Taking Sacrifice to a Whole New Level

Brett Ludeke, center, looks on at FightWorks, a mixed martial arts center in Sterling, Va., where he goes to train five nights a week after his day job.
Brett Ludeke, center, looks on at FightWorks, a mixed martial arts center in Sterling, Va., where he goes to train five nights a week after his day job. (Tracy A. Woodward - The Washington Post)
By Ryan Mink
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, September 1, 2007

Nobody questioned Brett Ludeke when he walked into his office with a fresh black eye. Even if somebody asked him how he had gotten it, he wouldn't have been able to tell them. He had no idea who punched him; there were too many possibilities.

Working for the global security company ArmorGroup, the 24-year-old can spend hours on the phone as the middleman between the guards who protect the U.S. embassy in Kabul and his bosses. It's interesting work, he says, but it's not where he got that black eye. That came from somebody in his other office, where he trains for his dream job -- being an Ultimate Fighting Championship athlete.

"I just like being in the thick of it," Ludeke said. "I like . . . showing myself how much I can do and how far I can be pushed. They keep proving to me I can do more than I think I can. If you can do what you love and get paid for it, why wouldn't you do that?"

The increase in the popularity of UFC has led to a predictable outcome: More people want to become professional mixed martial artists. But how does someone reach that point without getting creamed in the process?

Ludeke provides an excellent example of the difficulties involved. He grew up in Mechanicsville, Va., wrestled a little in middle school and was on his high school swim team, but otherwise has no significant athletic accomplishments. He is thin at 5 feet 11 and 155 pounds, and took up the sport two years ago when it was a little less popular. Scott Howard, Ludeke's mixed martial arts trainer and promoter, said there are about 30 gyms that teach mixed martial arts in the Washington area, double the number there were when he opened his gym, FightWorks in Sterling, 2 1/2 years ago.

Five days a week after work, Ludeke drives from his job in McLean to FightWorks. He warms up with a three-mile jog, then flips huge tires for 150 yards and runs through a series of sprints that on some days makes him vomit. Then he tapes his hands, puts on his thin gloves and spars.

He usually gets home at 10 p.m. and gulps down a protein shake, at least his second of the day because he doesn't have time to eat properly, and for several hours each night he self-administers electro-stimulation therapy to temporarily ease the pain from his aching muscles.

If he's lucky, he may get a visit from his girlfriend, Kathy Nguyen, whom he's been dating for more than seven months. Although she lives just five minutes away, he often sees her only on weekends.

Bedtime is around midnight and the alarm is set for 6:40 a.m.

He doesn't worry about trying to balance his fighting with his career and personal life. He has already given up his free time. He is already tired. "Honestly, I don't feel like it can get any more hectic than it is right now," Ludeke said.

Ludeke has completed a year of training in the grappling art of Brazilian jujitsu and another year in the striking art of Muay Thai. He has advanced far enough that his amateur debut will be today in a 30-foot cage at the Dulles Sportsplex.

But he's far from being ready for a pro career.

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