Fighters fight. And Justin Schmit does just that.
Whether it’s in the hockey arena or in the cage, Schmit, 33, has never backed down from a fight.
“I’ve never turned down a fight. I’ve fought at heavyweight, I’ve fought at light heavyweight, I’ve fought at middleweight, and I’ve fought at welterweight,” said Schmit in an interview.
“I just like to be able to compete. My biggest fear is fear itself. I’m terrified of being scared. I love to be able to face that fear, and the only way I know how to do that is to get in there and compete.”
While he may be a regular in the MMA cage as a professional with a 4-8 record nowadays, it wasn’t all that long ago Schmit was throwing fists on the ice, professionally, as well.
Schmit said since he wasn’t the fastest skater or the best puck-handler, he knew the enforcer role was his chance to make a career of hockey, which he did for several years.
“I knew from a young age that if I was going to have a career in hockey, I’d have to do the things that others didn’t want to do,” said Schmit.
“Guys may say they like dropping the gloves, but I don’t think they liked doing it as often or consistently as I did.”
Protector of The Pack
Brent Cullaton is a former teammate of Schmit’s, as well as a close friend since 2006, and he said, unlike most hockey players, Schmit was one of the players that loved to fight.
When Cullaton first discovered Schmit had taken up MMA, he was not at all surprised after what he saw from Schmit on the ice.
“There’s guys in hockey that fight, but don’t enjoy it. Then there’s guys like Schmit who fight, but they enjoy getting hit. It kind of wakes them up,” said Cullaton in an interview.
“MMA is a perfect fit for him. It’s just about learning the martial arts and the discipline to be a full-rounded fighter.”
Throughout their time as teammates, Cullaton said Schmit truly embraced the role of enforcer.
He said Schmit protected everyone on the team as if they were family, and always made sure the opposition knew what they were dealing with.
“He was always a team-first guy with a good attitude, and very positive towards his teammates,” said Cullaton.
“He was like the father goose of the clan. He was very protective of his teammates and played the role very well. If anyone touched one of his boys, they were going to pay the price.”
In 2008, Schmit began turning his attention to throwing fists in the cage, rather than on the ice.
But despite several years of playing the role of enforcer, Schmit said an MMA fight is a far as can be from a hockey fight.
“I had to forget everything I knew about hockey fighting when I went to MMA because it’s like apples and grapes. There’s no parallels between the two,” said Schmit.
“A hockey fight was more of a sprint whereas an MMA fight is more of a marathon.”
With 12 professional MMA fights now under his belt, combined with dozens of hockey fights in front of thousands of people, Schmit has had plenty of experience performing under the bright lights.
But despite having exchanged blows with another man well over 50 times in his life, Schmit said he doesn’t feel any less nervous when he steps into the cage to do it all again.
“For me, it’s the fear of the unknown. You have all this build up, all this training, and completely alter your lifestyle for the fight, and you just don’t know what’s going to happen after the door closes,” said Schmit.
“If you get in the cage and there’s not a ball of nerves, you definitely got something wrong with you.”
In 2014, took his involvement in MMA to yet another level, and opened his own gym, Apex MMA, in his hometown of Strathmore, Alta.
In addition to paying the bills, Schmit said it also allows him the opportunity to train full-time, and be more prepared each time he makes the walk to the cage, including his upcoming Unified MMA 35 bout.
He said, with Strathmore being “out in the middle of nowhere,” he saw it as an opportunity to bring something to the community, while making a living doing it.
“I like seeing people be able to live out their passion, and me being able to facilitate it,” said Schmit.
“I like seeing kids happy, and I like seeing adults, who maybe didn’t make the healthiest choices earlier in life, changing their lifestyle.”
Expertise Not Going Unnoticed
Regan RunningRabbit has been working with Schmit for two years at Apex MMA, and has compiled an amateur MMA record of 2-1 in that time.
With Schmit still being an active fighter himself, RunningRabbit said it’s especially helpful for he and the other students to have such a fresh knowledge base to watch and learn.
“He has a lot of experience inside the cage and has fought a lot of the top talent here in Canada, so he’s been there in situations I haven’t been in yet,” said RunningRabbit in an interview.
“For a game plan for a fight, he can definitely look at my opponent and tell me where I can excel.”
The coach-student connection is an important one for the overall success of the student, and RunningRabbit said Schmit excels in all areas of coaching.
The moments leading up to a fight can be very stressful and nerve-racking for any fighter, especially amateurs, and RunningRabbit said Schmit’s attitude and demeanour really helps to put everyone’s minds at ease.
“Even though he pushes you to crazy limits, Schmit has really awesome humour. He can turn a bad situation into a funny situation,” said RunningRabbit.
“He keeps the humour in the gym very energetic and keeps everyone moving, making sure everyone’s on top of their game.”