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River Falls native looks to fight his way to top level of MMA

Waldon holds an 11-2 professional record going into the biggest fight of his career. Zach Dwyer / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 5
Waldon completes a takedown in sparring practice. Zach Dwyer / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 5
Waldon will fight in the Dana White Contender Series on July 25. The Las Vegas fight will be a chance for Waldon to prove he belongs in the UFC. Zach Dwyer / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 5
Chase Waldon, left, begins sparring practice at Spartan Martial Arts in Oakdale, Minnesota. Zach Dwyer / RiverTown Multimedia4 / 5
Waldon holds high rankings in MMA's middleweight category: 86th in the nation, third in the Midwest and first in Minnesota. Zach Dwyer / RiverTown Multimedia5 / 5

Making it to the highest level of a sport isn't an easy accomplishment. But one dedicated fighter from Hudson is trying to make his mark on Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

Chase Waldon, a River Falls native who now lives in Hudson, is closing in on the biggest fight of his MMA career in late July.

Waldon will be fighting in Las Vegas in the newly-coined Dana White Contender Series on July 25. Dana White is the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC. White's new series is beginning this month in search of top-level talent, with Waldon being on the main card for the middleweight bout in week three.

Waldon currently weighs in at an imposing 6 feet 2 inches, 185 pounds. With his number-one weight class ranking in Minnesota and number-three ranking in the Midwest, it's easy to assume he's been training for this his whole life. But that's not quite the case.

"I started fighting at 22 with no previous training. I saw a UFC fight on TV and was immediately hooked, and I took my first fight six weeks later. I've been hard at it ever since," Waldon said.

One does not simply arrive in the sport of MMA and begin to dominate. Waldon has been at his goal of joining the UFC for close to 10 years now, and hasn't lost focus along the way.

Spartan Martial Arts in Oakdale, Minn., has become his home away from home. He trains at the gym for close to three hours every night, Monday through Friday. That is in addition to his full-time job as a carpenter, which he has held for 10 years and currently works for Cogent Construction LLC.

"It's kept me out of trouble. This is like video games for me, I can do this a few hours a night. It's never too big of an issue to come to the gym, these guys are like family here," Waldon said.

Waldon's family has also been a large part of his support. Waldon's kids train with him in jiu-jitsu. He already had two kids when he started fighting, and has spent a lot of time with his kids through his training.

"Every day after work I drag the kids to the gym, while most nights are here or resting. It's a pretty demanding lifestyle but I wouldn't change it for a thing, we have great family in here," Waldon said.

Waldon turned pro at a tournament back in 2010 when he had an opportunity to get a strikeforce contract. He won the initial bout but lost in the semifinals to heavyweight Derrick Mehmen. Waldon bounced back from the fight by winning his next nine matches, before recording his only other loss to date in October 2016.

"I lost to Gerald Meerschaert for the RFA world title in middleweight. I was coming off a big win where I knocked out the number one seed in Minnesota and Wisconsin in 15 seconds. I got the title shot but biffed it. Things in my life weren't going that great, and I showed up and didn't perform well at all," Waldon described.

Waldon lost in the first round against Meerschaert, but bounced back to beat his teammate Cully Butterfield in a close decision in May. The win propelled Waldon to 11-2 for his career, but was only the beginning step for the biggest opportunity of his career.

"I went to Vegas to help my coach's wife Kelly Schmidt try out for the Ultimate Fighter next season. I ran into UFC's new matchmaker Mick Maynard, who used to own Legacy FC. I once had a 27-second knockout on one of his cards and Dana White was there too, so I was kind of on their radar," Waldon said.

Waldon talked with Maynard, and the next day was offered the fight of a lifetime on July 25.

Waldon faces off against Brazilian Gabriel Checco, who is 10-2 overall. Checco hasn't fought since September, but has won his last two bouts.

The match will be streamed globally on UFC fight pass, with a potential UFC contract awarded to the winner. Rapper Snoop Dogg has even been named as a commentator for the event. Waldon described the series and event as also having a lot of time in front of the camera and makeup chairs.

"I'm coming off a closer fight than he is, but I plan on putting leather all over him," Waldon claimed.

Waldon has a style of fighting where he likes to walk forward and push the fight. His extensive training in jiu-jitsu has helped him add five submissions to his record, along with three knockouts.

"I'm feeling pretty confident about this fight and the jitters aren't bugging me too much. It will be a close set and I'll be performing in front of some big names. I've been up here at some pretty priority fights with my last four or five being televised. I've had a lot of eyes and I'm getting used to pressure of the bigger shows," Waldon said.

Waldon is looking forward to the event, knowing that it is a rare opportunity for anyone to make it this far in MMA.

"You can't get any closer to UFC without being in UFC. It's basically the biggest job interview of my life, so I've got to go in and slaughter this interview. If I go in there with a good performance there is no reason they shouldn't sign me," Waldon said.

Waldon has the strong support of Iridium Sports Management and Spartan Martial Arts behind him for the biggest fight of his career. Waldon is ready to keep pushing forward no matter the result, as he believes he has 10 good years left in the sport.

"My coach always says when you get to that highest level you have seven or eight years, because it's so hard on your body. I knew getting into this that I only have x amount of years to get things done," Waldon said.

Waldon will be up first on the main card on July 25. You can watch the event on the UFC's paid subscription service Fight Pass. Visit www.ufc.com/contenderseries for more details.

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