Road to the cage: an AF warrior's dream

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jesenia Landaverde
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing
FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. – In an unassuming four-car garage in Spokane, there is a large red foam mat that covers the floor. Traces of sweat glisten on the mat and fill the room with the stale scent of determination as a five-minute timer begins its countdown. Tyler McGuire begins to pace, anticipating his opponent’s next move.

Staff Sgt. McGuire, 66th Training Squadron Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialist, has been preparing for more than nine years for his first Mixed Martial Arts world title match, scheduled for Nov. 17 in Indonesia.

The 5-foot-11-inch, 185-pound Iowa native and former public school teacher has endured rigorous training, strict diets and thousands of punches to the face since he took his first steps onto an MMA mat.

“I played soccer and football in college, but when I graduated I still wanted to engage in a competitive sport,” McGuire said. “I met Cindy, now my wife, who introduced me to her cousin who fought professionally. Fighting was on my bucket list; I trained for three months, fought, and a minute into the fight, I won. I thought three months of training for one minute of fighting was dumb, so I chose to do it again. It was a snowball effect.”

McGuire graduated from Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, with a bachelor’s degree in History and Education with an endorsement in special education. He then went to work at New London Community School District, Iowa, as a special education teacher for children with autism.

“I cared about the kids like they were my own,” McGuire said. “During my time at [New London], one of my student’s parents gave me the ‘Autism Kids Rock’ t-shirt. I wear it to every fight. After fighting, people approach me to share stories about how autism has impacted their life and how much it meant to them for me to wear it. It’s amazing what one t-shirt can do for a movement of acceptance and understanding.”

McGuire hopes to make a positive impact on his family, wingmen, teammates and community with his MMA career.

“I fight because I want the platform to make a difference in the world, to show what America and the Air Force is all about and to make my family proud,” McGuire said.

McGuire enlisted and joined the Air Force in 2012 to follow his dream of serving his country. He went from teaching in a public school to teaching aircrew and other high-risk career fields how to survive in various scenarios as a SERE specialist.

“I’m not in the cage trying to build fires or teach survival, but I talk my way through things,” McGuire said. “As a SERE specialist, we are trained to not mentally break. We may not be the fastest or the strongest, but you can count on us to be there when you need us.”

To become a SERE specialist it takes great physical strength and endurance. Fifty percent of those who attempt the training fail. Although SERE is challenging, McGuire perseveres and has mastered his focus - both in the field and the cage.

“A lot of professional fighters are full-time,” said Rick Little, McGuire’s MMA trainer. “I think he might be the only guy at this level to have a full-time job and be a full-time fighter. It’s the equivalent of someone training for the National Football League, doing NFL training, playing NFL games, while being a full-time Airman. This shows that you can still be in the military and be a world champion in one of the toughest sports in the world.”

In addition to his physically demanding job in the Air Force, McGuire trains rigorously six days a week, for seven to nine weeks, doing physical conditioning and hand-to-hand combat training to prepare for his matches. He wakes up every day at 5 a.m., goes to the gym for an hour, goes to work for eight hours, spends a few hours with his family and then trains for two more hours at night.

“I’m able to balance my two careers and family life by having the greatest support system: my wife, the Air Force and my MMA team,” McGuire said. “I align myself with the right people and put in hard work.”

McGuire exceeds at prioritizing his time, juggling his Air Force career, family life and MMA training. Additionally, he was able to take the Air Force Officer’s Qualifying Test, earning his position to become an Intelligence Officer in January 2019.

“The Air Force provides you the opportunity to gain an education and pursue your dreams,” McGuire said. “I show up and excel at my job every day, and because I do, they have my back 100 percent and I’m so thankful.”

McGuire incorporates his skills in the cage to the SERE combatives program, which trains more than 6,000 Department of Defense warfighters a year.

“There are Airmen in the frontline putting their lives on the line every single day for our freedom,” McGuire said. “This gives me perspective. MMA is just a sport; I can back out but our warfighters can’t.”

The Air Force Special Operations Recruiting is now sponsoring McGuire in his world title match in Indonesia against Zebaztian “The Bandit” Kadestam, Swedish MMA professional.

“It’s an honor to share the cage with Zebaztian,” McGuire said. “It’s going be a good fight. I will never guarantee victory but I can guarantee that whatever the outcome is, it won’t be from lack of effort. You’re going to get the best version of me, and hopefully it leads to victory.”

The fighter is currently undefeated in his professional MMA career with 11 wins.

“Eleven professional wins later, here I am going up for a world title,” McGuire said. “Zebaztian better be ready to fight Nov. 17. I’m chomping at the bit for this camp to be over, to go to Indonesia, take on my opponent and come home with the title.”