Life is full of surprises – some good and some bad. For longtime Bellator veteran, and current Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship standout, Brandon Girtz, 2022 was a year full of surprises. The first one came on Jun. 15, 2022, a day that will forever be one of the best in his life. It was the day that he and his girlfriend Cydnee Winger, a former amateur MMA fighter, brought their son Aram into the world.
“I didn’t know [he was a boy] until I was catching him,” Girtz told Combat Press. “So, it was an amazing feeling. There were a lot of people – especially, the people close to me – where they knew that was pretty much all I wanted. I got a lot of shit with the whole, ‘If it’s a girl, you’re going to love her too.’ But, I wanted a son. I needed my Spartan baby.
“It’s a whole different life now. I had the dog, and now I’ve got two cats and a child and my woman. It’s a whole different life. I don’t want to say it’s tougher, but, in the fight game, it’s a little harder given the responsibilities. When I’m injured, I’m not just injured anymore. My family has to suffer from that, you know? So, it makes it a little heavier. I’ll tell you the truth, you look at it a little differently. You’re not just out there yourself. You know, I’m kind of a wildman, so the injuries didn’t ever really matter to me. Putting myself on the line and stuff never mattered to me, until it mattered to my lady, and until it mattered to holding my son. It’s just a different edge on it.”
Girtz and Winger met at Grudge Training Center in the Denver area several years ago, and they started dating a few years later. While Girtz, a professional combat sports veteran and former NCAA Division II wrestler out of Minnesota State University, has continued in his fighting career, Winger, who won her sole MMA fight in 2019, has moved on from fighting to take care of her family.
“She has a family business that she helps run, and it’s kind of like one of those things where, ‘Is it worth putting my energy into something that’s so demanding?’” Girtz said of Winger. “Two of us in the fight game wasn’t smart. It’s a hard road. She’s definitely a fighter, and she’s everything now, man.
“Having a son, right now, I don’t want to be like my time’s not here yet, but I look at it like, right now, Mom is the most important thing, which she will be. He doesn’t need me as much right now. Down the years is when he’s going to start needing his father. That’s what I’m super excited for. Obviously, I love my son right now, of course. He’s everything. He’s the cutest thing I look at. Right now, it’s nurture, you know? I’m not the nurturing part of this family. I’m so excited to start tossing the ball with him. You know, start doing man shit with him.”
Girtz last fought in the MMA cage back in Oct. 2020, when he suffered a split decision loss to Henry Corrales at Bellator 250. After eight years in the promotion, he was released and began looking for new opportunities. Having trained under boxing coach Jake Ramos – first at Grudge, and then Genesis Training Academy – and UFC and kickboxing veteran Pat Barry, Girtz has always had a penchant for the striking game. So, when the BKFC came calling, he jumped at the chance to fight in the ring.
In Oct. 2022, Girtz made his promotional debut at BKFC 31 in Broomfield, Colo. His opponent was BKFC and MMA veteran Jake Lindsey. In the first round, Girtz suffered a cut on his forehead. While it was a deep cut, it was not bleeding, and Girtz made it to the end of the second round. However, after the round came to a close, a ringside doctor examined the cut, and he called the fight off. It was a devastating end to a fight he was clearly winning.
“I felt robbed, honestly,” Girtz said. “Like, it was one of those things where I just felt like I wasn’t able to do my job correctly, given the opportunity. Yeah, I had a cut, you know, but I’ve seen worse. I saw worse that night, like in that women’s fight. I’ve seen worse from plenty of other fights before. I don’t even know how they cut came – maybe on the defensive jab that he threw – but, you know, for something to be stopped when you feel like you’re controlling the whole fight, it was devastating.
“It was a cut, and I’m not gonna sit there and downplay that. It wasn’t worse than some other cuts. It was deep, but it wasn’t bleeding. It wasn’t getting worse. That happened in the first round, so, from the first round to the second round, nothing changed. So, you stopped it? If you were so worried about me, you should’ve stopped it the first fucking round. It was the same exact cut and didn’t get worse. I don’t understand it, honestly. You go out there, and you’re ready to put it on the line, and it kind of gets taken away from you. I didn’t feel like I was losing whatsoever. It was heart-wrenching.”
As mentioned above, life is full of surprises. From June to October, Girtz had the wonderful surprises of his first child and a new contract, but the terrible surprise of getting a fight stopped, which should have gone on.
The Minnesota native broke his thumb in his BKFC debut, so he needed some time to heal up. Right around the time he was ready to go, the BKFC announced they would be back in the Denver area for a monumental pay-per-view card, stacked with big names. About three months ago, the promotion said they wanted him to fight at BKFC 41 on Saturday, Apr. 29, but the opponent wasn’t finalized until about four weeks ago. He will now be facing Christian Torres, a five-fight BKFC veteran who fights out of New York.
“I don’t know a ton about the guy,” Girtz explained. “He fought on the card that I fought on, and he actually beat another Denver guy pretty badly. He’s a tough kid. I think it’s a perfect fight for me, because he’s not somebody that’s gonna dance around and try to point-fight whatsoever. He doesn’t have that type of skill set. He’s got to keep it dirty, and that’s where I’ll thrive. I can play all aspects of the game, but, if he wants to brawl, I’m all about that. These are the types of fights I love having, because I don’t think I’m going to have to chase him the whole time and try to make the fight happen. I think the fight will happen, because he’ll stand his ground at some point.”
The 38-year-old Girtz is, by far, the more experienced of the two men. While the Colorado-based combat sports vet is only two years the elder, Torres spent most of his fighting career at the amateur MMA level, before losing his sole pro MMA fight and moving over to bare-knuckle boxing. However, Girtz still knows that he hasn’t even really had a chance to test the waters of this style of fighting yet.
“I literally got to do two rounds, and I didn’t even get really settled in there,” Girtz admitted. “My game plan was going pretty much exactly how I planned it, other than getting cut. I wanted to go over there. I wanted to overwhelm the guy, and then I was gonna start looking for my shots. I never got to get to that point, so the fight kind of started and ended before I got to really work in there. Two rounds is four minutes, so I literally got less than one round of MMA so far. It’s a fight, and I’m a fighter. I’m not Bruce Lee in there. I’m looking to take somebody’s head off.
“It’s more of a sprint, you know? It’s no marathon. It’s crazy, because that’s sort of my style – to go out there and try to get the knockout as quick as I can. So, I usually go out there and try to explode. I, usually, am the one trying to find somebody out there, you know, trying to make action happen. Here, it’s kind of like the action has to happen. It’s two minutes. There’s more urgency in a round than there is in MMA. But, it’s kind of crazy, because, I think I even still need to sit back a little bit and be a little more patient, even though it’s only two minutes. I want to get in there. I want to fucking go. And, I want it done in one minute. I just want to kill this guy instantly.”
Many former MMA fighters have moved over to some form of boxing, whether traditional or bare-knuckle. Anderson Silva, Tyron Woodley, Mike Richman and Mike Perry, who will be headlining BKFC 41 against fellow UFC vet Luke Rockhold, have all had some boxing matches since leaving the MMA game. One of the resounding themes that people hear from older fighters is that boxing training, and the actual fights, has been a lot less taxing on the chassis than MMA training. Girtz could not agree more.
“MMA is a much more brutal sport on the body,” Girtz elaborated. “The training you have to go through to get into a fight, because you’ve got to wrestle, you’ve got to do jiu-jitsu, you’ve got your kickboxing. You have to do all those things, and then get out there.
“Here, all I’m focusing on is my striking. I just helped Rose [Namajunas] with some work today, and I think that was the first time I’ve had my neck grabbed in months. That’s the big thing is the training. The only way to have wrestling cardio is to wrestle. That is the most brutal thing on your body that there is. That breaks down your knees. That breaks down everything.
“With this, you’re able to focus on one thing. You’re not getting your legs kicked. You’re not getting freaking kneebars. You’re not getting armbars and not getting any of this stuff that is bad on your joints. We’ve heard it forever. Fighting is a young man’s game. All that training that I’ve done I’ve done now for two decades, it catches up to you. So, if you’re able to go in there, hit mitts, and spar a little, here and there, it’s a lot better on the body.”
Coming into 2023, Girtz is ready to make some big waves in BKFC. He has a whole new world to fight for, and he feels he has a lot more time in this sport after a long MMA career. On Saturday night, he will fight a thick opponent in Torres, who might have beaten up a Denver guy in Oct. 2022, but got knocked out in Feb. 2023. The new dad will certainly be coming in to put on a performance that his son will one day be proud of.
“I bring the fight,” Girtz said. “Every single time I go out there, I’m going out there to put on a show. You know, reckless abandon has kind of been my style, because I’m going out there to take your head off. I’m not going out there to point-fight. The way I can go out there and fight to my best ability is that I have to go out there and go for the kill. I’m not out there trying to be a complete competitor. I’m not saying it’s a smart way to go, but it’s the way I go.”
BKFC 41: Perry vs. Rockhold kicks off Saturday night at the 1stBank Center in Broomfield, Colo. The preliminary card airs live and free on the BKTV app starting at 8 p.m. ET, followed by the main card on BKTV pay-per-view at 9 p.m. ET.