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Junior Jared Whittler has made a monumental impact as the MMA club's "first captain"

Jared Whittler not only significantly impacted the MMA club once joining leadership; he and a few of his club teammates aspire to perform professionally

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ASU's mixed martial arts club at the Sun Devil Fitness Complex in Tempe. 

ASU's mixed martial arts clubs' first captain, Jared Whittler, has made a game-changing impact through resiliency.

The first captain is practically the club's president, and ASU's mixed martial arts club is a student-run MMA group that practices martial arts techniques and styles in promoting health and the sport. 

Whittler, a junior at ASU, took the baton in unprecedented times.

During the fall 2021 semester, an injury that occurred outside of club hours prevented the MMA club from getting written approval for the Tempe SDFC room the club would train in, the perseverance room. 

That didn't halt the will of the team.

"We tried to do stuff outside in the fields, but we weren't allowed there either," Whittler said. "Eventually, it became difficult. We tried to do meetings at the park, but it was a losing battle."

A ripple effect saw the club lose a few, but not all, of its female club members. 

Whittler quickly realized if he wanted the mixed martial arts club to survive and thrive, he needed to take matters into his own hands and formulate a viable plan and structure for the training.

Whittler explained to SDFC's upper management that the club wouldn't be doing any hard sparring to prevent injuries and would be under more experienced leadership. The club's mission, after all, is to teach self-defense and promote health. 

"We have classes. We're here to be students and improve academically," Whittler said. "This should be a thing to help relax you and help you get better while still focusing on school. Not something that's going to mess you up, so you can't be a student." 

Whittler stresses that you don't need to fight each other to get better. And since earning written approval to the perseverance room, he shifted much of the training away from sparring and into grappling. 

Now the club is thriving, and in a written statement, Whittler made clear his intentions to keep the club moving as clean as possible. 

"I encourage all students to not spar in affiliation with the MMA club, and if you choose to do so, only do so off campus under the supervision of professional coaches," Whittler said. 

In New Mexico, where he grew up, Whittler jumped into the fight game early, inspired by chats with his uncle and Bruce Lee's "beautiful movements," in his martial arts movies.

As a kid, he practiced the arts of taekwondo and hapkido, an obscure Korean hybrid martial art, until high school. There, he committed himself to MMA and wrestling. 

That valuable experience allowed him to shift most of the club's curriculum to less striking and more grappling.

"I have redesigned the MMA club training methodology specifically to prevent the odds of injury and favor technical training of takedowns and other MMA techniques rather than the brutish emphasis on hard sparring," Whittler said. 

Whittler's persistence can be credited for the club's survival. Since returning, the team has not suffered any injuries.   

"I'm proud of Jared for taking up this responsibility," senior Mike Suchanek, the clubs' former president, said. "People should look up to him as a mentor, coach and peer."

This is destiny for Whittler. He currently attends ASU's W.P. Carey School of Business, pursuing a sports business degree. Whittler intends to use his business degree to manage athletes and eventually open a gym.

Whittler and his club teammates have high aspirations in the fight game too. They have a fight team in the works which comprises various fighters who intend to fight competitively.

Naim McPherson, an ASU graduate and previous club president, is no longer an active club member, but still is heavily involved as a fighter and trainer. McPherson is responsible for managing the team's YouTube account collecting and posting footage of the team ranging from training footage to venting rants after practice. Whittler manages the Facebook and Instagram accounts.

Whittler and McPherson met last year through the club. They are now co-captaining the ship and fighting teammates. McPherson is 1-0 in amateur competition. 

Street Fighter IV character, Sagats' Muay Thai fighting style captivated McPherson attention and compelled him to compete. Now he's using his experience as a fighter to train other team members, like Whittler, who aspire to fight professionally in the future. 

"We're a team," McPherson said. "My dream is to be a fighter, so I love training. I love showing people MMA because I love it."

As far as what's in Whittler's future, right now, he has tunnel vision toward finishing college, but once he graduates, he'll be "dead set," on making his amateur MMA debut that the coronavirus pandemic derailed. 

Whittler was the perfect choice to take on leadership, and he has rebuilt the MMA club on solid ground. This sport is his passion, so whenever he's near a mat or fighters, he's "right at home." 

Edited by Kathryn Field, David Rodish and Kristen Apolline Castillo.

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