An Interview with MMA Fighter and Nixa Native, Austin Clem
Interview by Jeremy Lux, article by Eric Gasa
Minutes before he’s throwing punches and bodies in the ring, MMA pro Austin Clem likes to get his mind right before a match. Some warriors take a little prayer, others have a quick macho sesh of chest beating or jumping up and down, Clem on the other hand is a little different; “I’ll listen to smooth jazz or something chill like The Lumineers honestly...” Moments before breaking skulls this guy is trying to listen to some Kenny G. Maybe its not how you picture your usual MMA fighter gearing up for a fight, but Clem isn’t exactly your average athlete either. Calm and collected for the finish, Clem seems to have mastered the key of keeping one’s cool when the heat is on.
For episode 14 of the Life in Motion podcast, Jeremy Lux sits down with Springfield, Mo MMA fighter Austin Clem about winning, losing, being calm in the face of adversity (as well as fists), and the million things that can go completely right and wrong while in the ring.
Growing up in Nixa, Mo Clem played every sport he could. Wrestling would obviously be his way into the world of MMA, but in junior high Clem was just a highly competitive kid who also liked to throw down. His attitude towards the sport hasn’t changed since.
After high school, Clem started hitting the gym and training room hard; Jujitsu, Muay Thai, kickboxing classes. Clem wanted every skill at his disposal in the cage and he had the coaches to support him.
“I speak from not knowing too much about the sport but what did your coaches see in you that you can attribute?” asks Lux.
“I still don’t know,” Clem replies, “They just said that they could see that I had it. I don’t know if after coaching for so long you kind of see something in somebody, but they said I could punch hard and pick up on things fast.”
When it comes to the anatomy of a fight according to Clem there’s a million different tweaks, dynamics, and angles that go into winning the day. The slip of a foot could spell bad news, while just the right angle of attack for a low kick can mean victory.
“There are little adjustments with every fight,” Clem shares, “My mind was just blown with everything I was learning with each fight. Not only was I pushing my body, but I felt like I was also pushing my mind so much at the same time.”
In MMA there’s also the dynamic of literally choosing your own battles. As a promoter-based sport, there’s such things as smart fights (possible wins) and dumb fights (doom) all the while trying not to intentionally pad your record. From Clem’s words, the whole thing sounds a bit like a dance between going big and knowing your own limitations.
Regardless of accepting a dumb or a smart fight, Austin is always sure to do his homework on his opponent. This usually means watching the same matches on YouTube over and over again until you get a sense of your opponent’s style, strengths, and weaknesses. Clem also realizes the double-edged sword of exposure; “As an amateur I try to keep a lot of [my fights] offline because I don’t want people seeing what I do.”
“But yeah,” he says, “it's about trying to pick apart tendencies, watching film is just as important as the actual fighting.”
At a record of 7-1, preparation is a huge part of Clem’s success. When preparing to take on Memphis’ All-Star 155 pound fighter, Clem underwent an eight-week personal fight camp to ensure victory, and for good reason—the same fighter is now making his way to the UFC’s top ranks.
Clem’s routine changed drastically in those eight weeks; in two months he went from 197 pounds down to the competitor’s 155, underwent hours of drilling choke holds, and practiced kicks to take advantage of his opponent’s weak wide stance. Even as Clem got down to 165 pounds, he still opted to drill with 195-pound training partners just to get an edge. And to think, all the work almost came crashing down when it came weigh in…
“So, I had from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm to weigh in that day and when I got there, I was .6 pounds overweight,” admits Clem.
What happened next kind of defines Clem’s superhuman determination to his body and sport; Clem drove to his hotel and lost a pound and a half …in 30 minutes. How? It may sound crazy, but the guy ran a mile, jumped rope for several minutes, then turned his hotel bathroom into a sauna by running the sink and bath water for half an hour, all the while doing intervals of exercise.
Amazingly, Clem returned to the weigh-in 1.5 pounds below 155. He had made the cut.
Okay, but here’s the even crazier part; he gained 22 pounds of it back in 18 hours. The strange thing with MMA, wrestling, boxing, what have you, is that most officials don’t care about the fighter’s weight after weigh-in the day before the match. So that means competitors can absolutely gorge themselves in time for the event. Overnight, Clem downed three Pedialyte, a full case of water, four plates of pasta, plus salads, several Clif bars, and a protein shake. Clem described it as the afternoon after Thanksgiving.
But even he admits that the weigh-in loophole is a bit wild.
“There needs to be some kind of rule as far only coming in 10% heavier,” he explains.
Clem hit the cage tipping the scale at 177 pounds.
The hard work paid off; Clem defeated his opponent in the second round. Pacing himself, Clem was still breathing out his nose at the end of the match.
Though winning is great, Clem admits that he hates losing more than he loves winning: “It just eats me alive. Actually the screensaver on my phone is from two years ago when I lost. Its been that ever since because every time I look at my phone it reminds me.”
Clem is still the same competitor he’s always been. Cool, calm, and collected in the ring, but burning with motivation to win. When it comes to newcomers to MMA, or just any athletes really, Clem recommends to “keep showing up and keep doing what you’re doing. Do what you love every day.”
And when it comes to that moment of truth, when the adrenaline is pumping in the ring, just take a deep breath.
“Confidence comes in waves,” says Clem, “It’s like nothing I’ve never felt before fighting. I love the sport and I love the beauty of it.”
To follow Austin Clem’s MMA journey find him on Facebook or his Instagram @pink_clemonade_. To hear the full recording of Clem’s interview with Jeremy Lux be sure to check out the Life in Motion podcast on iTunes.