Nov. 24—Life does not always go as planned. It will often throw you curveballs, or in the case of Brian McElroy, right hooks.
The Tacoma native has taken the term “rolling with the punches” to a different level as the Clarkston High School guidance counselor turned a dare into fighting mixed martial arts professionally.
McElroy (1-0) will compete in his second professional fight in less than a month when he faces Michael Northrup (0-5) of Moses Lake at Muckleshoot Fight Night 3 at Muckleshoot Casino on Dec. 3 in Auburn, Wash.
The Central Washington graduate won his first professional fight Nov. 5 at Clearwater Combat at the Clearwater River Casino and Lodge against Chris Ensley in 89 seconds with a rear naked choke.
“Ah crap, I’m going to be in a fist fight tonight,” McElroy said of his thoughts the morning of the fight.
The typically warm and smiling demeanor McElroy has in every day life morphs as he gets his hands taped. McElroy admitted to being one of the more jittery competitors backstage before a fight, but going through the process helps him flip a switch and gain an “overwhelming sense of confidence.”
Before getting into the MMA scene, McElroy said: “I thought I knew how to throw a punch.”
But he learned three years ago that it was false confidence.
In October 2019, McElroy attended a Washington State football game when the conversation turned to a local dojo. During the conversation, the Bantams’ track and field coach accepted a dare to show up for a training session.
McElroy said there were many shocked faces when he walked into Arnett’s Martial Arts America on Thain Road. Most people are all talk when it comes to joining a class, but in this instance, McElroy kept his word.
The now 30-year-old continued to shock Frank Arnett, the owner of Arnett’s MAA, before his passing in 2020. The shocked look eventually turned to a look of respect.
“Frank is so warm and welcoming,” McElroy said. “(He) made you feel better about yourself in his quiet ways.”
McElroy said one of his proudest moments while training was when Frank Arnett turned to him to demonstrate that night’s lesson instead of going to his son, Austin.
For a while, it was a fun hobby for McElroy.
“I didn’t think I was going to fight,” McElroy said. “(Then I thought) if I’m going to spar with these guys, I might as well fight.”
The pandemic delayed his first bout, something McElroy said was a blessing. It gave him an extra year to develop. That development led to a first round TKO of Adam Prior on May 15, 2021, in an amateur fight at Conquest of the Cage at the casino.
McElroy credited the Arnett family for giving him the opportunity and pushing him, as well as Sandy Mullen, who helped him learn the basics.
“Sandy knows how to push you and get everything out of you,” McElroy said.
While rolling with the punches has brought McElroy a new passion in life, it almost wasn’t possible.
After taking an academic advisor and financial aid coordinator position at the Walla Walla Community College site in Clarkston, McElroy found himself struggling to turn the community into his home. He said he mostly stayed at his house when he wasn’t working and was ready to go back to Tacoma if it wasn’t for Pat Sobotta.
McElroy credited Sobotta for not only making him feel like a friend, but one of the family.
“I hit it off with his family,” McElroy said. “They adopted me as one of their own children.”
Growing up in Tacoma, McElroy was one of six siblings to a single mother in an area he called rough to grow up in.
He credited his mother, Sophia Garza, for his strong work ethic and drive, saying she worked two to three jobs just to make sure her children had what they needed.
“Fighting is easy compared to that,” McElroy said.
Isbelle can be reached at [email protected], (208) 848-2268 or on Twitter @RandyIsbelle.