Mike Miranda vividly remembers the first time he watched mixed martial arts on television.
“I flipped it on and I was hooked,” the 2013 Mundelein graduate said. “I couldn’t believe (people actually) did that.”
The 5-foot-6, 145-pound Miranda focused on football and wrestling in high school, but he knew it was only a matter of time until he gave ultimate fighting a try. His dream started to become a reality this spring when one day while driving to his cousin’s house, he passed a Mundelein storefront that looked as if it had a punching bag and some mats.
He quickly told his friend and wrestling teammate, Logan Strandemo, and the two decided to check it out. The storefront was Black Tiger Martial Arts Academy, which had recently opened. Pretty soon, Miranda and Strandemo, who will be a senior at Mundelein, were practicing every day.
Both have proved to be quick studies, although Strandemo cannot fight a match until he turns 18 years old. Miranda won his debut fight as an amateur Aug. 4 when he defeated Patrick Milder in a battle that lasted less than 30 seconds into the second round.
Mixed martial arts is a full-contact combat sport that is a mixture of martial arts and wrestling. Both striking and grappling techniques are allowed. Strandemo was ringside to cheer his friend on Aug. 4.
“It was kind of weird how nervous I was for him, but he was relaxed and composed for his first fight,” Strandemo said. “He’s improved so much in the little time we’ve been training.”
Brandon Burton, Miranda’s coach at Black Tiger Martial Arts Academy, can only chuckle when asked to describe how fast Miranda is improving.
“He’s a pretty unique guy,” Burton said. “He’s very athletic, has a great background in wrestling and weight (training) and picks things up extremely quickly. If you tell him to do something once, he’ll go out there and do it. He’s very far ahead of the curve.”
Miranda said playing football and wrestling was great training for mixed martial arts. In football, as a defensive end and linebacker, he had to find a way to win battles with bigger players.
“That was a great way to test myself,” he said. “Wrestling helped me so much with body control.”
Although Miranda spent hour after hour watching martial arts instructional videos on YouTube, he had no formal coaching prior to arriving at Black Tiger. Many of the training sessions are focused on technique, which benefits Miranda.
“We don’t go 100 percent at each other,” he said. “We spend a lot of time doing controlled sparring where we get the benefits of technique and conditioning.”
Over the next year, Miranda hopes to fight three or four more times. Then, when Strandemo graduates, the duo plans to move to Sacramento, Calif., to train full-time with Team Alpha Male, which is based out of Urijah Faber’s Ultimate Fitness.
Miranda said he is just getting started.
“I love the competitive spirit and the way you test your heart and will in mixed martial arts,” he said. “I have a long way to go and (I’m excited) to keep getting better.”