In Ya Face MMA knows that fighters aren’t just born, they are made. Not only made from the sweat, blood, hunger and tears that go into this sport, but from life experiences outside of the gym or the cage.
This month, our first amateur was nominated. I was skeptical on doing an interview on an amateur, but pros do have to start somewhere. Besides, it was hard to pass up the story of Matt “The Minister” Conahan. A record of 4-0, all by TKO due to striking… something has to be driving this young man to that type of violent success, I was interested in finding out what that was.
Matt trained at the same gym, I rolled with him a couple of times and he showed me some slick moves that worked well with my style. He is extremely tough, but was not too hard on me, being I’m a woman. I witnessed him in the Thai class, this guy doesn’t stop! He still could go 150% even after the bell rang for the 5th round.
I let him know he was nominated for Fighter of the Month. Humble and grateful, he accepted to do the interview. We simply met at the gym before class on a Monday. This was the first time I sat down with “The Minister” outside of class. This man practices what he preaches in more ways than one.
Matt Conahan: Nothing professionally, but both are still in very good shape. They still are always running, hiking, playing tennis, water skiing, etc. I have a very active family.
IYF: What was it like growing up in Colorado?
MC: Colorado is sick, it’s the best state. You have the mountains, sun, and an all around active lifestyle wherever you look. Growing up, I was never in the house much, whether, it was when I was little and blowing things up and playing outside, or as I got older, running around with my friends being an idiot, getting into a little more serious trouble (still sometimes blowing things up). I always love adventures, and Colorado has always given me my fix when it comes to going to the next extreme.
As a kid, I wasn’t in the house much and really found my family, love, and loyalty in my friends. There really wasn’t much of a reason for my distant relationships with my family, except for the fact that I was more of a punk than anything. I wanted to go out, be reckless, and do my own thing. I always cared about school, I was always very invested in relationships around me, and sports were my god. That’s was where I found myself, where I escaped from the chaotic world around me, and ultimately, where I found some of my closest friends.
When I got to 17 or 18, I was very distant from my family, and I was walking a fine line on getting into some serious trouble. I would have said I was smart back then and knew how to stay out of trouble, but now I just see myself as one lucky kid who knew how to run pretty fast. It all changed when my mom got hit with breast cancer. It buckled my family at the knees. My mom and dad were always very religious. As for me, I think I resented God, faith and “Jesus things”, because I didn’t have much of a relationship with them. Pretty interesting though, when some wrecking ball (shout out to Miley) type thing comes crashing into your life, you realize just how weak you are. My god had been put into wrestling, friends and my all around hard work… yet, as I ran to my room punching holes in my wall after being told this news, I asked myself what really is my foundation? What really is driving me? In the end I knew, I was just a lost passionate kid with things just distracting me from Truth: God.
My family responded with faith, hope and perseverance-mainly being witnessed from my mom. Wounds of the past eventually started to heal and it was the wake up call, which speaking on behalf of myself was very needed and I know my whole family would agree. My family is beyond close today, my mom is alive and my main guidance in this world is my Faith and Love.
IYF: You and your family are very lucky to have pulled through that, Matt. As a kid dealing with those turmoils, did you find an outlet in any sports?
Wrestling. I started when I was 13, which is actually pretty late for most successful wrestlers. I think my middle school principle and my mom saw how beneficial the sport would be for me so they threw me in it. I hated it, because I sucked and wanted to keep playing basketball with all of my friends. I always wanted to be in the NBA, but I was white and barely 5 foot, my dreams weren’t looking so hot. I weighed 65lbs, borrowed my friends shoes that were size 13’s (I wore a size 7’s I think: I looked like a clown) and wrestled 85lbs. I lost almost every match my 7th grade year. For some reason or another, I liked it. I liked how I could go out there and pretty much fight and not get in trouble. Even more so, I became addicted to getting my hand raised. The feeling of two men walking out onto a mat (or a cage) and not only physically battling, but mentally having a chess match, is unlike any other. No other sports other than MMA and wrestling have that. None ever will. Very few know what that is like.
IYF: Did you get into fights as a kid? If so, what were the reasons?
MC: Yes. Really, the only reason is, I am a guy, and I think guys like to fight as kids. As for me, it was pretty much as simple as he said she said stuff, although there were some fights where some of my friends needed help. I always was a little kid growing up and had little man syndrome, I never wanted to be discredited, so if I ever felt walked on, I would make it a point to never tread on me again. I also never wanted my little brother to ever feel like he didn’t have an older brother who wouldn’t protect him.
IYF: How did being a big brother impact your drive?
MC: Being a big brother has impacted me tremendously in my drive. I am honored to have a younger brother like my baby brother, Brian. He’s not so baby like anymore. He’s about 6’3 and 230lbs. and team captain on Gonzaga Universities Rugby Team. I think he’s from the mailman. Being a big brother, I never wanted him to have a bad example. I knew many times I wasn’t the best example for him to look up to, but I made a promise that he would never see me quit, and never see another man break me other than myself. My baby brother drives me more than anyone, and in so many ways is a better man than me. He also is my biggest fan: he comes to every fight!
MC: I continued to wrestle into high school because it was the only thing keeping me grounded. Honestly, I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for wrestling. It has taught me everything, and as much I can say I have given the sport with my time, weight cuts, insane sacrifices, hunger pains, morning practices, 2 a-days, 3 a-days, and injuries, it has given me so much more, and continues to give me more and more everyday.
After high school, I had a couple scholarships and places where I could go and wrestle. I decided to go to Saint Johns University, because I loved the team, the campus, and the school and ton! I highly recommend SJU for any wrestlers. I learned so much transitioning from high school wrestling to College wrestling from awesome coaching to amazing teammates. It was one of the hardest decisions of my life, to give up wrestling and transfer. At SJU we were just coming off of finishing 4th in NCAA and were having high hopes of finishing higher the seasons to come. I don’t usually share how hard of a decision that was.
Ultimately, I transferred because I felt God tugging on my heart and calling me to get an education in Philosophy and Theology. I knew two people at Franciscan University (the school I transferred to), it had no wrestling team, and was the last place where I thought I would finish up my college life. I was beyond scared, because 1 + 1= me at Saint Johns wrestling. Sometimes God has different plans though, and ultimately brought me out here. Now He is opening many doors and dreams in my life.
IYF: It is commendable that you passed up a scholarship to follow your faith. Can you tell me about your thoughts on that decision and how that has changed your life?
MC: Yeah, like I said before my faith was never really a part of my life, until I was about 18. Before that, I tried making my faith life important when “I wanted it/ needed it” kind of like putting God on the shelf and getting Him down whenever I felt the “oh crap” a hurdle is coming up. Even when I was 18, it was hard for me to live my faith life, because I was so committed to wrestling, and never fully invested myself. In so many ways, wrestling was my god. I’m far from perfect, I’m still trying and discovering ways on how I can give myself to the Lord.
Giving up wrestling was the hardest thing for me to do. Not only because of the amazing teammates, friendships, successes, and opportunities it opened me up to, but even more so, because when my life was broken, wrestling was always a constant. Wrestling never gave up on me, like so many other things did. Wrestling pushed back when I tried to push it away.
Transferring to Franciscan University, a tiny little Catholic school, with no wrestling, far from home, literally made no sense. Yet there was peace in the decision. I knew that if God were calling me to it, that it would have to work out. If God is with me, then who can be against me right? So far, it has been the best thing that’s happened to my faith life, because it has given my faith the knowledge it needed to stand firm.
IYF: Amazing. A passionate athlete such as yourself, giving up your sport for your faith. That is truly a “leap of faith”. How did you transition from wrestling to MMA?
MC: Saw it on TV and told myself “you can do that.” Never could do it full time because of wrestling. So when I transferred, I played Rugby for a little bit, then I jumped into it.
MC: I jumped into MMA at the Fight Club Pittsburgh, because I Googled a bunch of MMA gyms in Ohio and Pittsburgh area, and the FCP had really high rankings. I researched a couple of their fighters, because I knew that the guys I would be practicing with would dictate a lot of my improvement, and in how they push me. Iron sharpens iron. I came down, and instantly started to train with the fight team. The guys really took me under their wings, always trying to improve me, help me and pick my brain in my talents.
IYF: Can you tell me about your training regiment?
MC: Cardio is always a big part. I never walk into a cage or onto a mat unless I feel I am up to speed on cardio. Even in wrestling I maybe never was the best wrestler, best technician, fastest, or even smartest, but I had an engine that I knew could hang in there with the best.
My training regime is an 8-12 week camp usually (although these last couple months I have had a lot of fights). I take camp and training very serious. Obviously diet changes a lot due to the weight cut but so does the way I lift, and the way I train. I will come in Monday-Thursday and Saturdays to Pittsburgh Fight Club to spar, practice Muay-Thai, wrestle, box and practice Jiu-Jitsu.
I lift 12-6 weeks out, and then after I start to toil off, 6-3 weeks out. Working more on explosiveness, speed and endurance workouts. I like to feel strong, fast, and explosive in my fights, and not wondering if my gas tank will run out.
IYF: How did you come up with your fight name?
MC: Haha, It was actually my teammates; they started calling me Priest, but soon I told them that I wasn’t a priest, and actually wanted to hopefully have a wife some day. Instantly, they started calling me Reverend or “Revruuuunnn.” I never was picky with my name. I kind of just let them call me whatever they wanted. It was eventually PFC Owner, Mick, who finally gave me “Minister of Pain” because he knew I wanted to work with the youth, doing youth ministry. Its different, unique, and kind of depends on the day when you walk threw the gym, you might here some say “Hey Rev” or “Ayyy Minister”.
MC: I’m pretty calm. I will smile, and laugh in the locker room, yet very focused and ready to get the job done. Going out to the cage, it’s go time. The hard part with training and cutting weight is over, now its time to put on the show. I say my prayer to Mary and Jesus, asking them to protect me. Then it’s time to lock the cage and let the leather fly.
IYF: Are you looking for a submission or TKO?
MC: Whichever one. I train to finish. I like to hit people though.
IYF: I see that in all four of your fights you have won by TKO due to strikes. Very few people can claim that. Can you tell me your thoughts on how you have achieved that?
MC: I like to hit people. Speed beats power, and positioning beats both. I try to focus on all three.
IYF: When is your next fight? Who are you fighting?
MC: November 27th for the Lightweight Title at Pinnacle Fighting Championships. My opponent is Eric Bledsoe who is undefeated as well.
IYF: Where do you hope to be in one year? Ultimate goal with MMA?
MC: I hope to be a professional fighter climbing the ladder to the top. My ultimate goal with MMA, is to be the best fighter in the history of the world. As Pope Benedict says, “This world offers you comfort, but we were not made for comfort, we were made for greatness.”
IYF: How do you plan on getting there?
MC: One fight at a time, with hard work, humility, patience and perseverance… Also move my head and hit my opponent more than he hits me.
Food: BBQ food—GIVE ME ALL OF IT!
Alcohol: Bud Light or Southern Comfort
Athlete: Brian Conahan and Muhammad Ali
Sports Team: U.S.A. Olympic wrestling team, SJU wrestling team, Denver Broncos
Actor: Christian Bale
Band: Kid CuDi
Dream Date: Fighting anything with Kate Beckensale
What place would you like to travel that you haven’t been to yet? Thailand or Indonesia
What MMA fighter you would like to train with? Anderson Silva
Heroes? Jesus Christ, My Dad and Mom
Written by Jaime Chesney
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