Monday, March 12, 2007

Win or lose - or lose again - he fights on

By Walter Alarkon

Hillsboro man is loyal to brutal, bloody sport

One weekend last year, Nick "The Short Fuse" Zimmermann flew to Louisiana for a fight. The referee stopped it after Zimmerman's opponent gashed his head with an elbow. The next day, Zimmermann was on a flight to Manchester, his wound sutured with Krazy Glue, to fight again. Once there, his opponent grabbed his head with one hand and uppercut him with the other, reopening the wound and ending the bout.

Results like these haven't deterred Zimmermann.

"Unless I'm knocked out or dead, I won't get out," he said in January, before his ninth match in nine months.

Zimmermann, 25, of Hillsboro, has fought and lost as much as anyone in New Hampshire's fledgling mixed-martial-arts community. He has won just twice in mixed-martial arts fighting, a sport better known as ultimate fighting.

The rules of the sport are brutally simple: Fighters in a metal cage or a kickboxing ring have three rounds to try to knock their opponent out or get them to submit. Kicks, punches and holds are allowed. Head butts, bites, and shots to the groin, back of the head and kidneys aren't. Since ultimate fighting events began airing on pay-per-view television in the early 1990s, fighting clubs and events have sprouted across the country, and cable television channels Spike TV and Showtime have begun to feature the fights.

The risk of getting in the cage doesn't intimidate Zimmermann. New Hampshire rules, like those of most states, prohibit someone from fighting more than once a month. Most fighters wait at least two months before fighting again. But Zimmermann, who also manages his own stable of eight fighters called Team Immortal, has taken almost all comers since the first state-sanctioned event last April.

"Hopefully my fighters will have the same heart I do," said Zimmermann, who didn't tell organizers about his fights on consecutive days last September.

Zimmermann stands 5 foot 5 inches and weighs about 145 pounds, a size that puts him among the smallest mixed-martial-arts fighters in New Hampshire. (The biggest, in the super heavyweight class, weigh at least 215 pounds.)

"When I was young, I used to get picked on. They'd just say 'small little runt,' " said Zimmermann, who went to school in Florida and Maine before settling in Hillsboro. "I always pushed them back. I never quit. That's the heart of fighting. If you can't handle the pain, you're not going to make it."

He looks the part of the fighter. He has red marks on his forehead and under his right eye, a shaved head and a goatee. During an interview, he wore a black hooded sweatshirt that read "Vic's Power House," an Oregon gym owned by a friend. Zimmermann said he took his nickname, "The Short Fuse," because he likes the sound of it.

He fights because it's something he's done since grade school.

"In soccer, I was the goalie. I wanted people to run into me," he said. "In basketball, I was throwing elbows. Yeah, it sucks to get your (butt) kicked, but you just got back up."

Zimmermann, who earns about $500 a bout, works construction jobs when he's not fighting. He lets his two 4-year-olds, Adriana and Zachary, take martial-arts classes, but he doesn't let them attend his fights.

"I don't want them to see me and think it's good to do that," he said. "I want my daughter to be a girl - wear dresses, go do beauty pageants, do modeling."

Zimmermann's most recent fight, at the state armory in Manchester, began auspiciously. He got his opponent in a guillotine hold, grabbing his neck and wrapping his legs around his body to try to stretch him to the point of submission. The opponent slipped out and later secured the same hold on Zimmermann, who submitted, 1 minute 19 seconds into the first round. Zimmermann's record is now two wins, seven losses.

"This is my fifth loss in a row. I guess that's a bummer with me," he said afterward. "But it doesn't matter if I get in ring, fight my opponent and win or lose. My head stays high. Just the fact I get in and fight, that keeps my spirit up. There's no doubt, I will be fighting again. I need to take a break. I need to let all my wounds heal, get training.

Frequent fighters tend to win more than they lose, said Elias Cepeda, editor of, a website that covers mixed-martial arts fighting and boxing. Those who don't win much like to have time to heal, train and scout their next opponents, Cepeda said.

"It's one thing to have someone who has a taste of success" and fight often, he said. "But with guys who have poor records, it depends on the person. Human minds are capable of convincing ourselves of anything."

Roger Woo, who trains a team out of Hooksett that has lost just once in 11 matches, said that Zimmermann at least has courage.

"I'll hand it to Nick," he said. "Some fighters are like, 'I don't want to fight that guy.' Nick will fight anybody who's willing to fight him."

But Zimmermann's eagerness works against him, Woo said.

"All the fighters watch other fighters fight, so when they see a hole in your game, they seem to want to fight you more," he said. "They know how to exploit it."

Zimmermann said he isn't as skilled fighting on the ground, where many fights end, as he is when standing. He doesn't plan to fight for several months in order to let a knee injury heal. Until then, he plans to focus on Team Immortal. He dreams of managing his own fight card one day.

"I probably will never make it (by fighting), not just because of size," he said. "But I'm fighting here. You do your thing."


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