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For many coaches, it might have been time to panic. David City wrestling held a 27-6 advantage in a dual with crosstown rival Aquinas when the Monarchs went on a run of four match victories in a row.

The Scouts hadn't suffered a defeat at the hands of the Monarchs in a head-to-head dual in nearly a decade. Suddenly, that steak of dominance was on the line.

All the while, David City coach Tahner Thiem sat on his chair on the corner of the mat, calm, cool and collected.

If his guys had any nerves, he calmed their anxiety as they stepped on the mat. For some, he barked instructions as the action commenced. For others, he sat quietly until the situation dictated he step in.

All of it, his demeanor, his balancing of personalities and styles, is a direct result of a previous life where Thiem was constantly under pressure.

“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."

Thiem competed as a wrestler at Crete High School where he graduated in 2007 after a wrestling career that included a bronze medal at the state meet and three straight qualifications to the state tournament.

His experience on the mat was a valuable tool when he transitioned to mixed martial arts – 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, putting together a 14-4 record as an amateur and a 3-0 mark as a professional from 2007 to 2010. 

His time in the cage, and the prize money he won, was one way in which he supported himself financially through college.

The sport was fairly new when he first began training 

As a senior at Crete high school, he and several other of his wrestling teammates started training at a boxing gym after the season ended. The group wanted to look into combining boxing and wrestling when one of the boxing coaches told the group that they would be a perfect fit for MMA.

It was the first of many interactions with other coaches that left an impact.

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 cutting his career short before UFC, there were many positives that came out of his time in the cage, many of which he believes helped make him the successful wrestling coach that he is today.

"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. 

Theim said he believes the prevalence of successful wrestler is due to the work required to be a successful wrestler and the mental toughness it takes to stick with it.

"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 Scouts.

"When I was in MMA, I trained with the best wrestlers, so I learned a lot more about wrestling," he 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 guided him along the way.

“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 and things like that.”

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 

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