Tyler McGuire (ONE Championship)

ONE on TNT I’s Tyler McGuire: The Long Road to the Top

Dan Kuhl Interview Manager

The twists and turns of the curvy road of life can be no better personified than in ONE Championship middleweight, and former title contender, Tyler McGuire. That being said, what seems like a long windy road from small-town Iowa to two international careers, McGuire makes it sound quite linear.

“I was pretty much raised by a single mom,” McGuire told Combat Press. “You know, dad, in and out. I’ve got an awesome mom, an awesome support system and awesome grandparents. It was a small-town life in Iowa in a town of about 8,000 people. It was good, you know, middle class – wasn’t rich, wasn’t poor. I played sports and was outside all the time.”

McGuire got his start in martial arts at a young age as well, starting out in taekwondo when he was six or seven years old, before moving into traditional team sports. He was very fast, especially for a thick guy that currently stands at 5-feet-11. When he was in college at Iowa Wesleyan University, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds, and his five-year college career was paid for in athletic scholarships – first in soccer, then in football.


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For his first four years on his college soccer team, McGuire played whatever position the team needed his speed – striker, back or outside winger. In his fifth year at Iowa Wesleyan, he transitioned onto the football team.

“Our football team had a lot of room for growth, so I punted, played quarterback, and was a scout-team wide receiver. Because I ran a [4.3-second 40-yard dash], I would do like a roll-out rugby, and if I got to the outside in the seal, I would just take off. I remember the first time I did it, I just kind of did it on a whim. Just saw an opening and ran, and my coach told me if I hadn’t gotten it, I would be walking home from the game.

“I was not your orthodox punter. I remember one time, we were playing St. Ambrose, and I went to punt and my entire line got blown up. So, I kind of like pump-faked the punt, and they all jumped right over me, so I squirted through and ran for like a first down or something. Apparently, you’re not supposed to do that. You’re just supposed to punt and if it gets blocked, it gets blocked, but I didn’t know. I was just being an athlete.”

Iowa Wesleyan not only provided a free education for McGuire, who first went on to a teaching job in special education, but it also created a connection that actually shaped most of his life today.

“I met my wife when I was in college,” McGuire explained. “Being seven miles apart, we actually knew each other in high school. When we started dating in college, her cousin, Gabe Lemley, started fighting professionally. I had just graduated college, and I was still 23 wanting to stay active. I need motivation to work out. Thought it would be cool, because it was on my bucket list to fight in a cage.

“It was 2009, and I was watching Chuck Liddell and all these people fight. Gabe had fought Clay Guida on a local show, and he beat him. He’s got a pretty good name for Southeast Iowa. So, I started training with him. I didn’t wrestle or anything in my life. At 23 or 24, I won my first fight in a minute. I was like ‘shit, I’ve been doing this three months, and I just got a win out of it.’ And, then I won the next one. I was on a roll from there, and then I got offered a fight on two days’ notice. They said if I won that, I would get ranked as one of the top-five amateurs in Iowa. So, I fought that, and won that. The next fight was for a title shot – won that. The next fight was a title shot, and I got that. Then, I fought one or two guys in Chicago.”

Eventually, McGuire knew he was going to join the United States Air Force, and he finished his amateur fighting career at 6-0. He still is a proud member of the USAF since October of 2012, where he works as a SERE Specialist and his a commissioned officer. He helps train pilots in survival skills. While working in Spokane, he came across a now-well-known MMA camp.

“I came across a gym called Sikjitsu, where Michael Chiesa, Sam Sicilia, Julianna Pena were all training,” McGuire said. “That was cool, because I had just gotten done watching The Ultimate Fighter not too long ago – the one where Chiesa won. I thought it’d be cool to train with him. After a year, my coach Rick Bell told me if I’m going to fight, I’m going pro. I told him I wasn’t ready. Honestly, I’d still probably be an amateur if he didn’t convince me. I just didn’t think I was ready. I just started fighting professionally, and three years later, I fought for a world title. At no point in time, did I think I was going to do this. I just wanted to see how far it would take me.”

McGuire made his pro debut in April 2015, and went all the way to 11-0, before fighting Zebaztian Kadestam in the co-main event of ONE Championship: Warrior’s Dream for the middleweight title. Making it over 24 minutes into a five-round war against his Swedish opponent, McGuire suffered the first loss of his career by a late knockout with only 28 seconds left in the fight.

“He was the better man that night,” McGuire admitted. “There were some things I was dealing with prior to the fight that I’m probably never going to disclose, because I’m not going to take away from his win. Every fighter is going through things, and if you show up on fight night, you are saying on the dotted line that you are good to go. I put it out there, and he was the better man that night. I did learn a lot though. Up until that point, I fought one way for 18 fights – hard-nosed and I’ll eventually make them melt.

“My plan was to take Zebaztian into deep water to see if he could swim. And, it turns out, he is a very good swimmer. One of the things I really learned is to be more efficient. I came out, and I was trying to make him melt early, get the takedown and this and that. And, he’s probably the strongest man I’ve ever felt in my life. That includes heavyweights. That man is made out of iron. Every time I hit him, it was like ‘good lord.’ Every time he hit me, it was like ‘good lord.’ I’m not going to lie, this last camp, I finally learned high-school wrestling. You know, things that you actually saw executed against Agilan [Thani], because before, it was just horsepower.”

McGuire faced Thani for ONE last December, and he came out with a unanimous-decision victory. Later that month, the promotion announced a new broadcasting deal with TNT, and the first card is set to take place this Wednesday in Singapore. In February, McGuire – who has since moved with his wife and five-year-old daughter to Tucson, Ariz., and trains at Apex MMA under head coach and former UFC fighter Joey Rivera – will be facing Raimond Magomedaliev for a chance to get back into title contention.

Magomedaliev, who fights out of Russia, is currently 7-1 as a pro, and has finished his opponents in all but one of his wins, with his sole loss coming by decision to former title contender James Nakashima.

“I know he’s a killer,” McGuire said. “Listen, these Dagestanis, pick one out of a crowd, and they’re going to be one of the toughest fights you’ve ever had in your life. It just doesn’t matter. That part of the world is just a different mindset. And, they’ve earned that respect. Obviously, [former UFC lightweight champion] Khabib [Nurmagomedov] kind of paved the way in the sense of getting them the notoriety, but you see a guy from that part of the world with a beard, you know it’s going to be tough. I do know he likes to strike. He’s not as wrestling heavy or grappling heavy. I know he has the ability. He’s like a sambo champ or something like that. I do know he likes the space and the striking.”

This will be a pivotal fight for McGuire’s career, as it is the last fight on his current contract with ONE. He has plans to make a run for gold again, and considering where he is in his career, a big win could mean a big pay raise as well.

“Not that ONE is giving me a crappy contract or anything, but I fought out my contract,” McGuire explained. “If you look at my record, my strength of schedule, everyone that I fought has either had the title or has fought for the world title. And, I have a strong inkling that the winner of this is going to get a title shot too. I know they’re pretty high on Raimond. I’m fighting all of their top-five, top-10 guys, so my goal is to get paid, but also get this win and finally get my hands on that world title. I came up 20 seconds short. I don’t know if I was winning or losing that last title fight, so I don’t know if I was that close. I’d like to win this fight pretty convincingly, and hopefully this summer, get a shot at the champ.”

Sikjitsu’s Bell has actually gone down to Tucson to help prepare McGuire for his fight this week. He maintains a sort of dual camp between Tucson and Spokane, and is very confident going into his next battle. Once his fighting and military careers are over, he plans to go back to teaching special education, but for now, the 36-year-old is focused on a ONE title. He is passionate about being an example both in and out of the cage.

“Recently, I just became an ambassador for the Fight for Autism organization,” McGuire elaborated. “They’re based out of Europe. They’ve got organizations here in the United States. The one that I work with is in Indiana. Basically, what they do is provide opportunities in combat sports and fitness for people on the spectrum to complete – grappling tournaments or if they want to box or whatever it is – in a safe environment. If you meet one child with autism, you’ve met one person with autism, because it can show up in a myriad of different ways. Some people, you look at them, and you would never even know. What they’re trying to provide is a safe environment for them to do have that outlet in.”

From small-town Iowa to college scholarships to a teaching career to a military career, McGuire’s life is one that has been full of twists and turns, and he wouldn’t give that back for anything. To throw a professional fighting career, and another chance for a world-title run into the mix, the guy has lived a life of a few different people. On Wednesday night, he takes he next step in his long and storied life, as he fights Magomedaliev at ONE on TNT I.