Fight Path: Fighting on whim, WSOF's Josh Rettinghouse happened upon new career


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josh-rettinghouse.jpgWhen Josh Rettinghouse went to the Spokane, Wash., gym for the first time with a friend who wanted to start mixed-martial-arts training, he experienced a feeling that was familiar.

Trying something brand new on a whim? Not sure at first? But confident enough in athletic ability that it was worth a shot?

Yeah, that feeling had been there before.

“It was like the first day of wrestling,” Rettinghouse told MMAjunkie.com. “I knew I was a good athlete, but it was something completely new to me. I thought I could do it.”

Four years later, Rettinghouse is on the verge of a reputation-boosting opportunity. The Spokane native and resident is set to fight former Olympic bronze medalist Alexis Vila in a bantamweight bout on Saturday at World Series of Fighting 6 in Coral Gables, Fla., his first fight outside of the Washington-region circuit.

On a card with WSOF’s first welterweight title fight, between Josh Burkman and Steve Carl, the fight is Rettinghouse’s chance to get more notice following two straight CageSport wins that ran his record to 9-2. The 23-year-old feels that those previous two fights have been his two best, so he’s hoping to capitalize on the momentum.

At the same time, Rettinghouse is finishing his education with degrees in accounting and finance, so he’ll soon turn his attention even more to his fighting career. That wasn’t necessarily his intent as he was leaving high school and making decisions about whether to embark on a small-college wrestling career, join the Army or go to college as a non-athlete student.

Before long, though, he found a new path, and it included translating his athletic skills from wrestling to MMA.

“I always kind of prided myself on being tough, so I thought I could build on that,” he said. “I just had to learn what to do.”

Learning toughness

Growing up in Spokane, Rettinghouse was a skilled baseball and basketball player. He often spent time practicing with his mother, in part because his stepfather traveled often.

He learned even more from his older brother.

“We fought so much as kids,” he said with a laugh. “I think that helped toughen me up. We were huge pro wrestling fans, and at first I thought I wanted to do that. But then I found some other sports.”

But by the time he got to high school, Rettinghouse had stopped growing, so he knew basketball wouldn’t be part of his future. A friend was a member of the wrestling team, and he encouraged Rettinghouse to give his sport a try.

As would later happen with MMA, there was a steep learning curve.

“It was all new, but I ended up on the varsity team my freshman year,” he said. “I had a friend whose dad had mats in his basement and was really into it, so that’s where we practiced.”

By the time he graduated, Rettinghouse had some opportunities to wrestle in college, but he wasn’t sure. He also thought seriously about joining the Army, but a grandmother offered to pay some of his tuition if he would choose college.

He didn’t wrestle, but he was going to school. Then a friend approached him one day, said he was planning on fighting in a local amateur MMA show and asked Rettinghouse to help him train.

“I said, ‘What do you mean, here in Spokane?’ ” Rettinghouse said. “I didn’t know they even had it here.”

Quick study

Not long after, Rettinghouse went to the gym for MMA classes for the first time, and it was an eye-opening experience. He had the wrestling experience, of course, but jiu jitsu was something completely new to him.

“It was two months before I tapped somebody else out on my own,” he said.

After a few months, he was ready for his first fight, which came in a local amateur show. It was Washington’s then-widely unregulated amateur circuit, which has since been stiffened by state laws mandating documentation and safety.

But at the time, it was wide open, so Rettinghouse piled up 12 amateur fights at 145 pounds. He was ready to make a drop to 135 pounds for a show in Washington as his last amateur fight, but it was canceled on short notice. Soon after, he got a call from a promoter in Montana about a professional fight, and he started his pro career in March 2011.

He was juggling two part-time jobs in retail and his education while trying to train and fight, but Rettinghouse was able to start his career 7-1. His lost his CageSport debut in April to drop to 7-2 before winning his last two.

In July, he scored his first knockout, which was a confidence-boosting victory for him. Then, in August, he topped Jeff Hatton at CageSport 26 in a matchup they had been trying to schedule for some time. It was a fight many told him that he couldn’t win, he said, which helped make it the biggest win of his career to date.

Now he moves on to face Vila, the 1996 Olympic bronze medalist, in a fight he hopes to continue his recent success.

“I feel like in these smaller weight classes, it’s a young man’s game, so I like my chances,” he said. “I think I can impose my will in the striking game. I know he’s a great wrestler, but wrestling is different than MMA.”

Catching up

On Oct. 11, Lee Morrison shared his story about growing from a Washington town of about 2,000 into a globe-trotting fighter by signing with M-1 Global. He went on to win his M-1 debut, topping Mikhail Malyutin by split decision last Sunday in St. Petersburg, Russia.

It was Morrison’s eighth straight run, which boosted the 145-pounder’s record to 13-3.

Award-winning newspaper reporter Kyle Nagel pens “Fight Path” each week. The column focuses on the circumstances that led fighters to a profession in MMA. Know a fighter with an interesting story? Email us at news [at] mmajunkie.com.

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