Stephen Flanagan has always been fighting. What he’s fought has, of course, changed over the years.
A former North Hall football standout and current mixed martial arts fighter, Flanagan is fulfilling a dream he has had for his entire life.
On Sept. 24, the imposing 6-foot-3, 265-pound Super Heavyweight picked up his fourth career win at a Big Show fight in Cincinnati. The win put him in position, in his next fight in the state, to battle for the Ohio-state title.
He will fight for the Tennessee title on Friday in Kingsport, Tenn., in a fight put on by the Cage Brawl mixed martial arts series.
And it all began, his mom, Elizabeth, said, when he was 4 years old.
“This is what he’s always wanted to do,” she said. “Since he was 4 years old. He’s wrestled with everything. I think he wrestled with every one of his stuffed animals when he was little.”
From stuffed animals to 6-foot-7 powerhouses, and everything in between.
In addition to playing defensive tackle for Bob Christmas’ Trojans in high school, Flanagan also wrestled at North Hall, setting the school record for the quickest pin.
His love of wrestling and the physical nature of football began with his fascination with professional wrestling as a kid, he said. Like many of his generation, Flanagan grew up with popular wrestling programs like “Monday Nitro” and WWE’s “Raw,” and it hooked him early on.
“I loved wrestling,” he said. “Like, WWE wrestling. It was my favorite thing growing up. I couldn’t get enough of it.”
And he still can’t.
His win in Ohio was the fourth of his young career, and took less than three minutes to accomplish. He won on a technical knockout when the referee stopped the match due to the number of landed strikes.
“The guy I was fighting was 6-7, and I’m only 6-3, so he had a lot of reach on me,” Flanagan explained. “I took him down once, and he got back up. But then I took him down one last time and just attacked him until the ref called it.”
It’s been a quick start for a 19-year-old that has been involved in the sport for hardly more than a year.
There was a moment, even, when it appeared he might be headed in another direction.
After finding success as a defensive tackle in high school, Flanagan was offered a scholarship to play football at Apprentice College in Virginia.
He had always enjoyed the competition in football. When it came down to it, however, there was only one thing he wanted to do.
“I loved football,” he said. “I miss hitting people, and the heart that goes into it — your will, how bad you want it. But I love the adrenaline rush I get fighting. I love the one-on-one and everybody’s eyes being on me.”
As much as he loves it, it doesn’t come without some drawbacks.
While he has the full support of his parents, Flanagan said that they weren’t crazy about the idea to begin with.
“My family says I’m tenacious, but they think I’m crazy,” he said. “They told me I couldn’t take a beating like that at first, but they’ve obviously growing into it seeing how much I love it.”
His mom explained why she has come to not only accept it, but, in a way, love it like he does.
“He’s living his dream,” she said. “This is what he’s always wanted to do. No mom wants to see their kid getting hit. To see him actually fight, I’m petrified. But we’re his biggest fans. He loves it, and he’s very good at it.”
Whatever the case, it appears everyone will have to accept it one way or another. Flanagan says that he is in the sport for the long haul, his dream being to make it into the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
“I’m aiming for the UFC,” he said. “That’s my ultimate goal, and I’m doing whatever it takes to get there.”
He’s not exaggerating, either. According to his mother, he spends most of his time in the gym, and would spend more if he could.
“He’s 19 years old,” she said. “He doesn’t go on dates, he doesn’t do much else. This is what he does. He would live at the gym if it was possible. He works hard at it. He eats, sleeps and breathes MMA fighting.”
And whether he makes the UFC or not, he said, fighting will always be what he wants to do.
“Wherever (MMA) takes me is where I want to be,” he said.