ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Fighter Took Time Off for Academics
It’s been more than a year-and-a-half since Coty “Ox” Wheeler unleashed the flying arm bar at a World Extreme Cagefighting event at the Santa Ana Star Center.
After using such a uniquely original move to earn an impressive victory in front of a hometown crowd on national television, Ox decided to take a hiatus from, as he calls it, “the Super Bowl of 135-pounders.”
What was he thinking? Better yet, what was the WEC thinking by not getting him on a fight card again as soon as possible?
In another unique move, Wheeler put his education before his fighting career. He says the WEC wanted to get him back in the cage a month later, but Wheeler — who trains at Jackson-Winkeljohn Mixed Martial Arts in Albuquerque —couldn’t afford to miss any more class.
“I was getting ready to graduate from CNM,” he said. “I couldn’t miss more school. I had already missed enough school getting ready for the (previous) fight.”
After that, it might have been an issue of communication — or lack of it — between the fighter and organization.
“They were understanding, but after that I didn’t know what was really going on in between,” he said.
Wheeler (10-1) bounced from circuit to circuit after his win over Del Hawkins at WEC 32 in 2008, earning victories with King of the Cage, Fightworld and Brawl at the Beach since then.
Now Wheeler is back in the Big Game and is scheduled to face Charlie Valencia (10-5) at WEC 43 in San Antonio on Saturday night. The bout may not be televised depending on time constraints.
It’s the first WEC fight under the guidance of the team at Jackson-Winkeljohn Mixed Martial Arts. Wheeler trained with Albuquerque’s FIT-NHB gym up until about five months ago.
Wheeler said he left the gym, owned by Tom and Arlene Vaughn, for personal reasons.
The style that makes Wheeler attractive to the WEC is a blend of unpredictability and creativity. It’s easy to get the impression that even Wheeler doesn’t always know what he’s going to do.
“He’s got some crazy things he can do in the cage,” said co-trainer Mike Winkeljohn. “It’s his best attribute and his worst. We’re trying not to let him get exposed with his whirlwind style.”
Not unorthodox. Unortho-Ox, Wheeler says.
“I love to fight with no regrets. I don’t want to be out there saying I woulda coulda shoulda, but didn’t,” he said.
That’s how moves like the flying arm bar are born. While it sounds like something from a scripted professional wrestling match or a video game (it’s real), there’s only a 50 percent chance the move works.
“It’s a matter of getting into a Thai clinch, catching whatever biceps they have tied around the back of your neck going up and taking a 45 (degree) vertical leap — and basically just jumping in the air and catching the arm,” he said of the move. “It’s kind of like a gamble, but Indians like to gamble.”
Wheeler was raised on the Mescalero Apache reservation, went to school in Oregon and played football, basketball and baseball. Before finding MMA, he fought on the streets and on the reservation.
“I actually got into MMA to stay out of trouble and lose weight … I got a little bit farther than I expected,” he said.
Now he’s creating moves as he goes. Just don’t try this at home.