and techniques that he has passed down to the wrestlers he coaches today.
"When I was in MMA, I trained with the best wrestlers, so I learned a lot more about wrestling," Thiem said. "I learned a lot more about the mental side.
"Wrestlers are going into battle by themselves. When that cage door slams, you're going into a fight by yourself. You learn how to mentally handle being in those situations and how to be at the correct level of intensity without going overboard."
In a mostly successful career that saw highlight finishes and championship belts, what Thiem said stuck out to him was the relationships he made and the different coaches that had an impact on him.
“I worked with a lot of great coaches that have coached up these guys that are now in the UFC,” Thiem said. “Just learning from them how to deal with athletes - strategy conversations things like that.”
In the sport of MMA, athletes will have multiple coaches. They will have a coach that specializes in wrestling, boxing, cardio and many other aspects of the sport.
“You put so much time and work and effort into your training,” Thiem said. “When I was fighting, you had cardio sessions, you had weight lifting, and you had wrestling or boxing. There's so much time and effort that goes into it. To do it the right way you really feel like you're at a pinnacle as far as being an athlete.”
While MMA is something Theim has put in his past, the life-long lessons he learned, and the friendships he built, still matter today.
"When I first got hired, there was people that thought that it's pretty cool,” Thiem said. “There's other people that were like, 'Why did you hire a teacher, somebody that is going to be a leader in our community, that fought MMA?'
"I think it's a lot more accepted now than it was eight years ago when I was hired here. I think just the main thing is, I think it helped mold me and form me into the coach I am today. I'm thankful for the time I had in MMA.”
Peter Huguenin is a sports reporter for The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at DVDsports@lee.net