All across the Pacific Northwest there are amazing stories in the mixed martial arts world of dedicated and hard-working individuals that overcome a number of struggles in their chase of the sport they love that just need to be shared.
This last week MMAmadhouse had a chance to sit down and talk with one of those individuals, a 2-2, up-and-coming professional fighter, father, and coach – Chris “Hawaiian Punch” Folsom.
“This sport changed my life. When I started this sport I had an irregular heartbeat and a bad back. I was like, 320lbs,” Folsom spoke passionately about his love of MMA and the effect it had on his life.
“Without this sport who knows. I have kids, and I wouldn’t be able to play with my sons right now. I do everything with my sons. Then I couldn’t do crap, I woke up one morning and couldn’t feel my legs because my disc slid, that’s just how out of shape and horrible I was. When I found this sport, the sport changed me. That’s why I work so hard in this building, because I want this sport to have an opportunity to change these guys.”
We met with Chris Folsom in his hometown of Roseburg, OR, at his training facility, dubbed ‘The Factory’. Upon arrival we realized the industrial reference wasn’t just in lieu of the location of the gym, but the gym was quite literally located inside The Sign Factory. Owned by extreme MMA enthusiast Greg Kovach, the compact, but well-suited training area serves as home-base for Folsom, who said he owes all his early success to the gym, and owner.
“When I couldn’t make the schedule at that other gym, I wouldn’t have had a place to fight – and I love fighting. This building made me, it gave me this sport. Basically, that’s why I run it. The main reason I do it is because I care about the guys that I corner, and the guys that I coach.”
Folsom currently runs two training sessions daily for young and hungry amateur fighters in the area such as Dylan Westwang, Chris Mintz, Lee McCurry, Jason Troxel and Tyler Barker. The gym is closed to a fighter, invite-only, list of students.
“For me, as bad as I need the money – I mean I am a struggling, poor, professional fighter – as bad as I need the money, the money comes secondary when it comes to this building.”
Limited funds, and late payments might results in some pranks at your expense, but it’s all in good fun says Folsom. It’s all about the sport of MMA and having a place for dedicated people to find a way to train.
“There are some guys that come into this building and they are struggling. This economy struggles. For me, if you’re going to come in here and work hard, well then we’ll figure it out later. Because I want these guys to have partners, I want these guys to start the sport that they think they love. I want to them at least see if they do.”
Chris Folsom also took a trip down memory lane to talk with MMAmadhouse about his entrance into the sport, a veteran now of competition for over five years that accumulated a 7-3 amateur record with titles in two weight divisions before turning professional.
“My very first fight, I fought against a guy that was 4-0. I didn’t even want to fight. I had a couple of friends that were professional fighters already, and they said ‘You have to fight!’. I said ‘No’. I grew up wrestling, and I wasn’t a good wrestler, either. I just didn’t want to get hit. So I said ‘No!’.
“They begged me for six months, and finally I agreed to do it one time, just so they would leave me alone. I was knocked dizzy and I ended up TKO’ing the kid in the first round – while I was dizzy. And it just took off from there, I couldn’t have enough fighting after I won.”
Improvement has always been the goal for Folsom, who continued to aspire in the sport. Fighting in the always competitive Oregon amateur arena, Chris competed at both the heavyweight and light-heavyweight classes.
“I just worked my way up. My first title fight I worked my way up to was at 205lbs against Nate Miller, a super tough kid. I cut 17lbs the day of the fight, and it was day-of weigh ins. I cut a lot of weight and he hit me twice, and I got dizzy. And then he hit me really good. It got ruled a knockout, but I haven’t actually been out, I’ve been dizzy and had to been saved.
“That was my first title fight and obviously I lost it,” But Folsom would not be dissuaded. “From there on, for the next four years, I beat everybody. That’s pretty much where I got all my amateur wins. I got two title shots and I beat both of those guys in the first round.”
After a successful professional debut in the heavyweight division, Chris received a call early in July of 2010 from Matt ‘The Law’ Lindland to take a last-minute bout at an upcoming SportFight event at light-heavyweight. The event was just over a week away at the time of the call.
“I said yeah, absolutely, I’ll be there. It’s SportFight, I’m not going to say no.”
Folsom went on to knockout his opponent Justin Gardner of Washington, at the halfway mark of the very first round. After the event, Lindland approached Folsom.
“Matt came to me, and I just told him thanks for letting me fight on the show. We had talked once or twice before then, but he kind of knew that I didn’t have any real coaching for my whole first years of fighting.
“He said, “Well there’s a spot open on the pro team if you want it,” so I said, “Okay, I’ll be there next month,” and I did. I came up there as soon as I could and I’ve been driving back and forth ever since and looking for jobs up there.”
The drive from Roseburg to Team Quest in Gresham clocks in conservatively on MapQuest as a three-and-a-half hour trip each way.
“A lot of people look at me like I’m crazy when I do it,” Folsom discussed making the trek north as often as possible.
“People tell me I can stop by here, or there, but it’s not the same for me. It’s not going to be the same amount of difficulty. I learn fast, I’ve always learned real fast. Which is the reason I think why I did good as an amateur, is only because I was learning fast.”
Learning from the likes of UFC fighters Chael Sonnen, Yushin Okami, and many more, as well as a top notch coaching team including Matt Lindland, Jamie Huey, Scott McQuary, and Clayton Hines, Folsom sees plenty of value in the investment of time and travel.
“I won’t go to another gym. I feel like my coaching staff that I have right now, with coach Clayton, and Jamie, and coach Scott and Matt, I feel like those guys are what I need. That’s why I’m loyal, I’ll stay there.”
“I’m raw,” Folsom discussed his evolving skills. “I’m still raw, and I’ve still been good enough to compete really well. So now with their help, I should be able to be where I want to be in the next year. So that’s the plan, but with out them I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Folsom and family have been on the rebound of losing close loved ones in the past two years after the death of his infant daughter Aolani, shortly followed by the death of Folsom’s Uncle – a man who played a crucial role in his upbringing. Chris Folsom and his family have had a difficult time in the last year, both inside the ring and out. After a two fight skid inside the cage following the tragedies, the Folsom family continues to force a positive attitude and work towards their goals.
“It messes with you, I can’t even explain how horribly it messes with you. It messes with me every morning still,” Folsom discussed his angst, a man who wears his heart on his sleeve – much like his UFC idols BJ Penn and Tito Ortiz.
“Trying to come back from two losses, and all the personal stuff in the last year and a half, I want it to be for a reason. And that’s been the most frustrating thing, not getting enough fights, not getting the right fights.” The two bouts Folsom has had since October ended in a quick and contested TKO stoppage, and a heavyweight loss after accepting a bout on 2 days notice.
Always persistent, willing to stand up and shake himself off, Chris Folsom pushes forward with the support of his close friends and family.
“I really don’t think as hard as I work right now, and the reason I’m working for it, I don’t think there’s any reason I won’t get to my goals. I’m going to get to my goals or I’m going to die trying. And I’m not going to just do it for my daughter or my uncle, but for my family and my friends. The people who have stuck by me for these last two losses.
“I want to get back on track and to where I’m supposed to be, whatever I have to do. I think the manager situation will help, I think the coaching situation I have now will help. Between that and my work ethic, I think it’s completely possible.”
The biggest obstacle for Folsom is a plaguing issue for many mixed martial artists here in Oregon, a lack of professional opportunities.
“It’s hugely frustrating,” Chris discussed the lack of fights in the last year, after a busy amateur schedule.
“As a fighter, the grind sucks. It really, really sucks when you don’t have anything to look forward to. It already sucks when you have a fight eight weeks away, but when you don’t have a fight to look forward to, and you’re training as hard as you can all the time.
“It’s hard for me as a competitor because I want to fight all the time, hence the reason I take fights on two-days notice. I love fighting, I want to be in the cage, I want to hit somebody.”
Until recently, Folsom recruited his own fights with promoters with mixed results. Now with the help of management and coaches, Chris feels the right fights are coming for him.
“I will fight for almost nothing, just let me fight. Let me get my career going. I want to get those five, six wins so I can get to the bigger shows, I want to get those, like yesterday. That’s my goal, if it wasn’t my goal, if it wasn’t my goal to get to those shows then I wouldn’t do this.”
Before we departed from our conversation with Chris Folsom, we asked about his well-known nickname, “Hawaiian Punch”. It was a topic that made Chris immediately laugh and shake his head. The name was dubbed before his amateur debut, when Folsom believed the single fight would be his last, but as his career continued, so did the name.
“It just stuck,” Chris discussed the nickname. “I take a lot of pride in my Hawaiian heritage, I love my heritage. That’s the only cool thing about the nickname, is that it has that. I hate the nickname, but I love that it’s part of my heritage.”
After approached by a young fan early in his career that also came from an islander heritage, Folsom now has a positive acceptance of the name that follows him.
“Even if a couple little kids get something out of it, and they are proud of their heritage because I am, that’s huge to me. I try to pass that to my sons and my daughters, I think it’s a big deal.”
Fans, fighters, and promoters can find Chris on Facebook, and also on Twitter! We at MMAmadhouse can’t wait to see Chris “Hawaiian Punch” Folsom back in the cage again, and back to his winning ways! He is a great guy, exciting fighter, and someone that truly supports LOCAL MMA!