This Saturday night, the Ultimate Fighting Championship will bring the world-famous Octagon to the Target Center for a massive Fight Night event. The main event is a heavyweight showdown between Junior dos Santos and Francis Ngannou.
Earlier in the evening, Mankato’s own Dan “Hitman” Moret will step in the cage with Jared “Flash” Gordon in what will be a proud homecoming for the MMA
Meanwhile, there will be plenty of dudes watching the action on TV, probably about three beers deep, telling their friends, “I could do that. These guys aren’t that tough.”
Ten years ago, Moret was one of those guys.
“I was working in Iowa for the summer, putting up chain link fences,” he recalls. “One night, we were in some rinky-dink town at a bar, and they had fights. I was 21, and had had a couple of beers, and was like, ‘I could take these guys.’ And my friends were like, ‘So do it.’”
Despite having wrestled in Mankato from fifth grade through high school, the idea of cage fighting had never crossed his mind. But he still decided to go for it.
“I figured no one knew me in Iowa,” he laughs. “If I got my ass kicked, I could just tell everyone back home that I got beat up by six guys at once.”
Moret didn’t get his ass kicked that night. Soon, he decided to start training independently. Eventually, he’d end up at the world-renowned Minnesota Martial Arts Academy, home to UFC legends like Sean Sherk and some guy named Brock Lesnar.
While he was improving as a mixed martial artist, Moret learned that the road to the top isn’t always glamorous.
“I was fighting at Target Center back in December of 2010,” he remembers. “There was a massive blizzard that night, and the promoter came and put like eight of us in his car to drive us to the arena. My coaches couldn’t make it because of the snow, so I had some other guys I didn’t know wrapping my hands and cornering me that night. I don’t even think my hand wraps matched.”
These days, fighters have the luxury of watching YouTube fight footage of future opponents, and preparing in world-class facilities. This is a far cry from Moret’s humble beginnings.
“We didn’t even know who we were fighting until we showed up at the venue,” he recalls. “Promoters would just be like, ‘Hey, this guy weighs about the same amount as you. You’re gonna fight him.’ And we went out and did it.”
Eventually, Moret would go on to compete in smaller but more well-known promotions throughout the country before finally getting the call up to the big time on short-notice last April.
“I was out hiking in Arizona and I got a call from my manager,” he recalls. “He was like, ‘What are you doing?’ and I told him I was hiking up a mountain. He goes, ‘Well don’t fucking hurt yourself! You’re fighting in the UFC next weekend.’”
Unfortunately, Moret is currently riding a two-fight losing streak heading into the fight this Saturday, but he’s not letting the pressure get to him.
“The fight is the fight,” he says bluntly. “A well-trained grown man is going to get in that cage and try to hurt me. But that’s just it. To me, MMA is the purest sport because we can train anywhere in the world, and work on any skills we want to. But at the end of the day it’s just one man against another, and we’re going to get in there and figure it out.”
As for the added pressure and excitement of fighting in front of his hometown, Moret says that this is the culmination of a decade of hard work.
“It’s always been my dream to do this at home,” he says. “My mom didn’t want me to do this as a profession, that’s for sure. So I’m really happy to be able to go out and fight on the big stage and show my family and friends what I’ve achieved.”
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