ABU DHABI – For most mixed martial artists, fighting for the sport’s premier organization, the UFC, represents a dream come true. But for Jim Alers, that dream was his wife’s.
“My wife actually got me into MMA in 2006,” Alers told MMAjunkie. “I was at the gym a lot, and she mentioned MMA. She was like, ‘Why don’t you try this MMA stuff?’ I was like, ‘I don’t know, it’s kind of crazy.’ She said, ‘You’re at the gym all the time. Why don’t you try it?’ She’s actually the one that pushed me toward it.”
For Alers, who was born in New York but now lives in Orlando, the path might not have been so easy to see. Now 27 years old, Alers began his training when he was just 19. But “The Beast” knew there was no guarantee combat sports would pay the bills, so he simultaneously pursued an education at the University of Central Florida, where he scored a degree in a completely different field: elementary education.
Alers began his professional fighting career at age 21, simultaneously working odd jobs – including a stint as a kindergarten teacher – to help fund his pursuits as an aspiring athlete.
“You can’t fight forever,” Alers said. “People get hurt and things happen, so you always want to have something to fall back on. I tried to tell my students that fighting is awesome, but finish school. You can do both at the same time.”
Alers (12-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) has earned victory in 12 of his 13 professional contests to date, and the strong track record recently earned a him call from the UFC. He debuts for the promotion opposite fellow featherweight newcomer Alan Omer (18-3 MMA, 0-0 UFC) at Friday’s “UFC Fight Night 39: Nogueira vs. Nelson” event, which takes place at Abu Dhabi’s du Arena and streams live on UFC Fight Pass, the UFC’s recently launched online network.
It’s certainly the biggest opportunity of Alers’ young career, but he insists there’s no added pressure ahead of the moment.
“At the end of the day, it’s just a name,” Alers said. “It’s still the same me going in there and fighting another opponent.
“At the end of the day, it’s the same business. I’m going in there, we’re fighting, and we’re going to shake hands at the end. That’s it.”
With the enormity of the moment, UFC debuts are notoriously challenging opportunities for incoming fighters, and traveling halfway around the globe for such a performance can certainly prove even more difficult. Fortunately for Alers, a five-fight run in one of Europe’s top regional promotions, Cage Warriors Fighting Championship, brought him to Bahrain, Ireland, Jordan, Scotland and Wales for previous appearances, making the journey to Abu Dhabi a little more manageable.
“I’ve actually been to Abu Dhabi before,” Alers said. “I never thought I’d go back, but it’s awesome to go there again. It’s a beautiful place. I’m super-excited about it.
“It’s almost like not flying away would have been more difficult for me, so I’m glad now I’ll be comfortable doing the same ritual I had been doing.”
For Alers, Friday’s fight could prove a life-changing moment, both for him and his wife. After all, success at the sport’s highest level can prove financially rewarding, but victory is a must. But it’s a position in which Alers never would have found himself had it not been for the nudging of his high-school sweetheart.
“She’s definitely been supportive,” Alers said. “As fighters, we have a lot of ups and downs, and in the beginning you make no money at all. She was there the whole way, pushing me and pushing me. She believed in me the whole way.
“I’m ready for this moment. I hope to put on a good fight. Don’t miss it.”
For complete coverage of UFC Fight Night 39, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.