Who Says an Old Tiger Can’t Learn New Tricks

CL HARMON

While listening to Wiley Oleson during our interview, I couldn’t help but think back to the first time I heard the band Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” from the big screen while Rocky Balboa was gearing up for the toughest fight of his career. As he spoke, I had images of him pushing himself to the limit in the gym where he shed pounds and built muscles as he prepared for his first MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) match since 2011 in Oklahoma City.

But unlike Rocky who had his toughest fight ahead of him, Oleson has already fought his and emerged victoriously. The fact that he is stepping into a ring at all is already a victory and also what makes his story so unique. Having always been competitive and enjoying physical contact sports, Oleson began participating in wrestling and football from childhood. These childhood activities would set him on a path to become a professional wrestler later in life. As an adult, he began promoting himself as a wrestler while moving up the ranks and making a name for himself with five “tryout matches” for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

In 2007 a motorcycle accident and subsequent 21 surgeries would end that dream. The wreck resulted in broken ribs, a punctured lung, torn muscles from his neck to his groin area, knee damage, shoulder damage, both of which required reconstruction, and even the loss of a few teeth. Also, he had a retina detachment which required another 11 surgeries. The accident was not even his fault, but one of a lapse in judgment by a motorist who ran a stop sign.

As a result of the multiple surgeries, recuperating times and loss of his dream, depression set in and the pounds began stacking on until he reached 305 pounds. Having a competitive nature and the need to feel fit again, kept his desire alive to be in a ring of one type or another. He needed a push through. The Army National Guard would give him just that when they ordered him to lose weight or leave the service. He has been in the military as a Blackhawk helicopter mechanic for 19 years and did not want to leave. So he hired a personal trainer, hit the gym and lost 75 pounds, 30 in the first month alone.

“I’ve always been a competitor, and it’s just always going to be there,” he said. Because of this, it is not surprising that he would seek out a new opportunity to compete.  He soon met a professional kickboxer who gave lessons for the sport. This man helped train and encouraged Oleson to get back into a ring with the new skills he was learning – which was all the encouragement he needed to begin serious consideration for fighting again.  The hard work and dedication have paid off, and Oleson said he is excited for this first fight that the many surgeries postponed beginning in 2011 with that last fight. By the way, he won that match in the second round.

“I am pretty excited about this fight because I want to prove all the naysayers wrong. I have people who ask me why I am doing this and telling me just because I lost weight doesn’t mean I can fight. My goal is to prove to myself and everyone else that I, or anyone my age, can do it. I am 48 years old,” he said. As if the motorcycle wreck, surgeries, and his age were not enough bad luck, Oleson has also had three heart surgeries within the last year, the most recent in December.

“Once I win this fight, I want to declare myself a professional and then get a few professional fights under my belt. I am just so old now that no organization is going to take me on seriously, so I will just have some fun at the local circuits and make the best of it,” he said. As a result of his age and thus lack of sponsor support, Oleson pays for all the costs associated with fighting himself. He did say that he would love to have a sponsor or two though since training and equipment are so expensive.

The crowd may not hear “Eye of the Tiger” on the night he fights, but it’s a good bet that they will at least be asking who let that old tiger out of his cage. Oleson is fighting Lee Bell on August 3 at River Spirit Casino for Dale “Apollo” Cook’s Extreme Fight Night.

 

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