Gutierrez, an undefeated featherweight, is looking to move up in the MMA ranks through his passion and athletic background.
LANSING, Mich. - Mixed Martial Arts, for many fighters, is a combat sport that is incredibly hard, challenging and stressful, but also rewarding. It takes a lot of dedication and sacrifice to reach the top.
Mando “El Toro” Gutierrez is a professional amateur MMA fighter from East Lansing, who is currently undefeated at 7-0 as a featherweight. He is ranked No. 2 in Michigan as a featherweight, and fourth in the Midwest. He fights out of Lansing’s Murcielago MMA Club.,
Gutierrez, 22, also has a successful career outside of MMA, as he is a professional barber at Grand River Barber Company.
Gutierrez grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, where there are a lot of opportunities to play in team sports. However, Gutierrez never fit in with team sports, and since his early middle school days, gravitated toward wrestling.
Another passion was forming, as at 12 years, Gutierrez questioned his mother about why they would always pay for haircuts. He believed he could get some clippers and do it himself. Eventually, he got better as time went on, investing in products and practicing on his brother in the early days.
He walked on as a wrestler at the University of Iowa but ended up shifting his goal to becoming a professional MMA fighter.
“…Things didn't quite work the way I wanted it to work out there (Iowa) and that is how I kind of fell in love with MMA,” Gutierrez said. “Ever since then, this has kind of been my main goal ever since the day I stopped wrestling. I still coach and am on the scene for some events, but I stopped competing on the international scene and only focus on MMA and Brazilian jiu-jitsu now.”
At college, Gutierrez’s passion for hair grew stronger, as he would often cut his teammates’ or friends’ hair. When he returned home in Chicago, he found a job at a local barbershop. He quickly turned his second dream into a full-time career and has never been happier.
“I worked at Home Depot for a bit and quickly quit that job because having a boss is just not my thing,” Gutierrez said. “I quit and started working at a barbershop and never looked back since. It’s the best job in the world to have when I want to also focus on other goals and aspirations.
“It’s nice to not answer to anybody really, focus on me, and not really have anyone to tell me what to do.”
Gutierrez said he excels in haircutting and fighting because as he considers them his day job and an afternoon job.
“MMA means, to me, a second chance,” Gutierrez said. “It’s my second chance, realizing all my goals and aspirations I set out for myself ever since I was younger. I always wanted to be that guy at the top of the podium, that guy being crowned as a champion.
“I have an addiction for winning and I’ve always wanted to be the best of the best. Wrestling didn’t pan out the way I wanted too when I sat out and that was a really hard pillow to swallow. I’m not going to let this opportunity pass.”
Ajay Richardson, Gutierrez’s girlfriend, watches him push himself every day to the max for training. No matter how much she tries to make it easy for him, Gutierrez continues to train harder every day.
“He pushes himself a lot,” Richardson said. “I just try to make it as easy for him as possible. Him cutting weight, the saunas, the ice baths are just awful. He just pushes himself too hard whether it be on his back or ankles, it’s just tough to watch sometimes.
“However, I know that anything he can do to make himself better, he’s going to do it regardless and I’m always going to back him up for that.”
Gutierrez said training is his personal life, aside from spending time with Richardson. Without it, he cannot sleep or go on with his day properly. The only days off are spent time watching film, focus on recovery, and focus on the mental aspect of the game because it is extremely important maintaining your mentality and remaining calm of going into each fight.
Gutierrez said that a lot of fighters train for each fight. He trains to get better and his consistency of winning has shown it, as he is 7-0 in his division.
“Getting that grind in along with the dedication in each training session he does with me is always really helpful,” said Michael Gillmore, Gutierrez’s teammate. “The consistency and motivation he has - I’m one of the older guys on the team and I’ve gone through college and have a full-time career with me. Sometimes you lose that motivation sometimes being a little bit older is not always there. He’s got something about him that makes you want to get better.”
Gillmore said that training and being together, while seeing all the different things Gutierrez has improved upon, allows him to improve on his game with all the tips and adjustments they give to each other.
Gutierrez’s goals are to move around the country to train and compete at different camps. Changing his scenery and training will help him gain another look, compete against different bodies, and see how well his hard work will really pay off.
“No offense really to anybody in this area, but when your goal is to be the best, you need to surround yourself with killers that are different than with the people that you are used to going against,” Gutierrez said. “Make no mistake, the people I work with here are phenomenal fighters and highly ranked prospects in the country, but it’s always nice to go up against someone you are not too familiar with.”