Taking his shot

JIM CRESSMAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

"Scars are like tattoos -- but with better stories," the kid says between kicks at the heavy bag.

Dustin Kiefer is about to find out.

The 19-year-old Londoner will turn pro in the vicious world of mixed martial arts when he enters the cage in Halifax on Oct. 6.

It's a dramatic career change after being on a fast track in track and field.

A year ago, the former Ontario high school shot put champion had aspirations of competing in the Olympics. Then one day he looked in the mirror and realized, at five-foot-seven, he was just too short.

"I'd peaked my Grade 12 year (at John Paul II) and when I came back for my OAC, I couldn't even get back to what I was throwing the year before," he said.

"With throwing, there's no weight divisions, so my lack of height would have been my Achilles heel. I was throwing against guys 6-5, 6-6. Genetically I wasn't built for shot put and throwing."

In fighting, combatants are in weight classes and there's never a mismatch, at least not in that respect.

'I'm not going to be outsized," said Kiefer, down to a ripped 175 pounds from the 237 he carried a year ago.

It took a lower back injury for him to decide it was time to give up throwing. He knew that was likely the first of many back problems.

"It was injuring myself and then realizing what I was putting my efforts to for five years realistically wasn't going to go."

The decision wasn't easy.

"Realizing what you've put so much effort into and you're not going to be able to do it is pretty hard. I kind of had to find myself in a way."

Part of that was to move out on his own after living with his 83-year-old grandmother for all his life. Their bond is so strong Kiefer had her name tattooed across his chest.

"I love my grandma to death, but in moving away our love grew stronger for each other."

He's had to work for everything he has.

"I'm not not afraid to work hard. It's not a problem," he said. "I should probably save a little more. I've spent almost $2,000 on tattoos in the last six months."

The tats don't fit with his boy-next-door good looks. But the ink does more than help him look meaner in the cage; everything on his body means something.

"When it comes to symbology, and even religion, it's all about the way you personally view things."

Kiefer began working at Robinson Hall a year ago, first as a doorman, then a barback. It's there he met Joe Foster, in charge of security at the bar. The veteran in martial arts, introduced Kiefer to the sport.

"He took me under his wing," Kiefer said. "I've often looked at the UFC and thought I could do it, being a doorman and always being in scraps. It's today's equivalent to being a gladiator, when you think about it. I would have loved to grow up with sword in hand and go into battle. That would have been a great lifestyle for me," said Kiefer, who admits to having a large library of gladiator movies.

He likes the fact he'll actually be paid to hit people.

"I would wrestle with my friends and I'd be the one to go overboard and hurt them, and feel like a jerk. It will be nice to get into a fight and not worry about the other guy."

University is on hold as he makes his pro debut Oct. 6, then two more fights, Nov. 10 in Montreal and Dec. 1 in Costa Rica, booked by his coach/manager Milton Gougoulias of Suffer System Submission Academy in London.

"He's a hidden gem that can be a phenom," Gougoulias said. "His dedication is incredible. We put him in with heavyweights on purpose to test his mental ability. I know he's strong physically, but I want to see what he's got when he's exhausted. The guy will go toe-to-toe with a 220-pounder. That's dedication."

Gougoulias said the Costa Rica fight is a good international introduction.

"A lot of fighters are looking to get to the UFC and this is where they'll get noticed.

"And it's not whether you win or lose. They just want to see how they perform. Of course we want you to win, but we want to see how you perform under the lights in front of the crowd. When the (cage) door shuts, are you going to freeze? Even though we have a cage at our facility, it's still a big difference when you go in front of 15,000."

Kiefer's body has undergone an incredible transformation. It's taken strict dieting and 2 1/2 hours a day at GoodLife. He runs 45 minutes every morning and trains with Gougoulias for 2 1/2 hours, three times a week at his academy.

"In the shot put, it was always about putting on as much weight as I could. I would have a double Big Mac and a large Coke after every workout and before going to bed, three scoops of ice cream and a protein shake. It was 10,000 calories a day.

"Now it's 16 egg whites in the morning, then chicken breasts in the afternoon with brown rice and rice cakes."

But all work and no play?

"Every Sunday is my 'cheat day.' So I usually go to eat with my girlfriend at a restaurant and my cheating is salad, pasta, fruit, ice cream and a brownie."

But Kiefer isn't about to cheat himself.

"I just want to show the world what I've got. But the last thing I want to be is cocky. I just want to get out there and do it and I know the hard work I put into it. There's not many people who work as hard as me and everything you're ever rewarded with is through hard work -- and I feel in the end I'll be rewarded."

But what about all those blows he'll take to his face.

"Beauty is only skin deep," he says with a smile.


Videos

Photos