This is the second in a series of stories focusing on the next generation of MMA talent here on the North Coast, as Humboldt Sports takes a closer look at the many rising local stars in the sport.
By Ray Hamill — For Tyler Watkins, the sport of MMA is really just an extension of the chess board.
Watkins, who fights out of the Lost Boys gym in Arcata and is hoping to turn pro in 2021, is one of the smarter local fighters and it shows both in and out of the cage.
According to trainer Brian Wilson, Watkins has taken full advantage of an amateur career that has seen him go 5-5, and one where he has deliberately challenged himself at every turn while carefully and patiently building toward a run in the pro ranks.
“Once you turn pro no one cares or remembers what your amateur record was,” Wilson said. “He understands that. He’s progressing regardless of wins and losses.”
That comes as no surprise from a fighter that likes to challenge himself in more cerebral ways out of the cage.
“I’m also a chess player,” Watkins said. “And (MMA) is really just a very physical chess game. It’s mentally challenging and also has a lot of athleticism blended in there.”
And that’s something that has helped the Lake County native evolve as a fighter.
“You have to learn how to control your environment to get the victory (in chess and MMA), and it’s the same in life,” he said.
At 29, Watkins is one of the more mature up-and-coming local stars in the sport, and hopes to turn pro after another one or two amateur fights.
COVID-19 and the resulting shutdown — including the cancelation of a scheduled fight in Minnesota this month — has delayed those plans, but the goal remains the same.
“I wanted to get some more fights under my belt, so I just don’t know when right now,” he said of turning pro. “I’ll turn pro whenever I’m ready.”
Watkins got into the sport four years ago, moving to the area to fulfill a long-time ambition after he got out of the army.
“I had always wanted to get into MMA. It’s something I always had ambitions for,” he said. “Once I got out of the army I said I’m still young enough to do it.”
He joined the Lost Boys in 2016, immediately impressing Wilson and the other coaches at the local gym with his unique physique.
Watkins, who is nicknamed “Stringbean,” is 6-foot-1 and tall for someone who is a natural 135-pound fighter.
“Tyler is very unique with his height and length and he has the ability to be longer for a fighter at his natural weight class,” Wilson said. “He gives guys a lot of problems. And he’s got a great gas tank.”
He also uses his smarts in the cage.
“He a great striker, and he mixes things up,” Wilson added. “He’s very creative.”
Watkins, who has family in Rio Dell and spent a lot of time in the area camping as a child, says he has learned a lot from competing in the sport of MMA, especially from his coaches and teammates at the Lost Boys.
“The Lost Boys have been a huge influence,” he said. “My coaches Brian Wilson and Brian Blackburn and all my teammates. They all inspire me.”