Ron Waterman lives in two worlds: the violent arena of ultimate fighting and the worldwide public stage of Christian evangelism
Greeley – Two black eyes and a puffy, swollen face on his muscular, 285-pound frame tell only part of Ron Waterman’s story. Hidden behind the massive arms, chiseled pectorals and broad back stands a soft-spoken ordained minister who just happens to be an ultimate fighter.
In his sport of choice, men box, wrestle and use mixed martial arts. Anything it takes to win. Three weeks ago, Waterman competed in the World Fighting Alliance, losing to Ricco Rodriguez in Los Angeles. The official stopped the bout when a combination to the left side of Waterman’s face closed his left eye. Less than two weeks later, he was preaching to a congregation at a church in Illinois.
“It’s almost like a double life,” said Jody, his wife of 20 years. “It’s almost like he has a dual personality. He puts on the game face for fighting, and then he puts on the face for his ministry.”
And that dual life conflicts at times.
“The area in which you fight in is definitely not a Christian arena,” she said. “You always have to think of that.”
Waterman said he is at peace being a fighter and a preacher.
“I view mixed martial arts just like another form of competition,” he said. “I am not out there to try to hurt my opponent. I don’t go out there angry.
I don’t try to maim him or something. I just go out there and try to win.”
A Greeley native, Waterman splits his time between fighting professionally and sharing his Christian faith with youth. One month he was in Haiti speaking to a packed church, the next in Japan utilizing his black belt in Jujitsu.
He travels the world giving speeches and demonstrations at school assemblies as a part of Team Impact, a group that uses feats of strength, such as breaking aluminum bats over their knees, or ripping phone books in half, to inspire and deliver a positive message.
Team Impact, formed in 2000, is a nondenominational Christian group that shares the difference Jesus Christ has made in their lives and the importance of the Christian view of salvation.
Members of Team Impact are athletes, bodybuilders and everyday strongmen who talk to students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and issues such as abstinence and teen suicide. After the assembly, youths are invited to a nighttime program in which team members share their testimonies of faith.
“What makes Team Impact so successful is they see these big athletes and they usually don’t see athletes going around telling people about Jesus,” Waterman said. “I think a lot of those kids look up to us, and it helps our message when they recognize me from the fights on TV.”
Phyllis Lee, Waterman’s longtime agent, said there are plenty of other fighters who are religious, but she doesn’t know of any others who are ministers. She doesn’t view ultimate fighting as different from other contact sports.
“Being an athlete doesn’t mean that you can’t become a minister. One has nothing to do with the other,” she said. “Maybe this is why he is so big in the first place. Maybe it is to draw attention to a cause.”
Waterman has been fighting in many forms since he was an All-America wrestler at Northern Colorado in the mid-1980s. After college he taught art at Greeley West High School and coached the wrestling team and assisted in football. After 10 years of teaching and coaching, he got involved in ultimate fighting in 1998, about the same time he claimed a born-again experience.
“I entered a fighting contest in Denver in 1998 and won three straight matches. All of them lasted less than thirty seconds,” Waterman said.
He was hooked.
Soon after, the father of two up-and-coming wrestlers signed on with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the most prominent mixed-martial arts organization, and has fought in several professional fighting organization in the U.S. and many overseas. He has fought in the UFC, Pride Fighting Championship, World Wrestling Entertainment, International Fighting League and the World Fighting Alliance.
All require varying degrees of fighting skill in a violent sport in which matches often end with the bloodied loser tapping the mat, signaling he gives up.
At 40, Waterman fights less often. It was eight years ago, he said, that he found his “true purpose” in life. He said he was saved by accepting Christ into his life at Greeley Wesleyan Church and began using his abnormal strength to encourage youth to lead a spiritual life. Since joining Team Impact in 2002, it has become his full-time job to travel the globe with the team.
Waterman divides his time among training and fighting, demonstrations and ministry, being father and husband.
His physique suggests a rough and cocky bodybuilder, his scars and bruises a fighter. But his quiet voice and large tattoo of a crucifix amidst a crown of thorns point to another life with different goals..
What it is: A sport consisting of two fighters in an octagonal cage.
What they wear: Small boxing gloves with very little cushion.
Combatants start by facing off as in a boxing match. Legal are boxing, kickboxing, wrestling and martial arts skills.
There are usually three five-minute rounds, with a championship bout usually five five-minute rounds.
The referee can stop the fight anytime if he deems a competitor is not defending himself.
A fighter can stop the fight by simply tapping the mat, illustrating to the official that he has given up.
A fighter can punch, kick, grab and hit the opposing fighter almost anywhere on his body to gain advantage. Fighters can use holds and submissions, a technique to squeeze the other fighter so strongly he must quit.
The winner is usually the fighter with better endurance and a higher pain threshold.
The sport has grown immensely since the first pay-per-view fight in 1993.
Spike TV has a reality series that features 16 contestants every year, vying to become the next ultimate fighter. The show has increased the popularity and exposure of the sport and has made its biggest stars millionaires.
Early on, the sport was less regulated than it is now, with no time limits, almost no rules and plenty of blood. Now the sport is trying to get sanctioned in all 50 states, making it slightly more tame, but the blood and pain are still prevalent.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship is the biggest and most popular of the mixed martial arts organizations, but the International Fight League, World Fighting Alliance and Pride Fighting Championships offer similar entertainment.